Sunday, November 6, 2011

Rootin' for My First 50K Finish

Yes, there's a pun in that title. I had decided towards the beginning of 2011 that I wanted to run my first 50K (31 miles) while I was 31 years old. So I had from June 6, 2011 to June 5, 2012 to make it happen. I knew Corina would be doing Rocky Raccoon 50K November 5, and it fell at a good time after Chicago Marathon so I chose that one for my first back around April. It's 2 loops of 15.5 miles through Huntsville State Park, so only about a 4 hour drive from home.

Back in May or June, I'd met Alicia when we got together one evening for a run. She was definitely interested in Rocky Raccoon 50K when I mentioned I was pretty settled on the idea of going for it.  Then in the final weeks before our girls' trip, Fiona joined in the fun too. So we had veteran Corina with 2 previous 50Ks and then Alicia, Fiona, and me going for our first 50K.

We drove down to Huntsville midday Saturday. After mandatory stops at Colin Street Bakery in Corsicana for lunch and dessert and Buc-ees in Madisonville for snacks, we arrived, checked into the hotel, set out our gear, and went to the State Park to pick up our race packets.

Alicia, Fiona, Corina, and me
Imagine how gleeful I was when they gave me my bib. #31! For the girl who wanted to do her first 31 mile race while she was 31 years old. It certainly felt lucky!

Excited! "Please let this be a sign for good things to come tomorrow!"
 We had dinner at Farmhouse Cafe, behaving ourselves by avoiding many of the fried home-cookin' and pies/cakes in favor of normal pre-race fare like grilled chicken with baked potato and lots of yeasty rolls.

In bed at 8 pm, asleep by 8:45ish. We woke up at 4 am. Out the door at 5 am, all leading up to a 6 am start. Weather had been hard to predict for this race. Two weeks ago we thought it would be hot. Then even the night before, we thought it would be decently cold, like low 40s. Instead, it was 53 degrees with barely a breeze. Okay, that's still better than my race conditions at Kauai AND Chicago, AND better than it was predicting of mid-60s ten days out. I'll take it.

A 6 am start means we spend about the first 5 miles in the dark. And the first few miles? Rolling hills with LOTS of roots. I lead our group of 4, keeping the charging horses named Fiona and Alicia at bay. ;-) Both are faster runners but neither had done as many miles as Corina or myself in the last couple months (26.2 for me, 27 for Corina), so our jobs were to keep them reined in for the first loop so they didn't go out all "happy puppy" as I like to call it, aka too fast. But in the dark, even with my bright headlamp (love this new Black Diamond Sprinter), I discovered I have NO perception of when we were going uphill versus downhill. So Fiona would tell me anytime we were going uphill so that we'd go back to a fast hike instead of wasting energy running the uphills.

The first mile is mixed broken old asphalt trail along the main road. Right before the ranger station at the entrance we cross the main road into the very rooty area I mentioned. About 2 miles in we turn onto an old jeep road. This is a major out-and-back section. We learned our mileage by landmarks. Mile 2 begins the old jeep road with the woman with the cowbell and the sockmonkey (later learned that it was Paula Boone, she and her husband direct the New Year's marathon in Kingwood). Mile 3.5 is a turn and a lone port-a-potty. First aid station is at mile 4. We're all in good spirits at the first aid station. See?

All smiles. But how long would that last?
About mile 6, Fiona and I broke away from Alicia and Corina. Then we took a wrong turn and got off the course for a second. We come out on a jeep road and we're complaining we can't find any markers, and then we see Alicia and Corina come out of the trees 50 feet in front of us. Oops. Looks like we were off course maybe an extra tenth of a mile. Glad it was so short! Fiona and I get out ahead again, and we rock along pretty well through the second aid station at mile 8, and the third aid station at mile 12.7. Fiona leaves me just a little ways after that, luckily after I catch her as she runs straight past a bright yellow "Right Turn" sign in the ground!

I'm finishing up the first loop and am zoning out and I hear "Smile, Libby!" Greg (Fiona's husband and a fellow frunner) has come down to surprise Fiona!

3 hours, 48 minutes. I finish the first 25K (15.5 mile) loop, potty stop, get some water, take a GU, I feel like I'm rushing. I find my change of shirt, socks, and shoes. I rip off my short sleeve NTX Runners shirt and change into my San Francisco Marathon Ambassador's singlet since it's starting to warm up some. I sit down in someone's camp chair and hope they don't come back to notice. I rip off my shoes and socks. Feet feel good, no blisters. But I can't get on my new socks with sweaty feet. So I bodyglide up my feet, slip on the socks, and switch out one pair of Brooks Launch for a different pair of the same shoe style. Aww, like little air mattresses of cushy happiness!

Corina's sitting on my cooler, I can't find my sunglasses. Where's Fiona? Is she in the potty? What about Alicia? Me saying "I feel like I'm forgetting something." It's just chaos. I feel like I'm wasting time and/or waiting for others because I prefer to run with a friend than spend another 15.5 miles only a minute ahead or behind a friend and not know it the whole time.

And in the middle of base camp chaos, Corina's taking pictures. SMH.

Corina, Alicia, and I are 80 steps from our drop bags with Greg, and he takes our picture. Then I realize I forgot to refill my pockets with GU energy gels. I look back at the race site. Corina says, "Want to go back?" Me: "No, we've gone too far." We head out. I'd spent 18 minutes at base camp. :-(

Ready to Start Loop 2
About a mile and a half in, Alicia falls on one of the hundreds of roots. She's hit her knee, but we don't see blood and she actually feels like the sand has cushioned her fall.

An example of the many many roots on this course!
At the second aid station at mile 23.5, Alicia says, "There's just 2 behind us, one's a walker." And one of the volunteers visibly sighs. We feel bad for her and thank them all for being out there all day, and we know it was a gut reaction. I think she actually felt bad for that because she was rather sheepish after that. We chat for a couple minutes while we snack on potato chips. They have two Hammer Gels on the table, and since the next aid station is 5.5 miles away, I take it, even though Montana Huckleberry flavor sounds awful.

Aid Station 2, Mile 23.5, I think I have potato chips in my mouth!

After the aid station, Alicia and I pull ahead of Corina. Around mile 25, I tweet and Facebook our current status. I tell Alicia, "I tweeted our time and that we're at about mile 24ish". She says, exasperated, "24ish? We were at 24 like a mile ago!" And I say, "Yeah, so 24ISH." Can you tell we're getting tired?

Then I try to open the hammer gel. I wrestle it with my teeth. Then Alicia uses her teeth and gets it open. All's fair out on the trail. I take one sip off it. "EWWW! Disgusting!" It's awful. I don't take anymore. I have to carry it another couple miles with the top of it flipped closed because if I put it on my pocket, everything will leak out and get me super sticky.

About mile 26.5, I'm losing steam, and Alicia goes ahead. A couple minutes later, I don't want to be left behind, and it gives me motivating to keep my running going. A random runner out on his jog coming the other way passes me and says, "You can catch her. She's just 50 feet ahead!" Whoa, thanks for the motivation! A short bit later, I can spot her from time to time between the trees. But I just can't close the gap.

Instead of 5.5 miles between aid stations 2 and 3, it feels like 20 miles. All I can think of is there's supposed to be a "water only" stop 4 miles after the aid station 2, so where is the water jug?!? And once I finally got there, I knew I still had to pass the marshy area and some more wooded area to get to the 3rd aid station.

All through mile 27, I'm obsessed with the idea that the race director will pack up the timing mat and finish line. I've done the math and realize I won't make his 8 hour time limit. Now this had been a worry of mine a couple months ago. I had emailed Paul, who directs the race. He was so super nice. His response had been, don't worry, we stick around for a while. He understood your pace can just fall apart in those last 10 miles. But I was becoming increasingly terrified that my finish, when it finally came, wouldn't "count" in an official way.

I'm almost ready to burst into tears out of stressing over this when I get to aid station 3. I ask them to make sure Paul doesn't pack up the finish line. They tell me not to worry, Paul's nice about that. One girl hanging out there says she has finished the 50K there in over 8 hours before and Paul waited for her. And I point to them all and say, "Well you call and tell Paul he HAS to wait. I'm on my way."

I run / walk my way to the last course monitor at the turn onto the trail by the road near the ranger station. The course monitor says, "You have just one more mile." I decide to run the entire last mile. I plod along across that section of rolling hills with broken asphalt trail. I feel like it's 5 miles. Until the woods open up and I can see that last 500 feet to the finish! I hear all my friends calling my names, and I actually feel like my form looked pretty strong coming in, and I was able to give a decent kick into the finish line.

8 hours, 20 minutes, 57 seconds! I placed 85th out of 87th, and I don't care about that at all. But I am amazed that there were only 17 women in the whole 50K.

So I actually expected to cry as I finished but I didn't. I had spent the last couple miles of the race thinking about crazy this past year has been. I have an 11 month old baby and in less than 100 days, I had completed an amazing 200-mile relay, my first 3 marathons, and my first 50K trail race. And I'd trained and raced with some of the greatest frunners (friend runners) anyone would be lucky to know. I LOVE this photo of all of us after we finished.

Frunner Greg took this picture. From left to right: Fawn, me, Kerrie, Fiona, Tony, Corina, and Alicia.
We went back to the hotel, got cleaned up, and I did my ice bath. Yowza. But so worth it! For dinner, we went BACK to the Farmhouse Cafe and had all the fried awful foods we couldn't have on race eve. Yeah, I totally had fried avocado with ranch dressing as a starter, followed by fried shrimp with two sides of onion rings. Oh, and peanut butter pie to go. YUM! I had earned a major cheat meal!

Another ice bath before bed, then Sunday morning we drove home. I actually felt pretty good, just a little sore and stiff. And happy and proud. :-)

Big thanks to Corina, the source for basically ALL these photos. She is the Picture Queen!

Happy Running!


  1. Love love love it!!!! Had so much fun and so many memories! Thanks for letting me be a part of it all!

  2. Montana Huckleberry??? UGH!!! I would've gnawed pine needles instead. ;-)

    Sounds awesome and no diggers! I call that a major score. (BTW, I was noticing that about the # of females when I was looking through the past results for the February race.)


  3. Awesome job! I see you've learned the first and second rules of ultrarunning: 1. Get in and out of the aid stations as quickly as possible. 2. Beware the chair.

  4. Way to go! Love following your awesome adventures. :) And agreed, montana huckleberry? Ewww...

  5. Yep, Montana Huckleberry is what you're left with when you are 85th out of 87 finishers, LOL. Oh, I realized later I forgot to mention that my Garmin died at 7 hrs, 40 min. :-( Super sad horns.

  6. That's AMAZING - I loved reading this was a freakin' accomplishment!! I loved the directive - "you call Paul and tell him to wait! I'm on my way!"

    Just great.

  7. Very cool Libby! Congrats. That's a big race!!

  8. Well done, Libby! 50k is a long way. I love that tired, proud feeling. You deserve it!