Well, I did it. After a two month intensive training period, I “ran” and completed a 50-mile ultra marathon.
“Ran” is in quotes because I spent a fair amount of time walking and probably had more in my tank when I finished than I actually would have liked. But, I finished and am ready for the next challenge.
Here’s a quick recap.
As race day started to approach, I really started to obsess about the details of the race. 50 miles takes a long time to run and, when something goes wrong – say chafing or blisters or digestively, it can really blow up.
Diet: Calories and Fat. I ended up eating 11 eggs on the day before the race and jar of sprouted almond butter. There was also a rib-eye steak and tons of greens. I wanted to do the run in ketosis but that went out the window at the second aid station where I was more in survival mode than I thought I would be.
Bag prep: Along the course, we were able to set-up 2 drop bags which we ended up passing twice each. This meant that I had an opportunity to get a change of cloths, socks or shoes as well as leave snack items/treats. I left all these things including Starbucks Espresso Shots, gels, sprouted almond butter mixed with cacao nibs and anti-chafe wipes.
Shoes: I had wanted to have a change of couple of changes of shoes available as I had been experiencing some numbness in my feet after I had run 20 plus miles in one pair of shoes. Seemed easy enough to do with the drop bag system. The thing was that the shoes that I wanted ended up being on back order and, when they did arrive, I ended up with the wrong size. So, come race day, I had an extra pair of running shoes that fit but I hadn’t run anything extensive in them.
Rest: I tried to sleep as much as I could. On race day, I would have to be up at 230 am to eat and then drive to where the shuttle left for the start line. The last shuttle left San Francisco at 3:40 am. So I spent much of Friday trying to sleep. Two essentials: Ear plugs. Eye mask.
So, because I had estimated my finish time and wasn’t conservative about it, I ended up starting with the first wave of runners. Pacing ends up being everything and the start was both fast and hilly. I kept trying to just get into my head and run my own game and be conservative with speed. I also had trained on quite hilly terrain this course proved to be hillier.
With the fussing over my gear, I ended up letting my brother convince me to use his extra lightweight headlamp rather than mine, which I had just charged the batteries for and was sure worked well. Big mistake. Shortly after the race started, I quickly started to realize that the borrowed headlamp was dwindling in efficacy. Race start time was at 5 am. This meant that I had plenty of darkness to run through.
In the race literature, it clearly states that you MUST have a working headlamp. Not having one is grounds for disqualification. So I kept running but tried to hang on the shoulder of someone so I could poach off of their light. But, because I started with the faster group, this meant that I had to pick up my pace.
Whenever we past aid stations or people cheering, I made sure that I put my hand over my lamp to obscure the fact that it wasn’t working. I just had to make it to sunrise.
And what a sunrise it was!
My biggest regret is that I didn’t take pictures. Coming to the crest of yet another steep climb, we were greeted to a beautiful glowing red orb as it rose over San Francisco Bay. Craazy beautiful!
But I had to keep moving.
By the time, I started had 10 miles down with the new shoes, I knew that I needed to swap them out. I’ve since run another 40 miles in the shoes and, anything over 10 miles, and the bones in the balls of my feet start splaying in a weird way. I had planned for this. The problem was that the next pair of sneakers was still 10 miles away. There was no choice but to keep moving.
Shoe change! Somewhere in the early 20s, I finally got the shoes change that I had been waiting for. I also had a chance to refuel and to sit down and force down some food. I ended up spending quite a bit of time at each aid station. Shit. Sitting down felt good and it was sometimes hard to leave. And, putting on familiar and beloved shoes felt like I had put on a new pair of legs.
The blur: The next 30 miles kind of came and went in a blur. A long, slow blur. I knew that I was committed to finishing no matter what. So it was just a matter of keeping moving. As we started to get towards the end of the race, I realized that I was a little bit too content to walk on the hills and started to try to run them and… I could! Walking hurt just as much as running – especially my pride. The last big hill was at mile 46 and then it was a flat coast across the Golden Gate bridge and then to the finish. I guess I’m externally motivated. I wasn’t going to walk around all those people anyways. When things got really mentally tough, it was all I could do to keep remembering to just put one foot in front of the next. And again. And again. And again.
One particular runner and I kept crossing paths throughout the whole 50 miles. Somewhere around mile 36 or so, I passed him at an aid station and commented how close we were to finishing. He made a disparaging remark about “probably not finishing” that I didn’t pick up on until he reminded me of what he said.
Later, I saw him at the finish. He confided in me that, at that aid station, he had all but given up and was getting ready to find the shuttle that would bring him to the finish to collect his stuff. He was from New York City and because it was nearly impossible to train for the extreme hills his spirit was all but broken. But, he decided to push on and at least get to the next rest stop. By the time that he reached the next rest stop, he had found his third or fourth wind and knew he could finish.
I asked him what made him continue even though he didn’t think he could.
“Well, I had come so far already and I really was sure that I couldn’t get to the finish, soI just committed to getting to the next chunk – the next rest stop. Once I started moving forward, I found that I could keep going.
I shook his hand and thanked him for such a great reminder of how to persevere in the face of great obstacles. Focus on the short gains.
Like I said, I wish that I had taken more pictures.
At the finish line, I was surprised to find one of my housemates. Katie was visiting her boyfriend in SF and decided to ride her bike over to the finish to see if she could surprise me at the finish. Elation. Exhaustion. Surprise. Flowers. Tears.
We are capable of more than we know.
And now, I’m back to finishing a book project that I’ve been working on for years. Word by word. Page by page.
We are capable of more than we know.