Writing, Running, Being.

The finish line is a shifty Thing and what is life, but reckoning?
Ani DiFranco

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Desert RATS Trail Running Festival 50 mile: Apparently there's crying in ultrarunning

When I first heard about ultra-running, I thought "Cool. Great way to combine my two passions: running and eating." Just running and running all day long. Going from aid station to aid station, all stocked with fruit, cookies, sandwiches, pizza, m&ms and chips. Sounds like a good time! Turns out, there's a bit more to it than that. First of all, there's nothing appealing about solid food when you've been running in the sun for hours on end. There's also the fatigue to be dealt with, both physical and mental, the blisters, the pumped-out, over-worked leg exhaustion, and...oh yeah, that pesky ENDLESSNESS. Still, I had the most awesome time doing it!

The days leading up to my race were filled with fretting about the weather, worrying about getting sick, repeatedly interrogating Brian (who rides Fruita frequently) about the Kokopelli trails until I had a complete description of the course. I anguished over every detail just to have something solid to occupy my brain until the race started. Needless to say, I was nervous! On race-day morning, my family and I ate breakfast at the hotel. I sat very quietly, trying to eat at least half of a banana, just listening to the other runners' conversations in the room. I quickly found that I was in a room full of genuine bad-asses. I overheard a woman talking about her fifth Leadville 100, and her third Wasatch 100, and the other runners all commiserated. "Oh yeah, I remember my fifth Leadville. My 10th Leadville was much better. Finally got that sub-24." Oy ve! I was hanging with the wrong crowd. So this is the conversation that took place in my brain during breakfast: "Hi guys, today is my first 50. Actually it's my first over-30. And it's also my first trail run over 16 miles." *wince*
*condescending looks* "Um, what are you doing here?"
Then I started to cry. Not in my head, but in real life. I cried at breakfast. Very subtly, I doubt anyone but Brian noticed, but still, grrr...what a freak!

After that, I pulled on my big-girl panties and got in the car. Brian drove to the race and accompanied me to the port-o-potty and the start. The race started, I said good-bye and started running. The race began with a long switchbacky climb up the Moore Fun trail. When the 2000 foot climb ended, I looked around and the scenery was amazing. All fears subsided. The descent was awesome. Super technical, but really fun. At the bottom was the first aid station and surprise! Brian and Jonas. The next section was amazing! We ran a section of Mary's Loop which is a high shelf above the Colorado River. The trails were smooth, fast and rolling. I felt great. I found a small group of women to run with and it made the time pass quickly. The next aid station was mile 9.2, the Pizza Overlook. I filled my 12 oz bottle and grabbed a couple banana slices and pressed on. The next section wound along the rim of the river and the view was awesome.

The sun was out in full force now. There wouldn't be another aid station for 7 miles. This leg proved to be long! It was rolling, but never very steep. I fell in with some slower people and told myself not to pass because it was so early in the race. In retrospect, I should have gone on ahead because I was feeling good and I could have gained ground during that section. I eventually passed them and came into the Troy Built aid station at 19.2 miles. My skin was really red so someone sprayed sunscreen on me, I grabbed more bananas, took an Endurolyte and trudged on up the hill. This was a bu-RUTAL climb. It was steep, long and on a jeep road, so the scenery was less than stellar here. I couldn't believe I was less
halfway there. I was feeling pretty discouraged. When I entered the singletrack again, Mack Ridge trail, I brightened a bit. The climb was more mellow and the incredible views returned. The Mack Ridge descent was really fun but my shins were beat. The next aid station would be the start/finish/turnaround. There were a ton of 25 mile runners around me that were really picking up the pace coming into the finish of their race. I kept holding back, knowing I still had a long way to go. I was surprised and elated to see Brian when I came out of Mack Ridge onto the road. He said to go on ahead to the aid station and he'd stay in that spot with my refills and compression socks. I ran the 1.3 miles down the hill to the start/finish aid station and grabbed a few things to eat and refilled all my water. This aid station was a hard one to stop at because there were so many people finishing their 25 mile race. I wanted to stop so badly. It didn't help that this race allowed 50 mile entrants an official 25 mile time if they chose not to go on at this point. Turns out, a lot of runners took them up on this. Only 46 of the 72 people who entered the 50 actually went on to finish it.

So, mini-meltdown, then I got the hell out of that aid station. I ran back up that hill toward Brian crying. Yes, crying. Again. How many freaking times was I going to cry on this trip? The 1.3 mile climb to Brian was steep and long. He gave me the compression socks. My legs were all pumped-out and shaking as I pulled them on. It was hard to say goodbye, but I trudged up Mack Ridge, keeping my thoughts on the next aid station. Zeke tried to follow me and I really wanted him to come, but I still had 24 miles left. I don't know if I mentioned this, but the course was 2x 25 mile loops. The second loop was run in the opposite direction so I got to see the people behind me. Many of them were 25 mile runners, and some were 50 mile runners that would not go on after the halfway point. I was one of the last 50 milers to finish and make the cut off, so this loop would prove to be lonely. I was grateful to see the folks at the Troy Built aid station again. Just under 32 miles, already longer than I had ever run in my life. The next aid station was a long 7 miles away and I would see no one. This is were I slowed the most. I walked a lot of the hills that I knew I could run and basically stopped caring about everything. I was so pissed! I don't know what I was pissed about. I think it was the fact that the aid station was so far off. It didn't even seem real. The heat was now at its worst. I felt like I was stranded in the middle of nowhere and I would never see another human again. All I could hope was that a mountain biker would find my dead body in the trail and notify the next aid station. I even contemplated hucking myself off a cliff into the river around 36-38 miles. I got over this feeling by holding onto a piece of wisdom someone once gave me about ultras. "It never always gets worse." It was true. There were peaks and valleys. I would bonk, then recover, bonk, then recover. During the hard times I kept faith in the fact that I would rise out of it. It helped to mentally make peace with the lows. I told myself it was tolerable, that I could stay here. When I wondered what I was doing out there and searched for a way out, I reminded myself that this is what I love. This is life and this is how I love to live. This is where I am happiest. The discomfort became almost comforting and eventually I felt good again.

Finally that illusive aid station turned up. I had been in such a funk for the last 7 miles that I forgot to eat my Honey Stingers, which I meant to take every 10 minutes. I drank water like crazy after diagnosing myself with dehydration (I had not peed in 6+ hrs). I kept taking Endurolytes, but my timing was off. I meant to take 1-2 per hour, but I kept forgetting whether or not I had taken them when my watch reached each new hour. The aid station gave me a chance to refuel. I refilled my water, took some GU with caffeine and a few ounces of Coke, bananas and chips and got going again. The next aid station was only 3.3 miles from there so motivation returned. I don't remember that next aid station. But I do remember that I peed shortly after. I focused on Brian and Jonas, who would be at the next one roughly 3 miles away. It was a long 3 miles. I stubbed my toe and ripped one of the toenails back. There was a giant blister under that nail so I took one of the safety pins off my bib number and popped, then taped it. It was incredibly hard to get my sock back on as my leg was shaking. Future reference: never stop and sit down! Try to tape blisters and pee while standing.

I came down the hill and saw Brian and Jonas. I only had 5.9 miles to go, but that seemed far considering the giant mountain ahead. And I knew it might take me 2 hours to get there. I had 2 hours and 5 minutes left before the cut-off. I got a popsicle and Coke. Notice my nutrition going to crap, but I didn't care. Sugar would do. I forgot to eat my Honey Stingers and take my GU on the last section. I peed 2 more times so I must have overhydrated. Moore Fun was definitely more fun to descend... Longest climb of my life. I equated it to doing Section 16 four times in a row. Again, I cried. Not really cried, as I didn't have energy. More like shook and whimpered as I lumbered up the ridge. There were a few spots where I had to crawl up the rocks because I could not raise my legs high enough to step. When the neverending climb ended, I could see the highway. It was far below and the cars looked like tiny specs but I knew the finish was near the highway so I just winced and bombed down the hill as hard as I could. It was another technical descent and my form was crap. I would have rolled down if I thought it was faster. Every step sent excruciating pain up my shins and quads. I was totally out of control.

The singletrack ended and the road began. The finish was only a mile or so away and I saw a woman ahead of me. I didn't care about passing her, but when I saw her walk a few times I decided I would try to catch her. I ran the rest of the dirt road to the finish as hard as I could, which meant I was merely jogging. When I saw Brian and Jonas waiting, all the pain went away and I booked it in. I was so stoked to be done. I couldn't believe it was over and I did it! I had the most incredible feeling after finishing. I called my mom and told her I was done. I don't remember the conversation or the drive back to the hotel. I took an ice bath then broke into a strange panic. I ate a bite of pizza and promptly threw up. I was shaking and felt like I was going to slip into a coma. I kept telling Brian to check on me if I passed out. He told me to eat, but I couldn't. I cried (again!) and said I would never do it again, but a day later found myself saying "next time" and talking about all the things I could improve upon. I have picked my next 50. Run Rabbit Run in Steamboat Springs, September 18th. Can't wait to start training!

Official time: 12:32:20 - barely under the 13 hr cutoff!
Place: well, uh, 4th from last overall, and DFL woman. Ha! Not counting all the DNFs (there were 26 of them)


courtney*adele said...

i wish i had the guts for some longer runs like you... i'm still intimidated by the marathon. you totally rock... and lets face it, tears or no tears, you are badass!

Paula (Adventure Junkie Mom) said...

Oh Manry, this was fantastic to read. It made me cry, and I am sitting in a coffee shop on my MacBook, so I feel like a fool. LOL Your determination amazes me. I could feel your emotional and physical pain. I had those same feelings at GM last weekend. (and I cried) And yet, here we are ready to do it again. I am so proud of you. And I completely agree with the PP, you are one badass Mama!!! And, ya know if it were easy, everyone would do it, right?
<<<"I reminded myself that this is what I love. This is life and this is how I love to live. This is where I am happiest.">>> Very profound words to remember. And I totally agree. Congrats!!

AM-GoalsfortheWeek! said...

oy! this race report is the best;-) yeah, yeah Marny!

I am beyond impressed and proud to call you my 'friend';-)

and now...run rabit run...;-) you go girl

H. Brown said...

marny--start to finish what a great story! i am so excited about several things: first, your quote, "during the hard times I kept faith in the fact that I would rise out of it. it helped to mentally make peace with the lows." what an object lesson for all of life. second, i will never again feel bad about running three or four miles; if you can run fifty miles, i can run four! THIRD, i like bikes more and more all the time--faster and less impact. and fourth, STEAMBOAT! i lived there for three years and would LOVE to come and watch that race and cheer you on. thank you so much for telling the story--i'm learning tons from you. keep up the awesome work!

Tracey Kite said...

WOW Marny, what a race. I really wish I could have been there for it. Hey maybe for Run Rabbit Run (if you will have me that is). Like Paula I cried reading this too. You are such a trooper and I agree a total badass.

Anonymous said...

You are amazing, Marny! What an adventure, I don't care how many times you cried, you finished and that's so inspiring and freakin' awesome!! Jimmi

jill said...

wow, marny. you continue to be such an inspiration for me! you are one of the most incredible runners i know...and i am sure that THIS race report of yours will be one of my motivating thoughts on days i just want to quit.

Anonymous said...

Just wooooow! I'm so impressed you did this! I can't even imagine doing one at this point in my life...but maybe one day! I think it's awesome that you've already chosen your next one to work towards!!

Oma said...

Hi Marny,
I finally got around to checking out your blog. I am so impressed with your stamina and determination. If you can handle this type of running you can do anything you set your mind to.
I am going to follow your blog faithfully and cheer you on.
And, of course, pray for you.
Love, OJ

runningbrooke said...

Hi there. I'm new to your sight. My in-laws (the Currans) are friends with your parent/in-laws(?). I'm running marathons in each of the 50 states, 7 continents and 5 marathon majors -- one a month. I'm about 20 or so in, and headed to Great Wall on Monday. I'll look forward to your posts. Keep up the good work and run strong! Cheers! Brooke

Anonymous said...

I'm considering the Desert RATS Trail Running Festival 50 Mile race for 2011, and loved reading your blog! I have run one 50, and somehow got the bug to try a 100 eventually. I thought I'd run another 50 to see if I really want to double this killer distance. Thanks for your descriptive blog.