This summer, Harlem Run had the opportunity to select 3 members of the movement to travel to Colorado for the Under Armour Transrockies Run. For those who are not familiar, the Under Armour Transrockies Run is a multi-day point-to-point trail running race which allows athletes to access and traverse wild and fantastic scenery, while building camaraderie, overcoming adversity and sharing a singular adventure. Participants have the option of choosing either the 3 day, 60 mile challenge or the 6 day, 120 mile challenge. Each day, participants run a portion of the course (called “stages”) with 6 stages total. We were proud to send Maya Gaytan, Maurice Childs, and Hema Lochan and share with you here their testimony from this life-changing event.
From the moment I heard about the Transrockies Run options to do a 3 or 6 day race, I knew that I was not only interested in but capable of finishing the 6 day race.
For the first 4 days of this race the excitement fueled me. Physically, I had been struggling since day 1 due to the altitude and pure physicality of the race. The feeling of not being able to take a deep breath and fill out your lungs is pretty weird, so I took my time on every uphill that came my way. Additionally, by the end of day 1, I already had 3 blisters and every day I got a new one. But my spirit remained high and, thanks to the great medical services available, my blisters were well taken care of at each stage of the race.
Initially, it was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to run as much as I would have wanted to due to the altitude and technicality of the trails.
However, recalling the pace groups that we have at Harlem Run - particularly the run/walk and walking group - helped me to see that whatever my pace, I was doing it.
Being able to adjust my priorities and accept my limits in the face of this challenge is a huge takeaway for me.
Day 5 was the most difficult day for me. This stage was 23 miles and I was experiencing pain in my tibia in my left leg; it was a kind of pain I had never experienced before! I knew that I would still complete the stage but I never knew just how much fight I had in me.
When you’re out in the mountains, you spend a lot of time with your thoughts.
Up until that point in the race, my thoughts had been positive and encouraging but day 5 was different. There were moments when I was by myself on the trail. I got scared. I cried. I thought about everything that could go wrong and, in that moment, the course seemed to go from 25 miles to 100 impossible miles! I stopped at checkpoint 2 and the volunteers did an amazing job trying to lift my spirits but I wouldn’t listen to them. Nonetheless, I kept going on my way, feeling terrible. As I was finally descending on the trail, tears started to come up again. Physically I was exhausted and in pain; emotionally I was a mess and mentally I had what felt like only 20% of my strength to keep me going. At that moment, Trevor, the photographer from Under Armour, saw me and yelled: “Let’s go Harlem Run! You got this! Looking strong!”. These were words he had said to me for the previous 4 days as well but, this time they had a different effect on me: it made me feel like I was home and close to people that know me. Those phrases meant everything to me!
To call this experience “life changing” may not even begin to cover what this race meant to me.
The Under Armour team was always there for us; Harlem Run never backed down with their support; my family and friends cheered me up every single day. I learned to be more compassionate with myself and I also thanked myself for taking up the challenge of stepping out of my comfort zone, giving me the opportunity to find myself once again.
Did I prepare enough? How will my body react to the altitude? Can I last? Do I belong here?
These were the thoughts that were plaguing me the night before the race. I knew that, maybe, my body could last the 120 miles – I had just ran the SF Ultra (52.4 miles) a few weeks ago, afterall. But my experience with ultra running also taught me one of the scariest impediments
– the thing that can often make or break you is your own mind.
Once you start to let your negative thoughts in – the “I can’t”s, the “this hurts”, the “I need to stop”s, you’ve already mentally DNFed (Did Not Finish). Coming out of my first year of law school as a low-income woman of color, imposter syndrome was no stranger to me. In fact, it had shot down my own self confidence to the point where the “I can’t”s were higher than ever. I was nervous after meeting all the other runners doing the race because I realized no one looked like me, I realized how expensive running a race like this was, and I started to emotionally shrink. I felt imposter syndrome in this space for the first time, and it made me nervous. But then I thought of Maya and Maurice, who were feeling the same. I thought of what being here and running this race represented – it was bigger than myself, and deserved for me to put my best foot forward (literally).
Being sponsored and given the chance to do this and diversify the field meant so much more than my own socially-imposed insecurities.
I hit the ground running – literally. And it felt amazing. Stage 1 shook out all my nerves and fears. I finished smiling – I knew then that I could finish. Stage 2 was amazing despite the harsh incline. But at Stage 3, things started to hurt. It became scary again. I ended the stage crying to the physical therapist (that we were so lucky to have), who showed me the stretches I needed to do to loosen up my legs. It made such a huge difference. Yes, it still hurt, but I took things easily and steadily. After she gave me hope of not being injured, I shut out all the “I can’t”s. Mentally, I knew once again that I was going to finish. And I did.
I honestly am still in awe, and wonder if I’ll wake up from some dream where it didn’t really happen (mostly because my legs are completely fine? HOW?).
There was an article I read recently that compared motivations of different kinds of runners. It claims that while half and full marathon runners run for self goals and health, ultra runners run to find meaning in life. And I can’t agree more with that.
I can’t thank Under Armour and Harlem Run enough for what this has done for me. I no longer will let imposter syndrome dictate my life. I am here, and I represent.
On Tuesday, August 13, 2019, my life changed in a way I never thought it would. This day was the first day of a 6-day trail run across the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
Before this day, I had never run a trail race before and had little knowledge about them.
When the opportunity to participate in this race was presented to me by Harlem Run, I really did not think I would be chosen to participate due to my lack of experience running trails. However, I was very eager to see what trail running was all about and what a better way to jump right in and get both feet wet (literally and figuratively) than to take on the Transrockies Run?
Why do I say this race changed my life?
Well, first, this is not just any race. This 6-day, 120-mile race really tests not only your physical strength, but also tests how strong you are mentally; it tests your drive and whether you are committed to following through and not giving up. Right out of the gate, the first day we ran 22 miles of sandy, rocky terrain full of rolling hills at high elevation. However, the altitude was not a problem for me; the largest obstacle was the technicality of the trails. I had to learn quickly how to maneuver through the trails, which was not easy.
I always knew that I had the mental willpower to complete the race but the lack of physical preparation (not enough trail running) kept creeping into my head.
And when the physical demands of the race began to takeover and my legs started to feel heavy and my ankles began to get sore, that’s when my mind went into overdrive and assured me that I could push through and finish each stage of the race. I would constantly speak to myself and repeat “one foot in front of the other” until I crossed the finish line.
Second, when I finally had the time to think and reflect on the race, I realized this race was about more than just me. I never thought of myself as being an inspiration and motivation for others, but that’s exactly the effect this race had on other people. Many people showed support and reached out to me and said how inspiring I am. One friend sent me a message via Instagram simply saying “You are an inspiration.” Another friend responded with “Boss moves! This is so inspiring.” My ex-roommate and friend sent a text message saying, “Dude, I am really inspired by what you did. I wanna try…I love the mountains!” My cousin responded by saying “You’re seriously motivating me to start running…maybe a few 5k’s or something, lol”. Other messages were, “Ok superhero!” and “You are my hero! That’s amazing!”
And with Harlem Run dubbing Maya, Hema and I “Hometown Heroes” that just shows the love and support we had behind us the entire race and how much we have inspired others within our Harlem Run family.
Finally, every day since the race I randomly think about different aspects of the race and I am still kind of in shock at what I have accomplished. This was literally a 6-day journey that resembled life. The mountains and the hills represented the ups and downs that we go through in life and the rocks, sands, tree branches/logs, rivers, etc. represent the daily adversities and obstacles we have to overcome.
Sometimes we may stumble and fall but we have to dust ourselves off, get up, and try again. And no matter what it takes, (through the good, the bad and the ugly) we will reach that finish line.