I’m still VERY overwhelmed by my day Saturday so I apologize if this report gets a little sidetracked.
(I have no idea why I’m stating this like it’s anything different from any other entry on this blog in the last decade.)
In the beginning…
I had my brother drop me off at the park for the race start so that I wouldn’t have to drive any vehicle home. I loaded up my supplies: Food, extra shoes, clothes, 47 types of stomach medicine, gatorade, water, 3 sets of headphones, bandaids, a chair, and of course: My reward Diet Cokes.
I had the basic plan of running 11-11:30 minute miles for 6 hours which is significantly slower than my marathon pace. Then, I was going to try to keep 12-12:30 minute miles for the next 6 hours. No big deal. Finish the 50 goal relatively early and just enjoy walking the last several miles until 12 hours clicked over.
Spoiler alert: No part of my plan ever saw fruition. Not even the “walking after mile 50” part. I ran mile 51.
But! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
I started out with my friend who ran the race with me last year. We met up with a new friend from Maryland early on who I had seen at the race last year as well. She and I got to talking and stayed together 15 miles while I got to learn a lot from her about ultra running through her past experiences. While we did hang in the 11-11:30 range for those 15 miles, that would be the end of any part of my plan holding in place. When I got to 15, my pre-determined first official “break”, I started feeling the heat of the day starting in. I also was feeling the grit from my trail shoes work lose and into my socks. Why I didn’t realize this was going to be a problem is BEYOND ME. I was also starting to feel a little bit of chaffing under my boobs and worried I had forgotten to grease that area up. Or hadn’t greased up enough.
Entering The Swamp Of Sadness…
So: 15 miles in I’m already feeling too hot, too chaffed, and my feet are on fire.
Not the best feelings that early on in a 12-hour race. It would be like hitting rock bottom at mile 9 of a marathon.
I held with my new ultra friend for another 5 miles but during that 5 miles, everything got worse. My raw feet really started hurting and blistering, my exhaustion and struggle from the heat was really magnifying, and I was just starting to ache all over. 20 miles in and I felt like 40 miles in. I started getting worried.
I took a longer break at mile 20, letting my ultra friend go on without me. I decided to change my socks and shoes, re-grease some of the areas I felt chaffing, read my inspirational notes from my family, and text some updates (“20 miles in, I’m not doing well, heat is killing me”). I also decided to break out the headphones and let Jim Dale reading me Harry Potter (Book four, of course) pull me some since I was so very feeling down.
The next 5 miles were rough. I started by doing one lap without my chip because I forgot to move it to my other shoes. I did the SAME THING last year and felt like an idiot having to correct them. I was also adding the periodic walk break and feeling REALLY shitty about that because I didn’t take my first walk break until mile 27 last year. I was getting frustrated that overall I wasn’t kicking last year’s ass. I was perpetually doing math in my head, trying to figure out if I’d even be able to make 50 miles at the pace I had dropped to. I was crying behind my sunglasses.
At mile 25 I was at my worst. It took me 5:11 to get that far which I felt was a tad slower than last year. I stopped AGAIN and texted more downtrodden messages like, “Come early. Need help. Want to quit and die.” My spirits were shot and the only thing keeping me going was Harry Potter and the anticipation of my family arriving. I was in my dark place.
When you hit rock bottom, there’s only one direction to go…
BUT, beginning with the next miles it started occurring to me: I’ve held 13-14 minute miles consistently for 5+ miles and I’m feeling fine. I’m not feeling like I need to slow down at all. I might could hang with this pace the rest of the day. I started realizing that while my first 25 miles might have been a bit slower than last year, I didn’t drop as fast as last year. Last year? Once I started walking at all, I was walking almost the entire lap. So, after several miles of holding a pace of still running the majority of the mile, I started thinking maybe I could do it. I felt like that 13-14min/mile pace was something I could hold for hours, giving me more confidence I’d make my 50 miles under the time limit.
I got to my 50K at about 6:40 and starting really turning the corner in terms of my spirit. My body was feeling better too. My raw feet hadn’t gotten any worse, they were actually feeling better with the new socks and shoes. My back stopped hurting completely. My chaffing was no longer bothering me and my spirits were getting better.
My brother and his family got there with my Mom around mile 32. I cried when I saw them. I immediately started feeling joyful and blessed, just seeing their beautiful faces.
The funny thing was that once I was under 20 from my goal, I started feeling better. 19 miles is an easy Saturday long run. I can do that no problem. I just needed some reassurance I could do it in time. I asked my brother to run a lap with me and he did some of the math my head was too tired to do. It turned out all I had to do was hold under 16 minutes per mile and I could make it. Since I was still pretty evenly holding around 14, I started feeling MUCH better. Also? My brother was cracking me up. He’s always been able to make me laugh, and around mile 34 or so? Laughter was exactly what I needed.
(Although laughing while running for 8 hours? EXHAUSTING.)
My sister-in-law ran a bit with me too and her positive attitude was really infectious. You can’t help but feel happy around her. When she was running with me and when she was screaming my name from every corner of the course, her positivism and joy carried me further than she’ll ever know.
My husband got there with the kids and then, out of the blue, a friend showed up with her family! AND SHE BROUGHT DONUTS. I had a half-marathon to go and things started to seem possible. My friend ran some with me as I rolled over to the 40-mile mark. That was my Diet Coke and Donut reward mark. I started REALLY feeling good. At that point the miles remaining weren’t even long runs anymore. We were getting to my Thursday night distances. I can do those in my SLEEP.
Single digits are my favorite digits…
The next several miles I got to run with Donnie and two other friends who popped in for a visit. The constant cycle of running buddies really made things so much better and although I was SO TIRED, I still wasn’t experiencing any new pains or issues I had to deal with. I had more problems the first 20 miles than I did the last 20 – EASILY. Other than being tired, I was feeling fine. But, I was hitting those same walking points at EVERY lap. Each of my pacing buddies learned to spot them. The garbage can. The crack in the sidewalk. The big tree. The tire mark in the mud. But, even though I took small walk breaks, I was still jogging the majority of each lap.
50 Miles tastes like heaven…
Donnie ran my 50th lap in with me and just praised me every step of the way. Praise from my husband is the most valuable thing in the world. He is my hero in so many ways so knowing I impressed him had me sobbing all the way to the end of the lap. However, by the time I got to my 50th lap, things were getting wonky with my cardio. Those small jog breaks started to REALLY tax me and I was so very winded that the walk breaks were mandatory. I was really glad I was nearing the end because I knew my body was fading fast.
One cool note regarding my constant cycle of pacers during those last 15’ish miles. This one super-fast girl who was on a relay team, so she was out there periodically throughout the day, stopped by us towards the end and said, “You have the BEST group of pacers EVER!” It warmed my heart because…DAMN STRAIGHT I DO.
I jogged across the line for my 50th mile at about the 11:15 mark. Considering it took me 10:30 to do 42 last year, I did 8 extra miles with only 45 extra minutes. I felt good. I hit 40 about and hour earlier than last year too , which made up for the slower early miles. I took a break to take 50 Mile pictures and then did the math and realized I didn’t have time to walk two laps (I was going to switch entirely to walking after I hit 50) but if I ran/walked ONE MORE, I could walk the last one. That’s what I did – I actually jogged/walked mile 51 and then walked mile 52, finishing at 11 hours and 50 minutes.
I did it.
I’ll write more later about lessons learned and about my recovery, but for now? I’m still just floating around powered by pride. I am just as in awe of myself as everyone else is who says, “I just can’t imagine running 52 miles.” And as I told my family last night: I couldn’t either around mile 18. The number 50 because WAAAAY too daunting. It’s an impossible number to fathom. I couldn’t think of it like that or it would send me crying because it’s just too much to contemplate. But I know I couldn’t have done it without every person there those last 20 miles running with me or cheering me on.
I had a custom necklace made 2 years ago when I thought I was going to do my first 50-miler. (Pregnancy, miscarriage and two surgeries crashed that attempt – in case you’re new here.) The big disc says “One mile at a time” (which was my mantra Saturday), the copper disc says “Run” and then has the infinity symbol, and then the little disc which my mother-in-law put on for me last night says: 50.
Thank you for joining me on this journey. Thank you for your votes of confidence and your expressions of awe. I have other challenges in my future but none that will take me more miles than 52, not until I magically earn more free time for training. So, while this is not the BIGGEST challenge I’ll have for awhile, it’s definitely the LONGEST so thank you for being patient with me and letting me blabber about it.
But I’ll repeat what I’ve said many times before…I still am more proud of my first Sprint Triathlon and my first 5K. Those two things had me conquering FEAR first, and then training second. While I was nervous about this race? I was never scared. So, if you’re training for something that scares you because it’s new? You are fighting a much bigger demon than I did with this race. Do not be fooled by distances. Conquering distances is no where near as hard as conquering fears.
Fight on, my friends.