Vinegar & Oil: Skyline to the Sea 50k

In one of my favorite books, Present Over Perfect, by Shauna Niequist, she describes what her friend, Geri, taught her about prayer:

"…Picture a bottle of oil-and-vinegar salad dressing, a cruet like you’d find on a table of the old-school Italian restaurant, with a plastic red and white checkered tablecloth and a shaker of hot pepper flakes.

The vinegar, probably red wine vinegar, rests on top of the olive oil, softly red, flecked with oregano. The green-yellow is at the bottom of the bottle, rich and flavorful. Geri said that when you begin to pray, pour out the vinegar first — the acid, whatever’s troubling you, whatever hurts you, what is hard and hanging your nerves or spirit…

Then what you find underneath it all is the oil, glistening and thick…This is the grounding truth of life with God, that we’re connected, that we’re not alone, that life is not all vinegar—pucker and acidic. It is also oil, luscious, thick, heavy with history and flavor.

But you have to start with the vinegar or you’ll never experience the oil.”

When I think about Skyline to the Sea 50k this weekend, this resonates with me. I’m still digesting the race, but like Seth and I both believe, sharing our ups and downs and life in training & racing can help our sport and lift up others. Instead of not sharing what happened, I’ll share.

I was incredibly excited to race Skyline to the Sea 50k, heading out of Saratoga down into the gorgeous and lush redwoods. I felt ready, prepared, and the morning went seamless, as we stayed nearby at my closest friend, Hayley & PJ’s home. As we walked toward the start, the race director counted down and said go, and in a blur waived at Seth as he cheered, knowing I wouldn’t see him until mile 15.

I was in a good position, right off 5 men, including two friends who took off quicker, as the large group ran quickly to grab a spot on the single track. We reached the first road crossing and I was in a pack of my own, running across the street and through the pink flags. About a mile later, a man behind me wanted to pass. We switched on and off the next few miles as he blazed the downhill and I ran much more steady on the uphill. We passed park rangers who seemed confused we were running that way. I didn’t question in until we realized no one else was behind and we started coming to multiple trail splits without markers; we hadn’t seen a pink ribbon since the road crossing.

As we stopped and talked, tears began to fill my eyes and I said, “This is my worst nightmare.” We decided to run back the 2.5 miles we had run out, only to see the pink flags bearing a sharp left directly after the road crossing. I made a call to Seth with tears in my throat and he didn’t pick up. Leaving a message, I told him I might just run back to the start. The man with me pushed me to continue on. Not hearing from Seth, I decided to, spending the next 14 miles admiring the beauty of the trails & dealing with all the inner dark thoughts and disappointments. I ran in a state of shock that today wouldn’t be what I wanted or what I had prepared for. By the time I caught anyone, I weaved through all those walking in the back of the back, passing at least 30-40 people along my journey back into the race.

I frantically looked for Seth at the couple of aid stations that there were, hoping he would have driven back or gotten in touch with someone. (Not realizing he had zero cell reception) I stopped at another aid station, making another phone call to tell him I would just run until I saw him. As I ran miles over rocks and roots, weaving through the terrain, I couldn’t help but feel so happy to be on the most beautiful trails, unfazed by the rocky terrain, and also, deeply saddened, choking back my tears and emotion, stuffing it down before it all came out. At points, my tears wanted to come out on any challenging rise, or remembering again of all that had taken place within 1 mile of the race.

As I passed through mile 15, they notified me my husband was looking for me. I could see our car, and him walking slowly to it, with his head down. I yelled at him, relieved to see him. As soon as he turned, the tears welled up and I took off my pack, feeling completely defeated. As I explained what happened, he asked if I wanted to run to the finish. Then, the sobs came as I exclaimed, “All I wanted the past 14 miles was to see you and be done.” He gave me a hug, I notified them I was dropping, and we walked to the car. I spent the drive home sobbing. I called my mom sobbing. I’m writing this now and my eyes are welling up. I’ve had disappointing marathons and races in my career. The only race I’ve ever dropped out of was at 2016 Philly half, where I had a fever. The disappointment from this race runs deeper than I thought it would. I’m still working through the vinegar.

As we made the drive home from Campbell yesterday, I finally found the results. The female winner ran 4:39 (I was shooting to run 4 hours + or minus a few minutes). I gave up about 40 minutes on my out & back at the beginning of the race. I looked at Seth and said, I should have kept racing. We both realized I wasn’t in the mental space to do that, but we talked about needing to grow in my mental dexterity, not just mental toughness. I’ve long had an ability to suffer and push myself, but in that moment in the race, I needed to see the bigger picture and realize that there was a chance to still run back through the race.

In Seth’s wisdom, he said, “Lauren, I completely understand why you felt how you felt at that point in the race. That’s how I would have felt, too. Sometimes we can’t learn the lessons we need to learn until they happen.” Meaning, I didn’t realize in that moment that I even had the opportunity to continue on and still run onto the podium in a field that wasn’t necessarily competitive for me. I was mentally and emotionally tired, but physically I felt really good. On a different day, when something goes wrong in another race, because it will, inevitably, I’ll have a deeper tool bag to pull out of. I gained valuable wisdom from a really hard lesson. Getting lost or making a wrong turn happens often in trail races. It’s just a part of it and learning to not miss turns, taking the time to pause more often.

I’m still getting to the oil of this race, still uncovering the vinegar that I’m pouring out to the Lord in my prayers and thoughts. I’m still feeling deeply disappointed, and rocked a bit to continue training for TNF 50 in a month. But, what I do know is: there’s oil at the bottom. I will get there. Sometimes, the lessons we need to learn come from deep disappointments.

“You cannot taste the oil until you pour out the vinegar. And it’s okay to admit that there’s vinegar—all the small hurts and enormous fears. You pour it all out, letting the all-powerful God who knows you and loves you see you as you are, the scariest things any of us can do: allow ourselves to be seen.” -S. Niequist

On a much happier day: 30 miles on Ojai Trails: