Well here it is …the race recap you’ve all been waiting for. Ok, maybe like 2 people have been waiting. Anyway, you might want to clear a couple of hours….this one is going to be long (like 4,000 words long).
Saturday April 9th was the day I had been waiting for….it had finally arrived. The entire journey felt so long yet so short at the same time.
I had accepted this challenge officially back in August of last year. After a pinkie swear and a weird thing that I tied it to at work. I said if I could accomplish the work thing that was stressing me out I would sign up for the race. The connection made no sense then and makes no sense now. So on a random Tuesday in August I went crazy and signed up for the race. And just like that I found myself training for an ultra….even though I was really in the middle of training for a half marathon.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks before the race. I started stalking the weather like crazy….you know, every 30-40 minutes I would check. For a while it was looking decent. Partly sunny, reasonable temperatures. But as the day grew closer the forecast started to change. Snow in April! Rain, cold, wind….one last hurrah for winter. The weekend before was the Cherry Blossom 10 miler with high wind warnings and freezing temperatures. Since wind destroyed me at my last half marathon I made sure to tell all of my friends to not let the wind destroy their race. I found myself taking that same advice a week later.
I took off from work on Friday so I could sleep in, pack my fuel and clothes, and watch bad TV all day. I hardly slept in but did rest my legs in bed for a while. I putzed around the house trying to get stuff together but procrastinating because I wasn’t sure what I would really need despite the 10 different lists I had made. (Ok, really, it was only 2 lists on sticky notes that were stuck together.)
My buddy spent the whole day reminding me, “No dancing.” I didn’t want to waste energy or risk soreness by dancing all day. He reminded me the same thing in the car on the way to the race. After holding back I’m definitely going to do some dancing to get warmed up for my next race (which will be much shorter).
I gathered all of my fuel. I put each serving of fig newtons and crackers in individual bags – just as I had been doing in training. I calculated how much I was likely to need through the first 19 miles and planned to carry that. I made a separate bag for a refill at the mile 19 aid station. I knew I would be coming through that same aid station at 13.1 miles but didn’t want to stop if I didn’t have to.
After a couple of phone calls with my friend (and coach) I decided that based on the temperatures, wet conditions, and high winds I would wear a long sleeve shirt with a jacket. I hardly ever wear that much but the jacket is super thin. She told me to keep that jacket on or keep it in my pack no matter how I felt. The wind was supposed to get worse as the day went on and she thought I would possibly get cold in the afternoon. I was back and forth on whether or not I should wear short or long socks. She convinced me to go with long since it is my style and it was likely to feel colder than I expected. She reminded me that worse case scenario I could push them down if I was hot. I also carried short socks in my pack (in a plastic bag to keep them dry) just in case.
I gathered so much extra clothing. The weather was really confusing me. I wanted to be able to change twice if I was really wet or have options in case I needed them.
I ate a boring dinner of chicken and rice early on Friday evening and went to bed super early after setting 3 alarms (yes, for real, 3 alarms on 3 separate devices).
I woke up at 4:30 on Saturday….before the 3 alarms. I didn’t need to get up so early but I couldn’t sleep anymore. I slowly got ready and and we headed out around 5:30. We had planned for my buddy to drop me off so I could avoid the shuttle. He knew they would not let him park at the site so he brought his bike so he could park elsewhere and ride over to the start line.
As we packed the car and left the house it felt warm. I was freaking out about my clothing choice but decided to stick with it. I knew it was going to get a little bit cooler before the start and there was still the chance of rain and snow.
Right as we arrived at the park the sky welcomed us by opening up and pouring rain. I decided to hang out in the car as long as I could. I was trying to meet Meagan at 6:15 and I was a bit early. While waiting in the car I got a message saying she was on a shuttle. I suggested meeting at a small pavilion. There is not much cover near the start line. After a few messages back and forth we were able to meet (in person for the first time) after months of talking about the race on Twitter. I was glad to have someone to talk to and to distract me from getting nervous.
Before long it was time to start the race. The moment was finally here.
We started in Wave 4 – the back of the pack. The place where the party takes place. At least that’s what I hoped. We started off and immediately headed towards a large grass field with a bit of a muddy trail around it. In the beginning people were making some effort to avoid the worst of the water and mud. I was back and forth on the trail looking for the best spot but I was already wet within half a mile. My buddy went from the start line to the end of the field and was there to send me off as I headed on the path to the woods. I told him I would catch him at the party in Great Falls and then I headed for those woods.
We ran along a golf course and then took a turn onto a gravel road. I noticed right away that there was a lot more water than I was used to. There were many more little streams crossing the gravel than there normally are. I made a note to have my crew warn Kim about the conditions as I knew she was planning to help me later.
While on the gravel path we ran with Dean Karnazes! “Ran with” = we noticed Dean passing us and fan-girled for a second. This caused us to speed up way too much so we backed down before things got out of control. Meagan was able to get a picture though.
Meagan was desperate for the real trails and I told her they were coming. We finally took the turn off the gravel path to the real trails and found the beginning of the mud. This mud would basically be the story for the rest of the day. Most people were running the edges of the trail to avoid it but Meagan gave me a tip that the middle was wet but was easier to run in because it wasn’t all stomped through. That was really helpful so I made a path down the middle.
We went through some winding trails and then hit the next golf course. Typically I do not care for this golf course section but it turned out to be quite different than normal due to the mud. The low sections were a super muddy mess and the balance beam track was pretty much washed away. We suffered through each section of mud before finding a section with even deeper mud. (If you are tired of hearing about mud, I recommend that you skip the rest of this recap.) We almost had to crawl up a hill due to the mud. I knew this hill was small compared to those we were approaching.
We ran along the river in an area where I kayak. I now know both the river and the trail next to it pretty well. Sections of the trail get quite close to the river and I was scared I would land in the river if I slipped on the mud. I took it easy to avoid that.
We then hit the hills. I’ve done the hills on a muddy day before and I knew it was going to be challenging. We were sliding to the side with each step. Getting up was hard and getting down was even harder. I recalled falling on my bottom the last time I was there on a muddy day. I made it through without falling but it did require holding onto some trees. Unfortunately I don’t think all of the trees survived the day. We didn’t want to rip them out but everyone was holding onto the trees to get through the hills. The entire section required walking and sliding.
After the hills we ran through some beautiful flat sections along the river until we hit the second aid station. (The first aid station was two miles in and we blew past that one.) Meagan decided to stop but I was on a roll so I decided to keep moving.
I hit another section of flat trails and became frustrated. Running fast meant slipping a lot. Running slow meant pulling my shoe from the Earth with each step. It was a no win situation. I ran when I could and walked when I had to. I wanted to run those flats because I knew I was walking every hill. The mud made me extremely tired. I hit the big stream crossing and decided to just plow right through. My feet got wet but I lost some mud along the way. No worries, I picked up more in the next section.
I ended up passing a runner and cheering for him and then he yelled my name and I turned around to see Tai Fung. I had been looking for him at the start but never found him. I was glad to see him. Unfortunately he didn’t have a magical solution to make the mud go away. I expressed my frustration and explained that I was supposed to be running the flats. We both agreed that given the conditions our race plans changed to run as much as you could without falling every 3 seconds. We were passing each other back and forth but hit the next aid station at the same time. I ran through again but I think he stopped.
After that aid station I knew I was getting close to the big hills. I stayed with my new plan and ran anything I could. My legs were on fire….I didn’t expect that to happen so soon. I knew headed into the hills I would likely see the winner coming back. Sure enough I started to hear cheering in front of me and then the winner came speeding by. I was worried about people getting by me but it really wasn’t an issue. I fought my way through the hilly section. The last downhill was tough. I basically slid down rather than trying to run or walk.
I was way more tired than I wanted to be and starting to feel somewhat sick. I was eating every 30 minutes but for some reason I don’t think the sugar was agreeing with me even though that’s how I had trained.
I was headed to the party at Great Falls and knew my crew would be there. I decided to suck it up and fake it. I put a big smile on my face because I didn’t want my crew to know I was struggling. AND smiling always makes you feel better anyway.
My buddy saw me first and came running over to see what I needed. I grabbed the trash out of my pockets and yelled “shoes and socks!” He said “now or after the loop?” And I said “after!” I ran through high fiving my friends and got a hug or two. I was moving so fast that I almost didn’t get my bib marked. I didn’t realize my buddy and a couple of my friends were actually working at the aid station. My friend chased after to mark my bib.
I ran until I knew I was out of sight and then walked and sucked some wind. I was pretty sure they believed my story. And I felt stronger by faking it.
The loop in Great Falls was pretty fun. There were runners everywhere. The 50 milers were doing their 3 loops. There was way less mud in Great Falls.
It was funny to me on the hills. One side was running down while the other side was hiking up. We had to do two out and back sections that required our bibs to be marked. I was more prepared for the marking after almost missing the first marking spot. The first turn was sooner than I expected and I was so glad. I actually asked the volunteer if I could hug her….I think I was joking but she reached out and hugged me. I was happy to be turned back but faced a big uphill section. I think it was in that section that I saw Meagan again. We cheered for each other and kept moving forward.
After that uphill I did a flatter and downhill section which should have been easier but I was really struggling to eat and was feeling sick. I walked a bunch. I ran when I could. As I got to the next turn around and aid station, a volunteer said to run and touch the table and when I came back he would mark my bib. So I followed his directions but did not take anything from the aid station.
After getting my bib marked I made my way to the Swamp Trail. Ironically it wasn’t very swampy compared to what I had run already. There was a big downhill. I was able to move reasonably fast since there was less mud on this trail. The rocky section was hard though. My legs were tired and I wasn’t trusting them anymore.
I then was back on some gravel paths. I knew there was a course difference for the 50k versus 50 milers. Luckily there were a few volunteers. I’m terrified of wrong turns so I always come in yelling when I know there is a difference. They were saying blue to match my bib and I was saying 50k, 50k, 50k. They pointed me in the correct direction which led to the River Trail. That was the most technical part. I had to get over quite a few rocks. There was a little boy with a cowbell that made my day. I got a high five and a little boost of energy.
After that section I was back at the aid station. This time I knew I needed to stop. My buddy had a chair set out with all of my gear. My friend snapped this picture right before everyone jumped into help.
My friends got my other shoe off, removed my nasty socks, filled my hydration pack, gave me more food, wiped my nose (well gave me tissues). They got my other socks ready and helped me get my dry shoes on. It was an amazing moment. I blinked and was ready to head back out. I grabbed a couple of hugs from friends and then headed out.
I asked my buddy and training friend to run with me for a few minutes. They did it no questions asked. I explained that I was struggling. I explained that the mud was really bad and I was going to be slow on the way back. I told them to tell Kim to bring boots. I explained that I had only marked one stream crossing on the map for her and due to the recent rain there were like 5 more. I said to tell her not to come because it was cold and wet. I babbled all sorts of crap while they told me I was doing great.
We said good bye as I headed out of Great Falls. Shortly after that I saw Deb. She was looking for Meagan and I indicated that she was somewhere behind me. I was grateful for another little boost.
I hit the big hills again and fought my way through. I was glad to be headed back. After the hills I saw a guy who was struggling. I talked to him a few times as we passed each other back and forth. Eventually I insisted that he take a GU from me. At this point I had stopped eating and just didn’t feel like I could. I figured I would try at the next aid station.
By the time I got to the aid station my brain was really messed up. I knew I was going slow and I freaked out about the cutoff. I asked the first volunteer and he told me I was there in plenty of time. He told me to stop freaking out. I tried some electrolyte drink and then poured it out. It was really yucky. I told the volunteer that I was a mess and he said “what can we do to help you?” I said I wanted to try soda. He gave me a small amount of Coke …I requested only a little bit because I didn’t want to be wasteful. I think I apologized 9 times for dumping the electrolytes. I don’t drink soda….I quit many years ago. The Coke was amazing. It was the boost I needed.
And then I needed another boost, literally. Right after the aid station there was a steep hill. It was super muddy and in super bad shape. I asked if anyone had a rope to help me up and the guy in front of me turned around with an outstretched arm. I asked if he was serious and he said yes. He pulled me up! It was so amazing. I love the running community and I love the trail running community even more. As he ran off I told him to save me a beer at the finish. (Spoiler alert – apparently I talk about beer but do not actually drink it at North Face – it just never actually happens.)
I kept moving as much as I could but at this point the mud was worse from all of the runners who had passed through. Two hours after I started the marathoners started. They followed pretty much the same course. The 50 milers and 50kers were coming back and the course was destroyed.
Near mile 25 I finally lost it…and fell in the mud. I was in a flat section but the mud was so deep and my legs were so tired I just couldn’t hold my ground anymore. I picked myself up and looked behind me. There was no one close so it’s possible no one even saw it. The mud on my skirt and socks proved it though.
I got to the stream crossing again and yelled “own it!” There was someone in front of me trying to stay dry. I stomped right through the water. It seemed like a good plan. It washed some mud away for one second because then I tried to get up the hill back to the trail and stepped somewhere that seemed like it would be solid….but it wasn’t. I was in mud up over my ankles.
Suddenly I found myself running in gravel…except the trail was dirt, ahem, mud. The gravel was in my shoes from when I plowed through the stream. I think it was more sand than gravel. I knew I couldn’t go on like that. I stopped and dumped the shoe that was really bad. (I honestly have no idea why I only dumped one.)
Not long after that I made it to the aid station at 26.5 miles. As I came in I yelled “what mile is this?” (Like I didn’t know!). They said 26 something and I yelled “I just ran my first marathon!!” I asked for Coke while they processed what I had just said. Everyone cheered. I was so happy. I was looking forward to that moment. I needed that mini party.
I was counting down the miles to the finish. And then I kept taking off 2 because I knew I just had to get to Kim. I was hoping she was willing to fight the nasty conditions.
I hit a hilly section and knew to just have fun as I slipped and slid through it. That was the end of the hills for the day. I ran back near the river and to the golf course. I fought my way through the last bit of muddy sections and back to the gravel road. Right before I hit that road….I realized it was happening. My eyes filled with tears. I was running an ultra…and I was going to finish. It was taking all day (literally) but I was going to finish.
As I ran down the road to the last aid station, I decided to take one last Coke to get through the last 1.7 miles. I hadn’t eaten in 3 hours. While drinking the Coke I saw a beautiful ray of sunshine….Kim was there! I was so happy. She had on her running shoes but was carrying her boots. I babbled all kinds of stuff. I really have no idea what but I remember telling her that I was doing it….I was going to finish. We ran and walked at my stupid random intervals. Finally I said I was going to run to the finish. I pointed in that direction and left. I cannot thank Kim enough. Knowing she was going to be there was so helpful and I know she waited in the cold forever to run with me. And I know I ran faster at the end then expected.
I ran towards the finish and heard my friends cheering….I believe I yelled “I did it!”
As I hit the finishing chute the spectators were not cheering enough so I screamed for myself. I wondered why the photographer would not lift his camera but I just ran through the finish. I got a medal and an empty water bottle. (Yes, an empty bottle.)
My friends made it down to the finish area and I got so many hugs. So many wonderful hugs. Those moments were great. I was in shock but I realized that I have the best friends. My dad was there too.
After that it was all smiles and hugs.
At some point I took my yucky shoes off and then I got some food but no beer. And for a long time I had the best high. That runner’s high is amazing.
I ran FIFTY freakin’ kilometers….and I loved it. Mother Nature was mean but I didn’t care. My day was not ruined. I ran a marathon and then finished the race for an Ultramarathon.
And by the way, my awesome new friend Meagan….she was chasing me all day. She was only 8 minutes behind me. I think the only difference is that she used the aid stations. She is an Ultramarathoner too! I am so grateful to have been able to share the journey with her. I hope we can find a way to run together again.
P.S. With hard work and dedication DREAMS DO COME TRUE!
P.P.S. At some point I realized that while I have rambled on about mud, I neglected to tell you about the hail or sleet right as I hit the first big hills, the rain, the snow, and the wind. But that stuff just did not matter. I got the day that I got and I embraced it and made it my special day.
And one last thought….this is really it. I may be slow…..but I run far.