As the week got closer to race day, I developed a minor problem. First, it started as a tickle in my throat and a dry cough. As the week progressed, the cough became more consistent and congested. I was a little concerned, and Thursday went to the health food store to see what they could give me to help. On Friday, I drank tea, supped on chicken soup and took my herbal remedies. The cough was still there, but seemed manageable. Oh well, the race was on, no matter what. Friday night I drove to my sister in law’s house to spend the night. They lived within a half hour of the race site. We had a nice visit and then it was off to bed. I woke up every couple of hours. At one point I thought the clock said 7:20 and I panicked since the race started at 7:30. But then I realized it was still dark outside, so it couldn’t be that late. I ended up getting up 5 minutes before the alarm went off. Methodically, I got dressed for the race, rubbed BodyGlide all over my body, and made sure my drop bags were ready. I had one for food and drinks, and one for clothes and my racing gear. When I arrived at the race site, it was probably in the 20s. I was freezing and stayed in my car as long as possible. The cough was still there, but I ignored it. The race consisted of 2 loops, one was 4.7 miles, the other 8 miles. You started on the one loop and if you wanted to do the longer loop you turned left instead of right. The loops were on trails throughout the state park. Each time you finished a loop, you would cross over the mat and yell out your number and whether you did the long or short loop. We started the race and within a quarter mile were climbing up a fairly steep hill. I knew that on future loops this would be a walking hill. Finally we reached the top and entered into the woods. The trails are shared with horses and the ground was rough and lumpy from frozen horse tracks. I didn’t know which was worse, hard lumpy ground or soft muddy ground. I would get to experience both this day as the temperature would climb into the sixties. Everyone was bunched up on this first part but most people turned left to do the long loop, so I turned right and did the short loop. There was only one guy up ahead of me. Another guy was right behind me, but he must have been content to let me set the pace, because he never passed me. I was feeling pretty good, but knew I was probably going a little fast. When I got to the end of the loop, I had finished it in 47 minutes. My original goal was just to run the short loop. But now that I was ahead of schedule I decided to do the long loop. I think this was my first mistake. I took 2 minutes to refuel, strip a layer of clothing and head back out. On this loop, I never saw another runner. I thought that was pretty weird. The long loop had more rolling hills. It also ran under some power lines and had a roller coaster affect, short steep climbs and descents. I really didn’t like it at all. But when I finished this loop I was at just over 2 hrs for almost 13 miles! Too fast, I kept telling myself. And that long loop took a lot out of me, so I decided to stay on the short loop the rest of the way. I can’t quite remember what my next loop time was, but at the end, I remember taking a long break, making sure to eat more and going to the bathroom. I left for my next loop at 3hrs 30 minute. I hit 20 miles right around the 4 hour mark. This was right where I wanted to be. However, I was getting tired and began to slow considerably, taking many more walking breaks. On the next loop I had some GI issues and took a little detour into the woods. The amazing thing was on most of the loops I ran many miles with no one around. Occasionally I would pass someone or be passed. Some people were running the loops backwards so you would meet them on the way. There were probably close to 100 people out there running, but I don’t know where they were! I hit the marathon mark at 5hrs 30 minutes and finished the loop and 27 miles at about 5hrs 45 minutes. Okay that meant I had a little over 2 hrs to do another loop. If I did the long loop of 8 miles I could hit 35 miles! If I did the short loop I would get my 50K miles. So I had a real dilemma. By this time, I was walking a lot. I didn’t know if I could finish the 8 mile loop in two hours. That was a 4mph pace, but when I was walking my pace was dropping down to 3 mph. If I didn’t finish the loop I would not get credit for any of the miles and would go home with 27 official miles. (What I didn’t know at the time is that if I finished the loop in the time period I would have been vying for third place – would that have made a difference in my decision? I don’t know). The other factor is I really didn’t like that 8 mile loop. And the trail had gotten muddy and slippery. But I knew I could finish the 4.7 mile loop, I could stroll it at 2.5mph and finish it! So when I came to the intersection, I stood there in a moment of indecision and finally took the short loop. The funny thing was as soon as I made my decision I got a second wind. I almost turned around to do the long loop. But I stuck with my plan and finished the loop with 47 minutes to spare. That meant that I would have had 47 minutes to do the extra 3.3 miles. I think it would have been close! I did my first loop in 47 minutes, but I knew I couldn’t do a last loop in 47 minutes so I called it a day. Many of the runners, came with the plan of doing the 50k and stopping. Some of them finished an hour or more ahead of me and didn’t even stay for the awards ceremony. But I enjoyed hanging around and talking to some of the runners. I knew I was an Ultra Newbie by the conversations. One lady said “Well, I did a marathon last week, and I have another one next week, so I only did 50k. You know you got to take care of your body, not push it too hard.” She was also preparing to do the National Marathon on March 21 and the Shamrock Marathon on March 22. There were several of them planning to do that. Another guy said he had a training run of 10-15 miles scheduled for Sunday, although at least he was thinking of canceling out. I said I ran an average of 70-80 miles a week and the response was, “Well, that’s a good start.” The guy winner ran over 50 miles in 8 hrs! Unbelievable. He was one I saw quite a lot, as he passed me by. It was a humbling, awesome experience. God has been so good to me in these last two years, as I have been transformed from the inside out. There is a place of inner resolve and determination I never knew I had. I pulled from this throughout the day, and even now am reflecting on my next goal, how much farther can I go, how much harder can I push.
Last night was a bit rough. The cough has gotten worse and I ended up getting up and drinking tea in the middle of the night, and reading a book. My body is achy and tired – not the sore legs achy, but the flu achy. I did a five mile recovery walk/jog today and felt good while out there but now I’m wrapped in a blanket and sipping chicken broth. But, I’ll recover. Besides, if I can run 31.5 miles in 7 hrs being sick, just think what I can do if I’m totally healthy!