Thoughts on Bubba’s Round 2

Over the weekend, I had the extraordinary privilege to run in Bubba’s Backyard Ultra in North Conway, New Hampshire. This was my second year running the event, and I wrote about my experience running it last year in this post.

Through some miraculous chain of events, I managed to pull off 34 hours at 119.0 miles at Bubba’s this year, which earned me 2nd Overall Female and 7th place overall. I learned a lot about how to run backyard ultra’s and how to be successful (or above average) at this particular backyard ultra, and honestly I think I will save those tips for a future post (which I’ll link to here eventually).

Photo by Joe Viger Photography

Running for 34 hours, or at the very least, being awake continuously for 34 hours, means that I have a lot that I can talk about from this weekend. Because everything felt so important, it is hard to capture the totality of the experience just because so much happened and it all felt incredibly meaningful to me. I think if I had to summarize things into two themes from this weekend, it would be:

Radical Acceptance and Positive Self-Talk

As a seasoned therapy haver, one of the techniques that I was introduced to several years back is called “radical acceptance”. Radical Acceptance is a core skill associated with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which is a form of therapy used to help people learn distress tolerance skills in order to help them navigate uncomfortable or painful situations. Definitely not designed with ultramarathons in mind, but I think the crossover is clear.

Radical acceptance means that you have to stop fighting reality, and that to cope with hard situations, you must accept all facts of the situation. Furthermore, you must accept your circumstance without judgement of yourself, of the situation or of others. To give a clear example from the ultra, one of the common questions people would ask on loops was “which direction for the loop is your favorite direction?” Now there is definitely a direction that is slightly easier for the year I did, as the more wet bridge traverses occurred sooner, and the beginning had more of a slope so it was easier to pick up speed at the beginning rather than go through a climb at the end. But focusing on what is “good” and “bad” about the situation puts you in a headspace where you are upset because you feel like a loop is suddenly not going to be as fun. By accepting that you will be running the loop regardless, and that you could spend the time you were upset about the direction instead on thinking happier thoughts, you are setting yourself up to be in a much better headspace.

I don’t think this particular question has any malicious intent, but I do think it enumerates the difference between someone that is looking for parts of the situation to improve to make them better, and someone that has accepted the reality of what is going on. Backyard ultras do not get easier as time goes on. People will not suddenly drop out of the race just because you want to win and be done running. The only thing you are in control of is running that set loop within an hour. Everything else, the pain your in, the status of the other racers, those do not matter.

One of the things I think I did well, and which is what led to this race being such a positive experience for me, is that I put a lot of effort into sticking to my affirmations and accepting the situation for what it was. The direction of the loop didn’t matter, because I would be running it anyways. It didn’t help to focus on the pain it my knees, I already took some advil and foam rolled so I handled it as best as I could. My stomach hurt a ton, but I knew that professional runners I had admired had rebounded from ailments like these, and I just needed to stay sharp to get through them.

When I wasn’t chatting with other runners, which is genuinely my favorite part of backyard ultras, I was focused on repeating my affirmations or singing along to music. Any doubts that creeped in about if my body was capable, I pushed them out and just thought “I feel good, I feel strong. I am good, I am strong.” Over and over and over again. This was inadvertently probably weeks of free therapy crammed into one race because I was spending so much mental effort pumping myself up.

On Deserving Things and Being Worthy

The reason I stopped the race was much more of a mental feeling of defeat than a physical problem. I felt like I wasn’t good enough, and I was proud of my effort where it was. It was a weird disconnect in my brain, to be saying all the right things self-talk wise but to still be unable to believe that you could actually be a person that does impressive things.

One of the things I really didn’t get a chance to do much this race is to try to do the proper visualization exercises that I could actually win it. When I ran the race last year I realized I was wildly out of my league. So many insanely talented trail runners, FKT holders, and just mentally tough badasses and I falsely thought I’d be able to hang with all of them. It turns out when you don’t run regularly enough, it makes it hard to hang with people throwin down on the regular. And no amount of mental toughness fixes that.

This year, I think I was afraid to really psych myself up that I could win it, because deep down I suspected there still may be a huge divide between me and the “real” runners that would win the overall thing. And while its helpful to know where your abilities are in the scale of things, its also hard to not be envious of people that are currently at where you want to be. Deep down, I think I was too afraid to be reminded that I may not be at that idealized place in my running quite yet. That maybe I’m not as good as I thought. Outside of running, this year has been pretty devastating for me. I went through an incredibly traumatizing experience that has really shaken my confidence. And although my running may never be evaluated by the people that abused me, I think I feared vulnerability and the sting of getting feedback that I am not good enough. Running has been the one solace in what has been a turbulent year, and I didn’t want my experience with running to be tainted.

So my goal entering this year was 48 hours. But I didn’t really visualize 48 hours or how I would feel about it. I just set a lofty goal because I thought it would be cool to reach it. I knew I could do better than the year before, but I didn’t really put in the time to visualize what reaching that goal would feel like, what it meant it to me, that it is something I truly believed in my heart of hearts that I could reach. And truthfully, I don’t know if this was inadvertently a blessing or not, since I no longer had to deal with dreadful thoughts of “oh lord this will go forever” since I knew exactly how long I wanted to go. But what I do know is that when it got tough in those later laps, when people were really thinking about “oh which one of these people is going to win it” I was not thinking those things. I didn’t believe it for me. And that lack of self-belief is what took me out. I know that I didn’t have the grit in me to say, “this is great you’re in the later laps, this is a confidence building experience and you have what it takes to win”. Instead, I just felt like a fraud and somehow nobody else caught on. And if I had put more mental work to believe in myself, I think I would have hung on better towards the end than I did. Instead, I buckled into the self-doubt, and while I’m incredibly proud of the overall effort, I know that the weak point of this race was not a physical one.

Final Thoughts

I still haven’t totally fallen off the runner’s high from Bubba’s this past weekend. The reason I love ultrarunning is because I love the camaraderie and I think the efforts people put forth are super inspirational. The community around Bubba’s is indescribable, and when you run the race, you see how much time and thought that the volunteers, Bubba, and the race directors put into this event. They do so much to make sure that every runner feels supported to go as far as they want to, and I am incredibly grateful for all their hard work.

Ultrarunning is a weird sport because on its surface it is technically all about the individual running. But there is no way I would have made it through this weekend without 1.) the help of my incredible crew, 2.) the opportunity to race a beautiful course, and 3) the great conversation with the other runners. The running takeaway from this event was that I ran 119 miles, but there is so much more I learned from this experience about myself, about my abilities as a runner, about my friends that crewed me, and about the amazing running community we have in the northeast. Once again, a million thank you’s to both Andrew Drummond and Monte for putting on another amazing race this year, I had an awesome time.

One thought on “Thoughts on Bubba’s Round 2

  1. I am an old neighbor-friend of Brian Burke’s and came across this reading about Bubba’s. Thanks for sharing, I found it both inspiring and filled with concretely helpful advice on how to think about the bridge between mental and physical. I look forward to reading next years!


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