The psychology behind a 55k

Running a 55K.

I wanted to give an account of the psychology behind – or at least my psyche – and experience thereafter of running a 55k. From decision to race to feelings after, here is what it’s like for me…

So… how does one decide to run a 55k?

It happens organically, one step at a time.

Well… actually this is how it happened for me:
David “Swedish Angel” Soderberg, dear friend from Cloyne, sent an e-mail to a group of people, myself included on November 11, 2015 saying:
”To my potential running people. How do you all feel about trying to do this? It’s on Saturday, February 13th in Moab, Utah.
$115 sign up
$130 sign up after Nov. 13th. (two days from now)”.

Now if you know me, you know that I’m a sucker for a good deal! Coupled with my inability to turn down any type of invitation, no matter how big or how small, I registered the next day, without thinking through the repercussions of my actions.

Some things are best done on impulse.

3 months later, there I was: flying to Salt Lake City to spend the next five days in excruciating pain with some of my best friends in the whole wide world. How fun!!!

In the preceding 3 months, I did train. My general philosophy on running is: make a plan, but fuck the plan. Run when you feel good, and don’t run when you’re hurting. The most important thing is to stay healthy. I run 3-4 times/week. Most runs are 4-8 miles, and then one time/week, I do a long run. A long run starts out at 10 miles, and increases in mileage as you get closer to the race. The longest training run I did was 23 miles, and that was 1 month before the start of the race. Then I tapered down to make sure my body was healed and legs were fresh and springy.

The idea of running a 55k (or a marathon) to me, is that the whole is less than the sum of it’s parts. I don’t tell myself, you’re about to run 55k. I tell myself, you’re going for a run… for a while.

But back to this specific experience…

I landed Wednesday evening, and the David and Erika filled chariot (black prius with black top box, reeking of outdoor sport odors) awaited me. We stopped at the legendary Red Iguana and feasted on Mole and Margaritas.

On Thursday David and I went skiing at the local mountain: The Beaver (“The Beav”), while Erika dutifully went to class.

Thursday evening we saw the BANNF Film Festival – short films of extreme outdoor sports of all kinds, and it got that adrenaline pumping.

Friday, we packed up the car and set out for Moab (roll call: David, Erika, Kendall (they’re housemate & co-worker). We swung by SLC airport to pick up the one and only Kate Devine! And arrived in Moab just as the sun was setting.

We checked into the race expo at the local “Mc Stiffy’s” and then went home to cook ourselves a massive pesto pasta dinner. After a little shake out run, a fashion show of our racing outfits, and finishing the preparations of the coffee pot with grounds and water so it could be brewed with the click of a button, we called it a night pretttttty early (9:30pm).


Saturday morning, it was go time.

The morning of…
I’m nervous. But I have a regimen that I follow religiously:
– I eat breakfast two hours before race time so I have enough time to digest and let the body wake up naturally. I make instant oatmeal, but with coffee as the base instead of water. With a banana on the side. It’s disgusting, but when I eat that, the body knows it’s go time. I drink a liter of water, but when it’s about 45 minutes to race time I stop consuming and start… unloading.
– The pre-race-poop (PRP) is arguably the most important aspect of racing. You must must must do everything you possibly can to ensure this happens smoothly. The lines for the porte-potties at the start of the run usually take about 15 minutes. I give myself 30 (just in case). I take the time in line to stretch out my whole body: quads, calves, hammies, arms, back.

The run…
David and I ran the first couple hours together. It was the first time I’ve ever ran a race with someone by my side, and it was quite delightful! We chatted, and David told me all about all the gear he bought on sale in the past year. That guy is quite the shopper!!

After Mile 18, we started a long ascent, and my puny toothpicks-for-calves were no match for his bulging-Hasselhoffian-monsters-for-calves. He took off and though I dreamed that I would catch him on the descent and that we would cross the finish line victoriously holding hands, alas, it was but a dream and I never saw him again.

The Moab 55K course was the most difficult terrain I’ve ever tread upon. The first few miles were on a snow-covered trail. The middle of the course was up slick rock (sandstone). Descents were down slippery, muddy paths. Or down loose rocks. The majority of the course was either climbing or descending. Occasionally there were flat stretches, but even this was on dirt where you sunk in as though running on a beach. The trail was poorly marked with flagging or chalk on the ground.

It made it difficult to get into a rhythm. The consistent advice I heard from Kendall and Erika who ran the same race the year before said follow the runner in front of you, and walk the uphills. I heeded this advice. This was extremely important in the long run (no pun intended), because it allowed for more sustained energy. With a course that long, the goal is not to run as fast as you can at every moment, it’s to run as efficiently as you can.

To put it in economic terms, maximize the utility of your running. If you are only able to run 1 minute/mile faster for the uphill, but it expends 50% more energy and also takes up 40% of the total energy stores you have, that is not a smart usage of energy. Meanwhile, if you are able to run 1 minute/mile faster on the flats with 20% more energy, using up 10% of your total energy stores, then let her rip!

I generally pick someone to follow, and step in their exact footsteps, just inches behind them. This is helpful because it 1) gives me something to concentrate on and 2) keeps me on pace and 3) ensures I don’t get lost. As a cautionary note: just make sure the person you choose to follow doesn’t get lost, and isn’t a faller.

All that said, Moab was also the most beautiful course I’ve ever been on. The valleys were stunning, with snow-capped mountain ranges looming in the distance. The way the red dirt contrasted with the bright blue sky was magnificent. It was like everything was the Lo-Fi instagram filter #nofilter.


The #1 Question I get about running is: What do you think about when you run?
Here are the inner-workings of my mind…
– I tell my legs that I love them.
– I think about my breath, and my body, and I try to slow it. I feel most in tune when I’m running.
– I do math.
– I think about people I love and care about.
– But mostly, I don’t think about anything. I look up and take in the view and think about how beautiful the world is. And then I get back to looking at the ground so I don’t eat shit.
– I make friends who I run with for a bit at a time. The running community, (especially in ultras), is so friendly and supportive and positive. We’ll chit chat as if we’ve just met for coffee: where are you from? what do you do? have you been here before?
– And then towards the end, whether I’m feeling good or bad, I let that adrenaline flow and I tell my legs “I love you, now let’s go.”


When all is said and done, I finished in 5:34, which placed me 6th overall for women.

As a huge shout out, Erika and Kendall both finished with massive PRs from the year before (Personal Record), and Kate Devine finished her first ultra marathon, too!


The all important portepotties…


Sunrise at the starting line… IMG_3945IMG_3954

All done!


The aftermath…


Arches National Park the day after…


Savory waffles with my champions!!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s