50 miles: done.
I took Friday off, spent the night at home – I think I went to bed around 11 or so – and it was raining. It rained through the night (there may have been some light storms), unfortunately for the 100-milers out there, and through the early morning. I woke up at 4:15 to the sound of light rain outside and a cool morning chill drifting in through my cracked-open window. Contacts in, toast eaten, bib pinned on – let’s roll.
The race started at 6 a.m.; it was still dark and the whole campground was muddy, so we expected the worst in terms of trail conditions. Six minutes to go, we were directed into the starting corral. In the dark damp morning, everyone’s breath vaporizing in the dim headlamp beams, the excitement was tangible. You all know – that energy that builds and builds just before a race, electrifying your muscles, waking your mind… as the RD gave a few last-minute directions, that energy was alive. Two minutes, one… three, two, ONE…
The group yell of a hundred-odd runners setting off on a day-long race, starting off in the dark, trotting over barely visible, muddy, uneven terrain… a short lap around the campground, then onto the trail!
The first hour slipped by, hardly noticed; it was just running along a dark, then dimly lit by a cautious morning sun, trail, floating quietly among the trees and through the dewy fields; hills small and large alike rolled by underfoot, us none the wiser, unable to see them… although on certain very slippery sticky slopes and soul (sole)-sucking bogs along the trail we had to wake from our early-morning-run reveries…
The sun rose gradually, not drawing attention to itself, just letting the runners run along, not noticing the change until the end of the first 16.6-mile loop when they emerged from the trail into the campground, the bright sunlight of 9 a.m. welcoming them back to the crowds, the excitement of a race, the aid station… I met up briefly with my dad; I was feeling good – confident, strong, and above all happy; I had passed my mom on the trails as she was nearing the end of her 5-mile race (at that point, we had the 100, 100k, 50M, 50k, full, half, 10k, and 5 all on the same trail so it was pretty congested). I quickly refilled my hydration pack and set off for my second lap, feeling excellent.
A few miles in, not sure how many, there’s a pleasant field – mid-height grasses and wildflowers flanked by turning-fall pines and oaks, with a packed singletrack weaving through it – and I breathed deep, inhaling all the fresh morning scents and sights and sounds, taking in the cool dewdrops on the glinting grass with the sun rising orange and yellow above the treetops silhouetted dark against its bright light – and I smiled wide, because that is the absolute best way to spend a morning.
I ran with one guy for the first loop and a half or so – he kept catching back up to me, and vice versa – and a woman for a good few miles of the second loop, and those were good times. There was conversation and company, two vitals on a long run of any sort, but especially welcome in a race. Runners are just such pleasant people. We pushed each other. But then I found myself alone with about a third of a loop left until my pacer (my dad) would join me… and I faltered. I was alone, I was tired, and my ankles were absolutely killing me. My first loop had been right on schedule – I came through at 2:56, and my goal was 9 or 9:30 – but this one was just so much harder. I had been feeling so great the first time around – what had happened? Thoughts of quitting flashed through my head. I didn’t think my ankles would let me keep going. But I came through the last mile and a group of nature-walkers cheered me on, then I saw my dad at the aid station. How was I doing? I hurt. It was hard. But I buckled back into my pack, grabbed a couple little PB&Js and pretzels, and we headed out at a less-than-brisk walk (at 6:29).
The beginning of the third loop was pretty damn rough. My morale was still low from the end of the last loop, and I was having trouble running at more than a shuffle even on the flat rails-to-trails section of the loop. A mile or so on the dirt roads took us to the real part of the trails, though, and somehow I managed to pick up speed once I was back in there. I couldn’t have done it without my dad there, I think; he was a great pacer, to my surprise, I admit. But he kept me going, letting me walk when I needed to but also prompting me when I should run: “Want to try running a little now? Just til the next hill,” or, “Why don’t you run this downhill, pick up a little speed.” And of course, because it was my dad, I got his wonderful sense of humor. As the loop went on, I got more and more tired; I was talking less, trudging more, but he kept me going – that, along with my inability to cope with the thought of putting forth less than 100 percent, even if that 100 percent was no more than am 11:30 mile or a powerwalk, or even a trudge at times.
By the time we hit the last aid station, with about 4-5 miles to go, I was absolutely dreading the last stretch. I knew just how long it would take, and how much longer it would seem to take. And those two hills in between me and the finish… I was right. I don’t know exactly how long those last miles took me, but it was probably a while. I found myself walking on a straight, flat stretch, but I could barely will myself to run. Three miles to go, two… there were some fallen trees that had to be moved over, that was hard… one and a half…
Then we finally, finally, crossed the last dirt road and reached the picnic table that I knew was the one mile mark. The aid station that had been there (for other races) was gone, so I ate my last bite of powerbar, took a drag of water, and took off. I powered through the last mile. I ran hard; I don’t know how. I stopped feeling the pain in my ankles, the soreness in my feet, the fatigue everywhere else. I stopped thinking. I practically ran with tunnel vision, not saying anything; I’m sure I had that glazed look of someone entirely focused on a single thing. That thing was finishing. It was in my grasp and I just wanted to finish as soon as possible. I ran hard on the downhills and flat sections. I ran up the hills. At half a mile, I told my dad to go ahead to let my friends and family know I’d be coming in. He took off at what he later told me was a decent clip, and I wasn’t far behind, not far at all. At a quarter mile, I came up the last hill, around the bend, and there was the campsite. I heard the music, saw sunlight reflecting off the cars, caught sight of the crowds… and I sprinted. I have no idea how I sprinted after 50 miles, but I did. I came in hard. When my eyes finally rested on the colorful RUN WOODSTOCK FINISH, my breath caught in my throat and I ran harder. And harder. And faster. One final push…!
And then I was done. I was done. I crossed the finish line and stopped running… and, embarrassingly, started tearing up. My family was there, and two of my good running friends. My mom and dad were congratulating me, telling me how proud they were; my one friend kept calling me a badass; my brothers said I was insane. There was a photographer clicking away, documenting this Emotional Family Moment. I pulled it together, went and got my finisher’s medal and age group award (I was the youngest person running, and the only one in my age group, go figure), then sat down for a long time. I’d come in at 10:37:36 – about an hour longer than my goal – but I was satisfied. My mom drove over and picked me up from the campground since I really, really didn’t feel like walking to the car. Then I spent the rest of the day huddled under a giant fuzzy soft blanket on the couch, being brought food, water, and ibuprofen. (I hurt.) After eating some seriously delicious alfredo & shells, I stood up long enough to shower (chafing, OW), then went to bed at 9:30 and slept for about 10 hours. I spent half of the next day lying in bed, watching 30 Rock on my dad’s iPad and not feeling bad at all about wasting a beautiful day. Laying down felt damn good. A lot better than standing. But by 2 or so, I was able to walk, and did so with my parents for 45 minutes or so. I took today (Monday) off too, but I’m jumping back in at 7 a.m. tomorrow. Even though after the race, I swore I’d not do the OT100… I’m not dropping yet, and I’m still going to train as though I were going to attempt it. But only time will tell.
All in all, a painful, yet fun… in a weird runner way… experience which I’ll definitely do again… in a while.
6th woman out of 19
44 out of 84 overall
1st in age group
peace love and long-distance running!
PS. Pictures to follow or be added later… I’m waiting on my brother…