Monday, May 4, 2015

Why take a car when I can run 50 miles?

I completed my first 50 mile race. It was exciting, fun, scary, nerve wracking, painful, but absolutely the best challenge both physically and mentally.

On Saturday, May 2 at 6 AM I started the Rock the Ridge 50-miler at the Mohonk Preserve in Gardiner, NY.
I was up at 2:30 AM to eat and get ready then left the hotel at 4 AM to get to the parking area where a bus picked up the runners and dropped us off at the start. The start was at the Gatehouse of Mohonk Preserve. There all the runners stood around talking, taking photos, eating more, making last minute gear checks and changes, checking in bags for drop-offs to be used later in the race, and of course used the port-o-potties.

After the National Anthem was sung the race director kicked off the race and everyone took off, everyone with their own plan of attack. My ‘attack’ was to finish, preferably in one piece and standing upright. You think I am joking? Nope. Since this would be the farthest I would have gone on foot then my goal truly was to complete it.
With that goal in mind, I put a couple of audiobooks on my headphones to help keep me at a slower pace. That worked pretty well until the headphones died at about 10 and a half hours into the run. Luckily, I was mostly prepared for this as I brought a second pair but those had music on them, but that was good. I needed a little kick in the butt to keep me moving.

I wore two sport watches; one was my fitbit surge (which is supposed to last 7 days…and never has) and the other was my Garmin 910. The fitbit only lasted 10 hours, but until then it was right on the money and tracking. The Garmin lasted the entire time, but it’s tracking on distance seemed to be about 1.5 miles behind from the fitbit and the actual distance markers on the trail. That was annoying when trying to gauge one aid station to the next and of course that last push to the finish line.
I had some great advice from a group of ultrarunners who said to break the race up into pieces and to do that aim for each aid station. This worked fabulously! Kind of like baby steps for fifty (50) miles.

The aid stations were terrific. Plenty of fluids, fruit, chips, and various other snacks including potatoes and chili to help fuel the body covered the tables. I did bring my own energy food, like squeezable applesauce, beef sticks, chia granola bars, and lifesavers so I didn’t have to rely on the aid stations, but I did partake. The volunteers were fabulous, helping you reload, get your drop bag, or just plain give up a chair so you could change your socks. Thank you volunteers! This message can never been said enough, especially to those that were out there in the wilderness late at night to give us a glass of Gatorade or water and generally make certain we were moving forward with a little cheer of encouragement.
Lake around mile 30-something
A cell phone was absolutely necessary during the race. Why? Obviously for some sense of security especially when aid stations were as much as ten miles apart. The camera in the phone was also good to push myself to enjoy the scenery as I whizzed or more likely walked by and not focus solely on the finish line. It was fabulous as evidenced by the images of the waterfall, the lake, and the hills. Besides those, I had the experience of almost stepping on a black snake. Thanks goodness it made its hissing sound just in the nick of time. But boy, you’ve never seen this girl run so fast up a hill in your life. Hands flailing and yes, I probably screamed. But I also saw the most beautiful white-tailed deer that stopped, stared and then bounded off before it even crossed my mind to pull out my phone for a photo.
I would have paid anything to jump in!

I learned a couple of things during this event. First, wear your hydration pack BEFORE actually using it so you know where it is going to rub. My shoulders paid the consequences but luckily I had Body Glide with me and applied that everywhere and that alleviated it somewhat. My shoulders are a tad sore today from the weight of the pack and not the actual chafing so that’s good. However, a hydration pack was the perfect idea because I never ran out of fluids and when eating a beef stick to get sodium and protein in my body I had liquids to flush it down.

One of the most important lessons for me was to learn that when they say cinder trail that means cinder block, that means hard, and that it is not softer than asphalt. Tip to myself: wear trail shoes! I thought my typical shoes would be good and cushy. NOT!
When night descended I resorted to a headlamp. Like the good runner I am I attached it to my head over my very vibrant yellow hat. Great! Bring on the darkness. Except, just FYI, if you have vertigo the use of a headlamp is not so cool. My depth perception got completely skewed where I thought the grass (where there was grass) was a foot tall when in fact it was a couple inches. And my vision was so weird that it was like I had tunnel vision. Carrying the lamp in my hand resolved those issues. Thank goodness!

Sunset after I reached mile 42.2
I probably should have done some late night runs BEFORE this race as well because let’s face it; running at night, in the woods was a little creepy. Remember when you were a kid out on a walk with your friends late at night and you heard something rustle the leaves? What did you do? You screamed and bolted for home. Okay, I’m no longer that little girl, but my heart raced and I kept flashing my light around making certain the bear was not actually following me. It was a tad unnerving. Plus, since the mile markers were only every 5 miles apart, and the arrows marking the direction to go were not abundant I became a little worried that I would go the wrong way. Day time that was no issue. Sunset, well, the mind does play tricks. Cruel, evil tricks. But since I am writing this I obviously survived and got out of the woods.
Let’s talk hills. I HATE them! But honestly, because I went in with the right attitude I walked most the inclines and jogged the downs. Okay, the descents to me are like slides at a park. Wheeee! This race had some of both with over 7500 feet of elevation gain and loss, the most I have ever done. My body did well. Legs were great! I could have kept on going…except the BLISTERS!

No matter the amount of sock changes (three in this race) and the amount of Body Glide I applied, I still managed to get blisters. No, not your teeny tiny, oh aren’t they cute blisters. I got blisters between toes, on top of toes, and the mother of all blisters at the joint of the big toe where it meets the actual ball of the foot. Excruciating! In all seriousness, this was the only issue for me physically. And when I hit mile 40 every time I didn’t pick up my foot high enough and I stubbed my shoe on a rock I was no longer a lady, but the foul-mouthed brawler who wanted to cry. How’s that for an image?
One of the many hills.
You know what though? Besides wanting to punch every rock that bit at my blisters, and the pain of every step, I mentally pushed past it and willed the mind to close out the pain. It worked off and on and worked even better when a couple of runners who were behind me caught up for the last five miles and we pushed each other on to persevere.

I will state for the record when we saw the sign that said ‘Home Stretch’ we all wanted to know how far that meant. A mile, half a mile? In this case it turned out to be a little over two miles. You probably think, two miles, no big deal. WRONG! After 16 plus hours on your feet, two hours is an eternity. I think the three of us will state that the home stretch was by far the longest section of the race. It was never ending! And the finish line, when we finally saw the lights never felt like it was getting closer.

But it did! And we crossed the line. At the finish there were more race volunteers to cheer us home, offer us a hug, a smile, and a boxed lunch. The race director spoke with me at the finish and because I was a late entry he felt bad that my name was not going to be on the bib so he printed a label with my name on it and affixed it to my bib. It sounds like something so small, but when you are on a course and someone yells out your name, it gives you the warm and fuzzies all over. Thanks, Ken!
To the couple who hooked up with me in the last five miles, I cannot thank you enough for helping take my mind off the blisters. And to all the other runners I met and spoke with that day. It was a pleasure.

If you are looking for a 50-miler, whether your first or your fifteenth, I would highly recommend the Rock the Ridge Endurance Challenge. The funds raised are for a worthy cause and it’s a well-run event with amazing volunteers. Thank you volunteers!

1 comments:

John McCarthy June 1, 2015 at 11:42 PM  

Amazing job, way to push through with those blisters.

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