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We truly have some rock stars at Moms on the Run. Beth Jensen, franchise owner and coach of Shoreview/White Bear Lake Moms on the Run, is one of them. You've heard her name before. In August, we named Beth as Twin Cities' Most Inspiring Coach for 2019 (read her story here). At that time, she was training for two big fall races: a 50K and a 100 Miler. Two weekends ago, she ran the Savage 100 — a 100 mile trail run in a suburb of Minneapolis. With incredible crew support from her Shoreview/WBL MOTR team, Beth hit the trails in the middle of the night. But it's what she would do over the next 76 miles that would show her rock star status. Spoiler alert: She didn't cross the finish line the way she had hoped. Battling a shin injury, cold temps, nausea and mind games, she was disappointed in the results. But she nearly ran a triple marathon in 26.5 hours, and throughout her miles, taught the rest of us how to be a smart runner and listen to your body — and that is what truly makes her #MOTRstrong. We asked Beth to share her race story, and here is her report.
"I love to read other’s race reports to live vicariously through them and find tips/tricks to incorporate in my training and racing. This has been a tough one to pull together for me and I’m not sure why…the feelings of having so much amazing support, but not being able to finish? That it was my first race that I did not finish the distance I set out to complete at the beginning? The lack of time (due to new job, busy weekends, etc) to really sit down and put words on paper? Dealing with the residual injury? I think it is a combination of it all.
Some background: 2019’s chosen word of the year for me was “Scary.” It was originally based on knowing that I would be starting the year with my first winter ultramarathon (St. Croix 40 on Jan. 12) and getting into the Barkley Fall Classic (50K) in September. As luck (fate?) would have it, other “Scary” challenges appeared throughout the year: Afton 50K (two laps in the heat and hills vs one I had done in the past), Savage 100 (my first race longer than 50 miles), and going back to work full time in September. Note to self, 2020’s word needs to be more tame than “Scary.”
Training for Savage took a backseat to training for Barkley for me as I knew Barkley would be more intense and if I survived Barkley injury-free, I could power through hours on an “easier” trail. Training mistake #1: my stubbornness to move forward hits a new limit around hour 20 and I need to train better being out there for that long. It is also very challenging to balance recovery from one race with intensity and then being ready for another long one four weeks later. Potentially training mistake #2: never running the course prior to race day. For some, it is good to not know what awaits them on the course, which is usually okay for me. It is fun to be surprised and sometimes makes the time go by quicker. This time with the most intense hills in the first 5 miles, I may have adjusted my race strategy a bit better if I knew what the hills looked like before the race. Also knowing that my injury later in the race was possibly due to my running/walking form on those hills, I would have also attacked them differently.
Race day arrived, and I was so humbled by how many were here to support me on this challenge. From my crew chief Jen driving me down and helping set up our base camp on Friday night, my parents letting me nap at their house (the race started at 1 a.m.), my brother driving me to the race start line at midnight and hanging out until the race started, eight of my Moms on the Run friends who ran part or a full lap with me throughout the night and day, another MOTR friend who came to help give Jen a nap break during my toughest mental part, and my family for coming out to run/walk almost 3 miles of the most hilly section with me. It truly was a team event and, without them, I’m not sure how much past 50 miles I would have continued.
The Savage 100 is unique in that it begins in the middle of the night, so you have two tough overnights, one day, and potentially another day if you are still moving. Most 100 milers begin in the morning of one day, so you have 2 full daylight days and an overnight. Mentally, this is very challenging, even for a night owl like me. The course is 6 laps of 16.7 miles with the hilliest in the first 5.5 miles and the rest is mostly flat or rolling hills. I was fortunate to have Krista, Adrienne, Bonnie, Joann, my family, and Patty with me on the toughest 5.5 sections on laps 2-5. If I was alone, it would have been easy to take many breaks and get mentally exhausted. Linda, Cathy, and Traci helped in the other areas for conversation and motivation — many running/walking for the longest amount of time on their feet then they have in a long time or ever! I definitely had the largest crew in the race and the only one with a motivational unicorn!
The first 50 miles was a lot of positives with very few negatives, other than not really finding any food that went down perfectly. This would become one of the challenges later in the race and one of the big three reasons for not finishing. At mile 55.5, I hit my first negative mental attitude. It was getting dark and I knew I had a very long slog ahead in the dark. It was wonderful to see the kids and family on the trail, but I think at that point, having my brain naturally go to “mom mode” for about an hour was hard after being on my feet for 17 hours. I remember telling my crew and pacers “this really stinks” for the first time at that point. Got out of the mental funk within a mile or two back on the trail because this section was the “easiest” terrain-wise. It was fun being a mini tour guide to my pacers when it was their first time going through a section. Mentally and physically it was a boost. Sometime toward the end of this 4th loop (around mile 64 or 65), my shin started hurting. This was a new pain, but on my troublesome right side that has experienced a foot stress fracture and calf strains in the past. Fortunately, I had my hiking poles with me since this point on the previous lap, so I could use them on the lap 5 hills to offload some of the stress.
The end of lap 4 was the downward spiral. I reached the start/finish aid station exhausted, nauseous, and ready to be done. Patty and Christine were angels that knew the right amount of “leave me alone” vs support. Got some food down, but knew it really wasn’t enough for the long haul. The balance between eating and having it come back up was a struggle at this point. The common theme for this race was learning at many steps that my stubbornness and the ability to power through as normal lasts for about 24 hours — after that, all the wheels fall off. After some time sitting by the fire at the start/finish, I got a burst of energy and told Patty to just lead the way. I needed to just put my head down and take each step at a time, not watching the trail markers, not counting down the miles, not looking at the hills ahead of me. Knowing the hardest hilly part was next, I mentally could not think further ahead than each step in front of me. It was purely survival at this point to get to the horse camp at mile 5.5 of the loop (72.3 total) because I planned to take a 20 minute nap. Nausea was in full force and required me multiple times to stop for fear of vomiting. Rolaids at the aid station helped a bit, but not entirely. The shin was also in severe pain and when I would use my hiking pole on that side to offload, my wrist started hurting and cramping. This was the time where my mental struggle/questions/prayers were “are you making excuses to quit” or “is your body saying you need to quit?” I concluded that I will make that decision after the 20 minute nap. Patty was a true hero during this time, leading me along the trail, helping to hold me up when I stopped to try and vomit. I was not a happy teammate!
At horse camp, I was ready for the nap. Curled up in my tent, closed my eyes, and crazy comic strip images flew through my head until I fell asleep. Woke up after 20 minutes and kept laying there. It was FREEZING! The forecast was for the temperature to drop into the mid 40s overnight, but this was mid to low 30s. My body kept shaking uncontrollably and, combined with the nausea and shin pain, I almost quit at this point. But what kept going through my head was “I may be a loser (not hit the cutoff times for the race), but I’m not a quitter.” I could tell that Jen and Patty were worried about me because they were not their normal cheerleader/motivator selves. At this point, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to make it the whole 100 miles, but for some reason “at least 75 miles” completed was in my head. So, I turned on some music and went back out into the darkness for the next 4.5 miles until the Nachez Aid Station. Jen and Patty didn’t want to leave me alone, so Patty caught up to me (I was focused on moving forward at all costs at this point) and Jen planned to drive to the next aid station to pick up Patty. This part was the easiest terrain-wise, but also very low elevation with frost forming on the grass and low fog in areas. It was really cold. The few downhills were extremely painful on my shin and I sort of hobbled down them with my hiking poles. At times, I feared that the muscle could detach from the shin because there was so much pressure and inflammation. Again, the mental struggle and prayers in my head were to get a definite answer of “are you making excuses to quit” or “is your body saying you need to quit?” We arrived at the Nachez Aid Station and I sat next to the fire and looked at my shin for the first time. It was swollen and bruised in multiple places. That was the final sign from my body to call it quits, the injury wasn’t an excuse any more, it was a sign. The fear of causing more damage was very real and the nausea was still strong and hard to keep fueled. I tried to think ahead to the mental boost I would get at sunrise (it was around 3:30am at this point) and to finish this lap, but I thought there was more danger to long-term shin damage or passing out from lack of calories. So, at mile 76.8, I officially dropped out, got into Jen’s vehicle, and came home.
I learned a ton about my body’s response to that amount of time on the trail and do have the itch to someday complete a 100 miler, but in certain conditions to hopefully set it up for success this time. The things that went right were my shoes/socks were on point, no real blisters or issues. The support from friends and family was unbelievable. And, I went to quite a few dark places and found mental techniques to get through it. From staying in the moment, breaking the race up into pieces versus thinking of the whole thing (I never once counted up to or down from 100, just stayed in the lap I was in), and celebrating or focusing on the small victories (nap after the hilly part, keep moving to the next picnic table, chicken broth at the aid station). The learning, appreciation, and humbleness that comes from doing hard things and attempting distances/events that you are not guaranteed to finish (no matter what the distance) is something you can’t get from many places, which is why I will keep trying as long as I can!"
There was so much team camaraderie that pulled Beth through the highs and lows. Here's what Jen Fink had to say: "It is not often that you hear someone say, "I want to run 100 miles." When the person is your running coach and mentor, the person who you have watched support and cheer on hundreds of runners, your only response has to be, "How can I help?"
I am forever grateful that Beth allowed so many of us to be a part of her journey at the Savage 100. In true "Beth way," much like the sport of running, she made sure that the opportunity to participate in this race was accessible to anyone. She made it clear that her only goal was to keep moving forward, not at any certain pace. That she knew the course would be a struggle, however, having fresh faces along the way and people who could motivate and push her would be welcome. Many of us have had Beth show up to our races, often at the crack of dawn, or in my case, 2 a.m. for a Ragnar run. The opportunity to give just a little bit of the encouragement back to her was met with an outstanding response. A dozen people lined up to be able to run or crew for her.
Beth and I set up camp the night before, had a carb filled dinner, and then she went to her parents house near by for a few hours of sleep. However, sleep was elusive. She only got about an hour of sleep before she had to get up for the 1 am start time. Her brother was with her for the start, but Beth tackled the first 16.7 mile loop on her own in the dark of night. Other than her solo adventure on the first 16.7 mile loop, her Moms on the Run family was with her every step of the way, as she was not alone on the course after that. (#MOTRtruth: We leave no runner on the course.)
Like usual, just being near Beth - pacers and crew were as much on the receiving end of the event as the giving. She had one pacer realize that she "COULD run a half marathon!" after running 11 miles with her. Another pacer complete seven miles - the longest to date after double knee replacement. She was met at the camp by a large inflatable unicorn at one point - who was entertaining all of the runners with a dance party. Those that couldn't be there, but were watching from afar, shared their cheers as well.
As Beth continued to push forward, you could see what most coaches don't often share. Their human side. That they aren't perfect, and they have the ability to miss a goal, just like the rest of us. She allowed us to experience the joy and the agony. You saw the nauseousness begin to hit her hard at mile 55. You knew her shin was beginning to bother her at mile 60. You saw her shivering in the cold, and the pure exhaustion take over when the temperatures dropped to the mid 30's. You saw her wrestle with changing her expectations as the night became morning. And when you spend so many months training and working towards a goal, it can take almost take more courage to stop short of your goal, rather than push through, risking injury. Beth shared with me that she "DNF'd" during the race — Did Nothing Fatal. Exactly what, as a coach, she has told us hundreds of times: Listen to your body!
Beth finished 76.8 miles, which is nearly three marathons. It may have not been the 100 miles she hoped for, but she ran 50% more than her longest distance EVER! She pushed through difficulty and beyond her comfort zone. And she allowed all of us to be a part of the experience with her. And she showed us that a true mentor and coach isn't afraid to practice what she preaches — no matter how hard it was."