You might think that after the race the start point would be more clear, however starting a race at 9pm changes everything. I did not simply wake up race day or travel the day prior and run a normal race. Every aspect of this run was different.
CMMM was my 2nd official 50mile race, although I had completeed my first 100K and first 12Hr run in between, the strategy for this run was different. The course was a long steady climb from roughly 2miles in through 16miles in and then some single track trail segments that had a couple of nasty climbs but nothing killer and then looping around the mountain and heading back down the mountain with significant net loss for 16 miles on gravel road. I had actually researched the course. This is something I rarely do, I mean often skim it, I do take a peek at the elevation map, just to get a rough idea, but this time was different. Dave decided he was going to come "crew" me. I was surprised and ecstatic, not too many people would be up for supporting a crazy person on a 50 mile run through the night in the middle of west VA about 4.5 hrs from home. So needless to say, perhaps, I had to study the course to figure out where my "crew" could be. There were only 2 aid stations accesible to crew 4/6 (you go through the Aid Station twice) or 5. Your drop bag would also be allowed only at 4/6.
I was delighted to have company on the trip to the race, it relieved a great deal of the stress, I'd never been so aware of the inner discomfort as usually there is isn't so much time between waking up and running. But on this particular day I woke up at my usual 4:45ish and headed to Back on My Feet to walk 2 miles. I had a wonderful walk with awesome company. From there I headed to the grocery store for some travel and caffeine supplies... I knew quite well how much caffeine I used to use to pull all- nighters but I had certainly never attempted to run through an all-nighter. So I went overboard, which in the end was perfect. Following this errand I met Elizabeth for coffee and we both chatted about ....everything, until we both had to go. I actually had nothing to do, except freak out about my upcoming race, but you'd be surprised how much time and effort that can take. So I drove up to Timonium and walked around some stores before really taking notice of the nervous energy. I got back to my apartment and got a few last minute things done.
Before I had any more of chance to get worked up or overly excited I was surprised with a gift. The context is irrelevant to the story but it certainly took the edge off the race. I got my last few pieces together and we were on the road. I let Dave drive the last 100miles so I could have my chance to be anxious and think. It seemed like I might get cold through the night, I didn't know how my feet would hold up, I had no idea if nutritionally I was balanced...( I'd never eaten all day before a run, I mean at least not a run longer than 25 miles.) But here goes...
I did my race prep, with company, which was amusing, only a small colleciton of ppl have seen my race prep which is the same for any race 1500m- 100K... its all mental and doesnt help my running in the least, but it makes me effectively waste the last 30 min prior to race time feeling focused and alert.
Upon 4 minutes to start time the RD ran out of announcements, he became aware of an American flag and suggested the singing the of the national anthem. A confused chatter broke into song with in the minute and a group of about 90 runners and some spectators broke into song. It was the most touching start to race I've experienced. As it is with ultras and most endurance athletic events you share something with everyone else out on the course, aid station volunteers, families and runners that can't be found else where. Singing together in the dark below the Start Line was a cohesive symbol that would remain in my heart and mind. And then we were off.... and OH man... we were OFF.... like 7 min pace flying down the paved road, looking to hold onto who I could at my pace so I'd have company for this very long night ahead.
The climb begins and I catch up with a runner, Trevor, this was his first 50miler. He hadn't studied the course was not aware of the climb ahead. We chatted for a few before I fell back to my personal steady uphill pace. At first I was worried it was much too slow, but behind me I watched another runner slow to a hike and although my pace was slow, it felt effortless. 5ish miles into the course the first 6 of us pass by AS 1 thanking the volunteers but continuing without even slowing a step. From this AS onward would be a long steady climb and so we climbed. Continuing at my pace I caught up to Trevor, he aknowledged my earlier warning about the hill, we chatted a minute or two and he fell back. I continued on at my pace hoping the best for his first 50miler, that he'd make it, and have fun... at least enough fun to do another one ;). The climb seemed somewhat endless but I knew the next aid station was at mile 12.9 roughly a quarter of the way through the run, so I was looking forward to getting there. The ascent continued. I caught up to the next runner in front of me and we talked for quite a while before he admittedly wasn't feeling to well and fell back a little.
At AS2 it seemed as though they were unprepared for runners. But I didn't really mind, it was just nice to have people out on the course and willing to assist us. I had 3 fig newtons, a common race food I'd never used before, but after the climb we'd done, I thought it'd be a good idea to take in a little something. A volunteer assisted me in changing the batteries on my headlamp, which was nearly dead- something I had planned for, but didn't expect to occurr so soon. But I was off and running within 3 minutes. The trail began.
At first I found it entertaining to run the trail, I had to slow to a trot to watch my footing and path itself but I was moving nicely, and still quite effortlessly, I was happy. In no time at all I began to hit the patches of mud, sinking shoes. My sockless feet now feeling the wet grit every time I stepped and pressed into the ground. I wondered how many miles I had until blisters began to form. Then though, there were numerous stream crossings where the mud was shifted if not washed away and the grittiness was lessened until the next mud pit. I was enjoying myself. I took one hard fall, realizing as I got up the difference in my perspective in the dark. Almost everytime I trip in daylight I see and process my surroundings fast enough to respond appropriately, but in the dark..... what surroundings? My brain went from running to falling and all the time between the standing and the ground the mind is "lost." But as usual I just got back up and kept going. I was tripping a lot but I was still moving steadily, thoroughly impressed by the surroundings and mentally taking note that I should come back and run these trails in daylight.
Anyways, trotting along, falling a couple more times and then I was back on the road headed into AS3 which was lit with glowing latterns for 1/2mi leading up and upon arrival they had a wonderful selection of treats, of which I only had boiled potatos rolled around in salt, but I was grateful and made sure they knew it. Again I was in and out without much struggle. The second patch in the woods was nice, the path was great, I was still tripping but feeling strong. The mental reminder that I'd see Dave at AS4 was a constant motivator. So I rolled through, the miles starting to feel longer and longer. Somewhere in this section I heard the distinct "roar/ sound" (im not sure what the reference word is) of a mountain lion. Being practical, I was scared to death... so naturally I tried to convince myself I had heard someone's dogs.... that my mind was skewing it into something more. I knew it was getting very late but I told myself that maybe it was only 10ish and someone's dogs were still out. I also came to terms with the very real fact that if a mountain lion for whatever reason decided I did make a nice 4th meal... it really didnt matter what I did. So I came back to my reality and just kept running, sincerely hoping that if he chose to attack any runner, that it wasn't me. Selfish and awful to admit perhaps... but I kinda like my life and I guess being human and all I'm bound to be a bit selfish from time to time.
AS4, everything was a vivid blur, I need my food, and more caffeine. I didn't see Dave so I went for my drop bag, found what I needed, prepped my drink and I was off after one last glance around the fire. About 300yards up from the AS Dave was headed from my car to the fire, it was obvious to me, yet totally unconcerning that he'd had a struggle getting there. I honestly don't remember thinking much of anything, I was just thrilled to see him and told him I'd be back to AS6 (10miles later) in about 2 hours. And I was off again, 1 mile of road before headed back into the woods. This particular 4.4 mi stretch of the course seemed to eat away at me. The trail was suddenly turning into torture, my ankles ached, the arch of my right foot was spasming, the wet grit was simply annoying. By now I had tripped and taken 20 "almost falls" each of which caused a spasmodic reaction from head to toe; tearing at my right hamstring, the tendons around my knees and ankles, my core , my neck and my shoulder-which habitually I throw my right arm out for balance, mildly straining the muscles. So I went from joyful to, "ok, this is enough"... too bad it was the middle of a race ;)... AS5.
I filled my water bottle and asked how much trail was left. I got an answer but actually struggled to listen, I had 1.4 miles on the road before re-entering the woods, presumably for 5 miles... I mentally tried to prepare as I held steady on the gentle uphill road passing under my feet. Upon entering the woods I had passed a runner, and then within 1/2 of a mile two runners went flying by, they were eventually #3 and #4. I was impressed, they'd come from nowhere and were bounding down the trail, and I was beginning to flail. I started to become angry with each trip as the pain would scale from 3 to 9 and slowly back down sending your whole body into the awareness that it's "messing up".... Directing my feet with mental effort and trying to keep my eyes focused I was beginning to feel like I was on some pretty great hallucinegenic drugs. I was amused and still pleased with my running, but I was ready to..... and there was the road- already??? I felt lost but the markers continued for nearly 2miles, once again uphill, leading me back to AS6 where Dave was waiting with everything I asked for. He helped me get my shoes off as the mud had made the laces difficult to undo, and because I knew there'd be mud I had them tied them tighter than usual so I couldn't push them off. I put on compression sleeves and dry socks and my Brooks Cascadia for a little extra cushion for the 16miles of road pounding. And a couple boiled potatos later I was off and determined. I was now focused on finishing as Soon as I could. I was mentally done.
The Road went on and on, the unchanging surface and gradually increasing fatigue, boredom and pain were wearing me down. The sound track I had in my mind was now a jumble of words to different tunes that all sounded the same. I was sinking hard and fast and when I started to free fall, I saw AS7. Sooner than I'd expected, a wonderful surprise. It wasn't a cure-all. I didnt know what to eat, I wasn't hungry but there was now a 7.2 mile stretch to go to AS8, calories and lytes/ liquid were a necessity. So I restocked my fluids and had 2 fun size baby ruth bars and was back on the road... "after that 7.2 was over it was the home stretch" I kept telling myself, so I wasn't going to waste any more time.
Again, the road went on and on. There was seemingly a LOT of uphill which meant that the first many miles of the race had actually had quite a few mini descents that were hardly noticed. My mind was slipping, I tried to track the distance I'd covered, tried to lie to myself, reason with my mind. I knew I was moving well and so I tried to encourage myself, as I was in fact very proud of my current pace, but I was losing the battle. In no time it seemed, my mind was spinning with lonliness, pain, utter misery. I could remember feeling like this before on a hot desert road in Nevada months ago... only there I was walking, this time I was runnning. I tried to pull myself out of the low, but I just kept sinking. Suddenly I not only wanted to stop, I wanted to quit running ultras... thiswas stupid? I hated being alone on this dark road for this lon....In this much pain? Who gives a hoot if I'm winning, or that Im in 5th place....this Sucks! and my mind kept going around and around.... however my legs kept running one step after another. I kept fighting, reiterating over and over positive quotes, reminders that of course I would DO it, because I was already Doing it. That I have dealt with much worse in my life and that I would certainly take this suffering over another day wrapped in the the hell that was my eating disordered life, that I was grateful for my abilities and my health, how blessed I am to have the friends everywhere and Dave here to support me on these crazy adventures.
But still I became desperate, I let a loud cry which was then met with my own breath being cut short, I was all but bawling (still running)... I didn't care that I was building up lactic acid by not breathing properly, somehow letting the mental anguish be real made it something I could manage. I couldn't beat it so I just kept whining and wimpering, there wasnt anyone near me to hear... except for maybe a a few deer or a mountain lion laughing at how ridiculous I must have looked.
When I finally did come to AS8 (a million and a half years later.... or so it seemed) in my mind I wanted to ask to them to hug me and tell me everything was going to be ok. When they asked how I was, the answer came out fluid and rational, "My body is ok, my mind is emotioanlly falling apart" there was no dramatic sympathy in their eyes... the kind that feeds the sadness, just simply the aknowledgement that I had 5.7 miles left to complete 50 miles of running and finish 5th place overall and 1st female. Upon hearing this, I had one blubbering choke and my eyes filled with tears as I realized how "off" my emotions were, "I should be happy, but 5.7 miles....???" I questioned the volunteers....and a tin of homemade cookies was in front of me. I orginally said no to the cookies, but they were offered with love and encouragment something I needed more than anything at the moment.... so I took one and without question I turned and started running again within 10 staggered steps.
The final stretch: Well, there was no more wimpering, the cookie was awesome, I made it almost 3 miles of that 5.7 without finding desperation sinking in, and then I hit the pavement, I still had no idea where I was but I was getting close, I tried to run faster. Time went endlessly, running watchless in the night made it hard to determine anything, and soon worry of misdirection set in, but then there it was the "Finish" just across a large field. Someone had noticed I missed the final turn and shouted, no idea what they shouted, but since I had seen the flags- just not the turn, as soon as I heard them I quickly darted back to find the opening from road to field and headed to the finish. Where Adam, the RD met me and Congratulated me on my 1st place female finish and new course record, 8:16. I was pleased to say the least.
At this point I looked around and Dave was no where to be seen, I didn't see my car either, so I was concerned, for him and for my car. After 20 minutes or so had passed, the RD and other volunteers and the previous finishers were becoming concerned too, I now had someone's sweatshirt and a big blanket wrapped around me. I decided to walk around a bit in the dark and upon circling around the trailer, there was my car with Dave sleeping inside. I was relieved and questioned whether or not to wake him up, since he had been up practically all night running around on my behalf, but I really wanted dry clothes and a hot shower, so I knocked. The following moments were rather amusing, to say the least .... but in the end I got my hot shower, a foot and calf massage, a 45min nap, a hot coffee and a hot meal surrounded my by lots of amazing people.
This was a very well put on event. The course was well marked, 100% runnable (though I did hike up two hills in the forest), well maintained trail and great Aid Station volunteers. I am so thankful for every person who sacrificed their sleep, for those of who ran and completed the 50 miles of running and for those who dealt with the just stress over someone else running 50 miles. All are extraordinary and make the experience as special as it is. I am now 5 weeks out from first 100 miler in Utah, The Bear, and I am scared beyond belief ;). But everyone who knows me and has seen me run seems pretty confident so, I'll do my best to taper well and prep mentally and .... I guess we'll see how it goes.
A few Other events to occurr between now and then if all goes smoothly <3.