After Nick woke up at 4am to pack up his aid station supplies and head out to Clinton Lake, I couldn't fall back asleep. I laid in bed for a while thinking about going back to sleep but in the end decided to get dressed and just go out there. Upon my arrival at 5:20, co-RD Coleen Voeks chastised me for being there so early and told me to go sit down. I did more roaming around and chatting with people than sitting, but Coleen was too busy to abuse me further.
After a while I decided to get my gear out of the car and change into my running shoes. Not long after, as I reached into the pocket of my Melanzana, hoodie to retrieve my phone, I noticed that my key was no longer present. I scoured the grounds around the shelter, retracing every step I made. I looked through my car, thinking I had dropped it on the floor. It was nowhere to be found. I would normally be much more concerned about the key, but I was more nervous about the race than how I was going to get home. I figured it would turn up somewhere.
I felt eager and nervous as I set out on the trail. I navigated pretty easily through the muddy mile. It warmed up quickly, and I removed my leopard print Moeben sleeves. The gentleman running behind me, who I discovered was Shane, voiced his surprise upon realizing that I was not covered in tattoos. Shane and I stuck together, averaging about a 12 minute/mile pace. We hit our first aid station, Land's End, at 6.5mi. Land's End is a small clearing where the white, blue and red trails intersect: a perfect place for Christy Craig's Irish-themed station, complete with a real life Irishman, Mr. David Higgins. There were many other wonderful people there, including Renee Babin, Levi Bowles, Kristin Whitehair, and Beth Hilt.
I felt fresh going through this aid station so I grabbed a few bites to eat then Shane and I took off. After mile 8 or so, the white trail gets pretty hilly so I started doing some walking. I had more than 40mi to go and running every hill in the beginning would not pay off. Around the time I reached Bunker Hill, a one mile out and back, I started thinking, "I am not ready for this." I was starting to feel hot and tired. I was starting to feel under trained, or more specifically, over-tapered. It was too early in the race for me to feel tired! Shane had gone on at the West Park Road aid station while I stopped for food and socializing.
I did the opposite of Coleen's most important piece of advice: to get from aid station to aid station, one at a time. But all I could think about was the long road ahead and trying to figure out why the heck I was so tired only 11 miles into the race. How could I possibly make it? I dragged myself up and down Bunker Hill and through the Cactus Ridge section, alternating between running and walking. I was getting clumsy, tripping on every available rock and root. I didn't know what to do. I had been taking salt, eating, drinking water. I was beyond frustrated as I trotted into the Beach aid station headed up by my sweetie, Nick Lang with assistance from Erik Voeks, Colinda Thompson, Jeff Triplet and Elizabeth Hodges. I really have to apologize for being so crabby when I went through. I didn't stop long, but I think I managed a "thank you" or at least a "goodbye" before I left.
I gritted my teeth and set off to my next destination, another trip to Land's End. Before reaching there, the course ran along the most technical part of the North Shore Trails, the red shoreline trail. As the name suggests, it runs right up along the shoreline of the lake. It's mostly made up of very large rocks, so it's challenging to run on when it's wet. And wet it was. We had received several days of rain leading up to the race, and the word was that there was a section of shoreline trail covered in 18" of water. I wasn't particularly concerned until I reached the section of flooded trail.
Waves from the lake crashed up against the jagged rocks and I couldn't see the bottom. As I said, the trail can be rather difficult to maneuver over even when you can see it. I waited as a few waves passed and cautiously stepped in to what turned out to be waist deep water. I attempted to gingerly walk a straight path across the maybe 20-ft flooded section. I realized quickly I wouldn't be able to cut straight across as a wave approached and threatened to knock me off balance. I sidled over to the rock ledge and huddled close to it as I made my way across.
I finally made it back to Land's End where my good friends took care of me. Christy was such a big help the whole time. She always told me I was doing awesome, even when I felt like crap and didn't believe her. It made me feel better anyway. Again, I was thinking about the rest of the race and didn't know if I could finish, but I decided I'd take it one aid station at a time. Besides, I figured I should at least complete the second smaller loop so I could finish the marathon distance.
About a mile out from Land's End I reached the infamous BIG water crossing. It's normally calf deep, but with the recent rain it was reportedly chest-high on the RD. This meant it was above my shoulders. Luckily, Gary and Tony strung a guide rope the night before to be an aid. There was also a volunteer posted at the opposite side of the crossing to make sure everyone got through ok. He warned me where the big log was under the water so I didn't nail my shins on it.
I was tired running the last few miles of the first loop. This section is always pretty muddy, but I managed to keep running through most of it. I passed a few guys who asked if they could tie a rope to me and hitch a ride. I was pretty amused.
Literally about a tenth of a mile before you get to start/finish you have to turn off the blue trail and run a one mile out and back to a hill called Sander's Mound. Wonderful views, but I hate running it. I should mention that wiith the exception of trail and ultra running, I'm kind of an outdoors novice, so when I went through that deep water crossing, it didn't occur to me to remove my Nathan vest which contained my S!Caps and Honey Stinger Chews. I did have a few unopened packages of chews as it turned out, but no salt.
So when I got back to the start/finish aid station Julie took care of me. She grabbed a few S!Caps from Greg Burger's drop bag for me. Thanks Greg! I really should have left a drop bag at the start/finish. I did not foresee these issues, but in ultra running you have to plan for anything.
As I set out on the second and most dreaded loop, I felt a little sick to my stomach (both literally and figuratively). The second loop was only 3 miles, which is sort of frustrating in the middle of a 50 mile race. You feel like you're getting nowhere. This section also happens to be the muddiest part of the course. It was pretty disheartening. As I passed the 1-mile mark and ran the short section of trail by the road, which is the one location on the course where white and blue trails are coincident, I stopped to ask Tammy and Kristin (who were directing runner traffic) if they had any food. Tammy was awesome and gave me some of her apples. As if it wasn't rough enough for them to hang out on the course all day by themselves, they gave me their own food! I managed to get down a piece or two but my stomach wasn't liking it. I walked for a while to let it settle down.
I moved very slowly through this whole section. When I got out to the road to turn back to complete the short loop, Amy Oglesbee offered me everything she could think of. She had a mini aid station in the back of her car! I think she probably had the worst gig of the whole day. She was parked out on that road the whole time, by HERSELF. I couldn't have done it. I can definitely say that I'd rather be running 50 miles than sitting there all day. Well, I bummed some ginger candy off Amy and eventually parted ways and headed back to the start/finish. At least I didn't have to run Sander's Mound this time.
My stomach was feeling better by the time I got back to the start/finish aid station. I walked over to my car to get some ibuprofen from my purse. Turns out what I had in my purse was S!Caps not ibuprofen. Well now I wouldn't run out of salt for sure but I still had no pain relief. I would have to wait another 18 miles to get to my bag at Nick's beach aid station for relief. Sooo, I kept going, after telling Julie that I didn't feel like going. I should have picked up Nick's iPod Shuffle while I was grabbing stuff from my car, but I forgot. Again. I would have to finish the race with no distraction.
I just kept going going going for the next 6.5 miles until I made it back to the Land's End aid station. I was pretty mentally fragile at this point. I had convinced myself that there was no way I was going to finish under cut off, and to save the volunteers some time I should drop out. I actually dropped down into a tornado-sheltering-like position and cried. I told Christy I was feeling very lonely on the trail. The field of runners was spread out, and thinned out since many people had dropped. Christy said I couldn't quit. I was the first female and only 3 guys were ahead of me. Before I could argue, Renee said she was already dressed to run and they had me back on the trail.
It was wonderful having Renee along. Even when we weren't talking, it was nice to hear her foot steps behind me and know that I wasn't lost in an alternate universe where I was the only person alive. I was going pretty slow at this point. I took a lot of walk breaks. At one point, Renee informed me that we had traveled 3 miles in 50 minutes. This wasn't the kind of stat I really wanted to hear, bless her heart, but at least it put things in perspective for me. After banging my left toe on what it felt like was the 100th rock and still feeling lingering pain after 10 minutes, I realized this toe was not coming out unscathed.
I started counting aid stations to the finish. Once we made it through West Park Rd, I only had 2 aid stations left. I was looking forward to getting back to the beach where I could change into my New Balance WR790's which had more toe room than the WT100's I was wearing. I was so glad to see Nick again. I told him I needed to change my shoes and I needed ibuprofen and he had me sit right down and his chair and he worked my mud-caked shoes off my feet. It immediately dawned on me that my toe problem wasn't really caused by my ultra lightweight shoes but was more due to me forgetting to cut my toenails the night before! Ahhhhh. I can't believe I forgot. It was on my mental checklist, but I didn't write it down. I only wrote down items I needed to pack, not things I needed to do.
Anyway, seeing Nick really lifted my spirits, and the fresh shoes and drugs helped my feet and legs. I felt brand new leaving that aid station. Well, as brand new as you can feel after 40-something miles and a messed up toenail. I think I was back to a 12 minute per mile pace to my last visit to Land's End. I was so excited to be visiting my last aid station! I was prepared to run the rest of the way by myself, because Renee had already exceeded her longest distance run keeping me company. But Levi was ready to pick up buddy duty.
Levi kept telling me that I was looking strong, not like someone running the last 5 miles of a 50 mile race. This made me feel good. Again, I didn't know if it was true or not, but the words were nice anyway! I have the best running friends. When we came to the big water crossing, we found Gary Henry (RD) on lifeguard duty. Levi took my salt and food to keep it from getting wet since he's a lot taller than me and it was easier for him to keep his balance while walking through the water. I was gripping the guide rope with both hands. Gary was snapping shots while I crossed and forgot to warn me of the location of the giant log under the water. I'm sure he captured an excellent shot of me cursing when I wacked my shin on it. But I wouldn't hold a small shin-wacking grudge against my good friend, Gar. I bet the picture was totally worth it.
Once we crossed, Gary told me I had about 3 miles to go. I was totally psyched. I tried to keep a good pace and run as much as I could, but we were getting back into the mucky section. I had to walk a little now and then. When we reached the road I saw that Debbie Webster was keeping Amy company. Thank goodness for Amy! Now, Debbie is my trail mom, so when I saw her for the first time since the start of the race, just 2 miles from the finish, we exchanged a good misty-eyed hug.
Levi and I got back on our way and before we knew it we were on our way down (then up) to Sander's Mound. For some reason, even though I was a mile from finishing, I was totally unmotivated to push myself up this hill. Finally, on our way back up the trail Levi put down his foot and told me to run. Yes sir!
When I got out of the trees and saw the finish line I was so excited, until I saw that they had strung pink flags around the open field where the finish line was. So what would be a very short direct trip to the finish was stretched out into a big roundabout circle to the finish line. I wanted to strangle the person who decided to do this (probably Mr. Henry). I might have actually cursed (something along the lines of "Are you f-ing kidding me?!") when I saw what I had to do, but I was so happy when I crossed the finish line I forgot all about strangling people!
Nick was waiting at the finish line for me, and I think I must have hugged him for a solid minute. Tony Clark congratulated me on being 4th overall and 1st female. Even though only 9 people ended up finishing the race, I'm still pretty proud of my finish. I was pretty psyched to have finished under the official cut-off in 12 hours and 47 minutes. I really wanted to finish in 12 hours but considering the conditions, I was overjoyed with my sub 13 time. I should mention that I didn't cry when I finished as I expected, but I think it was because Debbie "Trail Mom" Webster and co-RD Coleen Voeks weren't there. They are probably the two most influential women in my life: Debbie for being the sweetest person I know, and Coleen for being the toughest, most badass chick I know.
So here goes my list of Thank You's: Gary Henry, Coleen Voeks, Kristin Tirabassi, Tammy Lupton, Christy Craig, Renee Babin, Levi Bowles, Beth Hilt, Kristin Whitehair, Darin Schneidewind, Willie Lambert, MK Thompson, Nick Lang, Erik Voeks, Jeff Triplet, Elizabeth Hodges, Colinda Thompson, Darcy Schneidewind, Julie Toft, Vicki Holmes, Tony Clark, James Barker, Karen Henry, Amy Oglesbee, Karen Collier, and I think I'm forgetting a million other people.
Mac McSpadden, who had just completed her first marathon a few hours earlier actually helped clean the mud off me when I finished! Double duty for her.
Liz and Felix Smith left me a wonderful post race gift complete with socks, foot cream and silly putty! All post race essentials.
Sarah Henning was an excellent 50 mile training buddy, even before we decided to run the 50. I know she was bummed about not being able to run the race, but I know I'll get another chance to kick some butt with her. Also, she gives great post race hugs!
I love you Trail Hawks, friends, trail runners, ultra runners, Lawrencians. What a great community to be a part of.