The journey to Lean Horse began at midnight Thursday in a truck filled with tech gear, two overly excited runners & Cory our gracious driver/crew. Having taken many a road-trip as a kid the 9hr drive to Hot Springs, SD wasn't bad, but sleep was something of a precious commodity.
Arriving in Hot Springs we immediately headed to packet pick-up and I found myself feeling as though I had shown up to run the 5k at a Marathon. Once the pre-race meeting & meal rolled around this feeling only amplified. The ultra crowd (mostly 50-100milers) is such an inspiring collaboration of characters. Those with beards longer than my arms, leathery tans, sculpted legs, those with nicknames & even a few with the eldest child syndrome of "The family was fine enough w/o you wee 50kers coming along" type attitude. Overall the welcome was warm despite everyone being quite focused on the epic feat to come at dawn.
Dawn came early. With a solid night's rest & ambitions high Maggie and I were ready for it. After drawing a smiley on the back of our calves then applying a copious amount of sunscreen, deodorant and sport shield we were good to go. We watched as the 50 & 100miler's gun went off at 6a.m. before being loaded onto a bus then taken to the Carroll Creek aid station where the 50k started.
The ride there was gorgeous. Pine adorned rolling hills with roaming buffalo & deer everywhere. Once we navigated a slight detour (ie. getting lost) the bus dropped us off at the trail.
Porta Johns were non-existent most of the race course. The start was no different. Being that 20 of us had close to an hour to wait before the start and anxious bladders, it became a theme of people walking into the woods, behind a rock or off the side of the road to do their business. I couldn't help but laugh.
Soon enough a man with a stopwatch counted down from 10 & we were off! Mickelson trail is beautiful in the morning light, it is flat and fast. We ran comfortably at a 9:30-10:00 pace for about 7miles before meeting up w/ oncoming 50-100milers.
We continued on exchanging cheers & well wishes as we went. The temperature (as we thought it would) began to rise early, but being that South Dakota has a drier heat than North Dakota it didn't effect us, yet.
Around mile 12 Maggie & I got confirmation that there was only one other 50k woman in front of us. Several runners had mentioned this to us prior, but we weren't sure we could trust that knowing that sometimes women look like men in their running gear. However, when a group of runners tell you this at once w/ great confidence in their voices, you believe them.
From then on it became a challenge of monitoring pace, we were excited about our placement & that added boost of adrenaline kept trying to push us to a pace that couldn't be maintained for 31 miles. It was about this time too that the leading male 50miler passed us.
It also became a game of tag with this poor 50miler. He was struggling, low on electrolytes and leaning over to hurl every 2-3miles. I'm still unsure of how/if he finished, but I have never wished more that I had carried salt-tabs w/ me than when he asked for some.
There were times when aid stations (typically 5-7miles apart) seemed like an oasis in the desert we just couldn't get to fast enough. Cory was a Godsend meeting us between stations at several places along the course w/ water & orange slices (the best thing EVER).
I was not about to have a repeat of Fargo's fueling disaster so, even though I never felt particularly thirsty or hungry I stubbornly kept to my plan to gel every 3-5miles & take a dose of perpetuem every 10-12. This worked well & I avoided getting dehydrated, a problem which had taken several runners out of the race.
At mile 16 the heat was trying to edge a grip on me. Thankfully a compassionate volunteer at the aid station looked me straight in the eye, asked me what I needed, then grabbed my hat to fill it with ice. I am used to paper cups & gu being thrust out to be grabbed by oncoming runners & never being asked what I need at a race. This was unique and so appreciated.
With the relief of ice now melting & trickling down my neck Maggie and I had the chance to look ahead as we rounded a slight curve onto Argyle road. Runners who had previously run this race had told me about Argyle road, that said: seeing it for yourself is a different story.
This is where the epic part of the 50k would begin for me, the miles that lead up to that, the 16 miles we breezed through, one could consider a "warm-up".
What lay ahead was a monster hill stretching to the sky & in Maggie's own words "I hope heaven is at the top of that hill." explained our sentiments exactly. One part of my brain thought "Good now we'll be able to see how far ahead the 1st place woman is." & the other "Well, I hope our trail hill training out at Maplewood was enough.".
Thankfully the advice I took from an ultra-runner early in training bode well for us on race day. He said that most 1st time ultra runners never train to walk and you need to train to walk just as much as you train to run. What hills Maggie & I had covered in training we made sure to train w/ walking. On race-day that really shined. We walked as swiftly as possible (I would say we hauled) on the uphills, picked up the pace on the downhills & ran what was maintainable on what little "flat" section followed before reaching the next climb.
I am not about to complain about this road. In some sick way I actually enjoyed the challenge and it kept the mind occupied off of how many miles you were running. One hill at a time.
Once in the hills we quickly gained on the woman who was in first place and passed her. I looked over my shoulder multiple times expecting her to be close behind, but after a few rollers she was nowhere to be seen.
A few more miles conquered and the road felt more remote, we were literally the only people there for miles. Now imagine how startling it is to have a gazelle of a woman appear in your peripheral vision before silently disappearing over the next hill. I had just been passed by the leading woman in the 50 MILER! It was beautiful to watch that kind of talent.
Maggie & I decided that once we reached the aid station at mile 20ish we would give ourselves the boost of listening to some music. This was exactly what was needed. I played a little air guitar on the uphills & Maggie attempted a few Shakira type moves as we continued on.
Eventually around mile 24ish a gap started to form between Maggie & I. We had discussed this in training that we would separate 6-8miles from the finish and run what pace was comfortable. I had always figured that Maggie would be the one to pull away and she was. We stayed relatively close together for a few more miles. When the Garmin registered 26.7 I celebrated running farther than I had ever run and wanted to shout out to Maggie, but she must've figured it out as she charged ahead picking up the pace yet again, the gap widened.
I was not discouraged by her because I love this part of the race when it becomes your own and when it also becomes the most difficult. After chugging down two glasses of ice cold coke (Yum!!) at the last aid station I had accidently soaked my ipod when pouring water over myself and it would no longer work properly. With a little over 3miles left to go I wanted to be frustrated with that, but I decided it was time to pray/praise and give God the glory for how far He had enabled me to go and to ask for His strength to push me as fast I could go over the remaining miles.
My left quad was starting to get angry, but I pressed on. Trying to talk myself into mainly running, but it turned into a "don't let yourself walk more than 30seconds before running again" strategy I used at the Fargo marathon. I passed several men once we finally reached town and began to near the finish line. Not far off in the distance was a man looking over his shoulder every few blocks unrelenting in his goal to not let me pass him. I did not.
Rounding the corner by the DQ I knew I was close, I held back from running hard wanting to finish with a sprint which I did coming in at 6:03:44. WOOHOO!!!
Now when I tell you that I placed 2nd for the women, (Maggie taking 1st, go Maggie!!) and 6th overall don't cheer too loudly. Yes, I am proud of the finish, but there were only 20ppl. total in the 50k.
Instead cheer for the fact that I finished my first ultra & will never be the same. In the words of a friend "Welcome to the dark side of ultras". It is official, I am addicted to the long haul. Victory blisters & all!
Was I sore afterward, yes. Am I still? yes, just not as bad. Have a run since, yes! What is next? A 1/2 marathon in Oct. & a filthy 5k, but I will not be training strenuously for either. Now starts my off season: Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. :) It has been a stellar race season!