Do you run? If you do, then you know about how to read your pre-race body. Mine is always a mess of miscellaneous aches and pains that usually miraculously disappear on race day. Often as the first step past the start line is taken. I was hoping it would be the same this race morning.
A little background:
I ran this race last year as my first trail 50. I had completed an easy trail/dirt path 50 a couple of months prior to see if I could achieve the distance, kind of a mental boost for this race.
PCT is an extremely technical course of primarily single track, uphill climbing for the first 13 miles. Then it gets fun. So you just have to wrap your mind around the fact that for 13 miles, you are not really having any fun. The return has a deceptive and more gentle incline as well. So when you are really tired from just having run 13 miles straight uphill and 12 undulating miles, you get to climb more. Last year I ran this race with my training partner and friend M. I convinced him to walk nearly the entire section from 27 to 34. That's a lot of time walking. My primary goal this year was to spend less time walking this section and shave off some time from my overall race time.
Leading up to the race:
Oh so many things! Do I drive myself and finish recovering after at my own pace or ride in with M and ask the hubs to wrangle the kids and pick me up at the finish? I love having my family at the finish, but my kids are at the crazy run around everywhere and and complain when they have to wait for you stage of life. I call it childhood. This decision will keep until the night before.
My calves hurt. I mean hurt. I really should get a massage, but at this point, do I really have time to recover from someone breaking down all the yucky tissue in there? Besides, it's all in my head, right? I did self massage on my calves. They felt so incredibly tight and rock hard (not in a 'I'm a great athlete and have legs of steel' kind of way). It'll work itself out, usually does.
M and I made it to the start just in time to see the early start runners take off. Time to get my bib and figure out where the race was going to take me. Just waiting for the pre-race excitement to kick in. So far, I was just happy to see some friends and for it to finally be race day. I set a goal of 12 races this year, but only 2 had to be ultras. This is the last long one I have scheduled for the year. I'll see where the rest of the year takes me.
Gearing up brought to my attention that I forgot my small bottle of Vitalyte. Not the end of the world, but I was bummed. I had planned on getting some of my calories and electrolytes from the drink. But, I had all the essentials.
I carried 2 double expresso shot Gu packets, a baggie of 4 dates, a baggie of dried figs, a Pro Meal snack bar and a power bagel bar with some butter. I had planned to bring a baggie of cooked bacon too, but it got left in my fridge. I would get potatoes at the aid stations and anything else that wasn't too far from my normal realm of diet.
I started the race with a training partner who was sweet enough to be 1) concerned about me finishing high enough to place for my age group and 2) think I was in her age group! The first segment has some lovely climbs, and when others walk, you walk. Walking was was nice. But my calves hurt and now my hamstrings hurt. Great. Ok, first 13 miles suck, I just had to remember that. And I'll see M at 17 or 22 and hitch a ride home. No worries.
I wanted to quit at aid station 1. I had a friend working there who greeted me with a huge smile and shoved me up the mountain. Damn. Another 6 miles before the next aid station, uphill. And my running partner left before I did. Double damn.
So I just kept running. Nothing else to do. It had snowed in the mountains the day before and there was still a good deal of it left on the ground. This was something new and beautiful. It was so interesting to run in the snow on trails that I had run so often before in sweltering heat.
When I finally made it to the second aid station I was surprised to see a much faster running partner still at this aid station. He had slipped in the muddy yuck and heard a 'pop' near his Achilles. Not good. I hugged him, let him know it was a smart decision and left the aid station, all while debating quitting at this aid station.
I followed a PCT and 50 mile virgin up the snowy trails. I should have listened and absorbed the wonder in his voice at his joy in running 50 miles for the first time. But I was stuck in my own mental cage of utter blah. Slipping and sliding in the mud, downhill for a few miles. I enjoyed it greatly, but could only think that it was going to pretty miserable coming back uphill if it was still as wet. This section of the course is normally my favorite. I love the tree coverage, the wide winding path and the lack of mega hills to climb. All I could think of was making it the next aid station, preferably before the front runners were headed back. I was looking forward to seeing M at this aid station. When I pulled in I couldn't find him, so I just assumed he went ahead to the next one. This aid station surprised me. Two guys I had run with from the first aid station until now decided to drop. Ugh, further making my decision to keep going or drop harder. One dropped because he thought he might be damaging his kidneys as his urine was brown. Crap, I hadn't even given that a thought! I hadn't peed yet and someone was judging their ability to run based on urine. So, like every other crazy thought that invaded my brain, I couldn't stop thinking about how my kidneys were doing. I'm 17 miles into this, shouldn't I have peed yet?
As I left, I saw one of my other training partners, G. I debated staying and running with her, but left since she was just arriving and I didn't need anything more. The next aid station is a mere 2-3 miles from the turn around and since I've made it this far, I should just go to the turn. The sun finally made an appearance and I saw the front runners. One of my friends was in second place. His appearance added a spark to my run, and now I was determined to see more friends. By now my brain was telling my legs to stop complaining and just keeping moving. Because everything hurt; calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, my back.... I was a sorry excuse for a runner. I just needed to make it to the turn.
The fourth aid station is always amazing. It's next to the main road, so it is easily accessible to cars. In every race that I have run in the area this aid station has always been a great place to get some positive vibes and much needed cheering. A few friends were there to cheer and help with any of our needs. The volunteers were amazing and one was a friend that I used to run with. It's so easy to get sucked into an aid station and just stay too long. Grab and go!
It was so tempting to just start running back where you came from instead of heading for the out and back to the halfway point. Especially when you round the bend and see that it is an uphill climb .... again. I saw so many familiar faces while I was heading for the turn. Many I met while training for this race the previous year. So many people coming from the turn around had words of encouragement and lots of high fives.
When I finally spotted the small group of people situated where the turn had to be, I was so happy. I made it halfway. And I was tired. And sore. And a little nauseous. Scott Mills, race director extraordinaire of the SD100 (a race my mind can't even wrap itself around) was working the turn with Paul Jesse, the race director of my first trail ultra. Scott said something that gave me the kick in the butt I needed to keep going. As I thanked them for being out there, he said 'you can always tell the ultra veterans from the new runners, they always thank you.' What the heck? Did he just call me a veteran? Well, crap, now I have to keep running. So I headed back the way I came. This time running with G. She was as challenged at running math as I was, so it was amusing for us to calculate if we were on track or not.
We ran together for approximately 9 miles, making it thru a particularly hard section of the race. All I could think about at this point was food. My body was letting me know that it wasn't happy with what it was receiving and it wanted some fatty food, stat. She was in the same boat, so at this point we just started talking about food. I was ravenous. The third aid station, which would also be the sixth, had hot chicken soup. I used the thought of soup to propel me to that aid station. After that station, it would be one more solid run and then only a half marathon to go. But the legs didn't want to work. Walking was fine, but the running wasn't going so well. Downhill was doable. Flat was workable. Uphill was impossible. My slow gap on last years time was slowly being chipped away, and G found inner reserves and bounded ahead of me.
Finally pulling into the next to last aid station 30 min ahead of the cutoff. My math skills were nil by then, my legs didn't want to move and I was starting to see things a little funny. My head was getting a little dizzy and my eyes would occasionally tunnel. This was new to me. I only had 13 miles left. I had to pull it together to get my sorry ass down the freaking mountain. Only 6 more miles until a friendly face. This next to last section seemed to take the longest. Between my inability to run up any hills and my increasing tiredness and irritability and myself, time seemed to crawl.
I kept a slowly counting down mileage chart in my head. 'X more miles until you see a friendly face. If you can't go on, just ask them to take you someplace your family can get you so they don't have to drive all the way out here.' 'X more miles, home stretch, can't quit now.' So very, very slow. Downhill running, feeling like I was moving at a good clip, only to look down and see my pace was 17 min mile. WHAT the WHAT???? Mentally screaming at my legs to move faster didn't work. They pretty much laughed in my face (as much as tired, under trained legs can laugh). Discouraging. I finally saw the downhill stretch that led to smiling faces, a potential ride and JUST 6 more miles. An easy light run. Just 6 miles..... I saw not one, but three familiar smiling and encouraging friends. All of them made me leave.
Final stretch, 'all downhill'.... at this point I was playing hopscotch with two other runners. Each of us taking turns being ahead and then fizzing out and walking. One of the things that kept me moving was the fact that I was fairly certain my middle child was going to give me crap if he had to wait around for me. Last year the kids had a 30 min wait while I finished. His first words to me were 'mom, what took you so long! We've been waiting forever.' Tired, cold and nauseous.... it was all I could do to be civil to him. So I was hoping they planned on the longer time I had given them. I couldn't propel my legs to do anything the resembled running for longer than a few minutes at a time. The final road crossing was in sight, then the gate that signaled 3.7 miles to go. Slow, slow progress. But it was progress. Merely 2 miles left, surely I can run the whole way, right? It's downhill.... nope. Walk.... run... find a good song on the iPod, run. Get tired and walk. Familiar sights let me know I was so close. I just wanted to run this last bit. Finally one of my new running friends left, he had more gas in his legs than me. Or just more willpower. But this was ok, because all of the sudden (47 miles of running and this is all of the sudden) there were signs of the end. I managed to get the legs moving long enough to run in the last mile. The feeling of seeing the finish line and the smiling faces of friends who stayed to see me finish. I was so glad to be done running. Finally stretching tired leg muscles and taking off my damn pack.
Next year, I recommend proper training.... might make a difference! But I shaved 59 min off my time from last year, and finished despite wanting to quit. I'm really hoping my kids learn persistence from me.