Going into this race, people tried to psych me up (which I appreciated) by saying things like "you've already done this!". That seemed to make me more nervous, because having already done a 50 (55) miler, I had a clue what I was in for, and running 50 miles is no joke. But I did it, and running 50 miles was a lot easier than running 55 miles!
Here's how it all went down. We all know I'm pretty verbose so settle in.
Friday night I got about 4-5 hours of sleep and woke up at 3:45 am Saturday morning. I slathered Body Glide and sunscreen everywhere and gulped down some coffee. My friend Matt was supposed to meet us at our place at 4:15, but he overslept. That's my biggest race fear! Luckily he woke up, somehow, naturally at 4:15 and was able to meet us at a Park and Ride so we could still drive together.
Eric worked at the bar Friday night (after a full day of teaching), got home around 3:15am, and didn't sleep a wink until we were in the car on the way to the race. So that's a 17 hour workday, followed immediately by a 14 hour race spectating day on no sleep. He wins all the husband gold stars times infinity.
We got to a local high school for packet pickup about 6am. I found Abbi right away. I'd emailed her the day before asking if she would pick up a JFK jacket for me at the expo - apparently if you don't get one there, you're out of luck, and I wanted one so bad. Abbi is amazing and was like "sure, random internet friend I've met one time, I'll shell out my hard earned money and trust that you'll magically find me in the crowd of 1,500 people to reimburse me". I'm so, so happy to have a jacket and I'm planning to wear it every day forever, because I didn't run 50 miles to not brag about it.
There was a pre-race safety meeting at 6:20, so Matt and I decided to get our packets, go to the meeting, then drop our stuff back off at the car and head to the start. This turned out to be a big mistake.
|High school gym full of crazy runners|
|Taking iPhone pics during the meeting, like any good teacher|
|Jessica and I leaving the school - do my Gus make my butt look lumpy?|
I knew from the race website that the start was 900 yards from the school but good lord, I'm a runner, give it to me in mile increments! Apparently that's further than I realized, and we missed the start.
This is where we were when the race started. That little red arrow gives you an idea where we needed to be.
Despite our tremendous mistake, I still felt good at the start. The race starts on roads going up huge hills before you reach the trail, and nearly everyone walks. Matt kept asking me "is this the big hill?" and I kept telling him I was pretty sure it wasn't (and I was right). We were chatting and laughing and I was just excited that I was finally at the race after months and months of training!
After we entered the AT trail, we hit "the hill". I tried to take a picture of it, but hills never photograph well. Just trust me - it's killer. Walking up it had me gasping and my heart pounding like I was in a dead sprint.
I was pretty nervous about the AT trail section, which you may have guessed since my only goal here was "don't break any bones". It let me down. Compared to Fire on the Mountain, it was a freaking piece of cake, and I kept thinking "when do we get to the hard part?". Sure, it was rocky, but nothing like FOTM, and my Brooks Cascadias are super rock shields. I only fell once, and it was on a nice leafy part and there was no blood, so I'm not sure it even counts. I stumbled later and sent a huge rock flying into the side of my big toe (no rock shields there) which hurt like hell, but I screamed out "OW!" instead of "F$%7!" like I normally would have, and I was so proud of myself for controlling my potty mouth that I was able to ignore the pain.
We were disappointed because we ended up doing a lot of walking when we couldn't pass people on sections that we considered runnable, due to our late start, but it was our own fault. Lesson learned.
At 15.5 miles, we exited the trail at the first spectator station. We had a major freak out moment when we couldn't find Eric, but I called him and he was just a little further down the course, away from the crowd. He had our bags with our road shoes to change in to, which wasted a little time but felt great on my feet and was so worth it.
While we'd been getting ready that morning, Matt showed me the bag he'd packed for Eric to bring with everything we could possibly need - bandaids, vaseline, KT tape, that cream that makes things that hurt stop hurting, etc. I told him I'd also considered our race needs and packed something for Eric to bring us.
|Had a few of these babies on the trail and thought I was in heaven.|
|Good thing this was early on, bending like this was not possible later.|
The canal basically all looks exactly the same, and it's boring. Sure, there's pretty views of the water, but those get old fast. Still, I didn't hate this section, I was determined not to let the monotony get me down. I refused to admit it out loud, but by mile 20 my legs were sore, and our conversation had dwindled a bit as we both started to feel the mileage. We ran a portion with three guys who were doing a 28/2 run/walk, and having some fresh faces to chat with helped.
I was so excited to see Jessica at mile 27 and run with her, and that was really helping to keep me going. Unfortunately, we somehow missed each other, which was quite a blow. I tried not to let it get to me and at this point Matt and I switched to a 5/1 run/walk ratio. We determined that our pace per mile was actually faster this way, and mentally, it was much easier to tackle running for five minutes than running for 23 more miles. I hate to look at my watch during races though, and having to constantly check it was really irritating me.
At mile 32, it was time to split up. Heading out alone is always scary but 18 more miles felt extremely doable. I was feeling really good here, and decided to run to the next aid station. Tthey were all 2-4 miles apart on the canal, and I'd walked a bit through all of them. I passed a lot of people, got a lot of "wow, looking strong!" compliments, and even clocked a 9:15 mile. One guy seemed to think I was going to fast for that section, but in my experience, you have to take advantage of those times you feel good. I mean, 9:15 isn't exactly a sprint.
After the next aid station (which had little tiny mini sugar cookies with frosting - fabulous!), it was 4.3 miles until the mile 38 aid station, which I was looking forward to so much. It's the famed red velvet cake station, and was also my next meeting spot with Eric. Even so, my strong feeling had disappeared, so I went to a 10/2 run/walk ratio. I used pretty much every running strategy in existence for this race. This worked out better since I didn't have to look at my watch too much, and I was leapfrogging with people who were running the whole time.
It seemed to take forever, but when I finally arrived, a nice woman started telling me all the different options that aid station had, and I just pathetically demanded "isn't this the one with the red velvet cake?!".
|Red Velvet cake aid station!|
She gave me a (luckily tiny, because I would have eaten any size she gave me and probably thrown up if it were any larger, that's what she said) piece and asked me if I wanted a fork, and I said no and threw the plate away and just started shoveling it into my mouth (that's what she said, sorry this race was a gold mine for them). Naturally I had to eat the cake part first and save the frosting, and just as I took my last bite of cake and was looking forward to licking all the frosting off my fingers (yes, I'm gross) I saw Eric coming towards me, and just held up my fingers and yelled "RED VELVET CAKE!" at him.
|He didn't get a frosting shot|
He walked with me while I ate frosting and washed it down with some coke, then I gave him instructions for the finish and headed out. Leaving him was hard, but nothing like my horrific experience of barely being able to put together a sentence when I saw him at mile 39 at Stone Mill.
|He asked me what I needed - I said a Segway|
The vest was annoying but the girl who put it on me was nice and cheery, the station was blasting music, and I was OFF THE CANAL. The miles I had left were now in the single digits, and I started to get a little choked up realizing that I was actually getting close to finishing.
There was a huge hill to start this section, which everyone walked up, and then there were just rolling hills. The hills weren't that big, which was kind of a disappointment because I wanted the mental break of walking up hills! The downhills were nice in terms of effort but they were killing my quads after 27 miles of completely flat running. This section had mile markers counting down to the finish, and each time I saw one it was wonderful.
I was exhausted, bored, mentally drained, and my legs were killing me. I desperately wanted something to take my mind off running. I hadn't really thought about any of my pre-planned topics, my thoughts were 95% "keep running". I tried to strike up conversation with fellow runners but no one was really going the same pace as I was.
At mile 44, a miracle happened - I found Kristin! I'd seen her briefly at the high school but with all the craziness I'd never found her again. I was ecstatic to have someone to talk to. Her sister was with her, but was leaving at mile 46, so she was equally happy (I think). We chatted for the entire rest of the race and it was an immense help getting through those last few miles.
|Spoiler alert - we did it!|
Kristin figured out that we could still reach our A goal of under 10 hours (my watch died at mile 47) so we ran the rest of the way, other than two hills that I begged her to let me walk, and we walked through aid stations. Seeing the "1 mile" sign felt like Christmas morning, and about half a mile later we whipped off our vests of shame so we could look good (ha!) in the finish line pictures.
Kristin was sprinting like a maniac to the finish and I nearly died trying to keep up. My official time was 9:53:16 (in daylight!), which I'm thrilled with. At mile 38 I told Eric I'd be at the finish in at least 2 hours, and apparently I beat that, so he wasn't even there yet! Luckily my friend Katrina was there cheering, and she let me use her phone to call Eric and gave me all sorts of congratulations and chatted with me as I regained some semblance of a brain.
When Eric arrived a few minutes later, I was freezing my ass off but that didn't stop us from taking four different finish line pictures until we got it right. I took forever changing clothes, we cheered Matt on as he finished, and then walked the half mile (that's right - cruel!) to Eric's car.
|So worth it to do 50 miles again for a medal!|
I agonized over detail until the absolute last minute and everything I wore ended up being perfect. I was freezing at the start but warmed up quickly. I'm so glad I wore trail shoes for the AT section, and my socks didn't slide down and give me huge welts like at FOTM. I ditched my arm warmers, gloves, and ear warmer after the AT trail and felt completely comfortable for the rest of the race. I also ditched my hydration pack then and used a handheld, and I'm so happy that I did, it would have made me extra hot and my arms hurt today as it is!
I only peed twice in nearly 10 hours of running, and those who know me in real life (particularly Lily) know this is absolutely shocking. I have no way of knowing how much water I drank but I tried to keep it on the low end to avoid a million bathroom breaks. After the AT trail, I alternated between taking Gatorade and coke at each station, and drank about half of one of those little cups each time. Here's an attempt at listing what I think I ate:
- About 3/4 of a bagel with almond butter and banana (pre-race)
- Half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Tiny sugar cookie
- Red velvet cake
- 3 potato chips
- Pretzel sticks - no clue how many, I took two at a lot of aid stations
- Several small handfuls of M&Ms
- 4 chocolate/vanilla sandwich cookies
- 6 candy pumpkins
- 2 Gus (although one I didn't finish, because I fell and lost it in the leaves)
- Spearmint starlight mint at the mile 48.5 aid station, it was so delicious
- Handful of Cheeze-Its on the car ride home from the race
- Lots of salt pills - probably 5 or 6
And that's it - it's 9:30 am now and I haven't eaten anything else yet. My stomach is starting to feel better so that will change soon!
It's funny how when you tell people you are doing these races you get comments like "wow, you're so healthy" and then I just spent a day eating the worst diet imaginable. At first, the M&Ms and cookies were delicious, but after awhile I was just grabbing them out of habit because I knew I needed them to keep going. I did feel hungry at all the aid stations until mile 41, and then I was force feeding myself.
I never got nauseous during this race, which was highly exciting. I'm also really proud of how strong I stayed mentally - my low points were nowhere near what I experienced at Stone Mill. I had times where I struggled and felt overwhelmed by the distance I had left but I really focused on staying positive and mentally chunking the race into distances between aid stations. Obviously I felt like hell consistently from maybe mile 35 on, but I still enjoyed the race as much as I reasonably could.
I got so many texts, Facebook messages, tweets, blog comments, and emails wishing me good luck, and I appreciate it so much! Having so much family, friend, and reader support is amazing and was definitely on my mind as I ran. I really don't know what I would have done without Eric. I can't get over how much I lucked out finding this one.