May 29, 2011

The 14 Mile Wall: My First Ultra Marathon

I was trained and carb-loaded and ready to roll. We got to packet pickup the night before and I noticed something quite remarkable about the race course for my first 50K. Part of it was my college XC course! It would be a figure 8 that we ran 10.5 times. One half of the figure was flat and fast, around a lake. The other half was steep and rocky. I talked to TP about how ironic it was to be running on my old XC course, especially since some of my LEAST favorite running memories are from my college days. He said that tomorrow would be my redemption.

Race morning I got up 3 hours before the race and drank 1.5 servings of Ultra Fuel. We got to the race start and organized my little drop area of supplies- 2 bottles of Heed Perpetuem, 2 Power Gels, and some Gatorade. I also left Body Glide, The Stick, and my ipod, just cause you never know what might crop up. I was SOOOOOO nervous. The RD talked a LOT about hydration. The temps would reach upper 80s before any of us finished and that pretty area around the lake had ZERO shade. So, we were OFF!

From the start, I took the lead. I wondered if I went out too fast, but decided to just say to heck with and just run. We hit the hilly and rocky part of the course first and Garmin signal was splotched. The first 3 laps went by rather quickly. The temps weren't too hot and I felt good. After lap 3, I grabbed my bottle of drink. Lap 4 I dropped it off for TP to refill and I still felt decent.

After Lap 5, I told him that this was starting to get old. The loops were getting boring and the temps were rising. I was running totally alone and had already lapped some runners. Adding to my annoyance, the trail was open to everyone and some people were out walking their dogs, forcing me into "duck and weave" mode around the leash, people walking 3 abreast, etc. Another obstacle for this race was my lack of traction. In the course description, it said "fast and rolling with fine, packed gravel." In reality, it was hilly and rocky, at least for this Gulf Coaster. I had worn my Brooks Launch, a tab sturdier than my usual racing shoes, but lighter than trainers. Hindsight, should've worn some trail shoes. All the other runners had them on. My feet were slipping and sliding on SOOO many parts of the trail. At the end of Lap 5, I also grabbed my ipod. I've never raced with one on, but brought it in case I needed a break from my own thoughts. The ipod also annoyed me and I ended up only wearing it that one lap.

During Lap 6, I think I really started to regret doing a 50K. I started thinking about all the ways a road marathon was BETTER than this trail adventure I was on. I was soooo sweaty and started to feel nausea. I wanted to take off my shirt, but had never run without one. It was drenched in sweat and weighed a kajillion pounds. My eyes were burning w/ sweat, as my Brooks vision was completely saturated. In the middle of the Figure 8 of the course waited TP, asking me if I wanted company. I was so thrilled to see him and have someone to run with. He told me that I had about a 9 minute lead on the 2nd place person (a guy).

Lap 7 is where I hit the complete wall. It got sooo hot. I could barely hold 9 minute miles. The sun on the flat part of the course was literally scorching my skin. TP said the temp was close to 90 already. He brought me an extra bottle and dumped it on my head.

Lap 8 a man named Prince appeared. He had signed up for the 50K, but decided to only do a few parts of it. Not really sure what was going on, but I know he was not really "racing". We actually had a lot in common, both running Houston Marathon this Jan. and both hoping to someday break 3 hours. He gave me some tips about finishing the race and shouted "excuse me" to the walkers when we approached them. It was getting ugly fast, but he helped me keep my mind off things.

Lap 9 the wheels completely fell off and I could barely keep 10 minute pace. Ridiculous for someone who ran her last marathon at Sub 7 pace, huh? When I met up w/ TP he had more water for me and I could hardly speak. I was weaving and he told me to stop for a minute. He said he thought I was dehydrated and needed to drink more. I took a Power Gel and drank 2 more cups of water. He carried my handheld bottle while we ran and I choked down some Perpetuem. I jogged and walked and jogged and walked. I gagged, burped instead of throwing up. He said, "Wow, that actually smelled good." We got a good laugh and during a 50K race our relationship hit that point where you know that person is for real about you.

Lap 10 I dropped the F bomb, a rare and isolated occasion for me. I said I wanted to quit, barely held 11 minute pace. Ran smack into a walker b/c I could not move in a straight line. Then I couldn't talk at all, only mumble stuff that made no sense. I remember being convinced that I was about to get beat, even though TP was reassuring me he was at least 6 minutes behind, maybe more. I remember everything he told me, how he was so proud to be with me. How amazed he was by me and how awesome of a person I was. He told me that he was so excited that it felt like HE was winning the race. I cried a little, or tried, but I think my tears were dried up, too. He said the RD had said it was over 90 degrees now. I hit the end of Lap 10.

The last lap was only half of the figure 8. I had my mind set on RUNNING the whole thing. I told TP I wanted to do it alone. I chugged some water and set to work. I refused to look at the Garmin. I closed my eyes for part of the time. My breathing was so shallow and my heartbeat sounded like it was about to explode. I only had 0.7 left, but seemed an eternity. Years of marathoning told me that I was on the verge of needing medical help. EMS had already picked up 2 runners. Conditions were just too brutal. And I finished- first overall person, 4:24:00. 2nd place finished 14 minutes later.

After the race, I laid flat on my back in the grass. I could barely talk. The RD kept asking me questions that seemed confusing. There are some foggy points and I think was about to pass out. TP brought me a Coke and forced me to sit up and drink it. A few more people came over to congratulate me and ask if I was okay. I finally felt slightly human again. I found a hose and sprayed myself down. Why didn't they spray that on the runners?????

Lessons from my first 50K:
1. Those hills are NO JOKE. If I do another, I need to find some trails and hills to train on.
2. Must wear trail shoes.
3. All the fluids you can choke down still do not match up to summer distance runs in Alabama.

I did not hit my time goals, and i was quite discouraged about this during the race. I think after sitting on it for a few hours, I decided to just chalk it up as learning experience and a place to build on for my next one.

I also do think it's pretty awesome to win overall, like overall of EVERYONE. Made me proud to be a woman.

And, I can barely walk. So, on to recover! Happy running, folks!


  1. Congrats on winning! That's intense!

  2. The fact that you didn't get passed, even though you had slowed down shows how difficult that course was to everyone. Way to tough it out and congrats on winning!

  3. Anonymous5/30/2011

    Wow!!! You are my running idol!! That course and conditions sound like the worst experience and you come out with overall winner!! You are just truly amazing!! Congrats on your win!!

  4. Incredible race, and it got over 90? How you can even bring up the phrase "time goal" with those conditions in mind? Effort is all a person has at that point and man, your effort was unbelievable! I'm so proud of you and everything you keep achieving, it's wonderful to see. Now rest well today and keep drinking those fluids.

    Oh, and try running without a shirt sometime, to not have wet fabric flopping on your belly? Priceless! :)

  5. Awesome effort in not-so-awesome conditions! It's those ones you had to really work and dig down deep- even if the time goal is not met-that most shape you as a runner and a person.

    Congrats, you are amazing. That is all for now:)...and see you Friday!!

  6. Anonymous5/30/2011

    Wow, what an experience! Congrats on your victory!

  7. Congratulations!!! So proud of you! I guess you will definitely do another one again huh? :)

  8. Anonymous5/31/2011

    holy moly. i am not worthy to be your "mini me!!" you are AWESOME :)

  9. Fantastic job girl! Way to stick with it and come out on top! Congrats on first place PERSON!!

  10. You are amazing! 50M, next? :)

  11. Way to go! Winning a race is fantastic! At least I think it would be. It isn't something that I have done.