Monday, March 10, 2014

My First 50k, The Way Too Cool

I don't suffer well.

This was declared somewhere between mile 17 and 24 after several hours of running... in the hills... through many, many water crossings... and lots of mud.  I was in the middle of my first 50k (yes, 31 miles).  I say "first" 50k now but at that moment I was coming to the conclusion that it would be my "only" 50k and that there was really no need to pursue that silly notion of doing a "100 mile race by the age of 50".  If I did make the cutoff time I could just take a marker and check that box off my list.  Ultra Runner.  Check.  Why do more?  It hurts.  I spent a lot of time in those miles trying to figure out how to explain to people why I chose to do this.  Why was this important to me?  I was also trying to figure out how I was even going to finish.  I was in pain and feeling pretty miserable.  If I was suffering this much just to make the cutoff in a 50k, why on earth would I want to do a 50 mile race?! Or a 100 mile race!  It's just inconceivable.  I don't suffer well was my conclusion. 

Despite LOTS of rain in the weeks prior, race day weather was just about as perfect as it gets.  Sunshine and blue skies with a comfortable low in the mid 40's and a predicted high of 70.

The route of this race is like a squiggly figure eight.

After the start we go out for an eight mile loop and then pass through the start/finish area to go out on the larger loop.  I purposefully took the first loop nice and easy, conscious of the common mistake of 'going out too fast'.  You pay for that later.  In the first two miles of pavement before hitting the single track trail everyone was passing me,  I must be doing it right. The landscape of the first loop is breathtakingly beautiful and I thought "I could run in this all day".  Wait...  I will be!  

Our first water crossing came early, before mile two.  Sinking those feet in for the first time was a bit shocking (and a first for me in a race) but once the feet were in the icy cold water it actually felt pretty good... the next 100 feet of water filled shoes, not so fun.  And since there had already been about 900 runners pass through before me there was a lot of slippery mud to contend with.  Better get used to it, because you're going to see a lot of water crossings.... and LOT of mud.

After the eight mile loop the route has a nice little descent down to the river and levels out to a pretty runnable stretch.

The thing about all that mud, I realized later, is that it makes you use your muscles in a different way, for balance.  This uses more energy and, of course, was not trained for (by me at least).  So that nice runnable stretch didn't feel so nice and runnable.  My legs felt tight and I realized that this was the point in my previous races that I had battled calf cramps.  I decided to go easy and let my legs relax.  It worked, no cramps.  However, I was feeling bloated and getting a bit dizzy, perhaps even slightly disoriented.  While hiking up a hill, I overheard a conversation about a woman in a 50 mile race that sat down at mile 47 not able to go on.  When her friend found out she had not she had not taken her salt tabs she made her take them and within a short time felt better and finished the race.  Then the storytellers were gone.  I decided the moral of this story was that I needed to take salt tabs at the next aid station!  I did and I began to feel better.  Just in time to feel worse....

This is where it all went downhill.  On the uphill.

Doesn't look so bad from here:

Here's a better view:

Three miles of up.  Up.  Up.  And then up.  I realized as I was beginning my hike of this ascent that the race had already been won.  Crazy!  But here we go, just keep it slow and steady.  Keep moving forward.

It seems that between each aid station I would end up behind a person at a similar pace and it helps keep me motivated to anchor on to them.  Run when they run, hike when they hike.  Since I was carrying all my own food supplies I only needed to make quick stops at the aid stations for water and then move on.  At some point near the end of the flat I kind of ended up joining two older gentlemen (who were joined by a younger friend that was clearly there for support,  I realized he was there to make sure they made the cutoff and if I could stick with them then I too would make the cutoff).   They seemed to be struggling at that point and one admitted to feeling horrible.  As the incline increased,  I actually pulled ahead of them.  I overheard many runners saying that the middle miles were a bigger struggle for them than they expected.  Mostly this was attributed to so much mud in the early miles.  A woman anchored on behind me.  She declined my offer to pass although I could tell she had more in her reserve tank than I did.  At some point she mentioned that she was on target for her goal and was well ahead of the cutoff.  Good.  Then that means me too.  Up we go.

She stopped to look at a map with some people that appeared to be the express aid station with minimal supplies.  Then she came up behind me quickly and passed.  I commented how she had turned on her turbos and as she disappeared up the trail I was informed that she learned she is way behind her goal of finishing at 3:45.  I couldn't tag along and as I calculated this new information, it meant that I would not make the cutoff.  So here's where the struggle turned from physical to a big ol' mental mess.

My internal voice got very negative:

How could you be this out of shape?  
What made you want to run this far anyway?  
You've come this far and worked this hard and you're not even going to make the cutoff!  
There's no way you can do a 50 mile race.  
Don't even bother with the notion of ever doing a 100 mile race.  
You shouldn't even bother with another 50k since everyone said this was a good "first time 50k" and it's too hard for you.
If you were a badass you could go faster.  
If you were tough you would not let this pain keep you walking.
You're getting slower!
Everyone is passing you.  
How are you going to explain this to all the people rooting for you?
Post this on facebook... 50k:FAILURE!
To do a 100 miler you need to be able to suffer well.  And for a long time.  Obviously, you can't.
You don't suffer well. 

Fun, right?!... This was the internal tape that played on repeat in my head for approximately 4-5 miles.  Very slow, uphill miles.  Eventually the terrain seemed to level out and become very scenic.  I was trying to take that in.  Remember to see the beauty of this trail.  But that damn negative tape was on replay in my head.  It was getting harder to ingest calories.  My legs were on fire.  There was a man who appeared to be in his late 60's or 70's ahead of me.  He was doing a very slow shuffle, something closer to a walk than even a jog.  I could not catch him.  We were going downhill!  *$%#!!!!.....

At this point someone comes from behind and I step aside to let him pass.  Standing still actually hurt the most.  It's like someone injects a bag of lactic acid into each of your legs.  They just radiate pain.   Keep moving.  Walking is better.  But honestly, it hurts more than the shuffle.  You can do this.  Shuffle.  The younger man that had just passed me asks to pass the shuffler man that I can not catch and he says "might as well take advantage of the downhill while I can!".  He's right.  I need to go with him!  So I did.  I passed the shuffler.  I anchored onto the younger man.  We ran miles together without a word between us.  Eventually he looked back and said "oh, good, you're still there.  I like to know I have company out here".  I inquire if he thinks we'll make the cutoff.  And he very positively and confidently says "Yes.  It's only 2:30, even if we walk the rest of it we'll make the cutoff!".

I can't describe the relief I felt.  My mental state had just been instantly transformed from why even bother to you can do this...  Just in time for the infamous "Goat Hill".  It's probably less than a quarter of a mile but it's super STEEP uphill.  Hard enough that there was a contest to see who would take it the fastest.  I ascended Goat Hill much faster and stronger than I had anticipated.  At the top my legs were very tight and for fear of cramps I decided to walk for a bit.  The man ahead of me said "I can't believe she caught me on that hill!"  "Who?"  "The woman with the broken nose! She slipped in the mud and faceplanted and has a broken nose and two black eyes!"  I had also just heard about a woman that slipped in the mud and ripped her ACL and was rushed off to the trauma center!  I told him that I was going to consider myself lucky to just be feeling achy and miserable!  And off we went.

The downhill was muddy and slippery.  More water crossings.  More unavoidable mud puddles.  Just when you think you stop hearing the sound of squishy wet shoes, there's another water crossing!   I want to finish.  I'm not going to push my pace.  Not even on the downhill (which I love to do).  No falling.  Slow and steady.  One of the older men that had been struggling around mile 16 catches me and looks totally refreshed!  With a smile on his face he passes me "you've got this, girl!".  Near the bottom, a group of runners catches up.  It's the other man (his group has grown by a couple).  Was I going that slow?  Slowing down even more?  Was he gaining speed?  Was he just steady?  What was his secret (besides breaking race regulations and having "pacers").  I decided that I could not lose him.  No matter what.  So I anchored on.  Walked when he walked.  Ran when he ran.  I listened to his group talk about Greek philosophers or something like that and laughed at the random conversations out on a thirty-one mile run.

We crossed the highway and into the last aid station.   He went to the table and I kept going, along with his stealth friends that would wait for him about a quarter mile past each aid station.  But I had decided not to hold any ill feelings about these renegades because I was benefiting from them too.  And I appreciated it.  Only one mile to go.  On this last little uphill I passed several people that were clearly struggling.  But my pains were diminishing.  I was feeling stronger the closer I got.  I was energized by each person that I passed.  But here he came again!  How was he doing it?!  No.  He was not going to pass me.

Yes.  He did. 

Is it wrong to decide that there is no way I am going to let this 70+ year old man beat me?  Does this make me a bad person?  I don't care.  A teeny little downhill and I let gravity take me.  I love downhill and decided to GO!  In the last half mile I passed a few more people!  How could this be?  Then the turn into one of the final stretches.  No pain.  My legs stretched out into long strides.  Splashing  in mud puddles.  Passing more people!  Impossible!!  The last turn towards the finish chute.  A crowd of cheering people.  I hear my name but I can't find the caller in all the faces.  Go!  Power!  There's one woman ahead of me.  We've been leap-frogging all day.  Is it wrong to pass her in the last twenty feet?  Is that bad race etiquette?  I don't care, my turbos are on and it feels amazing!  I pass her.  I cross the finish.  The woman handing out the medals tells me to stop running now.  I did it.  I finished my first 50k.

I did it.

I became overwhelmed with emotion.  So much in life feels out of control and is out of my control.   I set this crazy goal.  I got myself out there and trained.  It took many, many hours of training to even get to the start line of this race.  And now I've crossed the finish line.

My official time was 7h 58m 48s. 

  Thanks to Marcelo for this screenshot of my finish from the live coverage! 

Then I wonder how can I accomplish this feat and still not think I'm tough?! ... I don't think it's the negative voice (I left that back at the bottom of Goat Hill).  I think it's the part of me that knows I can do better.  I can train smarter.  I can get fitter....  and I will keep that crazy notion of doing a 100 miler by the time I'm 50.  Remember, there was a time I did not believe that I could even finish a half marathon!

Now it's time to take my shoes off and let my feet dry!  It's time to go celebrate.

I am tough.  And I suffered well enough.



  • More pix of me will be posted soon.
  • The winner of the race won in 3hours and 16 minutes!!!  This does not compute in my brain.
  • After the race, the "downhill shuffler" saw me and asked if I broke eight hours.  I said I didn't know yet as I hadn't checked my official time.  He said "I wanted you to break eight hours and I hope you did".  This was really touching.  It turns out I had, by 1 minute and 12 seconds.  He was only 7 minutes behind me.  We had not spoken any words on the trail but we had leap-frogged a few times early and late in the race.  It always amazes me how these silent bonds form on the trail.  And I love being part of this community!  It also amazes and inspires me how many people of various shapes, sizes and ages are out there!  He is 70 and said he's "just getting back into it".  Probably going to go for another 100 miler (which he did in his 50's and 60's)!!!  Now how's that for badass inspiration!?
  • The 70+ man, he's signed up for the Western States 100 mile race!  More badassery.
  • I looked for the good news guy and thanked him.  I wanted him to know how grateful I was, he had changed my whole mental state and that it was fun to run "with" him for those miles.
  • Eight hours is a long time to run with wet soggy feet!  But NO blisters!  Yay.
  • Hokas Rock!
  • A big Congratulations to my friend and running buddy Torie, who rocked it and finished about a half an hour ahead of me.  We did most of our training miles together and she's always an inspiration!
  • Big props also go out to Steve, Loren and Elisa!  You guys inspire me too!

Happy Trails ~ T


  1. Way to go!! I am so proud of you, and the way you write about it allows me to see it like a movie reel in my mind. You rock!!

    1. Thanks for the nice words Kris! And for reading about my experience!