My shoes and chosen outfit were set out with care. I counted and recounted my cliff shots to make sure I had the right number. I spent a decent amount of time stretching and rolling out those spots that caused me the most pain over the last three weeks of training.
I was ready. It was GO time.
In fact, nothing really went wrong with all my prep. Nor my expected injuries. I didn’t know how I’d do on my second ever 50k, but I did know that, failing something major happened, I would finish. Hell, the race I was doing only had one time that all distances had to be completed by, and that was 30 hours after the start.
I could certainly get 31.0686 miles completed in that time.
Sleep didn’t come easily…and when it did come, it brought some really out-there nightmarish dreams that bothered me enough that I would wake up just to make it stop.
Even the lack of sleep didn’t bother me. I was excited to get this run started, and then over with. It was an odd compilation of confidence, impatience, and concern. I was still pretty focused on my injuries, and the last thing I wanted was a case of full-blown plantar fasciitis, anything torn, and a case of the ‘horror-shits’.
I made it to the start line and was able to wish my friends doing the 100-mile run luck. Mel told me that I needed to be happy….that this run needed to be a happy one. And to help, she brought happy stones for the group. I chose mine, and was touched. I desperately want to be happy. I don’t think my friends realize just how much.
Ouch. That got real. Back to the race recap.
I tucked my happy green little stone into the back pocket of my running jacket, cheesed for a photo with Mel and Andrew, and then spent the pre-race talk in the extra-long bathroom line.
The head-quarters / start/finish/main aid area of this race was based out of / at a local high school – so there were real bathrooms, and there was warm space – and with some hill walking, showers. We’ll get to the showers…
The day started chilly – and essentially stayed that way, just cold enough to justify a jacket over a long sleeve and tights, but also super sunny and occasionally warm enough to make you sweat and want to ditch a layer. Prior to heading out the doors to the start line, one of Andrew’s friends gave me a packet of hand warmers – a tool that I didn’t even consider the need for. I was so grateful to have them for the first “full” loop (I ..uh..”lost” them during a potty stop..).
The course was like a double “lollipop” layout: An out and back with a loop on the end. One portion was the “big side” and the other, yes, the “small”. Basically, one was slightly longer than 9 miles, and the other was 2ish miles. All together, despite what the race management wanted to claim, the whole course was 11.5 miles. You’d head out on the big loop, come back to the main start/finish/aid station area, run through, and do the small loop, then come back and do it all over again. Race management pouted and stomped their feet and said, “It’s 10.33 miles total per lap, and all other GPS will be wrong.” I’m not exactly exaggerating. When I ran the course last year, 50k runners cut out the short loop entirely on their third pass…so I was flying fine thinking I’d only have to do two small loops (Which made me happy, because for some reason that portion of the route sucked the most), and three big loops and I’d be finished!
We had to do three of the full loops. Extra miles be damned.
Loop 1: 11.5 miles
I set out at the gun, falling in almost immediately with a woman who wanted to “take it easy”. We clicked off 9 minute miles and chatted, but she soon decided that this was too fast, and fell back. So I moved on. Passing and chatting a little as I sought out someone running about the 9 minute pace I was seeking. I knew it was going to be a tough run if I couldn’t find distraction soon. The 9:00-8:50 minute pace I was keeping felt so difficult, I kept checking to make sure I wasn’t speeding through at 8 minutes even. I fell into step with a local woman who was part of a relay team. We chatted about marathons and shared experience stories. It was very pleasant. She even coaxed me to promise to put the Knoxville Marathon on my radar for 2017. As I started to fade from her, I chatted with a man who was cooking his first few miles of the 100 mile race.
The course changes meant that the hill back to the main area was a longer climb. I actually really welcomed all the hills on this course. My “hundo” friend dropped to stop by his car and change up his gear for the next loop, and I re-caught my relay friend. This was when I started doing the distance math in my head, and realized that the race was going to have me going farther than 50k by the end. As I passed through the main area after the short loop, my husband caught me and gave me some items that I needed. I predicted 1hr40minutes-ish for the full loop, but that was when I thought it was 10 miles. I managed 1hr43 for the 11.5miles though. My husband was impressed with my prediction and was super supportive. He said he’d meet me there on the next full loop with more water and anything else I needed, just let him know. He also reminded me to just chill out and have fun. No need to hurry. He wished me luck and I was off again.
Loop 2: 23 miles
I chugged along on my second loop in a bizarre little world of my own. There was a guy ahead of me, but I just wasn’t gaining on him. And there was no one around me. No one was passing me in the same direction and the runners going the other way were pretty sparse for a long while it seemed. I tucked into my pace, starting to feel a pang of sharp pain from my hamstring, and, thankfully, nothing from my plantar. I plugged in my headphone, but didn’t have the desire to really pay attention to my music. around mile 15, I caught up with the guy ahead of me, a 100k runner who was just doing his own thing. We chatted some, but I was suddenly overcome with a desperate need for a porta potty. Rather than risk embarrassing myself, I opted to walk out the feeling. With a little walk/run magic, I made it to the indoor bathrooms at mile 19. That taken care of, I was on my way again, but my long stop-over bummed me out. I know I wasn’t competing, but I did at least want to put up a good time. Sad, I pulled out my phone to message my husband and saw that he had sent me a text shortly after I left him at the main aid station: “I love you so much. I’m really proud of you.” It was sweet. And it was perfect.
I also had a video message from a friend of mine who runs ultras and does multiples of Ironmans. When I crewed for him on his last couple of 100 mile races, he got a little stir crazy and started singing show tunes. It became a huge joke. He had sent me a video of him doing what amounted to a song version of a dramatic reading of the Gilligan’s Island theme. I laughed so hard and started running along. The pull and lightning pain of my hamstring was getting worse, and it was pulling my stride short… I could feel my other leg compensating for the effect and I knew this was going to injure me if I forced it too much. So I slowed down, and I sent a thank you video to my friend, letting him know that his song really helped. From there, the encouragement from friends began pouring in. They knew about the injuries I had to get through in training, and it didn’t come as surprise that I would have to run through one on the day.
Now I just had to keep the event from becoming my nightmare: A sufferfest.
I adopted a short-stride shuffle and walked when I felt a particularly harsh pull on the muscle. I stopped and stretched as best I could. My return trip on the long loop took longer than heading out, but looking back – I think it was the right approach. After all. Ultimately I didn’t want to be out for months from an injury.
I missed my husband on the pass through from the long loop, and found him on my return from the short one. He gave me tums to help with muscle cramps, more water, and forgot my change of hat. I told him things were going to get slower now, I was really starting to hurt, and it was getting bad. The flat portions of the race – namely 80% of the course – were the worst on me. I also started getting a case of the “near the end grumps”. I was craving real food, and the couple of pretzels I snagged at the aid station were hard to swallow with my lack of hydration at the time. With the grumps I bitched about how I was at 23 miles already and the race was over distance. I wouldn’t have enough nutrition with me to cover that distance. Part of sufferfesting is the bonk. My husband encouraged me to keep going, to take my time, and try to focus on having fun. He walked down the hill with me and kissed me on the forehead, promising to have the things he forgot on my next time through. My next would be the last. I was almost finished.
Loop 3, the final – 34.6 miles
I didn’t start running right away. I fiddled with my ipod earpiece, and I took long steps to try and get some stretch into the hamstring. I chatted a little with a couple of people who were walking – but they were speed walking…and speed walking made my leg hurt. I was starting to feel it in the ankles too, namely the ankle opposite my increasingly tight and unhappy hammie.
I did kick into a short stride jog, going into the grass along the pavement to try and get a little cushion for a bit. Eventually, I caught up with a lady doing the 100 mile race. She was doing a walk/run and at a pace that didn’t bother me much. We chatted and joked and kept each other company until the flats of the long loop started to become rolling. Running the uphills didn’t bother me at all…but most of the people around me had adopted a “walk all hills” method early on. I couldn’t really run anything else. I got a little ahead of the “hundo” lady, then had a sharp pang in the hamstring that made me gasp loudly, and caused a race spectator to ask if I was okay. I muttered that I was getting through it, thanked her, and called the husband. He gave me some encouragement, and it helped. I also had another video from my friend. This time, he sang the Brady Bunch theme…with some liberties. It was hilarious. When the “hundo” lady caught up with me again, I told her about the show tune thing and then let her listen to both of them. We laughed hard at it, and then my friend Mel caught up. She listened to the songs and the three of us sent my friend a video back.
I took off with Mel, doing her run and walk for almost 2 miles…but we were in the return portion of the big loop, and it was all flat. My hamstring was not happy. And it did something that made me stop for a long stretch… It shot a numb pain at me. Like a vibration on a guitar string, it felt like a vibration and then numbing sensation in the origin of the muscle.
I limped, watched the new video my friend sent: I think it was meant to be Beverly Hillbillies. His dog was howling along in the background. I checked my watch and sent him this photo:
I was over 50k, and I was nowhere near the finish/start area. In fact, as I told my husband in text, “I have no idea where I am on this course right now.” There was a point where I could look over and see the school, but it was still another mile and a half to get around the path toward it. My friend congratulated me and then said that the race wasn’t showing my finish time. Now I was full-blown grumps. My stomach was starting to growl, and I was out of nutrition…I know ultra runners share everything, and I could have asked anyone around me for some spare food-substance, but there wasn’t exactly a lot of people around me. Not at this time. “The race seems to think I need to go 3.5 more miles yet.” I texted my friend angrily. Then I sent my husband what I heard from another 50k runner, who was also limping along: “The course is certified….certified at 10% longer than it’s supposed to be.”
My husband’s response was priceless:
“Hundo” lady caught me again, and we shuffled together until the next hill – where I continued on, finally feeling good enough to keep pushing through the pangs from the hamstring. I pushed all the way to the top of the hill, to the main aid station, where I refilled my water again, and swiped a couple of gummy bears and thought, “what the hell?” as I took a small handful of peanut M&Ms. I walked the downhill to start the short loop. Behind me the man on the speaker system was announcing that “if you’re finishing, continue straight ahead”.
I walked most of the small loop – at least until the turn around where, I’m sure, the mat system was no longer pinging acknowledgement of timing chips passing over it. I commiserated with a guy also on the 50k, and also rather peeved about the “bonus mileage”, but not for long. I was in motion again and I was going to engage this final hill and be done with this shit. I felt my best going up that final hill climb. Aside from the burps that made me thing peanut M&Ms weren’t such a great idea, I was feeling pretty okay. Sure, my ankles were achy and I was feeling embarrassed and stupid for how long this whole endeavor was taking. I thought 5-5.5 hours would be pretty good for how I was feeling going into the race…I was pushing 6.5 hours. In fact, I crossed the little finish line in 6hrs34minutes….and I. Hated. It. The staff handed me a can of water (WTF? It tasted awful, by the way), and cheerily laid a finisher medal over my head. I joked grumpily that their distance was a bit off, and they laughed, probably having heard that quite a bit by now. I turned to leave and the lady stopped me, her smile looking worried as she said, “Don’t you want to go get your finisher photo?”
“No. I’m finished. I just want to go home.”
My husband congratulated me, told me I did great, and was very supportive of my choice to back off for the injury. We walked out of the finish area, and toward the other school (up another hill) where the showers were. I waited for a while, since the lights for the showers hadn’t been turned on yet. Surely I wasn’t the first person to want a shower? Yet, the doors were locked and you had to find the right one to knock on to get let in. When the lights finally came on, I went in and was greeted by the girl who took her headlamp in to get her shower started. “There’s no hot water,” She warned. But, she assured me, it could’ve just been hers. She also warned that the water shoots out and will get half the bench for your stuff wet too. Forewarned, I put my change of clean clothes over the shower curtain rod, moved my towel, positioned myself where I thought I’d be out of water jetting way, and turned the dial. There was nothing for half a breath and then I was shot completely in the face and upper body with some water so cold it had to have been pumped straight from Alaska. I cried out in shock and pain and immediately started shaking violently.
“I know right!?” The girl called from beyond the showers.
“That was bracing!” I yelled back. I jacked the dial all the way to “HOT”, but the water only slowed to a drizzle, the temperature remained the same. I needed to shower. I wouldn’t enjoy a 4-hour drive home the way I smelled…and if I sat in sweat, I’d chafe. No, this had to happen. I braced myself, turned the dial to a point that had a pretty decent stream, whimpered and got in and out fast. Just enough to get wet… It stung too. I started crying. I couldn’t control it. I still felt like a looser for how my run went, I was mad at the race for making me do more mileage than I was prepared for, and I was just. so. goddamn. hongry. I soaped up and steeled myself for assault part two. I turned off the water as fast as I could, enduring another shock attack from the jets before it shut down. Then I wrapped up in my towel and shook violently in the cold.
I do not cold well.
My husband and I blew that popsicle stand as soon as I was in the car.
I’m still not happy about the race itself. I’ll do another 50k, I’m sure… I actually enjoy the training for it, but I don’t think I’ll go back to this race. It’s … it’s not fun without someone to run it with, and it’s so hit or miss to find someone doing my pace at races when I go alone. The area is a bit boring, actually, and the route, though nice to look it, also gets boring after a while. I couldn’t imagine doing that loop for 100 miles. It’s a good set up – easy for crewing, really, but…as for me? I’ve done this race. It’s time to experience something else.
I know it doesn’t sound like I had a happy run. But really, I did. I enjoyed the people I ran with and chatted to. I enjoyed being out in the sunlight all day. I loved how my friends were rallying and sending me encouragement. I even loved how involved my husband got with this one as he semi-crewed me. Bonus. This is the longest distance I’ve ever gone before…and so, automatically a PR! And! I had a damn good burger on the ride home. I was happy, really, overall. Mels’ happy stone worked.
My friend Andrew went full beast mode and smoked the 100 miles in 22hours. Mel ended up dropping, I heard, but I don’t know why. She’s a strong runner, and she’ll get that distance. She’s so damn close now.
Next up for me?
I’m going to take a couple weeks and dummy down my running to try and get happy about it again. If I can get it together, I’ll do a marathon distance run in February so I can work on my original goal of a marathon a month for 2016. If not? I won’t worry about it. I have Asheville in March, the Derby in April, and the Pig in May. I may have more than enough marathons for the year.
What are your 2016 running plans?