Wow. I can’t believe I finished my second 50 miler. And I can’t believe I am able to mostly walk completely fine the day after. I certainly can’t believe I PR-ed after what I am still struggling (despite a lot of reasoning) not to see as a less than stellar performance.
Short version report:
Course was absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful (I knew it would be). It got really ridiculously hot. I thought about quitting very early on when I realized it was not going to be my day. Except I hate when people quit, especially if I quit, especially early on in what is going to be a long day for everyone–a lot can change from mile to mile in an ultra, so I feel like I owe it to myself (and to Eric, who is always there to crew my dumbass and give up his time and energy for me) to see it through to the end, even when that end doesn’t go as planned. My nutrition was off, my hydration was off, my stomach was off, I was off. But I battled through. I ended up finishing the race with an hour PR on “not my day.” I guess I’ll take it.
Long version report:
We went to bed relatively early and listened to drunken idiots in the campsite across from ours. Somehow when we camp at Ithaca we end up next to the drunken disasters. They finally went to bed around 12 or 1? They had left their light and radio on, but it was kind of soothing. I slept off and on until about 4, when I got up to pee (I’d hydrated a ton knowing it was going to be a hot race day.) I couldn’t go back to sleep so I just laid there, thinking about how pretty everything was going to be and getting geared up mentally. We got up, got ready, and got to the start. It was uneventful. I almost cried again at the start, but then a group of people were hanging out chatting, and I snapped out of it. It felt like we stood there forever before we could finally actually get moving.
The course is basically an out and back with a lollipop loop on the end (at least, in my head that’s how I picture it). Over the 50 miles, you climb about 10k (so it is a very challenging race–which is the usual for any race put on by Red Newt Racing and Ian Golden). I think about half of that elevation comes on stairs, many of which are old, busted, broken down. This description makes the course sound awful, but it is actually the most scenic course out there–the whole day you run around the gorges and next to waterfalls and through beautiful, lush forests. There’s beautiful single track, the Finger Lakes Trail, and fields (god I hate fields, but we’ll get to that). Honestly it’s a beautiful course-as Sean put it last night, it’s the perfect course for one loop so you can see it all and be done. But we were crazy and had signed up for a 50 miler, so the route had to be completed twice.
Section 1: Old Mill
The start of the race went out hard. It was a perfectly cool morning. I ran the entire section, which shocked me because there is significant climbing over the 3.1 miles. It was uneventful–the usual pack spreading out and everyone finding their spot in the conga line. There was a bag piper on the trail and I almost started bawling because the last time I heard bag pipes was at Eric’s dad’s funeral. I managed to hold it together and made it to Old Mill aid station, grabbed some new water bottles even though I’d only drank a sip or two, and cruised right back out.
Section 2: Underpass
The next 4 miles were rolling. I realized people were flying, and I wanted to make sure I ran smart in the first half, so I tried to slow myself down a bit. I was really worried about the heat later in the day, and I also knew that 50 miles is a long way to go–I kept looking at people flying by and thinking to myself “either there are going to be some incredibly fast times today or there is going to be major carnage when people blow up later.” (Scotie would find me on the course later and tell me that both ended up happening–there were some speedy times, but also a lot of crashes, including 72 DNF’s…almost a third of the field…and 45 DNS’s) Going down Lucifer’s Falls stairs in this section was scary–it was so steep and I started to get dizzy, which pissed me off because I’d done so much training on stairs. My stomach started rumbling, so I ate some fruit rollups and made a mental note to eat more. There was also a creek crossing in this section, and the cold water felt so lovely on my already-tired, already-beat-up feet. The rocky sections of the course, along with the water crossings, would really tear my feet up over the course of the day.
Section 3: Buttermilk Falls
I blitzed through the aid station, ran through a short field, and found myself at the major creek crossing. I carefully picked my way in, expecting thigh deep water. I finally found the middle and the water was to my boobs!!! The photographer was there on the other side and laughed at my expression. I didn’t care that it was cold (it actually felt wonderful–I was already overheating by this point), I just hadn’t expected boob deep water. I climbed out and continued through another field. This section was THE WORST!!! There were a ton of field sections, none of which were very long, but the grass was tall and tickley (and probably tick-y…apparently Ithaca is overrun with ticks right now because they were EVERYWHERE). I hate running in grass and fields, and it was already sunny and the fields were just holding all that heat in. I started thinking about how much this section would suck a little later in the day when it got hot, but then told myself to shut up and stop being negative. We ran a short while and then got to Lick Brook. I’d never been there before, and the climb out of it was intense. Sweat was just pouring off me. I started to get frustrated by my perceived lack of progress, but then I realized that this climb was a baby compared to Virgil. And I had made it through Virgil just fine, so I’d be fine here. I put my head down and kept climbing. I think this section was when I started tripping all over the place–I kept catching myself, so I never actually fell, but I realized I was going to have to be a lot more careful. Coming off a road crossing, I heard someone scream “Yeah, Shme!!” I couldn’t place the voice, but Sean had caught me. We ran together for a mile or so, chatted. Sean looked super strong and told me he was aiming for a 12 hour finish. Fuck. He looked way stronger than I felt, and I had hoped to be in the 11 hour range. I reminded myself to run my own race and worry about me. Sean left me to run ahead, and I covered the descent into Buttermilk. It felt so good–I had run it before with Mertsock last year, so I knew exactly what to expect for the final mile or so.
Section 4: Back to Underpass
I was in Buttermilk briefly, it was good to see TrailsRoc people there (Thanks, vollies!! You guys consistently rock it out at aid stations!!!), and then out quickly. I knew I was going to be walking up the stairs along the gorge, so I grabbed some food and started out. I was so hot. I kept drinking water, but I couldn’t get enough. I stopped at a bathroom and filled my bottles with water and kept moving. I heard someone yelling my name again, and O’Brien caught me. All this getting caught by people was starting to wear on my mentally, but again I kept reminding myself to run my own race. We ran together for a while down Lick Brook this time, and it was nice. Then I bit it HARD. I supermanned down the trail, then popped back up, realized I was just really dirty but otherwise unscathed and kept moving. Coming back through the deep creek crossing again was delicious. I tried to rinse as much dirt off myself from my tumble. I wanted to linger, but knew I needed to keep moving. It was getting hot and I was slowing down from it. I hung with Eric for a minute, chugged ice cold pop, almost puked it back up, changed bottles again, and headed back out.
Section 5: Back to Old Mill
I think this is around when I started feeling sick to my stomach. I was sweating profusely and smelled awful and the trails were starting to get crowded with people looking for swimming holes and shade. I wanted to apologize to everyone I ran by for how disgusting I was. I kept moving. O’Brien went by me. I put it on cruise control and just power hiked the climbs and ran the flats and downs. People were still flying–I was running 10s and 10:30s on flat sections and people were blowing by me like I was barely moving. Climbing back up Lucifer’s Fall’s stairs, I kept tripping. What the hell is wrong with you, I thought to myself. Went through the creek crossing again and noticed my shoes had a lot of grit in them this time and it was rubbing badly. I got into a really bad place mentally, and I never really recovered the rest of the day. Looking back, it is impressive that I pushed myself through another 30ish miles. I texted Eric partway through and told him I was going to just drop at the halfway point. He told me to get to the aid station and we’d reevaluate. We never actually discussed dropping. But it was in my head–I was so hot and uncomfortable and felt like I was not running well and it was so early in the race. What was the point of putting my body through any more of this?
Section 6: Back to the Start/Finish
My feet started to feel very torn up, and I knew I was going to need to change shoes. My legs had started some weird crampy thing, but I didn’t know what to do–I had taken salt twice already (normally I’d take 2 salt tabs the entire race), had been drinking 20-40 ounces of water between each aid station (they were only 3-6 miles apart), and was cramping and had perpetual cotton mouth. WTF. This section was mostly downhill, so I made some decent time. When I popped off the trail, I had to round the field to go back to the start/finish line–it was all exposed, and it was so hot. I went through the line, then popped into the bathroom. I didn’t think I had to go, but with all of the drinking I’d done, I knew I SHOULD need to. I peed brown. Not good. I sat down on the tailgate, and we changed my socks and shoes–it is AMAZING how much better you can feel with just a simple footwear change. I also changed shirts because I was sick of smelling, then I was off. I finished the first half of the race in 5:35:xx. It was decent–I had wanted to run around 11:30:xx for the race, so this seemed like an ok start.
Section 7: Same as 1, up to Old Mill
I hiked every uphill at this point–I didn’t even attempt to run. This section went relatively quickly and I don’t remember much about it. I passed a guy who was struggling on a climb and I was like, “just think…we never have to do this climb ever again if we don’t want to…every part of this race now could be the last time if we want.” We both laughed and I kept plugging along. I came into Old Mill, I think this is where I saw Valone. I didn’t stay to talk–I knew every minute I wasted in aid was going to be 2 or 3 minutes at the end of the day. I chugged some cold pop, it almost came back up, grabbed new water bottles, and kept moving. On my way out, I grabbed a Twizzler (one of my favorite candies), but I spent much of the next section feeling like it was going to come back up.
Section 8: Same as 2, back to Underpass
The creek crossing felt wonderful on my feet. At this point, I was so hot that I wanted to just lay down in the creek. But I kept moving. I was still stumbling all over the place, and this section seemed to have a lot of trees down. Every time I’d get moving, another tree was in the way. The first time through, I’d awkwardly hurdled most of them (I wish I had video of my hurdling technique–if it looks as ridiculous as it feels then it’s gotta be a mess) and I kept stopping to go over them because I was scared I was going to bite it and really hurt myself. I came into Underpass, chugged pop, grabbed new water bottles and kept cruising. I had not been looking forward to this next section of trail, but knew I had to do what I had to do.
Section 9: Same as 3, back to Buttermilk
I ran out of water a couple of miles into this section (I think) and stopped in a bathroom to refill water again. I kept telling myself that each climb was the last time I ever had to do it again. There was a gigantic tree down here. The first time through, it was tricky but fine. This time, as I heaved my body up and over, I literally groaned. The fields felt terrible. I was pretty sure I was dying. A lot of fast 50 milers were coming back, and they all looked strong but like they were working, which made me feel moderately better about the fact that I felt like a piece of shit at this point. I caught up to a guy (or he caught me…I don’t remember), and we were running together when I bit it again. Another hard fall. Another time I lucked out falling in a section that was not very rocky, so I ended up just covered in dirt, but not actually injured. I got to the final road crossing and the cops that were there were like, “you ok, can we get you any water?” They had brought a cooler of water and ice, which was really nice of them. I told them I was good, that it was just another mile or so downhill in the shade. I cruised down to the aid station and cursed about how hot I was. But at this point I knew I was turning around and heading back to the finish line. I also knew that I could hike the last half marathon (what I had left) and still make the final cut off. So no matter what, I was finishing this race. I was pissed because I figured there was no chance in hell of a PR, but did some math in my head and decided I could come in just under or very close to my time at Virgil. And really at this point I didn’t care too much–I just wanted to be done. At the aid station, Eric handed me a bag full of potato chips and instructed me to finish it. I had not been eating much all day, and I’m sure part of my struggle had to do with poor nutrition.
Section 10: Same as 4, back to Underpass
At this point, I was on a little island, which was nice. I prefer suffering during a run alone. My feet were really hurting–I was pretty sure there were some serious blisters on my feet, but I didn’t think I wanted to bother changing shoes any more. Just get to the finish. I had to climb over a massive tree again (I think it was this section). I selfie video-ed my climb. As I finished my video (which makes the tree look much less impressive than it actually was), I looked up to see a guy coming my way, looking at me like I’d absolutely lost my mind (to be fair, I was selfie-ing my way over a fallen tree in the middle of a 50 mile race)…he said he thought he was going to get pulled at the next aid station. I said sorry. At the downhill through Lick Brook, I caught a guy. He was hobbling, we talked briefly. He said he was going to DNF at the next aid station. I told him to just hike the rest–7 more miles after the aid station. He said he’d think about it. I caught another guy partway down. Passing people made me feel better–this was what happened at Virgil, too. I started catching people on downs. That put a little pep in my step (stress on little). At the aid station, Eric threw a bag of ice on my back. I didn’t even flinch, I was that hot. Bonnie was there–she had seen Sean go through and then waited for me. She grabbed ice cubes and started rubbing them on my neck and shoulders. I was so hot. Did I mention that yet? I also noticed in this section that I was barely sweating any more. My clothes were bone dry. Things were getting really bad.
the bane of my existence…hot, open, grassy fields…
Section 11: Same as 5, back to Old Mill
This section was a grind–I felt awful, I was getting really upset with my time. I felt like a failure. Just as I was about to text Eric to apologize for making him crew his loser wife, that I was never running again, that I don’t know why I ever thought I was capable of this kind of shit, Scotie poppped out of the woods. He asked how I was doing, and I actually almost broke down in tears. I managed to mumble that I was fine, just hot. He hiked a bit of an uphill with me, and I was thinking about how he is this incredible ultra runner and was probably like what is this girl doing right now walking. But then we hit a beautifully flat section and I started running, and he ran for a bit and then went a different way. I caught a couple more people here, then cruised into Old Mill aid station. Eric and the Valones were there. I wanted to leave my pack–I was sick of having it on. But my stupid bib was on it, and I didn’t want to wait around for it to get unpinned and repinned to something. I threw on a tank top against my better judgement–my underarms (arm fat?) were already starting to chafe a bit, but Eric told me it’d cool me down to ditch the sweaty, filthy (from my fall) shirt I was in. I threw my pack back on, grabbed my half finished ice cold bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper to carry with me and started to run. 3.1 miles were all that stood between me and the glorious finish line.
Section 12: Back to where it all started.
I was really moving now. This section (in this direction) played to my strengths as a runner, particularly at the end of a race. People I’d been passing were complaining about their quads being destroyed. Mine hurt of course, but it was manageable, so I kept going. I think I was mostly just tiptoeing down the trails…I’d imagine it looked a little something like this (and in fact I heard people hiking on the trail laughing and I can only imagine it was at me and my ridiculous “running” form). I passed a few more people, including one woman–the first woman I’d seen in hours. I thought for sure she’d go with me (we’d played leap frog very early in the day, but she passed me and I didn’t see her again til now), but she didn’t. I kept looking over my shoulder, determined not to get re-caught, but I was golden. I hit the final descent, passed two more runner guys who told me to go get it, and cruised through the finish line to cheers and cowbell. I thought I was going to puke or at least dry heave, but I didn’t. I thought I was going to cry, but I don’t know if there was any liquid left in me. Shockingly, I managed to pull off a 12:15. Eric found me sitting on a picnic table with my head between my legs trying not to puke. He helped me take off my shoes so my poor, mangled feet could breath. Then we walked back to the finish line and friends and beer.
I went to the bathroom to change clothes. I took out a wet wipe to clean off the dirt. It was everywhere (including inside my bra wtf) from my two huge wipe outs. As I wiped my body, my rib cage started burning intensely. I almost yelled. I looked down to find two huge “wings” of chafe from my pack. I have no idea how I didn’t notice it when it was actually happening.
My under arms were also burning. FML. I had been so careful to Two Toms all the places I normally chafe before and during the race…but I had not covered my ribs because I’d never chafed there before. Moral of the story: Just Two Toms your whole body from now on. I managed to redress myself and stumble back to our little TrailsRoc crew at the finish line. I chugged a huge water bottle and cracked a beer. We stayed for a bit to cheer more people through, then went to Chipotle for guac and chips, which was the only thing that sounded edible to me at that point. We spent an hour or so reliving the adventures at the TrailsRoc cabin and campfire, then went to bed. I couldn’t believe how well I was able to walk!!! After Virgil, I could barely move without pain. The lack of pain made me feel better, but then I started to consider that maybe the lack of pain was because I hadn’t run hard enough. I couldn’t sleep because of the chafe–my whole upper body was just on fire. It started to lightly rain, which soothed me to sleep, but then we had a downpour for a good long time and I was up again. I drifted back to sleep again after, but we were all up early–and packed and out of camp by 8ish. I’m a little more sore today, but really just if I sit for too long–once I get moving, I am ok. I am obviously tired, and I am super hungry. My feet hurt (I did end up with some blisters *sigh*). My chafe hurts (I just told Eric I’d rather have run another 50 today than have this horrendous chafe to deal with). I am disappointed in a way with how things went down yesterday. I am not happy with my performance, certainly not happy with my mental game. But I finished the race, and I am otherwise unscathed.
I don’t know what happened with my hydration. Something was off for most of the day. I took more salt tabs than I ever have before (pretty much 1 every aid station), drank 20-40 ounces of water between aid stations and still couldn’t keep up. I stopped sweating partway through the race.
The heat really got to me. Eric thinks some of it was just in my head. I joked after the race that I used to hate hills, so I trained on hills to get ready. So maybe I need to train wearing black plastic trash bags on my body to train myself to handle the heat. I think from now on I should stick to races in the fall when chances of a cool day are higher.
My nutrition was also off. I’m not even sure what I ate all day–a ziplock of chips, maybe 12 fruit roll ups, and one Twizzler–I’m pretty sure that was it. I also drank 20 ounces of Mountain Dew. That is probably not even close to enough calories for 50 miles…I just couldn’t stomach anything.
- I have the best husband/crew ever. I am so thankful that he not only allows me to run ultras, but comes with me to crew me. Knowing I’m going to see him at each aid station makes getting through the tough sections so much easier. Being able to count on having my stuff at each aid station…not having to rely on volunteers or drop bags…is comforting. When you know you’re going to be out there for the whole day, and you don’t know what’s going to actually happen–how you’re going to feel, how you’re going to perform–having something you can count on, like a solid crew, becomes indispensable. I owe him a million and one thanks.
- I finished. And it was still an hour PR.
- I am stubborn. My Opa used to call us kids dickköpfig because it means stubborn in German. That stubbornness is what got me through yesterday. I was not prepared to mentally suffer the way I did…I stayed low from around mile 20 on, while hitting some really REALLY low points along the way. I’ve never been that low for that long, so it was interesting to find myself in that place. I guess this was a good training exercise in that way…at Virgil I had myself a day, felt strong most of the race, and so I didn’t really know how I’d be able to push through low points. Now I know that I can do it.
- What a gorgeous course. I mean for real. I could’ve taken pictures all day long…
This got too long. A what’s next blog will be what’s next.😉