Tuesday, March 18, 2014

There's a first for everything...Citrus Trail 50k

Ultra-running...for those who want to see what happens beyond 26.2!!

I am an aspiring ultra-running fool. I say fool because most people look at me in confusion and want to know WHY I would do such a thing. I generally smile and say, "Because I love to be outside and I love to run!" I should interject that my mindset for ultra-running is NOT the same as road running. When I run marathons, half-marathon, 15k, 10k, and 5k distances, I go into the race mostly concerned with beating my previous time and lowering my PR (personal record). I intended on thoroughly enjoying my first 50k, especially since it was in the woods. 

Training for this race was a spectacular journey, with a few marathons as a way to test hydration, fueling, and pacing. All things happen in due time and with endless experimentation. I could have ran hills a bit more, but we have to learn from our mistakes...right? The week leading up to the race I maintained a healthy, whole foods diet. I hydrated as much as my body would let me. On Saturday evening, I spent quite a while putting together my drop bag, laying out my running clothes and shoes, my jacket, a change of clothes, a towel and hat, Mr. Garmin (all charged), and the course maps. I did some stretching in bed to try and relax, but it seemed like my brain was reluctant to shut down. I felt like I woke up about 30 minutes after finally falling asleep, but I was excited and ready for the challenge.

My teenage son, TJ, agreed to volunteer for as long as it took me to finish the course, despite the early wake up call. I underestimated the distance to the race start and arrived too late to leisurely get my things ready, but I heard Pharrell William's song Happy three times in the car making it stick in my head for so many miles. After parking I quickly gave a friend (thank you Alessandra) my drop bag to put in the aid station pile, pinned on my #6 bib, grabbed my Garmin, put on my hat, and had to adjust my water bottle in its holder why running to the start line. I was across the start line at 7:18 a.m. (3 minutes late) on a 31 mile adventure, for which I paid MONEY!

I started with a conservative pace, while still trying to catch up with my group of trail friends. I caught these awesome ladies by the 5 mile aid station. Too much conversation to share, and some I think should remain on the trail instead of share it on my blog. Most of my time was spent chatting/running with Alessandra. She was mostly in front of me, and I just kept telling myself to follow the rainbow tutu as we slowly pulled ahead of the rest of our group of 5 runners. I took a tough spill around mile 17, not really being able to catch myself before landing on the front of my thigh and right shoulder. I took a deep breath as Alessandra turned to check on me, stood up, and started running. I had to make myself stop to have her look for blood. No blood, but I was covered in dirt.

At the 20 mile aid station I knew I needed food. I did not eat my pb&j as I had planned, which was a mistake. I did have more cookies, pretzels, and a few M&Ms while the volunteer filled my water bottle. I did grab more gels and honey stinger chews for the remaining 11 miles. As I was leaving the aid station my tummy started cramping, which is why I brought an Imodium. I almost instantly felt better after taking it, but thinking back I should have eaten that pb&j and then taken the Imodium. Made a mental note for next time. I ended up running solo the rest of the course, having both positive and negative conversations with myself and with God. I think the heat/sun drained me.

My mind was playing tricks on me, trying to convince me to quit. Many times I would stop and look at the ground, telling myself I could just sit down for a little while. My mind told me I never wanted to run another ultra EVER again. It was a no-holds-barred, all out war with my mind. My body/legs felt like a beast, but the mind is powerful. I walked the last 2 miles instead of quitting, telling myself that I would see TJ when I arrived at the finish line. I thought I was seeing things when Juan popped up out of nowhere and asked what I needed. I told him about the fall and my hip hurting and he thrust ice into my possession after he told me to keep moving. He continued backward on the course looking for others and I finished the race holding that bag of ice to my neck, hip, and face.

I looked up when I heard "Come on Mom", cow-belling, and cheering forcing tears to glide freely down my salty face. TJ's huge smile made my heart burst with joy and I went right to his open arms, put my head on his chest as he hugged me and said, "You did it." I could hear others cheering and talking, but all I knew was him holding me. The race director, Kip, congratulated me and told me how awesome it was to have TJ as a volunteer. I am extremely proud of my giving and responsible young man for spending seven hours on a Sunday to serve others as they attempt to achieve their goals.

My goal was to finish first and foremost, but my secondary goal was to finish by seven hours. I finished with an official gun time of 7:28:55 and did not keel over or need medical attention. I was extremely dirty, with about a quarter cup of sand in my shoes. My legs were tired, but not in pain. I had no blisters on my feet or toes. I was on the verge of dehydration and what felt like starvation. I joined the group of finishers enjoying libations and chowing down on post-race foods. I practically inhaled my pb&j and banana before sitting down and happily accepting a cold heiferweisen beer from my lovely running partner Alessandra. I smiled at the experiences being shared and sharing my own, while TJ finished up his duties.

I gingerly walked to the car, overjoyed that TJ would be driving home. We took the scenic route and when he knew the rest of the way I shaded my face from the sun (I'd had enough of that ball of fire already) and dozed off. When we pulled into the drive way my husband was washing the other car. He kind of chuckled at me as I told him I would just sleep in the car for the night. After reluctantly getting out of the car, I was told how dirty I was - as if I couldn't tell by my steaming, stinky aroma and the crystallized salt on my skin. My husband insisted I wash off with the hose before tracking grime through the house. Seems I was disgruntled, or maybe just plain tuckered out.

I must include that when I walked into the house my 12 year old daughter was already cooking dinner (it was about 4:30 p.m.) for the family - loaded vegetable spaghetti. She was cutting up zucchini, mushrooms, onion, and garlic for the sauce and smiled when she saw me. Her first question was how was the race Mom? She makes me smile!! She was finishing dinner when I sat down on the floor to stretch and brought a plate out to me with pasta on it asking if it was enough. She made me a plate and brought it to me with a drink. She is too good to me!! She even cleaned up everything in the kitchen, letting me totally relax my mind and body. I'm so blessed!

Kip and the Endeavor Racing group put on a small but well run trail race for multiple distances - 50k, marathon, 10 miler, 4 miler. The aid stations had peanut and regular M&Ms, potato chips, pretzels, oreos and other cookies, gummi bears, gatorade and water, and a chair for those who dared to sit. The aid station volunteers cheered us on when we emerged from the woods and were extremely helpful, waiting on runners hand-and-foot - asking us how we felt. An overwhelming gratitude fell over me every time I encountered an aid station. I cannot thank them enough. I plan on volunteering for an ultra-race to pay-it-forward! What a wonderful, giving community of runners I am in!!

My drop bag item included: pb&j, a banana, honey stinger chomps, a gel, salt tablets, electrolyte powder, granola bar, and energy jelly beans. In my handheld I carried one peanut butter gel, one salted caramel gel, one chocolate outrage gel, five salt tablets, wipes, an Imodium pill, two pieces of gum, and maps for the course. I went potty once during the girls community potty break, keeping an eye out for critters.

The next time, yes I said next time, I will eat more whole foods along the course, which will help me continue to run through all the way to the finish line. I do not think I will change my pacing strategy, not running too fast in the beginning and walking up the inclines. I am not sure how long until I attempt that distance again, but I have my eyes open for the opportunity to push harder and dig deeper!! Happy Trails!

How will you break out of your comfort zone this month?!

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