Grab some coffee, pull up a chair and get ready to sit for awhile. Y'all know how I like DEE-TALE and I plan to recap my entire race from start to finish. So I guess you will be reading for roughly 10 1/2 hours.
I keep waiting for RW's Kristin Armstrong to blog about her first 50 miler that she ran on Saturday also. I follow her blog religiously as I relate to her on so many levels (not the level of once being married and now divorced to Lance Armstrong, but many other levels for sure). I'll admit though, I did look up her race results. She wrote about a heel issue that had come up during her taper. Her friend called it "taperitis", a condition of various unknown aches and pains that pop up during the taper due to crazy nerves. I've had that disease and it's painful :). Anyway, Kristin ran the Wild Hare 50 mile trail race in Texas. She was nervous as heck. I wondered why because she is a stellar runner and clocks marathons in the 3:30's. That doesn't matter. So does my cousin Sean and he was a bundle of nerves. While reading her blogs leading up to Saturday, I realized Kristin was nervous like I was nervous. She had never done it and had no idea what to expect. She battles race nerves as it is, so this was huge. I think we were twins separated at birth. But she got the faster running genes. Anyway, according to her results, she ran her race in 12:45 or something like that. I wondered if her heel became a big issue for her. Then I figured that was a pretty decent time considered the ENTIRE race was on trail (I'm sore thinking about it). Then I realized that since she ran with her best friend, they just had a good time enjoying the day. Then I realized that going 50 miles on foot, regardless of pace, was an incredible challenge as well as an incredible victory. Anyway, I can't wait for her recap and I'll now stop talking about some far away RW writer!
I'm not saying this because the race is over. I'm saying it because it's true. I could not have asked for a better experience in running my first ultra marathon. It can never be duplicated. Not the feeling the night before, not the feeling at 3 am on race morning and not the feeling at the start or finish line. I think those close to me who have been with me and run with me for the past couple of years can vouch for this. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, went exactly how I hoped it would. I vowed from the beginning that I would do all the things I felt would get me there as ready as possible. I left nothing to chance... from nutrition to total body conditioning to rest. I did it all. I read everything I could on what ultra runners go through physically and psychologically and took many of those points to heart. This was huge for me. Like many people, I know what's best a lot of the time, but I don't do it. Then I find myself bitching about things not coming together. I'm like this with my poor organization skills, which I have worked on a bit more this year, but I still have a long way to go. I scream and yell when I can't find things. I'm irritable with my kids when they can't find things. But you know what? It's my fault 90% of the time (not my kids' missing crap, but mine). If I just had a place for everything like all those stupid magazine organizing articles say I should, life would be SO MUCH EASIER. And so much more pleasant. So I took this concept and related it to my running world. If I wanted a successful, awesome and wonderful race, I would absolutely have to do everything within my power to do it. I couldn't control the weather. But I could pretty much control the rest of it. Including whether I went to the start injured or not. I knew I could not completely control the outcome either (twisting an ankle on the trail, stomach issues, ect..), but I would control what I could. And that came down how I prepared physically and mentally and coming up with a race strategy and sticking to it.
Let me just say the moments right before the race were nerve wracking. I had slept very well from 9 pm to 3 am. Six good hours of sleep the night before something like this is pretty damn awesome I think. I usually have broken, nervous sleep. And 3 am is only one hour before I wake up anyway. But it was a restless hour from 3-4. I thought about just going to the lobby to read, but then decided I should rest my legs the most possible before getting up. So I laid in bed and thought. Not good. I began to feel familiar panic taking over. What if I just collapsed from exhaustion out there? What if I could not even will my legs to move after a certain point? I came back at myself with "Well, then you will crawl." What if by crawling, I didn't make the cut-off? Ok, old habits die hard. Cut me some slack on thinking I'm crazy. This was a BIG deal! This is where all those stories I've read about ultra runners helped me so much. This is where remembering being with Jack during Burning River calmed me down. Those people could do it and so could I. And so could just about anyone in the world who wants to. Logically, I knew this. And reminding myself of the hours and miles spent preparing for this helped me too.
When I finally got up and moved around, the nerves dissipated. I was feeling pretty good, busily getting dressed and packing up. And yes, I put on make-up. So what? Who says you have to look like crap when you run 50 miles? I figured if I got taken out by ambulance, those medics would say "Well, she can't run very well, but she looks put together." And that was important. I'm not talking like "going out for the night" kind of make-up, but some was necessary.
After breakfast, which was a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich on WHITE bread (see, I'm learning... and I told you it'd be detailed), I went to the lobby for coffee. Now I ate this at 4:30. Because I learned you should have your breakfast 2-3 hours before your race. So I picked 2.5 to make it just right. I met Sean and Jack in the lobby. I saw lots of female runners in tights and began to second guess my choice of shorts. "Maybe I should go change?" Sean and Jack, being male, were looking at me like I was crazy. Why was I making such a big deal out of something dumb? Hey guys, I'm female. Wardrobe is a big deal like make-up is a big deal. Anyway, after careful analysis of the weather, I figured I wear what I would for a long run at home. Shorts it was.
John drove us to the meeting in the local high school gym. It was there that the race director gave his pre-race talk on procedure and guidelines. He assured us that if we were caught with headphones, we would be disqualified. No exceptions, no warnings. THIS was our warning. Thankfully, I knew this ahead of time as I am a music while running lover. Certain songs just perk me up sometimes. Anyway, Jack, Sean and I agreed to stay together at least for the first 15 miles. So essentially, for the trail segment. I knew Jack would most likely take off after that, but Sean and I agreed to run together. We both would love to hit 10 hours, but ultimately wanted to finish by the cut-off. Some people could petition to start at 5 am, giving them 14 hours. But you had to have a good reason for that to be approved. I had no such reason.
The start line was about 2/3 mile from the high school. Suddenly the race director tells us to get moving because it was just about time. We all flooded out of the gym and headed toward the start. Some of us jogging or hurrying. I got a good luck text from Sarah on my way to the start. After texting her back, I tucked my phone away, took a deep breath and within seconds, the gun went off. No turning back. I was doing it.
The first mile was relatively flat. Just about everyone (around me anyway) was sporting a comfortable jog or easy running pace. The crowd was filled with chatter and within seconds I must've met 5 different people. Well, ok... this is because I was wearing my Burning River pull-over. "Hey, when did you run that?" "Uh, er, welllll.... my brother over there" (pointing at Jack) "ran it this past summer and I crewed him and paced him for 30 miles of it. I am a poser. I did not run this entire race, but this is the best running pull-over ever so I'm wearing it." I got a few chuckles for calling myself a poser. But now come to think of it, perhaps they were laughing at me for never doing 100 miles!
Mile two began a steady, uphill climb. I took my cues from Jack and the rest of the runners and part way up, began to walk. The hill kept going. Turn the corner, it kept going. Finally... the Appalachian Trail!
We entered the trail and began running. So far so good. I was a bit winded from the uphill climb/fast walk, but I was good. I took a second to look around and notice the scenery. But it was literally, a second. I had to look at the ground the ENTIRE time of this segment. How ironic... I was in such a historic and amazing part of the country and I really couldn't soak it up and enjoy the beauty. I remembered Kathleen telling me "You have all day. Take pictures and enjoy it." So when we got to a relatively smooth section, I stopped and snapped a picture. After reviewing it, I thought it resembled Miami Whitewater's trail so I didn't bother posting :). The trail was technical. The hard part is that it was so covered with leaves that many of the rocks and roots were hidden. It was crucial to really concentrate on picking up your feet and navigating carefully. Most of this was single file running. Occasionally we would get passed or would pass someone walking when we were running. I fell twice when my foot caught a rock I didn't see. This gave me shaky confidence and forced me into an ever so conservative pace on the trail. But thank God it did! As I knew he would, Jack ditched us early on the trail. So much for Mr. "I'm sick and I'm going easy and let's stay together on the trail". This irritated me to no end. Hey Jack, JUST SAY YOU WANT TO RACE for God sakes! That's fine. But when you say you want to go easy, then ditch me, it mentally makes me thing I'm actually too slow for your very easiest pace. It's all mental, I know, but I hate when people preface a run with excuses on how they aren't prepared or are really tired or sick and then have the run of their lives. Just please shut up and run and if you end up feeling bad or slowing down or not finishing, then let me know what's up! It doesn't mean you suck. It means you had a bad run. I've stopped doing this myself because sometimes you can start out feel crappy or low on confidence and end up having a great run. And I hate when others do it. The decent coming off the AT was crazy scary. OMG... let me just say I had visions of myself plummeting to my death on this part. We were essentially making our way down a cliff with a steep drop off on the left and a narrow path in which to run (or tip toe). The humor in it was that there was a yellow piece of caution tape blocking the drop off. Gee thanks! That'll do a whole lotta nothin' if you fall! "Stay vertical" was the mantra of all of us making our way down. But we DID IT!! Sean and I made it to the 15.4 mile aid station upright. The trail segment was over. Now onto the tow path marathon! I stopped at John and the kids, did a quick shoe change, water and Gatorade refill, cliff bar and off I went. But not before John informed me that Jack was 15 minutes ahead and had "waited for Sean and I at Gathland Gap (9 mile aid station on the trail) but when we didn't come, ran on." Jack... you are RUDE! I got irritated when he told me that. Remember, we were sticking together on the trail, Jack? That was your idea. And by the way, Sean and I did a damn fine job on that mountain! We ran most of it. So there!
ANYWAY.... we began to run along the tow path. We decided we would do the run one mile/walk one minute method for the tow path segment. We took notice of the river and chatted about all kinds of things. Sean had a stop watch with running time but had lost his Garmin so wasn't able to wear it. He was feeling great at this point and I could tell was itching to go faster. He looked at his watch incessantly and asked me for each mile split. I finally told him he had to stop it. I was starting to get caught up in his pace and time goal game and it was bothering me. I reminded him that we wanted to finish. This was Sean's third time attempting to run this race and so far, the furthest he gotten during it. He laughed at himself and relaxed for a bit. Soon he began again. He asked me over and over how I was feeling. Honestly I was trying to think of anything BUT running. I was trying to get lost in thought, prayer, whatever because the minute I thought.. 30 plus miles, I got a bit upset. I realized I had to take this thing one mile at a time. But I did feel good in relation to the distance we had gone. I knew that tougher times were ahead and I was thankful for every successful mile because I was one mile closer. I did call Sarah when we first hit the tow path. I gave her a quick recap of the trail section and let her know I was doing and feeling really well. I knew she was wondering and I had promised to call if I had signal.
Along the way, we met and chatted with a few people. One guy, seen in my picture of mile 27 posted on FB, was a tough military guy running his first ultra also. He really liked our run/walk strategy and asked if we minded if he ran with us for awhile. Of course we didn't mind! Sean and I are a friendly sort and we welcomed the company. It was on the tow path that I really could soak up the beauty of my surroundings. It was incredibly beautiful and the pace was nice and easy. I wanted to remember it so I took mental notes of it all along the way. The bad thing about my Garmin was that it was reading about .4 miles ahead in distance. By the time it died at mile 40, it was .7 miles ahead. Let me tell you how upsetting it is when you know exactly where those aid stations are supposed to be and your Garmin is telling you that you are beyond it but you haven't even reached it. I'm actually glad the stupid thing died! John jumped in to run with me at 27. I saw the kids again and off we went. I was so happy to have him with me! I thought I wouldn't want him there and that he'd irritate me, but I was like a child needing the comfort of a parent at that point. Over halfway there, but still a lot to go. Again, I tried not to think about it. He told me Jack had been having some stomach issues. So I began to wonder how it would play out for him. I became less irritated with him than I had been and hoped he faired ok in the end. I was also grateful that up to this point, I was not having any problems.
Things changed a little right around mile 34-35. I began to get cramps on the sides of my legs. I did a full body assessment. My feet were good... no pain. My calves were good... THANK GOD (forgot to mention I felt my left calf tightening uphill mile 2 and got a bit concerned. But it went away and I ended up with no issues). My quads were actually ok. Big victories considering I was at mile 35. But this lateral cramping was bothering me and I was walking a bit more frequently. Called Sarah again and said "OK, only two outer loops left. I can do that, right?" By the mile 39 aid station, I knew I had to figure out something to make 11 more miles tolerable. I took some electrolyte tablets for the first time. I took 600 mg of ibuprofen, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, went to the bathroom and continued on. Sean had come and gone out of the station and was well ahead with his daughter, Kate, who planned on running him to the finish. So I figured that was the last I'd see of him. John and I walked for about 1/4 mile and then I started running. It was getting harder to start again after running so I was trying to run as much as possible. My mile splits were in the 12 min range and considering how I felt, I was happy. I knew I was finishing this thing and sore as I was, I was really quite happy. John and I chatted a lot. I told him over and over how happy I was he was with me. I was not mean or evil like I thought I'd be. Bad as I felt, I thought I'd feel worse so I was quite relieved. I was still running and had no blisters. My back and hips weren't really as sore as some other long runs I'd done. Life was pretty damn good at mile 41! At mile 41.8, we hit pavement and I hit a 4th wind. I was on my way to finishing up and I was so excited. I put on my reflective vest, or the "vest of shame", as my brother calls it. They give it to everyone they think will finish in the dark. Two years ago, Jack didn't get one. He made that aid station in time. This year he got one and when he told the lady "ok, give me my vest of shame", she replied in a preschool teacher like voice "Oh no, THIS is the vest of safety!" It was hilarious to hear him mimic her voice. I proudly slipped my vest of safety over my head and headed into, what else, a hill! I began by running, then walked (I had no choice). I turned a corner to see Sean and Kate walking up ahead. So the miles had finally caught up with Sean. John and I ran to meet them and he admitted he was struggling now. We hung for a bit and all started running together. I don't know what happened, but I began to feel really, REALLY good. I picked up the pace and began to run what I considered fast. The miles rolled by easily and before I knew it, we were at mile 46. Emma and Will jumped in and ran with me. Sean was back a bit with Kate. I wanted to take advantage of how I felt so I continued the run/walk 1 min with Emma and Will. They were sweet and adorable and I loved that they were doing this with me. What a lucky, lucky woman I was right then. Right before I hit mile 49 I decided that I wanted to run the last mile with Sean. He hung with me through virtually all of it. He felt terrific and could have taken off and finished earlier. I know he could have. But he didn't. At times, I wanted him to. Or so I thought. But looking back, I am so grateful to have had him along the way. So at mile 49, I stopped and waited until Sean and his girls got to us. We ran that final 1.2 miles together, grabbed hands and crossed the mat together. Oh my! I had just run 50 miles all at once!!! What a day! What a feeling! What a gift! I saw Jack and gave him shit for ditching us. Turns out he had struggled a bit with his knee in the end, but finished pretty decently. We headed back to the hotel where I took an ice bath, ate some pizza and went to bed and fell into an exhaustive coma.
I now sit here contemplating next year. The desire to race for a BQ has greatly diminished after this. But I am going to begin speed training again (with much more knowledge on how to do it properly now) and race the Flying Pig. My goal will be a BQ. If I get it, AWESOME! If not, no biggie. There is always another marathon to race. No more crying over missed time goals. No more pressure that makes me sick to my stomach and unable to perform. No more grieving over not getting what I feel I am "owed". I don't need to make doing what I love so stressful. Because I KNOW I can do it for 50 miles. Knowing that is simply all I need.