This past Saturday, I ran my first 50 mile race ever. I wish that it had been the perfect experience, but the universe had some other plans.
A week before the race my throat started to hurt. We were going to Ithaca for the weekend to see the 46er Film (amazing!) and I tried to not think about it. Unfortunately, the next morning I woke up sick. I even had to take a day off from work on Monday. I kept worrying all week about the race, especially since I didn't run at all.
Friday morning we left for Ipswich, Massachusetts. I was feeling better, but still not 100%. I knew I was going to start the race, but I wasn't sure about finishing. We went out to dinner with our friend Greg (who would be pacing me the final loop), Sara, her husband and son. Sara was running the marathon and we had met one time before in person at a Thanksgiving day race. It was fun to get together again!
We made our plans for the morning and Mike dropped me off at the hotel so I could get some stuff together before the race. He went to Stop and Shop to get some last minute race day items for me.
I went to bed feeling 50/50 about the race, but I knew there wasn't anything that I could do about it at this point. I slept decently enough and we woke up at 4:30am. We were meeting Greg and Sara in the lobby to leave for the race at 5:15am.
I still wasn't feeling well, but I got ready and then we left the hotel to make the 15 minute drive to the race start. When we got there, the parking lot was already full of cars! I was starting to get nervous, but I just tried to push it out of my mind.
I went into the school and picked up my bib and race shirt. After going to the bathroom I found everyone else and got my stuff on for the race. I decided to wear my arm warmers at the beginning, even though I knew I wouldn't need them the entire race.
Listening to the pre-race instructions
Right after 6am, we went outside toward the race start. When we got near the start, we saw our friend Isaac and his friend Liz. They made the drive from Maine to support me and I really appreciated them being there!
With Greg before the start
After a few pre-race announcements (that I couldn't really hear), it was time to start the race. Ready or not, it was time to see what I could do.
The first loop I started out in the back of the pack. I was feeling alright, but I could tell that I hadn't run all week and I felt a little crappy from being sick. The first mile was pretty slow because of bottle-necking, but then we got going. I was in a group of runners for the first 4 miles or so.
The race could be broken up into three 4-ish mile sections. I just focused on getting to the aid stations so that I could see my crew. The trails weren't too leafy, which was good, and I just tried to take it easy. There were these two women behind me the first 4 miles and they were chatting so much that it was annoying me. I just tried to ignore them, but I couldn't.
When I got to the first aid station, I was happy to see those two women go ahead of me! I was also glad that our friend Andy was there, he also made the drive from Maine to see me race. I asked about our friend Heather, who was also racing the 50 miler, and she was a little bit ahead of me. I felt alright and after refilling both my water and tailwind, I kept going.
The fast marathoners started to catch up to me and it was a little frustrating. A lot of the course was on single track so it was hard to move over. I think the second section of the loop was my favorite and I chatted with a guy about the clown that was going to be out in the woods. I asked if he jumped out at you, and he told me no that he just stood there.
Eventually, I saw Isaac right before the second aid station. I was still not feeling well, but I knew I had to finish at least one loop. My nose was running so much at this point, and I was using my arm warmers as a snot rag (gross, I know). I asked Mike for our tissues, but we had left them in the hotel. I was able to use a paper towel at the aid station and I kept going.
The third section was my least favorite. It had the most uphill and was also the most rocky. I had to be careful of my footing, and knew that later on it would be difficult to navigate. Eventually we went by the clown, and he was CREEPY. The guy I had talked to was behind me at this point, and he caught up to me and said he had asked the clown if he had scared me. We chatted a little bit about the course, he had run it before, and he said that doing it in the reverse direction this year was a little bit more challenging since the hills were at the end.
When I came out of the woods and got on the section where there was two way traffic, I didn't know if I could keep going. I felt worse and I was sweating so much. I saw Isaac right before the start/finish and we walked together for a little bit. I said I didn't know if I could keep going, but my crew convinced me to go out and get to the next aid station.
To be honest, I don't remember much of this loop. I started to feel better during the first section, but then right before the aid station I felt worse. I felt like I was slowing down a lot and that was worrying me already. I made the "I'm done" hand signal to Mike and while walking with Isaac down to the aid station, I said I thought I was done. I felt so bad for everyone coming to support me and I just didn't know if I could go any further.
While contemplating what to do, a volunteer and my crew convinced me to just go to the next aid station and decide from there. Andy had bought me tissues at a convenience store and I was happy to be able to use those since my nose was still running.
I did not feel good, but my crew told me I was doing great time-wise. They also told me that Heather wasn't too far away and had just left the aid station right before I got there. I grabbed a cup of Coke (something I started to look forward to from this point on) and I walked down the trail to keep going.
I actually started to feel better, but still not 100%. About 10 minutes after I left the aid station, I saw Heather! I made it my mission to catch up to her and on a downhill into an uphill, I ran next to her. We walked together for a bit, complained about the hills and then kept running. We were able to be together for a little while, which was a nice way to take my mind off of not feeling well.
Around 20 miles
I eventually left her and kept going. I saw my crew a few miles later and I was actually doing well at this point. I needed BodyGlide, but Mike couldn't find mine. After waiting a few seconds, I said I had to keep going.
I soon realized that they weren't that far away from the aid station, so they weren't going to see me there. I asked a volunteer for Vaseline or BodyGlide, and they asked me if the BodyGlide on the table was mine. I said it must have been and grabbed it (we think we left it on the table the time before when we were looking for tissues). After refilling my drinks and eating a banana, I kept going. I thought it was a mean trick of my crew to make me keep going to the start/finish.
I knew I was going to be halfway done when I got back to the school and I tried to do my best. The third section of the loop always took it out of me, and after a few runners passed me (the faster 50 milers) I was almost to the two-way traffic spot.
I saw Isaac and I told him I wasn't sure about continuing. I felt horrible and I didn't know if I had 25 more miles left in me. We walked together and I expressed my concern about how slow I was going and how I would slow down even more. He told me I was doing great and that after this next loop, I would have Greg with me.
I ran through the start/finish and then changed my shirt. I needed Crystal to be with me and I put on my #runsitka shirt.
Greg asked if I wanted someone with me, even though it wasn't allowed, since he knew that the third loop was going to be the toughest for me mentally. I told him that I would be alright and off I went.
I took off with a guy using walking sticks and we ran near each other for a little while. About a mile or so into the loop, he got ahead of me and then I was alone for almost the rest of the loop.
When I got to the first aid station, I was told that I had to watch something. I filled my water and tailwind and then Andy showed me a video. It was frozen for a few seconds, but I saw that it was Crystal. I started to get emotional without even knowing what she said and then I watched it.
She told me she was thinking of me and cheering me on from Alaska. She was reminiscing about her first marathon, which was in the cold and rain, and how I was so encouraging for her and also ran through all the puddles, ha. She made me tear up and I knew I had to keep going. I walked away feeling like I just may be able to finish this entire thing.
I ran through the second section all by myself. I never saw a soul. It was weird running through the woods all by myself, but thankfully the course was marked extremely well. And you would think I would have a good sense of the things I would see on the course at this point, but no, I would run things and think "hmmm, I don't remember this from before".
I finally saw Isaac (and this guy Isaac had made friends with who cheered me on all day) and I told him, "what I said at Pineland still holds true, I'd much rather do an Ironman". A faster runner passed me and we kept going to the aid station. Isaac kept telling me I was doing fine for the time cut-off (you had to start your final loop by 3:15pm) and I said I was worried about not making it. I had about an hour and a half to run 4 miles, but the third section of the loop was my least favorite so I knew it would be close.
I don't even really remember the third section, I was passed by faster runners, and I knew I was suffering a little bit more. I was starting to not only feel it due to my illness but also from all the running. There was one point that I thought I maybe missed a turn, and just as I was getting really worried I saw a sign for the race, phew!
I saw Isaac and we walked together toward the start/finish line. I told him I didn't know if I had 12.5 more miles in me. I was really struggling and even when he told me that I would have Greg with me, I didn't know if that would be enough to get me to finish. He kept encouraging me, and if it wasn't for him and the rest of my crew I may not have even made it as far as I already had.
Probably asking Andy if I would see him at the next aid station (he had to leave around 5pm)
I walked toward the start/finish line and I knew I had to try. Greg was ready to run with me and we made our way out for the final loop.
Taking off for the final loop
I warned Greg that we would probably be walking a lot, and he told me that was alright. We set out and settled into a decent pace. I ran when I could and walked when I needed to. We caught up to another runner and we were with her for almost the entire loop. We weren't exactly sure when the cutoff at the first aid station was (it was 4:30pm) and I was worrying. Greg told me I was going to make it, and when we ran by the guy who had been cheering me on all day he said I had a half an hour on the cut-off.
We got to the aid station and Mike showed me another video Crystal had made me, it was her and all her friends cheering me on. I knew at this point I was going to get 50 miles, I just had to make it under the cut-off.
Greg and I took off and it was starting to get a little dark. We ran near the girl for awhile and I don't remember which section of the loop this happened but two weimaraners almost collided into us! Their owner had them off leash and it really threw off my groove for a little bit.
About a mile before the second aid station, we put on headlamps. Thankfully this part of the race was easier terrain, though Greg kept making sure I was paying attention to my footing and he kept telling me that I was tough as nails.
We could hear Isaac cheering and Greg told him that it was us. Mike told me what some friends were saying about how I was a rock star and amazing, and all I could think was that I had about 3.9 miles left to go.
I knew that the last section was going to be tough. After the first mile it is mostly rocky, uphill single-track and I didn't want to fall so close to the end. We walked quite a bit, but I was still able to run at times. We were near the other runner for a long time, until I got a little bit ahead of her.
With about a mile or so to go, we saw another runner who was struggling because she had the wrong light. Greg gave her one of our extra headlamps and we kept going. It was weird seeing all the lights in the woods running toward the finish line.
Before I knew it, we were at the intersection where the two-way traffic had been. We had less than a mile to go. I walked a few more times and then we hit the field at the school. I ran as fast as I could (which at this point was slow, ha) and Greg left me to run into the finish by myself.
Finishing in the dark
I approached the finish line, heard Isaac and high-fived Mike. I had done it. I started to cry and then Mike came over to give me a hug and tell me how proud of me he was.
After not knowing whether or not I was going to finish all day long, I crossed the finish line in 11:55:19.
It still hasn't hit me that I ran a 50 mile race. I know for a fact that I would not have finished without the help of my amazing crew. Mike, Isaac and Andy cheered me on all day and made sure I was taken care of and Greg did all of that and paced me the final loop (which I'm sure wasn't easy to keep me going). I had so many people cheering me on from afar and I didn't want to disappoint any of them.
While it wasn't how I wanted it to go, I did it.
And I will do another one, I need a little bit of redemption!