My Goal was Not a Hike-Thru: Day 10, The Final Day

img_2136.pngWe were still in Antigo. I was really hoping to make the leap to the next town given we had started to head south on the trail. Just one more night in Antigo is what I kept reminding myself. We got to the trail early AM – Kettlebowl…a ski area with wide trail and easy terrain. It was time to make magic happen. I started on my day 10 journey south. I stood at the trailhead watching Brian drive away on the highway heading towards the next segment 10 miles away. I didn’t want to be alone for 10 miles. By this point, I didn’t know what to think about anymore. It was time to start. I took a deep breath, reminded myself not to start crying at any point in the early AM (it was too soon), and ran. I made it 10 feet before stopping. I was dead in my tracks as I looked down at my feet. I knew it was nearly impossible to get my shoes on that morning, but Brian helped and they were mostly laced all the way. I didn’t know what was happening. It felt like draggers in my lower legs; the pain and swelling in my feet and ankles was moving more and more into my lower legs. Sometimes one side was more painful than the other, just depended on the day I suppose. I tried to run again. I didn’t get far. I texted Brian to come back – I knew in my core something more than aches and pains was wrong. It was time to go to the doctor.

I nearly fell to the trail in tears. I had given in to going to the doctor. I kept playing on repeat each day of this journey trying to recall the moment when I may have fractured my bones? Or did I roll my ankle and didn’t realize it? What was this pain I was experiencing? Why are there bruises all over my ankles? I walked, barely, back to the trailhead and Brian was there. I explained what was going on and honestly, he seemed quite upset. At the time, I felt he was upset and frustrated with me for stopping, but I think it was more concern than anything. He knows if on day 10 I asked to see the doctor, it was likely day 5 I really probably did need to see a doctor. He, for better and worse, knows me too well.

Brian had already put out feelers for a PT, chiropractor, doctor…anyone in the area to come check out the swelling in my legs at the hotel. Given it was early AM when I stopped, we first went to the emergency room. X-rays didn’t show any problems with my bones, but the doctor just kept telling me I sprained both ankles and to stop running. I know what that feels like and my ankles were not sprained! I knew that 100%. I just nodded and after getting his write up about sprained ankles we left.

We headed back to the hotel to ice and heat. After, I laid my upper body on the bed, legs dangling off, and was out cold. Brian was on the phone with Rivs who apparently said to let me sleep as long as possible. He woke me with enough time to put on a pair of sandals and head to Swauno where a local PT would be taking a look at my legs. It would be about an hour drive. I was nervous I wouldn’t be back in time. For what? I’m not sure. It was a great experience and the massage felt so great on my legs. He thought the problem was stress reactions – the stage before a fracture. The swelling didn’t reduce at all, but he put some tape on my lower legs to reduce blood flow to the area to try to prolong more swelling. It would be nearly 4pm before getting back to Kettlebowl…this is what I was nervous about…getting back to. Would I be able to carry on this journey?

After telling Rivs about my day at the doctor and PT, he still was convinced there was nothing structurally wrong. My body was simply still adapting. I agree – I was rooting for that answer. But, I couldn’t ignore the weird pain below my knee. It just simply was unavoidable.

I took my trekking poles with me this time as I started back out on Kettlebowl 10 hours after starting earlier that morning. Nothing. I simply couldn’t even trot. I hiked 2 miles before Brian met me on a dirt road. That was the plan so we could assess what was going on and if I would continue for the evening. It was during that 2 mile hike that I made the decision to stop. My journey ended. But I continued to go back and forth between continuing and ending. I was able to convince my mind of both options and yet continued to fight for the opposite answer and so forth. It was numbing. When I start to feel this way and can’t make decisions for myself, I generally turn to Brian. I knew that wouldn’t work this time. This wasn’t deciding what would be for dinner. I typically then turn to Rivs. That wasn’t going to work either. He’s my coach and although like my brother, I can tell him anything, I knew I couldn’t ask him to make this decision for me. I called my sister.

If there is anyone in the world that can look at a situation with zero emotion and really figure out what is best for me, it would be my sister. And that’s exactly what she did. I spoke with her as I hiked on the trail describing all the thoughts in my head, both positive and negative, trying to decipher if any of my thoughts to end this journey were simply out of exhaustion. She broke it down for me and said this: “Annie, your whole mission was one of respect towards your body. Your body can do anything, but not without respect.” At this point, to continue meant not listening to some foreign message coming from my body. She was right. It would be sheer disrespect of my vessel. I was, in that moment, able to argue with her on that. She (and Brian too) continued to remind me that this isn’t my lifetime running goal. This is just my goal for 2017. Brian had asked if I was willing to lose my long-term goals in order to do this. No. My sister asked if I was ready to hike for a long time, but that’s the thing…my goal simply was not a hike through. It was at that moment, after hearing my sister’s and Brian’s words, I realized I needed to stop. Yes, something was not right in my lower legs, but even more, my goal was not to hike the IAT. My goal was bring the women’s record close, or even better, than the men’s record. If I were to hike this that would not even be in the sights. I made the decision to end my journey. I cried. A lot.

Brian and I drove back to the hotel. I was in some serious denial to be honest. I really thought we would just pick up again tomorrow. Wake up early, get back to the trail, spend all day running, and do it again the next day. I continued to think about how I really could keep going, that I didn’t need to stop. My legs would be better in a day. I tried everything to convince myself of anything but the idea of stopping. There were local people coming up to us at restaurants wondering if we were the ones on TV and wishing us good luck. There were articles in local papers and on the news. I was heart-broken. I felt like I was letting the world down and in my eyes it was due to something I did. The ER doctor really had me convinced I screwed up. We were all packed up and ready to head home around noon the next day. Carrie and Tim came back for more video footage at Kettlebowl and the hotel first. I have to admit now, I think she’s pleased there will be a second attempt and more awesome footage for her documentary. Definitely loads of drama, that’s for sure!

img_2130.pngThe car ride home was tough for me. At some point, Brian just had to start saying ‘get over it.’ He still does even today and it’s June. I decided not too long after finishing to attempt again in October. And what really sealed the deal for me to try again was going to the doctor on Friday morning (the day after we left Antigo for home) and hearing what he had to say…”no, it’s not cellulitis and you don’t have any bone issues; you have an infection.” I was put on a steroid for a week and it was gone. So much disappointment, but on the flip side it wasn’t an injury. To hear there really was ‘nothing’ wrong, I’m thinking “OMG why did you stop?!” But I know what bacterial/parasite/etc. infections can look like and turn into. No thanks. Not worth it.

So I’ve just been recovering and got back to running about 10 days after my journey ended on May 10th. During my time off, I adopted the nickname ‘swamp leg’ from Rivs…and it went viral on Mountain Outpost – thanks buddy J I still have my goal to reattempt in the fall after doing Leadville in August. Rivs truly believes I can accomplish both goals successfully and I agree. I can do it. I could have done it. I can’t control certain things and the standing water filled with bacteria was one of those things. It sucks, big time, but that’s life, right? I feel in my heart I made the right decision, but my mind is telling me I should have sucked it up and kept going. Ultra-runners run through pain all the time – why couldn’t I? I was convinced I wasn’t as good as any other runner after this. I then remembered Karl Melzer’s attempt on the AT – it took 3 tries over 8 years. Wait a second. You mean he’s also human like me? I needed to be a little kinder to myself. There was nothing I could have done differently. Sure, there are things I’m going to change for round 2, but in the end, what I did on the trails was done right. I continue to remind myself of that every day. I want the world to know they can do anything, and yes, sometimes failure has to happen for an even better finish later on when you least expect it. I’m scheduled to attempt again, and I will. I will get this FKT and show the world I am capable, strong, determined, and love my body enough to treat it right. Let the training begin…

Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for lululemon, Swiftwick Socks, AltraRunning, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss. 

My Goal was Not a Hike-Thru…Part 3 of 4: Days 7-9

It was the start of day 7. The first full week was almost compete. Wow. Keith hung with Brian and Casey for my first stretch of trails before saying goodbye. I didn’t want him to go but he had a long drive back to KC and a family he needed to be home with – and who wants to ruin another pair of shoes in the water?! Casey ran with me until about 10am that morning. It was funny, both her and Brian hate getting their shoes wet and watching them try to tiptoe around a swamp avoiding the inevitable was hysterical! At least looking back now! Casey succeeded, but Brian wasn’t so lucky!

As Casey and I came up to the next gravel road, there was Brian and a neon shirted fellow – it was Jose!! I smiled so big. In the same smile, I was so sad to see Casey go and also so happy to see my next pacer arrive. He parked his car about 20 miles away and ran to our exact location. He described the trail and what had happened out there in the early hours of the day. My eyes were wide in disbelief – coyotes, a 40 foot river crossing, beaver dams…time to get moving!! And with a guy that can occupy my brain for hours upon hours!

Day 7 was pretty similar to day 3. I couldn’t get my legs to turnover. I could run a few steps but then the pain in my now cankles was like electric shocks in my feet and legs. It was a bit alarming, but I knew I just had to get though the day. It was really a relief that Jose didn’t care that we were basically on a hike. I had spoken with Rivs and he said to just have an easy short day. The plan was to get to Jose’s car – it would be 25-30 miles total for the day. Not at all what I wanted and mentally it killed me, but I knew in my heart that would be best for me.

My 25-30 miles with Jose was interesting to say the least. We embarked on some pretty wild trail. Within the first mile I was drilling him about where this river crossing was. He deflected a few times, first telling me about his run in with a coyote. It was actually right about where we were on the trail in the first segment together – forested and soggy of course. The coyote kept following him, smelling his scent, and basically just scoping him out eventually getting bored and moving on…or maybe it was because Jose was challenging it to a brawl and making loud noises at it! I asked again about the river crossing and Jose said it wasn’t until for another 15 miles or so…it left my head in that moment. Typically I love river crossings, but when majority of the day is in water, it really was the last thing I wanted to do, and this one came with a current – my weak legs quivered at the thought. I started to focus on my feet and just listen to the conversation; it was relaxing. We came upon a muddy area and I saw some tracks, clearly bear. I pointed and with some excitement but mostly concern commented on how fresh they looked. Jose had the best response in the world…”naw, those aren’t bear tracks, those are deer, lots of deer.” If there is one thing I know the difference between when already in a state of delirium, it’s the difference between bear and deer tracks! I had a good laugh in my head with that one.

Not too long after seeing tracks – the river crossing…? Wait, 15 miles already?! No, he was lying to me – it was about 5 miles in and the largest river I’ve ever seen in my life – did I mention the current? (Ok, maybe not the largest!). Jose explained to me that we had to get across it like a paper cut out of gingerbread men stepping side to side, one foot to the next. We held hands above the water which came to about my shorts – not as high as I was anticipating. The current was strong. Just lots of rocks under my feet; nothing too stable. It was refreshing on my legs as the weather was getting hotter as we hiked along. We made it across and next on my checkpoint list was the Wisconsin River and said beaver dams. I thought I would have to actually cross the beaver dams like all the other days since starting, but nope, I was able to go across a very large bridge instead. This wasn’t until about the last 5-7 miles though. In the meantime, we had to get to the bridge by hiking alongside the river on the west side. It was maybe 3 miles in length, but was all boulders so took FOREVER. It would have been fun on say a Saturday afternoon to go play on the rocks and then go swimming in the river – that’s what it reminded me of. Sadly, it was pretty challenging terrain when you’re trying to make good time. I loved listening to the current and crashing sounds of water near the dams. It was peaceful. After crossing the bridge and having a winding road segment, we made it to Jose’s car. It was a relief. I started to soak my legs in the cooler – it sucked to have put in such a short day but so wonderful all at the same time. I didn’t know how to feel or really what emotion to express. I just sat and soaked. I wanted to hang longer with Jose and keep him around another day or two. We said our goodbyes and headed to the next hotel…

Mentally the start of day 8 really kind of stunk. I had to do an out and back. Why?! It’s a point to point and this is the one spot there is a 3 mile out and back. Somewhat deflated, I asked Brian if he would start with me that morning. He typically waits until the afternoon to run and has been exhausted lately. Probably almost as much as I was by this point. It was really a lovely out and back though – one of the greenest areas I had seen. Brian read a sign at the beginning saying that the DNR is trapping and tagging bobcats in the area to watch activity. We didn’t see any active traps nor bobcats. Wisconsin has a plethora of wildlife which is so cool I must admit. It was still pretty wet on the ground and of course our shoes were needing a change by the end of the 3 miles. We finished the out and back and I started my run on the road. It was nice to be running again! The swelling in my ankles was still growing exponentially it seemed, but I could still get a shoe on which was great. I was basically going to be running on my own until around 10am when my cousin Louis and friend Dewie would be arriving for the day. They graciously took the day off from work to come run with me.

I had just entered a 5 mile stretch when they arrived so we all had to meet at the next road crossing. It was so great to see them and I was mentally and physically feeling good. I’m not sure why it’s different one day to the next, but for today, I will take it. I sat down to eat some food when Louis gave me a present for my efforts…It was a netted fishing hat to keep the bugs away from my face. We all couldn’t stop laughing. They both have been tracking my journey and knew of all the flies I had consumed up that point! He also had a high potency bug spray that he left with us “just in case.” It all just made me smile, something I was forgetting to do more and more each day.

Louis, Dewie, Brian, and I had a great day of running. We put in about 45-50 miles total for the day which was great given the amount of climbing we had to do. It was dryer ground but a lot of rolling hills. I felt like I was on top of the world, running what felt to be 6 min miles (actually I’d guess more like 12 to 13 min/mi but just to run I think mentally lifted me up!). The swelling was still there but I think I was just so focused on the dry ground, company, and new lunch item (beer…) recommended by my coach, the pain just faded into the abyss of my mind. It was nearly 4pm and I wanted to get in another few sections before ending for the day. Louis and Dewie had to get going by that point, but planned to come back in the next few days. They left me with one more beverage for dinner time and we all headed on our ways. I was now entering the highest concentrated wolf area in Wisconsin. I didn’t know that of course. I just kept seeing really big dog prints, and being a dog lover, I assumed they were just large dog prints and maybe I would see a hiker and his pup. Nothing of the sort like that ever happened along my entire journey. I realized they were wolf prints honestly only after being told there were wolves in the area by Brian. Made sense; he’s a smart guy to wait to tell me those things. I started to think where on these trails there would be a den. I picture bears and wolves living in a cave, not the flatland forest of Wisconsin. Do they hollow out tree trunks like in Bambi? Or dig a really deep hole that they cover with leaves? A bit of logic mixed with more and more crazy as each day passed. I was so happy to finish strong on day 8. I loved day 8.

My goal for day 9 was to crest the western terminus and start making my way south. I had a mini goal that I needed to mentally and physically achieve today. I would be running alone, just having Brian at times in the afternoon. Like I said, he was physically and emotionally exhausted as well, so I knew he needed a break from the whole journey. It wouldn’t be today though. I needed him more than ever but I don’t think I knew really how to convey that to him knowing he was struggling just as much. Day 9 would be starting at a trail head near a logging area. It was a great starting place, but the trails were destroyed. That morning I averaged 2-3 miles per hour and that was with a running trot…

About 2 miles into the first section I hit a logging area which was not expected. There was a reroute that both Brian and I were not anticipating. I started to go on the reroute, but then second guessed myself; went back, then back to the reroute. Yes, much of the day on some parts of this journey would be wasted in trail searching, but that is the nature of the job. I stuck with my guns and stayed on the rerouted path over logging grounds and more fallen trees and branches than I have seen yet. The trail after that was overgrown; I just keep accumulating more cuts on my legs exacerbating the inflammation that I kept ignoring. I was in tears and texted Brian about how awful the trail was before getting to a road crossing area. He actually walked in to meet me there as it was not an actual crew area. I got a hug and calmed down a bit. I started to continue on and he started to head back to the car. Out of nowhere, I yelled his name…he had to come see this!! Fresh mom and cub tracks. Being the great guy he is, he hung with me for about a quarter mile until the tracks went off into the forest. I was back to being on my own and needed to get out of my head. I knew I would be close at some point of day 9 to the turn south so I used that as motivation.

The trail started to get better…I was going 40-50 miles today on mostly logging roads and hunting land. Perfect. Some areas were wet but just dry enough I could go around and keep a run going. It felt good – painful, but good. I had a pretty good day actually. The first 5 and last 5 miles of the day was the hardest – just simply not runnable. I had company though for the last 5 miles of running and hiking. Brian and I were coming up to Kettlebowl…I had made the turn south and thought, “it’s all downhill from here.” Runnable terrain I have ran before. I was so excited.

We had an interview to do that evening at the end of the day right at the start of Kettlebowl. It took some time and my legs started to stiffen. I expected it but today it was different. The pain in my lower legs, ankles, and feet was changing. It wasn’t just achy with bouts of pain anymore, it was becoming alarming. I figured the next day would be like any other…wake up, feel awful, start running, feel better. I soaked. We ate. I tried to sleep.

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Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for lululemon, Swiftwick Socks, AltraRunning, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss.  

 

My Goal was Not a Hike-Thru… Part 2: Days 4-6

Day 4 – my favorite day of this entire journey. It was still another lonesome day on my own, but the trails were much better and I had the next longest connecting road section ahead of me – 45 miles. As much as I LOVE trail running, for the first time in my life, I welcomed the straightaway road sections. It was so refreshing to look ahead of me rather than at my toes. I started on the trails running around a conservatory area – it was beautiful. Probably my most favorite part of the IAT in the north woods. It was stunning and so runnable – I was in heaven. I got through the 15 miles of trails with no issue. I was a new person. The connecting road spanned from Cornell to Gilman, a long, rolling hill on interstate 64. And then it kept going and going…like I said, 45 miles.

We got a text that night, sometime around 1am I believe, that Keith (a talented runner from KC) had finally arrived and was sleeping in his truck until morning. When I woke up at 5am, he was standing at the door needing a coffee fix and I was SO happy to see him – it’s been since Leadville in August 2016 that we ran together. Big hugs to both Brian and I. He planned to run through the weekend with me which meant a lot. So many people ask what I think about for so many hours out there….everything. But after ~230 miles I was losing interest in what my mind had to say, and way more interested in listening to Keith’s life stories. He talks at me when we run and I just have to listen. I love it. He got me through Hope Pass, so I knew this would be a cake walk for us both. Everything learned in hindsight…

Keith and I got started that Friday morning on May 5th.  It was around this time that my ankles were starting to swell and appear discolored, but I assumed that was just more body adaptation taking place. The first few days were really an adjustment period for my body. I was used to high mileage, but of course, with something like this, the body needs to get used to the stress. All major muscle groups had seemed to adapt by this point, with subtle aches and pains here and there. During the first stretch of the day, which typically was done alone (I will add…Keith was enjoying breakfast and a coffee with Brian…) I was constantly going up and down. At some point, and I can’t remember exactly where on that first stretch, my hip flexor pulled and each muscle fiber was crying in pain from that point on until the end of the night. With every step, my entire left leg felt like a bag of bricks that I was dragging behind me.  It was dead weight. Keith joined me after the first stop and we carried on running trails and roads and of course everything in between. I honestly don’t think he knew what he was in for that day, or even weekend. Brian would join us at times which was awesome because I love listening to their bromance conversations – what’s said on the trail stays on the trail, right?! Both of them were really great about slowing down in order for me to keep a trot going with the pain in my hip flexor. All I could think about was the next day and day after that. I was so worried. That futuristic thinking may have been my poison for day 5.

I spoke with Rivers around lunchtime again and he gave me some really great ideas for how to curb the hip flexor pain, adjust my running form, and just focus on other things. It’s amazing how pain goes away instantly when you change your focus to something totally different, and even off the wall. It helped. As so many people witnessed, I finished my lunch of mountain dew, pizza, tuna and oil sandwich, and a variety of other things before heading off to the next section with Keith. We were amidst the forest it seemed. The tall pine trees and overgrowth made it seem like we were lost forever. So many of those tall, massive pines had fallen on the trail. At times the fallen trees were easy to hop over – perhaps only the trunk of the tree was exposed, but most times, it was the entire pine waiting patiently to be climbed. Pine needles hurt – bad. Keith being so tall could go over all the trees, but me, I mostly had to army crawl under them tearing clothing, getting cut up, and being covered in ticks – I pulled off about a dozen a day. But, we carried on with one goal in mind, to finish for the day and get as many miles in as my legs would allow.

                     

With high land trails full of fallen trees and overgrowth, moving up and down the rolling hills, we hit low land. Naturally, it was underwater. And likely hadn’t seen life for days if not weeks. The long haired algae and green film covered the top of so much of the standing water. It was like the everglades at times – beautiful, but more as a still photo and something to not stand in repeatedly. As pace slowed, we became prey to the small gnat flies. Thousands of them swarmed our faces and luckily Keith had his sunglasses, hat, and buff with him during our first encounter. I, on the other hand, was slowly moving along watching the trail through a haze of flies. When I was able, I grabbed a buff and sunglasses – I couldn’t take it anymore. They were everywhere and no matter what type of bug spray we obtained, it didn’t work. Even for the ticks. Day 5 was getting slower and slower and more and more frustrating. We ended day 5 at a large camp site along a beautiful lake. We ran on the west side which was high in the trees overlooking the lake. I assumed I would be amongst the trees at the start of day 6…wrong again.
I didn’t cover the number of miles I wanted to on day 5. It was becoming more and more concerning to me and ultimately become my kryptonite. That concern beat me to pieces. In my head, I was 3 for 5 on 60 mile days…it just wasn’t good enough. In hindsight, I really was doing incredible and can see that now, sadly. I woke up on day 6 really trying to center myself. I isolated from my crew early that morning and started to do a body scan – what hurts…what doesn’t…where’s my mind right now…? My hip flexor was feeling great – not a problem ever again during my journey. Swelling in my ankles was increasing but still not horribly concerning. If Rivs isn’t concerned, I’m not concerned. That became my motto around lunchtime each day. It helped. But my mind kept thinking that I needed to have another day 4. If today can be like that, then I will be back on track. And as much as that is true, each day is so incredibly different – sometimes more trails than roads or roads than trails, trail conditions, weather, beaver dams, flooding, reroutes, bugs, and the list goes on…Comparing my performance day to day was useless. I wish I would have believed Brian when he told me that each day. Silly girl.

I needed space that morning and I think my crew recognized that. I was stretching and doing some meditation in my room. It was 5am when Julio (DTS) and Long, a photographer there to take photos to post (knowledge to me that morning!) came into my room ready to go – talking and breaking my much needed silence. My mind started to wonder listening to his conversation but I desperately needed to focus on the day. I was quiet, maybe even too quiet. Brian and Keith finished packing and we all hopped into the cars for our caravan ride back to the trail. It was a foggy morning – a bit on the beautifully eerie side actually. I started to eat breakfast and take a few minutes to get my mind ready to go. I was resting my eyes thinking when Julio opened my car door. It was Julio. He started to give me a pep talk about how great it is that I am doing this. I expressed gratitude and said, “I think anyone can do anything.” He strongly then replied, “No. Not everyone can do this.” His doubt in others really hit me hard. One of my main goals of this entire journey and everything leading up to it is to show that anyone can achieve any dream. That dreams are possible, goals are achievable. I had to get out of the car – my mind was swirling now with even more thoughts of defeat, and questioning my purpose.

I started that morning on my own – I needed space and time to process what’s ahead of me today. I had a 5 mile trail stretch first followed by some time on the road. I was looking forward to both! I had 1-2 miles in the first 5 of great running and then the tears hit. It was underwater, at times to my waste – sinking into muddy water, climbing fallen trees in the water – it was another stretch of swamp. I needed to keep it together and what that meant was just crying. I needed to breakdown. I saw someone in the distance – it was Julio…and a gopro. I couldn’t breakdown nor cry, and I couldn’t even muster up a hello. I didn’t want to be filmed from the get go, I didn’t know what was being created, and I really didn’t want anyone running in front, behind, and criss cross in my path as I tried effortlessly to get through such awful trail. I texted Brian – I typed, “I need to cry.” He let me know that Keith and him wouldn’t be at the road segment in time but to keep going down the road. I got there and as much as I thought he was just joking, they weren’t there. I carried on very slowly. After a ¼ mile they pulled up alongside me and Brian just let me breakdown. No one said a word. Finally, tears hit.

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I’ve known Keith since August 2015 when we both ran in Colorado at Tim Olson’s camp. We both were in the lead pack, but at the tail end. We spent much of the runs together and at camp, he was the first ever person to teach me how to tight walk on a seatbelt strap. It was pretty cool and I still have pictures of him doing this said sport. When I got into Leadville the next year, I knew Keith would be the guy I could rely on to help pace. He graciously offered to assist the Hope Pass and Powerline sections of Leadville – the two hardest areas on course. You really open up on a run like Leadville and true colors really come out….as well as having to go to the bathroom 5 feet from your pacer, finding excuses to walk, arguing, sharing everything, spitting, and so much weird running stuff – it’s hard to describe (or I’ve just tried to bury all the crazy things I made that guy go through on the trail during the night!!). He knows me though. He knows me upset, angry, happy; he knows what silence means, he knows what excuses I’m going to pull out of my butt to stop running, he knows not to run in front of me (race mode kicks in!!); he knows what every friend and pacer should know. He knew in that moment I needed a hug and to reset my emotions.

After Brian and I finished a long embrace, Keith nodded and smiled. I ate some breakfast (it was my 2nd of the day) and of course, it was pizza. I was describing what happened in the first 5 miles and both could tell I was really upset. We carried on. It felt good to be on dry land. At this point, rolling hills were the best thing ever comparing to swamps. One foot in front of the other with constant forward progression – that was the goal of the day. It ended at a really beautiful trail head which I could tell would cover higher ground – YES!  I was able to go to rest again, eat, and drink some Tart Cherry Juice – actually a whole container of it. Long was still taking some pretty AWESOME photos at this point and it was a great pleasure to have him around. He’s a great runner (with Solomon) and he was welcome to run with me on the trails – I think he’s a bit fast though for me by this point!!

By noon I was to the next trail section and enjoying some lunch. Julio and Long decided to head out. I didn’t get to say goodbye – they seemed to have snuck off. I needed to stay focused though and reminded myself of what a wise runner, and friend (Kris), had told me before starting this journey…”focus on you; never worry about other people, and Brian shouldn’t either.” It’s true – I needed to gear all my attention on getting through each moment of each day.
Brian was planned to run in the afternoon hours with Keith and I, and my friend Casey would be arriving about 4pm. I was really excited to see her. She is so great to run with and so positive – another breath of fresh air for the weekend. Sometime out in the abyss of the trail, we had to cross 2 square wood logs with only one side having hand support. Ahhh what?! I felt so unsteady and the drop was really huge! Or so my mind believed it was. It was beautiful, but after 300+ miles and a long day of emotion, everything probably seemed worse than it really was. What really made things great though was the conversation between the four of us that afternoon. It was ridiculous and so great to hear them talk so I could just giggle. I needed that. We finally made it to the end of the trail with about a mile left on a gravel road to Casey and Keith’s cars. That was the longest mile of the day. My legs were not having it and I was in great pain. I can’t describe the exact type of pain, but I do know it was nothing like the day after my first marathon, Leadville, or weight lifting for the first time in months – it was considerably worse. I think it’s kind of like when you’re going to break at every single joint in your body – the pain was like that. I was relieved to get there though. The day was over. Miles were not too far off but physically and emotionally I was done.

Casey and I headed back to the hotel. My feet were soaking in freezing ice water in a cooler in her front seat. It just fit!! We chatted and she got my mind off this journey. That was really nice – talking about anything but running felt so good. I honestly, since starting, was living in a run. I woke up to running, all day was running, all night was planning for running – running, running, running. I didn’t speak of this much on social media, but it was even consuming my nights. When I could sleep, which was for maybe 2-3 hours a night, I was having nightmares about the trail. I would suddenly awaken, shaking and sweating. I was constantly reliving each segment during the night. I hated it and it wouldn’t stop. Even after stopping my journey, the nightmares continued for weeks. It’s now nearly mid-June and they have stopped.

We were in Merrill. Casey and Keith were staying with us that night and when Casey and I arrived at the hotel, I immediately in my clothes went into the hot tub. The boys were getting dinner. I have been ice bathing each day, but more importantly, I was soaking in a hot tub regularly. It gets the blood flowing. It was nearly 9pm when we started to eat dinner in bed and everyone just crashed. There was even snoring coming from the guy in the sleeping bag!

Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for lululemon, Swiftwick Socks, AltraRunning, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss. 

My Goal was Not a Hike-Thru… Part 1: Days 1-3

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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” –Theodore Roosevelt

I called my sister around 4pm on May 10th, day ten of my Ice Age Trail FKT attempt. I will never forget that day. Not only was it the day that I decided to stop my journey, but it was also the day my sister reminded me of exactly why I was doing what I was doing. And that hit home hard. I was fighting my body and my body was fighting me – to go on would be a complete paradox. My purpose was to prove that anyone can do anything through hard work, determination, and the respect of their body…and yet, here I was falling apart from the inside out.

Brian and I left for St. Croix Falls on April 30th, the day before starting my ambitious journey. It was a long 6 hour drive with a very loaded car full of shoes, clothes, food, and supplies – basically our entire house packed into a Toyota Matrix. There really was nowhere to eat so we ended up picking up a few things from the grocery store. It was a dreary day up north, but we did go to the Western Terminus rock – the start of the Ice Age Trail. It overlooked the beautiful Mississippi River which was swiftly moving, crashing into large boulders of earth. The trees were bare still so only shades of brown surrounded us as we explored this sacred area known as “the start line.” It was an incredible site. We went back to the hotel which was 5 minutes away, ate dinner, and packed up for what would be such a shorter journey than expected. Less than 12 hours to go.

My alarm sounded on May 1st at 430am. I knew I wanted to start by 5am but because the rock is located in a start park area, we could not enter until 6am. I’ll be honest, that threw me for a loop on day one – I was really hoping to get moving. The earlier the better. We headed to the trail and with us was Carrie, owner of Dream Lens Media, and her husband Tim. They are wonderful people and I was so happy they were able to share in this experience with me taking pictures and video footage along the way. Of course, the first day was not nearly as ideal as I would have liked. It was raining, or sleeting, or snowing at any point of the day. Perfect. In the grand scheme of things though, the weather was actually quite nice – it was cool and crisp along the trail and when you can’t feel a limb, there really is no pain to feel! I made it 60 miles that day…it took me longer than I had hoped but given the weather and need for more clothing changes, I was okay with it. I can’t tell you what segments I completed that day, nor any other segment for the remainder of my journey. My job was to run, no matter where or what I was running. I had good trail conditions on day 1 with road/gravel sections and maybe only ~3 miles of standing water throughout. I didn’t know just how bad it was going to get.


It was the end of the day May 2nd and Brian congratulated me for another 60 miles in the books. The day was different than the first day. We were more organized and prepared. Early morning, around 9am, one of the IAT volunteers met us at one of the connecting road sections. He was surprised to hear just how much standing water there was, but really didn’t think it would be a problem in the upcoming days. That was reassuring on many levels. I continued on that connecting road segment and back into the woods. About 8 miles passed when I was met by Brian and another volunteer who gracious gave us water and ClifBars. He had wonderful things to report about the upcoming segments and also made us aware of one of the more confusing areas within the next section. That was super helpful – there is so much logging in the area and fallen trees from past tornados, at times it was really tough to find blazes. This was nothing like running in the central and eastern terminus. I ran past the Boy Scout camp and that was my signal the section was coming to an end. I was now starting a long gravel/grassy train tracks section. Yes! I was getting off the trails out of the water and onto stable ground – perfect. I did a lot of talking to myself in that section – I also hallucinated often…I think it’s the straightaway that really does that to me. So I tell myself. With 1 mile to go, and Brian at my side for it, I see up ahead an older gentleman taking photos. It was another IAT volunteer – he was so excited and couldn’t wait to hear about my journey so far. I stopped on the tracks near a bison farm and we hiked together to the area where the car was. He was so curious about the trails and so hopeful. It was a breath of fresh air to be honest. Such a kind person – all of the volunteers were that came out. But unfortunately I couldn’t stop to talk for long, I carried on running once again. In one of my last trail segments for the day, Brian met me halfway coming from the ending location. It was really awesome that he would do this…drive the crew vehicle to the next stopping point and run or hike in to meet me – amazing. It gave me something to look forward to everyday. On one of those final segments, he jokingly tells me something he was told not to share with me by one of the volunteers…”you just went through the highest concentrated bear area in WI.”  It was a long day, wet, and trail conditions were worsening. And now bears were on my mind.

Oh and beavers. My first encounter was on day 2. I thought it would only be 1 or 2 encounters really, but no, I had to cross beaver dams nearly every day I was out there. It was pretty neat actually. I would come up to a dam – basically a pile of sticks and branches at the edge of a lake or pond, and really everything in between, in a row connecting one side of the trail to the other. I had to balance on beaver homes without falling to one side. At times this was a piece of cake, but there were a few times I questioned my life – I kept picturing alligators if I’m going to be honest. If I fell in, there would only be alligators and I was done for. The girl eaten alive crossing a beaver dam. (As it turns out, there are no alligators in WI – only at the zoo). I also pictured what it would be like if I fell through a beaver dam. I often giggled to myself because this was a conversation my brother and I had before I left. He equated falling through to be like a cartoon – the beaver family eating dinner and I fall in from the roof top perfectly into a chair. We are nerds, but it kept my mind occupied. For all 10 days, I probably crossed a dozen or two beaver dams and although I almost lost my balance, they were pretty safe parts of the trail.

Every day around lunch time I would get a call from Rivers. I looked forward to it because I knew it was my chance to complain, vent, cry, and everything in between. By day 3 though, I was still only crying to myself in the woods. Rivers and I would discuss everything but really it came down to ‘how are you feeling?’ He is one of those guys that is a saint. He would listen to me talk about anything on my mind and then talk to Brian about more that was on my mind. He coached me through aches and pains, body adaptation, my mental state, and my cycling emotions. When Rivers called, I knew it was not only lunch time, but time for a mental break from my journey. I turned it off for those 15-30 minutes. It was a release. And on day 3 I needed that. I started out day 3 in the Blue Hills. There is a north and south segment – both beautiful trails but destroyed by tornados 2 years ago. With limited resources, the trails were not well maintained and the fallen blazed trees, overgrowth, and my own mind got me. Got me really bad.


I was in mile 2 for the day on May 3rd and instead of going left, I went straight. I was given information about the next 70 or so miles by very helpful runners of the trails in the north woods. I think with my deteriorating mental state, I started to get the information mixed up in my head. I was convinced there was a large river crossing in this first 8 mile stretch. I came to a junction where there were yellow blazes, pink, white, and blue ribbons, and red X’s on trees – I had been following all of that since starting, so why would it change? Going straight through the 10 foot river crossing (and now I know which river he actually meant…the Wisconsin River) and up a somewhat trail looking hill…I was convinced this was it. I had to go straight. I had so many fallen trees already to climb, why would this be different? I was following red X’s and blazes and everything in between – why would that change? I was completely lost. I had a GPS set for the trail and still, I could not figure out how to get back to the IAT. I radioed Brian – no answer. I was frantic – a total crazy person at this point. It took me 2 hours to complete the first 5 mile stretch. I was mentally wrecked. I really was not accepting of “how slow” I was going and this was the first time since starting I was embarrassed about my progress. I didn’t want the world to know I was struggling or that I screwed up. That mentality dictated the rest of the day for me…I had my first day of amplified pain, rolling tears, and hiking. So much self-doubt with every step. Onward to the second Blue Hills segment, an 8 mile stretch.

At this point, after getting lost and having really poor trail conditions, I was nervous about entering the next segment. This became one of my weaknesses as my journey continued – with growing fears around wildlife, increased standing water, and more hallucinations than you can imagine, I was secretly scared to start each section. I can’t even begin to describe how I felt the moment I saw Brian whether he was meeting me halfway or waiting at the end. The mind is so powerful and even early on, I was on overdrive – too many thoughts and mind games. It was only day 3.

Lunchtime was right around the corner and I had a 22 mile connecting road section ahead of me. This was the warmest day I can remember. Sitting in the shade near the car between the finish of the trail and start of the road, a jeep pulled up. The man came out of his car and asked if everything was okay. So kind. We explained we were definitely okay, just having lunch and doing some running. In shock, he said, “you are running in there?!” pointing at the blue hills. With wide eyes I nodded and he said, “I wouldn’t run in there without my pistol on me!” As much as the city dweller inside me wanted to laugh, he had a good point. I started to think about the destroyed trail space and wildlife secretly waiting to attack me – maybe I do need something to carry. I don’t even know how to operate a potato gun…


The first long road segment started at high noon and ended 22 miles later at the end of the day. I hiked most of the way making it 38 miles before heading back to the hotel. Both Brian and Rivers didn’t seem concerned, but like any competitive runner whose goals have always been surrounded by times, places, and records – I was embarrassed and felt like I was in last place. I was 158 miles into my journey at the end of day 3 and all I could think about was how that wasn’t my goal; it wasn’t good enough. Looking back now, I realize just how jaded and controlling my mind was of me that day. I spoke with Brian more that evening. He is my rock. I was struggling so much on the inside trying to keep it together. He was struggling as well. Such a change from normal life. We were living in a new hotel each night, on the road living in a car during the day, and watching each other struggle on so many different levels. He made the ultimate sacrifice to be there for this journey as my crew – it’s a harder job than what I had to do. I just had to run and get from one point to the next. He did everything – set up, take down, food prep, phone calls, social media, coordinating – everything in the world, he was responsible for during my journey. There is something to be said for those that help you accomplish your goals, or at least help you attempt to accomplish your goals. He helped me that night turn it around for day 4. I’m not sure exactly how, but I knew I needed to smile and be grateful for Brian that next day. It had to be different…

(Part 2: Days 4-6 coming out in a few days…)

Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for lululemon, Swiftwick Socks, AltraRunning, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss.  

The Power of Control

IMG_2113.PNG“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” – Maya Angelou

It’s so true. We can’t control everything. As much as we may want to control everything, and even develop mal-adaptive strategies to try to control everything, we just simply can’t. Whether it’s with family, life, or athletics, control tends to be the reason why failure comes so natural. Have you ever been running a marathon and it gets too hot? Or starts to rain? Automatically…failure sets in and a PR is not in the cards. We all know we can’t control the weather, but what can we control in those athletic situations? How can you become the best athlete you can be in even the worst situations?

After my recent FKT fail, I realized that it wasn’t me that caused the fail, but rather one of the elements I could not control. It still didn’t feel good of course, but I know, deep down, that I mastered all of the things I could control in that particular situation. When it comes to racing or adventuring, there are 4 controls to achieve success – fueling, recovering, training, and attitude. It took time – a lot of time – but I have worked hard to perfect these 4 things; shifting my attention to what I can control versus what I can’t and it has made all the difference. Focusing on the weather, trail/road conditions, or even annoying people – that’s when we feel failure. And I have felt that. This is not an easy skill.  I want to tell the world what I know about how to be successful in a sport. Being vulnerable to the controls is okay because, I promise, that’s how you inch forward to your goals.

The 4 things I can control in a race or adventure…

  1. TRAINING. When you decide to sign up for a race, generally most people train for it. Proper training is key to success – we know that. Ensuring you don’t under or over train can actually be a big challenge for many people. Over-training typically is the main culprit. Now the simple solution is to work with a coach, but even then, I notice many times athletes will “feel really good” so run faster each mile or go just a little longer each day or spend the whole weekend doing “fun” long runs with friends…that adds up and all of a sudden, injury hits. More is not always better. Training needs to be specific and optimized for your body regardless of what others are doing. It sounds so simple, but in the moment, when endorphins are high, it can be really tough to train smarter versus longer or faster.
  2. FUELING. This generally is one of the hardest things for athletes to master. As a dietitian, I continue to work with so many people on their fueling needs for everyday training and racing. It takes so much time and the athletes that embrace what they need to do to fuel appropriately are the ones that master this control much sooner. Often times, people want to see change fast and do not believe me when I tell them they need more than what they think. Be vulnerable sometimes. There are dietitians that can make mastering this pretty simple! Also, with nutrition and hydration it takes a lot of time – experimenting is involved and really dialing in the specifics for all weather conditions is super important. Although weather is not something you can control, if you are a master of fueling, you can completely disregard weather as a reason to fail. Remember this about fueling the body as an athlete – dieting, eliminating, and manipulating are all actions that will never create success in the long run.
  3. RECOVERING. The best thing on the planet that you can do for your body – listen to it. It asks all the time for a break. Recovering day to day, week to week, and training period to training period is SO important to the success in your race or adventure. The recovering you do today will impact the race you have in September. Trust me when I say that! I have done everything wrong at some point in my running career and had to learn the hard way. I wish so badly to go back and recover when I didn’t long ago and, seriously, I missed out on reaching so many goals because of it. So what happens if you don’t recover?…Injury of course…as well as a diminishing metabolism, lack of energy, sore muscles and joints…you get my drift. Even if you feel SO GOOD, take a day off each week and a few weeks between periods. Day to day, be sure to sleep at night, roll and stretch, and just be – sit and enjoy a book or music or TV. Train hard, rest hard.
  4. ATTITUDE. Then there was attitude. Gosh I will be the first to admit this is still something I struggle with from time to time. Some races I can pull myself out of the deep end and others I simply can’t. Your attitude affects performance and success more than anything. This element isn’t about “wanting it badly.” This element is about being kind to yourself and smiling – showing gratitude for what you are doing. I know I talk about this often, but just try it. Show gratitude to your crew, your support, and your body for what you are doing no matter what the distance or effort. This is that moment when all things are going to hell and you are able to remind yourself “this is where I am right now and I’m going to embrace these challenges; I know I am controlling what I can control.” That is the attitude element at its best. Taking each step forward, forgetting about goals, and just getting through what you have to get through in that moment. Smiling through each step of suck. Like I said, it’s hard still for me, but I have mastered it and know how to use it if I so choose.

Take these 4 elements of control and see where you are with them. Do you need to first work on your training? Or maybe stopping to read a book? Or changing your outlook about racing? There is so much positivity that comes from knowing what you can control and what you can’t. Self-confidence, of course, but also a strengthened foundation – that you’ve succeeded regardless of the outcome. I fall into that mindset too at times (I am only human!)…that a fail means a fail and there is nothing successful about a fail. It’s so the opposite. The fail brings so much success in the long run, to both athletics and life.

So the next time you are worried about a race or goal coming up, remind yourself of what you can and can’t control. So what if the weather sucks….so what if there is reroute….you will be the best you focusing on what you can control – try it. 🙂

Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for lululemon, Swiftwick Socks, AltraRunning, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss.  

Commitment, Community, & Chasing Adventure

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“Action expresses priorities.” – Gandhi  

Have you ever asked yourself what you would rather be doing in life than what you are currently doing? I know I certainly have! Why do we think it’s okay to just live a mundane life…wouldn’t you rather explore, reach goals, and live?! Yeah, I know, “that’s not realistic.” I am going to tell you the truth – IT IS. And why not make it a reality?  Why can’t chasing adventure be realistic? Certainly what I see as adventure and living may be very different from you – and that’s okay – what’s important is that you actually do it and live out your dreams! I’m not going to believe that your life goal is to sit at a desk balancing check books all day. So stop. Think hard about your ideal world (i.e. family, job, etc.) and take the steps to make it happen.   

This is the 4th and final blog about my running story, my strengths, my flaws, and my goals and ambitions. This blog tells the final story as to why I run; why I do what I do. My commitment to running and my priorities are shaped by my life experiences and by my community. This is what chasing adventure really is for me – putting all the pieces together and taking the risk.  

This spring I will embark on very special adventure encompassing everything from this series (the suspense is killing you, I know!). Starting May 1st, I am going to attempt the fastest known time on the Ice Age Trail, spanning ~1200mi through Wisconsin. The current overall record is 22 days; I am attempting 19. Not only is this a personal goal for me as an ultra-distance runner, but it is also a message of complete inspiration. I spend too much time as a runner convincing others, and sometimes even myself, that I am a RUNNER. I am often asked, “you are a runner?! You don’t look like a runner.” Comments like these lead so many runners, men and women alike, to doubt themselves – lose the self-confidence that running is supposed to give us. I want to show people that by completing this adventure, it doesn’t matter what your size, shape, or build is; talent is not defined by the shell of our bodies, but rather perseverance, motivation, and hard work. Anything is possible – body image, other people’s goals for you – none of that matters. We are only our best in life when we are doing what we do best. And I’m going to prove it.  

I’ve been asked behind the scenes often, “this is nuts! Why are you doing this?!” Well, besides to prove a point, I’m doing this for the same reason I do every event or race. To excel. Certainly, I love winning races just as much as the next person, or setting records, but in the end, it’s really about the personal achievement. Some people coin that as “I just want to finish.” But for me, I don’t just want to finish, I want to excel beyond. And that means doing a sliver better than the previous day. Just a sliver better. Over time, change happens and chasing adventure gets easier and easier (and really in any aspect of life).

It may just be a personality trait of mine, but the desire to excel by setting crazy goals seems like the only way to achieve something better than ‘just okay.’ I suffer often in races, mentally or physically, or maybe even both given the day. It’s going to happen – your goals will be challenged brutally and quite often. What does it really take to set and then reach the goal? For me, commitment and priorities. When I set a goal, it’s all I think about. My commitment to running has been enormous as many of you know, and some people think that’s a bad habit, but I consider this commitment my way of achieving more than my brain is willing to let me achieve. Set a goal. Now make it bigger. It’s amazing how the bigger goal can be achieved with commitment. Along with that, come priorities…nothing changes if nothing changes. So yes, priorities do have to align with the goal. I can’t be a successful ultra-runner if I didn’t follow the proper training or eat well or drink water, etc. Sometimes priorities have to change or other things have to come to the forefront. Commitment paired with priorities linked to your goal will help – take the risk and chase the adventure down until you have it.  

The final pillar – community. I never would have become the runner I am today first, if I wouldn’t have started, and second, if Trae from Performance Running Outfitters wouldn’t have asked me after completing the Lake Country Half Marathon to be on the PRO team. I finished top 3 that day running a 1:26 and never felt better. That conversation started it all for me. I continue to run for PRO on the elite team and although I don’t road race anymore much, I am still heavily involved in the PRO running community. It’s so important to be involved in your sport. Maybe that means on a team, maybe volunteering, or perhaps it means having a group of friends to run with every weekend. Whatever that may be for you, make sure it’s a group. Some people don’t think it’s cool to be part of a running community or store – but honestly, it’s the best thing you can do to network, meet people, and learn the ins and outs of the running world. I have so many connections across the country just from being a part of the great running community. So important. And it will help pave your way to reaching your goals. It did for me.  

Commitment to my goals, prioritizing what’s important to me to reach my goals, and having a strong community around me answers all the questions. This adventure starting in May will be a continuation of all the great things I have achieved and plan to achieve in my life. I would rather think back on my life when I’m old as being completely content with everything I was able to do vs regretful. Might as well start now, right? Take the risk, chase the adventure, and reach your goals. Cheers.

Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for LuLuLemon, Swiftwick Socks, AltraRunning, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss.  

Unleashing the Confidence Within

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Confidence is defined literally as “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.”

Why then do we so often focus on what everyone else thinks about us as human beings? Maybe it’s an insecurity of how we dress, or physically look, or weight, or education status, or even financial status. I venture to guess you can think of at least a handful of times in the last week you worried about what someone would think about you in a certain situation. If confidence is defined from our own appreciation of our own abilities, why then do the majority of people struggle with confidence?!

Confidence is not learned, nor does it come wrapped up all neat and pretty in a box within us. Confidence is just there. You can choose to have it, or you can choose to sit in your hole. Sometimes, depending on what is happening in our lives, it can hide behind so many emotions and choices, and other times it stands up, front and center.

I know for me confidence came in many forms, but overall, in the grand scheme of life, I was actually not as confident as I thought. Until you go to hell and back, and maybe again, you really have no idea how grim life can be; ergo, confidence seems lost forever. But it’s not. Ever. Confidence is always there – just look at the definition. It comes from within – nurture it. After starting a blog series about my struggles in life as they relate to the overall theme of body image, I wanted to touch on how to move past it. This spring I will be embarking on an adventure – one that I would have never thought possible – but building upon my own self-confidence, it’s happening. Whatever insecurities you may be experiencing, the same tactics I used to build this confidence can be used to unearth the ego you have within. Trust me when I say the beginning of your life really starts when you can tap into that hidden confidence we learn quite often to suppress. Sadly, we are taught that confidence is a bad thing – sure, if you are a jerk to people it can be – but really, confidence in yourself allows dreams to become real achievements!

Five healthful ways to build, express, and stay confident…

1. Focus on you. Somewhere along the lines in life we lose all focus of ourselves and only try to please others, both family and friends. Likely at the expense of our own feelings, needs, and well-being. We start to do things that are solely based in what another person wants and at times can be so extreme it becomes our identity. Start to morph the focus – it should always be on you. Now, some people may think ‘I don’t want to be that selfish’ or ‘but I want to make others feel good’ and both statements hold true – as long as they are not hurtful to yourself. Start believing the notion that being selfish by doing what is best for you is NOT selfish (as defined by societal views). Go to college where you want to go to achieve your dreams…travel the world…have a dog…don’t have kids…move away from your parents – these are not selfish things. This is called living! Do more things you enjoy. I promise you your confidence will increase enormously just by changing your focus. And with that comes the most important part: avoid people, places, and conversations that make you feel bad about yourself. Those people, even if they are family and friends, are not worth your time. Remember, sadness from others should not dictate your choices in life. People that truly care about you do not judge you, limit you, or stop you from leading the life you need to live.

2. Stop comparing yourself to others. And with that, stop being so critical of yourself. I know, I do it too. When I’d show up to a race (and this isn’t perfect yet but has improved immensely since finding my own self-confidence again), I would immediately say to myself, ‘well she looks fit enough to win’ or ‘she’s warming up and I’m not so therefore she will beat me’ or some rendition of that. Stop. Stop comparing to others. Others have their gifts, but others have their flaws too! We all do. Recognizing your talents and flaws is a good thing, and unique to you. By identifying your talents to yourself, you can build confidence upon confidence. We often take for granted our talents so to only focus on improving. No. Focus on the talents first and improve other things by using the fuel from the talents.  Remember this statement: You can’t compare yourself to others because others are not you. And it’s true. No one can be me. Only I can be the best me. Be kind to those you are comparing yourself to as well. Likely there is some lingering jealousy based on whatever the comparison is and therefore an insecurity to back that jealousy up. Let go of those negative emotions, just let them be. They are there, but don’t have to control your every move or thought. Choose the path of being you and no one else.

3. Think, breathe, and sleep positivity. I know it seems like overkill, but until you do it naturally, without thinking about it and can positively self-talk to yourself, be sure it’s always in the forefront of everything you do. Positive self-talk versus negative self-talk? Seems like this should be a no brainer, but at the end of the day, the majority of people default to negativity, to the point that people can’t even accept compliments. How often does someone give you a compliment like “wow I really like your hair today” and your reply is 100 other things, never a simple ‘thank you’? Why can’t we just be grateful for these simple things? Start to accept compliments. And smile. Just anytime; in the mirror at home, at the grocery, at work, at walls – just smile randomly. These two things will pave the way to a life of positivity, even though negativity may be around us all the time. Take little self-care breaks too throughout the day. When you are stressed – go for a quick 5 minute walk, or even just step outside for 2 deep breaths. The change in climate and environment will do wonders. Ultimately confidence is being built by taking care of yourself and twisting the negative into positive. It’s hard though. Again, by default we think and speak negatively without even thinking about it. Do an experiment for yourself…every time you say something negative in your head or out loud, say or write down 3 positive things about yourself. Eventually, and I promise you this works, your brain starts to think more positively. It takes time – so be patient with yourself, and be kind! If you have been going for years with a hidden self-confidence, this will take work!

4. Find balance in your life. Often confidence can be diminished by the chaos around us – work, school, kids, travel, or whatever might contribute to your own personal chaos. Put your hand up and say STOP. We spend too much of our life out of balance and stressed out over things that really aren’t important. Things that, ironically, are not about us! That surely can’t help build up any confidence I would imagine. Start to reduce your stress load. How you go about that is up to you, just ensure it’s healthful. Maybe 10 minutes dedicated to meditation, listening to music, journaling, or calling a close friend. Maybe it’s keeping a list of what’s important to you in life and looking at that to bring you back to reality. But again, remember that what is important to you in life might not be what’s important to family and friends. That’s okay – be selfish – your job as a human being is to balance your life, not theirs. And sleep. There is no balance ever without proper sleep. The chaos can’t end without sleep. Breathe deep.

5. Avoid perfectionism. I’m a perfectionist, are you?! It’s hard for perfectionists to not be perfectionists so stop telling them to just ‘get over it.’ To a perfectionist there is no accepting of anything wrong and the only achievable thing is beyond the best. Unfortunately, perfectionists generally lack confidence because as they are constantly disappointed with themselves, fueling their desire to do everything better than best with all the remnants of confidence within them. Stop. To avoid and combat perfectionism, start by setting achievable goals. Once you reach a goal, embrace it and don’t change it to something different. For example, if my goal is to come in the top 10 at a race, and I come in 4th place, to not say the word BUT. No, you achieved it and be satisfied with the achievement. BUT statements are the worst and will keep perfectionism at its best. Next, embrace your areas for improvement. Don’t think you have to paint this lovely perfect picture of yourself for others. We all have areas of improvement – own them. Be confident in the need for improvement. And finally, get comfortable with fear…accept the unknown.  People lack confidence and stick with perfection by always doing what they do – Nothing changes if nothing changes. Right?! Take small steps into the unknown – close your eyes and do something adventurous – something that maybe you won’t be perfect at. See what happens and the level of confidence you have the potential to achieve!!

Building, expressing, and staying confident is by no means easy, nor something we can perfect. But, what we can do is try. Why choose a life of negativity full of insecurities mixed with a lack of adventure? Grab hold of your inner self and extract your self-confidence. It’s there. And use others for help! We can’t always do everything on our own. The final blog in this series will touch just on that – the power of the running community and just how much it can shape our goals and achievements. Watch for it. Cheers!

Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for LuLuLemon, Swiftwick Socks, AltraRunning, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss.