In April, I signed up for the McKenzie River Trail Race 50k. I had only started running again in January, so I had no idea if I'd be ready, but registration only lasts one day, so I had to act fast. But as race day got closer and closer I started getting really anxious. The funny thing was, despite my anxiety, I still had this "It can't really be that hard" kind of mentality. The winning women's time for most years is around 8:30 pace - as a road runner an 8:30 pace sounds like a casual jog! Still I wasn't expecting to win, so I figured I would be going even slower. Hmmm, was I missing something? Still 31 miles is a long way, long enough to get me scared, so I had this mental see-saw going on leading up to the race.
Friday I got up really early and went hot air ballooning - not your typical pre-race activity! Afterward there was a great brunch spread. I've been worried about fueling issues so I pigged out - two heaping plates and dessert. The rest of the day I had a bowl of noodles, PB&J and a small pizza. And to make sure I was well hydrated I drank a gallon of Gatorade and a half gallon of water! The whole fam made the trip out to McKenzie Bridge that afternoon. Fortunately, Megan was calling for the bathroom before I was! We went to race check in and ate dinner at seemingly the only restaurant in town and ran into several other runners doing the same. I went to bed early but was up four different times - a combination of nerves and bladder rebellion, I think. Liam woke up at 4:15am, but promptly fell back asleep in our bed after draping himself entirely across me. I was up for good just before 6 am.
Everyone made the trip to the starting line that morning where it was COLD - 46 degrees. I debated about clothing and changed my shirt twice, but finally headed to the start with short sleeves and chattering teeth.
The race has only about of a third of a mile on the road before hitting the trail, so there wasn't a lot of time for everyone to get sorted out. I was right behind two girls for the first mile, but when another girl went to pass, I went with her. I fell in behind her and learned it was Linda Samet, a very accomplished ultra-runner. She knows a heck of a lot more about running than I do, so I stuck with her. Plus she was great company - really chatting it up. I definitely vote her "Miss Congeniality" for this one! I tried to strike up conversations with a few others later on, but I just got a couple of lines at most from everyone else. The pace felt very easy, but she stressed pacing and I couldn't agree more. I was pretty worried about falling apart after mile 20 since that had happened to me in my last long training run before the race, so I was definitely trying to save myself for the end. At one point a train of 10 or so runners went by, but I didn't pay attention. I didn't even look how many women were ahead of me at the turn around - so out of character! - but there seemed to be several.
We hit the first Aid Station (5.7 miles) in 57 minutes - a huge wake-up call to me in terms of the pace of these things. 10 minute miles was a bit of a reality check. I had no intentions of being out there longer than 5 hours and 10 minute pace wouldn't cut it! Plus the first leg is the only uphill part of the course, the rest has a net downhill - time to pick it up! I took off on my own and got into a good rhythm. I was really going on the downhills. I didn't think I was any kind of Kamikaze, but I was passing a lot of people who seemed to have a much more cautious approach to running the downhills. Leg 1: 5.7 miles, 57:00 (10 min/mile)
All of the sudden there were a bunch of people lining the hill, cheering. AS#2 was back at the start and I was expecting to run through the parking lot to hit it, but I fly around a bend in the trail going downhill, and I realize that these people ARE the aid station after I have already passed the guy with the pitcher of Gatorade. I had no idea how fast I was going at the time, so I wasn't really expecting the AS for a few more minutes! My pace had definitely improved: 5.5 miles (11.2 total)- 46:00 (8:22 pace), 1:43 total time.Rather than turn around, I kept on trucking.
A few minutes later, I realized my folly and was cursing myself. My fuel plan was to eat every half hour and stay well hydrated, but I was just about to eat my last GU (the only food I had) and my water bottle was only about a third full. I mulling on my stupidity when I spied a gift from the trail fairies: a completely unharmed GU was just lying in my path. I made a mid-run swoop to scoop that puppy up, after all, this is about survival! A bit later I came up on a woman who was doing a slower pace than me and I fell in behind her, thinking I should slow down a bit. All of the rest of the early starters practically jumped of the trail to let the regulars pass, and since she didn't budge, I figured she must be part of the fast pack. Her pace felt slow, but it didn't surprise me given that I had been running fairly fast. I followed for 7 or 8 minutes and was thinking I should pass, but my bladder was uncomfortably full and I figured it'd be stupid to pass just to have her pass right back when I was squatting in the bushes. But peeing on the run is new to me and I had to get a game plan together, which took more time. There were trees everywhere; this would have been a no-brainer if I were a guy, but the low brush and flat terrain wasn't much cover for a girl. After 6 or 7 more minutes, I finally saw a downed tree and headed off the trail. One guy came by and I realized the tree was good cover from people coming toward me, but if anyone bothered to look back I would be in plain site. I'm not that modest, but I wasn't planning to put on any shows, either, so when I saw another guy coming, I finished up and figured I'd try to get back on the trail ahead of him. I made a mad dash across the brush and was about to step on to the trail when I caught a toe on a downed branch and face-planted spectacularly in front of him. I got up fast, but he passed anyway. I ran with him and we quickly caught up to the same girl. He got around easily but I was trapped behind. I'll try to give her the benefit of the doubt since she had her headphones cranked, but she didn't budge, blocking the center of the trail. It took me a couple more minutes before I finally got around, even though I even yelled at one point. The minutes behind this girl were a mistake - I was feeling good and didn't need to be going this slow, so she definitely cost me some time.
I wasn't out of trouble once I passed her either. My legs still felt great, but my eyes felt bulge-y and my vision was kind of fuzzy at the periphery and I wasn't focusing too well. I was pretty sure I was low on sodium, so I opened up my new-found GU, which was the only thing I had on me at that point, as even my water bottle was empty. I took a few sucks, and then missed a step in the lava rock, and took my second digger in about 20 minutes! This time my right knee banged down on the rock, but I didn't seemed to be injured. I got up, but still had a fuzzy head. I tried to finish the GU, but I got a mouthful of dirt and pine needles instead - apparently it got a little dirty in my tussle with the ground! I got to AS3 just under 20 minutes later, and promptly got my water bottle filled. And I did an ultra thing I thought I would never do - and here it was only my first one: I grabbed a boiled potato from the table, to eat no less!! I know this is common practice in endurance sports, but I don't even really liked boiled potatoes in normal circumstances. And cold ones in a bowl that have been fingered by a bunch of sweaty runners before me - Yuck! It sounded wholly unappealing and I wasn't ever planning to join in, but I knew I needed sodium. So I grabbed the Morton's container and just pour a mound of the stuff onto the potato and dug in. It was like taking bite out of a salt lick, but I knew I needed it so I grabbed the container, poured more salt on and grabbed a few animal cookies for good measure before heading out.
I stuffed the rest of the potato in my mouth and washed it down as much as I could in the next few minutes. I passed a guy pretty soon after (the first guy by when I peed), I caught the other one a short bit later. His pace wasn't too different than mine so I did stay behind him for a while. When another runner came up behind us, I passed the first guy right along with him. The salt and water seemed to be helping and I soon passed this guy, too. Even though my vision and mentation seemed to be coming back, this is actually the leg I remember the least. I caught up to another guy and was behind him, when I start to see a couple people standing on the trail cheering. Can't fool me twice - I knew the aid station must be near. Oh yeah, and a guy up the trail had said "you've got one minute to the Aid Station!" Ha! Mac brought the kids out to cheer, too which was a nice surprise, too!
I didn't want any fuzzy vision repeats, so I get to the station and start yelling "SALT? Do you have salt?" while they are filling my water bottles. A guy at the aid station pulls a baggie a capsules from his vest and asks me, "Did you want a salt tab?" It is down my throat practically before I answer yes! I am just about to leave when I see Linda chugging up the hill to the Aid Station, a little to close for comfort, so I leave the guy I came in with behind me, thinking I've got to get moving.
Leg 5 is just a short little 3.3 mile section - gorgeous trail that I did in good time. I was pumped at how good I felt and was running strong. I passed a couple of guys, but mostly I was by myself. In fact sometimes, I was surprised how few people I saw.
I got to the last aid station at 3:50 - averaging just over 9 minute pace (~9:10). I didn't drink that much in that leg, so still had over half a bottle of fluid. I grabbed a motley food assortment (4 Pringles, 5 candy corn, and 2 gummy bears) but didn't pause to get the bottle filled. The finish was six miles away and I was on a mission! I thought I could do 9 minute miles for a calculated 4:44 finish, but I put 4:46 in my mind in terms of having a count down, just to be safe.
I was going at a good clip and now I was starting to catch more people. There was no tucking in behind anyone this time; I passed with purpose! I ended up passing nine guys on this section! My stomach didn't feel great but it wasn't slowing me down. With the exception of missing an Aid Station, I thought I was doing a good job of eating and figured I should stick to the plan, even though my stomach was a little heavy. So at 4:20 I tried to eat my last GU and instantly felt nauseous. I don't have problems eating when I run, but the last two GU's were caffeinated (the only option when I restocked at AS4) and I don't really have any experience taking in caffeine while running. And I do know that I tend to be pretty caffeine sensitive, so maybe that had something to do with it. Also, I am a big fan of GU, but their 'Esspresso Love' flavor (which I was trying to stomach at that point) is DISGUSTING! I couldn't even palate a small bite of it the next day.
Anyway, my stomach feels like a rock and I start to think it might actually be good to throw up. I get to the side of the trail and lean over, but only a big burp comes out. I start feeling better right away, plus I am thinking,"If it didn't come up then, it's never coming up," which was a mental relief. So I start booking again - I am only 22 minutes away from the 4:46 time - my legs feel remarkably strong and I know I can keep this up for that long. Soon there is a surprise water table. I don't stop, but the lady yells, "Only two miles!" which wasn't good because I thought I was closer than that (several runner's commented that she was off on her distance when they got to the finish, but I didn't know that at the time). Though my legs felt stronger than I would have expected, I was still tired and glad there was a lot of downhill.
Right at 4:40 there is a teenage boy sitting at the base of a hill and I ask,"How much farther?" I figured I had somewhere between 4 and 6 minutes left and I was really hoping he'd say less than a half a mile rather than more. Instead he said, " just up this hill." I didn't like his answer - it seemed evasive and unhelpful. Why couldn't he just tell me the distance?!? But ten seconds later the trail turned and I was staring at the finish line just 20 yards ahead!! I tried to sprint (ha,ha) and crossed the line in 4:40:38, running 8:22 pace for the last six miles - my fastest miles of the day!
I guess Mac wasn't expecting my speedy finish, either. He said he had been there only about one minute before I came in. He couldn't have been far off because next woman up was only two minutes ahead and Mac said he wasn't there to see her finish.
Though I know I had it in me mentally and physically to do that extra half mile I expected, once I stopped, I realized I was spent. Mac kindly brought icy Powerade, but after five liters of sports drink that morning, I was done with it for a while. I kept saying I need to sit down, but then I'd get up and hobble to the refreshment table, first for water, then soda, then cookies for the kids. I was covered in sweat, dirt, Gatorade, GU, and even a trail of dry blood all down my shin from the fall. We left pretty soon after.
I took an ice bath and a shower and Liam took a nap. We got to the lunch 5 minutes before the awards. The posted results made me happy: 5th girl, but 4th place was over-40. Since top 3 overall aren't eligible to "double-dip" and get age group prizes, things worked out perfectly for me to take home the 39 and under prize - a beautiful handmade cutting board! The winner was only 8 minutes ahead - with better pacing, that seems pretty doable. A good goal for next year, I guess!
Today I am stiff and hate my stairs. Besides my quads, I am the most sore in muscles that don't seem like typical running muscles: my back, shoulders, tricepts, even my intercostals (rib muscles) if I take a deep breath, but nothing beyond the I-just-ran-31-miles kind of soreness anywhere, with the exception of my right knee. Seems I banged and bruised it pretty good and it is very painful to kneel, which I usually do quite a bit with the kids. I suspect it won't last much longer than the rest of the aches and pains.
<- my knees - they don't look too bad!
The rest of my day Saturday ->
I thought the whole thing was great. I can't wait to find another 50K!