Autumn Leaves 50 Mile - My Sweet Sweet Victory
For old times sake, let's fast forward to the start of lap 7 (mile 38): My borrowed Garmin died a few miles ago so Megan is helping me time my walking breaks with her cell phone. "Ok, run!" she shouts from behind me and I bring myself from a shuffle to a trot. Without warning, a lump forms in my chest and I start letting out some garbled sobs. Megan yells at me to quit my crying because it's messing up my breathing. "You cry when you're walking", she says. So I do. I manage to stifle it until our next walking break and then it comes rushing out me yet again in torrents.
Just like last year, Megan is by my side yet again while I'm a blubbering mess. Only this time it's because I'm beyond overjoyed and overwhelmed that I cannot control my emotions. I far exceeded my expectations and ran stronger than I thought I was capable of. I wasn't just on pace to make the cut off and redeem myself from last year, I was on pace to absolutely crush it.
Right now, I'm still in shock. I can't imagine the day going any better than it had for me-- except if perhaps I had the forethought to lube up my toes before it started [owww the blisters!]. It really was an incredible experience and I am so so very happy.
The day started early since I had to pick up Margurite (she'd be running the 50k) and then drive down to the start, about 45 minutes south of town. Just like last year, Travis was manning the entrance gate and I jumped out to give her a quick hug before we headed up the dark drive to the small parking area. The parking spaces are actually right on the course and knowing this from last year, we decided to use this to our advantage and stash our drop bags in the car. This proved to be quite useful throughout the day.
After we parked, we calmly sorted out our gear in the car, put on our bibs, timing chips and started up our Garmins. Only...mine was completely dead. I thought I had charged it the night before but it was not responding. In a frenzy, we attempted a hard reset and still...nothing. Sensing my rising waves of panic, Margurite so very kindly offered to let me wear her watch, she'd be running her five laps with me anyway and didn't really need it. We set it up to show me the time of day and mile - all I really needed to know and I was good to go.
A few weeks ago, Bret (the race director) met up with my 5@5 group so that I could to draw the raffle winners of the coveted personal porta potty prize, since I was the reigning champ from last year. Coincidentally, I drew my friend, Jodi's name from the hat and Jeff (from Arizona) who I met at the McKenzie River 50K last month.
We easily found Jodi and she happily gave us a tour of her personal throne, which had been lovingly decorated by the Gail (Bret's wife and co-race director). She was even kind enough to invite us to use it during the race.
|Jodi Photo-bombed us here|
Jodi stuck with me for the first mile and eventually dropped back as we both settled into our pace. Almost immediately, I felt calm and comfortable. I loved the eerily quiet early morning darkness as my feet swish-swish-swished through the piles (yes PILES) of leaves on the path. I kept it at a trot even up the fairly steep hill that lead up to the turn-around because I didn't want to lose this awesome momentum I was keeping. There was a timing mat at the turn-around that we had to cross before heading back. It was manned by some very festive volunteers who had obviously gotten the party started early. I laughed and high-fived them as I made my way around the turn-around and back down the hill.
I felt solid and was running a pretty steady pace. I think a few other runners sensed that I knew where I was going because they stuck right behind me. Eventually, I picked up about a pack of six runners following me, all quiet except for the crunch and swish of the leaves beneath our feet.
Around mile 4, I noticed some faint discomfort in my IT Band, which had only just started bothering me the week or two leading up to the race. Briefly, I felt the nerves build up again, as I wondered if my leg would hold up another 46 miles over the day but I shushed them down and kept on moving.
A mile and a half of trail remained to the start again, still pitch black and still shuffling through the leaves with the pack of runners at my back. A couple lost runners had turned around ahead of us and I directed them on forward- I knew this route like the back of my hand. A few turns and then down the hill to the parking lot. Blindly, I shout out to Margurite that I was coming in and I hear her shout back, "I'm here!" I was able to throw her my vest to put in the car for me as I round the corner and head up the hill for the timing mat.
I make a quick stop at the aid station for a cup of water and a pretzel and then head back down the hill to join up with Margurite for Lap 2.
Lap 1 Complete - 1:12:46 (11:38 pace)
Margurite and I didn't say a whole lot through our first lap together. Daylight was just barely filtering through now but we keep our headlights shining until the first aid station, where I decided to take some Advil to mask my IT Band pain, which had now grown to uncomfortable. Under normal circumstances, I would not run through even a mild injury (I'm kind of neurotic about this) but I made the decision that for this race, I was willing to risk it. Otherwise, I was feeling good. I had finished the first lap 6 minutes ahead of my pace from the year before and my confidence was growing by the minute.
I saw Jodi again at the out and back, who asked how I was feeling. "Better when I find a porta potty!", I respond. She laughs as we pass by. I wondered when the always-anticipated GI issues would hit and they became apparent somewhere around mile 9, which forced me to make my first stop at the aid station after the out and back. Still, I finished the second lap ahead of pace and over 10 minutes faster than I had the year before.
I was ecstatic.
|Margurite and I at the aid station after Lap 2|
Mile 12.5 - Total elapsed time is 2:31:35 (12:07 pace)
There is always that low moment at some point in almost every race - even on the best days. For me, it hit in lap 3. My stomach was flip-flopping and it made running uncomfortable. All the confidence I had built up and the excitement plummeted and I just stopped caring. A mile into the lap, I stopped and walked. I turned to Margurite and told her that I was done and was ready to quit. Another 37 miles just seemed to far and I frankly just didn't want to do it. Her response was brilliant: "Don't be an idiot. You don't want to give up. Just keep moving."
During the out and back, I was actively searching for Jodi but failed to see her - it turned out her ankle was just not cooperating today and she made the decision to drop after the second lap. Still, she stayed for several hours afterwards and was such an enthusiastic supporter for me for the rest of the race.
Because of all of the stops I made, I finished the third lap a little slower than I'd hoped but in about the same time it took me to run it the year before. This gave me all of two minutes of concern until I realized that my worst lap was probably already now behind me.
Lap 3 - 1:24:54 (13:35 pace)
Mile 18.75 - Total elapsed time is 3:56:29 (12:36 pace)
I was back and running strong again in the 4th lap. Both Margurite and I commented on great we felt. My energy was high and I needed far fewer walk breaks than I expected. The walk breaks we did take, we kept to a maximum of 1/10th mile.
I remember singing along to the music in my ipod on this lap and dancing a jig with the volunteers at the turn-around. Margurite and I enthusiastically chatted and shouted out encouragement to other participants. I couldn't believe how good I felt; I was overjoyed.
As I approached the timing mat, I couldn't choke back the tears. Jodi, Bret and Gail and the volunteers didn't know how to react as I struggled to get any words out, sobbing and sputtering about. Finally, I managed to burst out, "I'm happy. I'm happy. I'm just kicking so much ass!"
They all burst into laughter and I get a few hugs. They all remembered what I looked like after lap four the year before. This was the lap that defeated me, bringing me to tears (the bad kind) when I crossed through the timing mats. However, here I was feeling stronger than I had all day-- and nearly 20 minutes ahead of my time the year before.
I was halfway through my race and riding high.
|Mile 25 - With a mouth full of pretzel|
Lap 4 - 1:19:40 (12:45 pace)
Mile 25 - Total elapsed time is 5:16:09 (12:38 pace)
I was excited to start the 5th lap and get past the marathon point. I had completed the first half of the race ahead of my best predicted pace times and I wanted to pinch myself - I couldn't believe it. I hit the marathon point in 5:31 and Margurite and I celebrated with a high five.
Although I was feeling strong, the Advil had started wearing off and by the time we reached the aid station before the out and back, I was ready for a second dose. My leg was feeling weak and had started bothering me since about mile 22 but it hadn't gotten any worse. The Advil kicked in after another mile or two and my leg never bothered me again the rest of the day-- or maybe that was just because everything else just hurt that much more!
I hadn't thought it could get much better after the fourth lap but I was still going strong into lap five, as I rapidly approached the 50k mark. Over and over again, I'd add minutes to our running stretches before taking a walk break. I just didn't need them as frequently as I thought I would. Margurite was also feeling good and happy to follow along my schedule.
Leading up to the race, I had hoped that I would be able to come into the 50k point in 7 hours so that I would have some cushion to fight the cut-off. My best case scenario was 6:45.
My actual 50K Split after Lap 5:
I was well over a half hour ahead of my pace from the year before (and my current 50k PR) and still feeling good! I pinched myself again just to be sure.
|Enjoying a brief respite at the aid station|
Mile 31.25 - Total elapsed time is 6:40:46 (12:49 pace)
Megan was waiting for us at the Start/Finish aid station and was ready to jump in to run Lap 6. The timing couldn't have been more perfect, as Margurite and I were beginning to fade. Additionally, the borrowed Garmin was starting to flash the low battery warning and I worried about how I'd time my walking breaks going forward.
The day was warming up by this point so I took a moment at my car to strip out of my long sleeved shirt and put on a clean short sleeve and grab some extra running fuel before heading on.
Our energy diminished rapidly in the sixth lap and both Margurite and I weren't talking a whole lot. Megan took up the slack and began rattling off stories and cheering on other runners on our behalf. I was still running remarkably well and still managed to spread the walking breaks out every 3-4 minutes but I was happy to let someone else do the cheering.
The Garmin finally puttered out at about mile 33 and I attempted to gauge my walking break time by using the distance between two trees or a large rock but this wasn't very successful. Margurite then had the thought to pull out her phone and was able start timing us on a 2:1 run/walk, which kept us going steadily. However, as she was growing weary as we approached her 50k finish and Megan began to take up the timing reigns. I think this was the first time during the entire race that I heard Margurite utter anything that resembled a complaint. And this was her first ultra!
As we turned into the parking lot, Megan and I ushered Margurite ahead to finish her 50k strong. Tired as she was, she was able to turn on the burners and crank it out to the finish.
As I approached the timing mat (at a far less hasty pace), I nearly broke down when I saw that I had 1:55 remaining to run the last lap and make the cut-off. I was now 45 minutes ahead of my time from the year before and barring any major disaster, had more than enough time to make the cut-off. Again, I come through the timing mats, choking back the tears but they all know now that I was just overjoyed. Bret shouts at me to stop looking so darn happy, which throws me into a sobbing, laughing, shaking mess.
Mile 37.5 - Total elapsed time is 8:05:32 (12:56 pace)
Megan joined me again for lap 7 and Margurite, now finished for the day, cheered us onward. Here I was, the blubbering, sputtering mess of lap 7. All I had to do is keep some momentum going in order to finish the lap. The fatigue had set in and I was starting to feel stabbing pains from the blisters on my toes or the searing pain from some random chaffing that had set in. However, above all of the discomfort, I was so proud. The day couldn't have gone much better than it had and I was so beyond proud of my efforts.
I began to increase our walking breaks to two minutes not because I couldn't run but because I feared that I would hurl. I was starving yet unable to eat anything. I did manage to down some potato chips and Sprite, which helped. Eventually, we get through the out and back and onto the trail. We had just over a mile to go to make the cut off and then I could take all the time I wanted to finish. I relished the thought of actually stopping to eat properly at the aid station rather than rush my way through.
About mile from the Start/Finish, I noticed a few people ahead of us just coming into view - one of whom looked strikingly similar to my friend, Regina. Moments later, I realized that not only is it Regina but Scarlet and Rick as well. I almost fell to my knees in surprise while I squawked out a few sobs of excitement (mingled with exhaustion). I triumphantly informed them I had over forty minutes left to the last mile to beat the cut-off.
They joined me as I hobbled between running and walking the last mile, just trying not hurl, or cry, or do both at the same time (epic disaster). I wasn't talking much but Megan filled them all in on my day and they celebrated the last mile for me.
Of course, I started sobbing again, as I run up to the aid station timing mat and finish lap 7 with 25 minutes to spare before the cut-off and well over an hour faster than I finished it the year before. Margurite, Bret, Gail and all my friends cheered me on as if I'd already just finished because essentially all the hard work was complete. I had only one last victory lap to cover.
And the victory was so very sweet.
Mile 43.75 - Total elapsed time is 9:35:58 (13:10 pace)
Megan and Scarlet joined me for my last lap while Rick and Regina waited near the finish to run [hobble] me in. Miles 44-50 were new territory for me but I was ready to get them behind me. I longed to take off my shoes and eat something that didn't make me want to hurl. I had a very difficult time getting any calories down and my flip-flopping stomach combined with the stabbing pain of blisters on my feet made for very slow going.
I'll just be frank here - there wasn't a whole lot of running going on at this point.
At mile 47, I stopped to celebrate my bib number:
And then I reached the turn-around and felt like I had another victory to celebrate. This sign I'd seen so many times over the course of the day finally applied to me:
|47 miles later, I was certainly almost there!|
We met Regina and Rick at the same spot that I found them in the last lap and Scarlet was sure I was about to turn into a blubbering slobbering mess any time soon. However, I was pretty sure I'd gotten that out at the last lap. At this point, I already felt like I'd finished and I was just numb and longing to be done already.
But happy and proud. Very happy and proud. Let's not forget that.
And soon that belt buckle would be mine.
More than anything though, I was stressed that I was going to hurl when I ran it into the finish.
|Coming into the finish for the last time with Regina, Rick, Scarlet and Megan.|
Oddly enough though, I did not hurl and I actually felt good again as I was finishing. I crossed the mat and then stopped, bent over and put my hands on my thighs. I was done at last.
Lap 8 - 1:52:30 (18:00 pace)
Mile 50 - Total elapsed time is 11:28:28 (13:46 pace)
|So very done.|
Gail handed over my coveted belt buckle and I stood there for several minutes feeling a little dopey as all of my friends took pictures of me. I now have about 30 copies of this photo:
(I have the best friends - they know how I love a good photo-documentation)
|And of course with Bret and Gail!|
That evening, after a shower and several more meals, I felt quite a bit better. Perhaps a little more sore than a typical marathon but not completely out of it like I was last year. Recovery was also surprisingly swift although to this day I am still having some lingering IT Band issues--- which I may have run a marathon through last week and survived with little added wear and tear. All in all, it was totally worth it.