Coke, Cramps, and Cedar Trees: Running My First 50km Ultramarathon

Rachel Lee
26 min readOct 17, 2022

I looked around as I chugged a cup of coke.

Standing at the finish line of my 50km ultramarathon. There were a few spectators standing around, and a long table of medals to my right.

Except it wasn’t the finish line.

It was the halfway point. I had ran the first 25km loop in 2 hours and thirty seven minutes, and I had to turn around and do it all over again. I had to repeat every single step.

I finished my coke and took my first few awkward strides as I ran away from the finish line and trudged up the first big hill. I knew that this second loop would be much harder than the first. I could feel blisters starting to form on my big toes, and my right calf starting to send sharp bursts of pain throughout my leg.

And worst of all, I drank my coke too fast and now had a massive cramp.

Wall sits with a 50lb twist

Every race I’ve ran, I’ve been ready for. Had that calm, silent determination leading up to the race, mentally preparing to pour everything I have out. To give the race my all.

But this race was different. This race almost didn’t happen.

It all started with weighted wall sits. It was cross training day and I was starting the workout off with wall sits — a wall sit with a twist. Instead of just wallsitting, I wall sat with a 50 pound dumbbell balanced on my thighs. As I wall sat with that weight, I started to notice a pain in my foot. A sensation I had never felt before.

It wasn’t that I was tired. It wasn’t the usual sore feet pain I got after a long run. It wasn’t the ache I got after rolling my ankle on a root.

It was like a low rumbling pain. Quiet until I moved my foot in such a way that I balanced my weight on my toes. Then the pain swelled and rushed throughout my foot, up my calf, around my knee, charging up to my hip.

This is not good. I must have minorly twisted my ankle running the day before.

I had a 50km race in 8 days, and I could barely walk.

This put a dent in my plans for sure.

Two thoughts rushed through my mind 1) what if I can’t race? 2) WHAT IF I CAN’T RACE?!

What if months of work were thrown out the window? My biggest dream shattering, without me even attempting to try it.

But this made me think. What would happen if I couldn’t run the race? After all, there are many races, I could just sign up for another one once my foot healed. And I’m young, so there will be lots of future race opportunities.

My brained screamed YES (always so logical), but my heart screamed NO (always so emotional).

In retrospect, I think about why it was so important for me to run this race. Was it genuine excitement to run the race I’d been excited about for so long? Or was it because I didn’t want to let anyone down?

I have always been people pleaser. The kid at school who tries to impress all the teachers and be liked by everyone. Maybe my obsession over running the race stemmed from an insecurity of disappointing — not being able to do the thing I had told so many people I was going to do.

Not being good enough, or strong enough.

Quitting. Not following through. Not pushing through. Giving up too easily.

Weeks later I have concluded that emotions are way more powerful than I had ever thought. They are deeply rooted in every fiber, every cell of your body, sending subliminal signals to your brain every second. Normally I try my hardest to shut these signals down, to protect myself from these intense rushes of emotion, because I don’t want to become an emotional basket case. But now I am starting to see emotions as a secret code — my emotions are trying to tell me something, and I need to listen hard enough to hear their message.

Race kit pick up

All the stretching and strengthening I did for my injured right foot must have paid off, because 2 days before race day I had practically no pain.

Each day the pain got less and less until literal DAYS before the race I could walk, hop and run without any pain.

I was back in business, just in time for race kit pickup.

My heart swelled when I saw my number 11 bib. Red trees decorating the wooden-looking background, with 50km written in big white letters at the top.

I felt ready for the race. There were more nerves than usual, praying that my foot wouldn’t cause me pain on race day, but I was so excited.

4:30am, race day morning

I was out of bed before my alarm went off. My room was pitch black and I moved my hands around to get a sense of where I was. I clumsily managed to pull an extra blanket over my shoulders before walking downstairs to fuel before the race which started at 7am.

I made my typical race day morning breakfast: 2 scrambled eggs on a piece of whole grain bread with ketchup, and a piece of whole grain bread with peanut butter and honey. After gobbling up breakfast I sat down at my computer to ‘do work.’ (The plan was to edit another article I was writing, but that did not go so well. I nervously responded to messages until the clock struck 6am).

I carefully gathered my gear, running through the list of things I needed that was ingrained in my head. I filled my running bladder with water, strapped my watch on my wrist and piled into the van.

The car ride to the race was almost completely silent (probably because my family was still half asleep).

I looked out the window at the charcoal sky and was hit with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. I am gifted with health and am able to run, I am gifted with living in a democratic country where I can experience anything I want, I am gifted with beautiful nature and clear blue skies. I am gifted with life.

3, 2, 1, GO!

The gorgeous lights lining the first half kilometer of the course. I felt like I was stepping into a fairy tale ✨

The race director, Antonio, called in a microphone ‘2 minutes till start’, so I took off my sweat pants and hoodie, handing them to my sister. I put my headlamp on my head, double checked I had all my fuel, re-tied my shoe laces for the hundredth time, and gave my mom and dad a big hug.

Then I walked over to the start line with 26 other runners. The nervous energy of competition and excitement brewed around us.

And then finally came the countdown: 3, 2, 1, GO!

Start of the race!

I was off instantly.

My legs felt fresh and strong, propelling me to the front of the pack. Slowly I settled into a rhythmic stride where my mind was free to wander

This is the feeling that I love and live for. When my legs move effortlessly under me and my body is totally calm. It is the only time I have in complete and total peace and quiet, with only my thoughts and breath to keep me company. And I had the next 50 kilometers of peace, quiet and thinking to look forward to, so I was in for a treat.

Light is crucial to seeing where you’re going💡

This was the first time I had ever ran in the dark.

There is something so liberating about running in the forest in the dark. I felt like a complete and utter badass — my backpack on my back and headlamp on my head, decked out with fancy new trail shoes and yummy running bars.

Me standing in front the beautiful string of lights on the first few meters of the race course before lining up at the start line.

When I first started running a few years ago I was young and low on self confidence. I used running as a way to feel good about myself. It was the only thing that I was truly exceptional at, and had the potential to be great in. Running was my thing. When I had a hard day at school or did bad on a test, I would come home, lace up, and go on a run. I would always come back feeling better than I did when I left. Running is my personal source of both confidence and happiness.

Over the years, I have learnt ways to utilize running for strength and power (mentally + emotionally):

  • Many times, confidence starts from the outside in. Wear clothes that you feel comfortable in, buy gear that makes you feel empowered, walk out that door as the most confident version of yourself. It is very possible to change from the outside in and use your environment as a way to build confidence.
  • Don’t give a f*ck about other people. Don’t compare yourself. You do you. It doesn’t matter the speed you’re going, how you look, what your nutrition is like, the number a scale tells you you are. Block out the influence of other people and be your own person. And most importantly, stop comparing yourself to others.
  • Commit to doing the thing, and follow through with it. Accountability builds self confidence. When you say that you’re going for a long run, doing a hard workout or writing an essay, following through on that commitment builds a shit ton of confidence. Become the hero of your own story and commit to following through on your personal endeavors.
  • When you fall on your face, get up and laugh it off.

Quite literally.

7km into the race my headlight was not fitting properly. It was bumping up and down, from my forehead to my nose every time I took a step. So, still running, I fumbled in the dark to take my headlight off my head and tighten the head strap.

Thrust into the darkness without the guidance of my light, I tripped on a root and fell on the ground. It hurt.

My first lesson from running in the dark [learnt the hard way]:

  • Do not take your headlight off your head when running in the dark. Light is crucial to seeing where you’re going.

Clowns & cookies

I started out way too fast. For the first 12.5km of the race I was at the front of the pack — first woman and third overall.

The two kilometers leading up to the first aid station at kilometer 12.5 were hard. The terrain was especially technical, forcing me to put all my energy into concentrating where to put my foot. Roots and rocks littered the trail in all directions, making it extremely hard to run.

The only thing that was getting me through was knowing that I could see my family. So I kept putting one foot in front of the other, trudging up the hills at max power until I emerged from the forest into a large parking lot.

I quickly scanned the crowd and saw my dad with his camera pointed right at me, and my mom and sisters cheering wildly a few feet away. My mouth twitched into a huge smile and I threw my arms up above my head and waved.

Boy I am so lucky to have a family that loves me so much,” I said to myself.

Picture my dad snapped of me at the first checkpoint

I ran the length of the parking lot to the aid station table and was greeted by a guy dressed in a clown costume tracking times and offering food from the wide range of options on the table. There was bananas, peanut butter+jam sandwiches, chips, chocolate, pop and gummies.

I felt sick to my stomach.

My stomach was giving me problems the entire race. The fast pace must have upset my (usually) very cooperative stomach. Typically I have no problem downing food and water while running; but I couldn’t eat a thing during this race. I ate one small bite of my running bar and had 2 sips of water for the entire first 12.5km.

Definitely not enough to sustain me for the next 38 kilometers.

I heaved a long sigh and started running away from the aid station and back onto the course, sending a big wave to my family before diving into the forest.

Crystal clear silence

I ducked under a tree branch and hoped down a small hill onto the narrow trail. It is not an easy trail. It is very technical with LOTS of rocks and roots, twists and turns, dips and huge hills. It is the terrain that makes the race so hard.

You have to concentrate the entire time, or you will catch your foot on a rock or root and fall on your face. If you let your mind wander or distract yourself by looking around at the scenery, you will loose your footing and trip.

So there is only one thing to do: listen to the silence and be completely present.

Usually I go about my day thinking about the next thing I have to do. Sitting in school all day waiting for the clock to strike 3 so I can go home. Thinking about the meeting I have at 4 as I bike home from school. Day to day, I am never present. I live my life two steps ahead so I don’t fall behind.

The only time I feel completely present is when I am running.

I am not thinking about the meeting I have next or what I want to eat for lunch. I am concentrating on my breath and literally putting one foot in front of the other.

There is immense beauty in the simplicity of living like this for a few hours. I get to notice how my breath shakes every third inhalation, how my left foot hits the ground at a steeper angle than my right foot does, how my tongue traces the edge of my teeth when I am bored. I noticed the intricacies of the leaves fallen on the trail at my feet, and the sound of the wind rustling the branches above my head.

Beautiful Upriver Running banner at the start of the race course

I occupied myself for the next 12.5km by just being. No music, no podcasts, no thinking about deep philosophical questions.

And I can’t even articulate how alive I felt.

Those next 12.5km back to the start line were easier than the first 12.5km. I felt like I was on fire. My legs propelled me throughout the course, I walked up the hills, and slowed my pace to conserve energy. I felt open and free and calm and content, and happy.

Seven kilometers away from the half way point, I was still happy and calm, but was starting to hurt at the same time. I could feel the start of blisters beginning to form on my toes, and noticed a sharp pain in my right calf every stride. And in this moment I realized that it is possible to feel two contradicting emotions at once.

You can be experiencing pain, but also be joyful inside. You can be tired, but feel energetic and ready to take on anything. You can feel sad, but feel calm and peaceful at the same time.

I went through my childhood believing that you can’t feel two things at once. If you are sad you can’t be happy. If you are joyful you can’t be mad. “Contradicting emotions don’t compound” is what I had learned and internalized.

And this mentality screwed me up. When I was recovering from an eating disorder and at the darkest point in my life, I dug myself deeper into that dark hole and blocked out all the light “because I was sad and therefore can’t experience happiness.” When I felt like I was worthless, I ignored the people who told me how much I’m worth “because I cannot feel good while also feeling so bad.”

Now, years later, running has healed my broken self worth. I have used the crystal clear silence of running to dig deep into my soul and uncover parts of myself that I love. I have used running as a form of self discovery, listening to my deepest thoughts to truly understand who I am.

Through running I have learnt to love myself. Through silence I have learned to hear myself. Through thinking I have learned to understand myself.

And I finally feel like me.

Pink flags and breadcrumbs

My stomach calmed down and I had settled into an amazing rhythm. If I were to choose my favorite part of the race, it would be this section. I was in a total flow state, taking in the beautiful trails as the sun rose above me.

3km away from the halfway mark things took a turn for the worst. I somehow got off the course, running downhill in the wrong direction. After a few minutes of running, panic rushed through my body as I realized that I was completely lost.

“Follow the pink flags.” I remember Antonio, the race director, saying in his pre race speech, that every few meters in the ground is a pink flag, meaning that you are on course. “So if you don’t see any pink flags, retrace your steps and follow the pink flags to get back on course.”

The pink Upriver Running flags on the course every few meters

I hadn’t seen a pink flag for a good half kilometer.

So I turned around, retracing my steps until I came to a fork in the trail. The trail to the right sloped up in a short, steep, hill, and the trail to the left sloped down to a section of small pebbles.

I had absolutely no clue which way to go. Up the hill, to the right, or down the hill, to the left? I didn’t remember the patch of pebbles, but then again, I ran this entire section in the dark so I didn’t really recognize anything.

I decided to run up the hill and see if there were any pink flags. So I put my hands on my thighs and power walked up the hill, stopped for half a second at the top to catch by breath, before running a few meters forward.

No pink flags.

My heart pumped quicker and my throat got tight. I was in full fledge panic mode.

I bolted all the way back down the hill, stopped at the fork in the trail, and took the trail to the down to the left. A few meters later I finally saw a pink flag. I have never been that happy and relieved in my life, I swear my entire body let out a massive sigh.

I vowed to not get lost again — I wouldn’t let myself get so deep into a flow state that I took a wrong turn and wandered off course.

(I also vowed that I would follow those pink flags religiously, like my life depended on it. Which made me think about Hansel and Gretel finding their way out of the forest with breadcrumbs. This entertained me for the next 3km until I reached the halfway point. I played this game where I was Hansel and Gretel having to follow a trail of breadcrumbs - the pink flags - to lead me out of the forest and and away from the witch that was chasing me. These 3 kilometers were the fastest kilometers I ran in the entire race. I ran like a witch was chasing me.)


I made it to the halfway point in 2 hours and 37 minutes and felt defeated.

My legs were really starting to feel the 25 kilometers, and my blisters were at the point where I felt them on every stride. I was tired and could not comprehend turning around and doing it all over again. I had to DOUBLE what I just did.

If the first 25km were hard and I was doing it on fresh legs, what will these next 25km feel like when I am already hurting?

And at that point I wanted to quit. Walk over to a volunteer and say I’m dropping out of the race. I wanted so bad to stop the pain I was going through.

But what I wanted more was to finish.

I had promised myself that I would pour my entire being onto the trails. I had committed to proving to myself that I am capable of pushing through the dark moments of a race and coming out the other side stronger.

And what right did I have to be complaining? It was a beautiful day, the trails were in perfect condition, my family had come together to support me and I am healthy enough to run. So I said yes to finishing the race. I said yes to all the pain and suffering that would come in the next lap. I said yes to the dark times and sore muscles.

Should I have chips, cookies, twizzlers, peanut butter or jels?

Now here comes the real dilemma.

What should I have from the amazing array of snacks from the aid station table?

I looked at the spread and quickly decided against any hard food. My stomach was still not up to it. But I knew that I had to fuel somehow. I still hadn’t eaten more than 2 bites of a running bar or drank more than 3 sips of water. I knew that if I didn’t get some food down, the next half of the race would be even harder.

I decided on a cup of coke.

And it was the best frickin cup of coke I have ever drank. It was everything that I had been craving without even knowing it.

That coke was so good that I downed it in a few gulps and had a second cup as well.

Then I turned around and took the first few awkward strides away from the checkpoint. The ten spectators strolling around cheered and clapped. (I would later learn that I had finished the loop quicker than my family had expected, missing them by 20 minutes.)

I turned the first bend and ran up the first big hill into the narrow trail. For the second time.

The C word

I made it up that first hill and was hit with a massive pain in my right side. The word that all runners fear: cramps.

It wasn’t a light cramp or a tiny side stitch — it was a full blown paralyzing cramp that makes you stop in your track heaving big breaths of air.

“F*ck. I drank my coke too fast” I muttered to myself.

Just as I was coming up the hill, the second place female was going down to the aid station, so I know she would be on my heels soon if I didn’t get a move on. I sucked a big breath into my right side, crossed my fingers the cramp passed soon and took off down the narrow trail.

(The cramp did not pass anytime soon. They stayed with me for almost the entire 12.5km until the 3/4 way point.)

Competition or community?

Time went very slowly as I chugged along the trail, one foot in front of the other. Slowly, those steps added up and I had ran kilometers, then miles.

I got to the most technical part of the course — the steepest up hill with an extremely rocky and rooty trail bending to the left with a long wooden BMX bridge. I slowed to a stop at the bottom of the hill and walked up the giant incline.

At the top of the hill I stopped and took a deep breath.


I spun around.

“Are you tired?”

It was a female runner. The runner I had saw back at the half way point had caught up to me.

My initial instinct was flight — take off down the trail at max speed and put some good distance between us. This is a race, and right now I am talking with my biggest competition. Which means that I need to be hostile and curt.

We live in a society where everyone tries to be the best and out perform everyone else. We fake celebrate people’s accomplishments, vowing to do better and accomplish more. We try to have the best body, cutest partner, highest paying job, nicest car, the most “perfect life” (or at least more perfect than our friends). When you get your exam mark back, the first thing you do is ask your friend what they got, not because you want to congratulate them, but because you want to make sure yours is higher.

School instills in us from a very young age that life is a competition. The kid who is the most helpful gets a gold sticker. The kid with the highest mark on the test gets a special poster. The most well behaved kid gets a prize. The kid who runs the fastest in gym gets a chocolate bar.

We grow up thinking that that’s how life is supposed to be. A giant competition where the goal is to be better than everyone else. When someone achieves something great, instead of feeling happy and proud of them, we feel jealous and mad.

“Why do they have such good luck?” “Why do I never accomplish anything like that?”

So I had two choices as I ran down the side of the hill with the runner right behind me. I could be hostile, say something curt, and then run as fast as I can to maintain my spot in first. Or I could talk with this woman and run with her for a bit.

I choose the later option.

“Ya, I’m pretty tired. Don’t know how I’m going to make it another 20km,” I said.


“I’m Rachel.”

“I’m Robin.”

Robin and I ran together for the rest of the race.

I set pace in front, and Robin ran a few feet behind me.

We talked about the pain we were both experiencing (turns out we both got massive cramps from drinking the coke too fast), and how beautiful the trails were. When Robin was in a dark headspace, I encouraged her and cracked a few bad jokes, and when I was in a dark headspace, Robin did the same for me.

I was so grateful to have someone to talk to. Someone to say:

“F*ck. This hurts,” to.

Sometimes it’s nice to have someone to share your shit with. A person who knows what you’re going through and can relate to the shit you’re experiencing.

More coke, bigger cramps

Eventually we emerged from the forest to the same parking lot, marking the three quarter mark of the race.

I was so happy I could have cried.

Robin and I running into the three quarter way point aid station.

For the past 12.5km I had been telling myself “just make it to the aid station so you can have a coke.” And finally I had made it to the aid station.

I was thrilled to see my mom, dad and sisters cheering a few feet away. My sister Grace looked me in the eye and yelled “YOU’RE IN FIRST!” My other sister Ava was waving puppets up and down. My personal cheerleading squad. I smiled.

I ran to the aid station table and exhaled a long breath, shuffling over to position myself directly in front of the coke. I poured a large cup, downed it in 3 gulps, and poured a refill. I felt the sugar buzz travel through my body, like electric shocks energizing my tired muscles. (Also causing my stomach to do flip flops as a cramp snuck up my right side. All good things come at a price, right?)

The three quarter way mark!

One more deep breath, and I ran down the path to the trail for my final 12.5km.

“Meet you at the finish line!” my Dad called as I disappeared into the trees.

Hell 💀🔥

These last 12.5km were complete hell.

There are no words that can accurately describe how I felt.

It was the most pain that I have ever felt at one time. The blisters on my toes were huge, and I winced every time my foot hit the ground. My calves burned to a degree I had never felt, and my thighs felt like they were going to split open.

I can some up the entire last quarter of the race in a few words: I was dead. My body was exhausted. I had nothing left to give.

I had trailed a few meters behind Robin who was setting a (what felt like) excruciating pace (while in reality we were moving at a slow run).

Every fiber of my body was screaming at me to stop. Begging me to stop and walk.

If I wasn’t with Robin I would have succumbed to the temptation of rest. And if I did that, I wouldn’t have been able to start up again.

And this is what the hardest part of these last 12.5km was — forcing my mind to not stop. It was not the physical pain and burning muscles, it was convincing my brain to keep pushing and not stop.

I did not think about what I would do at the finish line. I did not think about how I would feel if I won first. I did not notice the nature or the trail. The only thing I thought about was putting one foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other.

My only goal was to finish the race. I didn’t care how long it took or what place I was in. I would cross that finish line even if I had to crawl across it on my hands and knees.

“What is the thing keeping you going?”

“What is the thing you’re thinking about that is pushing you to keep going?” I asked Robin 5km away from the finish line.

There was a long silence.

“Just stopping. Being able to finally stop.”

I nodded my head up and down furiously. That was the thing getting me to the end. It is hard to explain to non-runners, but at that point, when you’re in so much pain, a finishing medal or celebratory burger seem so meaningless. The only thing that I cared about was just stopping. Being able to stand and not have to drag one foot in front of the other. To hug my parents.

“And to see my kids and husband,” Robin said between breaths.

I laughed. “I was just thinking the exact same thing.”

We ran in silence for the last 5km. Both fighting our own mental battles.


“I think we will actually finish,” I said to Robin. “WE WILL ACTUALLY FINISH!”

It was at kilometer 48 that I realized that I will actually make it to the finish line. Relief washed over my body when it hit me that I would be able to stop in 2 kilometers. The one thing that was getting me through the race — knowing that I could stop and just stand still — was almost here.

“I’m going to give these last few kilometers my all,” I said to Robin.

“See you at the finish line,” Robin grinned.

And with that, my legs found a new source of power and strength. I picked up the pace and ran as fast as my achy legs could take me. The trail widened from one track to four track, marking the 49km mark.

I kept running.

Letting my legs fly down the last big hill and sprinting as I saw the finish line faintly in the distance. I ran as fast as I could.

In a blur of cheering, color, lights and noise I passed under the Upriver Running arch and crossed the finish line.

I had done it.

I had ran 50km.

I was officially an ultramarathoner.

Sprinting into the finish line

Tornado of emotions

Crossing that finish line was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. I felt so incredibly relieved, happy, and proud, but at the same time was also wincing in pain. It was like a tornado of emotions was going off inside me.

I was so proud to have finished, especially because there were points when I didn’t think I could.

Being in so much pain throughout the race made the accomplishment of finishing even bigger. I suffered so much during those 5 hours 33 minutes and 59 seconds, that finishing meant so much more than just crossing a line. Finishing meant pushing through the hardest thing I have ever done, and pouring everything I had onto the trail.

When a volunteer placed a finishing medal around my neck, I felt a few silent tears escape from the corner of my eye.

A pic taken right after I crossed the finish line

“Congratulations. You are the first place winner of the 2022 Upriver 50km,” a volunteer said as she handed me the first place wooden trophy. I was in disbelief. I couldn’t believe that I had won first place — I was the youngest runner in the race, and this was my first ultramarathon. I didn’t expect to place, let alone win.

As nice as it was to get that first place medal, it didn’t mean as much as finishing. I am more proud of crossing that finish line than I am of winning first place.

Those post race vibes

A few minutes later Robin crossed the finish line.

Robin crossed the finish

And I looked around for my family who were standing a few feet away. I walked (painfully) over to them threw my arms around my parents. I stood there at the finish line hugging my family.

I took a few minutes to enjoy the thing that got me through the race: knowing that at the end I could just stand. I looked around and took in everything, trying to process that I had just ran (and won) a 50km race.

I drank another cup of coke, and walked (very slowly) over a picnic table to sit down. I told my parents about everything: running with Robin, getting lost, and how much harder it was than I thought it would be.

Pic taken right after I crossed the finish line!

Sitting quickly became extremely painful — my thighs were burning and pulsing with pain. I massaged them, walked around, stretched as best as I could, but nothing helped.

That’s the reality of the aftermath of long races. Post race recovery is not a glamorous process. It is long, and slow, and extremely painful.

My new hardest thing

Pouring your entire self into the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other for hours and hours rips you down to your raw self. It exposes your weaknesses and highlights your vulnerabilities. It makes you feel naked.

There is always a point in a long race where you enter into a dark headspace and don’t think you can continue. Professional ultra runner Courtney Dauwalter calls this the ‘pain cave.’ While I have visited the pain cave during long runs and marathons, it has never been to the extent that I was in this race. I was so deep into the pain cave it was ugly. Yet beautiful at the same time. It is beautiful to know that I pushed myself as hard as I can.

This race is my ‘new hardest thing’. The hardest thing, physically and mentally, that I have ever done in my life.

But there is still a LOT of room for improvement. I want to get less scared of the pain cave, and be able to stay in the pain cave for longer without slowing down and getting discouraged. I want to get better at running long races, and get stronger and faster. I want to accomplish my next hardest thing.

Because I know that I am capable of more. I want to see what it’s like to run 100km, and I want to be given the opportunity to travel as deep as I can into the pain cave, and discover how to get out. And most of all, I want to push myself as far as I can go.

There is still so much more that I am capable of — so much more to experience and conquer. I am hungry to push my body and mind as far as I can go and experience my next hardest thing.

It’s hard to sum up all the feelings of an ultra race. I feel like I lived an entire life out there during those 50km. But if I were to sum up all the feelings I have into one word it would be: grateful.

Grateful for a healthy body, family who cheers me on, friends who support me, beautiful trails to run on, the kindest volunteers, and nature in all of it’s glory. It is a privilege to be able to run long distances for fun, unlike millions of girls that must walk for hours each day to fetch water, farmers that must walk dozens of miles to sell food in a far away market, or refugees fleeing their home.

So I want to end off by saying how insanely grateful I am to have had this opportunity to push my limits. It was everything that I hoped it would be: beautiful, fun, hard, and painful.

I have grown from this race so much, and learnt so much about running in the pain cave and pushing through when you body and mind is telling you can’t go any farther.

Because you can always go farther than you think you can. Always.


I’m Rachel, a 16-year-old biotech lover, ultra runner, and podcaster. Check out my other work and connect with me:

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Rachel Lee

Building the skills to one day build solutions to some of the biggest problems in the world |