By the way, big thanks to Lesley for all the pictures below, besides all her amazing work as my crew, pacer, and social media liaison during the race! Big shoutouts to all the people who deserve thanks coming in my next blog post - this one was already long and it's important so I don't want people to skip over those awesome people.
Why 50, Pacer Found, Packet Pickup
I had thought I'd never want to do a 50. Then about 10 weeks ago, I had volunteered at theWestern States 100 and darn all those runners for being so inspiring! Okay, I was in - let's run 50 miles.
Woodstock 50 ended up being a great choice for a first 50 (see reasons I chose it in this post). I asked... ok, BEGGED Lesley to be my pacer, and she accepted. So Friday we boarded a plane for Detroit, Michigan.
We were staying about an hour out from Detroit at the host hotel, and that was about a 30 minute drive to the race site. We wanted to scope it out early and pick up my packet.
The race site was the Hell Creek Campground in, yes, Hell, Michigan, and they'd created a mini-commune out of all the campsites.
Smack in the middle was the start/finish line. I had a cute yellow tie-dye bib. I bought a couple things at the small "head shop" (merchandise tent). We found our friend Kai (running 100M) and met his friend Fritz (running 50K). Then, we saw the 100M and 100K finishers start their race with a 4 pm start time. There were a few silly costumes, lots of psychedelic tie-dye, and a guy in a shark suit. Interesting.
The next morning we made it back to the race site in the dark, and I prepped in the car. It had rained all night and was still raining, which made the mid-50s temps seem even colder. Later, we'd find out many 100Milers were dropping from the wet cold.
We got to the start line 10 minutes before the start. Suddenly it all felt very rushed. A drunk biker chatted up Lesley and me while I sought out and attached a 4th safety pin to my bib (I only had 3). Lesley later told me he had 4 beers in his pockets and after I left to start the race, he said, "you're only pacing; you can have a beer" and offered her one. Only at Woodstock! The rain shell jacket I had put on I tore off and gave to Lesley since it wasn't raining anymore and I felt hot. And then we were off with a 6 am start!
Once around the campsite commune's gravel road and then we hit the trail... And skidded to a stop. Sudden super bottleneck. Turned out the first mile was tight single track and people were picking their steps because it was goopy muddy in many sections.
Loop 1 – A Shorter Version Due to Bad Wayfinding (Miles 0 – 8)
We were finally moving a little. I was in a good position in the back and didn't feel rushed. Walked small uphills from the get-go and tried to avoid the mud. I was saving my nice bright headlamp for night, and once the pack moved ahead it was a lot darker with my dimmer headlamp. We spent about 45 minutes before dawn really came.
About mile 3 I fell in step with a guy named Matt. We chatted and had a good pace going together. We were both doing our first 50. And so very back of the pack as we were, we were alone.
After a long while, I said, "Matt, something's wrong. We should have hit an aid station quite a while ago, even if my Garmin GPS isn't dead-on." I had memorized the course and thought back to what could have gone wrong. We were still following pink flags. The course was made like a "double lollipop" or looked like a barbell. A loop on either end with a straight out-and-back section inbetween. At about 6 miles on my Garmin, I was sure of what had happened. We had missed the turnoff for the "lollipop stick" portion.
|Click on the pic to see it bigger.|
I told Matt that I thought we should continue and finish the loop because otherwise we would add at least 4 miles to our total, and when we got in to base camp, they could tell us how to fix this. I had a friend who did something similar at a trail 50M, and I remembered that race director said, "go back out and screw up exactly the same way, then do 2 normal loops" so she would still get the correct distance total.
I'm so glad I carried my phone. I called Lesley, explained what happened, and asked her to find the race personnel and get them on the situation so they wouldn't be freaked out when we came into the camp first before the leaders and we wouldn't have to wait around to sort it out. Meanwhile, Matt and I had spent about 4 miles of the 8 mile reduced first loop going a little too fast, panicky to find out what would happen to us. We were really bummed but talked through it and slowly moved to acceptance that it would all work out. Matt was leading ahead of me and blamed himself, but I said I didn't see it either and was equally chatty, so we agreed to share the blame and drop the guilt.
Ironically about a mile into the race, Matt and I had been part of a small group who yelled to the midpack that they had gotten off course completely at a spot where the trail intersected the road. We were sad there was no one there to yell at us when we'd veered the wrong way.
Lesley was so helpful. When we came into camp she was waiting and watching for us. She had a map in her hands and confirmed with me that we had indeed messed up where I thought. She said the race directors were really cool and that we just needed to do the part we missed twice in one of our next two loops (50 Mile was 3 loops), and they didn't care if we did it right away or saved it for 3rd loop. Either way, we had still just done 8 miles with NO aid stations and one of our next two loops would be 25 miles instead of 16.67. Lesley said it was my decision but she was totally willing to do it with me if I saved it for 3rd loop when she was allowed to pace.
Interesting funny side note about trailrunning – Matt and I ran together for a little over 5 miles, basically about 70 minutes. We talked about running, families, and jobs, shared a nerve-wracking predicament of inadvertently cutting a course, and it wasn’t until we pulled into base camp that we first even saw what each other looked like. He had just been the back of a ball cap and a shirt with a voice, and I was just a voice – ha! This was not the first time in a race I would run with a total stranger and not know what they look like until later (I'm thinking Greg and Eric from Wild Hare 2011!), and it won’t be the last time.
Loop 2 – Share The Trail... A Lot (Mile 8 – 12)
Matt and I grabbed a little food, refilled water bottles, and took off. We immediately talked over, wanted to stay together at least through the place we had messed up at and both wanted to do the extra distance in this second loop. It's funny to be in a situation with a total stranger, and I'm blessed he was a super nice guy, because I think we got along well through all the stress of the circumstances. He had a stronger pace than me, but I knew the course and its landmarks better. I slowed him down and kept him consistent, and he kept me calm and pushing the pace just enough to not walk too much. And the company was great. Matt even told me that in case we screwed up again on course, he was not drinking from one of his fuel belt bottles since I couldn't hold much water with my handheld. So nice but I said I knew what was wrong and it wouldn't happen this time!
Sadly for our timing we started 2nd loop with all the 5 milers. Woodstock is a weekend of celebrating running so they do a race for EVERY possible distance - 100M, 100K, 50M, 50K, 26.2M, 13.1M, 10K, 5M, AND a 5K. 50 milers shouldn't have ever seen 5 milers if they did the course right. It was rough going for the first 2 miles until they split off.
Then at 3 miles into the loop, we collided with the marathon and half marathon participants! In single track. Sigh. Could our mistake get any more complicated? I was leading and super-focused on making the right turn, so for the marathoners who chatted us up, super nice folks, Matt did all the talking about why we were there. Three nice girls talked with us for that mile. 1 had a unique name - I want to say Chritha? Anyway, we came up on the sign where we should have turned. How could we miss it? It looked so obvious this time. We wished our pals well and took the correct path.
Finally getting to an aid station to have a real food break. Aid Station 1 (4 miles into the loop). And they don't have potatoes. What?!? I love boiled potatoes diced and dipped in salt for ultra fuel. They suggested an apple slice and dipping it in salt. I hate apples. But I tried it... And it was nasty. I thought of my coach Jeremy who once ate a banana dipped in salt at an ultra. Oh, and they are out of coke. And I want coke starting about mile 13. Since I don't normally drink any soda, it's like rocket fuel for me. The lack of any promised foods would be a theme with this aid station. It truly was frustrating. I think I took a cookie and 2 cups of Sprite.
Loop 2 – First time on the section we missed on Loop 1 (Miles 12 – 20)
Matt and I took a deep breath and said, "okay, first time to do this loop" and headed out. We would do this 8 mile loop twice back-to-back to be "caught up" with all the right miles.
|Click on the pic to see it bigger.|
We made it to Aid Station 2, and it was so great because of their variety of foods, except no potatoes again! ARRGH
!!! But they offered me soup. Kept warm in a crockpot on a grill, they said it
was a Frankenstein of I think beef broth and Ramen noodles. FINE. FINE. The last aid station was awful, this aid station has no potatoes, I need some salt, so I'll try the freaking soup.
And it was like heaven! I'm not a big soup person generally and had never tried it in a race, but it perked me right up. Along with a cup of coke, and I was ready to go on after we were now 16 miles in.
Back to the aid station 1 and I grabbed two cookies for the road and we retraced back the 0.2 miles to where we had cut the first loop and then came back to the aid station: "Hello again."
Loop 2 – Second time on the section we missed on Loop 1 (Mile 20 – 28)
Time to do those exact 8 miles all over again. I called Lesley at this point to tell her we were 20 miles in and going to repeat the missed section now and let her know what pace we were on.
This time as we headed to Aid station 2 we ended were back a little ways from a girl we had seen earlier who was running in tie-dye leggings. We spent a lot of this 4 miles with the mission to "catch tie-dye". We also ended up running with a nice woman named Lori who was also doing her first 50 mile and had run the 50k last year. I couldn't wait to get to Aid Station 2 again.
"What would you like?" "Soup!" I yelled to the volunteer excitedly. Matt and Laurie had been intriguing by my talking up the soup so they tried it at this stop. It was a hit with the crowd!
Out again to push 4 miles to aid station 1. As requested I let Matt know when we hit 25 miles. He was happy to be half through. While I had been the one up until then counting off each 5% segment of mileage, his happy realization put a pit in my stomach. "Wait, I had to do all this AGAIN?!?"
I faltered a little here, and Matt and Lori went off ahead. I caught up to Matt again a little while later at a road crossing while he stretched but just couldn't hang with him. Caught him again at the aid station. At Aid Station 1, I called Lesley to let her know I was at mile 28, my general ETA, and what gear changes I would want. Preparing to leave the aid station at the same time as Matt, he asked what kind of pace I could manage. I said I would be slowing down and frankly I thought he should go ahead because I was not going to be great company. His mood seemed good, and I didn't want to sour it with my low point. While something I would normally turn my nose up at, I knew I needed fuel and grabbed a piece of peanut butter sandwich to take with me on the trail from the aid station's very disappointing limited offerings. The doughy white bread had me gagging and while I got it down, I truly almost threw it up. The awful food options at this aid station only rattled my cage more.
Loop 2 – Pity Party To That Loop’s Finish (Miles 28 – 33)
The 4.5 miles to base camp were hellish. This had the worst climbs and while I've done worse, everything was starting to hurt. And the bottoms of my feet most of all. I walked a lot of that segment and probably had a bit of a pity party to go with it.
Loop 3 – Fresh Feet and Pacer Friend (Miles 33 – 37)
I came into base camp and Lesley was right there waving her arms, pointing to a camp chair, which I gladly collapsed into. I didn't know whose chair it was and didn't care. 33.3 miles.
|Coming into base camp at mile 33|
I started taking off my shoes, socks, and gaiters. I wanted fresh everything. While doing that I was on the verge of tears complaining how Aid Station 1 had no coke and I just REALLY NEEDED COKE. Total stranger (to me; she and Lesley had hung out through the morning) offered me her cold can of unopened coke. Complete angel - I didn't even hesitate. I thanked her repeatedly and started to guzzle the coke. Lesley handed me my clean gear and got the honored job to put my stinky socks and muddy gear into my drop bag. Ewwww. I freaked out when I took off my socks because I guess my feet had been marinating in the muddy watery puddles I couldn't avoid in the first 3 miles and they looked squashed, white, and pruny. I thought my whole ball of each foot and underside of all toes were blistering. Lesley dismissively said, "You're fine. They're just pruny. I had that at Rocky [Raccoon 50M]." It was just what I needed to calm the panic. I bodyglided my feet heavily and put on the fresh gaiters, socks, and shoes with Lesley's help. Then I bodyglided the insides of my knees and under my arms and was ready to go. I grabbed and ate a quick half-cup of chicken noodle soup at the base camp aid station, and I headed off with no-longer-crew-now-pacer Lesley.
My feet felt incredible again. The sore hot spots were gone. I had the company of Lesley. Life was good. I kept a great pace and attitude. Matt caught up and ran with us for a bit too. We rolled into Aid Station 1 at mile 37.
Loop 3 – The Low Point (Miles 37 – 41)
And then it went downhill (figuratively not literally, this part of the course was fairly flat). I left that aid station loudly stating "this is stupid. Everything hurts." I entered a non-talkative state at times where I would only use thumbs up, thumbs down, with a few head shakes and gestures mixed in. Lesley would support me with "just get it soup" to push me towards Aid Station 2. That glorious soup. But I was sullen and didn't want to be there anymore. I asked Lesley to tell me when we got to 40 miles so I could celebrate. When she did, I did a little mostly-arms, slight-knee-bend, feet-planted boogie for a second. Then, Lesley took my photo where I forced a smile.
I offered to take hers, but she said "Let's get both of us." and, feeling blessed for her support, that smile came more easily.
|My lovely pacer Lesley and me|
We arrived at aid station 2, now 41 miles in, and Lesley rushed in, calling for soup. I sat and worked on my attitude while eating my soup, and we chatted with the two veteran trailrunners. Their happiness raised my spirits, and the soup did the rest of the job.
Loop 3 – The Sob (Miles 41 – 45)
We left Aid Station 2 and a few minutes later, all of a sudden a mountain biker was coming towards us on a very narrow single track with a rare instance where to our left it was fenced. And to step to the right meant a step 8-12 inches up out of the rutted track. I had a delayed reaction, the mountain biker practically stopped, and then I stepped up onto the grass out of the rut. And that lateral step was the only time I cried on the course. I let out a whimper and a short sob. That step up hurt my leg muscles SO bad.
Shortly after Aid Station 2, I decided that the roll-through of walking was hurting my feet more than attempting a midfield strike in a shuffly run so I went with it. It kept the pace steady and moving, but I went back into a sign-language only state until the next aid station as I focused on keeping the run going.
We ended back up with Matt and Lori in the mile before Aid Station 1. I was in a focused “just run, just run” state and wouldn’t talk. Lots of thumbs up and down as my feedback to the conversation among the 4. I was just coping, not trying to be rude. I was so just trying to get it done at that point.
Loop 3 – Loving the Downhills Plus The Threat of Naked Runners (Mile 46 – 50)
This section had more of the uphills but also some fun downhills. Thankfully, my “quad dominance” that makes me struggle as an uphill runner, helped me to bomb the downhills all the way to the end, which helped keep my pace up. But the uphills were a struggle. I would stop at the top and bend over and put my head between my knees – my heart rate monitor (yes, I wore and referenced my heart rate monitor for a full 50 miles) said I wasn’t doing too bad but I was sucking wind and dizzy. Is that just how depleted you are at the end of a 50, or had I depleted my iron levels, which I struggle with, during the run? Hmmm, I’m not sure.
But we managed to leapfrog with Matt and Lori in this section until we passed them the final time a couple miles out on a particularly fun downhill stretch. And then a half mile from the finish, we realize that the 5K fun run was starting… and we shared part of the course. Plus we weren’t sure if this 5K had the natural option, which some of the short distance races offered, and I didn’t know if that really did mean naked run. (We later saw a tweet from someone that they experienced seeing 8 “natural” runner, and it was scarring. LOL. Glad I missed that!) It made me a little panicky and cranky. A group of runners went by us. And then a little bit after that, I’m suddenly in the lead pack of shirtless boys bounding by me at 7 min/mi. One said, “On your left”, but I was so cranky that I cried out, “I’m a 50 Miler, please go around me. I can’t get out of the way.” Lateral movement at that time while running was not going to happen. Lesley is telling me to let them drag me forward a bit and feed off their energy, but not too much! But I feel like I’m flying towards the end. There’s a pack of runners who have just stopped in the middle of the trail to gab, and Lesley turned into an awesome enforcer.
“50 Miler coming through – please move off the course!!” she yelled to them! Their jaws dropped, they moved aside, and then so nice of them to raise a little clap and cheers as I passed by. And then we round the corner and see the edge of the campsite. I was happy that even so late as people saw me come toward the finish, they raised some hoots and claps. It felt great. Lesley told me to press harder. In the last 45 seconds, I went from a 15 minute pace to an 8:48 pace!! And I started to feel that choking feeling come up in my throat and the second we crossed the finish line, I bent over and gagged hard a few times. I didn’t lose it, but I sure came close.
And then I was bawling. Not like a little victory cry. Like UGLY CRY sobbing. Lesley gave me a big hug. I’m laughing and crying and just completely overwhelmed for a good 20 seconds. Then, I moved through the small chute to get my peace sign tie-dyed-ribbon medal placed around my neck. A gal asked my name and age group, and I actually answered the wrong age group. I haven’t been 29 for 3 years! Yeah, I was out of it. I stuttered and said, “I mean 30-34.” Lesley’s laughing at my incoherence. It was really funny. And then they told me I was 4th place in my age group and gave me my award – a toy VW van with a sticker across the top that said Run Woodstock Age Group Winner. So cool.
|So happy to be done!|
And yes, as I was fairly certain, it turned out there was no one else left out on the course in my age group. So 4 out of 4. But that doesn’t take away at all for me from the award, because for almost 14 hours of hard work I had earned it!
I finished in 13 hours and 47 minutes. Wow, it feels weird to think I ran that long. I'm proud that I took a potentially bad and mentally disastrous situation like messing up the race course so early in the race and managed to not let it shake my whole run.
What's Next? Palo Duro Canyon 50K on October 21 and then Rocky Raccoon 50K on November 3. My PR for the 50K is from Rocky Raccoon, which was my first 50K last year, with an 8:22. For perspective in the work I've been putting in, my time at the 50K point of Saturday's 50 miler was an 8:07, so I'm hoping I can shave off some time at one of these two 50Ks.