Well my ill-advised ten day ten mile running challenge didn’t quite work out. I completed the first day of the challenge, only to stop short at mile two on the second day. I had a disturbingly painful pain in my left calf, and assuming the worst, I called Jeff to have him come pick me up. I was sure I had some degree of calf strain, since the pain was definitely in the muscle and quite sharp. I resigned myself to probably six weeks off from running.
A few days later, after consuming massive amounts of muscle-repairing protein, I was convinced that I was completely fine. I had no pain in the muscle, even after poking and prodding, running, and jumping. After attempting a gentle three mile run, I was assured that whatever injury I thought I had was either gone or nonexistent. A couple days later, I tried a faster run to be sure. Again, no pain, no soreness, no problems.
Having firmly convinced myself that I was in fact, perfectly fine – if not in sanity, at least in musculature – I decided I was going to go for the Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival 50K. I still had 20 weeks before my fall marathon, and having a good cushion before training begins in July, it didn’t seem all that risky to me. If catastrophe struck, I still have time to rest before training again. And maybe I still had some of that marathon endurance kicking around somewhere…
After working Saturday night at the restaurant, I got up early Sunday morning to drive to Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Maine. It was a beautiful, pastoral campus with lush grass fields flanked by white fencing, and wide, well-maintained trails in the surrounding forest. It was a beautiful sunny, but mild spring day with temperatures only peaking around 60 degrees. Perfect running weather.
I quickly registered for the 50K and bought a bright yellow and green Pineland Farms trucker hat. A little cliche, but super cute with my bright yellow tank top. I also wore a bright pink skirt (which I had never worn before the race), bright pink compression socks, and my trusty Nike Frees. I thought about wearing my trail running shoes, but I knew the weight of those clunky suckers would drive me crazy. I had about four energy gels stuffed into my FlipBelt, another two or three jammed into the pocket of my handheld water bottle, plus a package of salt caplets. I was ready!
|So cute. So dumb.|
Or not. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I have done absolutely no trail running this spring, and yet here I was about to embark on the longest run I’ve ever done on some extremely hilly trail terrain. Whoops. I just assumed that since I did a marathon, I could do 50K. Regardless, I was going to do it.
If one starts their first ultra marathon knowingly breaking three big rules of trail running – nothing new on race day, wear some trail running shoes, and maybe run on trails before the race – how could this be considered anything other than self-sabotage? I know better. I’ve been running for years now, and I know I was asking for a world of hurt. But I did it anyway. Mainly, I wanted to look cute. Here I was about to run 31 miles for the first time, and I wore a little skirt that I KNEW would cause some serious inner thigh rubbage. I wore compression socks that have given me blisters in the past, instead of my trusty Balegas. I wore a trucker hat for the first time in my life because it really pulled the outfit together. Because isn’t the most important factor in the success of your first 50K how cute you look?
When I got in the start corral, I went to the very back of the pack to avoid starting too fast. And so did everyone else. People just kept moving further back to be in the back of the line, leaving just a small group at the start line, a wide gap in the middle, and everyone else trying to get behind everyone else. I had never seen anything like that at a race. When the announcer was counting us down, he assured us it was safe to move up to the start line. I took maybe a step or two forward. And then it was time.
I gleefully ran into the forest, completely caught up in the atmosphere of traipsing through the woods with other brightly clothed strangers. I ran up and down the wide, dirt trails, trying to pace myself, and reminding myself that I should be walking up the hills instead of running. But it felt good to run!
It was glorious. Such a beautiful day, and a beautiful course, and I swear I never felt so alive during a run. After a couple of miles I decided that I should be reigning myself in a little more as I had too many miles left ahead of me, and who knows how hard I might crash and burn. I began to walk up the hills when other runners did, and run the downhills. I used the more experienced trail runners around me as a guide. I did get quite carried away running downhill, however. I love running down hills! I careened down the trails like a bat out of hell, and then forced myself to resume my easy pace, and then walk, as I began to ascend again.
On one of these crazy descents, I heard another runner cheering me on “Get it, girl!” As I slowed again, I gushed to her about how I love running downhill. We began chatting, and I happily latched onto Linda as my unofficial trail pacer. She told me about her recent injury, and her training for the Vermont 100 Miler, and her family. I followed her lead on backing off on the hills, and occasionally jetted past her on the downhills. It was hard to resist.
I ran with my new trail guide, Linda, for the rest of the first loop of 25 kilometers. At first I worried about keeping up with her, but the conversation distracted me from my pacing, and I realized that I was doing fine.
As I neared the end of the first loop, I thought I was still feeling pretty good for having run over 15 miles. But it had been three hours, and I still had at least that much more to run. As I reached the starting point, I veered off the course to find my drop bag. My socks and shoes were soaked with mud from running through massive mud puddles in the fields, and I had to change. I put on some dry Balegas, laced up my muddy shoes, and grabbed a fresh bottle. I was starting the second loop, and there was no turning back now. I was going to finish this race.
I lost Linda in the transition, so I put my headphones on and listened to some music for a while. I usually like to save my music for later in a longer race to pump me up, but this time it just felt too distracting, so I turned it off. I continued to run the downhills, walk the uphills, and push forward.
My body began to ache, and I became pretty tired. I tried eating some real food at the aid stations (something I never do in races), and my stomach was not amused. At some point I had to stop and take my shoe off to remove a tiny rock that was irritating my aching foot. I trudged on, walking more and running less, but just as determined as ever to get my cowbell.
My stomach settled again by mile 26, and I began to run a bit more. I was through the worst of the hills, and was able to run downhill for a lot of the remaining course. In fact, mile 28 was one of my faster miles of the race. I was shocked that I could still run at all at that point in the race.
Eventually, I reached the finish, received my holy cowbell, and finally had the physical proof of a secret I had known for years: that I am an ultra marathoner.