Jenny Capel - Leadville 100

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Are You 100% Mentally In It?

By Jenny Capel


This is the question I often ask people prior to them running a 100.  As we know, you can be in the best physical shape in your life, but if your head isn’t into it, by mile 60 or 70 the towel is thrown in.  How often do you hear at the start of a 100 the many excuses people have already conjured before the gun even goes off: “I haven’t put the miles in”, “I think I may be coming down with something”, “I’ll start…” There is already doubt.  The mind is already not 100% at the starting line and more likely than not, those people’s names are missing from the official results. Why would someone want to have the inevitable DNF looming on the trail in the next 100 miles? The DNF, as many of us know, is a horrible blow to the psyche.  I had the opportunity to put this question/belief to the test when I ran Leadville 100 in August.

Leadville has been a race I have always wanted to do.  My dad had run the race 3 times in his ultrarunning career, the last being in 1994. It was a family vacation to the Colorado Rockies and one that has remained strong in my memory.  When I decided to run my 1st 100 in 2003, it was a toss-up between Western States and Leadville.  The WS lottery made my choice. Over the next 7 years I had always toyed with the idea of Leadville, but timing was never right.  In Sept. 2010, my dad was diagnosed with CNS lymphoma and would be undergoing treatments for the next year. It became clear to me that 2011 would be my year to run in honor of my father.

I was physically fit, ready to run 100.  I was excited about Leadville and would be making this a family vacation, as it was in 1994.  I had been envisioning this day for years and was visualizing myself on the course, running by Turquoise Lake, through the aspen, and climbing up Hope Pass.  The Monday prior to the race, my dad was discharged from a 3 week hospital stay during his radiation treatments. He was getting treatments in Portland, where outcomes for this type of cancer were better than other places. They had been up in Portland for 2 months straight for radiation to some new lesions found in June.  On Tuesday, I received a call from my mom that my dad wasn’t doing well.  He was having difficulty transferring from bed to wheelchair without 2 people assisting.  She was worried that she may have to place him in rehab for a while.  With me being a physical therapist my first inclination was to fly to Portland and rehab my dad myself.  That is what I do!  She called me on Wednesday and said he got some good rest and was doing better but it would probably be another month before returning home to Reno.  I had told her I could go to Portland but she insisted that I go run my race.  That is what my dad would want.  Yes, true, but still the dilemma remained.  My husband told me that I could always go to Portland after the race and some friends said that they would help on the home front. So, we made our family trek to Leadville.

My mom had told me she would have my dad call me before the race.  I never heard from him but I also didn’t call.  It did have me worried….was he not doing very well again?  My mom often delayed bad news if one of us kids had something important going on so as not to upset us.  Was this one of those instances??  I didn’t sleep well the night before and the next thing I knew it, it was 2:30am.  Time to get up for the 4am start.  Everything went as planned until the gun went off.  After the first few miles I was in the middle of a train around Turquoise Lake.  For almost 2 hours I was in this train.  It was dark, I couldn’t get a rhythm and I don’t like trains!  By the time I reached my crew at mile 13, the negative thoughts were flowing from my mouth… “I hate this course.”  Little did I know, my crew was also worried.  I would later find out that I looked at that point like I do at mile 90… like shit.  By mile 23, I was yelling at my crew that my water bottle tasted funny and again I hated the course.  My husband drove by me at mile 24 and asked if I was having fun because this was supposed to be fun.  I snapped back that no I wasn’t having fun.  He would later warn my pacer that I was having a really tough day and had never been like this before in a race… a bitch!  By mile 25 I had my first breakdown: why was I doing this?  I didn’t want to be out here and shouldn’t even be in Leadville.  My dad was sick.  My head wasn’t in this.  I wouldn’t see my crew again until mile 39.  Those next 14 miles were horrendous…I was falling asleep, crying, looking for someone to give me a pep talk… I was a mess.  My husband must have known the difficulties I was having because at mile 39 he told me that he talked to my parents and my dad said to just enjoy the race. They were following on the live webcast.  OK, but I didn’t want to be out here period and I still had 61 miles to go. 

Many of you are probably thinking that I should have just thrown in the towel and called it a day.  Believe me, if someone had said, “Jen, it’s time to go home” I would have been the first in the car with engine already started!  But no one did and I couldn’t make myself drop from the race.  I’ve had 1 DNF in 9 years of running and it took a good month for me to decide to even run again.  I kept thinking that I started a race that I wasn’t 100% mentally into and now I was suffering the consequences.  So this is what it feels like… awful!  I did go over Hope Pass and I will say that was my favorite part of the race.  The views were absolutely amazing and reminded me of the Swiss Alps, especially with the llamas!  I could’ve just stayed there and been completely content.  Unfortunately, I did still have a wristband and people were hurrying me out of the aid station. I got my pacer (Miriam) at the turnaround and proceeded to have multiple breakdowns over the next 50 miles.  At the top of Hope the second time, I started sobbing, “My dad will never see this again”.  Around mile 62 when I was leading a train, I threw my water bottles on the side of the trail, looked at my pacer and started yelling and bawling “I’m done with this.  I don’t want to be here, I should be in Portland, my head’s not here. I should have never started”. My pacer was so good to me.  She told me I was physically fine so just run and she would be my brain.  OK, fine. I did give my crew an ultimatum around mile 77, “if you don’t let me sleep for 15 minutes, then I’m dropping.  You decide what you want me to do” I got to sleep. My pacer kept trying to get me to run the last miles.  Yeah, right.  I wasn’t running anything because I didn’t want to.  I was getting to that damn finish line walking and I didn’t care.  I did run across the red carpet the last 25 yards…hard not to in front of a bunch of people. I finished in 26:43 far from my goal time of 22 hours, running 75 miles of trail that I really didn’t want to run.  I felt no euphoria even after receiving my belt buckle.  To me the experience was surreal.  It still doesn’t feel like I ran the race, but my belt buckle tells me otherwise. I later told my mom the experiences I had on the course.  She knew I would have emotions out on that trail, but I still finished in honor of my dad.  My dad, well he has officially been in remission for the past month and is now able to walk with a walker.  Of course he still has hope of running again!

So, what are my thoughts on running a 100 when your head isn’t in it?  It can be done, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.  People ask me if I’m proud of accomplishing my goal and my response is still no.  It wasn’t like other races when I had to persevere through nausea, no quads, blisters, etc. In my mind, I shouldn’t have even started.  Easy to say in hindsight.  Yes, I could have dropped but I had to finish what I started. I’m not a quitter. My dad taught me that. Next time I hear someone at the start of a 100 with that bit of doubt in their words, I will be looking for their name in the results.  If I see it, I will know what they experienced to get it there.

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