|My First 50k Race|
I tend to set goals for every race that I run. It's a mental challenge, but I find it helpful. My main goal of this race is to feel good at the end. Or as good as one can feel at the end of 31 miles! But, I want to feel as if I have something left at the end, even if it's just a little. I do not want to feel broken. I have felt that way many times at the end of a long hard run, and I've had enough of that. I want to feel strong and that's what I've been training for. It's also a major reason why I haven't raced in 3 months. I wanted to spend the time training and getting stronger with these long runs.
My other main goal is to finish under 8 hours. I am not stuck on 8 hours, but having a time frame helps me to set a pace that I can hopefully stick with. I have no idea what this course is going to be like. I've read the course description, but it really doesn't make any sense to me. The only thing that makes sense is the 1400 feet of elevation gain per 15 mile lap, aid station every 5 miles because that means food, and "several water crossings".
For whatever reason, I completly dismiss the 1400 feet of elevation gain. I simply do not believe that a 50k ultra race can be this flat in Dalton, GA. I can run the one mile loop in front of my house for 16 miles and that is 2000 feet of elevation gain. There are 2 small hills and a gradual uphill climb for 1/2 mile or so. Basically, to me it's flat. I can run 16 miles on this road around 2:45 hours. No way, do I expect to finish this course in under 6 hours. So, I may not understand course descriptions, and yes, I am directionally challenged, but I do know and understand math! The math doesn't add up for me. So, I dismiss it. Both Paul and Margaret have told me this is going to be a hard course and to not underestimate it. So, I go into this race with no expectations but to run my best, feel good, and try to get under 8 hours if I can. I am just happy to run!
Now, I will back track and say that I am not stuck on 8 hours. There is no pressure on me to run it under 8 hours, I would just like to. Margaret has advised me that every course is different and there are so many factors to consider that it's difficult to put a "time" on a course, but she also says she thinks I can do it when I ask her opinion.
The day before this race my friend Russell texts and asks me what is my goal to finish this race. I find this really funny as probably very few people know that I actually set a personal time goal before every race. So, I text back 8 hours. He replies, if I can get under 8 hours that he will buy me drinks! I ask him if 7:59 counts? He says, "Yes!". So, dammit...now, it's GAME ON, and I feel pressure, but it's also motivating! I have someone expecting me to do it under 8 hours! And, now I HAVE to do it in 7:59 or less! LOL I know it's mind over matter. My mind is much stronger than my body, so I keep telling myself, "I got this!".
Lee has booked us a hotel in Dalton the night before the race. It's Spring Break, and we are all excited to get out for a few days. Lee and the kids have plans to tour around Dalton while I am running. No way, do I expect Lee and the kids to hang out at the race site for 7:59 hours (LOL). Megan informs me that they are going to have much more fun than I am because they will get to do "fun stuff" and I'll just be "running". I laugh so hard at this! Of course, this is what "normal" people think!
I try really hard to sleep well the night before, and I sleep as well as can be expected for "me". I wake up and the nerves have hit. I am scared. I am always scared before a race. I feel like I am up on stage at the start up line. I have always felt this way since my track days. I know that I am the only one putting pressure on myself. No one else cares how I do but me! I am my only competition LOL However, I also know this will pass once I start running as it always does and then I can relax into my run and just enjoy "being".
The race starts just as daylight begins. I love this time of the morning. Paul and I agree to at least start the race together and also agree that if one of us feels like going ahead or faster that is ok too! Afterall it is a race, and I am not out to beat my friends. I am only out to do my best, and I'm always excited to see my friends do their best.
Not long into the race, there are some tough hills in a cow pasture and then on some roads that remind me of the forrest service roads in the mountains. They are rough rocky roads. I am not the least bit bothered by it. I run what I can and hike as fast as I can on the uphills. But, there are also some downhills too. Paul and I are a few miles into the race where we see "Taz" pass by us. This guy is super fast, and he won the Ft. Yargo marathon in late Feb. Paul and I know that something has happened because no way where Paul and I are ahead of him. That is laughable to even think that we could even remotely be ahead of him. We have so far followed all of the course markings and have been running in a "pack". Did we miss something? It doesn't seem possible. We make it back to the house and it's supposed to be 5 miles, but both Paul and I got 4 miles. Now, it's always possible that the course is off a bit as that can happen in ultras and I'm told that ultras are often off in elevation gain and mileage.
Paul and I agree to not stop at the aid station at the 5 mile mark as we will hit the next one in 5 more miles. I am already feeling a hot spot on the bottom of my foot, and I don't know if it's from the water crossings or the new trail shoes that I just got from my Hostelity winnings. Other than that, these shoes feel great so far. Paul and I have been griping about the course markings as it's not very easy to follow. It is particularly difficult in the wooded sections. There is no defined trail. We are running on private property pastures, roads, and woods!
It's not long before we saw Bobby and a pack behind him passing us. What? Paul and I are really confused and then shortly after that we saw Tyler. What? Tyler passed us a few miles ago. What the heck? Before we even get this far, I had to tell about 10 runners they were going the wrong way. They missed the "orange flags" that I happened to see as I make a right toward the flags. All those runners had to back track. Sometimes it pays to be a "slower" runner! LOL It's about this time that I realize that I must really pay attention and try not to simply follow other runners as we are still in a pack. I realize that something weird is going on with us seeing runners pass us who were already ahead of us.
I get through the woods, and I have somehow gotten ahead of Paul, and I don't even see him. I am running in a pasture in a circle. I follow the white arrow. There are 3 other runners about 200 meters behind me. I keep running and then I see the white arrow again and run just beyond that. The other 3 runners have stopped and they are at the white arrow. I realize that I am running in a circle and since the 3 are standing there discussing which way to go, I call out to them and ask if I need to come back. We are all standing still in our spots and finally they motion for me to come back. I run about 200 meters to catch up and tada...there is an orange marker down in the woods and Paul is there. We decide to try and stick together to get through this. The other 3 runners get ahead and Paul and I are cussing. We are MAD! Turns out Paul went down a wrong path shortly and ended up with a pack of dogs!
Paul and I are both on the same page about how this course is marked, and happy we are NOT. I don't care how hard this trail is, I just want to know where the hell I am going. Having a well marked course is about the only thing I really "need" during a race. As mad as I am, I begin to think that Paul is even more angry than I am. We really rant and rave about the stupid course markings, but then decide this is an "adventure race" and just decide to treat it as such. I basically tell myself to calm down, it's a beautiful day, and I am running! Anyday that I can run is a GOOD day. I remind myself to enjoy my day and enjoy my run. It's going to BE OK. I am going to finish...eventually! Giving up is not an option.
As we follow the white arrows up a hill towards the 2nd aid station, we see Tyler running toward us behind two young girls. The girls look as if they may be sisters and they are bickering with each other. I tell Tyler that he is running against the arrows as the arrows point up, but I don't think he hears me as he keeps running behind the girls. Paul and I start laughing as I jokingly tell Paul he is chasing the 2 young bunnies! We laugh several times about this. Why would he pay attention to what an ole gal like me has to say when he's out chasing bunnies?! Ha! In all fairness, he does say something back, but I couldn't hear him. Once again I question whether WE are going the right way, but heck we followed the arrows up this hill and they were painted on the ground. But, weird that we would even see Tyler again as he has now passed us twice.
We get to the 2nd aid station shortly after that, and I immediately ask if we are going the right way, and they assure us that we are and that we are doing well. I feel relieved to know that we've made it and our GPS reads just over 9 miles so I know we are on track. I am hungry and the little hummus sandwhiches are the bomb! I am drinking electrolytes, and basically stuffing my face. Paul eats little. I try to get him to eat, but I don't think he is eating enough. We thank the volunteers and off we go.
We make it up the gravel road to the water tower and the mountain scenes are just gorgeous from this hill. Then we hit the grassy area and this area is easier to follow as it's marked pretty well. We pass by a pond with a water mill, that is just gorgeous. I regret that I didn't stop to take a picture! The grassy sections are very runnable which I like, but I prefer to run trails myself. We pass through another water crossing and then soon hit the pavement back to the house. I see Gayle and she tells me that she has heard that a girl has broken her ankle. I feel so bad for this girl and can't even imagine that happening on a race! But, this also happened to a lady last year when Lee and I ran Warrior Dash! I am hungry again although I just ate 5 miles ago...lol I am eating and drinking a lot. Paul isn't so much, so I am reminding him again to eat. Again, I don't think he is eating enough. Shortly after, we take off again. One loop down one more to go! We are at about the 3 1/2 hrs mark...! I am so excited as I realize I am half way through, and I have a good shot at coming in under 8 hours! I am also excited because I feel good for just having run this far.
We start back up the pasture hills and this time it's harder. We go back up the gravel roads and then soon we are going up a hill that neither of us remember. We are following all the markers and arrows, but we don't remember this? This hill is STEEP. It's possibly the steepest hill I have ever encountered. Paul is several feet behind me. At one point, my feet slip on the gravel, and I almost have to touch the ground as it feels like I need to crawl up this mountain! The rocks are sliding behind me, and I apologize to Paul who is down below in case they hit him. It's a rock slide! We get to the top of the hill as luckily it's not that long, and it's taped off.. and we have to go around it. I know for sure that we missed this little loop on the first lap, and it pisses me off. Now, I know why the faster runners were passing us...they actually made this little loop whereas we skipped it the first time around! I also know that a lot of other runners did too because we were running in a pack early on within the first 5 miles or so.
This is a pic of the elevation profile of that hill that I borrowed from a post on Facebook:
Then it's a downhill from there, and we are back on the pasture and back at the house. Gayle helps us fill both of our back packs with water and this time we do not linger for long at the aid station. I tell Gayle that was a tough 5 miles! She said that Tyler said the same thing. I'm sure everyone thought that. The next 10 miles are a breeze compared to those 5 miles! However, I am still feeling good and all I'm thinking about is I've only got 10 more miles! If I hurry, I might can make it in 8 hours, but I'm gonna have to pick it up. I lost some time on that 5 mile loop.
Once we get off the paved road and back on pasture land, we notice that the gate is now roped off! There are painted arrows there now that wasn't there the first time around. Paul and I figured the course was re-marked since we were last here which is a good thing. This is a good sign that this lap will go smoother plus we have already run it once! But, I am hesitant to go through the gate because it's roped off. Paul tells me to go...but I hesitate longer than I should and finally I go. We eventually run up to another gate and I am totally confused as to where to go and Paul is too. Luckily, there were farmers down below who tell us to crawl through the gate. They had to rope the gates off because their cows were getting out! That sure does make a race course confusing! We just crawl through it and keep going.
I think we run a ways further and at some point Paul falls behind and then catches up again and then falls behind again. I meet a runner named "Mark" in the woods. He is running the 100k portion. He is chattering and talking and really I can't even understand much of what he is saying. Most of the time, I don't even think he was talking to me. But, at the same time, I'm kind of glad I'm not in the woods by myself. This portion is hard for me to navigate as there is no trail! But, there are plenty of BRIARS and BARBED wire. I think with all the cuts on my legs that I will be permanently scarred from this race.
At some point, Mark runs ahead, and I am ok with that! LOL Another runner catches up to me and we are chit chatting, but I am also really starting to pick up my pace as I'm estimating I've got 7 or 8 miles to go. I immediately recognize him because he is so tall and kind of looks like my Dad. My Dad is also very tall. Although I do not tell him this. What I do tell him is that I remember him from my DRT 30 k race as he passed me while climbing Coosa Bald! I was eating my chocolate covered pretzel on the uphill, and he told me I was very smart to eat on the uphill during that race to keep my blood sugar up. When I recounted this story to him, I know he didn't remember me, as I didn't expect him to. Instead he tells me a very funny story about his race at DRT. I laughed so hard!
So, I share with him my time goal of 7:59 because if I do then Russell is going to buy me drinks! We laugh about this as well, and he thinks I am going to cut it close, but he thinks I have a real good shot. Before, I know it we make it to the 2nd aid station. Rob grabs a slice of pizza and moves on course. I stop to drink more, and I am stunned to see Mark and Tyler both sitting at the aid station. I am not really sure why they are sitting except they are both signed up for the 100k, so I figure maybe they are going to catch the next lap together. I only have 5 more miles to go! I really can't afford the time to stop and talk or even ask questions, I quickly grab a slice of pizza and start running. I pass Rob while eating my pizza as I run and eat simultaneously. I run as far as I can up the water tower hill before I stop and walk. I pass the woman in the pack of 3 that I saw on the first loop which was roughly 18 miles ago? I am really surprised that I am at a point where I am passing people, but I feel really good and feel that I am making some great time at this point in the race. In my own mind, I am hauling ass, and it feels good.
I make it up all the way to the water tower and Rob has caught back up to me. We resume our nice little conversation as I explain how I am really new to ultra running and talk about my sweet family. I have run my first 30k (not an ultra but my first long race), my first 12 hour race, and today my first 50k. He says he is really surprised at my progress in such a short period of time. I am really surprised too because it was just last summer that I said I would NEVER run a marathon! Well, technically I have never run a marathon or even a half marathon race before! LOL At one point, Rob wishes me luck and says I am making good time and should make it under my 8 hour goal. I think he means for me to run ahead, and I do but then he catches up again. He says that we have less than a mile. I am really surprised that I am so close.
When we hit the pavement I know I am close, but then I see my van or what looks like my van. And, I think that Lee and the kids are waiting to see me finish my last stretch. But then the van pulls away and there is Mitchell standing on the side of the road. He starts running with me! He says, "Mom, pick up the pace or you are not going to make it under 8 hours!" He starts pacing me to the finish! I am so excited and surprised to see him. What a great idea to have him finish this race with me! It was truly the highlight of my day! He kept me laughing and smiling to the finish!
What I am most proud of is how I felt at the end of the race. I really really wanted to run one more lap. If my family wasn't waiting on me and time was not an issue (we had errands to run after this not to mention the drive home). I would have asked if I could run just one more lap for fun. I don't know if a race director would permit this, but I would have loved to have gone again!
In the next few days, I am really focused on how good I felt at the end of this run. How I really wanted to go one more lap...it was only 15 more miles....In the back of my mind I have known for quite some time that I am going to run "The GA Jewel" in Sept. They have 3 races...35 miles, 50 miles, and 100 miles. My plan was to run the 35 miles, but after this race....it gets me thinking about the 50 miles...I am really really thinking hard on it.
So, I ask Lee...what do you think about me doing 50 miles in Sept?
I email Paul to bounce it off of him..."so, I am thinking of doing 50 miles at "The Jewel"....
I stew some more and two weeks later I decide that "Poor Decisions really do make for better stories" (DUMASS theme), and I sign up for my first 50 mile race, along with my first 24 hour race, and DRT 50 k (NOT 30k), and while I am at I may as well run my first 15K Ranger run in a week or so!
Now, that's my idea of a shopping SPREE!