The day I have been waiting for at least a year has arrived! I have done everything I could possibly do to prepare for this race, so now it's time to knock this off of my bucket list.
I have the usual pre-race jitters, but I am managing them as best as I can and just remind my self that I am prepared for a very long day and to do my best. I review my race strategy which is hike the hills and run what I can. I already know that there is very little after the first 3 miles that is actually runnable and that it's going to make for a long day. But, the sun is out and it's a gorgeous cool morning.
I start the race in a nice comfortable pace. I am not worried about anyone elses pace because I realize that a lot of folks are running the 30k and there will be a lot of folks who think they are running the 50k who will likely change their minds in about 8 miles and switch to the 30k option. I cannot run the 50k at a 30k pace as I need to save my legs for an entire day's run/hike.
I pass the first aid station without stopping. There is no reason for me to stop here as it's 3.5 miles out. I am enjoying listening to the other runners conversation as it takes my mind off of what is ahead. Coosa Bald. It's about a 3-4 mile climb. I never try to figure out this exact mileage as it's just better NOT to think about it.
I'm climbing up Coosa Bald and Jason and Brad come up on me and we have a few laughs and chit chat going up which they both eventually pass me. There are some other runners who pass me but not like last year whereby I was passed in droves. Coosa is nowhere near as hard as it was last year when I ran the 30k. However, this year I am prepared and have trained. Last year, when I ran the 30k I had only run 2 mountain trails and all of my other training was on roads with 15 miles being my longest run EVER. I remember that 15 mile road run about killing me. It's not so bad this year! Oh, what a difference a year makes!
I make it to the 2nd aid station in 2:09 hours. I am right on track of where I want to be. I am briefly at the AS. Some of the guys that were running behind and in front of me where already talking about switching to the 30k option. I briefly thought, OH HOW I WISH, I was doing the 30k option. The FS road actually looks good, and I know what lies ahead for the next 8 miles and back on the 50k portion! But, I keep my goals in mind and know that I must complete the 50k. But, it was a nice thought!
I move past AS 2 and lo and behold, Kevin is behind me. This is the guy that I played tortoise and the hare with last year at the DRT 30k! He is an awesome runner who hurt his knee last year on the DRT and had to switch to the 30k option. Even with his hurt knee he came in a good bit ahead of me last year. This year he is struggling to keep up with me. I am saddened to hear that his knee has been a problem ever since last year and he's had a very frustrating slow year. He is happy to hear that I've had a great year so far. It was awesome catching up with him a few miles as I often wondered what became of him and his knee.
I make it to the AS 3 area and stay very briefly. And, then start another climb up. This 8 mile section is climb after climb after climb. It's ridiculous! I am watching my Garmin every now and then because I know they are closing the Fish Gap AS at 12:30. I am going to make the cut off ahead of time, and I am happy as the way back won't be as hard, but I will have tired legs at some point. I somehow catch back up to Jason and chit chat with him before moving on past him on my way to Fish Gap.
It's not much longer before I see Patrick returning and he's in first place on the 50k, but then it's only 1-3 minutes longer before I see Mitch for 2nd place! I tell Mitch that Patrick is only a few minutes ahead and to go get it! It's fun seeing the fast people already returning! So, periodically I see runners returning and it's awesome to watch. Eventually, I see Tyler and WOW, he's doing so well. I am so excited for him and we cheer each other on. I am so excited that we are both running the 50k this year because we both started out on this trail last year as newbies. I soon see other runners that I know returning like John and Deano and the list goes on.
It was funny as a guy was coming up a hill and I was coming down and he didn't see me and he actually jumped as I scared the crap out of him. We had a good laugh!
I make it down to the Fish Gap aid station, and I am happy to see Jason R. and Kia! They are full of encouragement. I am so hot as it's warmed up and I have been long over dressed! I ask Jason if I can drop my jacket here and pick it up at the end of the race. He gets Wilson to bag it up for me. I am so thankful for this option as I have yet to pack a drop bag, but I didn't take into account that I might want to dress down later. I leave Fish Gap at 12:05pm. I've finished half the race in 4 hours 35 minutes and just 25 minutes before the cut off. I realize I am probably not going to make my goal of 8:55 hours, but that's ok! It's just a goal and it does keep me on track and on pace for at least finishing before 10 hours which was my original goal for the entire year! I also remind myself that completing the first half of this race with Coosa Bald and the 8 miles of ridiculous climbs in 4:35 hours is actually quite good for a total of just over 16 miles! And, knowing that I have another 16 miles or so in me is re-assuring. I am not even hurting. For whatever reason, I am not having any pain issues.
On the way back the crowd has thinned, and I am primarily running by myself which I always expect to do at a race. It's nice to be on the returning end as I see runners coming in towards Fish Gap at the turn around point. But, then I get to a point where I realize all the runners I am seeing are likely to be pulled from the race, and it makes me sad for them because I know for me at least, it would be heart breaking if I were the one going to be pulled. I eventually run into Kevin and ask how he is doing and he is responds, "not well". But, he encourages me to keep going and assures me that I am doing great. I feel so badly for him! This is a guy, when I met him last year, would go on 40 mile runs for fun! It's a reminder of how I never know how much time I have left with this ultra running and to enjoy it while it lasts.
On yet another climb, I see two guys sitting at the top of the hill. They see me and they get up and start going. I thought it was odd that they would just be sitting. However, on the next climb after that which doesn't take long because that's all I am doing is climb after climb, I come up on these two guys sitting. I ask if they are ok and the one guy says he's got a leg cramp that hurts so bad and there is nothing he can do to make it better. I offer him a gel and a salt tab, but he says he's tried all that. They are not much further from the Mulky Gap station, and he has a friend with him, but I sure hate to see people in pain and not able to walk let alone run.
Right after that, I come up on these two guys and just run behind them for awhile to the Mulky Gap AS. One of the guys recognizes me from The Dahlonega Firecracker 10k race and knows me by name. I have no idea who he is! I leave the AS before they do and see them a good way behind me as I'm climbing up until I eventually can't see or hear them anymore.
I am making Relentless Forward Progress until I am getting closer to AS 2 and finally I can stretch my legs and run a good ways. This feels so good and I just keep gaining momentum and pass about 3 to 4 more guys. I run all the way into AS 2 and Willy is there cheering me on! I was never so happy to see Willy, Kena, and Candy! They are laughing when I tell them how happy I am to finally be at this aid station and that this race is, "HARD". In fact, it's the hardest race I have ever done. This is harder than anything I have done. The only difference in this race is that I am PREPARED and I do NOT hurt. It's amazing that I don't have any pain. I am just tired of the climbs. Kena and Candy are quick to ask me what do I want, and I have no idea. I have been eating mostly gels all day and very little food except bites of things here and there but I am eating gels frequently. I am working so hard all day long that I do not even feel hungry, but I get a little stomach burn and then would munch on a gel which would relieve it. I took it as a hunger pain and would force myself to eat something whenever I felt this burn.
Kena asks me if I want a smore. For whatever reason that sounds awesome! I haven't eaten a smore in so many years that I cannot even remember when I last had one! I have a smore in one hand and a toasted PB&J in the other. Before I realize it, I am double fisting and eating as fast as I can. Candy is offering me beer, and I do not know if I should drink beer or not. I like a beer after a hard run, but I don't know about during. I am worried about drinking and running because I have never practiced this before...LOL Candy tells me that I need the carbs and a shot would help. So, I rationalize that a shot wouldn't hurt and Candy probably knows what she is talking about...LOL
A guy at the AS asks me if I had seen a guy in a grey t-shirt. I told him yes, that I passed him and 3-4 other guys and that they'd probably be here soon. He said, "why didn't you tell him to move his ass?" I said, "because I didn't know him!"...LOL Everyone laughed and it was funny. As I am there Brad comes up on the AS, and I say, "how did I get ahead of you?" He says he saw me run by as he was in the bushes dumping some stuff off...LOL
I leave this AS and move forward towards the one mile climb that I dread the most out of this entire race. I know it's a mental block for me, but I don't like this climb at all. But, I also know that once I reach the top of Coosa it's all downhill till the next AS. Another runner that I passed earlier passes me on this one mile climb. We share a laugh as he is a very stronger climber unlike myself. He assures me that he will see me again on Coosa because his downhill is not good, and he saw me running when I passed him a few miles ago. It's here that I realize that he has me figured out and actually confirmed something that I only suspected and wondered about. I am NOT a strong climber, but I do have a great ability to run right after a climb for a very long time. It's funny because on this race I have seen some really good climbers but they are not as strong with their running. Interesting!
I make it to the top of Coosa and mentally it feels like a dream! It's downhill from here! Except now, for the first time, I feel queasy and surmise it's Candy's beer that is the culprit! LOL Last year on the 30k, I felt like I trudged down this hill in pain and it took me forever! This year, it's awesome. I feel as if I am flying down hill as I have improved so much since last year! Sure enough, about half way down I pass the strong climber guy! He laughs as he says, "I knew I'd be seeing you again!". We both laugh, but as fast as he was climbing, I honestly did not think I'd see him again! I don't know if my downhill and running ability is really that strong or his downhill and running is just a lot weaker. But, it's an interesting thought.
I continue running all the way down to the last AS before the finish, and I do not stop. I yell my number , "29" so that they can record me. They ask me if I want to stop and eat, and I tell them no thank you as I want to run it in. They ask me if I have water, and I tell them I am good and thank you for being there. I cross the bridge running and along about mile 30 a funny thing happens! My legs will not run anymore! They will walk very fast, but they will not run. I try running a few steps but that's all I can do. I realize that this is the slight uphill portion of this trail that feels downhill on the way in. I should be able to run up this slight hill, but try as I might I can't.
I am frustrated at this point. Crap..I'm less than 3 miles from the finish. I can do anything for 3 miles, but I can't right now. I wonder if I can ask Sean Blanton for a refund as I just signed up for the GDR the night before. I laugh sort of to myself that THIS IS WHY I SIGNED UP FOR GDR THE NIGHT BEFORE DRT 50k, so that I wouldn't change my mind AFTER this race. My mind wanders as I think if he will seriously give me a refund. Then I remind myself in my thoughts that I will not be racing the GDR for a 10 hour time limit as I will have 28 hours to finish that race! My pace will be slower for the first 34 miles as I will NOT run that race like I have run this race. I am on pace for a 32 mile race today. ON GDR day I'll be on pace for a 60 mile day. There is a difference! That sort of makes me feel a little better, but I have to solve the problem at hand. My legs are walking as fast as they can go, but I still cannot run.
I think about Randy who ran with me at the Jewel 50 mile race, who shared so much with me about ultra running. And, I hear his words, "what's the problem?" "What can you do to fix it?". So, I answer, "I think I am out of energy". "I think I need to eat". So, I decide to try even though I don't want to eat and even though I don't feel hungry, I pull out my baggie of fig newtons. I slowly gnaw on one and then another. They are 80 calories per fig newton. It's not going to hurt to try.
I walk and jog a few steps now and then for 1.5 miles when I hear two guys behind me. I am startled as I didn't even realize anyone was remotely behind me. I glance back and realize it's two guys that I passed about 6-8 miles ago! One of the guys is breathing so hard, and I am not breathing at all because I've been walking for over a mile! I thought "Shit!!!!!!! These guys are NOT going to pass me with 2 miles left in this race without me at least trying to stay ahead of them!" LOL If they pass me they are gonna have to run harder than me.
So, I try to run but SHIT...my legs are still shuffling. I walk more and try again. I continue this until I am able to start running and when my legs start to cooperate it feels awesome! I run and run and run and shit I'm already at the road crossing! A car is coming, but I can run across in time as I've done this so many times on my road runs. Sadly, yes, I have run in front of cars..lol I feel if I stop and don't try to run across this road that these guys might catch me.
I make it across the road in time and head into the last stretch and it feels awesome knowing I am almost done with my year long goal! Surprisingly, I passed another runner and ironically, I remember him headed back before I even made it to fish gap and he was miles ahead of me! I run all the way in to the finish, and I feel fast and see that I am running at a 9 min/mile pace. I feel like I could run forever as this pavement is soooo easy compared to what I have just done!
I finish the race, and I feel great! I am tired, but I am not sore! I am happy to be finished. Candy takes a picture of me and it's not until I actually see the picture that I realize that I am still carrying my baggie of fig newtons! This so funny to me because I was gnawing on my fig newtons when those guys startled me the last 2 miles of the race, and I didn't realize I ran to the finish with the baggie still in my hand! LOL
My official time is 9:26:03 I didn't make my goal as I am 31 minutes off. But, I am actually quite happy to finish within a reasonable time. The only time I have been this far off was last year when I ran the 30k! I also set a goal of 30 min before what I actually finished! So, it's funny. It's a hard race to predict with 10,406 feet of elevation gain.
I sit down after the race and another runner brings me a coke and pizza. She then brings me another pizza. I rest a bit and talk to my friend Theresa who is keeping track of runners coming in. I cheer on the remaining runners and it's so much fun to watch! I learn that I came in 66th place. Wow, that really sucks...LOL But, then I realize I finished. It's really all about the finish. I could have turned around at the 30k point and smash my time from last year, but I didn't. I'm proud to have completed a very difficult 50k course. Also, I know there are not many women to have completed the 50k portion.
Within a few days, I do see the results on ultrasignup. I am so surprised to see that out of 91 runners who completed the course that only 16 are women. I came in 11th place among these ladies, but I am also less experienced in ultra running than these ladies who are ahead of me. I know that I am not a strong climber and this race is basically a hike. I am not a hiker. I am a runner. I am so happy still to have finished a tough 50k.
So, will I do this 50k next year? Probably NOT! LOL Once is enough. However, I would definitely run the 30k. I say this ONLY because of the 10 hour cut off. Bobby is an awesome RD and allows folks to finish after the cut off, but at some point he may have to crack down. Honestly, I felt pressure all day to come in under the cut offs. I have never had to worry about cut offs at any race before, but I knew this would be an issue for me on this particular race. I do not like that feeling at all. I love these trails, but it was a lot of pressure as I kept pushing and pushing myself as hard as I could go between every aid station and worrying about the cut off. There is no way that I could have raced this any faster than I did. It was just that HARD.
I am proud that I did my absolute best.