I’m just going to start this post with saying that it has taken a long time to get where I am today. I have battled with aches, pains, sore legs, drastic changes in weather, stress in all aspects of my life, changes in diet, changes in my sleeping habits, and lastly, my kryptonite… TWICE (aka bronchitis). I managed to catch a cold a week ago Friday, and was really bummed because I was concerned that it would affect my running, and potentially lead to another bout of bronchitis. I was able to fend off the cold with Zicam, cough and cold syrup, enough orange juice to choke a horse, and enough Vicks vaporub to put in my humidifier, on my nose and chest to make me breathe enough each night to sleep ok. Not decently, but ok. Mind you, I was supposed to be getting 8-9 hours of sleep each night this past week so that I was fully rested for the race today. I just shake my head when it comes to that thought. I barely get 7 hours of sleep on a decent night when I’m not sick… 8-9 hours was wishful thinking, but somehow I managed to sleep decently for both Thursday and Friday nights. This was definitely a blessing in disguise because I was fighting hard all week to get this cold out of my system and for two solid weeks prior to this week, I had not been sleeping soundly, if at all, due to a number of stressors in my life. Regardless, there were several obstacles that I had to overcome to get to today’s race: Seashore Nature Trail 50k.
This 50k has been on my bucket list since I ran my first marathon in OBX last year, and I have been working towards it since I started training this year. I started the year off with 3 half marathons, took a month off, and dove right into building a base of about 20 miles or more a week before I started the actual training for the ultra with my coach, Sam. This summer was extremely hot and humid, and it was a struggle to get miles in when it was even cool enough to run.
My coach has taught me so much about endurance running. I thought I knew a lot about running. What I didn’t realize was that I could change the way I train, and not only get faster, but run farther and longer than I ever have. I can also tackle hills effortlessly instead of walking over them or feeling a burn in my legs that makes me want to stop. Hill repeats, split negatives, back to back long runs, and easy runs are all what it took for me to get to the race today. As much as I have run my whole life, you would think I would know that changing things up will only help you, and not necessarily hurt you (well, unless you don’t take trail running seriously… you may roll an ankle!) But sometimes, it takes another person to show you the ropes, teach you how to do something, and let you take over in order to understand why change can benefit you in training.
But now I’m off on a tangent. I was concerned about the weather for today’s race because all week it was calling for rain, but as it got closer to today, the weather forecast was calling for mid-50s by the time I was half way through my race. The only bad thing about this is that Friday night’s low was in the 30s, which meant that I started the race in the 30s this morning. I layered up in a way that I knew I could ditch some clothes as I warmed up and moved along in the race. Warming up wasn’t so bad once I got moving, but I definitely started out with my gloves.
I was ecstatic about how many of my friends wanted to come out to be there for me today, and I am so grateful that each of them waited for me at each of the aid stations to cheer me on, take my many layers of clothes, and feed me as I moved along in this race. Thank you to those who came out to the race… Leigh, Lindsey, Rachael, Frank, Kathleen, Rebecca, Mary, and Chris… It’s kind of fun having a posse for the biggest race of my life! 🙂
I hugged all my friends as they announced that the race was about to begin and got into the area where we had to line up to begin. I almost had a mishap with the start of the race because I didn’t pick up my timing chip right away. I looked around at the start and realized that all of these runners had these chip things attached to their ankles. I asked a fellow runner where I would get one, and he pointed me in the right direction to pick up the race chip assigned to my bib number: 300. I was nervous I was going to be super late, but just as the women attached the chip to my ankle, they yelled for us to go. We had to cross the starting mats to activate our running chips, so I could have started at any given time, even if I had been late. As it was, I started at the back of the pack, but it worked out for me because I wasn’t feeling crowded, and I easily navigated my way to the group of runners who were running a pace I felt comfortable with. I woke up this morning with my right calf being tight, and I certainly felt it as I was running along for the first 6 miles. I had hoped that it would loosen up as I moved along, and it finally did. The last thing I wanted was to run the biggest race of my life with a charlie horse the whole way.
I felt rude making my way past runners that were going slower than me, but I knew that as long as I passed them safely on the left on the trails, and looked out for their safety, as well as mine, that it would be fine. Running a race on the trails is a totally different experience than running a road race. The fun part about today was playing tag with the runners who ran about the same pace as me. We took turns passing each other, walking, catching up, and passing each other again. Mile 15 came in a quick hurry, and I hit the aid station, knowing that I needed fuel and something to drink. As soon as I got there, one of the women volunteering was determined to feed me pb&j sandwiches and gatorade because I was shaking so bad. I hadn’t had much fuel other than my cereal at 5am, and the sports beans I had halfway through the 15 miles. It obviously hadn’t phased me until I stopped because I just kept moving along, and didn’t feel my blood sugar dropping. I just knew I was hot because I had already handed off my gloves to one friend, and rolled up the sleeves to my long sleeve tech shirt. The same lady peeled off my long sleeve shirt, and re-pinned my race number to my short sleeve shirt underneath. She obviously saw something in my face and my shakiness that made her think I needed sugar and to be cooled down pretty quickly. She was accurate though because as soon as I ate and had another layer off my body, I cooled down and quit shaking. My long sleeve shirt was soaked!
Today’s race felt like a mental game. I’d run the miles, see which trail I was on, and try to calculate how much farther to the next trail, to the next aid station, and to the next turn around point. I didn’t really start to feel the miles I was putting in until I hit mile 20 at the 64th Street aid station. My legs were getting super tight, and my shoulders were tightening up with each stride. It makes me wonder if I was holding my shoulders that tight or if it was from holding a water bottle the whole race. It was at this point that I realized that my legs would not hurt any worse than they already did, so I had a choice: either I kept running or I walk and let my legs think that they were done. I opted to keep running. My time for the 20 miles was around 3:45, and I felt like my pace was pretty steady up to this point. After I hit 20 miles, I definitely started to feel fatigued, but wasn’t deterred enough to stop, slow down, or give up. As the miles progressed, and I made my way past the 2/3s mark of this race, I realized that I needed to slow down in order to make it the rest of the way. It’s crazy that with all the training I have done in First Landing State Park that I have not really ever looked around. I still felt like I didn’t do much today either since I was constantly having to watch where my feet went, look out for tree roots and loose branches, carefully make my way through water because the trail was covered due to high tide, and slowly make my way across the sandy parts of the trail. As much as I didn’t look around, I did enjoy the challenges of the trail. I remembered how many times I have traveled each of the trails, and how the hills felt easy, and how I knew where to go without having to stop and think. I had that advantage as I navigated the 2 loop course today, and I honestly think it was to my benefit because as I made my way over the trickiest and last trail today, I knew how much further I had to go, how many bridges I had left to cover, and how much further I had to go before I hit the black top that would lead to the finish line. I am thankful for the new runner friends that kept me going today during the last miles by talking to me about anything to keep my mind off my tired legs. It made the miles go faster! Thanks to Julie and Margaret for that!
I think my favorite part of today was the sign just past the marathon mile marker. I looked at my watch at this point and realized I had just PR’d for my marathon time by 2 minutes from the previous year by doing it in 5:05. To add to this excitement, the sign I saw read the following: “You have just surpassed the marathon distance. 4.85 miles to go. You are now an ULTRA MARATHONER!” BEST.SIGN. EVER!!!!
I know today’s recap is jumping around, but when you have 6 hours, 12 minutes, and 17 seconds to think about things, make observations, and have a number of conversations, it’s hard to keep it all in order! I finished my first ultra marathon at First Landing State Park in 6:12:17! My goal was to finish, but the fact that I finished it around the time I predicted is even better! I can’t believe that I am done. My legs tell me that I ran all those miles… they are a little achy and a little stiff… but they carried me to that finish line, and they carried me strong. I crossed that finish line in a sprint! Today, I completed the biggest race of my life. Today, I owned the title badass ultra marathoner! I am now an ultra marathoner. I am less than one tenth of the population who have run this distance. AND I scored an 8th place in my age group today! Live. Love. Run. Passionately! ❤