Monday, April 11, 2011

NINE MILES!! (Hells Hills, Part Deuce)

Life got kinda busy... didn't mean to leave you hanging for a week on the second installment of my #HellsYeahHills race report!! Where were we? Oh, yeah!

Loop Two
So, we come into camp, wave to Fiona and the girls, then hit the aid station to refill bottles and take advantage of the real plumbing facilities before heading back out for the last 15.5 miles. I also changed out my shoes, as I was feeling the bottoms of my soles a little more than I was comfortable with. We tried not to linger and were on our way as soon as we could get out there.

As soon as we started up the hill out of camp, we realized why we had a hard time finding our breathing patterns - the first part of the path was a nice uphill. We couldn't see in the dark, but in morning light we could finally see where we had been earlier.

Julie had to explain to me that those are deer feeders...
What? No deer in the suburbs!
We were both feeling pretty strong in the first five miles or so, and this part of the path was fairly runnable now that we could see, so we made pretty good time along this stretch. We kept to the routine we had established earlier of walking uphills and any particularly rocky sections where footing was dicey, and running as much as we could for stretches at a time. Mostly, we just focused on forward motion. And we chatted and laughed and talked. Honestly, at this point, I was quite content to just walk it out and finish, but thanks to Julie and her enthusiasm, we ran a lot more than I had planned to or otherwise would have had she not been with me. We took turns on point and setting the pace, and made a lot of progress while we still felt strong.

Julie leading the way on early part of second loop.
By the time we got to the first aid station, we were feeling the fatigue of 20 miles on up & downs. We did have a nice chat with the couple who were manning the aid station.  They were the newlyweds who were married after Race to the Altar down in Warda a few weeks ago. We listened to some Def Leppard while we refilled our bottles and grabbed some fuel (Oreos? Yes, please!!). Then, they basically kicked us out and told us that not only was the next aid station offering popsicles (YAY!) but that we only had about nine miles left to go once we turned the corner past the station. 

NINE MILES?! That became our battle cry for the next section of the trail. It had gotten warmer, and a small tease of sprinkles ended up for naught. Thankfully we still had some overcast skies that kept the warmer temps at bay and we were still feeling pretty good. From here on out, we were just doing what we needed to do to get to the next aid station and those popsicles, and working on the last NINE MILES!!

I chose to go around rather than risk this rickety thing collapsing!

Loved this part of the path - no rocks, no roots, no SAND!

Moment of truth! Decision point!
It was really nice as we got closer to the second aid station to recognize a lot of the landmarks we had passed along the first route. We got to enjoy the signs posted on the trees again, and knew that with every turn of the path, every descent and quick rise that we were closing in on Julie becoming an ultramarathoner.  The miles started to wear on us for sure in here, but every time we flagged, all I had to do was yell "NINE MILES" and that put a pep in our step (OK, it did for me - Julie may have wanted to kill me by now!!).  

Pretty true words!

I'm walking because there's an incline. Really, there is!!

You really thought I WASN'T going to take a picture here?!

So, here we were, occasionally getting passed by the fifty-milers on their third loops, and sure enough, from behind us, a bit before the last aid station, we hear "Looking good, ladies!" We turn around and there is the unmistakable flash of neon yellow worn by none other than Jeremy, looking super strong. He ran right by without breaking stride, too fast for me to get a picture of anything but him blasting past us.  I may have yelled at him that he was driving us home the next day if he was so fresh at mile 44!! 

50-miler Jeremy smoking us on his third loop. Gotta be the Salty Banana shirt.

Right after we saw Jeremy, we came upon the non-existent field of bluebonnets again and we knew that we were closer than ever to realizing Julie's goal of finishing her first ultra. As we turned into the field, we saw a girl ahead of us, obviously struggling to walk. We passed her right before entering the Tunnel o Pines for the second time, and really ran it out into the aid station. Not only were we hankering for those popsicles, but I know I for one was ready to have this done with.

The aid station volunteers were great as usual, and offered us more Oreos (YAY!) and a red popsicle. Sadly, my popsicle slipped out of the wrapper before I could grab the stick, and I had to crestfallenly watch it fall to the dirt. OH NOES!! I'd been coveting that popsicle for five miles!! Luckily, they didn't make me pick it up and wash it off (had it been the last one, I would probably have not hesitated to do that), but instead offered me another one. This one was ORANGE! um, YAY! Need I say more? Was that the perfect popsicle for me or what?!

So I stood there, with my bottles refilled and Oreos in my belly, happily munching on my popsicle. Couldn't eat it too fast because I didn't want to get brain freeze, plus I really wanted to savor the cool goodness. I know I'm waxing poetic about a popsicle, but trust me, after seven plus hours on a dusty trail, that popsicle was just that awesome! The volunteer there tried to kick me out, and tell me that I could walk and finish it at the same time, that there was box for trash down the path, but I politely refused on the grounds that I can't walk and do anything else at the same time, especially not on the trails. At this point, Julie was ready and raring to go, though, so I finished it up, profusely thanked the aid station folks and headed out for the last few miles.

Julie very patiently waiting for me to finish the damn popsicle already!
This part of the trail was by far my favorite, as we hit the soft pine needles before the climbs of the Grind and the Wall.  But fairly soon after we left the aid station, the popsicles that were so awesome for me started to rebel on Julie, giving her a pukey feeling. As close as we were to the end, we had to walk it out more than we wanted while we let her stomach settle. She wanted to run, I wanted to run, but we were so close and we knew we had this finish in the bag, so it was OK to just walk it out. I know Julie was frustrated, so I just kept yelling "NINE MILES!" and urging her forward. She was awesome - she kept saying how hard this was, how this ultra thing was harder than any marathon could be. But she never faltered, and she never complained, and she never said "I can't." She was solid!! But then, to add injury to insult, her knee started to ache a bit on the hills leading to the Grind. That was pretty sucky, but at least she was with someone who knew exactly how to handle hills & descents with one working knee.

At this point, my mantra changed from "NINE MILES" to "The Wall, the Grind, your tent." We knew that those three things were all that stood between us and the finish. And we knew that we were soooo close. As much as we were dreading having to climb up the Wall and the Grind after 29 miles, we were also looking forward to them, because each landmark meant we were that much closer to being done and DONE.  So we were thrilled when we saw those down-ward pointing arrows again, and excited to scramble up the far end of the Wall (I didn't even need to give Julie a hand like I did on the first loop) and to barrel down the steep descent of the Grind. And I cannot describe how happy we were to come across the cattle guard for the second time and see Julie's tent in front of us - we knew it was less than half a mile away now. Julie's stomach had calmed down enough that we could run it out a bit, and we strategized how we were going to cross the line, with our chipped ankles over the timing mat at the same time, so we would have the same finish time.

It was so much fun to come out of the last stretch into camp, see all the cars in the lot and then spot a gathering of folks in lawn chairs cheering, then realizing that they were cheering for us!! It was all of our friends, hanging out and making a ruckus, and making us feel like superstars! Nine hours and 50 minutes after we set out in the dark, we crossed the finish line in perfect synch, giving Julie her first 50K finish and giving me an hour and 25-minute PR! WOOT!


Dirty girls!!

Matt finished his first 50-miler & Greg OWNED his first 50K!

50 mile bad-a$$ runners Matt & Jeremy

Our cheering section Greg & Fiona. 

THIS is what's cool about ultras!!

You EARNED it, girl!!
But the most awesome part of the day is that the end of our race wasn't the end of our fun. Far from it.  After taking some finish photos and updating our Twitter & FB accounts with news of our finish, we both pulled up camp chairs and settled in to join our gang of friends and cheer in the remaining 50-milers. Not only was the camaraderie and the exchange of trail tales relaxing and so enjoyable, but it was such a blast cheering on the 50-milers. It was especially great to cheer on the girl we had passed back at mile 26, and see her finish strong and smiling even though she was so obviously hurting back at the aid station. Watching Fawn finish her 50-miler, flanked by her adorable twins (one of them barefoot!!) and Greg's girls was so cool. Hearing that everyone jumped at the "root snake" out on the trail was hilarious. It was just a great way to end an incredibly rewarding day.  I can hardly wait to do it again!!


Piney Woods Runner said...

You.Are.Awesome!!! Such a privilege to run with you!!! NINE MILES!!!!!!

Michelle K said...

Congrats! What a terrific story!! I love how you have fun no matter what you are doing or how tough the task. You rock!!