Halloween weekend I had a great plan to taper for my next 50K, which was this past weekend. I was going to run 22 on Friday, a very easy 7 on Saturday, and then go spectate/crew for Melissa at Cactus Rose 100-miler in Bandera. Well, to put it mildly the 22 were not at an easy pace (which I will take complete responsibility for as I was setting the pace), and the 7 weren't much improved. But, in my head I thought, "I will wear flip-flips and totally chill in Bandera."
There is probably very little "totally chill" in my world, so that thought was fairly useless. From the time I arrived in Bandera, Mike (Mel's fiance) and I were at each aid station crewing for her and helping others who came thru. It was a total blast! And then the famous question arrived from Mason's mother, "do you know anyone who could pace him?" Anyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for pacing. I LOVE to pace and help people feel strong late in a race. It is some of the best memories I have had with friends, talking about everything and nothing just not to focus on the late miles of a race when you already know the answer to the question, "how are you doing?" I know they are hurting, suffering, just trying to get thru and I love to be there to try to push the negativity away. It is also some of the best times I have had with complete strangers. It is a glimpse of someone that you get to see, that no one else may ever see. When people are at their lowest, most exhausted, extreme...it is when you get to see what they are truly made of. The now four experiences I have had in this situation has shown me just how great people are and just how extremely tough people can be.
Anyway, enough of this, by time I started running with Mason at 3:20am for about 10 miles, watch Melissa and others finish, and drive back to Austin I realized I had 8 minutes of sleep over that night...lovely. I was tired, to say the least, on Sunday.
Monday was my birthday, and so of course I had to have an adventure. My friends and I went for a run, and during that run we started talking about the fact that I was supposed to be racing less than a week away... The focus was going to have to change because my legs in no way had "race" in them. It would just be a solid training run, which meant that I would get to run almost as normal for the week.
I headed for Huntsville on Friday afternoon with no major plan for the race. Initially when I was planning to "race" it, I was hoping for about 4:40. I hadn't run a 50K in a while and I think the last flattish one I did was in the 4:50ish range. I had brought what I needed to be out there for about 5 hours, so I guess I was hoping for the best that I wouldn't implode...I didn't have enough electrolytes or fuel to be out there longer; smart, huh??
A few things that made me sooo excited about this trip to Huntsville:
- I would get to see my best friend Catherine and her family
- I love running in Huntsville
- Our friend Brian was running his first 50K
- I was getting to test out the socks from my friend, Jamie
- It was Robots first race trip (pictures coming soon to explain)
On Friday, when I arrived, I went to Catherine's campsite and we spent some time together and then went for packet pick-up. It was nice and low key. I then hurt her husband's feelings when I opted for my usual pre-race meal over his grilling. It's been enough years that I have eaten the same thing, that he knew he could harass me. I took it well :)
I went to my room, ate my food, and put out my clothes for the morning. ooops, I forgot body glide....that would come back later. Otherwise, everything was ready to go.
I actually slept extremely well, which is not the norm pre-race, but since this was just going to be a good training run it was a sign that I was very relaxed.
I got to the park, and there Catherine and our other very good friend, Bryan, had come to hang out with me until the start. Oh my, that was the best EVER!! It is maybe once a year that we are in the same town at the same time. (a picture to come soon!) I don't know how else to put it except, these are my people/they are my strength. Bryan had to leave, but Catherine would wait for me to start and then get ready to run the 25K.
We waited inside and I got to introduce her to some Austin folks. Then with about 5 minutes before the start, I took off my jacket and was in my usual: tank, arm-warmers, gloves, and skirt. I looked around and felt totally naked as everyone else, except for about 5 people, were in long-sleeves, jackets, heavy hats, etc. Granted I was totally shivering at the starting line, but I really didn't feel as under-dressed as I must have looked.
Paul, the RD, said go and off we went...before I could blink I was in the 2nd pack. Pack #1 was the leader and about 4 other guys, and pack #2 was me and about 5 guys. I ran the first 4 miles with a guy named, Mark, who I have run with before. He is faster than me but was easing into the race. I was either feeling good or running stupid...too early to call. After the first aid station, Mark pulled away and then I was passed by this guy doing his first ultra; he had just moved to Houston from Miami. And, then I was on my own. I felt just fine, running along, eating, drinking, singing a little, and before I knew it the first loop was over. 2:15 for 25K...a little too quick. I refilled my water, fuel, and off I went.
On the way back out, I had a chance to see where the 2nd woman was. She was about 1.5 miles behind me. On the 2nd loop I passed one guy who had been in front of me about 2 miles in. I was feeling very good, and was cruising along. Then I hit the jeep road and saw two more guys not to far in front of me. I caught up to them and was still moving along. I reached the first aid station which was 4 miles into the loop, and saw Joe, Henry, and Marcia. Joe said words that were priceless, "mer, keep it steady." I don't know if could tell I was getting a bit excited, or if he was just delivering a kind warning, but what he meant was too fast, too early and you might be walking in... There were still 11 miles to go, which in an ultra can be a very long way. So, I backed off just a little and made sure I had good control over myself: drinking, eating, and enjoying the day. I passed another guy who said it just wasn't his day. Poor thing had gone from 2nd place to walking...that's how it can go somedays.
I kept moving along, now cheering for the 25K people as I would pass by. Some receptive to the cheering, some not so much. I got to the 2nd to last aid station and hit my first low of the day. No big problem, just no real kick in the pants to keep up the pace. At this point, I had seen the 2nd place lady now almost 3 miles behind me, I had passed what I thought was every guy that didn't already have a huge gap, and this was just a training run. Then I thought about it. I told myself, "suck it up. If you are tired it's because you went out to fast, too bad. There are people who can't be out here doing this, and there are people who feel much worse than you do." With that after my 10 minute low, I was going again. It was the only time in the race I walked, except for when I was stopped filling up my water, and it was the only time in the race I feel like I lost time. I lost time to my bad attitude, shame on me.
I topped off my water with 3 miles to go, and headed in. (I never try to "make it" on an empty bottle. I know if I have fluid I will drink it). It was in this final section that I passed the last person I could. I passed the guy running his first ultra. He was bent over stretching his hamstrings...I gave him some encouragement and went on. I finished in 4:43.
The highlight of my finish was Catherine cheering for me!! She was there after running 2:03 for the 25k, with what we later found out was a 102 fever (I DON'T recommend that for anyone!!)
As always, whether good or bad days there are so many things to learn:
- Always make sure you have packed the necessities. Lovely chaffed mark on my leg is a good reminder of that.
- Always pack more than what you need for fuel, electrolytes, drink...you just never know.
- NEVER, NEVER let the attitude slow you down. There is no excuse for it.
- Always enjoy the time you have with friends, and their great successful days. It means the world to them.
- When offered and observed, take a wise man's advice...they are looking at you with fresh eyes. You might not be as clear headed, but the advice is good and ALWAYS well intended!
As has been with my training and race success of recent months, I continue to take advantage of all of the god moments the trail gives me. Yes, often times my music guides me, but my head and heart take me there. I run with my friends in my head and my heart...thinking and praying for their needs and strength. And now I have a new companion with me. I will take my sister with me on the trails. It is not something I ever thought I would do. We historically have not been close, but out there when I think of her and our recent conversations, it brings me strength and hopefully strength I can return to her.
And now, I am on to my sherpa duties. I draw from how incredible my husband is so often. I hope I can give him everything he gives me in my head during his race. It's his turn. He has worked so hard, and he is so ready.
By the way, do I have to recover since this was just a training run???