I'll apologize in advance for the long post. This was such a rewarding experience and a lot to report. I was blessed to share this experience with so many of my Runners Edge of the Rockies friends. The race was so well organized and was all about providing wonderful support to those running. Great job Coach in the course design and support. By far, this was the hardest thing I've ever done. There were many times I thought I would not finish. But there's more to the story than that...
Week Leading Up to the Race
I'm not sure if telling you about the week leading up to the race is an excuse or not for my pathetically slow time. However, I firmly believe that the stress of the week, and well the entire month of September impacted my energy reserves. The week of the race I was up in Steamboat for two trials. Thankfully the Judge consolidated the record for both cases, so my Steamboat visit was shorter than expected, Sunday - Tuesday. This allowed me to travel to Durango on Wednesday night for a Thursday settlement conference. All of this travel equalled poor diet and poor sleep. In addtion, my back and knee were unhappy again. Luckily on Wednesday, I got in to see Dr. Clark and she put my pelvis/hips back where they belonged. She advised me to not run that week, so Monday's 3 miler would be it for the week. Even with Dr. Clark's great work, my knee was unhappy until race day morning. So I knew when I went to line up at the start that my knee might not get me to the finish...
I woke up at 3:30am tired but ready to race. I was excited that race day had arrived. I had my coffee, 20 oz of water and waffles for breakfast. I arrived to the race's shuttle parking lot around 5:25am. Thankfully, a bus was there with the heat going. Warm and toasty. A short 10 minute ride to the start of the race. In retrospect, I should have stayed in my car and took a later bus. It was absolutely freezing at the start, and this was with warm up pants and jacket and arm sleeves. In reality, it was probably in the low 40s. And it was dark. I was nervous that I hadn't packed a headlamp. After skipping the very long porta-potty line for some bushes, I relinquished my warm clothes and my drop bag, and lined up at the back of the pack.
Lap One - Miles 1 - 12.5
As part of the mental strength training workshops I've been doing, I had to design a race plan and I split my race into thirds, which coincided to the number of loops I had to do. The theme for this section was to "relax" and race "my plan."
At 6:30am, the 50 miler and 50 km racers took off. Thankfully the sun had started to rise and a headlamp was unnecessary. The trail narrows after about 1/4 mile, so it was a little congested, but I didn't mind. I knew my first few miles might be a little slower than planned, but there were a few places on the course to pick up some time. I was very happy to have arm sleeves and gloves.
In the first few miles I passed another 50km participant and I told myself to not let her pass me. Even though I am slow, I am still competitive. I settled into a pace, not my A pace, but my C pace. It felt hard, but I just assumed I needed to warm up. Along the way, I saw four deer prance across the trail which was beautiful! And the mist on the lake and at the base of Mt. Carbon was stunning. This beat any road race! Mt. Carbon was hard, but going down the backside was fun as usual. As I approached the water crossings, I was still very tired and unfortunately, it had nothing to do with not being warmed up. Thankfully my knee was happy and saw me through the end of the race.
Crossing the river with a bunch of other people was a lot different than on your own or with a couple of friends. You get splashed and edged out to some deeper or rockier sections, but they were still enjoyable. Later on, I laughed when I heard a few guys discussing whether there was appropriate river crossing ettiquette. Mile 9 a lot of fear crept in. I had nothing in the tank and a long way to go. Right then and there I decided that it wasn't about A, B, or C goals. This was about finishing. I don't know if I was letting myself off the hook or not. How do you know? All I knew is that I felt spent, and I had 22.2 miles to go.
Between miles 8 - 10, a lot of half marathoners passed me (they started a half-hour after us). It was great, because this was a particularly boring section, so I got to say hi to a lot of my running group. As I made my way back to the start/finish area, I noticed that my shoes and socks were pretty wet, but I told myself to "suck it up buttercup." I was 30 minutes off my A goal, and that 50km participant passed me at mile 12. I would see her out on the course, but I wasn't able to pass her again...
Even though she passed me, I felt lucky. Lucky to be surrounded by such beauty. Lucky to have the ability to keep moving forward. Lucky to share this experience with so many good friends.
Loop Two - Miles 12.5 - 25
The theme for this loop was "work hard." Not like the other miles weren't about working hard. I just assumed these would be the hardest of miles. I was tired, but I was determined to just focus on the mile I was in, not the number of miles I had to go. At about mile 15 or 16, I felt the "hot spots" on my feet. Both on the balls of my feet and on my heels. As I approached Mt. Carbon for the second time, at about mile 18 or 19, I seriously thought of dropping out. The hot spots were painful, very painful. The course splits right at the base, up Mt. Carbon for the second loop or a short 1.3 miles to the finish line. I was resigned to go a bit further and made my way up Mt. Carbon.
As I made my way up, even passing one participant at my slow trudge pace, an "angel" appeared. I don't know who she was, but she was encouraging us to make our way up the mountain. It was just what I needed. As I crested Mt. Carbon, I readied myself for a quick descent, hoping for some renewed energy. But all I felt was pain. Each step I took was torture. Instead of quickly making my way down, I painfully trudged along. I looked forward to the river crossings, not because I wanted to get more wet, but I needed relief from the burning in my feet.
I treated myself to some oreos at the next aid station. I was quickly in and out at each aid station. I trudged along to the next boring section. Instead of half marathoners passing me, this time around, I had a troop of boy scouts on mountain bikes. This was welcomed too. The boy scout leaders asked me how far I was going and offered encouragement. I focused on getting to the next aid station because my friend Kari would be there. At this time I became weary of the sun. I think the temps hit 85. Honestly, I cursed the sun. I cursed the fact that there were clouds but they didn't cover the sun. I cursed the lack of shade. And then I saw the tented aid station and my spirits were lifted.
Kari welcomed me to the aid station. While it was a special treat to see her, it meant I was far off pace. About 1.5 hours off my A goal. I was spent and in pain. One of the volunteers walked me out of the aid station (as she made her way to her designated post). After this, and a few painful miles, I again thought of dropping out as I made my way to the start/finish area. As I approached, Merrill from the running group greeted me. She seemed so happy to see me - jumping up and down. Her enthusiasm was overwhelming as was everyone else's encouragement. I felt lucky to know so many people volunteering. And Jack from my office was there as well. They were so excited when I came in, I felt like I had to remind them that I still had one loop to go.
The pain was terrible and I decided that dry shoes and socks were in order. I found my drop bag. Merrill sprayed new skin on my feet and helped me into my shoes. Who touches someone else's feet? I contemplated applying biofreeze, but I think I heard someone say they didn't think this was a good idea.
Loop Three - Mile 25 - 31.2
Leaving the start/finish area was hard. I wasn't feeling all that lucky anymore. I mustered a little jog for about 1/8 of a mile and had to return to my hobble. I wanted to turn back and just sit down. Instead, I decided to make it from one aid station to another. The theme for this loop was "get it done."
The first aid station hosted another angel. He suggested ice in my baseball cap. Yes. That was beautiful. A glimmer of relief that lasted about a mile or so. I appreciated the trail that followed the creek. But with the melting ice, my hobble became a death march. I hesitate to say just how long it took me to cover a measily 6.2 miles. I came along a garden snake, wishing it were a rattler so he could put me out of my misery. I returned to cursing the sun, clouds that would not cover the sun, and the lack of shade. I cried. I tried to remember that I was lucky. And then I looked forward to seeing Jennifer at the next aid station. She walked with me part of the way, got me fresh water and away I went.
Even though I had about 2 miles remaining, I still thought about dropping. And then a 50 mile participant passed me with words of encouragement. If she could do Mt. Carbon for the 4th time, I could finish this race. I sobbed again and could hear the finish line activity. I came across a mountain biker. I think he was sent to find where I was along the course. Thankfully I was close. I crossed the finish line, happy to see so many people I knew, including Coach. It was fitting that Coach was there - he made me run hard at the finish of my very first half-marathon and he made me run to finish my first ultra. I had two things to say after crossing the finish: "that was hard" and "does this mean I can stop now?"
I took my shoes off and there they were. Two matching blood blisters that wrapped themselves around my heels. The great sports folks with CU Sports Medicine popped those blisters. I also had two matching blisters on the balls of my feet. And four more on my toes. Thankfully Jen Smith let me crush her poor hand while they popped the ones on my heel - wow that hurt! Photo courtesty of Jen Smith.
I know, I promised no more feet pictures...
I can't tell you if I'm a wimp or not. I suspect I am. I can tell you is that I've never experienced so much pain. I'd like to think next time that I would do a better job at coping with it. While I am pretty unsatisfied with my time, I am very happy and thankful to have finished. After the race, many people told me that I am an inspiration. That's hard to hear when I am so disappointed in my time. I'm hoping as time passes, I'll embrace that. I didn't DNF, I did finish and maybe that should be enough.
What I learned...
- Race volunteers rock! I pride myself, probably too much, on being independent. But the minute I let go of my independence and let others support, assist and cheer me on, the better race I had. Unless you have had a bad race, as a volunteer you might not understand the profound effect you have on race participants. Many an aid station I approached having decided to drop and because of the volunteers, I kept going.
- Water + miles = blisters. I seriously want to duck tape my feet before next time.
- Forcing yourself to follow your fuel and hydration plan is paramount. I found my magic fuel and hydration plan - about 300 calories/hour. And I executed it to a "t." This required eating when I didn't want to, but without having this base, I think it would have been a lot worse...It also gave me a sense of control. I couldn't control the hot temps or the painful blisters, but I could control nutrition.
- Through it all, I tried to keep in mind that I was lucky. Lucky to be able to be out there competing. This nugget of advice, found in this article:
http://www.irunfar.com/2010/07/mental-approaches-to-ultramarathons.html which was provided by my mental strength training coach. It really hit home.
- Ultra races trump road races any day. The beauty of the course and the encouragement given by race participants is so profound.
I can't wait to do this all over again. First, I want to get stronger, faster and lighter. So I think maintaining a good running base with a dose of strength training is in order for the winter session. I also need to get tougher. I think this requires far more training on trails than I had going in. More details to come.
Thanks to all of you that made this race possible. Your words of encouragement kept me going. I am blessed to have so many encouraging, enthusiastic, and giving people in my life.