We Ran An Ultra to Save Our Sanity

Written by Jen Allen

When we were single, my best friend Stacey (the blonde) and I (the brunette) ran together several times a week, the distance determined by how many therapy miles we felt we needed. Your co-worker said what?! Meet me for the 4 mile loop. You’re engaged!? Wedding planning calls for the 10 mile loop. No matter the issue, we could usually find a solution on the Austin trails. But as husbands and babies were added to the mix, our daily runs came fewer and farther between. Then, in 2009, my husband’s job moved our family of four to Colorado and our runs vanished all together, as did our therapy.

After a couple of years apart, we realized we had to make some therapy miles happen if we were going to survive marriage and motherhood. We started planning a racecation. The criteria for covering 2 years worth of therapy were: marathon distance + beautiful course + food/wine/shopping destination + not having to pack anyone’s lunches or breast feed in the middle of the night. We signed up for the Steamboat Marathon. It was ranked as one of the “Top 10 Destination Marathons in North America” and the elevation profile displayed a downhill course. Spoiler Alert! It was NOT a downhill course. But as we pushed through the pain, one thing was certain – we weren’t thinking about the wife or mothering duties waiting for us at home. We were in the moment, laughing to keep from crying. And it sucked so good.

The next year, we signed up for the Pikes Peak Marathon. We dragged each other up and down that unforgiving mountain all day, bitching and moaning and laughing our asses off at the reason we registered for the marathon – it had been the same price as the half, so technically we were getting two races for the price of one. Score! By the time we made it to the finish line, the free beer was long gone, but we had spent a much needed day together in our happy place creating a memory we still laugh about.

The next year brought baby number two for Stace, so we skipped a couple of years while she spent her nights dealing with her son’s night terrors and her days opening her private practice. (Did I mention… my best running friend is a licensed psychotherapist? I pay for her services in skirts, of course.) When things seemed manageable for her, we signed up for the Moab Trail Marathon, which promised breathtaking views and an obstacle course in the last 3 miles.

It was just as gorgeous and painful as we had hoped. Over the course of the weekend, I had convinced Stace to buy a copy of Scott Jurek’s amazing book Eat & Run, which I had just finished. She read a chapter or two the night before the race. This must have gotten her wheels turning, because as we limped away from the finish line, I still remember her saying “I think we could have done 5 more miles.” She made the call. It was time to consider an ultra marathon. “It’ll be fun!” she said.

So we signed up for the Mt. Tam 50k just outside of San Francisco. We drank their wine. We ate their cheeseboard. And on race day, we tackled our toughest distance yet. I am not gonna lie… it was rough. F-bombs were dropped. Tears were shed. Questions like “Why are we even doing this?” and “Are we seriously going uphill again?” were asked. This is bullshit! I secretly blamed Scott Jurek for getting us into this mess. We were total suckers! But 31 miles of pain later… we somehow pulled it off. We crossed the finish line hand-in-hand in our matching skirts, screaming with joy! The pain was too great to start discussing the next race, so we vowed to think it over and consider finding an easier course next time. After all we’re not getting any younger…

Within the week our sore muscles began to relax, our race amnesia was setting in, and we both started looking for the next potential racecation. We found one! It looks super hilly. We said we were done with hills. (I actually googled “flat 50k races”). Let’s not do this one. But it has waterfalls! Wouldn’t waterfalls be amazing? Our bodies are telling us to find a shorter, easier race this time. But our hearts know that more difficult races lead to more beautiful experiences with more pain and more laughter. They send us back to our families refreshed and feeling like we can do anything we set our minds to. This is what it’s come down to… completely wrecking our bodies and losing our minds in an effort to save our sanity. And we’re ok with that.