Traffic on the trail. The way the trail was designed, we had three different starts for each of the distances. And we knew we were going to be at the tail end of the 50k group. That was by design. The true goal of this race was to finish upright and smiling. We had an idea of how long it would take us, but we weren't going to fret about it. But what we didn't count on was that the faster 25k runners would soon overtake us, because we shared the same course for much of the beginning of the trail, until the turnoff. So we spent a lot of time either on the "shoulder" of the trail, where it was even dicier picking your way through the rocks, or just moved over on the side while the speedies went by. Not a problem, really, and we certainly wanted to get out of their way. But it did slow us down more than anticipated in the first 10 miles. And those extra minutes would have been nice to have at the end of the day when the sun went down.
Not being able to run. There were many more runnable sections of this trail than I expected. And after mile 15, I couldn't run any of them. Not even a little jog. It KILLED me. There was this whole stretch of jeep road that was flat and even and perfectly pebbled with little rocks that were soft and welcoming on our feet. And every time I tried to push the pace and move into an actual run, even on the flat, my knee screamed in pain. So I had to back off. That sucked. Especially at the end, after I'd taken a couple of Vitamin I and the pain had subsided some. But it didn't subside enough for me to put the hammer down and make up for lost time. And that just sucked. We could have finished in less than 11:14 if I'd been able to run even part of the last half of this race. Boo.
|Seriously, how great is this section? |
And power-walking/hiking/moseying was all I could do. pffft.
|How cute is she? Once we came in & she could breathe!|
And, YAY! on her first 25K finish!
See the little jags there at mile 24? Those are the Three Sisters, little peaks in the trail that come on the out-part of the loop between the two Crossroads stops. Sarah and I have other names for them. We may have called them the Three Bitches. Not because they are particularly rough to go up. I barely noticed the climbs, even after 24 miles. But the descents? Oh my goodness. Those were BRUTAL. My right knee was screaming by then. I could not bend it at all. No, really. It wasn't that it hurt to bend it, it was more that I could not physically make the joint work.
This was when Sarah asked me about the pain level and I lied. The lie was more for me than for her, though. If I could convince myself that it didn't hurt so bad, then it wouldn't hurt so bad. This was when an older gentleman, one that we had leapfrogged a couple of times in the day, came up behind us and asked if we wanted him to send help back from the next aid station. Apparently from behind it was pretty obvious that I was not having an easy time of it. But I said quite vehemently that NO, I was fine. I would be fine. I would finish. I don't think he believed me. But he didn't send help, and we went on, painful step by painful step. I finally got into a groove where I figured out that if I bent my left knee with each step and peg-legged my right knee like a pirate that I could make it down the descents OK. And by OK I mean without tumbling face-first down the hills and as slow as Christmas. But, hey, I got down them all, even though it took us longer than we wanted.
|One of the Three Sisters descents. |
Doesn't look steep & it's not really, but it still hurt. A LOT.
Lucky Peak. The very last nasty surprise of the 50K course is this thing called Lucky Peak. From the race course description:
This next section is called Lucky, but it is far from Lucky. It sports one of the nastiest climbs on the course. It is a very steep rock covered hill with a descent on the other side loaded with ledges and almost as many rocks.
This description is not a lie. This section is where the epiphany came. The rocks were big. They were nasty. You have been going for more than 28 miles by now, so you are tired and sore and your feet hurt from all the damn rocks. And what do you see? Another big-ass pile of rocks. UGH. But the uphill wasn't the ugly part, oh, no! It was, of course, the downhill. Sarah went down first, after we got done crying and hugging at the top of Lucky. I stayed behind and studied the options down, trying to choose the least treacherous, and trying to figure out how to get down that monstrosity in one piece. Meanwhile, I hear Sarah yell as she literally goes surfing on a rock below me. She stepped on a big rock and it slid down the hill on all the little sliders underneath it. I really wish I had seen it, because she stayed upright the whole way. It was pretty gnarly. And it would have been ug-leee if she had bitten it there. But again, we know Sarah is bad-ass so she just ended up going for a little ride. And then she yells that she's ducking off the path for a break and will meet me at the bottom. Except that when you get to the bottom, you're not really at the bottom. There is another nasty little step there that was too much of a drop-off to just jump, even with two good knees. It was scary for me because I knew it would hurt, and Sarah knew that, too, so she chose not to tell me about it until I discovered it myself and had no choice but to go down it. And I did go down it, after another little break to study the best way down and to grit my teeth and just do the thing.
My knee. I went into this race worried about my left knee, the one with the pinched meniscus. I had wrapped it tightly before the New Year's Day half and it hadn't given me any issues, so I did the same here. And it worked like a charm. The left knee held up like a champ. No pain, no soreness, no issues. The right knee, though? Not so much. If you look at the elevation profile, you can see a gradual descent starting at mile 14 or so. That was about the time my knee started to tweak. It was bearable at that point, though, more of a twinge than pain, and I thought our drop bag with extra tape was at the next aid station, so I was just looking forward to reinforcing it then and then I would be fine. But the drop bag wasn't until Mile 20, so as we went into the next section after Nachos, it progressed from an ache to a sharp pain. And it got worse as we went along on each downhill. If the terrain was flat, I could power-walk just fine, and I could actually book quite nicely on the uphills. That's when I started praying for inclines - I was making faster time on them than on the descents. It was murderous. But, after the mental lift at the second Crossroads stop, and the physical lift of taping it and taking some ibuprofen, the pain actually dissipated in the last five miles so that my overall pace improved some (or at least I felt like it did). It wasn't as painful to pick my way down in that last stretch. Or maybe it was just that there were fewer downhills on the last stretch than there were on the Three Sisters. Who knows? All I know is that by the time I crossed the finish, I was feeling absolutely no pain.
I finished 11 hours and 14 minutes after I started. In the dark. After we left the last aid station, I told Sarah that I thought we were last, and that she better be damn sure she crossed the mat before me when we got there. I told her if it was going to take me that freakin' long to finish I may as well go all out and get DFL. But we weren't last. There were three people that came in after me, three people whose races I'm sure are as littered with the same kind of story I have to tell. And that's what I love most about this crazy twist on my favorite activity. It's not about the finish time for many people in ultras - yes there are crazy-fast runners who handle these beastly rocks and trails like they're mountain goats - it's about having the perseverance and the willpower to stick with it and Get It Done. I may not ever be fast but I know that I have the guts to keep going when it gets hard.
|I Made It Happen. I Did the Damn Thing.|
I am an Ultramarathoner!
Meanwhile, huge props go out to the following:
- Sarah for sticking with me every step of the way on this inaugural journey, and really for introducing me to the whole trail adventure that first day out in Oak Cliff.
- Jeremy for finishing his first 100k on a brutal course in a driving rainstorm. He was grinning ear to ear when he came into the tent 16+ hours after he started, even though he was drenched and cold. He took only five extra hours to cover twice the ground I did. Dang.
- Julie for running the furthest she ever had out there, and for surviving a fall that put a nice punch in her knee. You are so going to rock Cowtown, girl, and I can't wait for Hells Yeah Hills to bring you through your first 50K like Sarah did for me. I promise, promise, promise to bring a lamp!
- Fawn for winning her age group and hanging with Julie while Sarah and I picked our way down the rocks
- John (per usual) for letting me go off on a wild hair and do this thing. I know you were worried about me. I knew you were scared for me. I appreciate your love and support, and I miss you like crazy when I am gone but I know you understand why I need to do this. And I love you for that. More than you will ever know
- Sandro & Ben. I don't think I've ever had my 15 year old comment on my FaceBook status. But on Saturday night, when I posted that I had finished, I got a giant uppercase "GREAT JOB MOM" from him. If that doesn't tell you all you need to know, I don't know what does! And the hug I got when I came home on Sunday, along with the usual "Where's your medal?" from Ben? That was awesome.