The First Time

31 May

The First Time

Jackie Pirtle-Hall

I sign up. I show up. I toe the line. The air is wet, the ground a muddy mess, the people quiet with determination yet relaxed, friendly. I’m starting to feel like I kind of belong here. Afterall, I showed up with my husband and daughter after a two hour drive on a Saturday morning to complete a trail race: something I never really considered doing- until 7 days prior to race day- as a birthday present to myself. I knew I needed some long, hilly trail runs to prep me for the Pikes Peak Marathon in August and hey, why not run with fellow endurance athletes among the beautifully touted Mark Twain Forest with its picturesque foliage and copious wildlife. It was a no brainer; however, I have never distances further than 16 easy miles on rocky trail terrain -which I just ran the weekend before with my expert ultra running buddy Shelly. I learned as much as I could from her and convinced myself I could do anything if I stayed patient and didn’t get too hubristic out there.

26.2 miles of birthday bliss begins: As I get into the trails, I stay with a group of solid trail athletes who seem like they know what they are doing- Brian just finished a 100 miler- I figure I should pay attention to him and learn – so I did. I ran behind and observed. I told myself to stay patient and enjoy the fresh morning dew on the richest greens enveloping my whole self after a hectic year of teaching at a new school. I was in my element; I was at peace; I could breath out all the expectations and deadlines and be in the here and the now. Wow! The serenity, the joy, the pure elation that came over every inch of my working muscles. I was free.

After 5 miles, I passed- I felt like I needed to enjoy this moment alone- it was personal after all.  The men were kind and understanding. I was still hesitant when I announced, “Well, I’m gonna pass now- disclaimer:  if you see me in 20 miles crawling, just have mercy on my egotistical ass. I am a student of my sport. And so, they were gracious along with EVERY runner on that trail that day. My high school track coach once told my 4×800 team- after one of the girls got into some trouble-that if you mix shit with ice cream, you’ll get shitty ice cream. Well, I suspect the opposite is true, so I better keep hanging around these people.

Anytime you do something new, there is a sense of excitement, fear, and limitation. I know this. I understand that these “firsts” are what make life worth living- these are the opportunities for us to feel most alive and connected to ourselves- to realize just how strong and capable we are in all areas of our life.  I have an opportunity here to do something that scares the hell out of me in the scope of running- I’m game! While precariously racing through the misty, humid air-branches skimming my skin; slick,sliding rocks threatening my propulsion; creeks splashing my face, I realize I am easily catching the lead men. My blood begins to flood with fear, restriction. A voice: “Girl-put on the breaks wipe the mud from your cheeks and don that pretty diamond tiara.” Remember this is a first- an unknown. How big of a jackass  would I look like if I passed all these guys and just died hard later in the race. I would fulfill the expectations of many- including the race director who greeted me as the “princess” and asked me “have you ever run trails before?” and “are you ok with running creeks?”  

“Uh, yeah sure,  I uh I’m ok” I reply meekly strolling away really think- geeze what am I doing here!  But, wait- this is an opportunity in my running journey  that I have been waiting for- another first, another moment of hesitation, fear that I could ride. With this thought, I passed the lead men. I may have showed up as the princess (I don’t mind this title…lol) but I am going to leave the King. Yah, I didn’t know if I would be able to hold my pace, or what the heck my body would do at 20 miles on a very hilly terrain, but I was NOT going to hesitate. I am not going to be held back by fear of failing.  I tell my students all the time to take action towards their dreams that scare them the most and not to hesitate – hesitation is self-doubt and fear talking- do it and understand that yes…you might fail, make mistakes, but that’s part of the process. But never sit on the sidelines because you are afraid of not being perfect; of not winning the race.

Well, I took my own advice and continued into unchartered territory, so I could learn and grow both as a runner and as a person.  The best part: I never did hit that wall; I finished in a modest time that still got me the course record and the overall win. I loved every minute of this experience as it reminded me the importance of showing up, suiting up, and putting one foot in front of the other without hesitation, without fear. And, wow, what a great day to be alive, what a great first for me. Next year, I guess it’s gonna have to be the 50 miler?

A Side Note on Nutrition

Speaking of firsts: Anyone who knows me, understands that I am a true student of my sport. I love to read, listen, research, and experiment on myself. I think is one of my attractions to running. A new distance or event, a fresh training theory, or current nutrition plan, I like to experiment with all of them. Some work, some fail. But it’s fun to execute and actually see if aforesaid plan works for me.  

A couple of weeks before the race, I listened to a podcast by Runners Connect. They had Dr. Stacy Sims P.H.D.  explaining a new nutrition plan to employ during an ultra race, and I had to try it-especially since I am ultimately training to run the Pike’s Peak Marathon which is reputed to take twice the time it takes a person to run his/her normal marathon – so for me 5.5 hours. I have never run that long, so I needed to learn some other fueling strategies than Gu and Gatorade. I learned some new, current research promoting new theories on nutrition and racing. As a former elite ultra runner herself, Dr. Sims is a proponent of ingesting real food during racing. In fact, she makes a great argument against the use of products like Gu and Gatorade, claiming the like were created for marketability and can actually cause harm to our guts. Currently, we may not realize the ultimate damage on our bodies, but ten years down the road, we could see the repercussions  wreaking havoc on our guts and overall health! This sounds scary- especially for someone who runs a lot and relies on these products on a weekly basis. I run to stay healthy; why would I ingest a bunch of engineered products that could potentially cause me health problems in the future – no thanks!

So I decided this trail marathon would be a great opportunity to test drive her claims: salt my food the week leading up to the race, sip on water from the beginning to the end of the race, eat real foods (Lara bars, PB&J on white bread, maple syrup, and glucose tablets). No gels, no sports drink. She said 100-200 calories an hour and to eat early – don’t wait to eat once you start feeling lousy.- and nibble, nibble, sip, sip. The theory is when we ingest too much all at once  with fluid our gut (small intestine) gets overloaded, harming our guts and creating GI distress.  Thus, I knew that I needed to at least try her methods  because what person can ingest all that Gu and sports drink for 6 hours straight on a hot, hard trail and not have some sort of sick stomach!  So, I ran with this – pun intended. Below is what I did for the trail marathon described above, and I felt awesome! Granted, I really felt like an animal,  albeit a badass adventure babe, running with a cliff bar in my muddy hand -nibbling away for the next  30 minutes…yum! True eating for fuel right there!

Start – finish: sip, sip from water pack with plain water and squirts of sugar free electrolyte spray- thanks Jessica for lending me your pack best friend!

40 minutes – Begin nibble nibble for next 20 minutes finishing one larabar

In between Half glucose table

1 hour 40 minutes – Begin nibble, nibble for 20 minutes finishing larabar two

In between – half glucose tablet

2 hour 30 minutes – Take a glucose table, but I realize I am going to need more food. I see husband and daughter munching on a cliff bar and ask if they have an extra since I ran out of bars…opps. They throw me one. I nibble, nibble for 30 minutes or so.

3 hours 10 minutes – glucose tablet and a random baby tootsie pop I packed for one of my kids birthday party bags.


  • Entire pack of electrolyte water
  • 2 lara bars
  • Clif bar
  • 4 glucose tablets
  • Tiny tootsie pop sucker – just because it’s fun to run with a sucker in your mouth.

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