Sunday, October 18, 2015

Running in a Dream: The Lake Padden Trail ½ Marathon National Championship

Running in the USATF National Trail Half Marathon Championship yesterday at Lake Padden was like running in a dream. I say dream because nightmare sounds too dramatic. I was surrounded by too many loved ones, too perfect weather and my love of trail running is too much to compare my experience to a term that induces fits of horror.  

Winning the National Championship last year was one of the most special moments in my life. I have never experienced such a voluminous out-pour of love and support and it was a huge boost to my resume helping to bring about many opportunities for me in the last 12 months. I know that I was fortunate to have had that experience, especially in my hometown, and I will forever hold it close to my heart.

At the expo with 'Motional Maria. PC: Richard Bolt
Two weeks before the race I started to get really nervous. I blame this partly on Tad who is usually my rock, laid back and calming my monkey mind, but he was uncharacteristically worked up. Between his nervous energy and my anxiety our house was turning from a peaceful pea-pod (term coined by the BDP gals) to a restless storage closet of race paraphernalia. But, one day I woke up with the revelation that I didn't care what anyone thought about me or my race results and I recognized that all of the pressure I felt was all self-induced. I felt so much better. The week leading up to the race I was in a good head space; calm and mentally sound.

My body, on the other hand, felt slightly off. Even after cutting my mileage down dramatically I felt tired and sluggish. My token workout on Wednesday was ugly and forced. I also wanted to punch everybody in the face. Classic PMS symptoms. The night before the race I was up all night with bad cramps and when I woke up in the morning I had started my period. Bummer. But my first thought was if Krissy Moehl can run 175 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail in 47 hours on hers, surely I can run 13 miles around Lake Padden on mine. So there.

After a beautiful evening for the race expo we were treated to perfect race weather. I got to the course in time to see the start of the Al Coyle Community 5k take off for the first time. It was great to meet some of the athletes who I have only read about and welcome them to Bellingham. As soon as the horn blew and we were off, I could tell I was off. I was working harder than I should have been and after running this course countless times I knew that that was not a good sign for what was to come. I passed a couple women on the first loop, but after coming back around on the gravel path my legs were done. At 7 miles I didn't think I would be able to finish. It literally felt like the classic dream of trying to run as fast as you can but being in slow motion. I was flailing, but going nowhere.

Trying to move forward.
I can honestly say that I have never felt like this in a race before. It really sucks that it had to be this one in front of everyone I know. Even though I kept slowing down, all of the volunteers and spectators kept cheering me on. I felt embarrassed and slightly humiliated being so far back. I was better than this, but there was nothing I could do about it. I ran the entire second loop alone. I could have very well just been on a training run. Time was not moving and I found myself constantly looking down to my watch to see if I was making any progress, something that never happens to me in a race. It was such a surreal experience that I still can't get over. On the last climb I heard bells and looked up to find the course sweepers, they were my trail angels. I needed their smiles and support more than ever!

I finally crossed the finish line in 8th place after what felt like 3 days of torture. For me, whether a race goes good or bad, there is always that immediate feeling of bliss to just be done. Even though I was so far back I still received such an abundance of love from my community and I am so touched by everyone's support. Sincere congratulations to repeat men's winner Patrick Smyth and new national champion Kimber Mattox. Full results here.

It is when the excitement calms down and everyone goes home that the realization that you failed to achieve your goals sets in. I was realistic and knew that winning this race would take miraculous powers, but I am in shape to place top 5, no question. I was up all night tossing and turning with depression. I know I have no reason to be sad; I have had an incredible year! And truthfully in my old age I handle these situations much better than in the past. It doesn't make them any easier or the hurt any more bearable, but I know that this is par for the course and in the wise words of Alexi Pappas, 'I'm glad I didn't achieve all my goals today because then I would have nothing to do tomorrow."

So I am up at 6:30am this morning and ready to hit the trails. I will be racing the Marathon Trail Championships on November 7th in Moab, Utah. There is no time to waste feeling sad. The good news is I won't be on my period!

I really can't thank enough all of the people who came out to watch and support and volunteer for the race. You are all so important to Tad and me; we truly struck gold when we decided to move here.

From the bottom of my heart I want to thank the important team of people who have got me to every starting line this year healthy: Kerry Gustafson, Chris Lockwood and Tonia Boze.

Thanks to my sponsors La Sportiva and Trail Butter for keeping me equipped and fueled to succeed; and Bio Skin Premium Bracing for aiding in my recovery and injury prevention and Rocket Pure for spoiling me with some awesome natural body care products.

Can I just say that my BellinghamDistance Project (BDP) teammates are the best? I love you girls so much!

Post-race Party at Aslan.
Lastly, I just have to say how proud I am of Tad Davis, race director extraordinaire and freshly minted fiancé. He has worked so hard over the past 12 months to create a national class event. He had many sleepless nights chewing over the best way to mark the course that would be vandalizer-proof (he ended up marking it 3 different ways) and stressing over having local awards, tables and chairs for the expo, etc at various points as problems arose. From the t-shirt design to laminated maps for each volunteer, he put a lot of care into every decision. He produced the results he envisioned and I am so proud of him. Thanks (and Happy Birthday!) to Al Coyle for establishing this platform where we can show off Bellingham and what makes it such an outstanding place to live.


  1. Maria, love the honest and touching race report. Best of luck at the marathon. By the way, I know this feeling. I have struggled with it on and off in races for a few years. I sure hope it doesn't happen to you again. Check out overtraining, I know how hard you work, hope it's not that!

    1. Thanks, Candice, for reading and looking out for me!

  2. So sad I didn't get to say 'hey' yesterday. You're rad no matter your most recent race result. Kudos to you for looking ahead to your next race (sans period, yay!) Hope to see you around, Becca Steinkamp

    1. I'm sorry that we didn't get to connect yesterday, too! Thanks for all of your support and for helping to make the race itself a success!