Returning to Ultra!
I keep saying that I'm going to start blogging again. If for nothing else, for the collection of memories. But I've procrastinated and procrastinated... but I'm feeling a bit renewed after my last race, so here I am! (Prepare for a long one!) A little backstory since I've been off the blog scene for a bit... on September 13, 2014, I attempted and failed at running 100 miles for the second time (the picture to the right pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter). This time I would spend 24 hours on course and cover 75 miles... the last 44 of which I was in a lot of pain. That's right, as early as 31, I felt a sharp pain that never went away and only continued to intensify for the next 44 miles. I still don't know what happened. And the doctors had no answers afterwards but to tell me to "rest" and to confirm that I hadn't done any real damage.
It was over 2 months before I ran a mile pain-free again. In the next 4 months, my attempts at training were riddled with issues. Struggles to find time with my new schedule, moving, and various other obstacles, like being the sole caregiver the large majority of the time for my 3 young kids.
I had signed up for Possum Kingdom 52 miler with Endurance Buzz Adventures in an effort to motivate myself to train. But I still failed, many times ever, to put in the work I wanted to and train like I usually do. I considered dropping distance, but I knew that would just delay my return. I needed this race. I needed to get it done. I needed to struggle through, persevere, and finish. With that said, I know the course... it is tough and technical with plenty of climbing. I knew I would be up against cut-offs the entire time. I had already warned Dave, the race director, that I would likely force him to keep the finish line open the entire 14 hrs 15 min. I did the math, and wrote down my loop goals - 4:15, 4:45, and 5:15. I knew I would see degradation, and I knew if I didn't hit those marks for the first 2 loops, that I wouldn't make the cutoff. The problem? With a lot less training, I needed my first 2 loops to be an hour FASTER than last year... and then still have the steam to run another loop.
There's a reason I picked this race as my return... I knew I would be surrounded by friends. I knew I would need that. Not only fellow racers, but the volunteers as well are filled with familiar faces. And by race day... I had another reason. I told close friends, Lesli and Josh, that this race was for them. They had to fly unexpectedly to Florida for her mother's funeral. Lesli was supposed to stay with me and race herself. Josh was supposed to pace me. I could NOT let them down. I was determined.
Loop 1 - Goal time 4:15 - Actual time 4:15:03
Loop 1 was tough. I ran most of it with Lauren. I knew I would likely spend a lot of time on loop 2 and 3 alone, so I wanted company while I could. Loop 1 reminded me how tough that course is. And I felt way too tired to be at the start. Although my best cheerleader, Preston, reminded me that I'm never warmed up in the first 10 miles.
I came in from loop 1 exactly at goal time. Regardless, I was still worried that I wouldn't be able to hold it. I didn't get enough long runs in, and I was afraid that I would hit a real wall despite my determination.
Loop 2 - Goal time 4:45 - Actual time 4:41:55
I had to have a little conversation with myself at the start of loop 2. I knew it would be long and lonely... and I knew I couldn't lose a lot of time. I decided to power-hike the first 2 miles of the loop and get my head back on straight. By time I got to the aid station and saw Preston, he knew that I had been alone for awhile and my spirits were down. But I hadn't stopped pushing... running as much as I could and when I couldn't - hiking as fast as I can (and if there's anything my ginormous legs are good for, it's fast walking).
I was pretty sure I was last at this point (only 28 finished the 52 miler), so I was getting my head set on getting to run with the sweeper the last loop (who happened to also be a friend). But I knew I couldn't hold back at all or I wouldn't make cutoff. Not long after that, I caught up to new friend, Kerri. We talked about her next race, and she was going to stop at the 56K point, and I told her about where I was mentally and what my goal was... and after having known me only a few minutes, she decided that her goal was now to make sure I finished that second loop at my goal. We would continue to push each other the last 7 miles of loop 2. I'm so thankful for her help.
I got a surge of happy energy every time I hit the start/finish... completing a loop, and the amazing cheering from supportive friends. I love the trail community.
As I ran in to finish loop 2, I shouted at Dave, the race director, asking "Do I get him? Do I get the sweeper? Am I last?" I look over at Novle, who I knew was sweeping that day, and I see him getting his pack on. I was overjoyed. Novle has run with me before. He knows me well enough to deal with me and motivate me.
Loop 3 - Goal time 5:15 - Actual time 4:57:53
Oh happy day... last loop, I have company, and while I have slowed a little, I haven't hit a hard wall... and my hiking pace is still pretty steady. I'm still running when I'm able on the downs and flats.
I go over the math with Novle. I tell him exactly what I want to do and when I want to be at each aid station. And I tell him that I have no time to waste at aid stations - in and out, as quickly as possible. I give him a warning of an impending mental breakdown (that never really comes), and he laughs it off. Novle was supposed to be a "sweeper" but he very much became a "pacer". And it worked. When I complained, he would validate my feelings - "I know you hurt," "I know it's hard, you've come really far," and "I know you feel like you're slowing down, but you're moving really well." But all the while, he would NOT slow. And I didn't want to lose my buddy, so I would push myself to keep up. He talked when I needed talking... and he was quiet when he could tell I was focused. (Can you tell yet how thankful I am?)
We get to the last mile, and I am ready to run. We booked it pretty well that last mile (at least in my mind, I was booking it). I could hear the cheering as they saw our lights, but knew I still had at least a quarter mile to the finish line... and I kept picking up the pace (or I imagine I did). I crossed that finish line in 13:54, and I was SO RELIEVED. The pressure of fighting a cutoff, the pressure I had put on myself to return strong to racing, and the determination I had to finish for Lesli & Josh, as well. Waiting for me at the finish was Preston (my support all day at every aid station), Aubrey (who had just finished his 52-miler, his first), Rodica (who had finished her first ultra - 56K), and the awesome race director, David Hanenburg, and his amazing wife, Wendy (both had given me many words of encouragement before and during the race).
Dave handed me the coveted Honey Bear and Medallion that he traditionally gives at each race. Then he handed me my "Tough as Nails" award for enduring the course the longest. While giving out hugs, I see Dave smirking again... he knows I have been wanting one of his award cowbells since he started handing them out. Well it turns out there were only 2 of 4 finishers in my age group... and since the other was the fabulous Nicole Studer who won overall and thus pulled out of the age group, I technically won my age group. I don't care how I got it, I worked hard for that Cowbell! I took it with pride. He knew I'd be overjoyed about it.
While I can't thank everyone who encouraged me throughout the day for fear of accidental omission of someone, I *do* want to give a special shout out to some of the aid station workers who took extra good care of me - Teresa, Ray, Agustin, Cindy, Monica, and Fiona. Dave's races always feel like coming home. Well-organized, friendly, and the best volunteers. Thank you Dave and Wendy for all your hard work and support.