Don’t Think, Just Run

This morning as I woke, the line between dream and reality was a bit blurry as I came to. I didn’t even remember falling asleep the night before. I felt around and under my pillow in the dark until my hand enclosed around the silicone case of my phone. I tapped the screen to check the time. It was 5:49am, exactly eleven minutes before I was to meet KT, Stephen, and Danielle at the Saltzman Trailhead, an approximate 15 minute drive away. Gah!!

After texting the crew that I’d be late, I jumped out of bed, put in my contacts, peed, threw on the first weather-appropriate clothes I could find in my laundry basket, grabbed a 6.5oz canned Starbucks espresso, hopped into the car, and sped off to the trailhead. It was basically my daily morning routine from the Appalachian Trail last summer, minus the drive–get up and go!

KT and I were planning to run up the 2.7 mile Saltzman Road (actually a trail) from the bottom gate to the top as fast as we could. Stephen and Danielle were there to get an easy run in and be our hype-people. I had done the Saltzman Challenge once by myself on February 23rd, then KT and I both went for it again on March 17th. I ran it in 21:16 the first time and 21:30 the second time. I really wanted another chance to throw down, try to dip under the 21 minute mark, and maybe even move up a few spots on the Strava leaderboard. Whatever motivates you, right?

Before any kind of big workout or race situation, like any runner or performer, I like to go through my preferred rituals and routines. Since we were meeting at six, had I remembered to set my alarm, I would have gotten up at 4:00am, had some breakfast, gotten hyped up on coffee, and picked out the perfect running outfit that would make me feel like a superstar. Plus, all that time allows for time to think about the run, visualize the run, review my goals, and get into the right “zone” or mindset.

Instead, I arrived at the trailhead still feeling half asleep and hoping the caffeine from my canned coffee would kick in soon, and wearing orange from head to toe because that’s what I grabbed first. I felt like an orange blob. Or maybe a carrot. A disoriented and very sleepy carrot. On the upside, it was a crisp, beautiful morning. As I ran up the trail to warm up and find everyone, I was treated to a golden, pink, peachy sunrise peeking through the moss-covered trees.

I found everyone up the trail a little ways, and we ran back down the hill together to complete our warm up. At the lower gate, Stephen offered to give us a countdown to the start and KT and I both groaned, “No!!!” Danielle exclaimed, “Ready, set, have fun!!!” which made me giggle and also want to cry a little bit on the inside. KT and I struck a power pose, Danielle took a photo to capture the moment, and we took off.

As was the theme of the day, there was no thinking about it. We just ran! And it was hard. Very, very hard. You’d think that with months of training, endless hilly runs, and all kinds of speed workouts, that improvement would just occur automatically. When I first ran Saltzman a couple months ago, I worked hard for every step. It was an honest effort. That meant if I wanted to beat my original time, even if maybe I’m theoretically in better shape now than I was a couple months ago, I would have to make every single step count.

I did pretty well with that… in the first mile. Every time the trail let up and flattened just a tad, I tried to stride out and take advantage of whatever the trail would give me.

The second mile, as expected, was the toughest of all. The climb continued up and up, and there was still such a long way to go. I started to bargain with myself. What I wanted the most was to just stop, so I told myself, “How about instead you just slow down a little and it won’t feel as bad?” The mind can be such a fickle, tricky temptress. I gave in and eased up a bit, conveniently choosing to ignore that there would be many flat sections to take advantage of past the second mile mark. I was almost through the worst uphill part, but pulling back felt so good. Or to use a better term, it felt “less bad”.

Once the upper gate was in sight, I threw in a kick and finished strong, maybe having a bit too much left in the tank, finishing in 21:09– a personal best by seven seconds. It wasn’t exactly the big breakthrough I had hoped for, and I didn’t get my “A” goal of sub-21:00, but I also didn’t run in a way that I really deserved it either. I think I can do it in the future, and I will try, but it will certainly have to be earned!

KT and I stumbled around a bit in our post-Saltzman stupor, eyes wide, hands on knees, and in between short, gasping breaths told each other, “Good job,” and “That was hard.” We jogged down the hill a bit to find Stephen and Danielle, they greeted us with some cheers, and we chit-chatted and giggled all the way back down to the trailhead.

In the end, going through all the little pre-race rituals and wearing a perfectly curated color palette might help one get in a good mindset and feel ready to rock at the start line, but today was a good reminder that it’s not necessary to have everything “just so” in order to run well, nor is it the training alone that will give you want you want on race day. It was also a nice reminder that doing hard things is always way better with friends by your side.


Thanks for reading! If you connected with this or felt inspired in some way, please consider buying me a coffee, sharing this with a friend, or replying and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate the support and love hearing from you!

Next time you hear from me, I’ll be on the road heading to Virginia to run the Promise Land 50K++ on Saturday, April 24th, then later in May I’m attempting a fastest known time through the Smoky Mountains on a classic 72 mile route known as the Smokies Challenge Adventure Run (SCAR). Things are happening! In the meantime, feel free to follow along on Instagram and check out my running log on Strava.


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Who is Mercury?

Liz Derstine, trail name “Mercury”, is a distance runner, endurance hiker, writer, and musician residing in Boston, MA. She holds fastest known times for women on the Appalachian Trail (supported, northbound), Long Trail (self-supported), and Pinhoti Trail (self-supported).

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