The Table Rock Ultras held in early to mid December in the Linville Gorge have always caught my attention, for two reasons: 1. it is in the Linville Gorge, a place I know and love; and 2. you run Kessler Highway along the western rim, with sustained 20% grades. Sign. Me. Up. Finally, this year I made the decision to get out and run the Table Rock 50k.
I seem to never think about a race until I am actually in the process of going to the race. Often I do not know when the race starts until the night before, or where the start is at… or how to get there. I just know, “hey I want to do this race,” Sonni writes my training plan, and I follow it… disciplined and diligently, one day at a time. Then, all of a sudden, the race is here.
[What do I do?]
Hello again, pre-race anxiety. You would think after all the years I have been racing this would go away.
I generally see myself as a confident person. I am confident in my ability, I trust my training, and I know I am ready when I toe the line. What is it about a race that makes you lose that confidence?
Simply put, it is a visible measure—for all to see. A race quantitatively measures what you have qualitatively been practicing in your preparation. You are thrown into a place of vulnerability. You line up saying, “Here I am. What I’m about to give is all I have for today.” There is nowhere to hide. There are no more workouts to complete, no more diet changes to make, and no turning back. Accepting all you can do within yourself is one thing—accepting what others will think of you is entirely another. It is a place of judgment. Will what I have to give today be enough? Am I enough?
All these insecurities stir within me, disrupting my usual confidence. The entire way to the race I was anxious. I kept trying to burry it.
[I’m fine. You’re prepared. You can do this race in your sleep… no problem.]
As I picked up my packet, this anxiety must have been evident. The race director introduced me to someone as “the hot shot,” to which I quickly responded, “No I’m not! I don’t know what I’m doing!!!” My response was serious in that moment.
[Do I know what I’m doing?]
The phrase “do what you know” came to mind. I know how to pin my number on, I know how to get my race fuel ready, and I know how to warm up. And so I did. As I did the things I know, the anxiety melted away and confidence returned.
[I’ve run 50k’s before. I’m ready. I know.]
As the pre race announcements were given, I noticed a guy shifting nervously back and forth when course markers were being explained. “You’ll be fine, you won’t get lost. It’s an easy-out-and-back,” I said with a smile. I noted the role reversal—just a few minutes ago I was that guy, unsure.
We gathered around for the start. I notice the energy stirring in my core. There it is again.
[“Am I enough?”]
Then I hear, “GO!”—and all bets are off. It’s like I remember who I am. My center returns. I do not think. I just go. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. Striking the ground on my toes, I bound away.
As I made my way up the climbs to Wiseman’s View, things wandered into and out of my mind. The weather on race day was frigid—low 30’s and raining or sleeting pretty much the entire way. I love running in the rain. It feels pure, as if it provides clarity somehow. In the cold, wet rain, I climbed.
[I can’t feel my hands. I’m soaked. I can’t escape this cold.]
Hellgate 100k was the same day as Table Rock, and I had friends racing there. I thought about their midnight start time in these conditions and quickly warmed up from any chill I previously had.
Another climb came. I looked right, Shortoff Mountain staring back at me through the mist and fog. Such simplicity displayed in existence, the mountains just are. I found myself wrapped in their presence, and continued to climb.
[Do I really know what I’m doing?]
I reach the aid station at mile 14 just before the Wiseman’s View turnaround for the 50ker’s. I am greeted by a friend and my dad, who are volunteering for the day. I was expecting to see my dad at the Wiseman’s View aid station, so it was a welcome surprise to see both of them here, where I knew I would see them twice during the race instead of just once. My friend filled my water flask, we exchanged quick hello’s and I was off. I called out, “I’ll be back!” over my shoulder, then turned and headed up the next climb.
[I’m almost there. I know.]
Wiseman’s view was enveloped in white fog. I paused for a moment, recalling how the Gorge appears below when it is a clear day. Then it was time to go.
As I made my way back down the mountain, I was content. I knew there were still some climbs ahead even though it was a mostly downhill trek, so I was ready to give the energy needed to get up them when they came. I stopped and joked with my dad and my friend at the aid station for a bit. My friend said, “Ok now go on, Alisha…” and this time I called, “Hey, you think I’m going to win?” I heard my dad and friend chuckling as I left.
[I know. …But do I know?]
I noticed my statement surprised me as I continued to pounce down the mountain.
[How do I know what I am doing?]
I kept running.
Four miles to go and at the last aid station, I realized I was not all that tired. I made the last push to the finish, 4 hours and 34 minutes after I started. I won.
[Do I know what I am doing?]
Completely soaked and freezing, I changed into some dry clothes. Who was the first person I called? My dad. He was still working the aid station with my friend in the freezing rain and sleet.
“Dad, I won.”
“You did?!” he exclaimed.
I realize there will be moments in life I may feel like I do not know what I am doing. But in this moment, I know. I know was prepared. I know I am supported. And, full of stillness, I know I am enough… until next time.