This race will forever stand out in my memory as the 50k that almost wasn't & how God can turn things around.
Last week I was an angsty & emotional pain riddled puddle in the days following a stellar 16mi trail run with the ultra crew. Our final long-run before Saturday's race.
My mystery injury started to creep back into my left leg and both hip joints felt like pins. I made several trips to the chiropractor with some, yet limited relief. On Wednesday I woke up feeling the worst I had felt all week, it hurt to stand straight. The inside of my thigh, quad & hips wouldn't let me forget they were there. I cried, I pouted, I resigned myself to the fact that I was somehow "Injured" and would have to let go of the idea of racing this weekend & may have to rethink my long-term goals if I couldn't get this mystery injury under control. It was a rough. (Thanks again to my Husband & Ultra-crew for putting up with me in this time.)
As a last ditch effort I started taking the prescriptions the Dr. had prescribed earlier for this injury. They didn't work well the first time around, but I was still hoping deep down below the resignation for a miracle.
Thursday morning I woke up feeling markedly better, but not "fixed". I had to decide by noon whether to even attempt to race, so I went out on a test & what turned out to be a prayer run. The run went okay, so I took a deep breath swallowed and decided that I would rather DNF than DNS. My goal was to at least make it to the 50k turn around & drop out there.
This is what happened...
I continued to improve over the next day, despite being stuck in a car for the 7hrs of travel from Fargo to Lutsen. The whole ride up I went over my game-plan. No real race day expectations, but to get to the start and how I wanted to cope if it all hit the fan. After arriving at the resort/race location and talking with Maggie over fueling/gear choices I finally headed to bed. Slept well, woke up relaxed & was actually able to eat my entire breakfast before heading to the start-line.
As Maggie & I walked to the starting line there were muscles, gaiters & hydration packs everywhere. Of course they were attached to runners a few of which we introduced ourselves to. This would happen many times in the next 31miles. I met so many wonderful people!
Like my previous 50k, someone counted down from 10 & then we were off.
The race starts out with a switchback climb up two of the "mountains" at Lutsen. Adrenaline was high so while I felt the toll of the climbs, it was bearable. I made sure to put myself near the back of the pack as I was unsure of how my body would respond to racing and with so much of the terrain being single-track I didn't want to get in the way.
By mile 4 I was ready to start moving up the line, so was Maggie. All of the speed-walk training we have done really shined on the uphills, we gained a lot of ground here. As single track trails are, often there is only enough room for one or two people to pass at a time. Maggie & I got separated several times before the first aid station and I had wait for my opening then push to get caught up with her and the other runners at our pace. We both carried enough fuel/water for 15miles of running so we handed off the extra layers of clothing to our crew at the aid station and quickly passed thru it without taking anything.
Around mile 9 Maggie stopped to adjust her gear, I slowed a little, but kept running assuming that she would catch back up again just as I had when we got separated earlier. Every now and then I would catch a glimpse of her pink bandana in the woods. Then my body said "today is your day, go for it". Eventually the woods got thicker & we got spaced further apart.
Ultramarathons are absolutely phenomenal when it comes to the conversations & encouragement you experience during the event. I felt so blessed by the similarly paced runners I was grouped with during this section. Blue leopard gaiters lady, Dual hand-bottles guy, Defined muddy calf dude...sorry I can't remember your names, but it was a pleasure to run with you!
We reached the next aid station about two miles from the 50k turn around. I heard my husband's distinctive whistle, shouted out that I was feeling great and gained more ground while others stopped to refuel. My plan was to refill my hydration pack & grab out additional fuel from the back pocket when I hit the A.S. on my way back. The 2 miles up to the turn around started out through a super soggy/muddy area and then it was climb time. Again.
Towards the top it was more like bouldering, the rocks were that big. Whatever goes up, must come down & downhill was sweet. I exchanged cheers with the runners I met on their way up. I love out & back courses for this reason, it is so uplifting!
By the time I reached the aid station again I was feeling a few hotspots/blister areas and really wanted fresh socks. Jeremy quickly pulled them out of my bag & before I could even ask him for the vaseline one of the A.S. volunteers handed some to me then proceeded to take my hydration pack & refill the bladder (by this time it was completely dry & I was thirsty). Thank you Sawbill aid station volunteer!
I knew the miles between the Sawbill A.S. & the next A.S. were "flatter" so I fueled up and started hauling. I tried hard to avoid walking as I knew miles of switchbacks were coming and I would be doing plenty of it then. These miles still seem surreal to me. Every stride & every breath was completely in tune with the terrain. I was alone in the woods, just me, my God & the trail. It felt as though I had wings!
Then I hit a few "shorter" climbs on my way to the final aid station and my guts started to tremor. The tremors started to turn into quakes and I found myself to scanning the woods for a discrete spot to drop trou if I needed to or if nothing else toss cookies where someone wouldn't run thru it. I prayed and then prayed some more, I really didn't want to lose any of my fuel that way. Fueling & hydration up until this point was spot on. Thankfully the threat of dropping trou lessened, but the nausea kept washing over me in waves. I would catch up with & then fall behind the same two guys again and again.
Between praying, losing all of the color in my face, lips tingling & taking myself down from tossing cookies I told my mind it was time to take over. I was not about to fall off of my fueling/hydration rhythm. Let me just say that eating when you are feeling like this is extremely difficult, but I did it.
I finally reached the last aid station along the course about 8miles from the finish. My husband met me there and helped me as I struggled to grab a few orange slices to put in my pack, gulp down a glass of cola and transfer what I had left for fuel in my pack into the front pockets for easy access.
A volunteer was asking each runner how they felt before getting on the trail in hopes of catching those really struggling from getting stuck in the woods feeling crummy with a limited chance of meeting the cut-off time. She told me I looked good. I told her how nauseated I was, but that I was going to continue and would get over it eventually.
The nausea & dizziness started to fade as the pop,oranges & sport beans kicked in. A few miles later I again found myself paced with one of the guys I had caught up with & fell behind earlier. Todd kept me company and graciously paced me until about mile 24 when I became strong enough to move ahead.
Then it was "catch up with the lady in the pink shirt". Her form was steadfast and beautiful. I started to make my way up to her pace while dominating the speed-walk on switch-backs and at last we were running together. She was such a blessing/inspiration when that last stretch seemed to go on & on & on. We reached the top of the final climb & I could see the finish from the top of the "mountain" several miles away. I glanced down at my watch and saw that if I picked up the pace I had a chance of finishing under 7hrs. This was all it took to spark a flame under my feet.
Those final miles were hard, passing those I knew were struggling/had been way ahead of me was hard, but I continued on. Exiting the trail onto the gravel road leading to the finish a bystander/epic cheerer told me there was only a 1/2mi left. I zoned out, running as hard as I could, dropping my pace below an 8:30min/mi. Then I heard the cheering, my husband whistling and glanced up at the clock to see I had blown my sub 7hr goal out of the water to finish in 6:32.
I was overwhelmed & I am overwhelmed! To come back from such a crummy week leading up to the race, to rise from the ashes and run the best race of my life is unbelievable. God is so good!
Video of my journey...