I’m still a little wobbly. My muscles don’t work quite right and my ankles are still a bit swollen. Each morning post-race I’ve woken up and honestly forgotten that I had run for 11 hours straight on Saturday. My body doesn’t hesitate to remind me as soon as I take that first step out of bed.
However, I’d take sore muscles and poofy ankles any day if I could relive the joy & smiles & laughs of my first 50k — The Indian Creek Fifties. To say it was incredible would be an understatement. Ready for the recap?
Grab a cup of joe because it’s about to be a long one…
I wasn’t super nervous in the weeks leading up to the race. I honestly didn’t even know how I felt. Indifferent, maybe? Some hours I would be on top of the world with anticipation, others scared because I was diving into a realm so unfamiliar to me. People would ask me if I was nervous/looking forward to it/excited and I would always respond: “I’m not really sure what I am.” I didn’t know what the hell I was getting myself into. I didn’t know how much it was going to hurt or when or where. I didn’t know what to eat, when to eat and what foods would agree with my stomach. I wasn’t sure how I would feel at any point after mile 13.1 — my longest distance ever run before the race.
I was going into this race completely clueless about anything and everything ultra-running. Sure, I followed the training schedule that Heidi provided me and took in every ounce of advice that people would feed me, but in the end I was venturing into a world where I wasn’t sure exactly what my body would/could do after a full day of running more than I have every ran in my life. I wasn’t nervous, I was clueless. I was in denial because I couldn’t even picture myself actually running for 11 hours straight.
3am wake up calls aren’t so bad when you slept fine the night before. Oh, that’s a new one. I slept like a baby the night before this race. What? I woke up Heidi (who was “camping” in my living room) and got dressed in race-day attire. She slathered body glide all over my feet, and I continued the trend by slopping some on my armpits, chest and thighs. It wasn’t until this point where my stomach turned and I really started to flip out.
I don’t know what happened — if it was all the emotions that had been suppressed the weeks prior or just general race day nerves. I felt like puking. I felt like crying. How could I be so stupid to sign up for 33 miles on minimal training and with no experience on how to keep my body in check when the pain (or my mind) got to me? I was doubting myself BIG TIME.
I wish I could say that as soon as I got in the corral that it all went away, but it didn’t. I played mind games with myself for the first half mile or so until I had to focus on not eating shit while running on single track in the dark. You know what? That was exactly what I needed. To not think about the damn race.
I was supposed to run this race with Heidi, but her tendons were still cranky from Run Rabbit Run 100, so she volunteered her friend Val as tribute to take on my first 50k with me. To say I was relieved would be an understatement — I needed a pal to run with for my mental sanity. So, Val, stranger-turned-trail BFF toed the starting line with me for my very first ultra… and stuck with me every step, whine and happy dance along the way.
The first few miles were in the pitch dark, which was actually nice because my mind wasn’t really sure what I was doing at that point. It was focused on the not falling over the rocks, roots and my own two feet. We followed single track down for about 7ish miles, and then made our way UP, UP,UP to Rampart Aid Station.
The hills before Rampart were no joke. I even joked to Val that John was an a-hole for making these hills so damn steep. How the hell was I going to hold on with even more climbs later in the day? But alas, we made it to the Rampart Aid Station at 9.2 miles into the course. I ate a turkey sandwhich, 2 mini cups of ginger ale and took off (Look out for a later post on what I ate!).
That food made me a brand new woman. I felt fantastic for a couple more brutal miles of up, up, up and down down down. I hiked everything that looked romotely uphill, and ran all of the downs and flats. At about mile 13, I started to question myself on whether I would be able to hang on for another 20 miles. I started feeling extremely sleepy (like I could go take a nap…), so Val gave me a salt capsule which helped for a while. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other, breaking up the miles into aid stations. Taking one hill at a time. I was not a happy camper at this point, it hurt, I was tired — but never once did it cross my mind to quit. And you know what? A mile later I was on my way down to the Reservation Aid Station, which meant I completed the first loop of the course (15ish miles). It felt good to get that chunk out of the way!
This aid station had a few familiar faces which was a complete mood booster. Heidi refilled my pack, filled one of my bottles with tailwind and shoved some food down my throat. Val asked Jeremy for some advice on why I was feeling tired and he contributed it to not eating as much and lack of electrolytes. I was put on a prescription of eating every 45 minutes, taking salt capsules as often as possible and sipping on a delicious concotion of 3 GU double espresso energy gels mixed with water. After stuffing my face with 2 turkey sandwich bites, 3 mini cups or ginger ale, a piece of watermelon and an orange slice, I stretched my hips for a few minutes and took off on the second loop of the day.
Holy crap. I felt like a brand new person. If every story has a turning point — this is it. Never in a million years would I have thought that my crappy miles would be in the beginning of the day. Even then, they weren’t that crappy. I honestly have nothing to complain about — no stomach issues, no leg pain, no nothing.
The next 5 miles were hands down the best 5 miles of the entire race. I ran the entire time down beautiful switchbacks on the Colorado trail, stopping every so often to suck down some of my double espresso concoction. I chatted Val’s ear off the entire time and felt spring in literally every step. My mind was in a wonderful place, I felt fantastic and I couldn’t believe that I was actually out there running an ultra.
If there’s one thing that I learned throughout the entire race it’s this: You are going to have highs, and even higher, highs…and you are going to have lows, which come with even lower, lows. But, with every up, comes a down. With every shitty mile (or hour) comes a time when everything is sunshine and rainbows and you are absolutely elated to be out there pushing your body to its limits. You have to push through the bad stuff to get to the good. The path to heaven runs through miles of clouded hell [Yep, quoting Imagine Dragons.]. You just have to remember that the crappy stuff will pass. It always does.
A literally danced into Stevens Gulch Aid station (about 20 miles) and told everyone who would listen that I just ran twenty miles and have only ran 13 before then and hey did you know how great I feel right now? I took a quesadilla for the road (so glad I did…) and went trucking up a 4-mile long climb into the next aid station.
The climb went by relatively quickly. Val and I chatted nearly the entire time. There were 120ish runners that started the race, most of which were much quicker than me. Thus, Val and I spent the majority of our time on the trail with just the two of us. It was nice to spend the day in peace on the trails!
I arrived to the final aid station of the day (which was also the first aid station) with a big ol’ stupid grin on my face. I was still feeling awesome and couldn’t believe that I was actually about to cross the finish line of my very first ultra [well, in 9.2 miles…]. It felt fantastic to be down to single digits. I’m not sure if it was the 3 double espresso gels a couple hours previously or the fact that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel that made me want to cartwheel down the hill out of the Rampart Aid Station.
Down, down, down we went — following the out/back path that we took earlier that morning. My legs felt good and I was able to run comfortably while still picking my feet up off the ground. Before I knew it, it was time to hike UP the single track we made our way down in the wee hours of the morning.
Talk about the hill that never ended. Everytime I turned a bend and saw a little flat, I would think “this is it!” Lo and behold, it was never it.
I started to get cranky a few miles into the hill. I had run out of water and could feel my legs starting to get heavy. I decided I needed to gain control of my thoughts and refocus. So, for the first time in 10 hours, Val and I sat on the edge of the trail and took a break. I munched on the quesadilla slice I took to-go from Stevens Gulch, popped a few Honey Stinger chews that had been rolling around in Sour Patch kid sugar all day [SO GOOD] and took a few deep breaths.
I was almost there. Just one foot in front of the other.
We walked the majority of the climb, “shuffling” the small flats. At that point, it hurt to go up and it hurt to go down. There was nothing I could do but put one foot in front of other. It will get better. It always gets better. You are out in the fresh air with great company — accomplishing something that you never thought you could do before.
That’s the thing with ultra running, I decided, you have to tell yourself that regardless of the pain, that this all is worth it. The community and the trails and being inside of your own head is worth the endless hills and scrapes and painful steps.
Spoiler alert: The endless hill eventually ended. We ran about a half mile down into the campground and across the finish line. I could see John, Heidi and other volunteers (& runners!) clapping for us as we completed our 34-ish mile journey.
I hugged Val. And Heidi. And John. And probably anyone else that I could.
I had actually did it. I actually ran a 50k (ended up being 34ish miles with 8,000ft elevation gain) and did it with a smile on my face. I’m actually surprised I didn’t burst into tears because that’s a very ‘me’ thing to do. I guess ultras do weird things to you.
Somehow I ended up with a beer, sleeping bag and camping chair, which I promptly buried myself in while I shoved some Noodles & Companys into my piehole. It only took about 15 minutes for my legs to give me a big ol’ middle finger and refuse to work properly while trying to stand up. This continued well into the next day. We’re still not on great terms, but we’re working on our relationship. Sorry, lower half.
In all honesty, I couldn’t have done this without a few awesome people. Heidi — for talking me into doing this race and responding to all obsessive-compulsive prep emails about nutrition, training and random questions. And also calming my puke-nerves by making sure I had everything I could ever ask for during the run. Val — for letting me talk her ear off and always giving me motivation when those climbs seemed oh, so long. John — for putting on a kick-ass race and truly making sure us newbies felt like we were apart of the community. Every one else that I met on the trail/aid stations that day — you guys rock my world. Every praise, turkey sandwich slice and small talk made the difference in my mood.
That’s all for now! Thank you all for the encouraging tweets, texts and emails! I’m on cloud 9.
Look out for a post with all the nitty, gritty details on what I wore, ate, thought about and more!