It has been four days since I finished my second 50 Mile race…my legs still work, my feet aren’t broken and the vivid memories of pain are fading away. As of this morning I have officially gone on two short shake out runs since the race and my body has not rebelled. My poor, abused body never fails to impress me.
Now, about that race…
My day started out with nerves – my hands were shaking so bad that I didn’t really need to move my arm to brush my teeth. I was scared. But I knew what I had to do, so I did it. I threw my gear in my car and headed to Pine, CO where I parked at the fire station then grabbed a shuttle to the start. By 6:15am I had checked in, picked up my bib and snuck in a quick bio break – now I just needed to kill 45 minutes before the start of the race. The time flew by with so many familiar faces at the start. I knew people running, crewing, pacing and volunteering…I may have arrived alone and I may be spending many hours alone on the trail but I was going to know a lot of people out there and I was going to soak up ever single word of encouragement!
The North Fork 50M + 50K start – the race sold out at 250 runners total
The race started at 7am and we were off, running along a jeep road then filing into single track that took us up Buck Gulch. I have spent quality time on nearly every inch of trail we were running and I was excited to go play at Buffalo Creek, to see the trail on my own two feet rather than atop a mountain bike. As we powered our way up the trails I was reminded just how much easier it is to run these trails then ride them…only to wish I was on a bike when we came upon swooping and rolling descents.
Heading toward the Homestead Aid Station along Buck Gulch and Skipper
Our first stop was the Homestead Aid Station [mile 5.3] and after a quick stop for food and water I was back out on a loop that would eventually bring me back to Homestead. My biggest concern with this race was my right foot and the tight shin muscles that were cranking on my tendons. By mile 6 I was feeling the tingles of pain. I started to invent new swear words…then tried to figure out what I was doing wrong. My shin was getting tight because of my gait but what was wrong with my gait? Why did it hurt not but not at Wash Park? Was it the terrain? Was I pushing myself harder now? Or was my head just being stupid and therefore messing with my body?
After a grumbly mile I had an idea – blame the handheld water bottle! I only ran with a handheld on longer trail runs, not at Wash Park and I always ran with it in my right hand, never my left. I swapped the bottle over to my left hand and spent the next three miles wanting to punch trees and break my own fingers…I cannot run with a handheld in my left hand! Even my feet felt confused. On my second trip through the Homestead Aid Station [mile 10.1] I reorganized my water bottles so I had what I needed in the chest pockets of the Jenny vest then tossed my handheld in my pack.
Looking back down toward Buck Gulch in the first few miles of the race
Hoping that the ditched handheld would fix my food pain and calm my left hand rage I headed back out to cruise down Gashouse Gulch. This trail is a lot of fun to fly down on a bike so I felt guilty every time a mountain biker came down – all of us silly runners were ruining an awesome descent. Luckily all but one of the 30+ mtb’ers we came upon throughout the day were incredibly polite and encouraging. That one that wasn’t? He was a complete ass – literally took out the runner ahead of me with his handlebars, even though the runner had moved off the trail. Completely inexcusable since technically mountain bikers are supposed to yield to everyone, all the time!
The next stop was at the Buffalo Creek Aid Station [mile 14.7]. It was a pretty uneventful stop for me – I was doing great. The right half of my running appendages [uh, the right foot, in English] was feeling pretty darn good and the fact I’d discovered my issue and resolved it had me feeling kind of proud of myself. I was having fun, I knew these trails and I liked playing on them. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and I was outside enjoying it. Life was good, running was fun, this race was happening!
Cruising down Gashouse Gulch toward the Buffalo Creek Aid Station
It was only a 1.6 mile jaunt up to the Meadows Aid Station [mile 16.3] where I made a quick stop by my drop back go refill my bottles with tailwind and roll around on a lacrosse ball for a few seconds. Then it was out to the Green Mountain loop that brought us back to the Meadows Aid Station [mile 22.1]. I saw Adam sitting at the aid station and tried to talk him back out onto the course with me but this was his third big race weekend in a row and his body was done with it. Not a position you want to see a friend in but he was in good spirits so I only harassed him for a few minutes before going back out on the course.
I didn’t have a watch with me, GPS or otherwise, so I ran blindly for the majority of the race. If I wanted to do any timely math it had to happen at aid stations when I had mileage and access to the time of day. With 4-6 miles between each aid station I started mentally breaking my day down to every hour, hour and a half. It made me feel cool, like the Mile, Mile and a Half concept used on the John Muir Trail documentary.
It was during this stretch of trail leading out to Rolling Creek that I started to get whiney. I was sick of wimpy ascents [bet I’ll regret saying that out loud later in life…]. The trail went up, but calmly and slowly…it was a runnable up. A runnable up I didn’t want to run. Running was starting to be stupid. I started walking more than necessary. This was an out and back where we started meeting a lot of runners, including many of the front runners. They were all encouraging, whether in a cheery voice or not. It kept us going. And by us I mean Lucas, James, Brian and I…the beauty of trail races is the trail strangers that really aren’t strangers for long. Eventually James + Brian pulled ahead and I settled in not far in front of Lucas. The aid station seemed forever away but eventually I could hear ice in the handhelds of oncoming runners…it had to be close.
When I dropped into the Rolling Creek Aid Station [mile 27] I felt like a freaking celebrity! Liz, Courtney, Julia, Lara, Jared and Nick were waiting for me…and I was the only runner around at the moment so I got 100% of their attention. I came in asking to sit down and I think I freaked them out a bit – no way were they letting me quit. But my shoes were carrying enough rocks to gravel a driveway so they let me sit just long enough to ditch the rocks. This aid station was awesome, albeit little overwhelming! I had someone holding my shoes, someone taking off my socks [thank you Courtney for touching my feet!], someone rubbing me in sunscreen, someone hand feeding me cookies and someone dumping icy creek water on my head…and then they all kicked me out of the aid station and back on the trail.
I headed back for my third stop at the Meadows Aid Station [mile 31.9] with Lara as a pacer. She’d come out to volunteer and wanted to frolic around the trails with me…of course I obliged! She had no idea what she was getting herself into! I’m kind of a brat when I tired…like when I want grapes but have to settle for watermelon…only to spit it all out 10 steps from the aid station because it wasn’t good enough.
By this point my legs were really feeling my complete lack of training – I’d hid the 50K mark which was a confidence booster but I’d only made it over 10 miles once in the two months since the Quad Rock 50M and that was at the Dirty Thirty race I DNF’ed. My body wasn’t going to let me forget that any time soon. But my stomach and mind were still in race mode so we kept going. The trek up Tramway did a number on my IT bands – both were angry but the right was the most painful…but mostly, my legs were just heavy and tired.
Dropping down Morrison Creek trail – running through the burn area in the blazing sun!
I’d like to think I can do 50 miles without a pacer and I can [Quad Rock was run solo] but it was sure nice to have someone talking to me. Surprisingly enough I didn’t have a lot to say – aside from the occasional whine – but Lara was great at keeping the conversation going. If she was talking I was listening, not counting down the miles and hours left in the hot sunshine.
The stretch between my third stop by Meadows and the Shinglemill Aid Station [mile 38.2] drug on for.freaking.ever. Thankfully the numbers match up with what I felt – there was a 6.3 mile stretch with only one un-manned aid station. I knew this trail, I’ve ridden it multiple times and I knew we would hit the Colorado Trail then drop down to Shinglemill. I had spent the last few miles talking about food and Lara was kind enough to tell the volunteers I wanted a jelly sandwich, no PB along with french fries, a pizza and cold blue Powerade. They told me to come back in 4 hours for the pizza…and I agreed to that IF I could do so in a motorized vehicle! I love aid station volunteers!
Found a new use for pacers…make them your personal course photographers!
At this point I had less than a half marathon left…just 12 stupid miles. I started doing math, it was 4:19pm and I told Lara I’d be done by 7:30pm. She told me it’d be before 7pm, we only had 12 miles left. But I knew the trails and I knew just how beat up my legs were feeling…I was going to be happy with a 7:30pm finish!
We headed out as I shoveled food into my mouth and professed my love for the person who came up with the concept of ice cubes. Singlemill took us over to Morrison Creek where the shady spots were few and far between. It was hot and the few clouds in the sky were avoiding the sun like it had boy cooties. My whining got a little excessive at this point. I wasn’t chasing a time, per say, and all I wanted to do was keep moving forward so that is what I did. If my body didn’t want to run when Lara told me to run I didn’t. She did a fantastic job of putting up with my sass…poor Lara!
Smiling around mile 45…because what else can you do surrounded by the beauty and peace of the mountains!?
I knew exactly where the trail took us…we crested the tiny hill [that felt like a freaking mountain] before dropping down the last stretch of Morrison Creek and onto the jeep road. The road took us uphill, barely, but I wasn’t running it. Full on whiner mode set in and I wasn’t running, period. This was also the stretch where my TFL muscle started getting random stabs of shooting pain. Fantastic. Lara abused [er, massaged] me and I took in another Salt Stick before forcing myself to run an imaginary downhill just to see if it hurt more. It didn’t. So I ran.
By the time we got to the Buffalo Creek Aid Station [mile 42.3] I was full on “run drunk”. Words weren’t working…my thoughts were working, I knew what I wanted [cold water, french fries] but my mouth wasn’t doing what I thought I told it to. We still managed to talk a volunteer into making me a jelly only sandwich while another filled my water bottles with ice. I made a point to stop by the creek bucket for a soaking – I was stupid hot but that was so cold I was shaking and shivering in seconds. Unfortunately the cold didn’t last very long…the sun didn’t give up on us as we made our way up Baldy.
Still running! Between the Buffalo Creek and Homestead Aid Stations.
We were down to single digits…there was no way I wasn’t finishing this race, it was just a matter of how long it took. As we made our way up the exposed rollers I whined and moaned and whimpered and pouted…and Lara ran ahead of me, probably just to be out of earshot. Eventually we stopped going up and I started to run. The act of running didn’t hurt any more than walking so I ran. Running got it over sooner, right?
Seriously, everything hurt. Everything and nothing, all at the same time. Muscles and tendons and joints were all angry with me but the specific pain point kept moving. But my stomach and mind were still in race mode so on we went! We made our way into the Homestead Aid Station [mile 46.4] for the third and last time…and all I wanted to do was crawl onto the table and sleep. I was exhausted. And everything hurt. But when Lara or a volunteer asked me what hurt I couldn’t answer…so then I guess nothing hurt?
At this point I was still running but I was head down, focused on the ground right in front of my feet. I just kept my feet moving, one after the other. Lara was ahead of me kind of doing her own thing – it helped in some weird way to have someone up there, someone silently dragging me down the trail. She slowed up a few times to chat but I wasn’t having it, I just wanted my bubble. Once again Lara did a great job of just coping with me and [hopefully] not taking it personally when I said I just wanted to be alone.
It was a gradual downhill stretch to Pine Valley and the finish line. I ran along consistently. Slowly but consistently. One runner came up behind us and said he was just fighting through the pain to get it over with. I couldn’t hold his pace but I knew he was right — just keep running, it’ll eventually be over!
The last stretch…that 0.8 miles was miserable. And yea, I’d convinced myself that was a hill I was hiking up!
We dropped down to run along Pine Lake where people were fishing…we were close, I could see the jeep road we came in on, a volunteer was sitting at an intersection waiting to call in my bib number…I was almost effing done! We ran past the volunteer onto pavement and I audibly whimpered. In reality I doubt the pavement made anything hurt more…it just all hurt. Every thing!
Lara was saying all sorts of wonderful things about me and I was mumbling about french fries. We came around the last corner and people got all excited. It was a long, hard race for me and I’ve never been so excited to be done before in my life! I was all smiles as I crossed the finish line…and then I promptly leaned on a table, kicked off my shoes, pulled off my socks and repeated “I’m never doing this again. Never…”.
Thanks Liz for this photo!
As I stared down at my feet I was perplexed by how odd they looked. They were caked in dirt and dust…and my toes were funny shapes. Eventually I realized why. I had blistered every single toe. Every one. I’ve never had blistering issues in the past aside from repeat blood blisters under two of my toenails. At no point on the course did my feet feel like they were blistering and even as I stared down at the grapes that had formed around all 10 toes I felt no pain. It was so weird. And no, I’m not posting any feet pictures, just imagine gross feet. Or Google “gross feet”…[not actually advisable, ew!]
I was done. I had run my second 50 miler and it was approximately 16 times harder than my first, even though on paper it was run on a much friendlier course. That’s some pretty obvious proof that I was severely undertrained. I wasn’t elated with my finish time [12:23:40] but I had finished and I was happy about that! I was also convinced I needed to give up running forever and that I’d never, ever survive a 100 mile race…
It didn’t take long for my selective memory has kicked in and I am now okay with the idea of another 50 miler and I’m wrapping my mind around the concept of cover 100 miles. I’m starting that damn race [Run, Rabbit, Run] and I’m determined to leave everything out on that course…everything. And nothing. Because that’s how I roll…