Two years ago I ran my first 50-mile trail run, American River 50. I came in DFL (but got presents for said placement!), and after the legs started working again, I decided it wasn’t so bad after all and signed up to run Leona Divide in 2011. Unfortunately, one month out from the race, I tore a ligament in the top of my left foot and spent the next three months on crutches and the three months after that working my way back up to running again. Add to the same period of time a life turned about as upside down as it gets, and suddenly 50 miles seems like a cakewalk!
|Ultra Mobile Extraordinaire!|
Kate and I ate dinner, walked up to the staging area and talked with the RD briefly, availed ourselves of the porta potties, then ambled back to the camper, played a few games of gin rummy (she kicked my butt), then tried to get some sleep. You always try to sleep the night before a race, but it never happens, at least not for me. Suffice to say, it was right about the time I actually started snoozing pretty good that the alarm clock went off. Up and at ‘em! Eat some breakfast and try to get some movement into the situation, ‘cause I definitely don’t want to have to find a place to do that on the trail.
|I don't think anyone is drunk in this picture, if you were going on looks alone, you'd be hard pressed to say otherwise.|
The small contingent of us who were taking the early start, thereby giving us an extra hour to complete the course, were soon standing at the starting line listening to last minute instructions from the RD. As the countdown began, there was a last minute shuffle for spots (no one wanted to be in the front), and then we were off. Kate hopped out in front me and was soon a few yards ahead. I wasn’t worried as I knew it wouldn’t take long for her to realize I wasn’t behind her. She stopped, waited for me, and from that point on, we would trade back and forth as to who was running in the front, with Kate letting me make most of the decisions in that regard.
Mt. Hood 50 consists of two out and back loops along the Pacific Crest Trail and has approximately 5600 feet of elevation gain and loss. The first loop of 28 miles would be, to me, the hardest with regard to dealing with elevation. I live at sea level, and it took awhile for my body to acclimate. Add in a liberal amount of rocks and roots, and it’s a loop ripe for giving the legs a run for their money. We had been on the move for about an hour an half when the first of the regular starters (6:30 a.m.) sped by us like he was out for a breezy afternoon run. Mr. Ian Sharman. Because of the out and backs, we had the privilege of seeing him three times that day, and each time it was like he was going for a walk in the park. He ended up winning by a considerable margin, and even beat his own course record from the previous year by finishing in 6:24 and some change. Yes, folks - that’s 6 hours and 24 minutes to run 50 miles of trails, a feat us mere mortals can only shake our heads and dream about.
|Ian Sharman coming back from the first aid station and we, who started an hour earlier, are still working our way there.|
|This was at the start, but I swear, he looked as fresh as a daisy every time we saw him.|
Anyway - back to me.
We hit the Highway 58 aid station, refueled, then turned around and headed back. We could tell we were close to the aid station because of the number of runners coming back toward us. On the return, my stomach decided to start going south on me, and Kate advised to stop eating and let whatever was in there digest. Because of the effort my body was putting out to climb and deal with the elevation, all the blood had left my gut, and the food was just sitting there. Thankfully, within about 15-20 minutes, the nausea subsided. It was also about this time that I started having minor cramping in my left foot which would be bothersome off and on for the rest of the race. Nothing extreme, but it necessitated taking in more salt than I anticipated, and at one point during the day, I had to bum a salt off of dear Kate as I had run out.
The nausea put me in the dumps for a short while. Heck, I hadn’t even completed the 50k distance and I was already having trouble? What’s this all about? I had to remind myself that this was my first race since my foot injury (since I ended up in the ER after 7 miles of a trail race in April), so I needed to give myself a break. Yes, I had had great training over the past 4+ months, but my body was having to remember what it was suppose to do.
And with that, let me just take a moment to say that I am very thankful I had Kate running with me during this race. She would easily have finished a couple of hours faster had she been on her own, but because she agreed to run with me, I had a very attentive teacher for an entire day. I learned a lot from her, and am certain it will carry over into my training and into other runs. Thank you, Kate, for everything.
|Me on the return of the first loop. Had to walk to get around a thru-hiker)|
|Mizz Kate on the return|
Okay - Back to the race.
We got back to the start/finish in a little over 6 hours, re- upped on our supplies, and took off for the second loop . . . and my second low point. I had eaten a PBJ, some banana and Coke at the S/F, and about 10 minutes out my stomach decided it didn’t like the combination and tried to reverse the action. With not much coming up but needing to, I tried the ole finger down the throat thing. It wasn’t a huge success, but between a half up chuck and a bathroom break, I felt better, but was still lagging. At this point, Kate jumped in front of me to give me another lesson, this time in pacing by demonstrating her “I can run at this pace all day” pace. I could feel the benefit, and it’s something I definitely need to work on. Currently, I have GO and take a walk break, then GO, then take a walk break. This doesn’t help your timing, and it’s hard to get into a rhythm.
|Start/Finish aid station, but typical of what was provided for us. Lots of goodies to choose from, including Coke, Sprite, and Gu Brew.|
Soon we began climbing again up to Red Wolf Aid Station. As we were going up, Kate commented on how good it was going to feel to run down this, especially since it would be toward the end of the race. Likewise, soon after leaving Red Wolf, we began a lengthy decent which took us about 40 minutes. Going downhill was no trouble for me at all. I kept praying I wouldn’t fall and maim something, and each few steps would let out an audible “Okay,” to reassure myself that things were going fine.
We also began crossing paths with the more accomplished runners who were on their way back to the finish line, and each runner would have to give way to a certain extent to allow the other to pass. Sometimes the footing got tricky, but as I’ve learned in the past, if you keep stopping to let the faster runners go by, you’ll never finish! Move over and at least keep walking, but don’t stop unless conditions require it.
At the bottom of the descent, there was a pretty creek flowing and I didn’t even think twice about slamming into that thing to cool down my feet and throw water on my legs. It . . . felt . . . so . . . good!!! We had been using our Coolmax bandanas to stay cool, filling them with ice, but that water felt wonderful on my feet and on my head and face. Perked me right up for the climb up to Warm Springs Aid Station, although the going was slower than I or Kate would have liked.
|Elite Ultra Runner Yassine Diboun (L), whose company, Animal Athletics, was one of the race sponsors. He was also a volunteer at the Frog Lake Aid Station (i think. or was it Hwy. 58?)|
At Warm Springs, we had a chance to pull items from our third and last drop bag, and I gave Kate the last of the cookies her sister, Karen, had sent for us. I’m talking BIG cookies here. Like manhole covers. As sugar hadn’t been appealing to me most of the day, I’d only eaten one of my oatmeal raisin cookies, but Kate was enjoying the chocolate chip ones that had been sent for her. As I refilled my bladder with fluids and Ultra, I asked the aid station worker if he could put some ice in the bladder. “It’ll taste like popsicles,” he said. Popsicles! I’d forgotten there were suppose to be popsicles at this aid station! “Can I have one?” “They’re all melted.” “I don’t care. I’ll drink it.” A word of advice - if you’re struggling in your race and need a sugar boost and there just happens to be cold, melted popsicles available - take one! I sucked down the juice of one ‘sicle (and would regret not taking the other one with me), we started walking out of the aid station, and by the time we hit the downhill section out of there, I had one of the best sugar boosts ever. I took off down the hills, flying as fast as my legs would take me. Knowing Kate was having some trouble with her knee, I knew it would be hard for her to keep up, but I also knew she’d catch me on the merciless climb we had coming in front of us, and I had promised that no matter the circumstances, I wouldn’t wait for her. If I could run, then run. And so I ran! And oh my, did I have fun!
Once back at the creek, I cooled off again, then started the last hard climb of the race. Kate, of course, caught up to me in no time. Having been battling cotton mouth most of the day, I finally had the brilliant idea to take ice out of my Coolmax bandana and let it melt in my mouth. Once a chunk of ice was gone, dip back in for another. This made a huge difference in how I was feeling and helped buoy me up for the last 11 miles of the run.
The climb back up to Red Wolf Aid Station sucked, plain and simple. I had thought a lot about that climb as I was running down it a short while before. Kate pulled in front of me, and I used her as my rabbit - keep watching her, watch her climbing techniques, remember what she’d told me about climbing, and use all that to get myself up that frigging hill. It seems like it was a slogfest, but in the end, Kate told me it took us 40 minutes to run down the hill and only about 43 minutes to climb back out. Really?? It felt so much longer! At Red Wolf Aid Station, she advised me to take in Coke or Sprite or whatever they had that was sugary as it was obviously helping to put some major oompf in my get-up-and-go. So I sucked down two cups of Sprite, ate a bunch of potato chips, and then we were off for the last 5 miles of the run.
With quite a bit of downhill in front of us, we were able to make great time, and during the moments I had to walk, I was able to find a weird rhythm that helped me walk as fast as Kate could run. To push myself running, I’d count ever 4th step as 1 and would then count to 100 and start all over. I wouldn’t allow myself to walk until I’d reached at least 500. If things were feeling okay, then keep running and keep counting, ‘cause once you stop and walk, you have to start all over again. It’s the mind games we develop within ourselves that help to keep us going. They don’t always make sense to others, but it doesn’t have to. If it makes sense to you at the time and it keeps driving you forward, then you play it. Kate kept giving me positive reinforcement, which helped mentally, as well. I also sort of felt like the horse that could smell the barn, and I pushed things as hard I could. At one point, Kate said something about looking good ‘cause there was someone on the trail ahead of us. I straightened up my back (which was killing me across the shoulders and through the rib cage), we rounded the corner - and nobody. Says she: “I must be hallucinating. I thought I saw someone with a red shirt.” Me: “You did. He’s just up ahead of us.” He was walking, and we passed him like nobody’s business (at least that’s what it felt like). A 24-year old dude chicked by a couple of “older” gals. Heh heh.
The last 5 miles seemed to take forever. Kate also really had to go to the bathroom, but was doing her best to hang in there. Internally, I was begging for her to not stop since, again, she made me promise I’d keep going if she had to, but I didn’t want to cross the finish line without her, not after all the time and miles we’d run together. At one point I heard a car on a road and thought, “We’re almost there!” Unfortunately, that was not the case, as we probably another 1.5 miles to go. We also ran into a group of about six horseback riders and had to pull over to let them pass as the horses, and one in particular, were a bit fidgety about us being there. Shortly thereafter, Kate says, “We’re almost there. There’s the camper!” Woo Hoo!! We had a small climb up to the road, then we were running parallel to the road with folks yelling and cheering us on. I still had thoughts of the young guy behind us, and almost as if on cue, Kate says, “Do you want that guy to pass us?” Me: “NO!” so we cranked it up to a higher gear, crossed the road, and sprinted up the driveway to cross the finish line in style in 12:13:41 - a 40-minute PR for me from two years ago. We hugged the life out of one another, she all smiles, me smiling and crying with relief that it was over and ecstatic at what I’d just accomplished. SuWeet!!
|Chicked Dude. There were no finish line pictures of us! Waaaaa!!!|
It’s hard to remember every step of every mile. At times, pictures in my memory sort of meld into one, but one thing is certain, even with the lows, I had a great time out there. You know from the onset there’s going to be a certain amount of suck to such a distance. You just have to be prepared to take it on, but also prepared to get rid of it as soon as possible. I’m still learning to do the second, and Kate was a huge help in that regard. I learned so much from her, and I can’t thank her enough for what she did for me. I plan to take the lessons learned and go back again!