…continued from here.
I woke up bright–well, dark–and early at 3:15 am. I had gotten advice from a seasoned ultrarunner to eat as much as possible before this race, because I wouldn’t want to eat anything else all day long. (His words would come back and haunt me.) Unfortunately, breakfast at the host hotel was pretty sub par. I had a bowl of cereal, and a GIANT gluten free cookie brought from home, taking in roughly 700 calories total.
Breakfast in bed..? Breakfast in bathroom!
My crew (Mom, bro Jason, and boyfriend Tony) took me to the start line a few minutes before 5 am, which was an hour early. As we walked up the path, we realized we were facing the start line, and there were a bunch of headlight-wearing 100 milers ready to charge us!
It was cool to get a chance to see these hard-core crazies start their race. I
will be one of them next year have no idea what would possess someone to do a 100 mile race on this course. Mad props to those who finished it.
Soon enough, it was time to start the 50 miler and 50k. While we were milling around, I ran into a few people I knew from ZombieRunner (the store I work at). It’s great seeing familiar faces at a race, especially when you’ll be sharing the trails with these people for the next 15 hours.
At 6 am we all headed out. There is no mad rush in a ultra race. We all kind of trotted along, and after 5 minutes or so several people were walking. It was a gorgeous time of day since the sun was just rising, and we had some amaaazing views to check out as we headed up the trails to the first aid station.
I felt great for the first 17 miles or so. At that point, we’d tackled one of the tough climbs of the day, the “infamous” Red House loop, which wasn’t bad at all. At the aid station, I changed my socks which had gotten soaked in some creek crossings. I was feeling great, hydrating well, and tolerating food.
Then, it all went to pot.
As I left the aid station, I grabbed a turkey and cheese sandwich to go. Suddenly, my stomach wasn’t liking the bread. I tossed the sandwich, not thinking much of it, and kept going. 3 miles later at the next aid station, I had a tough time taking potato chips. Usually this is my go to food since it’s salty and dry, but I really couldn’t stomach anything. Soon I started to feel the affects of either not eating enough, or being at altitude (about 9,000 ft). Or…the 85 degree weather. I couldn’t tell which was what, and just struggled to make it the next 9 miles to the aid station at Diamond Peak, where I would see my family and get a much needed mental boost.
I jogged into Diamond Peak looking for my family. This was the only car-access aid station so I knew it’d be the last place I’d see them before the finish. As I handed my pack and my water bottle off to a volunteer to be filled, I walked around looking for them. Then I picked up my phone and tried calling them. After leaving messages on all their voicemails I finally managed to get ahold of my brother. “Where are you guys??” I said, panicky. “We’re almost there!” “What, like 5 minutes?” “More like 20 or so.” (Please excuse my dialogue-writing skills btw.)
I was crestfallen when I realized I wouldn’t see them at this aid station. If I waited 20 minutes (and turns out it would’ve been more like 30-40), I would’ve cooled down, as well as lost momentum. I didn’t actually need anything from them, but all I wanted in the world was just to see their faces and hear some encouraging words. I actually began sobbing when I talked to them on the phone, and made quite a spectacle of myself there. I found out later that a lot of people dropped from the race at this aid station (since it’s right before the longest and hardest climb of the race). I feel foolish now for being overly emotional about not seeing my family when there were people who physically felt horrible enough to drop from the race.
After a few minutes of crying, I grabbed a turkey sandwich, realized I was 28 and not 5, shut down the tears, and kept it moving.
Once I set off from the aid station, it was time to get serious. Diamond Peak was no joke. The climb starts out innocent enough, and you think, Oh, that wasn’t so bad. That’s what everyone was worried about? Then, you turn the corner and think, Oh sh*t. THAT’S what everyone was worried about. After 20 minutes of inching up the 30 degree incline, you reach a false summit. And then again 20 minutes after that. Seriously, there were so many damned false summits that I though I was in an MC Escher drawing. Sisyphus and his boulder have nothing on Diamond Peak. It was torture. The whole time I was thinking of the poor 100 milers, most of whom would have to make this climb in the middle of the night. I said a little prayer for them.
This 2D picture doesn’t do it justice. And it’s only a fraction of the climb.
Nothing like an angry self-photo to make things seem less serious
After finally, finally reaching the summit, I felt fantastic. I felt invincible, and mistakenly thought that the rest of the race would be a breeze from here on out. I’m sure this would’ve been the case if I’d being more meticulous with fueling. Instead, a few short miles from Diamond Peak, I found myself struggling to keep up a slow jog. I had used all my fuel during the climb, and was really falling behind on calories. Another problem was starting to occur as well. The Diamond Peak climb was basically all sand. It was like climbing uphill on the beach. Without gaiters (rookie error Megan!), massive amounts of sand had compiled in my shoes. I could feel the friction, yet didn’t want to stop, sit down, and empty my shoes. Since there was a lot of sand on the entire course, I knew that they’d be filled up again in a matter of minutes. I thought I could tough it out, but in hindsight I should’ve just stopped every half hour to empty my shoes. Would’ve saved me a lot of pain.
I breezed through Bull Wheel, the next aid station after Diamond Peak, just filling my water bottles and grabbing some potato chips. A few minutes later, I remembered that I needed to consciously eat as many calories as possible. I pulled a Bonk Breaker bar out of my bag, took a small bite, and gagged. I couldn’t even stomach a small bite. At this point, with blisters forming on my feet and feeling lightheaded and nauseous, I knew that the next 15 miles were going to be the most uncomfortable 15 miles I’ve ever gone. While the pain forming in my feet was pretty bad, the worst thing to deal with was feeling like my heart was going to beat a hole through my chest and that I had no energy whatsoever to lift my feet up time and time again. I knew I was going to finish, but I also knew it was going to take a while, and be a rough go of it.
This view is the reason I was only 90% miserable
The discomfort lasted for miles and hours. Finally, at the second to last aid station, I knew I had to force food down my gullet or I was in danger of collapsing on the trail. Seriously. Fortunately, these kind souls had soup going that I knew was mostly for the 100 milers heading out into the night, but was the one thing that calmed my stomach down. They also had some protein packed strawberry Ensure smoothies that, when slowly sipped, I was able to tolerate. I fear to think now, after knowing that I ran the last part of the race in the dark, how things would have turned out if I hadn’t refueled properly here. I can only be grateful that I finished the race the way I did, and didn’t come across worse circumstances.
10 miles left in the race. I took it easy while my body absorbed the calories I’d just ingested. What a waste would it be if, after struggling down all that food, I spewed it all along the trail? Thankfully, I kept moving and kept the food down. And soon enough, I felt good enough to run.
And run I did, until I realized that half my right heel, as well as under my toes and under my arch were covered in blisters. Really?? After 40 some miles, and finally well fueled, I found it painful to land on my feet, of all things. My legs felt great, but with every step I felt a sharp and painful stab at my heel. I wanted to stop and cry, but more than anything I wanted to be at that damn finish line, so I kept it moving, wincing every time I stepped, but knowing that the blister had to give at some point, and either way every step I took was one step closer to being done.
Finally, finally, finally…the blister popped. (Lovely, I know. You’re welcome.) I was able to run, and run I did. Not because I felt new, or energized, or had a second wind, but because the sun was setting. I ran the sh*t out of those last few miles and only stopped about 1 mile out from the finish, because at that point it was too dark for safe footing. (If you know me, you know I’m prone to eating it on the trail. I don’t stay on two feet easily. Falling is my middle name.) I pulled out my iPhone flashlight app and power-walked my way towards the finish line while trying to hold back panic and tears.
Finally, I finished. Yes, no fancy way of putting it. It was uneventful, unlike my finish at AR50. 14 hours and 53 minutes. I ran it in, yes, and people were cheering, but that was it. I had no emotion left in me. I wanted to take off my socks, take a shower, and collapse in bed. I got my plaque, kissed my family, and got the heck out of there.
You’d think that after running 50 miles at altitude with 10,000 ft of incline while barely fueling, one would be hungry, right? I wish I could’ve eaten. But my stomach was a shambles. I barely got down half a baked potato and a few bites of salad from Wendy’s. I only ate because I knew I had to. Before I drifted off to sleep, I consciously propped my pillow up so that my food would digest and I wouldn’t vomit in my sleep.
Come 3 am and I was ravenous. Hunger so strong it was painful. Nothing in my room was palatable except popcorn, and since Tony had been such an angel throughout this ordeal I didn’t want to wake him up with the noise. After a fitful half hour I managed to fall back asleep. At 6 am, my subconscious knew that the breakfast room was open and I slept-walked there to eat a hot waffle. It was the best food I’d ever had in my whole life. It was only after I ate the waffle, ate a cup of yogurt, went back to the room and was drifting off to sleep once again, that I knew I’d be OK.
When I woke up for good the next day, I realized I wasn’t that sore. I’d been more sore after road marathons. Did this attest to the fact that I was in fantastic shape?? No. It meant that I could’ve ran faster, climbed harder, and come in hours earlier. In fact, this whole week of “recovery,” really just 2 days till I felt normal again, has made me a little bitter and angry at myself. How is one fully recovered 2 days after a 50 mile mountain race?? I should be sore, aching, icing and medicating. I should have pain that I earned. Instead, I earned a finish, but that’s it. I could’ve done better.
Next year I’m going back for more. TRT50, I got you. Until then, there are a few more 50 milers that have my name on them.