RUFA – When things don’t go as planned.

By Jennilyn Eaton

Two weeks before RUFA, I felt great – I ran back-to-back 20+ milers at a good pace, I had energy during the day, I felt strong. I overlooked the length of time I slept that weekend, and how tired I was at 9pm. What mattered was that I could run, was running, and was running well.

Maybe I could beat my record at RUFA. Doing well at RUFA would confirm my decision to go Barkley, it was my health benchmark. If I could run decently for 24 hours, I could continue to try to train (healthwise) for a 60hr event.

There was so much hope for that day. I’ve tried to remain optimistic – being sick for 7 months tore apart friendships, hurt my fitness, made me long for the mountains. But I could be positive, I’d tell myself. I could hope to overcome.

Funny thing, I can’t “hope” and “positive think” myself out of a long-term illness.

The week of RUFA, I was a little more fatigued than I had been, but I just assumed it was giving me deeper sleep. I rested, I didn’t run. Each night prior I made sure I got at least 8.5 hours of sleep. (Unlike last year, in full health, when I slept 5.5 hours each night the week before…)

I was tired the morning of, but hey, who isn’t tired at 5am? I was worried that my 9 hours weren’t enough, but thought maybe my body was just letting me know it wasn’t used to being up that early.

The effort on the first lap was more than it should’ve been for the pace. I couldn’t manage my heart rate. This has been an issue the last 6 months or so, and I focused on trying to relax, avoid stress, and calm myself. It took a half hour longer than my first lap last year. I tried not to think of it. I was outside, I was running. Having the time and energy to do either of these things (and at the same time!) was such a rare occurrence, and I was so grateful to just be there.

On the summit of lap 2, I convinced myself not to sleep in the tent. “You don’t need a nap,” I reminded myself, “Barkley relies on this. You’re awake. You’re awake….” I fought the discouragement that pairs so well when my sleepiness kicks in.

“LOOK AT YOU!” shouted Brian Tolbert. I smiled, happy to see him. 

“I’m slow this year…” I smiled.

“You’ve come so far since last fall! Look at you! Oh, I’m so happy to see you out here…”

I smiled, remembering how there were days in the fall last year I couldn’t keep my head off the table at work. Remembering sleeping through my kids going to school. Sleeping through my alarms. Barely making it to work at 10am. Oh, I was grateful to be running a second lap at 9am. Grateful, and uneasy. I wanted a nap.

Lap 3 I had lovely company, and conversation kept me from laying in all the spots I couldn’t help noticing would be prime locations for a nap.

On the summit of lap 4, after I had stopped myself several times from actually sleeping after I had pulled off the trail, I knew it was over. I could take pain killers for that all too familiar “drowsy headache” I get most days, I could down caffeine, but that wasn’t the point – the point was to test my sleepiness, not make myself worse.

A few new friends stopped me on the way down, wanting to say hi, cheer, take photos. “Good luck at Barkley!” was the sweet comment. I would hold back tears. I want to go to Barkley more than any other running venture. They are family, they are my people. I fit in there, I belong there, I thrive in the challenge. I’m not the kind of person that gives up, I didn’t want to give up, I wanted to go…want to go.

But if 8 hours of running made me stumble home and take a nap, and then sleep 11 more hours, it wasn’t looking promising that I could run 60 hours.

RUFA was a day trapped between devastation and joy – I was so happy to be outside. The mountain community in the Wasatch is unlike any place I’ve visited. So many people, all with good intents on supporting a local fundraiser, friends, training, each other. They inspire me… but I was physically unable to use their inspiration as fuel. For that, I was devastated, to give up my “big dream” of 2017.

Perhaps the untold pain of RUFA wasn’t the day, or the drama of sleeping half of my “24 hour” timed race. It was the following two weeks of dead energy, struggling to be awake enough to do dishes, feed my kids, cope with daily life. I was assured that this was “normal” for trying to do RUFA on a ‘fatigue day’ by my doctor. I was so frustrated. RUFA wasn’t worth the pain it caused, I’d scream inwardly. I wished I could take it back. How dare I dream, hope?

5 of the last 6 days I’ve had energy for daily life. Oh, how wonderful that is. RUFA was a slap in the face, but sometimes we need the hardest hits as a real-life wake-up call. I need to not focus on Barkley, on long training hours, until I physically can handle it. It’ll be a few months.

Jared Campbell put on a great event – full of some of the kindest hearts and fastest legs I know. I’m grateful I felt good enough to do what I did, and in the sad way, I’m glad I know my health limitations, so I can train and plan accordingly. 

Last year dealing with frustrations at Barkley (navigation, pace) I’d remind myself “there is nothing to do but carry on.” How I carry on is my choice. And so, I carry on. 🙂 Onward, to the next thing.

Thank you to La Sportiva for their support, Gnarly Nutrition for the TLC texts and products, and White Pine Athletics for personally coming out to RUFA to show support to their clients and community.

*Originally Posted 3/10/17