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The Journey to UltraMarathoner

Jena Chopson

I’m not even sure where the conversation started. My memory is foggy here, but if I had to guess, it probably went something like this:

“I’m going to run the Huff 50K with so and so…you should run with us!”

“...{Insert very brief pause}….okay, I’m in!”

That’s generally how I end up signing up for most races. Friend A says I should totally do said awesome race, and I ask when and where. It’s almost scary to think that there was very little thought put in to the fact that I would be running 31 miles.

Thirty-one miles.

You almost have to be careful going around telling people you’re going to run 31 miles. In the past month I’ve been told I was crazy or insane what feels like a million times. And of course the phrase, “I don’t even like to drive 31 miles” has been uttered more times than I can count. You tell someone you’re about to run a marathon and you might hear some of that crazy talk, but mostly you’re a hero. Slap on an extra 5 miles and you’ve gone from gym class hero to the star of the looney bin.

Despite all the crazy talk, and the fact that I hadn’t run a full marathon since January, I felt somewhat ready. I had been running consistently since July—when I paired up with a kick ass running coach & decided I wanted to shoot for a half-marathon PR at Indy Monumental in November (which I achieved by the way, by 6 minutes!)—and so I knew I had built up the stamina. Yes, it was going to be challenging at that distance, but I knew if I kept it slow and steady, I could finish. And that’s all that mattered to me!

As race day finally came, many talked about how cold it was. It had been nearly 70 degrees the weekend before, and that morning it was a balmy 22 degrees with a wind chill that made it feel somewhere around 10 degrees (or less). I’ve always said I am a cold-weather running fan and I feel that held true at this race. I didn’t mind the cold at all. I dressed for the cold and I was insanely grateful that it was not raining…or snowing…or that there was already 3 feet of snow on the ground or 6 inches of mud to run through. In fact, the course was one of the driest many had ever seen it. Cold schmold. I was thrilled to have these wonderful conditions.

At the start...before I knew what I was getting into! ;)

At the start...before I knew what I was getting into! ;)

So at approximately 8:15am, we set out. And by we, I mean myself and my ahhhh-mazing running coach, Michael Scott. I’ve written about the importance of having mentors and coaches in your life in the past, and I’ll echo that sentiment here: If you’re looking to kick ass in any area of your life, consider getting a coach (whatever kind that might be). Connecting with this guy was one of the best decisions I could have ever made for my running “career.” But I digress….

The course was two 15.5 mile loops. In a state park. In the woods. With hills. Trail running. I’m a novice trail runner for sure, having only run limited trail runs in the past. So I knew my pace would be substantially slower. We set out and I settled into my pace and it felt great. We walked the hills, ran the rest. Michael started telling me all his amazing running stories and I did a lot of listening (mostly in awe). I love running with other people. It takes me out of my own head and helps me to just live in the moment. It’s one of my favorite aspects of running.

During one of the aid stations, we switched over to a caffeine-containing nutrition which I later regret. I was feeling great until shortly after this….and when we came up towards the end of the first loop, I was ready to hit that next aid station to regroup. My stomach ached, I was nauseated, and it was becoming really hard for me to take anything in. Rut-roh, only half way and I’m already feeling not so great. I’m not going to lie—when we made it to the end of the first loop, I had serious doubts. I hurt. I didn’t know if I could make it an entire loop again. What if I started feeling worse? If Michael wouldn’t have been there pushing me the whole way…who knows. But he kept telling me he would drag my ass through that second loop if he had to. So after some regrouping, off we went.

The second loop was of course slower. My legs were starting to get fatigued, but to be honest I still felt pretty good at the start of the second loop—except for the nausea and stomach pains. Michael gave me a ginger chew and I kept on going. I told him to keep talking—anything to take my mind off my stomach. We continued to walk the hills and I made every effort to run as much as possible in between. I had to stop and walk a couple times, but for the most part I kept on “running.” I use “running” in quotations at this point because somewhere after mile 20-something, it definitely became more of a shuffle which we laughed at. Keep on shuffling, keep on shuffling….

Having a good time!

Having a good time!

26.3 miles. I had officially run my furthest distance…ever. That was a huge win within the race itself. I shook my celebratory fist in the air when Michael announced that we hit that.

But those last 5 miles. Those were something. I was still in pretty good spirits until we hit somewhere around mile 29. Two miles to go. Sounds simple, right? Except for some reason in that moment it felt like eternity. It felt like I would never get there. And at a time when I wanted to continue to pace myself and take it easy, there was Michael---God love him---telling me, “No more walk breaks! We’re running it in! Let’s pick it up!”

Pick it up?!? Pick WHAT up?

My legs literally felt like 50lb bricks. Lead. Everything hurt. If you ask what hurt the most—I have no idea. Even my back and shoulders hurt. And he’s telling me to pick it up. I don’t know if he knows this or not, but I had several moments in those last 2 miles where I was fighting back tears. In the moment I thought I wanted to cry because I hurt so badly, but looking back, I think it was all heart and emotion.  Realizing that I really was going to finish this. I was going to push past this pain and achieve something that so few others on this planet do.  Hearing the echoes of the words from those in my past who told me I should hang up running, that I wasn’t any good at it so why bother. And here I was…about to run 31 freaking miles. I was going to become an ULTRAMARATHONER.



Fighting. Back. Tears.

And then I could see the tent. I could see the finish area. It was right there. I just had to finish it out. And as we came to the final leg of it, out of nowhere (literally) pops my husband. In his hands he has a cap and gown (to help me celebrate the fact that I’m graduating Nurse Practitioner school today!) and he falls in stride with us. We’re all smiles. All of us. And I’m also in shock that my husband is running. Doug. Is. Running. What?!? ;)

As we run up to the finish line, all I can do is turn to Michael and say, “Thank you! Thank you SO much!”

Official finish is 6:35:16. Beautiful.



I’m handed my buckle and I walk over as Doug literally sweeps me off my feet in elation. He’s screaming—literally—screaming—“YOU DID IT! YOU DID IT!” And in that moment, despite all the doubts I’ve ever had along the journey, I know he gets it. He understands what this day means to me both from a running standpoint and from a gradschool/nursing standpoint and it’s all I can do to refrain from screaming like a crazy woman right along with him.


I’ll never forget that day and what it meant to me. And the best part is, it’s only a mere milestone in the greater journey that lies ahead.


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