Changing Paths: The Road to My 1st Ultramarathon

View from Pirate's Cove- Mile 7

This past weekend I laced up my shoes alongside a couple hundred other runners to run my first ever Ultramarathon- The North Face Challenge 50k. I knew what I was getting myself into, I’m well-versed on the ins and outs of Ultrarunning and have met many friends who have run 50ks, 50 mile, and even 100 mile races. But for ME, this was a completely new challenge, and I was terrified.

Over Thanksgiving, my sister’s boyfriend asked me a funny question; “At what point was 26.2 not far enough?” I laughed, because the truth is, after 9-10 marathons, I DO still think of marathoning as challenging.  But this was different…

I began running road races in college, and 6 years later, after countless half marathons and 10-ish marathons, I have widdled down my speed, fine tuned my stride, and learned how to run injury free. But this past June, as I toed the starting line of my 8th marathon I had only one goal in mind: get into Boston. I’ll spare the details, but on that day, my nerves and mind got the best of me, and I dropped out of that race after 16 miles, knowing I wouldn’t run a 3:35. My heart sank. I told myself I wasn’t a good runner, my training hadn’t paid off, I didn’t care what race was next.

Training Run at Tilden Park

The next morning I called a very experienced running friend of mine. We realized that somewhere along the way, I’d stopped running from my heart and started running for my watch. I’d looked at the marathon and my speed as the only goal, and had forgotten my purpose for running in the first place.

So I started running trails and stopped paying attention to my watch. I picked routes and races based on what sounded fun. While training for the 50k, I spent every Saturday with Erin on different trails- Lake Chabot, Tilden, Marin Headlands. We trained our legs for the elevation and distance, but I was also training my mind.

Still smiling at the finish line!

When Race Day came, I’d gotten all kinds of advice from friends. “Run with joy”, “Relax and let your legs carry you”. As we inched to the starting line, Erin and I agreed on one thing: let’s ENJOY this. And that’s exactly what we did. During the 31+ miles, we ran through the Marin Headlands, down to Muir Beach, up near Mt. Tam, and through Muir Woods. Shuffling along the trails, my mind was empty and my heart was just happy to be on the trails with great company.  It was tough, that’s undeniable.  But it was well worth it.  We crossed the finish line smiling ear to ear, and not just because it was time to stop running.

So what’s next? This winter and spring I’ll be back on the pavement, but with a lighter heart. Every so often, I’ll leave my Garmin at home. If I am tired or mentally worn down, I may skip the track and run trails in the Presidio instead. Because even though I want to be a great runner and become faster, it’s more important to remember why I REALLY run: just because I love it.

A transplant to the Bay Area, Jojo is originally from rainy Seattle. She’s thankful for the California weather while training for her next marathon and raising her puppy. Jojo joined The SF Marathon team in 2008 as an intern and is now the Marketing Coordinator and the “wizard” behind The SFM FacebookTwitter, and DailyMile accounts.

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