I don’t even know where to begin. This race means so many things to me for so many different reasons. I ran the Seashore Nature Trail 50k for the first time in 2012, and I honestly could not have asked for better race weather that day. It was cold, clear, and sunny. I ran way faster than I ever dreamed of completing it, and was in really good shape. I knew going into the race this year, 7 years later, that many factors have changed, and I wanted to be as smart as I could about preparing for the race. This race was my comeback race after taking a hiatus from long distance since June 2017.
I started slow with easing into ramping up my miles in July. I added in more yoga stretches for runners. I started actually going to a gym to get in core, back, arm, and glut workouts to strengthen all the muscles that would keep me upright running longer and longer distances. I started eating cleaner than I ever had before. Did I have the occasional cookie or ice cream? You bet. You know what was different about it though? The amount changed because my tolerance for sweets dwindled, and a bite or two would suffice. I wasn’t focused on weight loss, but rather on building endurance physically and mentally.
As the miles increased, I started to add in trail runs into my training. My legs reminded me how much I love hills, but my calves constantly screamed how much they hated me. I challenged my body with hills in many different cities, on different terrains, and in all kinds of crazy weather. I ran as little as 4 miles, and as much as 21 miles at a time. I ran tempo runs and I ran slow, slower, and more slow long runs. I ran with friends. I ran solo. I listened to several books, and hours of music. I felt the grasp of a hand on my ankle on one of the trails on the battlefields in Spotsylvania. I ran at all times of day and night.
And then it was one sleep away from race day. I had my bib in my hand, my running bag packed, and my hydration vest prepared. My running gear was set out for two different kinds of weather. I slept hard the night before the race, which could have been a combination of stress from work (so close to the holiday break!) and or the remnants of my body fighting off the strep throat I had managed to get the Saturday before.
I woke up race day calmer than I have ever been. My alarm went off, and I popped up, readying myself for the race based on the weather prediction on my phone at 5:30am. I braided my hair, brushed my teeth, let the dogs out, made my protein shake, and shook awake my other half. I was ready, and now getting anxious for the race to begin. Driving to the race in the fog did little to ease my anxiety. I kept hoping the clouds would lift and the rainy forecast would dissipate.
We arrived at First Landing State Park a full hour before the race was to begin, and the anxiety I held onto from earlier was disappearing. I walked around a bit, stopped at the restroom, chatted with some other runners, and stretched. As the clock inched closer to 8:30am, I got out of my jacket and into my hydration vest. I looped my headphones under my straps, and set my Spotify playlist to the one I wanted (or so I thought!). I walked towards the start line, and looked for my coach.
There’s plenty of benefits of having a running coach, but one of my favorites is that mine has worked with me for so long, he’s more like another dad to me than my coach. A hug from him, and well wishes on race morning were just the pick me up I needed as I got ready to start the race. My other half gave me a big hug and wished me luck as well. And then we were off. The temperature was warm at 55 degrees, as the weather had predicted, but it was also humid. While I had opted for a super thin, lightweight long sleeve top to fend off the rain, it was instantly hot, and my sleeves got shoved up above my elbows for the entirety of the race.
As I joined the other runners for the first 1.5 miles on the road that leaves the boat ramp and then returns to the Narrows Trail, I hung towards the back of the pack. I didn’t want to get squeezed into a tight space heading into the Narrows Trail. It ended up being a smart move as I watched many of us run around each other like a slinky until we got out of the trail. I was smiling as I got to the 1st aid station at the 64th Street entrance, and was happy to see many familiar faces.
As I headed down Cape Henry Trail, I started to notice something funny about my music. It was playing some songs I knew, and some I didn’t. Knowing that my iPhone is finicky in this cooler weather, I didn’t dare change the playlist and risk my phone completely shutting off, but was mad at myself for not noticing sooner that it was on a country channel that I only occasionally listen to instead of the running playlist I had carefully curated. I tried to distract myself by talking to some of the runners who seemed to be about the same pace. This helped some until I managed to roll my left ankle on Osmanthus Trail about 8 miles into the race. That stupid tree root jumped out and got me! I walked it off, and was back to running until I hit the bridges. Every single bridge on that trail was incredibly slippery, and impossible to run across. I slowly half-slid, half tip-toed across each of the 9 bridges on the trail.
Osmanthus is a trail I love to hate. I have rolled my ankle back there so many times, and yet I continue to run it. It’s also where the nagging ache in my knee (likely some tendonitis from overuse… who’s gonna tell a runner to stop running??) started to talk. BAD. It was enough to make me walk for the 2nd time in nearly 9 miles. I walk/ran myself through the 2nd aid station, and then backwards through the trails to the 1st aid station where I found my coach. I wanted to be happy that I was near completion of the 1st loop of the course, but the nagging pain in my knee was making me leery of continuing. We looked for athletic tape to give it some support, but there was none to be found. I decided to continue on, and pull myself out of the race if got to be unbearable. Truth be told, this same pain has been appearing on and off throughout my training runs. Some days it was non-existent; some days it was the instant I took my first running steps. It’s a head-shaker to say the least, and it will get much needed rest after this race until it fully heals.
As I walked my way onto the Narrows trail for the 2nd time, I burst into tears. I found myself quickly surrounded by hugs from one of my running buddies. If you’ve never cried during a race, I don’t think you’d understand. 6 months of training, of doing all the right cross-training, sleeping as much as I could to get proper rest, eating clean and enough to sustain my miles, and getting myself focused mentally were flashing before my eyes as I realized there was a chance I might not finish. The tears just came. I wanted this finish so badly, and I was determined to do it, if my body let me.
As I got further down the trail, runners who had already checked in at the first turnaround point were coming back and sharing how there were several places where high tide had flooded the trail. The Narrows is only about a mile and a half long, but there were enough places flooded that my shoes were soaked, and I splashed water up my capris and shirt along the way. The most incredible thing about these areas of flooding were that the water was ice cold and high enough to just touch under my knees. As I waded through each section, I paused long enough to squat and let the water run past my knees. The freezing cold was exactly what my knee and my calves needed for a jumpstart to the 2nd lap of the course. I cannot explain it other than the pain was instantly gone, and my fear of having to pull out of the race quickly was a last resort thought.
I was conscious the rest of the 2nd lap about making sure to walk all the downhills since that was what had triggered the pain the first time around. I ran everything else. Honestly, I ran more than I ran in my training runs, and this goes to show how truly ready I was for this race. My endurance had surpassed my expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised and pleased with what my body is capable of completing. What I haven’t shared up to this point is that it had poured rain the entire day before the race, and it left everything wet, goopy, and muddy. This surely slowed down most every body on race day, myself included. I am used to splashing through puddles and mud, but the slipping that comes along with it is always intense on the body when you are running 31+ miles in one go. It attempted to rain for a short stint during the race, but thankfully it too let up.
The aid stations and volunteers at this race were incredible the ENTIRE time. Running an ultra teaches you the importance of eating real food instead of gels or shot bloks on the course. Did I use my shot bloks? Of course, but I also ate a PB&J sandwich, a few pretzels, some M&M’s, orange slices, several half cups of chicken broth, Pepsi, and pickle juice. I had several volunteers ask how I was doing, and often my response was that I was hungry. It was almost like a hiccup that escapes your lips without you realizing it til after it happens. I realized quickly that I needed food food, and at each station, I made sure to get what I needed. Oddly enough, after the race, I wasn’t hungry. I had to make myself eat a half a sub, and even then was trying not to gag. Today, a full day later, my appetite still hasn’t picked up, and I have eaten out of necessity instead of hunger. My desire for fluids has been insatiable. I can’t seem to get enough to drink.
Back to the race recap… As I reached the 1st aid station for the 4th time, I truly smiled when I saw my coach. I knew I was only 1.5 miles from completing my 2nd 50k. My coach gave me a fist bump, told me he was proud of me, and sent me on my way. Let me tell you, that last mile and a half felt like it dragged on for forever. I am super thankful the tide had gone back down, and I didn’t have to wade through the water again. My ears perked up as I could hear people cheering for other runners closing in on the finish line, and my pace picked up as much as I could muster. I knew it was my turn next, and I could not be happier to be running out of the Narrows Trail, across the finish line mats, and into the arms of my running buddies and other half waiting for me.
My goal for this race was to finish strong. It was not about time; not even once. I was determined to finish, and finish strong. I ran so much more than I dreamed I would, and in conditions that were challenging. I have missed running races with my local running community, and felt amazing being back out there. I am recharged, renewed, and ready for what lies ahead. I am officially an ultramarathoner times 2!
I cannot thank everyone enough for the support, words of advice, encouragement, the hugs, the cheering, the food, the hugs, the company, the camaraderie on race day. Thank you to all of my running buddies who have run many, many miles with me to prepare for this race. Seriously, this race is one of the best!