Saturday, November 15, 2014

Are We There Yet?: My First 50 Miler

 “If you aren't in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” ~ T.S. Eliot
What do you do after you do something you never thought you could do??...
A few weeks ago I did something I have never done before, and something I haven't done in a very long time: a) I ran a 50 miler, and b) I did something I wasn't at all sure I could do.

When I signed up for the Des Plaines River Trail 50 Miler last November it was so far in the future that it sounded like a really cool idea. And then, almost a year later??? It still sounded like a really cool idea...maybe for someone else.

What the F#@k was I thinking?? Delusions of grandeur are easy to maintain 11 months out, or 2 months out, until you're on the plane, 2 days before the race, and you haven't trained for the dang thing.

And so, as I am 30,000 feet up, heading north, I have the iPod cranking - and I'm re-reading a Dean Karnazes book - getting a little stuck on the story of his first 50 miler, complete with uncontrollable rigor mortis like cramping and projectile vomiting in his new Lexus following the run. Oh. Yummy. I forgot this part from the first reading - or perhaps it didn't stick because I wasn't facing a 50 miler in 2 days.

I haven't had any appetite for the past week, and I'm starting to feeling like a foie gras goose. I nibble crackers non-stop. Any more than that seems to send my stomach into flips of upset-ness. 

Okay. I land, Sandra fetches me, and we get the her house and just chill. Chilling is good. I never chill. And I never have a WHOLE day to chill. Is that good or bad?

Jeni shows up Friday afternoon and we all head to the hotel in Lincolnshire. I still can't eat, but since I've brought my own food (as I always do) I just nurse it over the course of the evening. And while Sandra and Jeni eat like normal people at the restaurant - I have ice water.   

So, y'all know the drill: Sleep (aka, toss-and-turn), up at the crack-o-crack, choke down a bar, coffee, check accuweather a bazillion times, decide what to wear, finalize drop bags...and off we go.

And as the darkness turns to dawn the RD announces an unexpected water crossing around mile 7. Okay. It would have been nice to know about that before sending off the drop bags to their various locations. His reassuring words: "You're all ultra runners so you know how to deal." Well, sure. I would have put a pair of dry shoes in my bag at mile 14, not at mile 26. Whatever. Just deal

This becomes the theme for the day for me: JUST DEAL

And so we're off. Jeni and I don't have specific plans to run together, but our expected paces are about the same - so we stick together. I should clarify: her expected pace. She actually trained fairly well for this, though she started a little later than is optimal (shhhh. I didn't tell her that ;). But I haven't trained for this. I just ran the St. George Marathon 2 weeks ago. I really have no idea what to expect. 

The first little out and back loop, everyone gets lost, adding about a half mile to the run, and we aren't even at mile 3 yet! Having run extra so early eats at your mind and screws with it even as you tell yourself to let it go. 

Just deal.

Around mile 3 it starts sprinkling rain. By mile 4, it's pouring with a strong headwind. This was not what accuweather told us would happen. It told us about the wind just not the rain - or rather, this much rain, this early. We hit the water crossing and are able to traverse some sketchy rocks to avoid the 2 feet of water (not the 4-6 inches reported at the start). 

We get to our first drop bags and I fetch my visor, another shirt (my wind shirt is at mile 26), a gel, more HEED, and we discover, having stopped long enough to get chilled, that it's fecking cold, and the wind bites. But at this point we are feeling a bit giddy at the absurdity of our best laid plans gone to shit.

Just deal.

And so it goes. By mile 15 Jeni and I are no longer talking with words. But we are very much there together, silent - but together. At about mile 18, she turns to me and says, "We have run way faster and way farther than this, and I've never felt so bad." I feel the same. "It's just mental." Not that that is reassuring in the least.

At around mile 22, an aid station has pickles. "Yeesh", I say to Jeni, "What I want is pickle juice." The volunteer says, "I have that." Opens the jar and pours us each a tasty, tangy cocktail and we drink it up. Everyone looks on unable to comprehend what we just did. 

And it rains steadily until about mile 25. The next drop bag station is at mile 26: Pee, change socks, eat a gel, refill my HEED, grab a bar, and we stiffly walk out of the aid station to the enthusiastic cheers of the volunteers. It's a little worrisome leaving the comfort of the aid station...

As we start running slowly, Jeni's quads begin cramping. She's very concerned, having had many painful cramping experiences in marathons. She clearly thinks she's done for. I simply say, "Give it 15 minutes for the carbs you just ate to hit your system. You'll be fine." I am also working out a somewhat less debilitating adductor cramp, and my calves keep zinging me. After a few minutes of walking, we're able to run again. I look at Jeni and say "We gotta get to the pickle juice."

The pickle juice station now has different volunteers. I hold out a cup, "May I have some of that pickle juice?" motioning to the pickle jar. He pours about a finger's worth. "No. Fill it. Please." "Ooookaaay." he says doubtfully. Jeni gets a cup and down the hatch. 

And here is where I make my first of several big mistakes: I have a small 8 ounce hand held. I should have refilled it with the course fluids at that AS because it's getting low and the next AS is about 6 miles away, AND the sun is just about to come out. Stupid move. 

At about mile 36, we see Laurie up ahead. She's come out to run the finish with us - and of course has no clue that we really stopped talking at mile 15. We aren't the best running company right now. By the time we get to the next aid station with our last drop bags, I've been without liquids for about 2 miles. Normally this isn't a big deal - but after 38 miles, it is a big deal. 

At this point I can no longer do the math to figure out how far we still have to go. I ask a volunteer: "What mile is this?" She says, "Mile 37, unless you ran the extra at the start. Then 38" Oy. My brain just went kaputsky. I refill my hand held, choke down a gel, and then make my next big mistake. As we painfully hobble off to reawaken our legs, I look a Jeni and say, "I cannot stop again. I don't want to have to restart." And as I look at her I see she's nibbling on a bar. Shit. I should have grabbed a bar. Oh. Whatever. It's only 13 or so miles. A half marathon. A gel will be fine. *Butthead*

Just deal.

At the next aid station I see Sandra's bright orange jacket as she waits for us with her bike (she's already run the half with an injured foot). I look at Christine, volunteering at the aid station, and say "We can't stop. But I need a drink fast." She hands me some Accelerade and we keep going as I yell back "Thank you!" And Sandra joins the parade.

About 5 minutes later, Jeni and I seem to hit this weird zone - and it happens to us both at the same time. We start picking up the pace - we both note that our watches say about a 9:15ish pace. Our feet are completely in synch as we pound down the trail. I can hear Sandra and Laurie behind us quietly saying "What are they doing?" and other indiscernible mutterings. I blurt out, "We want to be F%#king DONE!"

And we keep this up for a while. Then my watch goes blank, as it's been warning me of for quite some time. We reach the final aid station with fuel, and I look at my bottle, and I think - I'm good. It's gotten cold again - but my concern should have been carbs not fluids per se. Big mistake number..too many. I should have refilled...again.

We get around the water crossing again, this time I almost fall in and we continue to plug away but I can sense that Jeni is feeling stronger than I am. She is always about one or two steps ahead - and I can just feel it. At this point, both her fueling and her training are becoming apparent. Mentally she has been in this weird zone of total focus for a while. She didn't notice when Sandra joined us for many minutes and warnings of bikes approaching from behind are responded to very sluggishly - BUT she is running strong. With what I think is about 6 miles to go, I look at Jeni and say "You know you've felt worse with 6 miles to go in a marathon." She nods. With about 3 miles to go the gap between us steadily grows.

From the 37/38 mile mark on, there have been mile markers for the marathon and the half marathon - but they make no sense, and Laurie and Sandra tell us that they're all wrong.  By mile 45 or so, I'm starting to get really pretty irate because I have no idea how much farther I have to go, and I really want to know and this thought just sticks, like a needle, in my exhausted brain. People keep saying "You're almost there"..."You're almost there." But my god. What does that mean???

We pass a sign that says "One Mile To The Finish". "That's just wrong" both Laurie and Sandra assure me, and then begin explaining why it's really less than a mile. All I can say is "Guys. I just really need you to stop right now."  I feel awful snapping at them, but I'm having a hard time just dealing!

We approach a bridge and I see Jeni ahead cresting it and moving on. As soon as I hit the bridge something wonky happens to my eyes. The feeling that the bridge is moving leaves me feeling unsteady and with about a half mile to go, I start getting tunnel vision. The ground becomes wavy. My blood sugar has bottomed out and all my HEED is gone. Having passed out many times over the course of my life due to hypoglycemia, I back it off. I still have no idea where the finish is, but I now have no choice but to walk. "I'm sorry you guys, but I have to walk." Sandra comes up next to me and softly says, "You're almost there. The finish is just around this turn." I turn to her. "This is not a choice." "Okay".

Just dealing.

A couple minutes later Jeni's friend Carol runs out to find me. "You're almost there. The finish is right around this turn." "Did Jeni finish?" I ask. "Yes." At that moment I do actually know that I am almost there. That there really IS a finish line and that I will make it. I start running, and just before I hit the shoot, Sandra runs up beside me and we cross the mat:  9:15. 9th woman overall, and 2nd in my age group.

The RD looks me in the eyes. "Congratulations." Then he looks at Sandra and hands her my belt buckle as she holds me up. I am pretty out of it but managing to hold it together as Sandra slowly leads me back to her car. I can see Jeni across the field, and I want to go to her, but I just can't.

Nothing on my body wants to bend, but sitting down in the car feels like heaven. I see a bag of chips sitting on the console. I don't know whose they are but I rip them open like a starving famine victim and devour them greedily. I don't even like chips, but this is the best thing I've ever ever eaten in my life. Jeni appears at the window, peers in and says, "I love you." I open the door and we hug, a tired, satisfied, grateful hug. 


What did I learn: Well. My fueling was crap. I'm a light fueler - in marathons. I take one gel and whatever liquid fuel is offered. When I ran a 50k, I took 2 gels. Now, for a 50 miler...what the hell was I thinking? I kept saying to Jeni along the way as we passed those walking, "We're running a 50 like marathoners." And that's because we are marathoners. We only walked out of air stations and during the cramping incident. Otherwise we ran. BUT I learned a very very very important lesson if I ever plan to do anything like this again - and that is: HEED + 3 gels + 1 bar = blood sugar blowout. There is a BIG difference between 26.2 miles and 50 miles. And the last 13 miles is not 'just a half marathon'. When I think of it now, I want to hit myself upside the head.

I also discovered that I may still be able to do things that I may not know I can do. I learned that I can deal with situations that I can't possibly anticipate. I, again, was reminded how very important it is to me to have people I love and care about with me along the way - And that's not just to accomplishing the task. I never really questioned finishing (until mile 49.5) - but what made the finishing and the doing so much more, is having so much support and having people I care about with me.  

Once again, THEY made the day for me. And this stuff is like drugs - You just want more...
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” ~ Helen Keller

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