I have always been one to think ahead. Planning is my modus operandi, it’s what gets me through my days. Some of that is pure anxiety – I can’t handle not planning for things, because it stresses me out. If I plan to not have a plan, then I’m OK – but I still have to consciously say ‘Katie, you’re going to NOT plan something and just go with it today’. Case in point: most of my international travels. In Nepal, I planned one big activity (hiking to Everest Base Camp and through some high mountain passes), but I had another 3 weeks in the country where I consciously planned to not plan, I went with the flow based on people I met. It worked out, but only because I planned months in advance to not plan.
My mind is clearly a special place.
Planning and preparedness has always run through my veins, and I attribute much of it to my parents. They themselves were outdoorsmen, both working for outdoor retailers in my early years. To be an outdoorsman, there is a necessary level of preparation, planning and forethought that goes into a successful trip. Gear, food, shelter, navigation to name a few are things you shouldn’t leave up to the whims of whatever Gods you choose to worship. You must know what you need, how to get somewhere, and how to survive.
I’ve been out in the woods camping since I was able to walk. On a recent trip with my dad, he was recounting a photo he has of me, a tiny little runt of a girl frolicking through a campsite next to my mom’s old truck. As I got older, I joined the Girl Scouts, my brothers were very active in the Boy Scouts, and both my parents were very involved with us. I’ll leave my opinions of my years as a Girl Scout aside, but the years I spent on co-ed trips with the Boy Scout troops solidified my need to prepare. From day trips and hikes to multi-day bike rides and everything in-between, I gained a healthy understanding of what it means to prepare, and what it means not to.
Based on my 25-years of preparedness, it came as a surprise on one cold, rainy morning in April of 2016 when I was utterly unprepared for the task ahead of me. As I toed the line for The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K race, my first ultramarathon, reality hit me. I didn’t have the right gear, I was unprepared. The full truth of the matter didn’t actually settle in until about 5 miles into the race. The trails were soaked, and as more and more runners pounded the same grounds as those before them, a thick layer of almost quicksand-like mud developed.
Here I was, unexperienced, young and unaware of just how foolish I had been in gearing up for this race.
That morning, I laid out my clothes, knowing it would be cold – a combination of trekking clothes and running clothes to ensure I had the proper coverage for the 6+ hours I’d be on the trails. I had my base layer (capilene mid-weight), a thicker technical hoodie, and a rain jacket. A pair of long running tights, extra socks stowed away in my running pack, and gels and blocks to nourish me. And, I had my Mizuno road shoes.
As I slogged through the first mile of mud, my reality really set in. I couldn’t pick up my feet because if I did that, I would slip and slide across the trail, with the potential of falling, twisting an ankle, overstretching tendons in my legs, or worse. I shuffled my feet like I was skiing, hoping for some respite to this horrible reality that was unfolding in front of me. My shoes had no traction on them, nothing that would grip into the mud and tell it who was boss. I was bound to the elements, a prisoner to the whims of the mud.
A New Appreciation for Preparation
As I train for my next 50K (the Patapsco Valley 50K), I have taken the humble lessons of that first race, and applied them to my gear and training plan. I purchased a pair of amazing trail shoes that have everything I need – low drop, high traction, low weight. I train as frequently as I can in horrible weather conditions to prepare my body for the unexpected. I test new gear, new nutrition and hydration strategies, and more.
I was out on the trails for 18-miles yesterday in the pouring rain and fall-like weather. Heavy rains would drop on the DC area in fits-and-spurts. Puddles turned into lakes on the trails, covering the ground and hiding the roots, rocks and other obstacles that could be in-front of me.
But I was prepared, and I crushed those miles with a newfound sense of certainty I surely didn’t have as I toed the line for my first ultra.