Tuesday, September 20, 2011

North Face 50: Look What We Can Do! (or) Shiny Happy People Holding Hands

Ok here we go. I've had a couple of days to relax and process. And oh, did I need to process. So many. Emotions. Really it was the overwhelming feelings I had about Saturday's race that took longer to absorb that any pain from actually running 50 miles.

So what did running 50 miles feel like?

This is going to sound really weird, but physically it didn't seem that hard.

STOP RIGHT NOW. This is not me bragging about how "easy" it was or how good I am at stuff. I really believe that this was just my training paying off. BIG TIME. And how I worked HARD during training, I can't even begin to tell you. Luckily, Krista was feeling the same way as we ran. We kept saying things like, "The miles/hours keep flying by!" or "I expected to feel soooo much worse by now." We kept waiting for some proverbial wall to come crushing down upon us and reduce us to crawling snail people but it never did. Good training, folks. And a good TAPER. We were so rested and ready for this race it was unreal. At one point we were giggling and shouting "LOOK WHAT WE CAN DOOOO!"

Maybe it was that high five from Dean Karnazes at the starting line? Oooh, there's another idea for a title. "Dean Karnazes is Magic!"

But that's not fair. If anything, Krista and I were magic that day.



Conditions/Course/Technical Stuff

The course was a little bit of everything and I was happy that we had done a practice run through about a third of it so I had some idea what to expect. The first hour or so in the dark was pretty flat (thankfully!) and it was very serene and calming. The weather was perfect. Like I said before, the early miles seemed to fly by. We chatted, took our gels and salt at the appropriate times and ditched our headlamps after the sun came up. Our pace was very steady and easy and we dutifully remembered to walk the hills. There was a long stretch where we saw our cheering crew at 6 miles but not again until mile 21. We missed them! It was so exciting to round the corner approaching that aid station knowing all our friends were there. And the megaphone Evan brought was an added bonus. Our whole strategy for this 50 miler was to never thing about the distance as a whole. We would break it up into however many miles it was to each aid station and when we got there, hopefully we could erase the previous run from our minds. This would soon become known as "OBLIVIATE". (Thanks be to Harry Potter for that one.)

Anyway, we were clipping along and obliviating all our previous miles as we went. But after mile 21 the trail got significantly more difficult. The route was a 14 mile out and back with an aid station at the turnaround. It. Was. HILLY. This was also the section of the trail that was inaccessible to us the day we came out for a training run. I don't know how it managed to be uphill BOTH ways but it did. Some kind of dark magic was at work here for sure. It seemed like just when we would get a good rhythm going there would be another mountain to climb and we'd be forced to walk again. The good part during this stretch? All the runners ahead of us were doubling back so we got to see a lot of friendly faces. Every person out there was so nice. It didn't matter if someone was passing us or we were passing them. Everyone had kind, encouraging words to say. "Looking good!" "Great job!" or "Keep it up!" I started to make up a song that went, "Evveryyone here is my beeessst friieeeend..." If you want to find the nicest people in the world, run an ultra. Case closed.

The first time I started to feel a little bit sketchy was at the tail end of this hilly section. Somewhere around mile 32 we started to get really quiet and were just concentrating on getting to the next aid station. As we assessed how each other was feeling at this time we quickly decided to dub our situation as Terror Alert Yellow. But light yellow. Although this part was difficult, there were definitely times in my running life where I had felt much worse. Considering we were at mileage in the 30s, things were looking pretty darn peachy.

And then we came up on the mile 35 aid station. We could hear a different voice in the megaphone but were too far away to distinguish who it was. When we came around the bend though we saw Amy was shouting encouragement not only to us but to every other runner on the course. (This is one of the many reasons why Amy is so rad.) And and AND... Rochelle was with her! She had sneakily told me she couldn't make it to the race had been secretly planning to meet us out there the whole time.!

Hugs ensued.

The mile 35 station was such pick-me-up. Not only did we see Ro, but we were picking up our pacer, Evan for the final 15 miles. Final 15! It seemed crazy that we were this far already and feeling this great. I had hoped to get to 35 feeling good-ish but didn't really expect it to happen. Somehow it did. (See again: Training, training, training.)

Final 15

Everyone kept telling us how we were ahead of our projected pace but we never wanted to get too excited about it since anything can happen in those final miles. Evan then told us that if we kept it up we would break 11 hours. (I had been estimating to get in under 12 hours but really just wanted to make it before the cut off at 13 if everything fell apart.) Hearing this was nuts. I didn't even want to think about it. Plus, the hills kept coming even though we thought we were out of the most treacherous part. Of course, the smallest slope starts to seem gigantic when you're approaching mile 40.

Oooh, mile 40! This aid station was a party. There was no crew here but the volunteers were dancing and we did a little shimmy and I ate some Skittles. I really think I tasted a rainbow. I couldn't stop thinking about getting more Skittles for the rest of the race.

This race report is long.


The next thing I remember is reaching the final aid station and them telling us we had 3.7 miles to go. I wanted to cry I was so excited. My Garmin battery had died by this point so I had no idea we were so close. It was fantastic news... until I started to feel really crappy about a half mile later. (Terror Alert Orange? I was flirting with it.) I took a serious nosedive at mile 47. I could tell Krista was getting a rush of energy because she was picking up the pace and even running some hills that I definitely would have walked! She was amazing. I started to get worried because I didn't want her to have to slow down for me if she was feeling so good but I really really really wanted to finish together. We hit a big sandy hill (curse you sand!) and I asked her to walk for a minute. I needed a final push but didn't know how I was going to get it.

There were some volunteers at the top of the hill who were cheering for us and shouted "Less than 2 miles to go!". I think this was all I needed to hear. TWO MILES. Two miles is nothing. Whenever I get to the point in a training run where I have two miles to go I know I've got it. This was it. I got my second (or third, or fourth) wind. It helped that we hit a long, sloping downhill that allowed me to just let go and have the momentum take me. It was like I wasn't even running again! *Sigh of relief.*

Somewhere along the last mile we emerged from the trail and had to run along the road. I thought this would hurt but I was just so excited about being done that I wasn't even feeling anything anymore. AND THEN WE COULD HEAR THE FINISH LINE! It was still far away but there is was in the distance glowing like a beacon. A shining pool of water in the middle of a scorching desert. It was the most beautiful thing. We waved our hands wildly hoping our friends would spot us in the distance and I warned Krista a bunch of times that I was going to cry.

Finish Line Stuff

As if our cheering crew wasn't awesome enough already, more of our friends had shown up for the big finish. Jason and the kids were there too and Juliana had the megaphone now and was screaming, "Don't stop Mom! You can do it!"

And they were all doing a power arch for us. Because they are the best people you could ever know.

And then Krista and I got married. Wait what? No. It just looks like it. And Amy threw glitter! Just like I wanted. It was magical. Official time: 10:45:06.

Here's a video of the finish:

So you want to run a 50? What should you do?

1. Train hard.
2. REST well.
3. Have the greatest people in the world supporting you. (But you can't have mine!)

I would totally do this again. It was a much bigger commitment than training for a marathon or a 50K but I know for sure this won't be my last 50 miler. I can't say that I have the desire to do a 100 but I would run this distance again in a heartbeat. Who's with me?

Friday, September 16, 2011

If You Work Hard Enough

I've been meaning to write about my upcoming 50 miler for a couple of weeks now but for some reason it hasn't happened. I've been lucky up until now to not really fret or freak out about it that much so I think subconsciously I felt like writing stuff down would burst my bubble of calm about the whole situation. For months now I've been dutifully training my hardest: logging my miles, eating well (for the most part) and getting lots of rest. But by pretending like it's not really that big a deal I've saved myself from sleepless nights and countless hours of worry. Here's the thing though:

It's kind of a big deal.

When I went to go pick up my packet yesterday the girl at the table asked me which distance I was running. When I heard the words "Fiiiftyyy miiiile" come out of my face it almost felt like some robot entity took over my body and while I recognized the tone of my own voice I wasn't sure who or what was forming the sounds. This is the girl who three years ago just wanted to finish her first 5K. I do remember at the finish of that race thinking, "Yeah, I could do twice that. If I worked hard enough."

And THAT my friends, is how things can begin to spiral out of control.

Jason keeps asking me if I'm done at 50 or if I will ever get the bug to run 100 after this. Although he is supportive and proud of the things I've accomplished I can tell that this time it's asked with trepidation. As in, "You're done after this distance... right?" Although I don't see myself being done running ultras, I also don't feel like I'm going to need to keep going farther and farther after this point. I know that I really love the 50K distance. I love running marathons. I also really enjoy running half marathons. Hey, I could even see myself going back to 5Ks and trying to PR there. There's just so much out there to do, so many trails to run, so many things to see. I'm excited to see where this journey takes me from here.

But first I have to run fifty miles.

I leave you with this:

Thanks to Krista for this one. Looking forward to hugs and glitter at the finish line!