When the gun goes off there is a very brief section of dirt road and then everyone is siphoned onto single track for .4 miles until it opens up to a wider descending double track. I know that I have a tendency to go out too fast so I tried to reign in it, but I got caught up in the moment and the sea of people. Since I didn't really know how to gauge my pace, I looked at the other women around me. I should have taken a cue from the fact that there weren't a lot of women around me, but I saw a girl in a purple and pink dress and I thought that I sure as hell didn't want to be beat by a girl in a dress. So I pushed on.
The thing about this course is that all of the "easy" stuff happens in the first half of the course and as I was about to learn 13 miles down the road, wise ultra-runners keep something in reserve for later. Seeing as I was not actually an ultra-runner at this point in the day, I was about to learn the lesson the hard way. As we continued up a mostly uphill trail that crisscrossed a creek it was hard to get into a rhythm. Everyone was so stop and go at this point that I found myself at the mercy of whatever the person ahead of me was doing.
As we started rolling down a somewhat technical downhill I found myself yo-yoing with a girl named Rachel. She was wearing New Balance Minimus shoes and I would cruise past her on the downhill and she would methodically work her way back to me on the uphill. We ran together from about mile 4 to mile 12 and the pace felt good. The thing was that my Clif Shot Blocks and my Honey Stinger waffles were too cold and hard to eat. By mile 12 I had fallen behind on my nutrition and only eaten 200 calories. When I came into aid station 2 I was 20 minutes ahead of my time goal and instead of being more cautious, I took it as a sign that I had underestimated myself.
Coming into Aid 2 feeling good, but about to bonk.
Photo taken by Cory Linfield
I had run the whole course before so I knew the hard stuff was ahead of me, and as I started to climb the technical Coyote trail I started to feel some nausea coming on. The annoying thing about getting behind on your nutrition is that you feel like throwing up from not eating enough but the thought of eating makes you want to throw up more. So I continued to get dizzier and more confused. As we hit the Black Bear trail, which is the most technical trail of the course, I could hardly run the downhill. I was so dizzy that I started tripping over my own two feet.
For the last two miles before Aid Station 3 at mile 16.8 I got passed by a ton of people and thought about quitting every step of the way. It was overwhelming to realize that I was only about half way done. When I got to the aid station Cory was waiting with a nervous face and my friend Angela was there to encourage me. Cory put me back together and traded out my rock hard bloks for some softer stuff. As I started to pack the stuff away he stopped me and said he wouldn't let me leave until I ate a packet of baby food (pureed fruit) in front of him. This was exactly what I needed. He also sent me on my way with two Hammer salt tablets from the aid station.
Coming into Aid 3 feeling (and looking) like death.
Photo taken by Cory Linfield
From Aid 3 it is seven miles until Aid 4. These seven miles are soul killing. Nearly every person I talked to about the race and every race report I've ever read about the race say that the uphill on the Horseshoe trail to the Mule Deer trail is heartbreaking. I found this hard to believe since in my practice runs it was one of the less technical climbs. But I found my heart breaking just like everyone else's as the sun finally came out to roast us. I walked the whole thing and as about 20 people passed me I looked so bad that people stopped to make sure I was ok. I could tell that they weren't just being courteous, they were actually worried and would look over their shoulders as they got out of sight to make sure I was still moving.
Thinking of Cory's reminder to eat something every half hour, I took a nice liquidy PowerBar gel. As I crested the hill I was still feeling nauseous, but I gingerly trotted the downhill. In my head I kept throwing around the pros and cons of quitting at the next aid station. There was no way I had 10 more miles left in my body. Then two miraculous things happened. The first was that I threw up. Why is this miraculous? Because you get to start over with a blank slate! No more nausea! Because I had nothing left to lose, I took an electrolyte tablet. Normally I have found that they make me feel sick so I avoided them, but the Hammer tablets worked like magic.
Just before I felt the electrolytes kick in I got overtaken by this group of talkative 20-somethings. They weren't out there to be competitive, they were just having fun. One particular guy was really chatty and definitely made me feel more positive. He said "Can you imagine getting to Aid 4 and quitting? That would be horrible." Little did he know I had been think about it for 10 miles. It really made me start to think about how the people in the back have a lot more fun and bond a lot more through the experience. After popping out of the snowshoe hare trail we hit some downhill double track and I took off. I passed a handful of people and Cory had worriedly come searching for me about half a mile out from the aid station. He grabbed my water bottle and ran off to go fill it and gather me some goodies at Aid 4.
Trying to smile on my way into Aid 4
Photo taken by Angela Maher
Since they were out of gels and I couldn't stomach the chews that I brought I kept running. Then Cory chased after me and made me eat another baby food packet in front of him. When I hit the next uphill, I kept running and passed some guys that had passed me earlier on. They were shocked that I had come back from the dead and every guy that I overtook kept shouting, "Way to rally!" This was very encouraging and I felt like a totally new person. Everyone talks about these kinds of energy swings during races that are 50 miles and longer, and I felt very lucky to be experiencing one in a 50k. It was euphoric.
I cruised on and when I hit the 1,100 foot climb up Windy Peak I felt so good that I kept running! I overtook a couple more people and tried to encourage them just like they had encouraged me when I felt so crappy. This is when I started to realize that if I didn't bonk again I still had a chance to hit my sub 7 hour 30 minute time goal! When I hit the top I was tired but still felt a supernatural high. I passed some people on the downhill and this guy came running up behind me in sandals named Tyler.
We ended up running the last 4 or 5 miles together and kept each other's energy up. I might have slowed down a bit, but having him behind me made me push the downhills. After all, if a guy in sandals could take on trails this technical, I should be able to do it in my Salomons. Tyler told me that he had done Quad Rock 3 weeks ago and a 100-miler the next weekend. What a way to taper. When we rolled into Aid 5 they said we only had 1.6 miles left but then we did another steep uphill and when we got to the top a course marshal said that we still had 1.3 to go with a few "little rollers." This was not what I wanted to hear. This was the only part of the course I hadn't done before.
This is when I started to realize that I didn't know if the race was a 30 mile race or a 50k race (31 miles). One mile feels like big difference at the end. But we pushed on and I felt good all the way through the finishing chute. It was nice to end on a high. Obviously I would have preferred not to experience the nausea, but without it I would have continued to push too hard and would have inevitably burned out in the end. I'm used to getting passed in the end but it was nice to experience being the "hunter" instead of the "hunted." Not that those terms really apply when you are in the mid pack...
I finished as the 31st woman in 7 hours and 26 minutes and made my time goal! I think that's pretty good for my first ultra-marathon!
Here's a list of the gear that I used:
- Salomon Speedcross 3 modified to attach with velcro to the Inov-8 Debrisgaiter
- Injinji Run 2.0 sock
- Modified Title Nine Stand-Out SWB
- Title Nine Paradigm Tank
- Ultimate Direction AK Vest
Pretty happy with this gear system
Photo taken by Cory Linfield