The only goal I had for this race was to “channel my inner Mario and enjoy the race.” Alas, Mario was not channeled, there was no floating. However, that did not stop me from enjoying the race.
I drove up the night before to camp out. As soon as I arrived, I cooked up some turkey sausage with onions and peppers on my new camping stove. That worked out nice; when you’re camping, hot food seems like a luxury. Afterwards, I got my drop bag and cooler prepped.
Since there were two aid stations, I didn’t have a solid nutrition plan like I did for the last race. I didn’t do any calorie counting, I just brought a bunch of stuff I might like to eat. Gels, these little date energy bite things I made, cola gummies, pretzels, beef jerky, string cheese, pickles, and the liquids – coconut water, coke, V8, a protein shake, and chocolate milk. Mainly I planned on taking in calories via Hammer Perpetuem. I’d tried it on only two previous training runs, neither of which were very long. My stomach handled it fine, but it remained to be seen if it could handle it for several hours.
And taking a step toward freedom, I chose to forgo my Camelbak and use just my handheld bottle. As much as I hate wearing my Camelbak, it does provide a sense of security. I can carry plenty of water and whatnot, whereas the pocket on my handheld is only big enough to cram in two gels. But since I would hit an aid station every 3.5 miles, this was a perfect opportunity to ditch the pack and go all handheld, like the big boys and girls do.
At 5 I picked up my packet, and pinned my bib to my shirt. Making sure the bib is on nice and straight has become something of a ritual for me. Trying to find just the right spot so the number hangs level and doesn’t pull on the fabric… A little OCD, but hey, you want to look good for the race photographers, right? (Even though I’ll probably never buy one of their overpriced images…)
Fed and prepped, I tried to sleep. It took forever since 20 feet away from me was a group of at least a dozen people (with children) that were up relatively late drinking and having a good time. Eventually, though, I did fall asleep, and woke up at 4:45, 15 minutes before my alarm. I didn’t see any lights on or headlamps moving about, which was good because it meant there wouldn’t be a line for the port-a-potties.
Race start was at 6, it was cool and misty. Of the 80-something people registered for the 50M, only 69 people made it to the start line. But it seemed like fewer than that. Inside a horse stable / barn / house thing, we waited for the countdown. We would do a short 3.2M loop that brought us back to the start, then do 6 full laps of 7.8 miles. The countdown commenced and there I was, about to embark on yet another race.
Two miles in, when I turned around to look, I saw maybe a dozen headlamps behind me. I was at the rear of the pack, so there was definitely no chance of going out too fast. A few people in front of me, I could hear a conversation between two folks in my running group. The conversation was comforting in the darkness. Otherwise, I was fully focused on the foot placement of the guy in front of me.
The first loop was nothing but twists and turns, and once we reached the first aid station (3.5M), we were routed back to the start to do it all over again as a full loop. Luckily, since it was still dark, it wasn’t a big deal. It started to get light just before reaching the AS the second time. My Perpetuem was doing me well, so I just topped it off with water.
It was a misty, dewy morning, and although I didn’t actually see the sunrise, the rest of the first loop was quite lovely. Even the stagnant creeks we ran by seemed somewhat magical. (Had to be the sunlight-through-the-leaves-thing that did it.) We ran along one fence line on the other side of which were a bunch of bemused looking cattle. There were a few sections that were fun to run, but only because I was on fresh legs. I knew that this was trail was really made for bikes, and only later would I fully understand what that meant. All those crazy back and forth spaghetti turns and loops? They are fun – if you’re on a bike. But they are maddening to run.
I finished the first loop and went straight for my drop bag: ditch headlamp, grab gel, stuff face with pretzels, go, go, GO! I was so focused on getting out of there quickly, that I took off and forgot to add more Perpetuem to my water bottle. It’s crucial to make sure get things right when you’re at your drop bag or an aid station. Fortunately, one of the biggest benefits of doing a multiple loop course is it allows / forces you to practice your aid station routine. On this day, I would have 12 more opportunities to get it right.
As I started the second lap, the pack had disintegrated and I had all sorts of breathing room. I hadn’t run in several days prior to the race and not surprisingly, my hip flexors (?) were getting tight, causing me to shorten my stride. I haven’t even run a half marathon and I’m already hurting? That is not good. If I manage to get through this, there is going to be some serious hell to pay afterwards. I looked at my watch and decided it was time for another gel.
When I reached the next AS, I again topped off with water. A volunteer mentioned that it was supposed to get up to 81 today. Later, in one of the sunny sections, there was a guy in front of me whose shirt was already drenched in sweat. I thought that poor guy was going to have a hell of a time if it did get up to 81… Fortunately, most of the course was shaded, and it was overcast the majority of the day. That was huge, as it was one less thing to battle.
I also settled on my nutrition strategy by the third lap, which was key. I added two scoops of Perpetuem to my bottle, topped it off with water, and crammed my mouth with pretzels. And was Once I reached the other AS, I topped off with HEED. Most of all, I consumed a lot of gels. I lost count how many, but at least about a dozen. That’s only 2 per loop, but that’s no easy feat.
The aid stations usually only have flavors like Apple Cinnamon, but this time there were actually several different flavors. Excited by this new development, I tried to grab something different each time. All of them tasted pretty good, none of them were overly sweet. Variety enabled me to consume more of them, and that really helped keep me going. Flavor fatigue is a real problem!
Later, I came up with a theory that Power Bar gels (which are what I usually buy) are not really made for endurance events because they are So. Freaking. Sweet. I am definitely going to switch over to Hammer gels. The only gripe I have is the package is hard to tear open. Late in the race I had to ask a volunteer to open a gel for me.
Speaking of trivialities, one of the most disheartening things was getting passed by so many runners from the shorter races. Really it doesn’t matter, but I wish that each race had a different bib color, so that it wouldn’t feel so bad to get passed. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I know I can’t be the only one that feels this way.
At Mile 25, knowing I was halfway done brought a small ray of hope. 1.2 miles later knowing I’d just run a marathon also brought a smile. However, the fourth lap brought no joy whatsoever. All I could think was how I HAVE TO DO THIS TWO MORE TIMES???
The fifth lap was slightly less terrible. My brain kept thinking about what parts of the course were still coming up, and that I would have to do it again, but each time I would push that out of my mind and re-focus on what was right in front of me. At this point in the story, you’re feeling like I was feeling. This thing just keeps on going on and on in circles… When will it end?
But finally, I was on my last lap. Even though the lap was only 7.8 miles, something about the twists and turns made it seem infinitely longer. I tried to avoid getting caught up in this mental black hole and instead got caught up in a clump of runners.
I wanted to get this over with, and just as I was about to make my move to pass the clump, the guy in front of me tried to do the same. It was awkward, but he let me pass. I picked up the pace to make some room. Then a good song came on my iPod, and I took off. Taking longer strides helped stretch my legs. It felt so good I played the song again and kept up the fast pace. After the song, I slowed down to preserve some juice for the rest of the last lap.
I settled on the plan that I would run the last lap, as much as possible, and walk any inclines. When I reached the aid station for the last time, I had only 3.5 miles to go; I was ecstatic! I hung out for a minute and stretched, something I’d been meaning to do all morning, but never did.
The last 3.5 were the longest ever, but it was it felt great to know that I was so close to finishing. Normally I lame-walk inclines at a normal walking pace. But I was actually swinging my arms and really taking the hills – I was power-hiking! Also, I had avoided looking at my watch most of the day, but when I heard a beep, I had to look – 49 miles. Only one mile to go! In about 12 minutes, all the tiredness, all the misery, all the stupid f*cking loops would be over. I would not have to run this again, this was it, I was done. Hallelujah!
And then, there it was in front of me – the finish line! I ran as hard as I could. I finished in 9:34:22.