ultramarathon, trail runner, mount hood, trail running, ultrarunning, pacific crest trail, pct, endurance running

That time I ran 50 miles

I thought all my ultra-inspired lessons would come in one neat package on the trail, that they would fit snugly between the start and finish lines and I’d come out the other side a different person than when I started. That’s the thing with lessons – you invite them into your life and expect them to enter through the front door like gentlemen, but instead, they sneak in through the window while you’re sleeping and put your hand into a bowl of warm water.  The evolution of the soul does not happen in ten hours, thirty-two minutes and fifty-one seconds.  In fact, during that time, I had to push through exactly zero emotional lows if you allow me the occasional “get away from me!” exclamations as I shuffled through five miles of yellow jacket territory and one “where the fuck is this mythical aid station?!?” after having run out of water near the top of a hot and dusty climb.  I have, however, faced several physical, mental and emotional lows in the weeks since crossing the finish line – but I’m not going to write about that in this post. It’s only now that some of the darkness is beginning to make way for a sense of accomplishment, but to be honest, I’m still wading through some challenging thoughts and feelings.  Once I’ve processed them, I don’t know if I can stomach rehashing it all verbally.

Instead, I hope you enjoy the following, more memorable moments from running my first 50 miler.

After a few sleep-deprived airport blunders, i.e. having to go through security twice because we got on the train to baggage claim and then having to risk a third time on an expedition to retrieve Michele’s I.D. – my BRFF (best running friend fo’eva) landed in Portland and leisurely made our way out to the Clackamas Lake campground.  We then proceeded to deface the campsite as seen below.

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I decided to play it safe and chose the same shorts, sock-shoe combo and hydration pack – {Oiselle, Pro Compression, Salomon Sense Pro 2, and Nathan respectively} – that I wore to run Dirty 30 and Quad Rock.  The only thing I changed up was the top – I wore Skirt Sports Take 5 Tank and BRF bra which were both super comfortable, despite a build up of salt crust at the bottom by the end of the race.

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What was going through my head in this pre-race photo?  Ten bucks says it was “I hope this performance flannel helps me perform.”

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The first handful of miles were cold and dusty – I ran with my buff over my mouth and nose, as I started all the way at the back of the pack and we were bottle-necked for a good few miles before I could start to break away.  During that time, the sun was slowly making its way upward through the pines.  I’m pretty sure this capture is near Timothy Lake, just a few miles into the race.

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That’s me around mile 11 just a mile or two after falling pretty hard on the the least technical part of the entire trail.  I crested a hill and saw the beautiful, buttery trail ahead and I was flying through the air before I knew that I tripped.  At least I hope I tripped or that moves to the top of the embarrassing fall stories.

ultramarathon, trail runner, mount hood, trail running, ultrarunning, pacific crest trail, pct, endurance running

The race was two out and back sections with the start/finish roughly in the middle.  This is on my way back from the first section around mile 17.  During this section, one woman who was headed in the opposite direction said to me “ninth female, nice job”.  That is not information one should be made aware of as a moderately competitive and stubborn person 17 miles into a 50 mile race.  Anything can happen and with this being my first one, I didn’t know how my body would respond to the distance, regardless of speed.  As someone who generally does better when I hold back early, I negotiated with my body over this piece of knowledge for the next 33 miles. On that note, I believe there are two things one should never say to someone running a trail race.

  1. You’re almost there”
  2. Race performance unless explicitly asked

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The first half of the race went pretty smoothly – when I came upon the mile 9 aid station I didn’t want to stop – I had only been out for an hour and a half.  In fact, the first 20 miles went by really fast. Heck, the first 28 miles went by in 5 hours!  I moved pretty swiftly in and out of the aid stations.  Since the course was an out and back in two directions, I passed through several of the aid stations twice.  Michele was allowed to crew at mile 9/19 and 28/Finish.

As I rolled into each aid station, I immediately forgot the list of things in my head that I had planned to ask for.  My response to the question “what do you need” was … “nothing?”  Michele SPF’d me, shoved my layers into my pack and had a bottle of Skratch ready for me at every stop. I made myself eat a little at every aid station – oddly enough, fig newtons, which I hate in regular life – after learning the hard way what it feels like to run on not enough calories during Dirty 30. My right glute – the one that caused the searing pain every step of the last few miles at Quad Rock started giving me trouble around mile 20. Every time it started to flare up, I breathed into it, literally telling myself to “just let go” over and over.  I meant both physically and mentally… just let go.

trail runner, ultra runner, ultra marathon, mount hood, pacific crest trail, fifty mile run

So – what happens after mile 30?  Does a secret door open up to a magical universe where fairies ride on the tips of unicorn horns, the secrets of life whispering forth from the flap, flap, flap of their wings?  Nope.  It was pretty much just more running and more pain and more joy.  Although I didn’t experience the emotional lows I was expecting, I did have an incidence of spontaneous crying.  Around mile 43, what I assume is next level pain from my IT band issues wouldn’t let me run.  Aside from the searing hip pain, my knee was holding fluid and I suddenly was hit with a sharp pain on top of my kneecap accompanied by a radiating hot achy pain deep into the joint.  So by the time I’d hobbled to the mile 45 aid station, I was hurting pretty good and more than a little bummed that I couldn’t take advantage of the downhill after those uphill struggles.

I left that aid station with a fresh pack full of ice water and as I continued my hobble, I burst into tears.  I didn’t have an emotion I could attach to the tears, it was simply a release of energy.  It felt so good that I wish it had lasted longer and I wish I could release it on command in everyday life.

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Those last five miles went by excruciatingly slowly due to the amount of walking I was forced to do.  In the last mile, I could hear people cheering for the finishers – the finishers that I had stayed ahead of for 45+ miles until they outpaced my hobble.  In that last mile, my pride hurt worse than my knee and I managed a limp-jog to the finish.  Just more proof that if your mind is there, your body will follow.  I’m not sure what kind of damage running through that pain for the other 6 miles would’ve done, so I don’t regret the choice to hobble.  I ran roughly 40 of these 50 miles and I’m really proud of my effort.

As I waited for Michele to bring me a veggie burger, I felt the warm salty tears release once more.  I didn’t want to fight it even though I was surrounded by people.  So I pulled my hat down, rested my head on my knees and let the tears cascade down my cheeks and generate tiny explosions of dust as they fell to the dry ground below.  Again, I wish it would’ve lasted longer and I wish I could let go like that at will.

After 10:32:51 I completed my first 50 mile trail race as 10th female and 3rd in my age group.  Every other ‘first’ I’ve raced, my goal was to simply finish.  This time I wanted to do more than just finish.  Trail running and racing has been a lesson in both pride and humility.  I’m certainly nothing special in this town even as I have done something that less than 0.1% of the US population has done.  I’ll never be elite.  I’ll have to run small, obscure races to ever place in the top 10 in Colorado – see Indian Creek Fifties 15 miler.  But it’s all relative and we’re all on our own journey – and I just did something that I didn’t even know was a thing until just a few years ago.  Makes me wonder what else is out there for me to discover during this, my ‘one wild and precious life’.

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So far, I tend to get one line from one song stuck in my head for hours. The theme for Mt Hood…..

www.youtube.com/watch

Published by

@trail_kat

Running some of the trails and taking some of the pictures. Discovering life on the trails.

4 thoughts on “That time I ran 50 miles”

  1. I finally had the courage to read your blog (just the race post). It’s encouraging, heartfelt and tied to so much reality. I relate.

    Like

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