I’m not entirely sure how the topic came up between Alissa and me, but before I knew it I was deep in dark water well over my head. It started out almost like a playground dare, but within a short matter of time it escalated into a Godzilla-sized-monster-of-a-challenge. Why did I not just laugh it off and say, “Whatever Alissa, you’re crazy. Have fun with that!”? Any rational person would have dismissed it as a joke and gone back to living a rather comfortable life. Self-preservation should have taken over, but it didn’t. Apparently, it was on vacation at the time (it seems to be doing a lot of that lately). So there I was…committed to running a 50k.
Sure, I’m in fairly descent shape, but I’m anything but an endurance athlete. The farthest I have ever run in competition was a 400 meter sprint. On top of it, I’m not really built like your typical long distance runner. The truth is I outweigh most runners that are my height by 40-50 pounds–I’m better suited for doing pull-ups, push-ups and shoulder presses than running 31.2 miles. After doing the math and knowing that I was entering a world of misery, I did what any good friend would do and shamed two of my buddies from Westlake CrossFit into doing it with me. Thus forming the ragtag group of 4, also known as Team ActiveATX.
While Alissa had never done a 50k, she is pure endurance. She has raced marathons, 8 mile swims, XC mountain bike races, and just about any other distance event that has come her way. A smile comes on her face as she discusses running (that is the opposite direction my lips turn). While still a challenge to her because of the slightly longer distance, this was still very much within her zone.
The other 3 of us, well…let’s just say it was completely out of our comfort zone. I remember discussing with the guys that Alissa’s damn chipper attitude about this was becoming annoying and another source of stress about this run. Her constant twitter posts went something like this, “Woke up at 5am, drank my awesome coffee, and completed an easy and wonderful 24 mile training run. I didn’t even break a sweat or get tired. Afterwards I swam 6 miles for fun and then did a couple of laps at Muleshoe on my bike.” After evaluating our strengths; Jesse, Jarrod and I decided that we would train completely differently than your average runner would. Instead, we decided that we would log in less than 25% of the miles than most people do when training for a 50k. We’re CrossFitters and we do what CrossFitters do best–CrossFit. Jarrod pulled an article from the CrossFit Journal about a 5 week training program for a 50K, CrossFit style. We used this schedule loosely for our training. The longest run prescribed was a 15 miler–Jesse and Jarrod didn’t even do that (the longest they logged was a 10 miler for Jarrod and maybe 6 for Jesse).
Two weeks out, the anxiety hit. Maybe the voices of others were finally finding a home in my skull. “You’re not running far enough in training. You’re crazy! You’re not a runner! What the hell are you thinking?” Finally, the stress culminated into a nightmare that left me breathing heavy in a pool of my own sweat at 3:37 AM. That morning, I was precipitously close to backing out. I was near cracking. When I got to the gym in the morning, judging by the looks on the faces of my buddies I think they had the same nightmare I did. It was at that moment, when we all looked like we were desperately searching for any excuse to fold, I became resolved to see this to the end. Whether it was spoken with a head nod or shown in the eyes, I think we all managed to begin relaxing about this. I knew with certainty that we would finish. I know longer feared failure. Sure, we joked about all the things that could go wrong and fretted about every minor detail like hydration and nutrition. I bet the casual listener to our conversations probably even got the impression we were nervous, but the truth is that we were no longer fearful of not crossing the finish line. Our minds were made.
Fast forward to the night before the big day. Two weeks earlier, I was pretty sure I would not be able to sleep that night. But come 9:00 PM, I was snoring so loudly the rest of the group was laughing at me. In fact, I keep snoring all the way to 5:00 AM (sorry guys for making the earplugs a necessity). As I drank my morning cup of coffee, I was calm and at peace. As the van shuttled us to the starting line in the cold dark of the morning, I even closed my eyes a bit and sneaked in a small cat nap. Soon, still in the dark and cold, I would hear the words I had been craving since that first conversation with Alissa–”Go!”
I won’t bore you with too many more details. You can watch the video and see what happens from here. A few things I feel I must share before closing. Somewhere around mile 27, I went from survivor mode to pushing Jarrod to move it. A competitor that had lay dormant for nearly 27 miles had erupted inside of me. No longer was just finishing good enough. I wanted to finish in under six hours and I wanted to pass people that were in front of me. Somehow, we managed to do this. Inside of us there lives a stronger person than both Jarrod and I knew dwelled within our souls. In the end, my imagination was my biggest enemy. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you how good I felt on and after the run. The lesson I take from this is to get out of your comfort zone, prove people wrong and have fun!
P.S. CrossFit does prepare you to be at least middle of the pack for any athletic event. Jarrod and I proved that–just look at the results.
January 16, 2012
Congratulations to everyone on Team ActiveATX for successfully completing the Big Bend Ultra 50K! Despite some early knee problems, Alissa Magrum tightened the screws and secured a 7th place finish among the women. Way to go Alissa! A top 10 finish for your first ultra isn’t anything to scoff at!
With minimal distance training and a whole bunch of CrossFit; Jesse O’Brien, Jarrod Freshour and John Daetwyler demonstrated to over half the competition that there may be a different way to train for ultra marathons. Jarrod and John finished in under 6 hours and bested even their highest expectations by finishing in the top half of all competitors.