Monday, November 23, 2009
Saturday morning I woke at 3am, dressed, got my gear together and made the drive up to Boonesboro for the start of the race. I reached the intersection going into town just as the 5am starters took off and I had to wait for them to go by. They were jogging or walking up a small hill going out of town. Couldn't help but wonder if I should be with them instead of the 7am starters. Finally, I'm allowed to go and I find the educational complex where I pick up my race packet, make a potty stop and wait for the pre-race meeting. Mentally, I'm running through my race strategy and trying to decide if I should wear the knee pads for the Appalachian Trail section. When I did my training run on this section, I fell hard and bruised the side of my knee. But the things aren't the most comfortable in the world, and since I have no crew to hand things off to, I would either have to ditch them, or wear them the whole race. Finally, I decide to wear them. I am also using the Nathan Hydration racing vest for the first time. I am determined not to get dehydrated today. Of course, I first had to figure out how to get the liquid out of the bladder and into my mouth. I fiddled with the hose while we walked to the starting line in the middle of town. I also wore my many pocketed vest over a long sleeve technical shirt and had the pockets stuff with gels, sport beans and s-caps. On my arms were wool socks with the toes cut out. Suddenly the horn sounded and we were off! I kept looking for a mat to cross over, but there was just a chalk line drawn across the road. As the road started to climb up the mountain I decided to continue running, slowly. My splits up those first 3 miles were 10:39, 11:32, 12:39. Then we turned onto a trail. I saw an open porta-potty and took my first bathroom break. This trail didn't last very long before we began a long climb up a paved section. It was steep! I walked and ran up this section which topped off at about mile 5. My pace definitely slowed here. Finally, the real Appalachian Trail - a narrow single-track rocky path. This section rolled up and down, actually more down until we got to the first aid station. I had my one and only tumble here, hit the rocks hard - my knees were protected but got a nasty bruise on my thigh. I was a little surprised that no one stopped to make sure I was okay, but rather used the opportunity to pass me (not typical ultra runner behavior). I was feeling pretty good at the first aid station, so kind of ran through that one and continued on the trail. This section had more uphill and was more technical. Overall, the A.T. section was fairly runnable, but the section I didn't like was the last mile and a half down the mountain. It was very technical and my feet were starting to hurt. I should have stopped and adjusted my shoe laces but just wanted to get off the mountain. At 3hrs, 30minutes into the race I finally came down to Aid station #2 and the C&O canal. I ditched the knee pads which were getting extremely uncomfortable and downed two glasses of gatorade and took two electrolytes. I knew I needed more hydration, my legs were already tight, I felt pretty spent and I still had 35 miles to go. Now, I needed to worry about time cutoffs. I decided to shoot for 12 minute miles and calculated that if I could make it to 26 miles by 6 hours, I could finish the race doing 15min miles. My goal was to bank time. My second decision was to stop at every aid station and drink at least two glasses of something, and to take two endurolytes. I would sip from my hydration bladder between stops. At the 20 mile aid station, near Harper's Ferry, a group of about 10 people on horseback were headed down to get on the path. I didn't think that was a good idea with all the runners. Suddenly, BAM! BAM! BAM! Loud gunshots go off over the water (duck hunters!) The horses spook, one rider gets thrown and they take off in the opposite direction. "Horse loose!" I yell. Someone runs up to the thrown rider, but she's more concerned about the horse than herself. I head back down the trail, glad no one was hurt. About this time, a runner, who had stood up at the pre-race meeting with a 10 hour goal, passes me. I was surprised he was still behind me, but at the pace he was now running, I knew I would never see him again. So, I plodded along at my 12 minute miles, doing a lot of self talk. Where was that deep inner fire that kept me going, relentlessly forward when things started to hurt? "Hello, Warrior Princess, I know you're in there somewhere. Come out, come out wherever you are." I prayed that the Lord would give me the strength to keep pushing, to not quit unless they pulled me. Many people passed me. I was afraid to look behind in case there was no one left. I played leap frog with a lot of people. They would run by me, then take a walk break. I would jog by them in my relentless, plop, plop, plop. Or I would catch up to them at the aid station or when they took a bathroom break. Each aid station, I would stop drink two glasses and, if needed, refill my hydration bladder, eat a few chips, take a couple of endurolytes and move on. I also did 4 or 5 gels and a package of sport beans during the day. Sometimes, I would stop and stretch out my calves. Then I would continue my plodding along. My pace looked something like this: 12:25, 12:35, 13:13, 15:14(aid station), 12:26, 13:30, etc. At the 39 mile aid station, I pulled in and the lady said, "Good job, you made it just under the time cutoff." What?! I thought I was doing pretty good. Now I was panicking. I'm not going to make it. They're going to pull me from the course!! This was the lowest point for me. In my mind, I was rationalizing "Why keep going? They're going to pull you anyway?" But then I kept doing the math in my head - I actually had an hour to get to the next aid station which was only 3 miles away. I was still hitting 12-13 minute miles. And I was still banking minutes. A little spark lit inside. Just keep going! You're not a quitter! You're the warrior princess. Nothing can stop you. I kept going. The one couple I was playing leap frog with passed me again. The lady touched me on the shoulder. "You're an inspiration. You just keep that steady pace, and we'll get to the finish line." Then, I pulled into the last aid station on the canal path, where I was given a bright orange reflective vest to wear. I was at 9hrs and 40mins and a little over 8 miles to go. We turned off the path and started heading up a large hill. Ugh, my confidence started to slip, it's not in the bag yet - but then something happened. The spark inside me grew and the Warrior Princess returned. I started running even on some of the uphills. I began passing people, one after another. It got darker and darker. The road was not blocked off and cars were coming and going, forcing us onto the shoulder. I thought it was downright dangerous! I had my headlamp tucked in one of my vest pockets which I pulled out and carried like a flashlight. Then I kept my head down and just kept moving. As I spotted people ahead, I made it my goal to pass them. I ended up passing at least 50 people if not more. My legs suddenly felt good, not tight at all! I was enjoying myself! And I knew I would make it. At the 46.5 aid station they finally had one lane blocked off, so I could breathe easier about the traffic. With 1.5 miles I passed a guy who was getting his head bandaged up (so close and then that to happen)! Down a hill, into the town. I could hear the finish line, then I could see it! I raised my hands in victory as I crossed in 11hrs and 35 minutes! The Warrior Princess was back! Then I promptly threw up. After retrieving my bag, I climbed on the school bus for the ride back to my car. It was a day of ups and downs - a lot of introspection - learning not to quit when I'm down - that there's always something left, if you just hang on. And in the end it all comes back to God and His grace and mercy. Acts 20:24 - "But I don't place any value on my own life. I want to finish the race I'm running. I want to carry out the mission I received from the Lord Jesus-the mission of testifying to the Good News of God's kindness."