In theory my reasoning might have been good, but I can be stubborn and when the forecast called for night-time temperatures in the mid 20s and a 26-degree race start, I didn't want to be dissuaded from my plan. I came up with excuses like, "We have good down sleeping bags," or, "It will be easier to get going if we wake up in a frozen tent instead of in our warm bed." So on our way to Fort Collins as we were driving through snow flurries, I kept my mouth shut. I didn't want to admit that maybe my plan was a mistake.
As I fell asleep that night with my contact lenses stowed away in my pants pocket so that they wouldn't freeze, I pushed away the regret and reminded myself, "What's done is done." I couldn't let myself start conjuring up excuses for poor race performance. That night we woke up many more times than we would if we were sleeping in our own bed and various horror movie trailers that we had seen before the movie "Looper" started playing through my head. But morning came and I stripped off my two pairs of pants and 3 shirts and got ready for the race.
When we arrived at the race parking lot, we were informed that it was a 1.2 mile walk down to the race start. This didn't bother me because the walk would help us warm up (we were already frozen from the night before). After picking up my race bib, I realized how much of a mistake it was to arrive early. There were no buildings to warm up in. All around us were race volunteers and runners who had carpooled together staying warm in their cars. Apparently if we had one more person in our car we would have been allowed to park there. I tried to stand by peoples cars and give them my most plaintive cold face but no one invited me in to their roomy SUVs. Race start neared and I figured, "What's done is done." No excuses.
By the time the race got going I could not feel my feet, a problem that I thought would be remedied in the first mile or two. Wrong. Finally after 3 miles, I could feel a few of my toes. Unfortunately this warming process was excruciatingly painful. For a long time I thought that my second and third toe on my right foot were crossed. I kept reasoning with myself that there was no way that that could actually happen, but this began a day strangely filled with mind games. Later on in a hot and sunny stretch I thought that a rock was a mountain lion and that I was carrying my water bottle upside-down and panicked because I thought all of the water had spilled out (it was right-side up the whole time).
The first 5 miles of the course are supposedly the hardest. Between miles 3 and 5 we climbed almost 1,000 feet. After we started the descent I ran with a guy named Mike who had run a ton of marathons and a couple of 50 milers. He said that he has a tendency to go out too strong in the beginning of races and that he thought I was running the perfect pace. In exchange for my "pacing," he regaled me with stories of rattlesnakes and mountain lions on his races in Utah and told me about the time he got stuck between a moose and her calf. We swapped over-use injury stories. This was probably my favorite part of the race; the miles ticked by quickly. Most of all, this just really made me miss running with my dad who's always been my best running buddy.
Unfortunately during these miles I started feeling stomach discomfort. I had only eaten one gel but I felt like I was going to throw up. By the end of the day I wish that I had thrown up instead of what really happened. The most important lesson I learned is that you should always make sure your crew has an extra pair of underwear for you. I'll let you fill in the blanks. All together I spent 5 minutes on a pit toilet and 5 minutes behind a cactus. And as I was running I began thinking about how unjust it is that a runner can say at the end of a race, "I threw up on the side of the trail and it threw my whole race off, " and everyone nods understandingly and asks if they've replenished their electrolytes, etc. If you have issues on the other end and you started talking about it, people would cut you off saying "TMI!" and make an effort to never talk to you or read your blog again.
Moving on... overall my day was characterized by running with "old" men. I prefer to call it "running with the masters." One guy from Wyoming told me about how grueling the Quad Rock race was and kept making jokes about there being couches and potato chip mirages on the trail. Sadly this guy started to slow down and I soon realized that I was towards the back half of the pack. This was a very disconcerting thought for me and I pondered it for the next 10 miles. Instead of beating myself up I thought about the type of people who are drawn to rugged trail marathons.
If I had run the Denver Rock N Roll Marathon two weeks ago I probably would have been in the top third of women finishers. If I had run the half marathon, there would have been a large pack of slower women behind me. But at this race, where women composed less than 40% of the overall field, those "weekend warriors" weren't drawn to the crowd. All of the women running this race were tough and experienced. Therefore, I'm forcing myself not to feel too bad about how I placed. Interestingly irunfar.com posted an article by Ellie Greenwood about female participation in ultramarathons that you can read here.
Finally I began the switchbacks over the last small mountain/ large hill. Just after I crested the top my last gel fell out of my vest. At this point I was so tired and so frustrated with my vest that I decided that there was no way in hell I was going to take any more uphill steps than necessary and I left the gel where it lay. Now I mention this in order to segue to how unhappy I was with how the Mountain Hardwear Fluid race vest performed for me. Gels fell out of the vest three times during the race and the first time was within the first mile when everyone is running close together like a stampede. The pockets in the vest just aren't deep enough to hold anything. The worst problem was that there was a hook on the back of the vest that kept catching on my hair. Since I didn't want to stop and take off the vest I had to grab my braid and rip my hair. By the end of the race I had an enormous hair ball attached to my vest and my scalp was aching. Male runners seem to love this vest but I don't think I will ever wear it again.
But this is not a gear review, it is a race report. The last 5 miles were torturous. Nothing prepares you for the pain that you will experience at the end of a race. The pain you feel doing interval training or hill repeats is different; I consider that pain a tolerable and somehow pleasant burn. The pain at the end of a long race is overwhelming. It forces you to change your stride because certain muscles stop working altogether. Finally when I reached the finish line I started tearing up (fortunately I was wearing sunglasses). The emotion wasn't because of the pain, it was because I didn't truly know if I was capable of enduring to the finish.
Photo by Erin Bibeau Photography