Last weekend, I had a new experience. Everybody knows I love me some 26.2, but a few weeks ago I had an opportunity pop up to run a 50k. For those of you not familiar with the metric system, that converts to be about 31 miles.
Rosie and I decided to drive over to the Kansas/Missouri line on Friday night so that we could embark on this journey together. Rosie is one of my longest distance Ultra running friends with a 100 miler under her belt. Yes, you read that right, she ran for 100 miles. At one time. On purpose. Simply put, she’s amazing.
So, on Friday, after I got finished at FLEET FEET Town and Country, I drove over to FLEET FEET Chesterfield, to pick up Rosie and our friend, Chera, who was going to carpool over with us.
It’s been several months now that I’ve been at the new store so it took us all of the 3 hours of drive time for Rosie and I to catch up on the goings on in each of our lives. We watched the sun set on Interstate 70 as we carb-loaded (aka, ate junk food) and shared stories.
We arrived at the Fairfield Inn Lee’s Summit at a decent hour and were all tucked in by a few minutes after 10.
At 4:50am when I heard the shower going, I said to Rosie in a sleepy and baffled voice, “She really did get up before 5. Huh. I’m going back to sleep for an hour”. Much to our chagrin, the race didn’t start until 8am. Normally, I would be thrilled at a later race time, but with the temperature expected to hit a high near 97 with 50% humidity, we feared how far into the hottest part of the day we’d be running.
Eventually I was the final one to rouse and get the morning underway. With coffee in hand (mine) we headed over to the Wyandotte County Park for the Psycho Wyco 50k. We made up a parking spot on the edge of the grass and headed over to packet pick up for our bibs, saying hello to several friends on the way.
This was very possibly the first race I’ve ever done that I’ve had absolutely no nerves. I wasn’t worried at all. Because it wasn’t a race. It was a long run. All in the name of fun. And just finishing would be a PR. As my mom tells me, I have a weird idea of fun.
I didn’t really promote this race, because I wasn’t quite sure what would happen. I didn’t feel entirely prepared for it and given my injury history of this year, I was certain I had to listen to my body. If that meant I had to bail early, I was willing to do it. Needless to say, I’ve come a long way in the past year when it comes to my willingness to be smart with the long term goal in mind.
The first lap went according to plan. I ran a decent pace, reasonable for the distance. I finished the first 10+ mile loop in exactly 2 hours (and 30some seconds). The first 2 loops were relatively good, dare I even say fun. I ran. I walked some of the tough hills. I stopped at aid stations. I enjoyed the scenery. I chatted with other runners. I smiled for the photographers. I prepared myself for how tough the back half of the 2nd loop would be, as there were 3 insane hills back to back to back in the last mile and a half. They hurt on the first go round, they would hurt even more just past the halfway mark. They proved themselves as I remembered, but I managed to get through.
The second loop was almost a half hour slower. But that was the point where I took inventory. My back felt fine. My legs felt good. Sure I was hot and tired, but since when has that ever been a good reason to quit? I went through the main aid station and grabbed my drop bag to ditch a dead Garmin and restock some nutritionals. I had a quick chat with Andy, who had already finished his 10 mile race with a 2nd place overall finish. Rosie and Danny were still somewhere behind me, so Andy asked me to make sure and get a picture of the three 50k conquerors. Then I was off for the 3rd and final loop. It seemed simple enough, in theory, since I had already had completed 2 and only had one more to go. But my legs were tired. My body was trashed. And the worst of the mind games were yet to come.
At just a half mile into that last lap, I felt the temperature spike. There were times during the race that I was in the midst of a crowd and times that I enjoyed the peace of running through the woods alone. But during those early miles in the final loop, I felt the weight of my solitude like a ton of bricks. It was hot. I could tell my core temperature was too high. Each step felt like a hundred miles. I knew I needed to get my temperature down, but in order for that to happen, I had to get to the aid station. I kept repeating Teri’s words over and over in my head, “One mile at a time.” And then I exchanged the word “mile” for “step”. I was literally just doing whatever I could to keep putting one foot in front of the other. After what felt like a hundred years, I could finally hear the voices at the edge of the woods. As soon as they saw me someone asked, “What do you need?”
“Shade,” I responded and went into the respite of the tent. My hands went to my knees and another runner asked, “Are you ok, sweetheart?”
“Yeah, I’m alright, just hot.”
“What can I get you?” asked a volunteer.
He handed me a cup of ice, which I promptly put on the back of my neck. Followed by another cup that I poured into the front of my sports bra. Ahhhh…instant relief.
I ate some chips, more watermelon, downed some water. As I prepared to go, I took another pickle.
Eventually, I set out again, on to the next aid station. I decided not to think any farther ahead than that. Just get from one station to the next. I followed a couple into the woods and I kept running by zoning out on her socks. They were black knee socks and I’m pretty sure they had bees on them. As long as her feet were going, so were mine. At some point they pulled away. And then they were back. And then they were gone again. I began to long for that aid station that was just before we crossed the dam to loop back to the finish. I thought I would never get there. I wondered how this stretch had gotten so much longer than it was in the first two loops. Finally, I reached the road and headed down the 50 yards to where there was music playing, and more watermelon waiting, and a guy wearing a hooded sweatshirt because he is heat-training for Badwater. THAT is insane. I lingered there for a while, partly because the next part of the course was headed directly into the sun. But mostly because I was at the threshold of greater than 26.2 and because I knew the next 2 miles were going to feel dreadfully long.
But then I went. I ran. I walked. I ran. I walked. A song came on my ipod and as I started listening to the lyrics, I began to cry. I don’t even remember what it was. I just remember thinking how grateful I was to be able to be doing what I was doing and how happy I would be in a while when I got to the finish. I looked around to make sure I really was alone because I felt like a big dope out there, crying in the middle of the woods as I struggled just to move forward on a course I had voluntarily chosen. I felt the fatigue of my legs. I questioned my own sanity. Then I saw signs, which meant the next station was near.
And as I crossed the open field to the pavilion where aid awaited me, I saw the couple, already there, where I was greeted with an ice cold towel around my shoulders. More orange slices. More watermelon. More chips. Ibuprofen chased with 7up.
I loaded my sports bra with ice again. And then on to the next station.
By the time I got to the last aid station, I was now friends with the volunteers I had seen multiple times throughout the race. The one who I had designated “Nick’s twin” greeted me with “Hey, there she is! What do you need?” I responded with, “Nothing. I feel pretty good. I just wanna get this thing done.” I didn’t hang around long. I was glad I only had a couple miles to go. I had already run more in a race than I ever had before. It was the farthest I had ever run on trails. And I’m pretty sure it was the hottest race day I had ever encountered. Which is saying something, since I’ve had some hot ones (ie-record heat in Vancouver last May and 2 of the 3 most recent, brutally hot Chicago Marathons)
I headed into those last few hills knowing that I was in the home stretch, but that it wasn’t going to be easy. The third time up those monsters was very much a mental challenge of its own. I had come upon the couple I had followed for most of that 3rd loop. Again, I stared at her socks to pull to put myself into a trance in an effort to trick myself up the hill. And then there was a photographer in front of us. Really? Here?! Taking pictures as we try to muster the energy just to keep putting one foot in front of the other to put this hill behind us? That seemed mean at the moment.
But as we crested the last of the hills, I found enough strength to run (or as Teri would say “slog”, as in slow-jog, because I’m pretty sure what felt like a sprint probably looked more like a death march). I took off ahead of them for that last half mile or so. And I finally came down a hill where I could hear the DJ playing something resembling dance music. Despite my broken, exhausted body, I felt like dancing! My smile was huge as I crossed that finish line laughing. Yes, after 30 grueling miles in heat that was worse than Death Valley on that particular day, I was laughing. Because sometimes, even though you’ve been to hell and back, the tears and the joy all run together when you realize that you’ve made it! And all you can do is laugh.
Random things I learned from my first 50k:
- Jellybeans, White Cheddar Cheeze-its and Rice Crispy Treats are probably not sufficient for pre-race carb loading.
- There is a jungle in Kansas…who knew?!
- You know it’s going to be a good day when you hear Dire Straits, Prince, Salt-n-Peppa and Duran Duran on the way to the race course.
- Best quote I heard at the race…”The shittiest races make the best race reports because you can swear more.”
- At mile 5 you jump over the downed tree. At mile 15, you step over the downed tree. At mile 25, you climb over the downed tree and just try not to fall.
- It is possible for a girl who does not like watermelon to eat more than her own weight of the stuff on the right occasion.
- Nothing ever goes the way you think it’s going to.
- No Ultra runner has ever met a stranger. They are friendly to everyone.
- Those blisters you felt forming on lap 2 didn’t go away. The only reason you can’t feel them on lap 3 is because your feet have gone numb.
- You cannot say “Thank you” too much to the people who are willing to help you along the way.
- It is possible to go to “the dark place” on a bright sunny day.
- On the first loop, you avoid the horse poop. By the third time around, you just don’t care anymore.
- Ice in a sports bra feels amazing.
- Some men still flirt like Jr. High boys. It’s still not at all attractive.
- Just changing your clothes can make you feel like a new person.
- QT pizza and neon green Funkyberry Freezies are a perfect race reward.
- No matter how far you’ve pushed yourself, there is always someone willing to go farther. And no matter how bad it may seem in the moment, as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will get through it eventually.
- You’ve always got to focus on running your own race.
- Whatever you do, just keep going.
- The things that bring the greatest joy are usually the same things that bring the greatest pain. But you’ve got to feel them both fully to truly appreciate the whole experience.