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Leatherwood 50k

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4 ESV).
Leatherwood HQ (Photo credit: Stephanie Moore)
I’ve always known that running requires not only physical fitness, but also mental power. What I did not realize till this weekend was mental power did not just mean “toughing it out” or “sucking it up” during the race, but it also meant changing our attitude before and during a difficult race.

Last year while running the Leatherwood 10-miler, I was very glad that I wasn’t running the 50k/mile; but this year, I was going to be that person running the 50k. The weather forecast leading up to the race didn’t look good and it had gotten progressively worse. Knowing the slightest rain would turn the horse trails into mud pits, I was not looking forward to it.

Just a day before the race, I got an email from Karl Meltzer wishing me luck for the race. I had met Karl last year at WC-50 and we kept in contact for coaching. My injuries since the beginning of the year kept me from training but Karl was very kind to keep checking on me. I replied to his email and told him I was dreading the rain. His reply was, “Embrace it.” Well, what a novel idea! At the end, it was his words that got me through the race. For the rest of Friday, I tried changing my attitude towards the pending rain and mud. Everybody has to fight through it. Let’s have fun doing it.

Race morning came and the rain and mud did not disappoint – constant rain throughout the day and the trails became muddier and muddier. I laughed out loud several times during the race when I turned a corner and saw the long mud slide in front of me. I could see the skid marks where people slid and potholes after potholes where they were calf-deep (for me, at least). Compounding this was the lack of my downhill running skill. Even on a sunny day when the trail is dry, I would still find myself holding back and plodding the steep down. In this case, there wasn't much choice other than submitting to the conditions and embracing it. I slid, fell on my bottom, lost control, twisted sideways, but never face-planted! Two days after the race, I would say that it might be the best downhill training session yet!

During the first loop, I had leap-frogged the eventual female winner Rachel a few times. She was obviously a much better runner but was taking it very easy on the first 16-mile loop. I let her passed one last time a few miles before finishing the first loop, and watched her ran the downhill so gracefully and effortlessly even in the mud. Back at the aid station, Stephanie filled my bottle up for me. Her husband, Sam Mishler, was sidelined from the 50M due to injuries. Instead of staying dry and comfortable, they chose to volunteer the whole day in this miserable weather. Such wonderful people, as were all the other volunteers.

The second 14-mile loop was on entirely different trails but they looked almost identical. There was mud. Maybe a few more creek crossings. I’d say that if I were running the 50-miler, my attitude might be different. But knowing that I had over half the course behind me, it was easier to embrace everything. At the end, my legs were not trashed due to nature’s extra cushion on the trails. By this time, I had also learned that there was nothing I could do to prevent from falling or anything while going downhill because every step was unknown and the mud had a mind of its own. While the rain cloud still loomed over us, I had lightened up to enjoy the rest of the run.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, running ultras is my training ground for becoming a better person. This weekend I have learned that I need to keep my attitude in check because it does change the outlook as well as the outcome of our relationships and endeavors. Count it all joy.

Leatherwood Ultras


  1. Congratulations, Phyllis! I'd love to check out Leatherwood someday.

  2. Great job out there Phyllis! Brutal conditions.


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