As time moved forward I became confident that 50 miles, although always an insanely long way to run, was now a doable task. Having finished my first 100 miler after so many months of racing and training and then even at my lowest low throughout the month of October, I was still moving- injury-free in fact. So I had no doubt that Stone Mill may not be the "best" idea for my recovery process- that's still occurring, but I would without question make it to the finish line. With the accompanying humor of how much I struggled or should I say, forcefully recovered through the month of October I was fairly certain that running 50 miles would knock be back into complete burn out... but as most runners tend to do... I had already made up mind to run. But I would be smart, I would throttle back and move cautiously, being aware of my pains and fatigue level and rest when I needed to.
Race day arrived, 3:15am wake-up call. Leaving the house with enough time to make it the starting line for 5am to check-in and giving me an hour to fuss about in the "much warmer than outside air" car with my clothing, shoes, compression, electrolyte tablets and the blanket I was so closely attached to that cold morning. It was roughly 28 degrees outside... perhaps, I honestly didn't look, but it felt like 28degrees as the gathering runners in the area creating puffs of oral percipitation as they walked/ talked/ moved about....all staying warm in their own fashion.
5:55am, standing about 30ft up the hill from the starting line with my support crew... huddling close to keep my heat (steal some of his) for as long as I could... and then it was Go time. With the words, "Don't Race" newly imprinted on my mind by the voice of my crew I headed off and quickly lost body heat. As we wrapped around the school (the first 1/2 mi or so of the race) I felt my temperature plummet, so naturally my pace increased... Come on Body Heat!!
Headed out in the wooded trail, headlamps bouncing I was struggling in the cold, my toes didn't even exist any longer... in no time I tripped not once but two spills in the first 3 miles. I felt like an idiot... I knew I was running too fast for the conditions on the ground, in the dark, with my numbed feet and cold joints, but I was already convincing myself that this was a comfortable pace. Finally the sun broke and headlamps were dropped off before heading down the road and jumping back onto the trail.
The sun didn't make much heat yet, but I had high hopes as continued along at my truly stupid 7:40 pace. I attempted to slow up and I think that I did, enough, but I was running with a couple of guys from NJ who made it quite clear I was on pace for 7hr 30min finish....at the Slowest... I laughed, I knew I couldn't hold this pace, there was truly no way that I intended to hurt as much as running at this pace would feel come mile 30+.
I was fairly exhausted by 16miles or something like that. I didn't know where I was much at all, I never asked the milage and I just zoomed through each aid station, with mind set on getting to Mile 25, the AS where Q.H. would be. I was looking forward to seeing a friendly face, and checking off half the run. As it was I had the pleasure of seeing G.T. and B.S. out cheering on the course and that also brightened the run significantly.
The temperature was climbing, although my legs were still cold enough that my joints were aching, my feet were comfortable, and my upper body, now overheating. I felt the fatigue hit my legs and I dosed with Endurolytes and in no time was back on track. I wondered, as this started to occurr before the 20mile mark, how long this pattern would last. The fact that fatigue was setting in that soon, that I was utilizing my electrolytes that quickly, I was worried. This was in fact going to hurt as much as I feared it would.....
After passing mile 25 the course takes you on part of the C&O canal, which was gorgeous, absolutely breathtaking, and I kept making myself look around and notice the colors and the smell of the leaves because the recorded message at this time between the "stop" and the "go" parts oof my mind was "Walk, this hurts! No, this is flat, DON'T do it, just keep moving, just jog, one step at a time"... after a mile of fighting my own mind I was annoyed, my concentration on the pain was growing stronger than my ability to observe, but soon enough the course took us back in the hills and trails. Anything was better than monotonous pouding.
Somewhere around here, I was very aware of the fact that I was undereating, my stomach had actually hurt quite badly when I awoke that morning and so I was fairly cautious, but I just honestly wasnt getting hungry. I did use a "GU" at some point, which I despise, and just top it off an old filling had just been repaired the day prior and the sugary goo just stung as it glued itself between my molars. The icey air as I inhaled caused that sensitive tooth sting with every breath. "Oh great" I thought, "Maybe this will distract me from the other pains." It didn't really help, but at least I was being somewhat positive. Anyway the caffeine boost and the glucose helped and again I was rolling along.
As I approached mile 35 I was well aware that this is usually about the point in the race where I collapse- mentally. My legs keep going, but everything in my head shuts down. So I spent the entirety of the morning preparing myself for this section. Luckily I took off from the mile 35 AS with a couple other runners, after eating grilled cheese for the first time during a run (liekly the last time too...just not for me). The two guys I was with were one of NJ guys who had gotten lost, and another VA runner I've seen at a couple races- this was his first 50 mile run (and he killed it by the way!)... and he just hung with me. I could tell he had so much more in his legs, but when I asked if he wanted to go with NJ he said "No, I dont have anything left, just going to hang on for the next 15 miles."
Trotting along together, I was doing well, the company helped significantly, I managed to fall twice more, as I almost always seem to when there's anyone around. Not one fall for 30 miles while I ran alone.... but oh well. He took a fall too, we laughed it off and kept going. Soon enough though I was dragging. As I went through the causes, I realized I needed more salt... and oh yea... not racing... so maybe I want a nice little walk break and moment to collect myself. So I let VA go and I stood there getting my endurolytes out and walked as I hydrated. I was so uncomfortably warm. I debated going through the struggle of getting my bottom layer off and wrapping that around my waste and leaving the jacket on, but it all seemed like a waste of effort and time. If I wasn't running, I wasn't warm enough.... if I was running, I was too warm. So I kept my outfit the same, as I prefer to be overly warm than cold, but this meant I would need to drink more and work harder to keep my heart rate and fatigue under control to conserve energy.
By 42miles I didn't care, I wanted that jacket OFF... I struggled from there to mile 48, going through phases of walking and recovering and jogging- barely keeping 10min pace or so... I was doing pretty terribly for me... but I also was fully aware of my ability level at the moment and was thrilled that the pain was still comprehensible and although literally tired, like sleepy and hot as heck, I was Almost done. So walking into mile 48 AS I tore that damn jacket off and grabbed more liquid and a boiled potato with salt and took off.
About 300yrs down the trail I realized I hadn't even thanked my support/ crew who was volunteering at the mile 48AS for the support and taking my sweaty stinky jacket, apparently I was more tired and more focused on being done than I thought, nonetheless the lack of gratitude bothered me and I planned to remedy that in about two miles. And Then Opps... one more fall... a good one too. I was experiencing "finish-line stress" <= I just made that up... but its that internal anxiety and anger that builds when you no longer want to go on, simply because you're so close to the end that you know you HAVE to (and no one likes to do anything they HAVE to do....I can't really explain it better, but I think that makes sense, somewhat. Anyway I just wanted to stop moving, without my jacket I was already getting cold, which added to the frustration, but overall my attitude was good. I was doing much better than I'd predicted.
And then there it was the hill to the finish line, a steep 100meter climb... in front of 30+ spectators....How humiliating... and to make it worse the announcer cheering for "Meghan".... which I would NEVER write on a race entry, specifically so that would never happen. But it did, and I had to suck up the fact that I was being cheered for with my full legal name as I almost literally crawled up this hill to the finish line. It wasn't So bad.
As I crossed the line 8hr 16min later I was done, and happy about it. However, my timing chip was gone, apparently it fell off during that last fall. Opps again! (someone later found it :) ).
Considering the past months this was a glorious finish, even if it wasn't my best run by far, it was a decent time and another 1st place female finish, and probably the best attitude I've had throughout a 50 miler yet... So naturally I was thrilled.
Post-race, I removed my shoe to find some awful sharp pain in my foot... My first injury... Xray showed no break, so intution says Im good to run. The pain is still present 6 miles into my runs (10days later), but its slowly improving and my mileage is climbing.
The plan for now is to maintain 50-60 mile weeks with biking, yoga, and swimming to supplement my recovery. The running miles will have to include some speed work to push my legs back into motion. But my hopes are that come February 2nd, when I land myself at Rocky Raccoon 100 miler I feel strong enough to run greater than 75% of the race... which would be a HUGE improvement from BEAR and a very different level of struggle. But my success now will only be possible if I properly train, and care for my body and my mind. Last year was intense and this year will be intense as well, I wouldnt have it any other way, but my hope is that the knowledge and experience from last year will help me to slow down more, enjoy the runs and just let my ultra-running develop on its own, I want many more years of this <3
Much Thanks and Congratulations to the other runners and to the RD for a great event! Thank you to all volunteers, especially my support! As usual, I couldn't have done with without you all.
Next race... kinda unstructured pending not feeling like crud most days running, lol.....but I'll be around ;).