Despite the odds, Rachel ran in the harshest conditions and only quit when it was time to quit. When I saw her at Helvetia station, mile #19, she gestured to her leg, scraped and cut with a look that seemed to be saying, ‘Can you believe this shit?’. I threw a jacket over her shoulders, we got her some water and she talked about taking a fall, getting lost and feeling like she couldn’t go on; she left a few minutes later anyway.
The day itself was a good example of ‘what can go wrong with southern Arizona weather’. The winds were awful, gusty and full of malice flinging tiny grains of sand into faces and eyes, stinging the many exposed legs and arms of the racers. Then the clouds rolled in and set the stage for the building storm.
The storm. Stinging side-ways rain, frozen with flecks of hail, adding to the misery and danger. Rachel came in, and left, right ahead of the worst of it. I groaned a little for her and all my other friends out there when the rain went sideways and completely soaked my backside; jeans and jacket from head to toe. They weren’t wearing jeans or jackets.
This was the Old Pueblo 50 miler, 2014 and over 80% of the runners would “Do Nothing Foolish” (DNF).
Rachel has a slight build and the heart of a lion. Like most of the women runners I know, she’s pretty fast and tenacious, running with seeming ease to a pace others would find difficult. When you ask her about her running, she’s modest and shy.
“…I don’t really talk about them (my runs). I just do them”
This attitude to running, I find, inspiring and comforting at the same time; you just do it. Fairly straight-forward, isn’t it? When I think about the things she’s accomplished, I get this idea that there’s some secret to how she does what she does. Rachel has run fifty miles before in a race and done pretty well doing it. By all indications, she’s going to go on getting better and better. She just does it.
So I ask, ‘What works for you?’, ‘How do you train?’, because I want to know the big secret. Maybe she’ll impart some nugget of wisdom that will help me be some kind of beastly ultra-marathoner as well.
“I think it’s just that I wake up everyday and listen to my body as to how far I should push myself and what kind of workout I should do for that day”
In the San Diego Trail Marathon she came in 17/100 overall and 6th of all women. Pretty solid performance for someone who doesn’t track her weekly miles and guides her diet and preparation on the principles of common sense and how she feels! Amazing, really.
In a single run, she’s run further than most people on the planet will ever run in their lives. And here’s a kicker; There is no secret formula. Maybe that is the secret. She just runs when she feels like it, gets a long run in on the weekends and goes about her daily life until the next race. Maybe getting started is just as simple as.. getting started. Maybe keeping a tight schedule isn’t going to work for some people but staying committed to the run doesn’t always mean you have to nail every second down. If having a strict schedule causes you to burn out, don’t do it. If it’s not fun anymore, then you’re probably doing it wrong.
I’m constantly stressing out over my weekly mileage goals, when will I be able to get the miles in? What days can I take off? Should I run more than once a day? I keep track of every mile and broadcast it to the world over dailymile. I think this actually keeps me motivated but, to be honest, it creates some anxiety too. So imagine my shock when I asked Rachel about tracking her miles;
“No… not at all. And maybe that’s something unique I do. I’m not really into setting pace, place or time goals.”.
She just runs. Now, I know she checks to see where she’s placed and she’s aware of other runners around her like Pam Reed, but she’s actually out there to enjoy the run. She’s just going to listen to her body and go with it. If she isn’t feeling like a training run, she doesn’t run. Sometimes she feels like pushing herself and she pushes herself. There’s a sense of surprise to that kind of racing, I would think, in just staying focused within yourself and staying positive, feeling good and seeing how it plays out.
But don’t let that fool you, when the chips are down and only a heroic effort will suffice, Rachel can combine that same ‘matter-of-factness’ of her training with a rugged determination to finish strong – and that truly makes her formidable.