Lessons from My North Face 50 Miler SF

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“Not all miles are created equal; not all paths are the same in life and in sport.” -Dr. G.

My 2016 intention was “to do more things that scared the $h*t out of me” from the large things to the seemingly insignificant. When I signed up for The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler in early March I knew this would be one of the “big” things, but not in the way that I anticipated. I was ready to take some time off from racing triathlon after Vineman 70.3 last year, but I still wanted to challenge myself – mentally, emotionally and physically. After 8 years of being in the sport I was ready to take some time off and shift gears. My readiness and passion for trail running came at the right time. My friend and trail running soul-sister-mentor Janet had been planting the seeds for me to get out on the trails with her for a few years and I was finally ready.

Lesson One: Trust time for your readiness in change. You’ll know when it’s time to move on from something. Listen to your inner voice and have the courage to act on it.

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My year was filled with many grueling, blissful and/or blah training days on the trails. I had a total of four ultra-distance training races (three 50k’s). Each one played such an important role in revealing my strengths and weaknesses. As an ultra-trail newbie I did not know where my mind and body would be after 3 hrs, 4, hrs, 5 hrs, 6, 7, 8+ hrs on the trails. I finished the North Face 50 miler in 12:24 minutes with 10,331 ft of climbing= all new territory for me! Outcomes, places, rankings and times won’t come close to telling the full-story of what happens on the trails in those hours.

Lesson Two: Take the time to “know thy self.” Go to the depths of what you think your mental, physical and emotional limits are and THEN go farther. Be vulnerable with yourself with others. Learn to be uncomfortable. As quoted in the poem The Invitation by Oriah, “I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.” IMG_5874

I have to admit, in this past year it was difficult for me working to triathletes and feeling like I wasn’t in the game. While I didn’t have race-envy or training-envy I still felt somewhat disconnected from the sport and the community. I would fall into comparison at times and question myself “should I be racing? Am I still a traithlete? Will I ever feel like I want to get back in the sport?” On the flip-side I was challenging myself to work with clients and elite athletes from sports that I didn’t typically work with. I started to appreciate the saying “When one door closes, another one opens.” So, shifting into trail running opened up space in my life that was filled with professional opportunities to “scare the shit out of myself.” Such as being published in Triathlete Magazine, Ironman.com, Shape Magazine, and MensHealth.com. Helping the CSU Track and Field win their indoor and outdoor Big Sky championship titles and being acknowledged by Sacramento Business Journal as one of their 40-Under-40 rising professionals in the Sacramento region.

Lesson Three: Experience is the best teacher, if you don’t judge it. Judgment stamps something as “good” or “bad” then moves on. Experience says, “What can I learn here? What can I do better and how can I be better athlete and a better version of myself in this situation?”

Lesson Four: In trail running there is absolutely no comparison from run to run or race to race or competitor to competitor. Every ultra-athlete out there IMG_5876on the trials is on their own journey to face their own demons. Each course and distance holds it’s own challenge and it’s own advantages. So it is in life, we can’t compare ourselves to how we used to be or stay in the “box” of what we think we should do. When we step away from comparison then we take life as it is in the moment. No comparison= limitless potential. When we compare we put ourselves in a limited boxed that we frame the “other” with. Take life as it unfolds…face the trail as it unfolds before you.

50 miles is insanely long distance to wrap my mind but what I realized on the day of the race is that I didn’t think. Most of the time I was in the moment navigating the elevation, the single track with out-back foot traffic, checking my nutrition, pacing, body, etc. For most of the race I was present and in the moment, not all blissed-out-Instagram-pic kind of moments, but present, doing the work, focusing on doing what is needed. Constant assessment. This is imperative because if you don’t mindfully attend to your body and give yourself what you need when you need it then it could set yourself up for some not-so-good miles or hours in the later part of the race.

Lesson Five: Many of the large and small “victories” in the area of spiritual and personal growth only I will know. Sometimes they won’t be the mind-blowing epic life-changing ah-ha moments. Sometimes they’ll be a whisper, a presence or a moment of deep knowing. Learn to be okay with that. Learn to be okay with not having everything documented on social media to chase “likes” or validation. I am more than what I project and what I project is not my full story- ever.

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Trail running over this past year has taught me so much. The biggest lesson I internalized was to detach/unattached from times, outcomes and placing. They absolutely do not reflect or tell the true story of a trail race. I’ve grown as an athlete as a person from taking this year off from triathlon to focus on ultra trail racing. I’ve grown to understand that I am not just a “triathlete” or a “runner, etc.” I am a person that loves to adventure and challenge myself. My abilities, my life, my joys or sorrows, my blissful moments and my demons are all things I have faced on those trails alone and with comrades, and I feel I am closer to being a better version of myself for it. One of the greatest gifts that I left with from my North Face race was friendship. Janet and I grew closer in my year of training with her, and I met two badazz chicas, Miriam and Misa, that helped me pushed me towards to finishline. We laugh, whined, commiserated, danced, hobbled and celebrated to the finishline. Had I not decided to shift gears this year I would have never met this two amazing human beings.

Last lesson: Be open to life’s adventures and people you will meet along the path. We are all amazing reflections of each other in this journey called Life.

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12308365_10153627973820266_7505938630038173010_nThank you all for reading and supporting my blog throughout these years! All of your messages, encouragement and connections make all of this worth it. I truly believe we are all reflections of each other and that our goal in life is to use our “stuff” to help each other shine through the darkness. Remember that you always have something to offer someone. Remember that everything you have ever gone through is meant to help someone else. Nothing ever goes wasted, not love, not our pain, not a smile…nothing. Have a happy new year and I wish you all many moments of happiness and connection.

Special shout out to my husband for being my sherpa and biggest supporter! I have never met anyone in my life that believes in me more than he does. I love you hunny!

Shine on beautiful people!

Dr. G

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Published by

Dr. Gloria Petruzzelli

Dr. Petruzzelli is clinical sport psychologist and certified mindfulness meditation teacher located in Sacramento, California. She works with elite athletes and sport teams across the country. She is competitive athlete herself and enjoys practicing yoga, spending time with her family and traveling.