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Muscle Memory

Muscle Memory: 1. A kinesthetic phenomenon by which a muscle or set of muscles may involuntarily produce movement that follows a pattern that has become established by frequent repetition over a long period of time.
2. The phenomenon by which a runner is able to cover a distance for which she is not trained, but has completed in the past, and is thus mentally able to conceive of the possibility and make it a reality.*

I’m a morning person. But not early morning. So I took it as a good omen when the alarm went off at 4:30 and I was wide awake despite a restless night.

I'd signed up for this race in early January. Other than some snowshoeing and quite a few short runs, I had only managed to log a single 14 miler. Thanks to an injury, my last ‘long run’ was nearly six months ago.

The Race. Hashawha Hills 50K is a loop course. It's tempting for the weak-willed to call it a day after 15 miles. Frankly, I was even less optimistic about my mental toughness than I was about my physical readiness. This was going to be interesting.

Know Thyself.
  1. Starting fast wrecks me. I never seem to recover from the early effort and feel taxed all day. The fun factor goes missing quickly.
  2. Trying to project how much longer it will take me to complete the course at any point other than the last 10K is de-motivating. But, it's tough to override the impulse to check.
I started slowly as planned. The trail had very slick sections early in the day, causing bottlenecks. Comic scenes ensued as back of the packers clutched at saplings and skittered sideways on cambered trails. The ice worked in my favor. I kept my pace conservative, chatting with friends and enjoying the ideal weather.

Winter Blahs. The course was nothing special to look at, at least at this time of year. The landscape was drab, plants dormant, and there were no real views, but it wasn’t unpleasant. In fact it offered a little bit of everything: Treacherous icy downhill; crusty snow; mushy snow; half-frozen, half-soggy fields; stream crossings; boggy grasslands; leaf-covered, dirt, and muddy slop trails with plenty of log-hopping; brief sections of hard-packed dirt and paved road and a few short but steep trail climbs for maximum calf burn.

I took extra care to fuel well; I knew I was asking a lot of my body. Luckily, this wasn’t difficult as the aid station fare was above and beyond that which even this spoiled VHTRC member has come to expect. They had hot pierogies - my new favorite ultra food!, potatoes, hot noodle soup, giant soft pretzels, PB & J, Goldfish, homemade chocolate chip cookies, Oreos and more that I didn’t take note of because I’d spent too much time grazing and my companions were leaving me behind.

Did I mention how incredibly helpful, cheery and welcoming these selfless souls were? The whole race was flawless. Thank you Alan and Pam Gowen and wonderful volunteers!

Are We There Yet? I struggled as usual with clock-watching. After just ten miles, despite feeling great, I caught myself thinking, Gosh, I still have a long time to be out here.

My snap-out-of-it solution is to activate my senses and focus on being in the moment: Birds, optimistically singing in anticipation of Spring. The drone of a small engine plane high above. The scent of thawing, damp earth. Soft, thick grass cushioning my footfalls. The slight warmth of the sun and cool, sweet air on my face. The banter, unintentional pratfalls and laughter of friends.

How grateful I am to be running again!

Raptors. Soon, we were cruising through beautiful pine woodlands and an aviary. There were Great Horned and Barred Owls, a Bald Eagle, Kestrel, Red-tailed Hawks and some I couldn’t identify. It was glum to see these magnificent birds caged, but a sign explained they all had injuries that wouldn't allow them to survive in the wild. I suppose being in the woods beats captivity in a zoo.

Arriving at the pavilion, I couldn’t believe how good I felt after the first loop. I wolfed down half of a PB & J, some dates and Oreos and hurried down the trail before my body could register any complaints.

I took advantage of my inexplicable energy and picked up the pace. I didn’t start hurting until mile 22, after a concerted effort through the muddiest section of the course. The voices of friends just ahead had spurred me on. I caught them, but the effort cost me and I had to work to stay with them over the final nine miles.

Runner's High. I was amazed that I was still able to run at this point. Was it muscle memory? My new compression tights? The company on trail? My reigned-in pace? Though my body was growing stiff and sore, I didn’t want the run to end.

We neared the finish and I thought dreamily about how hungry I’d be for the next day or two. I knew I would hurt, too. But it would be a good pain.

As I wondered what had given me the resolve and strength to get through this run, I recalled a conversation from the prior weekend. Brittany had just finished an ultra and was happily recounting the familiarity of the aches and fatigue she was feeling. I was filled with genuine envy.

Yes, ultrarunners are a weird bunch.

It’s good to be back.

* this is my own definition.


  1. Ymmm.....pierogies would be an excellent ultra snack. So happy you're back!

  2. Great job Kirstin! I love pierogies on trail..and off trail.
    Thanks for reminding me of the guilt free lunch I am going to have today!

  3. Great report! And great effort. I've never had pierogies as ultra food before. What a brilliant idea!!

  4. Welcome BACK! All is now officially right with the universe! :) (Good writing, too!)

  5. This post is so inspiring—what a post-injury comeback! I'm proud of your comeback, and reading about every detail of how good it felt (even when it felt not-so-good) makes me feel there's hope for the rest of the injured runners out there!

  6. Loop courses can be very tough mentally, especially when you have an excuse to quit (like not having trained properly). Congrats on fighting through and finishing it up!

  7. This is lovely. I love your writing Kirsten. Thanks for sharing, and I'm glad you're back too!

  8. Great post Kirsten. I am so glad you are back and very impressed with your mental tricks. I think I am going to try that. Just getting outside of my own head a little would be helpful on some of these runs.

  9. nice work Kirsten - great to see you Ultra-ing again!.. very happy for you x

  10. It's weird how your body can surprise you sometimes eh? Or maybe it was just those delicious pierogies (which now I have a crazy taste for!).

  11. Great race report! And congrats on toughing it out. I thought about doing part of this course as a training run (I'm running my first 50K in May - Capon Valley) but ended up running mind-numbing loops on the road...next time I'll plan better! I know what you mean about the pain envy... :)

  12. Congrats on a successful race! I'm so impressed that you could do that on minimal training after being injured. It speaks to your mental strength as much or even more than your physical strength. Nice job!!!

  13. It's good for you to be back. You describe a gorgeous and amazing run. Congratulations on this accomplishment!

  14. Congratulations and very well written and said! It was a lot of fun to read....Thanks for sharing.

  15. great account of your come back run! Good for you Kir!


    Your baby brother, David

  16. Awesome job! Great post...will have to put an ultra on my to do list.

  17. Loved your account of the race. I'm so happy you were able to finish and were then able to share your experiences with all of us in a way that made us feel we were there with you.
    Love, Mom

  18. Thanks for the "are we there yet?/I have a long way to go" mind changer. Hit that moment today; appreciate the get-over-it strategies. Thanks!

  19. Woop! Welcome back dear Kir! I think I need to run this race...thanks for posting! See you this weekend...

  20. Very nice report Kirstin. Glad to see you out and about again darling.


  21. YAY! You're back!!! Thanks for the mention, it's hurts so good, doesn't it?


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