Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ice Age 50 Miler Race Report

"What's the pain like? Different from a marathon? Is it worse?" Tim was, at first, silent when I asked him this question. It was April 21, 2013, and he was about 43 miles deep into a 50 mile trail race. I could hear the wonderment, the almost giddy excitement in my own voice as I asked him this question, hiking just behind him on what I would call a "mildly" steep hill. I quickly realized two things: 1. He, in his fatigued state, considered this a monstrous hill; and 2. I was probably annoying him. My legs, despite having traversed 33 miles of Bedford and Buddha the day before, were fresh in comparison to his. I dampened my tone. "I mean, I guess it's similar to how we felt racing the 60K." He stopped for a moment to open a gel, looked around, and said, "It's a different kind of pain." He forced the Gu down. "A whole new kind." When Tim becomes ragged during a race, you can't see it in his facial expressions, nor his stride. It is all told by his complexion. And he was looking pastier than I'd ever seen him. He was in the midst of something I had yet to do. It looked awful. Miserable, even. As I ran with him the last 17 miles of his first 50, I couldn't wait for my turn.

This year, Tim and I decided to do a 50 miler. We'd first gotten our feet wet in the ultra world at the 2012 Land Between the Lakes 60K. He enjoyed that race, but for me...well, I found a whole new passion. We decided to do separate 50 milers for our firsts so that we could crew for one another. His was first--the Indiana Trail 100/50. Unfortunately, he got about the worst conditions imaginable. Extreme flooding, wind, rain, mud, and 35 degrees. But he did finish, in 8:47. My race was to be 3 weeks later--The Ice Age 50 Miler in La Grange, WI. Crewing your husband in a 50 miler the day before you enter taper for your OWN 50 miler is a unique experience. I got glances of what I would be experiencing, and I couldn't help but quiz him about what he was experiencing viscerally. It looked like a whole lot of pain.

Pain. Before I go any further, let me stop you from suggesting that I like pain. I've heard this before, and it's simply not true. I do not enjoy pain. I do, however, enjoy pushing through it. There is a difference, if you think about it. The euphoria and catharsis of enduring and beating pain is not easily matched. I thoroughly enjoy the end result of that experience. The only sticky point is--pain has to be part of the experience. Long distance racing (and even short and middle distance...ever raced an 800 all out?) is an endeavor punctuated by pain. (Notice I said racing, not running). For any of you who've done it (or any other endurance-type racing), you are nodding your heads in agreement. Man, does it hurt. Races of different distances, though, hurt in different ways. A 5K is extremely painful, but it's an intense, short pain. A marathon is a long, drawn-out type of pain, as was the 60K I did. I was in search of a new pain-conquering experience. The only thing I knew was to go up in distance. 50 miles fit the bill.

Now, onto the actual race report (apologies in advance for my verbosity). Tim, Rowan, Amelia, and I drove up to La Grange, WI the Friday before the race. It is a 6 hour drive. I had to get through a work conference call while in the car, which was a little tricky with Rowan in the back, but otherwise things went smoothly. We arrived at our motel (affectionately referred to by our party as the "Bates Motel"--it was clean, but a little creepy). Turns out the indoor pool promised on the Bates' website was under repair. Rowan was devastated. After his little melt down, we went to packet pick up. If you've only done road races, you wouldn't recognize an ultra packet pick up. There is no expo. No samples. No music. Nothing to buy. It's a few guys with a few boxes full of race bibs. Most of them runners themselves. They are unassuming, accommodating, and not trying to sell you anything. It's quite refreshing. We managed to get a meal at a very bad (as in bland) Mexican restaurant, and headed back to the room. There, we met up with our friend Randy. He was also running his first 50, and also lucky enough to be staying with the Bates'.

We went to bed early. It was decided that I'd sleep with Amelia, and Tim with Rowan. Good sleep the night before a race is hard to come by. However, this pre-race night of sleep was the worst I've ever experienced. I think I strung together about 90 minutes of sleep, and that was it. At 4:30 am, I was up. And nervous. I ate a pop tart (don't judge), drank some gatorade, took my medicine, got dressed, got the kids up and dressed, and we were off.

The start line was buzzing when we arrived around 5:30 am. The temperature was 41 degrees, and it was cloudy. Absolutely perfect for racing. I considered and replayed my race strategy in my head as I waited to shed layers of warm clothes before the start. It was quite simple, really. I had to do three things for a very long time: eat, drink, and run slowly/steadily. Mess any of those up, and it could be disaster. I have some difficulty with eating on the run, but my plan was to eat every 30 minutes until I could no longer do it. I also carried a small hand held between aid stations--the goal was to fill it at each station, and finish drinking it right as I got to the next. They were all about 3-5 miles apart.
The Start Line--Notice it's a banner between two ladders. #love
With Randy at the Start Line.

It was cold standing at the line. I wore gloves and a thin long sleeve over a singlet, but I knew I'd ultimately shed those. Suddenly, they were counting down...10, 9, 8....all the way to 1. If there was a gun, I didn't hear it. I think they just said go (another reason to love ultras). I started my watch (a Garmin 910 borrowed from Bill--the only Garmin that has a battery that would last over how long it takes me to run 50 miles). I typically do race reports by in miles 1-3, then 4-5. I'm sorry, but I can't do that this time. It all runs together like a big, painful blur. I can only report based on the portion of the trail on which I was running. A little background on the race course--it begins with a lovely, grassy, rolling 9-mile loop. Then, there are two separate out and backs. So I will be referring to the first loop and then out and back 1, out and back 2.

I was immediately relieved to finally be running. The course was beautiful. I instantly thought of the IU Cross Country course--this loop was very similar in terrain. It made me think of my dad, too, because he loves that course. And I found myself thinking things like "Dad should come race the half marathon here next year" (the half is only on the grassy part). That is, I was relaxed. It was flat or downhill at first, but then we hit some ups. I had to think fast. I had planned to hike big hills from the beginning, but I realized that, this fresh in the race, my concept of a big hill may  not have been clear. I had trouble deciding what qualified and what didn't. I (and Randy, next to me) ran the first few. I thought better of it, and told him on the next that I was going to walk. I think I told him he ought to do so as well. We hiked up a steep one and watched scores of runners run in front of us. That's hard. I told Randy, who was no doubt also feeling an ego sting, that all the experienced ultra runners I know had advised me to walk the hills--and to walk them early--in this race. He said, "Look, they already have ten yards on us." I didn't say anything, but thought to myself "Most of them will come back." The most memorable thing of this loop, and I'm sure Randy will remember it, is when he asked me, a couple of miles in, "Do you think we'll be sore after this? It's just a long, slow run." Um, yes. Yes, Randy--we will be completely and utterly destroyed!

Though I felt relaxed, I caught myself being TOTALLY in race mode. I was looking for the pony tails. I began a bit of an inner dialogue: "Would you just relax? Please?" "Look at all those women in front of you. At least 15 right there." This happens to me in every race I run. And I think it's pretty common--it is hard to hold back. Though my Garmin was not terribly accurate on the trail, it was giving me some idea of my pace. The first couple of miles were around 9:45. A little fast (I know it's not FAST..but it is fast for me at the beginning of a 50 mile race). I consciously slowed a bit, and then my shoe came untied. I told Randy I'd try to catch up with him at some point, and stopped to tie it. When I stood up, he was about 50 meters ahead of me. Part of me wanted to sprint up to him so I'd have someone I knew to run with, but the smarter part of me said no. I continued to watch him in his bright yellow Boston shirt, noticing tha the was taking my advice and walking the steep hills. That's when I heard it.

"Wendyyyy! WOOO!" It was Emily! And Tim, Amelia, and Rowan! I quickly stripped my shirt and gloves off and threw them to them. I hadn't expected to see them that soon. The rest of this first loop seemed like a constant shifting of runners. I ran for a while with a guy named Mark. He was extremely experienced, having done Ice Age 15 times and several 100 milers. I said this was my first, and he gave me some advice. Included in that advice: "Hike the hills. This course is tough."
Seeing my family for the first time. ~4 mi in.

 I pulled ahead of Mark and, in a mile or two, saw a woman ahead. For whatever reason, when I saw her, I thought "Now there's an experienced 50 miler. I need to hook up with her." I wanted to run with her, but I didn't want to sprint to get to her. Turns out, I didn't have to. She was slowing a bit. Though I was hiking the uphills, I was positively BOMBING the downhills (would later pay for that). I caught her on a downhill, and was immediately struck by the fact that she was not wearing trail shoes. Not only where they not trail shoes, they were something totally Asics. But she looked like she knew what she was doing. She said hi, and mentioned she was glad to see another woman. Her name was Jamie. I told myself, "Just run with her a while." I desperately wanted someone to run with--I figured I was far less likely to mess it up that way. We ran together and talked for a while. She didn't know you could get a PhD in nursing. She's trying to do a marathon in all 50 states (I recommended Tecumseh). And I also learned that this was HER first 50, too. We spent the next mile or two talking about strategies and asking each other questions. I couldn't help but notice that Jamie looked exactly like the character "Kate" from Lost.

Then, I had to pee. So did Kate (I mean Jamie), but she was going to try to hold it. I couldn't. I spotted a bench on the side of the trail and squatted behind it to go. It's so funny--everyone ran by and saw me, and no one blinked an eye. I felt immensely better, but now Jamie was gone. Fighting the urge to make myself catch her, I looked down at my 8 mile split. 9:26. SLOW DOWN! I can't describe how effortless the running felt. I was learning a lot about pacing myself in a race this long.

I could see Jamie (and Randy) in front of me, and also hear cheering. We were nearing the end of the first loop. I knew I would see Emily, Tim, and the kids. And my hand held was empty--I needed Gatorade. I had been eating a Gu every 30 minutes during this loop, and so far had had no problems. I came through the aid station but didn't see Tim. I saw Emily jumping and pointing to him. I found them, and stopped where he had all sorts of Gu, chomps, and salt tabs on the top of Rowan's stroller. Amelia was beaming and shaking with excitement. Rowan was asking why he couldn't run. I grabbed the food and asked for Gatorade. Tim's face fell. "Oh, no, it's in the car. I'll have it next time." Emily said she'd get some water from the aid station. She poured it into my handheld, I kissed the kids, and was off.
Through the first loop. Ladders!

I was now heading toward the first out-and-back. As I neared confusion corner (which is not confusing, because they have a person stationed there at all times to direct you), I took a big swig of the water. Except it was HEED! Heed is a disgusting electrolyte drink that looks just like water, and Emily had grabbed it by mistake. I can't describe what it tastes like, other than to say it tastes like Heed...and Heed is disgusting. I had no choice, though. I was 4 miles from the next aid station, and I had to drink. As I got onto the first out and back, the terrain changed drastically. I went from lush, wide grass trails to the technical single track to which I'm more accustomed. Just because I'm accustomed to it, though, does not mean it was easy. The trail was tight and windy, and extremely rocky. I started seeing people fall. I figured, with my history of falling, I'd be next.

I was now in a long string of people on the trail, and I was getting impatient. Every so often, I'd bomb a downhill and pass 6-10 people. Then I'd find another string of people and do the same thing. I'd say this is when it began, around mile 14: I just kept passing people. I was not speeding up, and I was not pressing to pass them, but it was like all those people who had initially run the hills came to a grinding halt right in front of me. Soon, I would pass Randy. And then Jamie. I did a mental check--am I running too hard? I really didn't think so, so I kept on. The hills came, and they were very steep and very rocky. I hiked. I drank my Heed. I ate my Gu, and I took my salt tabs. I ran nice and easy on the flats, and like a wild woman on the downhills. I was like a robot, doing everything I was supposed to be doing.

I was so glad to see the next aid station, because it meant I could ditch the Heed and get Gatorade. I again heard Emily and the kids cheering. Rowan and Amelia were holding Twizzlers for me. I told Tim I felt good, got a refill, and was off. I did not even look at the aid station. I had my own personal one. I heard Emily yell, "See you at 17!" And then I just kept passing people. More and more. This part of the trail was killing them, it seemed, but I constantly checked to make sure I wasn't putting in too much effort.
Mile 13

Soon, I heard feet coming TOWARD me. It sounded like a deer. I was slightly afraid, but then realized...ah, yes! The leaders! Given it was an out and back, I would be passing all the people in front of me as they headed back to confusion corner. Here was David Riddle..F-L-Y-I-N-G down a steep hill. I just watched in amazement. It was kind of beautiful. He smiled at me and said great job. Then, every 30 seconds or so, another runner. I saw Scott, in fourth. He cheered me on. It was shortly after that that I remember thinking "This trail is harder than I thought it would be." I can't overemphasize how many rocks and roots there were, and how many super steep hills. However, I'd go from that to a pine-covered section that was almost totally flat. Emily (who ran this race two years ago) had told me that the course changes constantly. She was right--I just didn't realize how difficult most of it was.

Now that I had seen the leaders, I focused on one thing--counting the women. I would be able to determine in what place I was. Just as I was looking for women to come toward me, I saw two up ahead. They were running with another guy. I ran with them for a bit. The two women were 50 mile veterans and had both done 100 milers. Turns out the guy was on his first 50. He looked at his watch and said "Well, we are almost to my marathon PR." Wait a second, I thought. My watch said something like 2 hours, 34 minutes. "My PR is 2:45," he said. "Then what am I doing running with you?!" I thought. Crap. Had I gone out too fast? I felt fine. Comfortable. I really had a moment of fear at this point, as I was terrified I was running outside my ability. I stayed with them a few minutes, and then realized "This is too slow." Despite it feeling risky, I left them.

Soon after, I saw the first woman. One word: BEAST. I cheered her on, and she cheered me. I was now distracted by cheering for the runners coming toward me. They were so supportive...even those in the very front. I can't count the number of "Get it, girl!"s and "You look awesome!"s I heard. I saw the second woman, then the third. And by the time I reached the turn around, I had seen 8. That meant I was in 9th place at 21 miles. My secret wish had been to be in the top 10 women finishers, so I told myself...just hold on. As I reached this aid station, Rowan was running toward me with open arms. I will never, as long as I live, forget that moment. I hugged, fueled up, and headed back. I was just beginning to feel it in my legs. It was here that I noticed some of the people around me really struggling. I saw another woman coming in and promptly took off.

This trail had seemed difficult on the way out, but my realization of that fact was ever-so-heightened on the return trip. I just kept thinking, "This is like Brown County." I had expected something much more tame. Now, I love Brown County. But it's tough. I was having a bit of trouble forcing myself to eat at this point, but I kept doing it. Then, suddenly, I had to use the bathroom. My stomach was cramping. I darted just off the trail, popped a squat, and went. TMI warning...but I had diarrhea. Like, a lot of it. That meant I was losing extra fluids and electrolytes. Nothing to be done about I cleaned up with a leaf, and stood up to pull up my shorts. Just then, a woman whom I passed earlier--she was wearing a white shirt--went past. I tried to hurry, and struggled with my shorts. A guy went past and saw. "Oh, sorry!" he said. "Don't worry, it's trail running," I said. And I meant it. It's a primal thing.

I was immediately consumed with chasing down the white shirt. How could I let her get by me like that? In retrospect, I ran the next 3-4 miles too aggressively. Not only did I pass her, but I passed many men. I had taken my hiking up a notch. I was out of breath at the top of the hills I hiked. Everyone I passed (except the white shirt woman, who was looking to be in a bit of trouble) cheered me on. One man said, "You girls are tough! I can't hang! Go, go, go!" Just before the marathon mark, I felt as though the race were really on.

I also began to feel some fatigue, and the slightest of cramping in my right hamstring. I had been draining the hand held between stations, and had kept up my eating. Maybe I hadn't taken enough salt tabs. I immediately began taking them every 15 minutes. I saw Tim, Emily, and the kids at the marathon mark. I told Tim I thought I needed to slow down. He agreed. "You are making time on the men," he said. He gave me a loving, but slightly scolding, look. Oops. Okay, slow down, get over yourself, eat, and finish this thing. I still had about five miles to the next out and back.

Up until this point, I had had runners all around me. Suddenly, as I headed back on the trail, I was completely alone. Just me and my Twizzler. My quads were getting tired. "Just do the job," I told myself. I decided to marvel at my surroundings. This place was utterly beautiful. I sang worship songs in my head. I prayed. Not just for myself, but for my kids and my husband. I caught myself praying for the future spouses of my kids. It just happened. Then, I saw a pony tail. Wait, who is that? It was a woman, who looked extremely fit, accompanied by a man. They were running all the uphills, but I was still making ground on them. I finally caught them, and I recognized her. It was the LBL 50 mile record holder. Oh, crap! Am I passing a 50 mile record holder?! I'm going to die out here! I mentioned to her that I knew who she was, and kind of laughed and told her I was worried about going by her. "Oh, I'm pacing him today. But you're doing AWESOME!" Wow. Okay. She stayed up with me a bit and gave me some advice, then went back with him.

I was alone again. At some point, I can't remember when, it rained really hard for about five minutes. It was cold, and the wind blew against my skin. I found that energizing. But I still could not believe I was completely alone, and I began to long for other people. I was getting tired. The cramping was going from mild to slightly moderate. It was just behind my right knee. And then, I had to pee again. That was a good sign--I appeared to be drinking enough--but I was terrified of squatting down, cramping, and not being able to stand back up. I got to the top of a hill, and I could wait no longer. No one was around, so I stood in the middle of the trail, moved the crotch of my shorts to the side, and peed. Right there. Like a guy. Except in the middle of the trail. I've never done that before. A new skill gained.

I was getting close to confusion corner, where I'd begin the next out-and-back. My memory gets a little fuzzy here, but I believe this was around mile 30. I passed two more women at this point, putting me in 6th. I was beginning to feel tired, my quads ached, and the miles were taking longer, but they looked to be in worse shape. I was confident I could hold onto 6th. I silently prayed that this out and back would be more tame than the first. It was not. Maybe it was the fatigue in my legs, but this baby was TOUGH. It began with a hill so steep I caught myself using my hands to get up it. For whatever reason, I instantly thought "And I'm going to have to run down this on the way back." I dreaded that more than anything. Yes, my quads were cooked.

This out and back was constantly up and down, and the rollers were taking it out of me. I also was no longer able to take in food every 30 minutes. I did what I could--eating half a gel here or there, a chomp or two. Diarrhea followed twice more. Around mile 35, I was starting to suffer a bit. I knew, however, that it would get worse.

I saw the leaders come toward me as I headed to the turn around. Riddle had an extremely convincing lead. Scott had fallen to 7th, and looked tired. The leading woman was still kicking butt. And I appeared to still be in 6th. Soon, I saw a pony tail in front of me. She was wearing a pink singlet. I hadn't dreamed of ever catching her--I had seen her during the first out and back. But here she was--walking. And it wasn't an uphill, it was a downhill. She looked to be in trouble. I passed her, and she cheered me on. And instantly started running again. She ran just behind me, and we talked. "I've done this race a bunch of times," she said. "This out and back always kills me." At least it wasn't just me, then. She explained that she was having a tough race, and that her goal was a sub-9 finish. She wasn't sure she could do it. It was clear that, out of the two of us, she felt worse. She told me that she had been struggling from 30 on, and just wanted it to be over. And that she really wanted to get under 9 hours. I kept talking to her, but soon realized she was no longer in ear shot. I was opening up on her. I decided I wouldn't see her again, except for at the turn around.

This is the point at which I felt the switch flip. From suffering, pushing hard, and being very not knowing if I could physically continue. It's a feeling I can't quite describe. There was the cramping--both hamstrings and the point at which both adductors connected to the inside of the knees. It was getting worse. Strangely, walking up the hills became more difficult than running. I felt tired, weak. I tried to eat. I couldn't. I felt nauseated. For the first time, I really wanted this to be over.

But I kept running. And I kept passing people. Amazingly, I did. I was beginning to grow tired of all the rocks. A little angry, even. A sure sign of fatigue setting in. I had been trying to distract myself by focusing on things that did not hurt. My toes. My toes, which usually cause me lots of problems, did not hurt. No sooner had I thought this, when all of the sudden I felt an extremely sharp pain under the nail of my third toe on the right foot. It was a recognizable sensation. In the past, I have developed blisters beneath my toenails--actually underneath the nails--that causing excruciating pain. It happened to me in Houston and Boston, and both times I had to cut my shoe open in order to continue running. What am I going to do? I remembered that I had stuck a pair of scissors in the bag Tim was carrying around for me. I had done this knowing of the potential for this problems. I love these trail shoes, but he's going to have to cut the top off of this one. How far is the aid station? HOW FAR? The toe was killing me. I am always amazed the excruciating pain a toe can cause.

Finally, I saw the aid station. But no Tim and kids. They weren't there. I stood there, looking around frantically. They weren't there. For the first time in the race, I actually stopped at an aid station. I went over to the picnic table on which all the foods and fluids were located. They filled my bottle, and I just stood there. I did not know what to do. I wanted to cry. I thought I was crying...but tears didn't come. Not enough fluid, I'm sure. "What do you need, hon?" she asked. It snapped me back into reality. "I need a needle. A pin. Do you have either?" The nurse in me was coming out. I heard my nurse tone. Urgent but calm. She looked at me as I was tearing my shoe off. "No, I, uh, we don't..." "It's okay," I said, and began unfastening a safety pin from my bib number. I would lance the blister myself...using a pin from my bib number. It was the only option I saw. She stared at me in amazement, as I dug under my nail with the pin. The nail looked terrible. It was red, swollen, and oozing a bit. I gritted my teeth and punctured it. The aid station worker looked away. Just then, my abdominal muscles cramped. Hard! I yelped a bit, scaring her. "Just a cramp." "I don't know if you should do that," she advised. Other aid workers were now looking on. "It's fine, I've done this before." I clearly remember her hand going over her mouth as I withdrew the pin. Fluid sprayed out, but not all of it. I tried poking some more...could get nothing else out. I would just have to go on.

I put my shoe back on, causing my abs to cramp once again. The toe throbbed. I took a deep breath and began running. It was still excruciating. But I kept going. I was no longer concerned with my pace or my cramps, but whether or not I could keep running through this. I kept thinking of those scissors in that bag...I wanted them. Then I prayed, out loud, "God please. Don't let this toe stop me. Not this toe." Seriously--the toe stopped hurting immediately. Could no longer feel it. "Thank you!" and I kept running. I was just a few miles from the turn around. Oh, how I wanted to be there already.

As I neared the turn around, something strange began to happen. But it also seemed familiar. I would find myself feeling...well, not feeling good, but like I could do this. I was running strong and in a groove. Then, suddenly and out of nowhere, I would feel dreadful. I would want to walk (I didn't. I'm proud that I only walked the big hills the entire race). Then, I would feel okay again. Then I remembered where I'd encountered this before: Tim. Tim had done this exact same thing during the last loop of his 50 miler. I found it so strange (and mildly annoying) at the time--why are you running fast for a half mile, just to slow to a crawl the next? He must have been experiencing what I was experiencing.

I finally saw the turn around, which included an aid station. I was officially in a lot of pain. I saw Tim, grabbed a few chomps, and communicated that I was really hurting. I think this was mile 40. The last 10 miles of this race were unlike any other I've run in my life. They weren't just harder, they were different. They were a new level of pain, of fatigue, of complete humility. Whereas before I enjoyed bombing the downhills, skipping over rocks, and was even kind of impressed with myself for doing so, the trail was now winning. Fatigue was right there with me. I am listening to a book by Ed Ayres (recommended by Sara Jane, of course). He is a seasoned ultra runner. In it, he talks about befriending fatigue. You know it's going to come up, so there is no reason to fight it. Just acknowledge it.

And so, as I turned to head back--and finally toward the finish line--I did just that. I recognized aloud, "I am extremely fatigued, and it's not going to get any better until I finish." There. I did it. I accepted it. I saw the girl in the pink singlet whom I had passed walking earlier. She looked stronger now--running instead of walking--but she was at least two minutes back. I was in 5th place. All I had to do was hold on for 10 miles.

In the final run toward the finish (which remained nearly 10 miles away), I decided I would run whatever I could. Earlier, I had been cautious with the steep hills, hiking them all. Now--what did it matter? My quads and hamstrings were already devastated, I was cramping, and I was exhausted. For what would I have been saving my energy. I continued the pattern of running at a faster clip, to slowing down drastically, as the ebb and flow of my energy continued. I felt a bit dizzy, and managed to choke down a Gu. People were coming toward me (the people behind me--headed for the turn around). I saw so many people I had run with earlier, people I had passed. All of them cheered for me, and I for them. Even those who were clearly up against the wall at least made a hand motion. I was surprised to see how far some of them had fallen back, and was immediately thankful that hadn't happened to me.

I was probably 7-8 miles from the finish, and I began to feel very bad. My stomach hurt. I turned my head, vomited the gel I had just taken, and felt immensely better. I would not force myself to eat anything else. That part was over. I kept trying to distract myself by cheering the other runners, but it was getting hard. I came to a steep uphill, tried to run it, and had to walk. I wanted to cry. Truly, I did. "I still see you fatigue, and I hear you, and I'm listening." People must've thought I was nuts. Probably not, though. Being 43 miles deep in a tough 50-mile trail race will just, simply put, do things to you. I began to look for Randy. Where was he? I wanted to know that he was okay and still running. Just then, I saw him--still in his long-sleeve Boston shirt. I wanted to say "Aren't you burning up in that?!" But I just yelled his name. He looked great, actually.

I knew there was another aid station coming, but it just wouldn't come. Every turn I made, I thought it would be there. It was not. Finally, I asked one of the runners coming toward me, "Is there an aid station back there?" "What? What are you saying?" I yelled behind me, as she had already passed, "Aid station? Is it close?" "Oh, no, a ways back." CRAP. I just needed something, a marker. Ayres talks about it in his book. You set a target, you reach it, and you can start over. That aid station, where I had hoped to see my family (but wasn't sure since they hadn't made it to that one last time) was my marker. I found myself feeling antsy. I wanted to run fast. Amazingly, I could. It hurt, yes. Worse, though, is that it caused me to cramp. Those adductors began to sing. I backed off.

I needed to pass the time. I just wanted the time to pass. I began to count to 100, and then back down. I began to pretend I was on my way to work, picturing every little thing I drive by every day. I pictured running on my familiar routes, on how long it took me to give Rowan a bath. I needed something to help me with the time--it felt like forever. Then I remembered something my dear friend Sara Jane had told me that morning, "People think we're nuts, but they don't realize how lucky we are." I felt such gratitude, at that a moment of intense suffering, that I am a runner. And an ultra runner. How fortunate that I want and am able to do this. Then...THEN...I saw them! Rowan, Tim, Amelia...on the TRAIL! Running toward me! One of the happiest sights of my life. Tim picked Rowan up and began running behind me. Amelia ran right next to me, clapping her hands. "Mom, you're almost done!" All I could say was, "This helps so much, Amelia. So much." "I'm running a trail race, mom!" I hit the aid station (same one where I'd popped the blister), grabbed some endurolytes to hopefully stop the cramping, took two gummy bears, and was off. I had one more aid station, then the finish. "See you at the finish!" they yelled. The next time I saw them, I'd be done.
Mile 43.5

I began running immediately, and sucked on the gummy bears. The cramping was getting much worse. I stopped for a second and rubbed my inner thighs. I could see the muscles in spasm. I was momentarily intrigued by that. I couldn't get it to stop. "Run anyway" a voice inside my head said. And I did. The cramps did not stop, but they lessened as I ran. Then my lower back began to cramp. I was doing what sounded like lamaz breathing. I began talking to myself, I do remember that. At least I was all alone. I told myself, "This step on this part of the trail is the last time you'll have to do this. You don't ever have to run that step again."

I felt myself picking up some speed, and I ran up a big hill. Then the cramps hit...FULL ON. I was stopped in my tracks. Hamstrings, adductors....going crazy. I yelped and pulled at my legs, begging them to stop. I massaged them, I stretched them, and it subsided a bit. But when I started again, same thing. I turned around behind me, in desperation. I assumed no one would be there. I was wrong.

Coming up behind me was the girl in the pink singlet. The one I was so sure I'd never see again--the one who looked dead on the trail miles ago. She reached me and stopped, "Are you okay?" "I'm cramping badly, this has never happened to me." "Do you want some tylenol?" she asked, reaching into her pouch. "No, no, I'm fine, go on. Don't wait for me." And I meant it...however nice her gesture (though I was pondering the use of tylenol for muscle cramps), I didn't want her to wait for me. She took off, saying, "I'm still trying to break 9, come with me!" "I can't, I don't think..." and I ran after her. The cramps subsided enough to allow me to fully stride now. She kept yelling back at me, "We are going to have to hurry to break 9. It gets a little hilly on the grass but just push through it. Come up here with me!" "I'm trying!"

We were two miles from the finish. I saw what she was doing--she was gutting it out. I decided to do the same. I decided to push as hard as humanly possible over the next two miles, no matter how much it hurt. The only thing that might stop me were the cramps. I wanted to finish under 9, I wanted to catch her, but most importantly...I wanted that feeling. That feeling of crossing the line--finishing--knowing that what you did, most people couldn't or wouldn't. I wanted to be so dazed I couldn't recognize my own family. I wanted to leave it all on the trail.

I actually said the words, "And, go!" out loud, and I began to press. I began passing men left and right. Some walking, some jogging. They cheered me, "Get it, girl!" The pain was immense, from toes on up. My legs burned, they cramped, and my body begged me to stop. I reached the grass section, and let it fly. I pumped my arms, I spit, and I threw up once more. But I never stopped. I came upon one guy on a hill, "Can we still get under 9?" he asked, looking at his watch. "I am," I said, and went by him. I ran all the hills. I cannot explain how difficult this was. They were short, but so, so, so steep. Spectators were out there, and they kept saying "This is the last hill!" They were either lying or ignorant, because that was simply untrue.

Hill after hill that final mile. Her pink singlet was fading in the distance. I couldn't catch her. "Half mile to go!" someone shouted. Two 400s, I can do this. I didn't even look at my watch. It didn't matter. The effort level was at absolute maximum, and what my watch said couldn't have been sufficient motivation to change the current physiological state of my body. I saw a guy, a spectator, and I gasped "How far?" "I don't know, but it's right around that corner." I turned left, and I saw it.

That tiny little finish line--a sign fastened between two ladders (I'm not kidding). The 50 or so people cheering for me...people who did not know me but really, truly were proud of me. I couldn't see my family, but I heard them. I ran with all I had...right under the ladders. It was the most glorious feeling ever, second only to delivering my two kids. And it was a close second--I'm serious. That finish line, however lacking in fan fare, is by far my favorite. My time was 8:57:23. Decidedly under 9 hours.

They cut off my chip, and I staggered. The next few minutes are fuzzy, except I remember Amelia helping me to the bathroom. I remember cramping a lot, and then eating, and being so unbelievably amazed that I actually did it. More than that, I instantly reflected on how HARD and simultaneously FUN that was. I collected myself, thanked my family, and debriefed with Tim.
Done! And salty.

Here are some of my take aways from this experience:

1. I love this distance. I LOVE IT.
2. It's tied with natural child birth for the hardest thing I've ever done. Specifically, the last 8-10 miles fell into this category. I believe this is because I was truly racing all-out, and ran very hard during this section on extremely fatigued and cramping legs.
3. I was well-prepared. I passed people the entire time (except pink singlet). My training, which I devised myself, totally worked.
4. Trails > roads (I was less sore than after a road marathon--I'm taking a week off, but that's being cautious. I feel good)
5. The ultra crowd is awesome and unbelievably supportive. I can't say this enough. If you are a road racer, and you've never tried an ultra (or even a trail race that's not an ultra)...please do yourself a favor and introduce yourself to this amazingly encouraging group of runners.
6. The low-key nature is a plus. Ice Age is a major ultra--a big, well-known one. However, I never, for one second, felt like the organizers were trying to make money off of me. They organize and hold this race because they, like I, have a deep love for running. So do all the volunteers. There's something major to be said for that--knowing that your race is put on and managed by real, passionate runners (Tim's 50 was the same).
7. Something happened with my nutrition, causing cramping. I'm still working on figuring this out. I cramped relatively early, and I was taking endurolytes, eating, and drinking. I think I might need S caps, and more of them...more frequently. Anyway--this is the one thing I've still yet to figure out.
8. Hiking the big hills saved me (and it'll save you, too). All the people I saw running them (except the leaders) finished behind me, and looked horrible.
8. I'm incredibly lucky and blessed to be able to do this.
9. I'm doing this race again next year.

After this week off, I will begin training for my next 50, the JFK 50 Miler. And after that? Ice Age again. I've found myself a new running passion.

One last note--as most of you know, I ran this race for charity. I have epilepsy, and I'm an epilepsy researcher. I chose to run this race to raise money for the Danny Did Foundation. Thank you SO much to the Foundation for their support, and to all of the donors. You've made a difference, and I'm extremely grateful! Please visit

No comments:

Post a Comment