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Pictured Rocks FKT

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

With races canceled, it has left this year wide open for new opportunities. For me, this meant doing my first FKT challenge!

On 9/18/2020 at 8:03 am I started my 42-mile adventure on the Pictured Rocks section of the North Country Trail in the UP. I ran a 5-mile section of the trail last year and absolutely loved it, so was excited to spend the day experiencing the whole trail.

Being that I am a slightly competitive individual (just slightly?), I of course had a time goal in mind. Seven hours was my goal. I thought it was manageable due to the trail not being all that hilly. As I bounced through mud, rocks, roots, and hills during the first miles, I still felt like I was moving well and hitting my goal. Once I hit 3 miles, I looked at my watch and realized that I was already 5 minutes over my goal...WHAT?! Something must be wrong with my watch, right?

I hit my first water stop after 7 miles, filled everything as fast as possible and headed back out. I was still 5 minutes over my total goal time.

Then came the beaches. The sand was really fine and absolutely beautiful, but also impossible to run in. So, I did some weird combination of a speed walk and jog to try to move as quickly as possible, but not waste all of my energy. I still had 35 miles to need to waste all of my energy now.

The sand continued and needless to say, I got more and more behind my goal pace. I didn’t have the “average pace” screen set up on my watch (really, Jamie?) so I had no idea how I was doing. I kept trying to do math in my head in between the twists and turns of the trail, leaping over fallen trees, and focusing on not falling.

I spent the next 14 miles freaked out that I wouldn’t beat the FKT at all. “I came all the way out here and I am not even going to make this happen.” I went into a bit of a panic mode. I got off the trail at one point and had to backtrack. I also didn’t realize that the trail is marked basically only to show which trails NOT to take. I spent way too much time standing in front of the small signs and thinking, “Hmm, do I want to go that way? Follow the water, just follow the water.”

By the halfway point, I was on track to be just under 8 hours...the current FKT was 7:48...not...even...close. I was having such a hard time enjoying the amazing view of the water, the huge rock cliffs, and the beautiful trees. “Man, I am not going to make it. What in the world happened?” At that moment I told myself, “Jamie, this second half, you just need to book it. Risk bonking at the end because otherwise, you won’t make it.” So, that is what I did. I just took off as fast as I my legs would let me go.

I felt so tired and dehydrated. My second water stop was not until around mile 30. I kept trying to eat as much food as possible so at least I would not bonk from lack of calories. “Just get to the next water stop and then you can regroup.” I felt like I was fumbling through the miles leading up the the campground and I am shocked that I didn’t fall flat on my face.

I filled my waters, mentally took a second to re-group, tied my shoes tighter, and then I was off again!.

Finally, I felt like I could relax a bit. I enjoyed passing the lighthouse, the backpackers, and the log slide (seriously, check it out!). I made sure to keep eating as much as possible to keep my body and mind strong. It was game time.

When I start slowing down or feeling sore during a race, that is when all of the negative chatter really begins. “You are going too fast.” “You won’t make it.” “You are going to blow up.” Our minds are what limits us, so in those moments, I use my mind to shut off the internal chatter. How do I do that? Through imagery.

During races our deepest insecurities come out. We can try to positive self-talk our way out of it, but for long ultra-races, we can only do that for so long (well, that is how it is for me). Just because I say, “You can do it, Jamie!” does not mean that I will suddenly believe it on a deep, unconsciously level and then push my way through the pain. So, what I do instead is try to embody something that the deepest places of my mind truly perceives as strong, fast, and fierce. For me, that is typically some kind of wild cat, like a panther. I escape my own body and envision the body of the panther running where I am running. The panther runs fast through the woods, not allowing fallen trees, tall grass, rocks, or roots get in its way. The second I am able to escape myself and become the panther, I immediately speed up and feel lighter. I don’t notice how much my legs hurt, how thirsty I am, or how hard I am pushing. All of that disappears.

There is a lot of focus in training on training the body. But, during really hard parts of a race, it is our minds that will get us through it. My second half was 21 minutes and 14 seconds faster than my first half. That is one full minute faster per mile on average. The second half was! I finished in 7:31:46, which was almost 17 minutes faster than the previous FKT holder’s time.

I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to enjoy the UP and all of the beauty it has to offer. I am also so thankful that Brian was willing to drop me off at the start and do his own thing for 7.5 hours so that I could do this.

Now time to get ready for the Luce Line!

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