I've never suffered as much as I did yesterday, but I got my cowbell.
Going into the race, I wasn't really sure where I was. Training-wise, I know I'd done some solid runs, but I'd been feeling pretty tired as well. Hopefully, the last two weeks of rest were the right choice. My goals going into the race were unpublished and, I thought, realistic. Obviously, the first goal was to finish. I was shooting for 5:10, which would be 10:00 per mile. I would be happy with anything under 5:20, but held out hope I could break 5:00.
This race report should probably be two race reports: one for the first 18 miles and one for the last 13 miles. It felt like two completely separate races.
The First 18
The race started quietly enough with me running very easily for the first couple miles chatting with friends and making new friends as I went. I was also running with my buddy Nate who was seeking his revenge on this race after crashing hard last year in the second half of the race. Our plans matched perfectly as the plan was to go out slow. That's just what we did. It's tough to take the first part of the race easy as the first 5k are basically all downhill, but we kept it pretty mellow. Not much to report through the first 10k, just easy running and enjoying the day. Nate stopped at the aid station at the yurt to eat, and I kept rolling. I was feeling really, really good. I was running easy and very comfortably. I came through the Grove at 10+ miles, said "Hi!" to Danielle and headed out on the Oak Hill Loop. Throughout the race, I had been doing a good job mixing my running and walking. I was walking all the steeper and/or longer hills, even though I was feeling good enough to run them. More feeling great, and I finished my first lap in about 2:27.
As I was swapping out the bottles in my Fuel Belt, Nate came into the Grove, and we headed out the second loop together, dodging the dogs of the 4k Canicross. Needless to say, it was a bit chaotic. Nate and I ran together until the 30k mark, when I said, "Hmmm...I'm not feeling that great."
The Last 13
Nate and I came into the aid station at the Yurt together, and I stopped for some water and a few snacks, hoping for a boost. This whole running thing was starting to hurt. Carter was working this aid station, and I told him that I was in a bit of a bad patch. I was hopeful it would pass. I started to feel better going around the field loop, but as my energy started to return, I could feel my left calf tightening. It was feeling like one of my calf strains from the past. Uh oh. I was afraid of cramping/tightening, so I'd been eating Pringles and pretzels at the aid stations. Plus, I was eating the margarita flavored Clif Shot Bloks, which have salt. As I headed into the Hemlocks, I stopped to stretch my calf on a tree and kept rolling. My energy was a little better, but my calf was trouble. I actually caught back up to Nate on a hill and told him of my calf troubles. I told him to go run his own race, and not worry about me. We ran together for about another K, until we weren't together anymore. At some point, he just took off, or, rather, I faded. By the time, I came back on the fields, he was long gone. I took another break at the aid station and had a feeling I was in trouble. Carter offered me an S-Cap, which I took, and I walked out of this aid station. After another calf stretch, I started running again. Maybe I would survive...maybe not.
The legs were really tired, and I had certainly slowed, but I was still moving forward. Slowly, but forward. At some point, the pain that I sometimes/often get in my left shoulder/neck started to return. My entire left arm was affected. In other words, things were going downhill fast. At the 40k mark, I was walking up a hill, teetered to the side and nearly fell over. Not good. Miraculously, though, only a couple people passed me, and I was even passing a few 50k runners. So, perhaps other people were suffering more than I was. By the time I made it back to the Grove, I'd pretty much lost use of my left arm. I couldn't raise up to a normal running position. It was just sort of flopping by my side. I wanted nothing more than to be done. I'd asked D for 2 new bottles when I came through, and along with a great deal of concern, she had those ready for me. I barely stopped and I don't think I said a word to her. I knew if I was given the slightest opening, I would have stopped. So, I head out on the final Oak Hill Loop.
The last five miles are a blur. My arm was getting worse. Now both calves were tight. Because of my arm, my back also started to tighten, making breathing difficult. I barely drank anything out of either bottle. At some point, it started raining. Honestly, I have no idea when it started. I only realized it was raining because I noticed that the trail was muddy. Yeah, I was somewhere else. I was really suffering. But, I was still moving forward. I was still mixing my running and walking successfully. Only once did I catch myself walking when I "should" have been running. It was only a few steps, though, and I got back to it. I kept pressing forward. Luckily, I know the trails well enough to know where I was, but I often had to think hard about how much I had to go. I made it to the Final Mile Aid Station where Nate and Shannon had come out to cheer for me, confirming what I already knew: Nate had an awesome race.
It was raining quite hard when I crossed the finish line. If you had asked me at 15 miles, there's no way I would have said it would have taken me that long or hurt that much. Honestly, it was a really odd feeling. I kept waiting for it to hurt less. It never did. What I thought was a bad patch turned out to be 13 miles of bad. It just kept going down hill. Easy and enjoyable running turned into suffering. No warning. It just happened. Running 31 miles is hard. It took me 5:17:13. I finished 46 out of 108 finishers.
There was generous amount of congrats and concern for my well being at the finish. I'm sure I sounded ungrateful, when the volunteer handed me the tiny cowbell. I was really hoping for the big shiny silver version. I'd just suffered for it. Luckily, it was a mistake, and I grabbed the big version. It's mighty perrty. I'm officially an ultrarunner.
Today, I'm really sore. It's been couch, heat and ice. Walking is hard. Stairs are terrifying. And, I'm really wondering about this whole ultra thing. I'm not sure it's for me. It could just be the short term memory, and perhaps I'll forget, but I'm not ready to sign up for another. I'm not even ready to think about another. I'm really not sure.
Congrats to the rest of the Trail Monsters on great races. I think everyone had great days. Maybe it was the home court advantage. And, of course, extra special thanks to D for being an awesome crew!