I’m quite behind in my blogging and figured that I’d never catch up if I waited to write chronologically. So I apologize to the Umstead Marathon, Cherry Blossom 10 Miler and Lapper’s Delight 24 hour race for skipping over you. I hope to make at least brief posts eventually!
But before May is through, I’ll give a little write-up on this month’s race. The first weekend of May, I ran the Hammerbird 5k here in Winston-Salem. It was a first-time event to benefit Habitat for Humanity and the ReStore.
I first learned of this run from lots of well-placed signs around the city and through my neighborhood. They were nestled among many political signs as the race was just a few days before the primary elections, but a different shape so they stood out. Honestly I just liked the logo. My goal for this summer is to focus on getting faster, but I wasn’t really ready for a race yet until I saw this one. I crossed my fingers that I’d get a shirt with the neat logo – and I did!
I mentioned the race to my friend Lauren who decided to come run it as well. She also brought the added challenge of a stroller full of her solidly built, sweet as can be, baby boy. And boy oh boy, it was a challenge.
This course was hills on hills! It ran through the neighborhood that Habitat has been working to revitalize for many years. I hadn’t previously been there, but I’m now drawn to return to help build with Habitat. What a supportive area it was! The 5k was in conjunction with a larger fundraiser, and all of the homes they have built over the years were marked with signs. Lots of residents were out on their front porches, cheering us along. And we needed it on some of the hills for sure!
What a doozy!
Okay, believe it or not, I was the leading woman in the whole race up until that hill, which was about the 2 mile mark. I had gone out way too fast and the hills and my level of fitness were definitely catching up to me. So was a speedy young lady. Some supportive cheering neighbors shouted out to us as we ran up the hill together, acknowledging our roles as first females. How exciting! And then someone asked her “where do you go to school,” and she answered a local high school. Then they asked me and actually seemed surprised when I said I was out of school entirely! Turns out she was only 14 years old – and ended up as the first overall female. Impressive!
When Lauren and I arrived at the ReStore before the race began, we saw a big table of prizes, including six rather odd-looking trophies. Lauren had the confidence to suggest maybe I’d have a chance to win one of them, which I doubted very much. I’ve never placed in the overall women, though it has always been a goal of mine.
Well – goal achieved! It was amazing to be the leading woman for part of the race, even if I did get passed by two faster women in the last mile. But yes, it means I did manage to finish as the third overall woman in the race! My time of 25:01 was hardly speedy, and in most races it would not stand a chance of overall placement, but one can only race against those who show up! Lauren also placed in her age group – even with the stroller on those hills! – and got a cool rubber mallet award that had been customized for the race. Her little guy wanted his hands on that!
You know, we even color-coordinated with the ReStore building.
It was a tough but fun entry point into my summer of speed. Up next for me is my fourth Ultimate Runner, with really short distances on the ticket! Though it’s amazing how long 800 meters can feel when you sort of sprint from the beginning. I’m hoping to race another 5k or two this summer with the goal of besting my 23:15 PR. There is a pancake-flat one next weekend at the airport so maybe that’s something to consider.
In the meantime, have a look at the cool trophy. I want to show you a close up! Wish I had gotten a photo of the other ones. They were all very different. One had circular saw blades, one had a colander, and they were all made up from items around the ReStore (except, I assume, the winged foot toppers) like lamp parts, finials and dishes. So creative and unique! I’m displaying this proudly.
Twenty is Plenty.
To think that I attempted to sign up for the Uwharrie Mountain Run FORTY miler a year ago! In November 2012, I registered for the 2013 edition of the 40 mile race (blog link). A few days later, I found out there had been a registration problem and I was not registered after all, but I would have guaranteed entry into the 2014 race (blog about that). It would have been my first foray into the ultra distance. I think it is for the better that I wasn’t actually able to register.
October 2013 comes along and I get an email reminding me of my guaranteed registration into the 2014 race. At the time, I was a month out from my now-first real attempt at an ultra (for some reason I have trouble counting 50k?), the JFK 50 miler, and wasn’t sure I’d be up for 40 miles barely 2 months later. Actually I was allowing myself the real possibility that I might never want to run again. I considered “just” signing up for the 8 mile race but decided 20 was a happy medium and 8 miles was too short a race to drive very far for. So I registered for the 20.
Fast forward to February 1. (Yes, the race was many weeks ago now… I’m behind on the blogging!) Somewhere along the way, I recall someone telling me that a road marathon time was a good comparison point for the 20 rolling trail miles at Uwharrie. I knew I wasn’t superbly trained for the event so I figured an average marathon time for me around 4:30 would be an estimated finish time. Boy was I wrong!
I took a wrong turn on the way to the race, but managed to get to the packet pick-up point in time. The 40 mile race began at 7am, the 20 mile at 8am, and the 8 mile at 9am. All runners park at an outpost outside the park and take a short bus ride in to the race start. It was a chilly morning so I was thankful for a small group of runners which meant I could wait until like 5 minutes before the race began to take off my jacket and put it in my drop bag. The cold morning was expected to warm a fair bit, so I gambled and skipped the gloves. Went with long sleeves over a singlet, capris, and an ear band.
The race begins rather aggressively with a long uphill which is strenuous but slow. I was carrying my handheld bottle and balling my other frozen hand inside my sleeve, periodically switching hands to try to warm them somehow. Totally numb. But within about 20 minutes, blood circulation had returned and my hands were fine. One thing I’ve learned with all my running is that my hands seem to warm up way faster than the average runner. I have terrible circulation in my fingers and toes and they get very cold very quickly, but I’m generally finished with gloves long before anyone else. Definitely preferred 20 minutes of frozen hands to having gloves in my pocket for the next 4-5 hours.
Honestly, it has been a while now so the details are kind of a blur, but it was a slow day out there for me. I enjoyed cookies and soda at the rest stops, which I definitely learned I can handle thanks to JFK 50! The trails were constantly rolling up and down, with a few major climbs and descents, like the aforementioned one near the beginning and another around mile 17. The website warns multiple times that runners are likely to roll their ankles and fall down, due to leaves covering roots and rocks on the trails. The warning was reiterated at the start of the race during runner instructions. I managed not to fall down but did roll my ankle a time or two.
There were also a few places where I had trouble following the trail markings, which were white paint on the trees. That definitely can fade and blend in. I prefer blazes that are those plastic shapes nailed to the trees, though I suppose paint is friendlier to the trees. Only got off course once, and not for long. A couple guys followed me but quickly called out, asking if I’d seen markings. I thought I had, but we backtracked and saw much clearer marks on a suddenly much more obvious trail. Only lost a couple minutes there, if that.
With all the roots and rocks, I wasn’t a very confident runner. I cautiously picked my way down the hills instead of taking advantage of gravity. There were a lot of stream crossings where I tip-toed across rocks to keep my feet dry, and others where I very slowly balanced my way across a log. Thankfully the runners were pretty thinned out most of the time so I wasn’t holding other people up with my nerves.
At one point I heard someone call my name and was pleased to find some friends out camping on the course, cheering on the runners and enjoying a nice day in the woods. It was an unexpected surprise and a nice reason to stop running for a few minutes to chat!
As the race continued, the 40 mile leaders started to appear on the course. The 40 mile run does the 20 mile course out and back, so these 40 milers had started an hour ahead and already gotten to my finish line and turned around to run it again. I was pretty beat and seeing those folks with so many miles still ahead was impressive. I was on the lookout for some folks I knew who were running the 40. I saw Shannon, who finished as 2nd place female (blog here), and Nathan and Paul (Nathan’s blog here). It was nice to see some friendly faces! Check out their blog entries, there are some nice photos of the course.
Nathan even captured this silly image of me as I was running away. As you can see, I had warmed up enough that the long sleeve was off too! Definitely glad I skipped the gloves!
Anyway, this isn’t a very helpful race report for someone looking to run this event. I’ve really got to work on blogging in a more timely fashion so I can remember details! It was a very pretty run but I’m very glad I didn’t have to do it twice. I adjusted my 4:30 race goal midway through to just finishing under 5 hours, and I did manage to get it done in 4:56. I found it pretty crazy that my average pace per mile of 14:49 was notably slower than my 50 mile pace of 13:52. It would have taken me forever to do the 40 miler! The race support was top notch, with well stocked aid stations throughout and at the finish line. There was hot cocoa and soup, lots of cookies, and vans waiting to drive runners back to the parking area.
The finisher award was a nice little piece of pottery. It served me well to hold a snack of gummy bears as I was writing this post! The shirt was also very nice, though I found it odd that they did different colors for the men’s and women’s shirts… since neither was a masculine or feminine color. Mine was navy and the men got orange. I’ve worn it a few times since and had some guys seem a little jealous of the more subdued color of the women’s shirt!
I enjoyed this race more in retrospect than I did at the time, since it just wasn’t a strong day for me. The pain and suffering do have a way of fading, isn’t it odd? I do have to remind myself how lucky I am to be capable of running (and shuffling… and walking…) for 5 hours though. Can’t take it for granted.
A little while back, some very well-targeted banner ads finally convinced me to give Fabletics a try.
What is Fabletics? It is a neat athletic wear company for women.
I was very excited to take advantage of the new member offer, of a full outfit for only $25! I chose the “Capable” outfit consisting of the Desio top and the Lima capri pant. I chose the top in small and the pants in medium.
A couple weeks later, I got a package containing my new running gear. Always exciting!
I found the top was a bit thinner fabric than I expected but very stretchy and comfortable. The capri pants are great and I’ve worn them a lot, though the addition of a drawstring would make them really top- notch.
In my new house I don’t have a floor length mirror so it was over Christmas when I asked my Dad to snap a couple (awkward, though that part wasn’t by request, just hard to avoid) photos of me in the outfit to share for the blog.
As you can see, the shirt is a bit snug, showing some tummy bulge at the pant waistline, but nothing too bad. I actually think it is pretty flattering after I got over some linebacker shoulders. And while it is one of the cuter running tops I have, it is also very functional. I’ve worn a few times in appropriate weather and it wicks well and is comfortable to run in. The pants are also very good, and I’ve worn them even more.
So the idea of Fabletics is after the new member discounted $25 outfit, which this gear above was absolutely worth and then some, each month there are other outfits of 2-3 pieces (sometimes including sports bra, head band or arm warmers as an additional piece to a top and bottoms) available at a discounted price, starting at $50. You do have to opt out of the charge each month if you do not want to purchase clothing that month. Unlike some monthly clothing websites I’ve heard about, they don’t ship anything you have to return; if you miss the opt-out date I think they charge your card then you have the credit waiting.
I haven’t bought any more outfits, partially due to depleted available sizes, and partly because I don’t really need more running clothes. For $25 I definitely found this first outfit worthwhile though and if I get a little more expendable income I may check into some warmer weather gear! I’m extremely pleased with the quality for the price.
If you are interested in giving it a try, please use my referral link below. I’ll get some credits towards some more clothing for myself! It is attractive, functional workout gear at a great introductory price. I’m not getting sponsored for this or anything, just trying to share the news and maybe earn myself some credits at the same time. I hope you enjoy!
Referral link: http://www.fabletics.com/invite/22535836/
On Saturday it rained.
Well, it rained on Friday too. But the usual steady calming sound of rain falling on the roof above my bed wasn’t so charming on Saturday morning when coupled with flashes of lightning and booming thunder. Not exactly ideal weather for a trail run.
Yet I spent the early hours with tea and oatmeal and a constant refresh of my weather app, wondering if it even made sense to make the 45 minute drive to the race. As final decision time came near, the worst of the storms seemed to be through. The race was being very active on their facebook page to many inquiries about whether the race would be held. Only concerns for runner safety were going to stop the event, not just some mud and water!
So I headed east and started the country music playlist on my reliable ol’ iPod.
When darkness comes, and pain is all around, like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down….
Bridge Over Troubled Water – Johnny Cash
I don’t know why, but with you I’d dance in a storm in my best dress. Fearless…
Fearless – Taylor Swift
There’s a storm moving in, he’s headed back from somewhere he never should have been, and the thunder rolls…. and the lightning strikes…
The Thunder Rolls – Garth Brooks
Honestly. They didn’t all play in a row but Johnny and Taylor were back to back. Spare the lecture on whether Ms. Swift (or even Garth) should be on my country playlist, but she started out leaning pop-country and this is where it fits in my genres.
The soundtrack made for an inauspicious start.
I make it out to the soccer complex where the start, finish and parking areas were. Headed up to the brick and mortar restroom facilities to find that somehow the water was turned off. The buzz was frozen pipes but it had been back above freezing for days and was around 50 degrees. Who knows. Porta-potties would have been far superior to the scene in a ladies room where dozens of runners were unable to flush. Like I said, inauspicious beginnings to the day.
This was my second time running the Lakeside Trail Race. There are 8 and 15 mile options, and I ran the 15 two years ago in the beginning of 2012. I was training for my first trail marathon at that time and figured I had so many more trail miles, and miles in general, under my figurative belt (figurative because RaceReady capris > a running belt), so I’d certainly be aiming to beat my 2012 time of 2:48. (author’s note: HAHAHA.)
I hadn’t run more than 7 miles at once since the JFK 50 Miler in the end of November. I needed a January race to continue my monthly streak and since I volunteered instead of running the week prior at the big Frosty 50k in town, I found there was a dearth of available races in a reasonable driving radius. I considered just signing up for the 8 mile but I’ve got Uwharrie 20 in a couple weeks so more distance seemed prudent. (again with the inauspicious thing.)
It was quickly apparent that trail conditions were far, far different than they had been two years before on a dry day. The rain had stopped but it was really all just sitting on the ground, waiting for us. About 150 runners headed out onto the singletrack trails, parading along in single file lines. At first we tried to pick around the muddy bits, running to the side and hopping about. Then ahead there are shouts of half-glee and half-shock. A puddle covering the trail side to side and at least 10 feet long. No hopping over this one. Once we knew our feet would be wet, we stopped trying to navigate around the puddles.
These were the worst trail conditions I’ve ever encountered. There had just been far too much rain and the ground couldn’t possibly soak it all in so quickly. In many places the trail was the natural low/vegetation-free place for water to collect and led to huge puddles. Splashing through puddles is fun!… for a while. Note that the photo below is not a creek crossing but the actual trail we were traversing. I have to give some thanks to The Man Upstairs for keeping temperatures above 50 degrees on race day though. The water was chilly but overcast 50s is great running weather.
As we splashed and squished along, runners forced together by pace started laughing and chatting. It drizzled a little during this time but not much. We wove through the woods and eventually got to a road crossing. This was an aid station and the turn-around point for those runners doing the shorter 8-mile race. I sipped on some orange Gatorade and contemplated turning around here, cutting short the 15 mile race for the sake of my pruney toes. It seemed everyone was turning around! But then I saw three folks crossing the road to the next section (a big loop) of trails to continue on the 15 mile route and I figured, I was out here, I was wet, I might as well continue.
Though there were other 15 milers, the race thinned out considerably at this point. I was alone for a stretch, splashing alone and trying not to let the mud suck my shoes off in the thankfully few sections of serious mud. My big drop in mileage and training in general since JFK was becoming apparent as I was tiring already. The course was well-marked and I was in no danger of going off-trail, despite the conditions, but I did start wondering if I was the last person. Was there even anyone else behind me?
Soon my question was answered as I heard footsteps and there was a lady behind me. I heard her for a while, getting closer and then fading back some as we ran differently on the ups, the downs and the puddles. Finally she called out as she was close and I assumed she was giving the heads up that she’d like to pass me. But no! She was actually asking me if I was Emily, from THIS BLOG. Yall, I got recognized in the wild. It was kind of surreal. So Rosemary, thanks so much for reading my drivel and for your kind words about my little slice of the internet. We ran along together for a while, chatting about races we had both run, and others. So enjoyable to have company during a sparse trail run! Soon though, my weary legs were tiring as she remained strong and forged ahead. See you at Uwharrie!
Time was a blur out here. We had some more road crossings to get to other sections of trail. There were aid stations, Gatorade, cookies. No mile markers and I wasn’t wearing my Garmin, so I was just watching time pass on my simple watch. If I wasn’t back to that first 4-mile turn around that would also be our final 4 miles, then the prospect of beating my 2012 time was just a pipe dream. Ah well, just make it through in one piece with both shoes still on.
The wind started picking up and the overcast skies darkened. It was definitely going to start raining again. Finally I made it to that mile 4/11 aid station and really assumed I was going to be pulled from the course. The skies were obviously about ready to burst open. However, the police and aid station volunteers just agreed with me that it sure looked bad, and handed me Gatorade and water as I readied to finish the last stretch.
Well, I was right! The clouds opened up and the rain started. It rained hard. The trail conditions would have been worse on this return trip regardless, as the 8 milers had all run it twice already, and the faster 15 milers had covered that ground a second time as well. As there had been along the whole route, there were streams to cross that I vaguely recalled from 2012. But back then it was dry and you could hop over, or step on some rocks to keep your feet dry. They were at least double in width now.
You know when you’re driving in bad weather, it’s always stressed to NEVER drive into running water, or water of uncertain depths. It can sweep a car away. Well I sure as heck felt like a bad driver of my own body because I was boldly fording through running water of uncertain depth. I worried about finding a root or rock in the most painful way possible at the bottom of a puddle, but thankfully that did not happen. The deepest water I encountered was probably about 7-8 inches deep. There were sections where the water was over ankle deep for like 100 meters. My feet were very cold, or if I could feel them, I would have told you that. My trail shoes felt like 20 pound bricks on the end of each leg. Traction was tough to come by on the muddy trails, but I did stay upright the whole time.
Finally the finish area was in sight. There was no timing system set up, and almost all of the cars were gone. A dozen or so people were under a tent and as I approached someone rolled down their window to get my bib number. I was the final runner.
As it turned out, everyone behind me had indeed been stopped at the mile 4/11 aid station, due to safety concerns and the coming bad weather. I don’t know how close I got to actually being stopped, but I’d guess it was about 5 minutes since I think it was about that long after the aid station when it really started raining hard.
So circumstances were such that I got my first DFL (Dead F***ing Last) but not my first DNF (Did Not Finish).
Oh yeah, and my finish time was 3 hours 15 minutes. Almost 30 minutes slower than my 2012 version of the race. I think I’ll have to remember this one for 2015 and hope for a dry day so I can exact my revenge on this course!
Per the results, 85 runners finishes the 8 miler, and 13 are marked “weather” without a finishing time.
And for the 15 miler, I was 42nd of 42 finishers (woot woot, top 42!), with 28 “weather” runners without finishing times. I feel a little better knowing there were actually a decent number of people behind me and I wasn’t just the only super slowpoke running 13 minute miles out there in the slop.
A volunteer ran up and gave me a nice ceramic mug, which I promptly filled with sweet, decadent hot chocolate under the food tent. There were cookies, bananas, oranges, and jelly beans. Much of which I ended up leaving with because they were breaking down the finish area due to no more finishers. I saved a bunch of food from being tossed into the garbage can. My coworkers have had sugar cookies all week, my freezer is stocked with bananas for smoothies, and next week I’ll bring the Jelly Bellys to work. I felt like a weird scavenger but oh well, better than wasting the food.
Thanks for a distinctly memorable day, Lakeside Trail Race, and for the delicious cookies!
Another year of running has come and gone. 2013 was an odd running year for me. I ran my longest distances ever but didn’t log nearly as many training miles as I should have. I failed to meet my overall mileage goal by a long shot but it doesn’t really bother me. Part way through the year I knew I’d missed my opportunity to reach the goal mileage, so that went out the window.
I ended up running only 1036 miles against my goal of 1500 miles. In 2012, I ran 1313 miles so 1500 seemed reasonable, but it doesn’t really work when I shirk running distance of any sort for months at a time. I also discovered when I looked back at my 2012 recap post, that I’d resolved to do two non-running exercises per week, which I certainly did not stick to. I actually was just thinking the other day that doing something like that would be good for 2014. Guess I should write the goals somewhere visible and not just hidden in the depths of my blog, at least if I intend to keep them.
Gosh. Though I’d given up on the mileage goal, seeing my monthly tallies actually typed out is sad. I’m rather embarrassed in how little I ran from March to July. However, somehow, I also had my highest month ever with 163 miles in August. That is thanks in major part to my increased involvement this year in the Twin City Track Club. I was running with them often on Mondays and Wednesdays about 5 miles each, then the club started “Thursdays at the Lake” which was a group 7 mile run on (surprise!) Thursdays in August. My other weekly commitments on Mondays and Wednesdays started back up once summer ended, so I really missed the chance for those 17 mid-week miles with friends. Having a group to run with makes things so much easier.
I ran 13 races in 2013. This included my first 50 kilometer race, first 50 mile race, and first “Did Not Start” race.
two 10 milers
one 50 miler
& one Ultimate Runner (5-event track meet – 1mi, 400m, 800m, 100m, 5k XC)
I got automatic PRs in the 50k and 50M due to those being first-and-only distances so far. I also PRed the 100 meter, 400 meter, 1 mile, 5k, 15k and 10 mile. So basically the only races I ran in 2013 but didn’t PR were the 800 meter and marathon. Not bad looking back at it!
Running at least one race a month means that streak continues to 58 consecutive months. The expensive hobby cost me $548 in race fees in 2013, relatively low for me even with the $200 price tag on JFK 50! No new states this year. Most of my racing was in North Carolina, with one race in each Maryland, D.C. and Rhode Island.
I guess the biggest personal change for 2013 was buying a house. My race bibs and medals were the first thing I packed when I was getting ready to move out of my apartment, and they are still in their box. I’m not particularly motivated enough to pull out the 2013 bibs and medals so I’ll just share some instagram snapshots from the year, some from races I still never got around to blogging:
and I can’t forget eat, nap, drink!
I hope you all had a lovely 2013 and that your 2014 is better than ever. I’m not going to make any mileage goals yet, but after a few longer races to start the year I want to prioritize speed. I’ll be turning 30 this fall, which moves me up into a much tougher age bracket for races. I would love to get into the 22’s for my 5k time, and maybe get some more age group wins while I’m still 29. I went through some tough periods in 2013 regarding interest in running, so hopefully a continued involvement with my running club will keep me excited about training.
And I would be remiss not to thank my little group of followers for taking your time to read my sporadic posts. Here’s to another mile and another drink!
Cookies. I ran 50 miles, and it was fueled by cookies.
Let’s back up. The JFK 50 mile race runs from Boonsboro to Williamsport, MD. In an interesting twist, it was almost exactly 50 miles from my parents’ house to the start location in Boonsboro. It was very convenient to stay in a familiar and comfortable place the night before the race. Little did I know what a good decision that was… until the day of the race when my friend and running buddy Billy told me he came back from his dinner to find his hotel on FIRE, and they had to switch hotels! Good grief, like one needs another reason to have a bad night of sleep before a big run! Thankfully it was in another section of the hotel and his belongings were safe. You can read more about the hotel fire here.
So, the morning of the race my mother was so kind to drive me to the start. I had originally planned on driving myself, but wasn’t sure how my legs would cooperate for the drive back home afterward. The 7:00am race start and 5:30am packet pick-up start had us backing up to alarm clocks around 3:30am to give time to eat breakfast (oatmeal for now, banana in my bag for later) and hit the road by 4:30am. Sweet mom said it wasn’t the first time she has woken up at 3am for me. How lucky am I to have such great parental support?
On our way to the start, we drove past the 5:00am start group. Most runners begin at 7:00 but if you meet certain criteria there is a 5:00 start option. I believe it is mostly for those who have run JFK a number of times before and older runners. It gives 2 extra hours to complete the event. They started in the dark and we watched a parade of bobbing headlights and reflective stripes climb a very. long. hill. It dawned on me that I would be climbing that very. long. hill. myself before long. Better not to think about that yet.
We made good time to the school where packet pick-up and the pre-race meeting would be held. The actual start was like 3/4 mile away, but with no good area to gather. I collected my neon yellow shirt, timing chip and bib number. There were no other goodies to speak of, just a bunch of pamphlets about the area. A little disappointing.
There were not many people there yet, but soon more runners started to arrive and my mom headed out. I grabbed a spot on the floor in the gymnasium to wait for the pre-race meeting and hopefully find Billy. As it turns out, I was able to find a running acquaintance Phyllis who I’d only learned the night before would be running the race. She did an amazing job – follow this link to her blog to read her recap. Great job Phyllis!
During the pre-race meeting, everyone had a seat and the race director welcomed us to the 51st annual JFK 50 Miler. There were instructions, reminders (no iPods!), introduction of some of the military folks running the race, a moment of silence for the memory of JFK, and a variety of pace times mentioned with race veterans announced, so you could know to look for the lady in the pink shirt and pigtails if you were hoping for an 11 hour finish. That sort of thing. Then it was time to follow the crowd the 1000 meters to the actual start line.
Here I started getting worried that I wouldn’t be able to find Billy. But just a minute or two before the gun sounded, he found me, That is where I learned about his hotel fire. BANG! It was time to start the race. Temps were about 32 degrees, winds around 7 mph and projected to get stronger. This was the first race where I was going to see the sun rise and fall; where the temperatures would climb and drop again. Long day. I wore a half-zip long sleeve over a singlet, my RaceReady capris, cotton gloves, earband, and my road shoes. I’d waffled over trail shoes or road shoes and decided that with less than 15 miles on technical trails, the road shoes would be better, lighter, more comfortable. Possibly a mistake. Also carried my phone to use as a camera and lifeline if necessary.
The route went uphill right away, but I knew the start of the race was going to be the most challenging in terms of terrain, and it would get better. We went 2-3 miles on a paved road before getting to the Appalachian Trail (AT). We walked that long hill, that I had seen the 5:00 starters glowing up. The trail was rockier than I anticipated, and moderately congested at the start. Soon we came to a clearing with the first aid station and a paved section of steep climbs. Billy’s Garmin measures percent grade and he said at one point we were at 22% grade climb. It was exhausting. We hiked up this and were in awe of the leaders who presumably ran up this steep, steep incline. Chatted with other runners around us. Time for rocky trail again!
I have run plenty of trails in my day, but this was some of the rockiest, and I was not willing to misstep and ruin my whole race at the beginning, so I was more cautious here than I would have been if it was a shorter race. Often there was no real choice on whether or not to walk, as passing was tough, so if someone ahead was walking, I was walking. Not that I tried terribly hard to get around. I knew to take the AT section easy as there were many miles left to go. Mostly I had to keep my eyes on the ground ahead of me, which is wise. Once I looked up to make eye contact while thanking a volunteer and thwack! smacked the heck out of all the toes on my right foot on a big rock. One of many times on this section where I longed for my trail shoes with their extra protection from rocks!
There were great aid stations throughout the course. The workers had jugs of water and sports drink to easily refill runners’ bottles and Camelbaks. I carried my trusty Amphipod handheld bottle. There were also a variety of foods at each station, varying throughout but pretty much always including Coca-Cola, potato chips, M&Ms and sandwich cookies. I was and am so very thankful for all the volunteers who spent many hours of their day out in the cold to make the journey easier for us.
After another section of trail and the infamous crazy steep switchbacks (I had scoffed – switchbacks! how hard could they be?… then I clutched nearby trees for dear life as we carved our way down the mountain), we arrived at the aid station which signified the end of the AT section. It was about 15.5 miles and had taken me almost 4 hours. Gosh, I can cover almost 26 miles in 4 hours on a different sort of day. I got a water refill and a cup of Coke, and proceeded to pour half out almost immediately as I turned that hand over to check the time on my watch. What? I started eyeing the food table when someone called out “TRAIN COMING, cross now if you’re gonna!” Again now… what? Oh yes, there was a train coming and we needed to cross the track.
Train or food. Train or food. I chose cookies. It took a little under 5 minutes for the train to pass. I had half of a PB&J and a sugar cookie shaped like a foot. Loved that foot cookie. Maybe I had two cookies, I lost track. Soon the train was over and we crossed the tracks and a timing mat registering our start of the C&O Canal Towpath section. 4:02 elapsed time. Looking back now, the cut-off time for that aid station was 4:30 elapsed time. I hadn’t realized we were going that slowly, as we picked along the rocky trails. That would come back to haunt us.
The C&O section was 26.3 miles long. Just a marathon length in the middle of another race, ya know, that’s all. It was flat and surrounded by lots of pretty trees. There was a sometimes-smelly canal on our right and a river on the left. The surface was dirt/gravel and leaves, and footing was nothing to worry about. This section was long but nice. Sometimes a little numbing. We ate at aid stations and took some little walk breaks, especially when I wanted to take a picture. The temperature warmed up through some of this section and gloves and earbands went off and on depending on sun and wind. Highs were around 42 that day. Balmy, right? Really it was fantastic running weather, save some of the windy bits. Billy’s IT band started bothering him sometimes around mile 20 or so, and we walked through that some together. Then a nagging feeling I had started really rising to the surface and my own IT band flared up.
We discovered that we were getting rather too close for comfort to the big mile 34.4 cut off point, of 8 hours elapsed time. I was struggling with my left knee due to my IT band, but needed to keep going. Wanted to stop, but needed to keep going. At the mile 30 aid station, I got a couple ibuprofen. And cookies. Always cookies. I didn’t wear a Garmin during the race because the battery life on mine would not last the whole time, but I’d venture that miles 30-34.4 were the fastest of the race. Probably 11:30/pace at fastest, but we hauled our tired booties as fast as we could haul them. We got to the 34.4 aid station and cut-off point with literally 1 minute to spare. Any longer and we would have been removed from the course. Billy and I had been with a group of 7-8 folks and we all just barely got there. I didn’t think we were THAT slow.
I won’t pretend that I didn’t have mental battles about continuing in the race. A voice in my head kept suggesting that if I just missed the cut-off, then I’d be able to get on a bus or something and they’d take me to the finish, and I could sit down and be warm and still, and be DONE. I mean, 34 miles is still a lot of miles. But there was a stronger will inside that was determined to continue on. The goal was 50 miles, not 34 miles. On I go, there are more cookies ahead.
Despite my determination, I was still legitimately concerned about making the remaining cut-off times. Billy was feeling better and went off ahead with strength I couldn’t muster. I had to get from 34.4 to 38.4 in 1 hour. Now some 15 minute miles might sound easy enough, but I was in real pain with my IT band flaring up in the knee. Hadn’t had this kind of pain in years. I had taken another couple ibuprofen at the mile 34 aid station, and told my brain that it was going to stop hurting; it had to. I prayed hard. The walking breaks were a relief but transitioning back from walk to run was so intensely painful that it wasn’t worth taking walk breaks. The pain drove me to run more and faster. Again, “fast” is relative here.
Gritting my teeth and clenching my sometimes-gloved fists, I continued on. Stopped at aid stations throughout the C&O section for water, Coke, Mountain Dew, chicken noodle soup, cookies, potato chips, Starburst and even an unexpected treat:
What do you think that purple food is? Believe it or not – a potato! Yep, half of a boiled purple potato, dipped in salt. It was the last lonely potato at one of the aid stations (sometime around mile 25 probably, my timeline is blurry). Showed my parents this photo after the race and they thought it was a cupcake with sugar on top. I’d never seen a purple potato! The folks there laughed at my surprise when I cut the potato in half. Carbs and salt, pretty much perfect.
Once I got to mile 38, I knew I could finish. Just 12 miles left. Not even a half marathon. I can do 12 miles. Still in pain but either the painkillers were kicking in, the prayers were working, or maybe I was just numb. Maybe all three. The sun was setting and then, finally, the C&O section was over. The final aid station on that section, around mile 42, was stocked with crates of reflective vests. After some certain time, all runners are required to wear the vest to continue. I’d heard it called the “Vest of Shame” by some veteran runners but I sure as hell didn’t care. No shame in still being on my feet 10 hours into a run. The volunteers adorned me with my vest and sometime around 9:35 elapsed time, I shuffled onto asphalt again. Hard, hard asphalt after so many miles on softer surfaces.
It was getting dark and the roads were not closed, but traffic was sparse on these country roads. We ran past houses and farms. The wind was picking up, whipping corn husks from the harvested fields across the roads. I wished I had a light. According to the weather records, wind gusts in the area were 23-24 mph during the early evening. At least once, the wind pushed me around, sideways. Some large street sign was rattling on its post and I imagined it being torn off and just wrecking me. Wonder if the multiple rotting deer carcasses I saw along the roadside here led to some of those macabre thoughts? Why not a helpful tailwind? That would have been nice. At least it was side-to-side, and not a headwind. Chilling to the bone though. One of the aid stations on this stretch had hot chocolate and my goodness nothing had ever been more perfect. I was full from so many cookies throughout the day, but some rich warm hot chocolate hit the spot like I never expected.
At this point, I was catching up to lots of the 5:00 starters, so the roads were far from empty. Never crowded or anything, but company is always nice. I was still running more than walking due to the pain in my knee, so I was passing a lot of people who walked these rolling hills. I’d never wanted anything to be over, as badly as I wanted the race to be over. I thought about things that might be preferable, like cutting off my own legs, or childbirth. (My sister later pointed out that my race was longer than her labor with my wee nephew!)
The aid stations became more frequent, and I was not hungry nor really wanting to go through the pain of starting to run after stopping, so I skipped one or two in this last stretch. No more concerns at this point of cut-off times, I was safe. There were mile markers for this last stretch, so I was so happy seeing them tick off slowly. Each one meant I was closer to the finish line. Really close now. Then it was in sight. I tried not to cry, and failed.
I had done it. 50 miles. 11 hours and 33 minutes. 50 miles.
I accepted my medal, turned in my reflective vest, and headed into the adjacent school to find my drop bag. Billy and his mother were right in the lobby. He had finished about 12 minutes ahead of me, after a great finish! There was a variety of food, including things I’d usually love after a race like pizza and Moe’s burritos, but I was anything but hungry after so much food along the route. My dailymile tracker estimates I burned 8525 calories during that run, but I have to imagine I also took in a couple thousand along the way!
It started snowing as we walked to my parents’ car. I’d need lots of ice in my immediate future. Later that evening, I worried that I’d pull the bannister out of the wall as I dragged myself up the stairs. I had never been so thankful for the previously-mocked handle on the shower/tub wall. I had to literally lift each leg over the tub wall with my hand while clutching the shower handle, then switching hands to haul my other leg over. Had a gnarly blister on my left foot and super dark purple toenail on my right foot, probably from where I’d smacked it when thanking the volunteer. The next morning my knees were swollen and I brought out the ice.
But in just a couple days the pain was becoming just a memory and I started wondering what kind of performance I could have in my second 50 miler. Say what? I’d never wanted something to be over so badly, yet here I was already considering another. But just imagine… now that I knew what to expect, and maybe with a healthy IT band… Yeah it wouldn’t be out of the picture to see another ultra in my future.
But 50 miles. It still sounds crazy.