When I am nervous I make lists. This week I had three lists going to prepare for and minimize the stress of my race. It sounds excessive, but I feel like one of the things that went really well on Saturday was that I remembered everything. The only thing I really forgot was that I didn’t have the velcro for my gaiters on the back of my shoes I was bringing, so I couldn’t wear them during the race. Of all the things to forget, this ended up not being a big deal. I had to pick a couple little items of debris out of my shoes throughout the day, but nothing too aggravating.
The 50 (*ahem* 56) mile race started Saturday morning at 8am (the 100 started on Friday at noon), and I had to be there by 5:45am to catch the shuttle from Vogel State Park to Camp Morganton, as it was a point to point race for the 50 miler. I got up at 3:45 am and was to the park by 5:15 am, and hopped on the bus to wait. I had picked up my packet the day before, so I already knew where to park and where everything was staged, which definitely cut down on my anxiety about the logistics of race morning.
The shuttle bus was really comfortable, and I spoke briefly with the gentleman sitting next to me. He was back for his third time running this race, and said that it beat him up every time. I re-committed to myself that I would seriously evaluate the day at the 50k mark and determine if I truly wanted to continue on. I did not feel prepared for this race. It was not something I had been planning to do, and jumped into it with a long run of 18 miles. I knew that it might not be doable, and I would have to have a really great day in order for it to pan out. I also knew that I had been doing lots of running on hills and lots of low heart rate training, which would certainly benefit me on this race. At the very least it would be a great opportunity to get some miles in on some challenging trails.
Once we got to Camp Morganton, I stuck my drop bag with the others, got my GPS tracking device, and began the (what felt like endless) wait until the race start. I chatted with a woman named Jennifer, who is a seasoned ultra runner, while I tried to keep my nerves at bay. The RD called us outside for a briefing and counted us down for the start. We were on our way!
The race started out on the road, and I was determined not to go out too fast and regret it later. I settled in way, WAY in the back of the pack, and kept my heart rate low, walking up hills right from the start. The course was marked with hot pink ribbons labeled “escape route” tied to trees, as well as little white flags stuck into the ground where there were no trees. I learned quickly to always be on the lookout for one or the other, particularly when the field began to spread out.
By this time I was chatting with a runner named Brian, and very soon after another runner named Kyle joined us. The three of us ran together and talked for quite some time. It really passed the time, and I enjoyed hearing about the races they had run, what they do for a living, their families, and their favorite foods. Especially the food…
I was feeling great, and was taking it really easy, but I knew that the sunshine and roses feeling wouldn’t last forever, so I tried to hold onto it and savor it as long as possible. At about 24 miles or so my legs were a little achy, but overall I was feeling really good. I was continuing to walk the uphills and jog the flats and non-technical downhills. There were certainly groupings of miles that were easier/harder than others, but I was surprised at how great I felt when I was running. I was waiting for that lead-leg feeling when I resumed running after hiking for a while. It didn’t happen, and actually my legs began feeling less achy and the sections I was able to run, from a terrain standpoint, began feeling better and better. I was enjoying meeting other runners and spending some time talking to them, learning about them and hearing their perspective on the course. I realized I was passing quite a few people, and that I was seemingly recovering well from the uphill sections.
The 100 mile runners I encountered kept warning me about the Dragon’s Spine, a notoriously difficult section of the Duncan Ridge Trail, but I knew I couldn’t dwell on what was ahead. I had to keep pushing forward, and enjoying the little successes I had along the way.
I was hoping to hit 40 miles before dark, and I rolled into the aid station at 40.5 miles with my headlamp on my head, but not yet switched on. So far I had really enjoyed the aid stations…grilled cheese, M&Ms, potato chips, boiled potatoes dipped in salt, and pb&j in addition to water and Tailwind were what I went for primarily. I tried not to linger too long, although picking up my gear from my drop bag at around 30 miles took me a few extra minutes. There were aid stations every 5-7.5 miles or so, and if you spend too much time at each, you can really burn a lot of time by the end of the day. I was also afraid that if I sat down, I might not get back up!
When I headed out from the aid station at 40.5 miles, in the dark and by myself, I knew that the rest of the race was going to really test me. I still felt physically good, but I was tired and nervous about being alone. I had my first and only fall of the day, as well as a brief moment of panic when I felt like I hadn’t seen a pink ribbon in awhile. I began praying. Praying to see a ribbon, praying for safety from predators, praying for strength and determination to not give up. I never felt scared, per se, which was amazing, because these were the moments I had been most terrified of leading up to the race. I did see a ribbon, and I did eventually see lights up ahead, which meant I wasn’t alone out there. I hooked up with two other people, then two more, and even through it eventually ended up being just me and one other person, it was me and ONE OTHER PERSON, which meant I had a “buddy” to run with for the rest of the race which was such an amazing relief. We veered off course once, and had I been alone, I may have panicked. However, we quickly realized our error and corrected it without losing but a minute or two.
In my fatigue, I misread the course description I had downloaded on my phone, and the last 8 miles were very different then we thought they were going to be. A quarter mile climb turned out to be more like a 1.5-2 mile climb (who knew at that point…my watch was long dead), and the 2,000 foot descent at the end of the race turned into…well, not 2,000 feet of descent (there HAD been a 2,000 foot descent a little earlier, I just didn’t realize it at the time and was expecting it later on.) In any event, when we had two volunteers suddenly pop up on the course and tell us we had a mile of trail left, and then a brief stint down the paved road to the finish line, you better believe I got a little hop back in my step. I saw that paved road coming up and I was downright giddy. I finished the 56-ish miles and just under 18,000 feet of elevation gain in 19 hours and 40 minutes, at 3:40 am.
This race was organized wonderfully, and I am so appreciative of all of the volunteers and the RD who made it happen. I’m also so thankful to the people that I met for their encouraging words and their ability to distract me from the task at hand. Mostly, though, God put the people in my path that I needed when I needed them, He kept my legs feeling strong (which is always something that I mentally struggle with during long distance running – the fatigue in my legs does a number on my head), and He gave me reassurances when I was feeling unsure or apprehensive. He kept my mind strong, and because of that (and that alone), I finished. Thank you, God, for continuing to lead me down this path for the ladies of Bassin Caiman. I will run those #100milesforcorn in September, and that corn grinder will become a reality, because of Him and His provision and grace.