Sunday, April 1, 2012

Peanut Butter and Pink Flamingos

It's official. I am now an ultra marathoner! I completed my first ever 50K last weekend at Inside Trail Run's Woodside Ramble.

The week leading up to the run, I was super super nervous, but oddly not as nervous as I was for my first marathon. I think mentally I was in a lot better place and I felt well rested overall except for some lingering issues with my hip. This was also going to be a much smaller race than Nike, so it felt a little more like another run through the woods and less like a huge milestone. The main thing I was worried about was the weather forecast. It was beautiful all week, except of course, for Saturday, the day of my race.

The morning of the race I woke up to hear the unfortunate sound of drizzle on the roof. I was pretty upset by this turn of events, and I triple checked the forecast to see what the weather would be doing for the rest of the day. Apparently it was supposed to stop raining at 9AM and be clear until around noon, which was great news for me and made me feel significantly happier about running 31 miles that day.

And then we got there. And the weather moved from a slow drizzle to a full rain. I was NOT happy. The weekend before I had done Badger Cove in the mud, and I swore to myself then that if it was raining I would drop out of the 50K. But, of course, I am stubborn and I decided to press on. I guess stubbornness is good when you are about to embark on an ultra marathon. Josh and Mike were partners in crime that day, with Josh running the half marathon and Mike also running his first ever 50K!

So after we parked and I went to the bathroom a bajillion times (really only twice, haha) I realized I had LOST my Ipod!! DISASTER! I started freaking out and asked Josh to run back to the bathrooms for me to look for it. He came running at the last second with it, apparently it was in my pants pocket the whole time. Thank god! Now the race could get started. And start it did! Here I am getting going: 

You can also see Mike in front of me in this picture, where he stayed for the duration of the race. He totally rocked it and had a great performance for his first ultra.

In my mind, I broke my run up into 5 legs. The run to the first aid station, the first to the second aid station, the loop around back to the second aid station, the run between the second and first aid station, and then the run back to the finish from the first aid station.

I started off really strongly. I was feeling pretty good and making reasonably decent time. There were two major climbs in the run, the first of which was in that first leg. We had to climb about 2000 feet in 5 miles. This was actually not that bad. I ran for a majority of the time, and I felt awesome. Usually I end up walking on hills, but the fact that the 2000 feet was over 5 miles really made it more of a gradual climb, which was awesome. I was feeling awesome, it was drizzling but not raining too hard, and I had some surprises in store for me. Like this one:

Danni was working the first aid station, and she put up a sign to cheer me on! It was AWESOME! I have never had a sign at a race, and it put a huge smile on my face. Having these guys on the side of the trail was also hilarious:

As I was passing them by they did the wave. Too funny. So I made it to the first aid station to see Danni's happy face, and it was awesome to have a friend out there to cheer me on. She was a huge trooper being out there for 8 hours working the aid station in the rain. Here I am, clearly not aware of how much pain I would be in when I returned to this point in 6 hours:

A little damp, but not too wet quite yet! Also in a rookie move, I didn't eat anything through my entire first leg besides Shot Bloks. I arrived at the first aid station, figured I was feeling fine, and did not partake in the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. BIG mistake.

So my first leg was done, and I entered into the second leg. This was a 6 mile long portion that was on the Skyline trail. And I hated every minute of it. One of the best things about running anything longer than a half marathon with CTR or ITR is that there are no mile markers. You can just kind of lose yourself in the run and when you get to a major landmark you are happy you made it that far. Skyline trail, however, has a mile marker at every mile for 5 miles. It made me realize how slow I was going, how long it was taking me, and overall put me in a BAD mental state. Not only that, but I was starting to feel a little tired and I was really regretting not taking a quarter sandwich at the first aid station.

I ended up leap frogging with another lady who was actually doing the 30K, so that helped pass the time a bit. It was also cool to see the first place half marathon and 36K runners zoom by me and then see them again on their return trip. These were all welcome distractions to a torturous 6 mile segment. 

I was just about to give up on myself when I saw PINK FLAMINGOS! This was amazing! Ken, the volunteer working the second aid station was bravely out in the rain in the middle of the woods all by himself. I have never had a more awesome aid station experience than Ken's. He knew exactly what I needed and took care of it and imparted some words of encouragement and advice. He made me a PB&J and sent me off to my third leg.

The third leg was the longest (har har to all you Ragnar-ians out there), coming in at a whopping 8.9 miles. The first half of the leg was awesome. It was all downhill and I was feeling great with the energy boost I got from the PB&J. I even saw a family of 10 or so deer who were chillin' next to the trail. There were a few actually on the trail and I ran next to them for about .2 seconds before they ran away from me. I really wanted to try and catch one and ride it back to the start line :-p

The second half of this leg was OK, but ended awfully. This section was the second major climb of the race with another 2000 feet of climbing over another 5 miles. This time I was a lot more tired than I was for the first climb, and I implemented my walk a minute, run a minute game plan. This worked for the majority of the run, but I ended up just completely exhausting myself. I walked for close to 15 minutes of the last mile. I finally got to the top, and ran back to my happy pink flamingo-d aid station.

Ken took one look at me and was like, have you been eating? Now, I had gone into this ultra with a similar game plan as my marathon. I'd eat two Bloks every 30 minutes and drink water as necessary. I was also going to add in eating a quarter peanut butter sandwich at each aid station.

However, I totally underestimated my state of mind 18 miles into the run. It had started raining a LOT more, the trails were really messy, and I was expending a lot more energy than usual in a race. This all lead to me completely losing track of when and what I had eaten. I forgot to eat a couple times, only figuring out I hadn't eaten when I felt completely spent on energy. Ken saw this pretty quickly when I slogged myself into his aid station, and gave me a half of a sandwich to take with me on the run.

This is probably one of the only things that got me through my fourth leg. This PB&J was one of the most heavenly things I had experienced during the entire race. And then I was back to the dreaded Skyline Trail. This time it was even worse, as I now KNEW there were mile markers, and I really started struggling.

It also didn't help that the trails had deteriorated at a rapid pace with the increasing amount of rain we were receiving. The trails were no longer actual trails and more like a combination slip and slide and stream. It was completely impossible to not run in these mini streams the rain and trail had created, and my feet promptly got soaked. It had been raining the entire time, and I found myself developing irrational hatred toward the rain and the trees. I got really sick of hearing the sound of raindrops on leaves. It was kind of like Chinese water torture. I just wanted the sound to end and just have silence.

But, silence was not in store for me. It kept raining, and raining, and raining. The mile markers came by more and more slowly. I started imagining I was seeing things on the trail. I'd think I saw a small animal run by or something moving off to the side of the trail. I'm pretty sure there was nothing actually there. I guess that's what running 24 miles through the rain while forgetting to eat will get you..

I finally finished this leg, and made it to the final aid station. Danni had moved her sign, and it was glorious to see it. The final aid station meant I had run 26 miles and that I only had 5 more ahead of me. If there was any way for me to feel any emotion at that point, I'm sure I would have been pretty happy. Here I am, making my grand arrival: 

Josh was awaiting me, having completed his half marathon, and Danni was cheering me in. 

At this point, I am completely soaked, undernourished, and mentally defeated. I also didn't realize it, but the temperature had dropped 10 degrees while I was out running. It was about 52 when I started, and by the time I made it to the final aid station it dropped to 41 degrees. Danni and Josh took one look at me and realized I was freezing. I had no idea, I couldn't really feel anything. During the run my fingers had started turning white and I had to rub them on my capris to get blood flow going again. 

Danni said they had extra arm sleeves at the aid station, and Josh said he had my gloves, but in my current mental state I was like, I don't need this! Then they were like, YES YOU DO. Josh and Danni made me at least put my gloves on, but that was a pretty big task for me at that moment. Here I am struggling to get them on while stuffing any calories I could into my face:

I was really not a happy camper at this point. But, I only had 5 miles to go, and so I carried on. Josh told me that Isaac had come to celebrate mine and Mike's 50K victory, so that gave me more push to carry on to the finish line.

And so I was off. This was probably the worst 5 miles I have ever run in my entire life. It was now pouring. I knew how cold I was, and the PB&J I had at the last aid station made me feel like throwing up. Plus I really had to go to the bathroom, but I knew I probably wouldn't be able to maneuver that kind of forest foray at that point in the race. So I just kept trudging on. 

I completely lost it mentally at this point. I started having incredibly complex thoughts as, wow, that moss covered tree looks like a dog. And, huh, it is really wet out here. And, Oh there's a tree on the side of the trail. I'm sure having a conversation with me at this point would have been enlightening. I also started singing to myself out loud, laughing for no apparent reason, and crying for no apparent reason. I was a complete mess.

About 50 minutes into the final leg, I started convincing myself that I should have finished by now. I started freaking out. I could see the yellow trail markers, but I convinced myself I was going in circles. I started panicking and I'm sure if you saw me you would have thought I'd been chased through the forest by some psychopath murderer. I had seen no one besides the aid station volunteers for pretty much the entire race. So essentially I was running for 7 hours at this point by myself through the middle of the woods. I was terrified. I also didn't drink any more water cause I had to go to the bathroom so bad, and I stopped eating because I thought I was close to the end. It was not a good situation. 

My new rule for ultras: Never Assume Anything. Always stick to your plan, no matter where you are in the race.

I kept looking at my map and trying to figure out where I was in accordance with the actual trail markers so I could gauge how much more I had to go. The only problem with this was that at each trail intersection there was a different end point described and I didn't have the mental facilities to orient myself. I finally saw a trail marker that pointed to the park we started in, and the marker said I only had .6 miles to go. I was thrilled.

FINALLY I saw the trail marker "FINISH" ahead. I started laughing hysterically for some reason, and ambled on ahead. Here I am making my blistering entrance to the finish area:

I DID IT! I FINISHED! I was so so so so happy. AND FREEZING. I have never been colder in my entire life. I started shivering uncontrollably and I didn't stop until almost an hour later after I got to the after race restaurant and got a cup of tea in myself. Here I am now that I could stop moving in a forward motion: 

Talk about Crazed Meghan face. Danni kind of looks a little scared of me haha!! But I was done, and happy that I had accomplished this huge goal I have had for myself for some time. I finished in 7:29, and I was ecstatic that I could stop running and eating Bloks. And wear a sweatshirt.

This was a really difficult accomplishment for me, but in retrospect it was actually easier than my marathon. Trail running is amazingly gentle on your body compared to road running, and I had none of the body complaints I did during Nike. My knees and ankles felt fine, my hip was ok (until later that evening) and I was in way better condition finishing 31 miles on trail than I was finishing 26 miles on pavement. I knew what I was going to have to deal with mentally from my marathon, but the ultra pushed me further than 
I thought I could go.

So there it is! My first (and definitely not last) ultra! It was a ton of fun looking back on it, and now I know the areas I need to work on for my next one. Figuring out food is going to be key, working in more frequent longer trail runs is going to be really important for me, and hopefully I won't have to deal with the weather for my next one. 

I'm really happy I did this, and I couldn't have done it without my partner in crime, Mike. He was up for long runs whenever I wanted during our training, and he was the rock I needed on longer runs to get me to believe in myself that I could do this 50K. He did amazingly in his first ever 50K, and I think it is safe to say we will both be back out there doing it again soon.