I have so many thoughts rolling around in my head from the day, I don't even know where to begin. I think I'll just start with a recap and go from there.
My friend, Ben, who is an ultra veteran with several 50Ks and a couple 50-mile races under his belt, was excited beyond belief when I told him of my plans to run a 50K. We have done several long runs together leading up to this race, and he has really been a guide to me during this process. He decided to race with me, and will play a big part in this report, so I would like to tell you a little about Ben. He is married with two lovely children. I am close friends with his wife as well, although she would never be caught dead running on a trail or anywhere else for that matter, and for that, I adore her even more. Ben and his wife are the perfect combination of yin and yang and balance each other just about perfectly. Ben is a teacher and talks of his job with great passion, which I love. He also loves endurance running and training, and for him, it is so much more than fitness, it is a true way of life - a way of life that has helped him (and continues to help him) discover his true self. He is a wonderful father and a great example of how to find balance in life with joyful perspective.
After all the preparations were done, Ben and I met up and were on our way to Mark's house where we were staying the night. (You might know Mark from his blog, but Mark and I actually go way back to our graduate school days at Ithaca College before either of us even knew what triathlon was.) Mark and his beautiful family welcomed us into their home for an amazing pre-race meal and a place to sleep that was a bit closer to the race that Syracuse. (Actually, Mark originally told me it was about 15 minutes from the race start. Later he told me 20 minutes. Friday night he said we should give ourselves about 25 minutes, and then his wife said we should take at least 30 minutes and my phone indicated 34 minutes. Either way, it was still closer than the 90 minutes from Syracuse, so I forgive you, Mark. ;) )
Mark and his wife have 5 (yes, FIVE) adorable children, and I got some great snuggle time with the girls before dinner.
I'm not exactly sure why I was wearing a headlamp, but I didn't really care, because I had two little ballerinas in my lap!
Ben and Mark
The pre-race meal Mark's kids made for me. It was delish.
Alaina's meal was equally amazing.
Mark's family is so big, I couldn't fit everyone into the picture!
After a pretty restless sleep that involved a dream where Ben and I were magnificently late to the race, I got up before the alarm went off for my usual pre-race breakfast. I was feeling excited and nervous for the race. Ben went outside to check the weather - cold and misty, but not snowing - so I got dressed in running tights, a long sleeve shirt, a short sleeve Trakkers shirt over that, and a lightweight running jacket. I put a fleece on over that, we loaded the car and were on our way by 6:45 a.m.
Once we got to the race site, we parked where the finish line and rest station were being set up and had to walk across the road and up the hill to pick up our packets. This was a very tense time for me. Ben mentioned later that I seemed to be very deep in thought during that walk. I was also very, very cold, which was partly due to the fact that it was very cold outside, and partly due to nerves kicking in.
After we got our numbers and chips, we went back and set up our rest station. Ben brought two big plastic boxes, one for fuel and the other for clothing and first aid. I also brought my "You Rock" balloon that the girls from the gym gave me. The rest station was under a pavilion with some tables which was great because we didn't have to worry about our stuff getting wet.
We snapped a quick pre-race pic and then went to sit in the car for a few minutes to warm up before the race began.
At a few minutes before 8, everyone sort of moseyed on up to the start line and jumped up and down to stay warm until someone yelled "Go," and off we went. My 50K had begun.
During our long runs, Ben and I discussed the matter of whether or not we would run the whole race together. I felt like I didn't want him to feel like I was holding him back, and he felt like he didn't want me to feel like I had to run with him if I wanted time to myself. Ultimately, we decided we would run the first two loops together and then just take it from there based on how we were feeling.
The race consisted of 5 10K loops. The first 1/2 mile or so was on the road, which came to be my least favorite part of the race. The first time, though, it wasn't bad because we had just started. As we came to the first intersection I had to laugh when the volunteer there said, "Take it easy. You've got a long day ahead of you." Not what I'm used to hearing from spectators, that's for sure! As we crossed onto some grass that lead to the trail another volunteer said, "Only 49 and a half K left!" I did not find that helpful. :)
Once we hit the trail, Ben and I were running at a nice easy pace. After about a mile I started to warm up, but noticed pretty quickly that my feet were already soaking wet. The course at Mendon Ponds is pretty hilly and the website states: "This is not a PR course." Our strategy was to walk the hills from the get-go and try to conserve so we could run for as long as we could. We were not alone in this strategy and ended up doing the first loop with a guy from New Hampshire named Paul and coming into the finish of the first loop with another group of about 6 people.
One of my favorite moments during the first loop was coming up to the one aid station on the course. It was Carol's aid station, and as I was thanking her, she shared with me that she did this every year in honor of her late husband who was a runner. What a tribute!
I was glad to see the rest station ahead and was looking forward to changing my soaked socks. I changed my socks, refilled my handheld bottle, snapped a picture, grabbed a few Pringles, rang the cowbell (I'm not sure how the other runners felt about that), and we were on our way.
My nutrition plan for the first 4 loops consisted of a 10 oz hand held bottle of EFS Drink that I refilled with water at the one aid station on the course, plus EFS Liquid Shot in a flask with a bit of water. I had 300 calories in each gel flask, and my goal was to finish one flask every two loops. I also grabbed a bite or two solid food at the aid station on the course and our rest station.
Loop #1: 1:13:12
There was a 5K, 10K and 20K that started a little bit after we were into our second loop. Just before the fasties started passing us, it started to snow big wet snowflakes. It was very beautiful. And then, it was very cold. My feet felt much better in my new socks, though, so I was really glad I took the time to change them. We continued our same strategy of walking the hills as the people running the shorter races passed us by. I unconsciously started to speed up, and then Ben gently reminded me we had a ways to go yet. Towards the end of the second loop my left ankle started to bother me just a bit, so I made a mental note to put some BioFreeze on it when we got to the rest station. A little bit before the end of this loop Ben told me that he would like to continue running together if that was okay with me. And it was.
As I came down the grassy hill towards the rest station I heard a cowbell. At first I thought maybe someone had felt the intense need to borrow mine, then I realized it was Mark and Alexa , one of my Train-This teammies, with Mark's boys in tow. My spirits, that were not really low, were lifted even higher by the sight of my friends coming out in the freezing weather to cheer us on. I came into the rest station and asked Ben to hand me, "you know, the stuff that takes away pain." I was having a hard time remembering the name of the BioFreeze. I was feeling good, but a bit chilly, and Mark snapped a quick pick of my cowbell ringing at the end of loop 2.
Loop #2: 1:17:16
As we started out on Loop 3, the snow was still coming down. I very clearly remember thinking several things. First: I am so blessed to be out here. Second: When the snow hits my face, it is very cold in a weirdly comforting way. Third: I wish it would stop snowing, but I'm going to try not to think about that. Fourth: During this loop I will surpass the longest run I have ever done up to this point in my life.
Maybe it was the last thought, but this is when it started to sink in that I was running a really long way in one day. Duh. I know that sounds silly, but I think unless you have done it before you can't really wrap your head around it in a way that makes sense. Kind of like childbirth.
This loop was quiet. Ben and I were just running and not chatting too much. There were not very many runners on the course that we saw. The weather finally started to improve, and I realized that my shirts under my jacket were quite wet. I was never cold, but I always felt on the verge of being chilled during this loop. The snow had stopped, and I made the decision that I would change into a new shirt and socks at the rest station. After the midpoint of loop 3 was probably the hardest point of the race for me. I tweaked my ankle a couple of times and had a couple of almost falls. My feet were starting to hurt and, although, the thought of quitting never even crossed my mind, I was definitely tiring on this loop.
At the rest station, I changed into a dry long-sleeved shirt and switched out my jacket for a vest. I also grabbed a dry hat and new socks. The best thing I did at this point was take two Advil and eat some mini 'Nilla wafers. Seriously, have you ever had those things? OMG!!
Loop #3: 1:24:10
We started out onto my least favorite part of the course, the road. Ben mentioned later that I never really talked on this part. I remember always feeling cold, probably because we had just stopped for a bit, and slow. My feet always hurt the most on the road too.
The first half of this loop was still sort of quiet for me. Ben and I were running well together, and seemed to sense each other's needs without much discussion. The course was marked with orange cones and paper plates on wooden stakes. As a hill approached one of us would say, "plate" or "tree" which meant that is where we would start walking. Same thing for when we would start running. I never felt that either of us wanted to be running when the other wanted to be walking. We were in sync, and it felt comfortable and very safe for me.
By the fourth loop we each had a definite sense of what was coming. There was the watertower hill. There was the steep hill in the woods. There was the steep hill with gravel that I asked for a rope on starting in the 4th loop. Ben never came up with one. There was the really muddy part followed by the strangely dry spot. There was the spot that Ben forgot about on the 2nd or 3rd loop that I reminded him of everytime thereafter. There was the part with the little trail leading up to the perfect tree for taking a potty break. There was the part where we crossed another path that was lined with trees with dark bark and a carpet of yellow leaves, which was definitely one of my favorite parts. There was the part with the hills that were short enough we didn't have to stop running and that felt so good.
About halfway through the 4th loop, the Advil kicked in. I also think I might have gotten a little behind on nutrition in the 3rd loop which contributed to the hard patch. Then I felt like the end was in sight. Only 15k to go and down from there. My spirits really picked up and I felt great. The interesting thing about this loop is that it seemed like we were the only people running the race. Aside from volunteers, we did not see anyone else on the course. As we finished our 4th loop, there were a few people there who had just finished their 5th loop. The race director asked us if we were finished...nope, 1 loop to go!!
I filled up my handheld with coke this time, grabbed a pack of shot blocks and some pringles, rang the cowbell, and we were off again.
Loop #4: 1:25:51
Back onto the dreaded road, I was thinking that we might be coming close to a marathon. I looked at my Garmin, and at that exact moment it said 26.20!! That was a great moment, although, I have to say, I hope if I ever run a road marathon my time will be a bit faster!
This loop was great. The end was in sight, the coke and the shot blocks were just what I needed, and I was warm and comfortable. Even the gravelly steep rope-less hill wasn't that bad. Especially because I picked up a souvenir plate for a trophy right before we went up.
I do remember thinking my right big toe was hurting, but I was happy and having fun. We were completely alone, and I kept saying, "Are we the only people in this race?" I remember feeling so grateful that I had been able to spend the day with Ben, outside in a beautiful place that God had created for us. Ben and I had both watched that youtube video I put up on my preparations post many times. Unfortunately, neither of us was very good at singing it, although we did try. I had my ipod in my pocket, and for a split second I had the great idea that we could both listen to it at the same time. Before I even finished the thought I realized that was a disaster waiting to happen, so I shut it, but not before Ben intuited what my idea was. Yeah...I will never live that one down.
About a half mile from the finish, Ben asked me if I wanted to run it in by myself. Without hesitation, I told him no. We had run the whole thing together and I wanted to finish it that way. We came to the grassy hill for the last time, and with smiles and cheers we crossed the finish line and were given our medals.
Loop #5: 1:30:17
Total Time: 7:13:12
Total Distance: 31 miles, although my Garmin said 32.15. Not sure how I got an extra mile in, but maybe our trips to the rest station, potty breaks and maneuvering around the mud was enough to add up to a mile.
We ended the day with hot soup and bagels in a toasty warm lodge. We changed in the stinkiest bathrooms ever, and I came through with only 1 tiny, red blister. We made our way home via the Starbucks at the rest station where we treated ourselves, totally guilt-free. to whatever we wanted. I chose a Peppermint Mocha, and it was amazing.
In reflecting on this amazing day, I've had many thoughts. First of all, I am so blessed in my life to be able to take an entire day to run in the woods. I am very proud of my efforts and very thankful that Ben was there to run with me every step of the way.
I've thought a bit about how it would have been different if I were alone. I still think I would have finished. I definitely would have relied upon my ipod for those hard patches. I might have walked a little more. I think I didn't finish because of Ben, but my race was definitely what it was because of him. We had a wonderful day of laughs and stories and reflective thought together. There are very few people who I think I could have run with for that long, and I am so thankful for his support and friendship.
Do I feel any differently today? Yes and no. I am surprised that I didn't have an overwhelming sense of emotion at the end of the race. I think that has to do with the fact that I always expected to finish. I am very proud. I have a new appreciation for my own abilities in terms of physical endurance. I want more. I want to go longer. I know I can do it. I ran a long way yesterday, and I wouldn't change it for the world.
Big thanks to my wonderful husband for making it possible for me to train long and hard for an event like this. He gets me. Huge thanks to Coach Mary. Her training was spot-on and is definitely something I will post about later on this week. Huge thanks to all my friends, Trakkers teammates, and family that cheered me on. I felt that encouragement all day long. Big thanks to my sponsors, Trakkers, First Endurance, and Saucony.
And, most of all, I thank God for giving me such a beautiful life.