I finished!!!! The elation I felt when I finished is still with me. Being pulled off the Bel Monte course a month earlier made victory that much better. In addition, a few days before I had a severe eye infection that left me bed ridden from eye pain and unable to function. I was anxious, not sleeping, and ready to just start running. The weather was shit. Not only was it record breaking cold weather, but within the first hour it had rained, snowed and hailed. The trail from Algonkian Park to Great Falls was a complete mud slog and included a stream crossing to further drench my feet. But I was focused. I finished strong and the last ten miles were some of my fastest! This race also meant a lot to me to finish, as while I was training for it I was going through a very difficult time and running helped me manage my anxiety and sadness and turn my negative energy into being more positive and make needed changes in my life. Completing this felt like I triumphed over other things in life that had been holding me back. Sweet sweet victory..
I took my drop bag on Friday to the North Face store and handed it off when I picked up my packet. In it I had included my running shoes, in case the trails weren’t so bad. (I was starting out in my trail shoes, which are much less comfortable for me) dry socks, dry shirt, Honeystinger jelly beans, gels, waffles. I had gotten up at 5am on Friday morning and was in bed by 8:30pm that night. I didn’t sleep well although I was able to sleep a bit. But at least I wasn’t in a deep fog of sleep when my alarm went off at 2:55am. I jumped up, got ready and was in my car by 3:30 to the shuttle. I don’t think it was necessary to have the race start at 5am as opposed to 6am but everyone was in the same boat.
Race Start: Algonkian to Great Falls miles 1-15
I started out with running tights, t-shirt, long sleeve tech shirt, and a fuzzy warm long sleeve over that along with gloves and ear warmer. I didn’t have any good light weight rain gear so my fuzzy would have to do. I hate being cold and even though I knew I would probably warm up wearing so many layers, and sure enough I took off my outer layer after mile 3 and never put it back on, but the weather was cold and unpredictable so even retrospectively I would have brought it. Starting to run in the dark with our headlamps was actually pretty cool, and I got to see the sunrise as we were running along the water. At about mile 3 the weather took a turn for the worst and started pouring hail. I kept my long sleeve in my backpack knowing it would just get soaked and I laughed to myself thinking.. of course this would happen. This shit is crazy. The trail conditions were getting bad. It was a mud slog for this section. People were falling and covered in mud. I tried not to look at my watch as much this time and didn’t wear my heart rate monitor like before. I would check my pace every once in a while but try to mostly go by feel. I also tried to push my pace a little bit and set myself up for success. I was averaging 11:30 / 12 min mile pace for these first 15 miles. There were so many people! I did better about passing than before. I remember thinking at Bel Monte that I didn’t want to pass people because they would probably end up passing me soon again anyways and I had let myself get stuck behind people going a slower pace than I was feeling I could do. So I kept telling myself – just run my race. Don’t focus on anyone else. Another unique challenge with so many people is that I didn’t feel comfortable ducking into the woods to pee and I had still 4 miles to go until the restroom at Great Falls and it made those 4 miles extremely uncomfortable. I stopped drinking water, I couldn’t focus on anything else. I was excited to get to Great Falls to use the restroom, get some dry socks, and focus on part 2.
Great Falls loops – miles 16-35
I showed up at Great Falls excited to put on new socks and ditch the extra clothes I had been carrying, only to find out my drop bag never made it. From what I overheard this had been happening all morning. That was probably my lowest point of the race, although in comparison to what I felt going up the side of the mountain at Bel Monte it was not that bad. I ditched my fuzzy, told the organizer I knew I probably wouldn’t get it back but I couldn’t continue to carry it. I was frustrated, checked in with my pacer saying that all was well but I wish I had dry socks, which he would bring for me at mile 30. Everything else in the bag was dispensable. I didn’t really need the extra waffles and gels, I had told myself I would not listen to music unless I had to, and it was time for music. Luckily it only rained in the morning, and then sporadically. The forecast had also called for gusts of wind up to 40 mph but we were sheltered at Great Falls and no wind. My spirits improved with the music and after being thrown off with the glitches, I refocused. This next part consisted of doing a big loop 3 times, and along the loop was 3 out and backs. There were many runners on the course as the 50K runners and marathoners started to join as well. The race was well-organized, the signage was good, and there was never a time where I felt that I didn’t know where I was going or confused about what to do. Our bibs would be marked at each checkpoint by a volunteer and they would send us back to the next one. I was feeling good. My knees and hips were starting to ache a bit, I took some ibuprofen and focused on keeping up with my food and gel intake and drinking lots of water. The aid stations were well stocked and I made sure to take the extra time to add water in my camel back and not make the same mistake as before – in that I didn’t want to carry so much extra weight but I had ended up running out of water. My coach joined at mile 29 for the third and final loop around Great Falls. My wet socks had been giving me blisters on the sides of my feet where I typically get blisters but I had tried to prevent it by putting moleskin before the race. So we replaced the bandages, but on new socks, filled up the water, and were ready to go. It was nice to have someone to run with and broke up the monotony of the miles. By this time I was in a bit of a mental slog, hips were hurting a bit more, but still feeling good overall. After a few miles I put my music back in, realized my battery was nearly dead and got in a few good songs before turning it back off.
Great Falls to the Finish! Miles 36-50
Coming up on mile 36 I was excited and felt like it was the homestretch. I told my pacer my goal was to finish an hour under the cutoff time and tried to speed up, and he held me back saying I should wait till we’re a bit closer, as a lot can happen in 15 miles. Just keep up with the forever pace. This section also had a lot of hills and I was starting to feel the fatigue in my legs significantly more hiking up them. I didn’t feel like talking at this point, and my pacer ran behind me most of the run to let me figure out what pace was comfortable for me, and we ran in silence for most of this section. I would make comments like.. I’m feeling really tired right now. I feel nauseous. The flowers are pretty. I was focused on my form and the running and was spacing out occasionally as well but not with any wandering stories in my head, but just with nothingness. My mind was blank. Just.. running. The time I felt nauseous, it lasted about a mile and it was very unpleasant. I kept waiting to have to stop and throw up, and finally it went away on its own. With ten miles left I was getting even more excited. I was so damn close. We kept running along and I passed a lot of people on this last section. My failure at Bel Monte was fueling my energy at this point. I had no significant pain to affect my running. Everything hurt.. but everything was manageable. It was wonderful. It was all mental now. We hit the mud slog again and crossed the creek. It was amusing to me and little things were making me laugh. Like thinking of running backwards the rest of the way. Or of going back to pet one last time one of the organizer’s little german shepherd puppy. There was only one part, at the last section of out and back between mile 47-48 that I mentally fatigued. We walked for a bit. I ate a gel and decided at the next tree we were going to run again, and not stop. And that’s what happened. With 2 miles left, we crossed by the final checkpoint and picked up the pace. This was familiar terrain as I had run some of my training runs here. I remember asking my pacer. is this it? I was worried we would have to do another loop around the soccer field like how the morning started out. I didn’t want to have a false hope and end up needing to run another half mile. But this was it. I couldn’t stop smiling. Passed a few more people along the final stretch and ran into the finish with arms up, a big smile on my face, and excited as fuck to have finished my first ultra. woot!
Post Race Pain
My hips hurt, my knees hurt, my feet hurt. My lungs hurt and I am still coughing a few days later. I am pretty sure I have exercise induced asthma. My IT Band just above my left knee – the one that originally kept me out of running for a month and a half in December, is very very sore and inflamed. My abs and shoulders are sore too. But I’m happy! Very happy. And feel a huge sense of accomplishment. I worked very hard for this, and trained consistently. Bel Monte was a beast. I’d like to conquer it one day. This race I realized didn’t have 4500 vertical like I thought – it had 4500 elevation change. So only about 2200 vertical, in comparison to Bel Monte’s 6500 vertical. I was almost more sore after a 38 mile failure than I was finishing 50 miles for the North Face. This might have something to do with mental defeat as well, I’m not sure. My soreness now seems justified, whereas before I was just bitter because I felt a sense of urgency to heal up and get back to training. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I wanted this so bad. I raced as hard as I could and I smashed my expectations of how well I would do. I think prior to the race was harder mentally than the race itself. I have a hard time managing my nervousness before the race, when so many things can go wrong. Like getting sick. Trying to eat right. Wondering if I’m eating right. Wondering if I’ll slip and fall in a freak accident. Not sleeping well enough. But when I’m running, I feel better. I know unless something happens like tripping and falling and breaking my leg, I can mentally handle all of it. I can handle the rain and the snow and the hail and keep on going and keep running and this makes me so happy. On to the next!