Addie Bracy ran above the ancient and wind-bent bristlecone pine trees at timberline in the 2016 Pikes Peak Ascent, a half marathon that gains nearly 8,000 feet elevation. The race seemed attractive to a mountain-running newcomer. Runnable single track on the famous Barr Trail. Some prize money and good competition.
But as the stark granite landscape opened like a radiating satellite dish, as oxygen became scarce at Colorado's wilting altitudes, she thought to herself, “This was supposed to be fun. What the hell?”
(Photo: At the 2017 Barr Trail Mountain Race)
By the time she had reached the peak’s famous 16 Golden Stairs, steep switchbacks near the summit, Bracy admits to great suffering and a severe case of the miserables. Fortunately, those feelings didn’t last long. On Ascent day the summit of Pikes Peak is covered with race fans and mountain folk welcoming their runners to 14,115 feet. Bracy heard a friend call her name. There was hope. And then another shouted encouragement. She placed one wobbly leg in front of the other.
“That segment, I really hit a low point,” she says. “It (the finish) still felt so far away, I don’t know if I can do this. But you have people cheering, and if you take a second to look around, it’s so pretty. I just remember going from ‘I hate my life’ to ‘this is so cool!’”
She’ll tell you there were bigger things happening that day. Internal stuff. A boxing match between her newfound love of mountain running and a gnawing realization that she wasn’t being honest; not with herself, her friends, family, the universe. Something had to give.
That night, Bracy returned home and posted a blog for all the world to read, courageous words about the shame she felt in having and hiding relationships with women, and the fear of those relationships being exposed.
She wrote: “The reality is that I have had relationships with women and they were real and brought me a lot of happiness. Happiness that I never got to talk about or share with friends or family. During those relationships, I got really good at hiding things. Big things. I got really good at lying. Big lies. I got really good at ignoring the damage I was doing to my life and the relationships in it. I wish I could personally apologize to every person that was on the receiving end of one of those lies. I kept these relationships a secret from every single person around me because I felt ashamed. Why? Because I was taught to feel that way. Growing up in the conservative southeast, this was not a lifestyle that was okay. It wasn't accepted.”
Bracy had always been a track and road runner, and she had experienced some success in the previous four years with Olympic trials qualifications in the 10,000-meters and marathon (twice). But she had lost her motivation for training. She “felt trapped in a cycle of running and doing the same races every year. It became a pattern of not great experiences.”
Living a secret life hurt the most and she endured extreme anxiety attacks. She wrote: “I started to question my worth as a person. Just being out in public every day felt hard … I felt like the life was being sucked out of me in a slow and agonizing way. Eventually the pain turned to numbness and I went on autopilot. I wasn't living, I was just existing.”
She found the courage to share her secrets with her brother, then her friends, and finally, her parents. They returned her honesty with love and embraced her for all she was … and is.
She nearly gave up competitive running, but on a whim she entered the 2016 U.S. Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain Resort in New Hampshire ... and won. And qualified for the team that would represent the U.S. in the World Mountain Running Championships. And it all happened in her first mountain/trail race. A few weeks later she finished second in the Pikes Peak Ascent.
“I started running trails and mountains and I felt renewed,” she says. “The mountains set me free to clear up other parts of my life. I think the unhappiness I was feeling made me feel unhappy in running. The two were kind of feeding off each other.”
A year later and Bracy is thrilled to have the support of a Salomon sponsorship. She has also captured her second-consecutive U.S. Mountain Running championship, and a U.S. trail marathon title. She placed 10th at the Zegama Marthon in May, then returned to the slopes of Pikes Peak to win the Barr Trail Mountain Race on July 16.
On Sunday she’ll lead the Team USA women (including Allie McLaughlin of Colorado Springs, plus Vermont runners Kasie Enman and Caitlin Patterson) into the World Mountain Running Championships in Premana, Italy. One week later, she'll compete in the World Mountain Running Long Distance Championships (32k), also in Premana.
And Pikes Peak is on the schedule again. She'll run in the Ascent on Aug. 19.
(Photo: The 2016 Pikes Peak Ascent women's podium. Bracy, far right, placed second. Kim Dobson won. Llaura Orgue finished third.)
“I think Pikes Peak might be the first race where it doesn’t feel like a race, in a way, because you’re just trying to get from the bottom to top as fast as possible, which is a cool mindset. It seems like a more tangible thing to understand vs. run this fast around a track.”
Nancy Hobbs, who founded the women's mountain running team in 1995, has watched many a runner come and go. She is impressed by Bracy’s determination.
“She is very smart, very tenacious,” says Hobbs. “I truly have seen amazing growth in Addie as a person and as a mountain/trail runner over the past year. I think as her focus has shifted more to the trail and mountain scene, she has greatly improved and her potential has not yet been realized.”
For now, Bracy wants to ride the good vibes.
“It has been an amazing last 12 months,” she says. “I feel happier. The heaviness is gone. I feel freer. I’m less bogged down with thoughts and insecurities. That takes a toll on you when you keep it to yourself. I didn’t realize the effect this was having on me.”
She won't forget the path she has traveled, or the people who have helped her along the way.
She writes: "One of the biggest lessons I have learned in regards to dealing with my sexuality is that while you can be judged by HOW you love, you most certainly cannot be judged by WHO you love. You will never, ever, ever be as good at being anything as you will be at being yourself. So, if you are in need of a reminder about how authentic, real, uniquely special, and amazing that person is, look to your friends and family to remind you. Trying to be someone else would deprive the people around you of the person that they already love, accept, and cherish."
(Addie's blog can be found here. Great words by an excellent writer.)