100 Miles of Gratitude

“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”

John F. Kennedy

Here we are… months into the Global COVID-19 pandemic – I cannot help but think, ‘what an insanely wild time to be alive’. For many people, in every walk of life – everything has been turned upside down. All non-essential businesses have been closed and many will remain closed for the foreseeable future. Millions of people are without jobs. Our healthcare system continues to feel the pressure of the pandemic. Hospitals and care facilities in the areas most ravaged by the virus have experienced a strain on resources and employees. Stories from these healthcare workers have expressed a dire need for better personal protective equipment (PPE). The thought of these circumstances brings me a sense of deep sadness, appreciation, and gratitude. I cannot even begin to imagine the strength and courage it takes to put on scrubs or a uniform each day and go face-to-face with the deadly virus – while, knowingly assuming the potentially hazardous outcomes with less than effective PPE. Why and how can these people continue to work 14 or even 24 hour shifts? The answer is simple: they do it to save lives. They do it because they are HEROES.

Tremendous change has happened in all of our lives in light of this global health crisis. My personal experience is as follows; I was furloughed from my full-time job in March after having to lay off our entire staff on the heels of a government mandated closure. I had never imagined myself navigating something of this magnitude in my lifetime – and I know I am not alone in that sentiment. My plans (as well as the rest of the worlds) were quickly cancelled, postponed, or put on hold until further notice. In the blink of an eye everything changed.

I’m not sure about you, but change is something that creates a great stir for me. Over many years I have discovered ways to cope with and process change. I no longer consider myself ‘change-averse’ – but, the bottom line is, regardless of how ‘change-adept’ you are – change is STILL hard! I’ve noticed it being difficult for all of us – as though it is hard-wired into our nature to feel challenged by upheaval. After weeks of introspection – I learned something incredible. Our capacity to accept and adapt to change is directly affected by the perspective (or lens) through which we view the change. Long story short – change is inevitable. The biggest favor I have found for myself is in openly accepting the change and staying positive. Followed by the thought experiment of, ‘how can I make the most of this situation?’

The first thing I did when I found myself without a job, was ride the waves of loss and uncertainty. To be honest, this is still something I do on a daily and weekly basis. As the weeks started to tick by, I finally recognized that I was in a unique position. For the first and probably only time in my adult life – I had been granted a great deal of “extra” time. Time that I normally did not find while working 50hr weeks. At first, this left me reeling and questioning, ‘what is my purpose?’. In the beginning, there were days where I cried, worried, and felt utterly hopeless. But then, I realized that I had reached a crossroads. Although the situation at hand is beyond my control, my actions within the situation are very much in my control. I shifted my focus from, ‘look at what is missing’ to – ‘look at the opportunities I have been given’. One of the opportunities that I identified is a freedom to use my time, energy, and passion for giving.

If you follow my blog, you know that I lost my Mom and Dad in 2018. Both of my parents lived their life with extremely generous hearts. They spent a great deal of time volunteering and giving back to the community. I feel so fortunate to have had such incredible people to follow and model. In the weeks leading up to Colorado’s stay at home order, I found myself being extremely humbled and grateful for opportunities to volunteer and give back. Not only did these actions help me feel as though my newfound additional time was being put to good use – these actions also made me feel close to my Mom and Dad. If you have ever lost someone you love – you understand the value of finding things that bring honor to their memory.

As the severity of the pandemic progressed I was brought to another crossroads. The 100-mile ultramarathon that I had been training for since December was postponed from early June to September. As an ultrarunner, I also admittedly get a great sense of purpose from the training and execution of these endurance events. Yet again, I felt the sting of change and the sudden sense of losing my purpose. Yet, having reconciled my, ‘loss of purpose’ through my experience of job loss – I knew deep down that my purpose was not LOST – it was just in need of re-discovery and re-invention!

The culmination of this story comes to a decision I made a few weeks ago. I decided that the greatest thing I could do with my extra time is create a means to channel my passion for ultrarunning, to use the hours and hours of training I had put in, and to give back to people that leave me awe-stricken by their selflessness. One of the things I have always loved deeply about ultrarunning is the process through which the physical and mental feats can be achieved. Each event is a test of physical and mental fortitude that consists of thousands of miles and experiences gained while training. Thank you for following along on the journey that brought me to organizing my Run for Health Heroes.

While pondering my idea to spread gratitude for health heroes, I was given the tremendous honor of meeting Justin Kruger, founder of Denver, Co. non-profit Project Helping. Justin shared with me the mission and values of the organization and within moments – I knew I had found my answer. Project Helping provides community volunteer opportunities through many channels for communities. The premise of their efforts centers upon the belief that philanthropy can serve as a positive and effective mental health treatment. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, I was absolutely blown away by their efforts and quickly determined that partnering with them would be an absolute honor. Do good – feel good is one of their founding phrases, and I could not align more!

Project Helping had already created an incredible initiative for the month of May, where their efforts would be focused on funding and creating KyndKits for Healthcare workers. I felt an urge to pinch myself, because I could not have created such an impactful campaign without their expertise and synergy. They were already 1,000 steps ahead and provided me an incredible channel to focus my efforts. Partnering with Project Helping to raise awareness for Healthcare Gratitude and Mental Health was truly a blessing. My initial goal was to put together my 100 mile run and share it with my community of friends and family. I set a lofty (or so I thought) goal of raising $5,000.00 – which would fund 500 care packages to our frontline workers. I was so excited and honored to participate in this adventure.

Word spread quickly about my intentions. I was soon completely blown-away by the support and love that poured out from all over the country. As I planned and strategized on how I was going to complete the 24hr 100 mile trek, I was also humbled and filled with gratitude by the number of close friends who offered to accompany me for different parts of the journey – more on that to follow…

So, if you are still with me – you are starting to understand the “why” behind my crazy endeavor. Now, I will share with you the details, emotions, and raw experiences I had during my Run for Health Heroes. Brace yourself – not all parts of ultrarunning are sunshine, puppies, and rainbows! There is some gross, gruesome, and grit that comes with the territory. Though, the resounding take-away was hope, love, and gratitude.

Here goes…

Friday May 8th 5:30am. My alarm goes off. IT IS GO TIME! I hop out of bed after a semi-restful night’s sleep. It seems every eve of an ultrarunning event I have some crazy dreams about oversleeping and missing the start of the run. Naturally, I was grateful to be up and at em’ right on time. First things first – I wash my face, brush my teeth, pull my hair back in a ponytail and lather my body in anti-chafe balm. As I am sure you can imagine, after several hours – everything rubs and major chafing could make for major discomfort. I put on my favorite running attire for good luck. I make my way downstairs for a champions breakfast. I select a fruit and greens smoothie and oats with honey and blueberry. Eating familiar foods is also important when trying to avoid or at least postpone GI distress. I finish packing up my car with all the things I might need or want along the way. I feel a sense of excitement and jitters. I am confident in my ability to cover the 100 mile distance – but, I have never done so in less than 30 hours! I reassure myself that I am capable, trained, and look forward to riding the tailwinds of doing it for such a great cause.

When I arrive at the parking lot of the trail I will be running on I feel massive butterflies starting to stir in my stomach. I’ve also never spent any real time documenting an ultra-running adventure. Luckily, my amazing boyfriend, Logan was there to keep me calm and reassure me. He always knows how to make me feel invincible when I need it. Feeling a strong sense of excitement and purpose – I filmed my first live video to commemorate the start of the adventure. The air was cool and the sky was cloudy. It was the perfect temperature for a brisk, wake-up jog to start the day. I was met at the beginning of the run by some amazing people from Project Helping to stop by to wish me well. Liv, the marketing director for the charity was there to cheer me on and capture some photos as I made my way off on my first 10-mile segment. I started the morning solo – which gave me some time to settle into my consertvative pace and find my stride. My goal, especially in the beginning of a 100-mile trek is to be steady, calculated, and conservative. I know that saving my energy as much as possible will be crucial in me getting through the night!

I run a nice, long flat section of trail for 5 miles before turning around. I am right on track with my pace and feeling relaxed and grateful. There is a sense of gratitude that comes from getting to do what I love most – especially in this case – doing it for good! I make my way back to the “aid station” where I got to meet my first pacer of the day. My dear friend Lauren greets me with a smile. I refill my handheld water bottle and we set out on our 6.5 mile loop. Running with Lauren was amazing! It was so nice to have company on the trail and get to share some of my favorite running surroundings with someone I love. There is a segment of the trail that I affectionately call, “Prairie Dog Utopia”. I joked with Lauren about how I knew all the prairie dogs by name. We smiled, laughed, and enjoyed our trot around the loop.

On our way up the longest climb of the loop I was telling Lauren how uncanny it is for me when I am out running and I see two beautiful hawks circling overhead. I was telling her that it seems like nearly every time I am out in nature, running or walking – I look to the sky and see these two birds directly overhead. I told her that they make me feel a sense of peace and safety and that I feel like it’s my Mom and Dad’s way of letting me know they are there – watching over me. At that very second we both looked up to see two hawks circling overhead. Now, I’m sure that the prairie dogs could have everything to do with this – but, at that moment I felt my parent’s watchful presence. If you have felt grief you know that glimmers of your loved one’s spirit are worth holding on to. So, that is exactly what I did. I held on to the belief that they would be with me the whole way – watching and cheering me on!

I purposefully took Lauren in the direction where we could finish on a downhill. As we made our way back to the aid station aka my car I had my first encounter with the signs made by Project Helping. They were so thoughtful to create signs for me when I would run by that brought me encouragement and joy! 16.5 miles down and many more to go. I decided at this point to change my shoes. Blisters have been a major problem for me in previous 100-mile races. I was starting to feel a “hot spot” on my right toe and knew it was WAY too early in the day for that nonsense. One benefit to having my vehicle in close proximity at all times was the ability to access anything I needed and change my shoes frequently!

I was honored to run the next 10-mile segment with my good friend Dr. Kevin. He is an amazing physical therapist who owns the practice T-Zero Physio that I go to for all my PT needs. He is an ultrarunner himself, and specializes in the treatment of endurance athletes. It was an honor to share part of the journey with him as well. The sun was shining, but the temperature remained cool. I honestly could not have asked for more perfect weather! Again, I attribute the great fortune of the day to my guardian angels above.

Dr. Kevin and I made it back to the car, where I decided to take a short reprieve – one marathon down – three more to go! I was greeted again by a handful of loved ones, friends, and the amazing team of Project Helping. They offered encouragement and smiles. I was feeling terrific as I stopped for a quick snack! My next pacer would be joining in about an hour. So, I opted to spend some time running laps around the track while I digested my lunch. It was another awesome logistical tool to have the track at my disposal for killing some time between pacers and keeping my mileage ticking. One thing that people don’t realize with a 100-mile event for time – is that the clock doesn’t stop when you do. So, for every moment I spent stopped, eating, or stretching I was adding seconds to my average pace. I knew this to be the case from experience, so, I did my best to keep moving!

At 3:00pm my dear friend and AMAZING physical therapist Dr. Kari Chappel joined me for another 6.5 mile loop! I have never gotten to run with Dr. Kari before – though, she is the sole reason I am able to keep running. Completing 5 ultramarathons in 12 months during 2019 was made possible by her amazing care. She is a phenomenal PT and it was such an honor to run with her during the journey. She was also in high spirits which kept me smiling and laughing the whole way. Dr. Kari and Dr. Kevin had never run in the area before, either – so, it was also a treat to show them where I do a lot of my training. They were in awe of the beauty! It was a tremendous reminder of how fortunate I am to have such a well-maintained trail system practically in my backyard.

As Dr. Kari and I made our way back to the car I was again excited to see the smiling faces, cheering me on! I count myself extremely lucky to have had such amazing supporters for this wild goal of mine. Every turn gave me something else to look forward to and lift me high. Dr. Kari gave me a quick stretch on the grass, which my hamstrings and calves thanked her for. Onward and upward I went.

The next couple of hours were spent with my friends on the sidelines of the track and my best friend in the entire world and 9 month-old goddaughter. Ashley and Braelynn came to join me for more miles of smiles. We trekked along, talked about old memories and laughed. This was the hottest part of the day. I was certainly starting to feel the strain of running for nearly 10 hours. I think I slowed down a bit here, which was probably a great choice, given the sensation of the sun and fatigue starting to set in. Before long I had hit the 50-mile mark! Halfway there. It was an awesome feeling and gave me a boost going into the evening. At this time I also got to see several other lifelong friends who stopped by to share their love and support (from a safe distance). My best friend’s parents also came and gave their love. I am so grateful to Ashley’s parents Jill and Dana for acting as parents to me whenever I am in need.

The next part of the run was among my favorites. Many years ago I got the honor of getting to know my best friend Ashley’s, Dad – Dana Roueche. Dana is a lifelong ultrarunner. During his prime he frequently competed in the Hardrock 100 and Leadville 100 – both extremely rigorous courses well above 10,000ft elevation, and of course, only a month apart in the Colorado summer. Dana is my ultrarunning idol. When I first began entertaining the thought of completing my first ever ultramarathon – he was there to guide me. He has helped me in SO many ways over the years. He is an encyclopedia of ultrarunning and a great role model. He has coached me through some challenging times in running and life. I look at him as a second father and I am SO grateful for his presence in my life. It has been years since I have run with Dana. But, he made a special point to join me on Friday for a loop. Coincidentally, this trail system is Dana’s favorite. He runs it nearly everyday. He is quickly approaching 100,000 miles – a lifetime goal and something I admire greatly. I was looking forward to my loop with Dana all day long – and it did not disappoint. I was so happy to spend those moments with my running idol on the trail. The sun was setting on the day and I was feeling strong, empowered and ready to conquer the night. Dana and I talked about any and everything. It was a 6.5 mile section I will never forget. I am eternally grateful to him for his continued support of my running endeavors.

Night running is when a 100-mile adventure starts to test your grit and determination. Fortunately, I had a few more pacers to come – giving me more smiles and laughs to look forward to. I set off on a solo loop around 7:00pm. I was actually glad to spend some time in my thoughts – revelling in the amazingness of the day, so far. I listened to some of my favorite running songs and called my sister and Logan’s mom Jo to check in. It was amazing to hear their voices and encouragement. I spent the whole loop all smiles. As I arrived back at the car it was time for some soup and some additional gear. As the sun set, the temperature dropped. I put on some warm layers and grabbed my headlamp. The next 10-mile segment was spent with our friend, Marketa on her bike. She got to test her balance while biking VERY slowly next to me as I trotted along. My favorite part of our adventure was watching the clouds break and the near full-moon rise in the sky. I hadn’t realized it leading up to the run – but the light of the near full moon was AWESOME for lighting the trail. I still needed my headlamp – but, it was much more lit than it would have been without that beautiful moon. It wasn’t planned – which made me feel even more LUCKY to be there.

The weather stayed PERFECT through the night. I did get a bit cold and shivery along the way. After being on the move for 14+ hours my body has a hard time regulating its temperature. Shivering is something I have come accustomed to in my previous 100-mile adventures. As Marketa and I drew close to the car again I knew it was about time for my favorite pacer of ALL! Just in time for one of the most mentally challenging parts of the adventure. My boyfriend and best friend, Logan joined me around 12am for an 11-mile night trek. It was really nice to have his company. We spent our miles looking at the moon and talking about how awesome the day had gone. He told me how proud of me he was and kept me smiling the whole way. At this time, the goal becomes to keep moving forward. “Forward, relentless motion” is an all star Dana Rouche quote that I still keep in my mental toolbox for these times. At night you are battling your body’s physiology and strong desire to rest. Your bio-clock is going, “what the heck?” and you can feel the fatigue in every bone of your body. BUT, I know this too shall pass. I know that comes sunlight, as the last miles fall under my feet – I will get a brand new lease on life. So, I push forward. Logan and I spend some time walking and jogging when I can. It was also at this point that I started to feel a bit of nausea. However, it’s never stopped me in the past and it certainly won’t in this moment. I spent some time on this section thinking about and admiring the fortitude of our frontline workers. Many of which work 24-hr shifts in hospitals caring for the sick and dying. Now, THAT is incredible. I know that every step I am taking to raise money to show them gratitude is well worth it.

As Logan and I make our way back to the car I know my body needs fuel. I eat some snacks and head to the track where I will cover a few more miles before my final pacer will arrive to help me “bring it home”. Sometimes the nutrition part of these events can be a challenge. This was one of those times. My body needed solid foods to keep energized, but when nausea lurks it is hard to force foods that don’t sound great. Fortunately, I was prepared with many options. I ate what I could and drank some gatorade and juice. I kept running in circles in the dead of the night, passing the 75-mile mark! I knew at this time that my goal of a 24 hour finish would likely be just out of my reach. But, that didn’t stop me. 100 miles for health heroes was my goal and 100 miles WOULD be my result.

4:00am my awesome friend Casey joins me. I am 78-miles in and 22 to go! I can hardly believe it. Although my mood was not as upbeat as the earlier parts of the day. Luckily, Casey has been training to be a pacer for me for months. She knew and expected me to be exhausted and less-talkative. We ran a few laps around the track to pass some more ‘dead of night’ time. Then I decided – it was time to MOVE! I needed a change of scenery, in hopes of lifting my spirits. I often try at this point in the run to focus on the “few miles left” rather than the hours and miles that have elapsed. I know that the physical pain of lactic acid build up in my legs will fade in a matter of days. I just have to keep on trucking.

Casey and I set out on a 10-mile segment that we will connect with another part of the trail. I determine that I need to complete the 20-some-odd miles with her away from the car. My fear is that everytime I come back to the car it will be increasingly more difficult to press on. We walk, jog, run, walk, jog, run as much as I possibly can. Minutes turn to hours. Steps turn to miles. The sun comes up and a new day is upon me. I know I am closing in on the final hours of the event! I am humbled, grateful, and newly energized. I have Logan meet me (literally, the best human that ever lived) with some warm buttered tortillas and a banana. I know the mild food will help me keep plugging while not upsetting my stomach too much. 8:00am comes – I am 24 hours into the run and 91 miles down. Just short of my goal. I set a NEW goal to finish the last 9 miles in less than 2 hours. I get a 45th wind of energy that keeps me going. I have honestly never pushed quite so hard in the later part of the run. It was an invigorating feeling. Just as I had predicted, the tailwinds of doing this for a worthy cause kept me energized! I was so grateful for Casey’s companionship. She kept me moving and that was exactly what I needed to succeed.

Something interesting comes to mind when I think of all the amazing runners, friends, family, donors, and supporters that showed up for me during this – WE NEED EACH OTHER. Lord knows I needed every single person and every single smile I recieved. It was an absolute honor to experience every moment I had out there during my 100-mile adventure. Casey and I were approaching mile 99. We decided to run down the hill and finish our last mile with victory laps around the track. I informed the crew of supporters that were there to see me finish. The handful of loved ones and strangers gathered around the track. It was as we ran down that final hill that the uncontrollable tears came. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude, and bliss. The feeling of completing 100-miles is inexplicable. But, the feeling of completing 100 miles and raising over $7,000 to show gratitude to our healthcare heroes was earth-shatteringly AMAZING! As I ran my final laps around the track – I was met by the Niwot High School cross country team who was there training that Saturday morning. They ran the final laps with me and cheered me on. It was a tremendous honor to run with them and I was grateful for their final surge of energy. My watch clocked me a 8 minute mile pace there during those final laps. I could not believe that my body was able to run like that after 25 hours and 40 minutes! Once again, proving that our bodies are capable of incredible things. And just like that – I finished my 100-mile journey. 25 hours and 43 minutes later. I was THRILLED with my time. Prior to this run I had never completed 100-miles in less than 30 hours.

I love ultrarunning because it is the ultimate test of will, fortitude, determination, and most of all HEART. In the process my heart was filled beyond measure with love and grattitude for all the people who gave their support and encouragement of my endeavor. It was an unforgettable experience – and best of all – the MOST AMAZING part has only just begun. With the funds raised through the event Project Helping will be able to provide hundreds of healthcare grattitude packages! I am so excited to see the rest of this journey play out.

In closing, if you were anyone who donated, suported, encouraged, or loved during my journey – THANK YOU. From the bottom of my ultrarunning heart.

To nominate a healthcare facility to recieve some of these KyndKit gratitude packages follow the link below:

www.kyndkit.com/pages/healthcare-heroes

For more information about Project Helping visit the link below:

www.projecthelping.org

For more information about T-Zero Physio visit the link below:

www.tzerophysio.com

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