I have to admit, I’ve been struggling a bit trying to get this race recap on “paper”. The more I think about it, the LESS I remember. We were out there for a LONG time, but I just remember bits and pieces……anyhow, this is how I remember it……..
Race morning came early. Jennifer and I were up at 5:30 am. We had decided that we needed to leave the house by 6:15 or so to put us there in time to pick up our packets, but with not much time to spare standing around waiting for the start. We were both nervous, but we handled it pretty well. Trying to think of last minute things that we might have forgotten to pack. The course change threw us for a bit of a loop with what we needed to bring. We had been planning on bringing hydration packs loaded with fuel as well as several changes of socks. Because it was now a short loop, we didn’t really need our packs, but I brought mine just in case. I also packed a couple of extra pairs of socks and an extra shirt.
As we loaded into the car and started the trip to the race venue, we sat mostly in silence. Anxiety filled my car. What the fuck were we about to do?? We spoke a little about how excited we were and I kept saying that we were going to be running SLOW and walking up all hills. We had talked about this before, but I kept reminding her. SLOW. I mean SLOW. Like 13 minute mile slow. Even on my short training runs, I was training to run slow. I don’t know if you know this, but it’s kind of hard to run slower than you are used to….on purpose. But that was the only way I could see us finishing. We had to go slow, and we HAD to walk up all hills.
We managed to find the race venue after missing our turn only once. There were glow sticks directing us where to turn, but somehow I missed those. We turned around and found them coming back. As we made our way down this road, the wooded area slowly opened into a huge open field. The fog was thick….almost as thick as the anxiety in my car. There were already a good number of people there, but some had been unable to make the changed course and only about 50 or so were going to be running. We parked and made our way to the start/finish area to pick up our packets and then headed back to the car to get geared up. I can’t really speak for Jennifer, but nerves turned to excitement. My mood shifted from worry to calm. I started seeing people I knew, and started to feel a little more comfortable. Once we got geared up we headed back to the start/finish to find a spot to stash our gear and hung out until it was time to start running.
This is where things start to get a little fuzzy. I know we ran this 4 mile loop 8 times, but I can’t be sure what loop was what and what loop we were on when we changed gear. I do know that we set several “mini” goals to help us along our way. We felt pretty confident that we could run 4 loops without any issues. We had both run half marathons fairly recently, so 3 loops (12 miles) would be ok, and then four more miles “ought” to be no problem. So our first mini goal was 4 loops. Four loops would put us at 16 miles, which would be Jennifer’s farthest run ever, and would tie my farthest run. (I ran 16 miles LAST YEAR).
One of my fondest memories of the race happened in the first 30 seconds. We started at the very back of the pack as the race started. We took off on a nice little trot, feeling the excitement of what we were about to do. As we made our way around the first hard left turn we were met by a nice hill. We laughed and said “sweet, we get to walk already!”. It really did seem crazy that we would start walking after only 30 seconds into the race, but that was our plan and we were sticking to it. Turns out, it’s pretty normal to walk up hills…..32 miles is a LONG way. The first loop came and went with no issues at all. It was mainly a feeling out loop, checking out the course and getting a feel for the turns and hills. There were a few hills, but only two major ones……and these things were MAJOR hills. They were almost back to back, and both were on the last two miles of the loop……..this would really mean something on those last few loops. We crossed the start/finish on the first loop in high spirits and were surprised to find that we came in under an hour. We stopped for a bit of food and drink and headed off again.
Loops 2-4 went exactly as planned. We chatted the whole way, choosing to enjoy each others company and saving the music for later when we may need it most. Both of us were feeling great and we were excited about having completed 16 miles while still feeling pretty good. This, however, is where everything get a little fuzzy. We both stopped at the aid station for a change of socks. I changed my shirt, and would continue to do so after every loop from here on in. It was nice to have a “dry” shirt on. We had been taking S Caps at every loop (i took 2 each time) and I ate my fill of potatoes with salt and grabbed several hammer gels each pass. I can’t really recall everything I ate, but I can tell you that it took me a good mile to feel like I wasn’t going to throw everything back up.
Up until this point, the weather was relatively nice. Reasonably cool temps with a glorious fog that was so thick it stuck to your face. By the time we started our 5th loop, however, the sun came out with a vengeance and burned away the fog and the temperature started to rise. I put on my hydration pack this time–one bottle filled with gatorade and the other with water. The water was for my head. As it started to heat up, I ditched to gatorade in favor of two bottles of water. These next 4 loops were not going to be as much fun as the first…….
I don’t really recall the rest of the race. Just bits and pieces. It got SO hot, it seemed like even though there was plenty of water on the course, there was never enough water. Some went in my belly, but most of it went on my head/face/neck. We had a routine at the aid stations by now, and I’m pretty sure those S-Caps were saving my life. I do remember at one point on what I think was our 6th lap, we passed a guy that I was SURE we had passed already and he said HE was on his 6th lap. Jennifer and I both fell into a confused funk trying to figure out if we lost count, or where the hell that guy came from. We finally decided to hell with it, it didn’t really matter.
We stopped talking at some point….having run out of things to say and/or fear of saying it was time to quit…..as we came to the water station at the 2 mile mark of our 7th loop, we stopped for a little longer than usual to “celebrate” running a marathon. We had made it 26 miles!!! As we congratulated each other on our accomplishment, two young ladies caught up to us and we chatted a bit and congratulated each other again. This was their first ultra as well and we wished them luck and headed out to finish our 7th loop.
Our 8th and final loop is a total mystery. I remember the excitement of realizing we might actually pull this off, but I also remember my legs were seriously trying to give out on me. I started to cramp in my quads and my feet were fucking killing me. Our mini goals turned into VERY mini goals. We started picking out course flags to run to. “Let’s just run to that flag” or “keep going to the pile of pinestraw”. The last two hills were a nightmare. I’m still not sure how we made it up the last one. Doubt was slowly creeping in and it was all we could do to keep our feet going. I had turned on my music at some point, but it really wasn’t helping. Finally at the last mile, when we came out of the woods into the open pasture we realized the finish was in sight. Then the best thing happened. We saw our family. And better yet, our oldest kids came down after us to “run” the rest of the way in. We did it. I’m still not sure how we managed to pull it off, but it was the best feeling. We did it.