Rail Trail 50 miler Race Recap
June 21, 2015
I don’t really know where to begin with this one. I trained for it, I planned for it and at mile 17 i wanted to drop out. There’s this concept out there that I never give up…and while it’s flattering it also creates a lot of pressure…but in the same breath keeps me accountable. What i came to realize yesterday was that I just didn’t want to run for 14 hours. Had i DNF’d I would have been okay with that…simply because I was making the choice, not life making it for me. A DNF also adds life experience and is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of…because for someone who goes out either via choice or they get pulled, the true feat is that they signed up for the challenge.
The 8 mile gradual climb at the start didn’t phaze me, i steadily ran it, maintaining my target pace. Kathy kept me company. I felt strong and amazing, all of incline training paid off as I ran the 8 steady and felt unstoppable. I blew through the first aid station and tackled the 8 miles of downhill still maintaining the target pace. I had one goal. To reach the Dominion trestle cut off point, preferably with significant time to spare. I had my cheat sheet tucked away with all of the stations and insertion points tucked into my pocket, and i would check it frequently.
It was at this point that I would suffer my first real problem…ultra brain. I was totally miscalculating the pace i needed to make the cut off. In my head i had DOUBLED the value of each mile (ie 2 15 minute miles made up 1 hour), i crippled my game instantly. I couldn’t understand how i wasn’t going to make it. I was maintaining the 13:30-14:00 pace perfectly…what was going on????
I knew I would see Chris at Taft…but i also mistakenly though there would have been an aid station there (it was the 50km start point). I do wish i had made my cheat sheet more thorough. I assumed that I would remember all of the little details…and i remembered none of them. Each revelation took an axe to my mental game…hell it took a chainsaw to it. When i saw Chris I was destroyed, blathering on about not making the cut off, sobbing hysterically but not able to communicate what was wrong.
You see I’d woken up at 1 am, with gut rot and not fallen back asleep. The gut rot had persisted and intensified on the bumpy bus ride…during which the driver had the heat blowing FULL BLAST which triggered the queasiness to end all queasiness. I’ve come to realize that it was a huge combo of nerves and the fall out of 3 days of driving. It was compounded by the fact that I forgot my Protein powder at home (vital pre and race day fueling) and upon arriving in St Regis that there were no restaurants that i could find something to eat at.
I blew up my nutrition. I stayed positive, but I suspected that I was going to face new challenges…but not being able to put food in before the bus ride (I spent 3-4am vomiting)
When i saw chris he assured me that i was only 4 minutes behind my targeted plan for taft…why was i losing it? He was confused. I was pissed that there was no aid station. Not willing to give up i pressed onward, lying to myself the entire time.
As i pressed on I found myself soaking up the amazing scenery, I ran without music so I could soak it all up (and hear any nature that may have wanted to eat me). My gut still wouldn’t take fuel…and I knew that if i wanted to have a chance in hell of making it to the end i would have to figure something out fast. GenuCan was no longer an option…it felt like i had a rock in my gut and the pain kept rolling in in waves. Nothing would settle it and after 25 miles with nothing more than tailwind i knew I was running out of time.
I wish i could remember what aid station it was…but they had watermelon. This would prove to be a game changer…my body that couldn’t keep anything in it, was loving fruit. I’d lucked out…I’d planned for this and packed fruit cup (packed in water) in every drop bag and crew kit…Thank you Calin for introducing me to those. Those fruit cups would become my main fuel source or the rest of the race.
The race started to turn in my favour, slowly but surely. Fruit cups, potato chips and bits of tailwind would be what drove me for the last 30 miles.
I broke the race down into bits and pieces. I made it to the first cut off with 45 minutes to spare, then i focused on aid station to aid station until i managed to get to the second cut off station with over an hour to spare.
I only have one regret…my head was not in this race. I didn’t want to keep going, i didn’t care about the spike the worms had gotten into my brain and had changed everything about my game day. Upon looking back at the day it was filled with wonderful moments, but i had become so obsessed about beating the cut offs and my time that it became my only priority. I skipped porta potties for fear that the time spent in them would ruin my times.
I knew that i was DFL and i didn’t really care. The jeep tailed me picking up course markings but having enough respect to keep far back. I was still fighting the good fight and i was 2 minutes a mile ahead of my back 30 pace plan. I was pleased that the food was staying down and the body was in brilliant shape. No aches, no pains, no muscle cramps and NONE of the issues that have been plaguing me for the last month even attempted to make their presence known.
I was slowing down though. Every step a struggle. The sun was at high and there was zero shade, i battled back but with 6 miles between aid stations at this point i was running out of water with 2-3 miles left before i could refill. This added to the head games…how much could i ration, i was terribly thirsty and knew that the heat and sun could take me down. Even step felt lead filled and the stretches were long and seemingly never ending. You’d turn a corner and the trail would seemingly go on forever, i was breaking down and just wanted it to be over. My cooling towel saved me…if you’re ever going to run in the heat, make the investment.
My times were slowing down…the footing was not what i had anticipated…at all…the last 30 miles of trail were not gravel…not even close…anyone ever been to a beach in Nice? Imagine a trail filled with nothing but loose rocks…the size of your fist. I’m not talking about random placement…I’m talking about that’s all that there is…with a few places where tire wear from quads had worn it down. (Quads…an open course meant that I was sucking dust a lot). Running on rocks led to many a rolled ankle, near face plants and several major tripping incidents…and after mile after mile of it, you started to wish for sand, water, or ANYTHING other than rocks. However i did hit a point where it just didn’t matter.
The sun was high, moral was low and i no longer cared for the scenery. It’s trees. And Mountains. Whoopty freaking doo. The darkness threatened to overwhelm the good…i could no longer find any joy in what I was doing. I couldn’t top to take pictures…not enough time. I constantly had officials asking me if i was okay, I was constantly asked if i wanted to quit. At mile 31 one of the aid station volunteers insinuated i should quit…there were 19 more miles ahead.
This would be representative of what I felt was lacking. Aid stations were not manned with runners, or people who understood runners. No one filled your bottles for you, asked you what you needed, hell some never even got out of their dang chairs. I’ve realized that I’ve been spoiled and I will never again take for granted a well staffed aid station. It was a complete self serve situation…which for an ultra isn’t always feasible. My finger were swollen and fumbly and at one point I tried to fill up my handhelds with the lid on.
At one point after crawling out of the porta potty I collapsed into the shade, needing a brief respite from the beating sun. No one even came to see if I was alright. It was one of the people in the White jeep that had been tailing me that hopped out and came over to see what i needed…as she stood over me holding a lit cigarette. I’ve been spoiled…and now i know it.
Through it all i was able to keep on trucking…thanks in part to the paramedic that with 12 miles left on the course decided to hop out of the ambulance and power walk with me for the rest of the race. It is to this woman I owe my race…i do so wish i knew her name. She refused to let me slow down, she refused to let me walk, she refused to let me give up. We talked, I listened, when i stumbled she grabbed me. She distracted me with stories and drew some out of me. She constantly asked me how i was doing and if i wanted to quit. She started having chris drive to the next aid station, then run back towards me with Toby as the sight of them perked me up.
I simply do not have enough words for how much what she did meant to me. For the last 2 miles i ran holding her hand as she tucked my arm into her forearm to help me stay upright. She truly is an angel, who saved me. She got chris to give her extra fruit cups and loaded up her vest with extra food for me. She personifies selfless, having just barely healed from 6 stress fractures in her shins, without prep she stayed with me until the very end. I crossed the finish line holding her hand.
The finish line. She asked me as we crept towards the park if i thought they would be there for me…I said it would be nice, but I wouldn’t expect them to stay. We came through the trees and I saw the Grellow and I was overwhelmed. People I’d met once at Skunk had stayed for me, People I’d never met before that day stayed for me. They all started screaming and cheering, all of the remaining staff came out and formed 2 lines for me to run between.
The finishing line had been dismantled as it was dark…and technically the course closed after 14 hours…however on course we’d gotten word that they’d have leniency…just not too much. As i sat there posing for photos, a volunteer brought me something…it was a giant pinecone the size of a yam. While on the run I’d commented how I’d wanted to pick one up, but then i realized I’d have to carry it. My wonderful medic had picked one up and put it in the truck. If i’d had them tears would have been free flowing. I think that this pine cone means more to me than the spike…either way it goes on my trophy shelf…that i need to build when i get home. 😉
Did i have problems that day? Totally. Did i struggle through the last 30 miles? Unbearably so. Once i had more miles behind me than in front of me things got better…and i had one thing driving me. If i didn’t finish I wouldn’t be able to wear the shirt…never mind not get the jacket and spike. I’d run over several spikes on the trail and considered picking one up and putting it in my pack and having my own plate made with whatever distance i did complete, however the weight negated that as a real option. 😉
I about 35 miles in I realized that i was going to actually do it…me…the person who was having a horrid race, who wanted to quit more than anything had stuck it out. I had turned out to be stronger than i knew. I will never again undervalue having a pacer. They truly can make or break your race.
As i re-read this i hate how negative it sounds. I don’t remember that at all for Lemming Loop last fall. I though about editing it, but the reality is, is this is what my race was. Dark thoughts and endless pain…ironically from some of the most epic chafing I’ve ever experienced in my life…I mean…for real…it was worse than anything I’ve ever experienced in my life.
I wish I’d been able to maintain a better head space, I wish the worms hadn’t done such a good job, but they did. I’ve learned a lot though. I’ve learned so much of what not to do that I feel like next time I’ll be better prepared. In truth I was under prepared…I though i had it nailed…but some things just can’t be anticipated. A point to point race is totally different and a point to point race where you’re by yourself is a far cry from the lemming loop where i continually saw friends and family.
50 miles is hard, 50 miles solo is soul crushing.
From this race i take away 4 things;
1) My body held up beautifully, if I’d been able to get ahead of my fueling instead of playing catch up it would have been a brilliant day.
2) Idiots are some pretty amazing people and I’m thankful everyday for being pulled into that world. The women this weekend were ALL amazing and left me in awe of their strength.
3) Strangers are just friends who you haven’t met yet. Shared suffering is a beautiful thing.
4) Whatever it is…good or bad…blame Murphy.