What a weekend! I am now officially an ultramarathoner. It’s been a crazy year of running for me, and I hope to get caught up on race reports. But for now I just had to share about my first 50K.
DH and I camped at a nearby campsite the night before the race so we could sleep in a bit (it’s about an hour away from our home) and to test out our new camper. We awoke to the sound of rain on Saturday morning and turned on the TV. It looked like the rain would stop just about the time that the race would begin, and it was going to get up to the 80s. It was in the 60s at dawn. I decided to go ahead and wear a sleeveless shirt even though I normally wear a t shirt for trail runs (to keep the bugs off a little better). I knew it was going to be muggy. Very unusual temps for Michigan in October!
We had our normal coffee to get things moving and I had a bagel with cream cheese before we packed up the camper to head over to the race. The event hosts also had a soup cookoff, and if we donated soup we were able to get a credit for $25 off the next race. I decided to make something easy, taco soup. I had put it in the slow cooker the night before and it was ready to go in the morning.
Bib pick up was relatively fast, since Switchback Endurance races are not big races. But they are always well run and friendly! I saw lots of friends milling about waiting for the race to start.
We took off promptly at 8 AM, with the instructions that it would be a double loop of 25K and to follow the orange flags on our right. I lined up towards the back as I am definitely a back of the packer.
The first aid station was at about 2.5 miles. I smiled and waved, as I didn’t need anything. I did note that there was a great spread, something I love about trail races! The terrain was challenging but I knew what to expect since I had done some long training runs at Yankee Springs Recreation Area a few times during the summer. Roots, switchbacks, and hills.
My primary goal was to finish before cutoff, which averages 17 minutes per mile, or 9 hours. I knew I’d get slower towards the end so I did my best to bank a bit of time and walk strongly up the hills, run the flats and take advantage of downhills. I was feeling great, averaging around 15, but then . . . I felt the rumbling. Around mile 5.5 I came to the aid station where my friend Carolynn was volunteering. I asked if there was a port a john somewhere. Unfortunately the answer was no. I told her I could probably make it another 4 miles until the next aid station. I had some Coke and chips hoping it would help my tummy.
Unfortunately I was not able to make it to the next aid station. Luckily I was prepared with a little TP baggie and ducked into some bushes. According to my Garmin I spent about 5 minutes with pit stop, so that affected my average time. I figured I’d just do the best I could, despite feeling a bit weak after the experience and not being able to take in much nutrition because of stomach cramps.
I came to the aid station at mile 9ish where my friend Erika was volunteering. It is such a delight having friends at the aid stations! She said I looked great and I told her it was my first ultra. I had Oreos and a pickle (yum!) and turned around to go back to the trail.
Shortly after Erika’s aid station I heard DH say, “Well, this is a sight I don’t see very often!” He was limping, which was not surprising since he was having problems with his foot but he still wanted to do the race so he can get to the next level of Marathon Maniacs.
“How did you get in front of me?” he asked. He also had to take a pit stop, but didn’t think he had taken that long. We compared Garmin distances and realized that I missed the “warm up loop” that was right behind the last aid station. I was like crap, now what? He said that technically I was supposed to go back and complete it, but that would tack on a few miles. We decided the best course of action would be to just run it twice the second time through.
DH went on ahead and when I went through the halfway / finish line our friend Rob told me that I had just missed Troy and to catch up with him. Sure enough, I did before Carolynn’s aid station. His foot was REALLY bothering him. He had considered bailing at the halfway point, but decided that he’d rather be pulled off the course for missing the cutoff time than quitting. That’s my beast! He told me I’d better get ahead of him, though, because according to his calculations he was going to really be pushing the cutoff time (9 hours. Although during the race I couldn’t remember how many hours it was, just that I had to maintain 17 or better average).
I did my best to get ahead, I knew that I had an extra two miles in order to beat him for real. How cool would it be to do my first 50K AND beat my husband the beast? I got to Carolynn’s aid station and decided to do half Garotade and half water. She said that because of the humidity, lots of people were cramping. My legs were fine, but my stomach was still bothering me and I knew I was dangerously low on nutrition/electrolytes. I decided a few pretzels and bugle chips would have to do. I was feeling a bit weaker than normal but my cardio and legs were fine. And I really wanted my stomach to settle down! Carolynn also made me feel better by saying that Kim (the race director) is pretty chill about cutoff times and that as long I was moving I’d probably be fine. That definitely helped ease my mind!
When I got to Erika’s aid station for the second time, around mile 20 ish, she asked if I needed anything. I loved how the aid station volunteers were willing to refill my water bottle, whatever. She mentioned electrolytes or pain killers. I noticed that my hands had started to swell, so I took her up on her offer of electrolyte tabs. I told her that I had missed the two mile loop the first time and would need to do it twice.
It was then that I started feeling the miles in my legs. I would try to run for a bit, then I was exhausted. I regretted all the weekday runs I’d missed. I wished I’d trained harder. I wished my stomach was not all goofy. I wished that the race would just be done already.
I finished the first loop and asked if Troy had been by yet. He had. I knew that if I was going to catch him I’d have to make some serious time up in the loop.
My friend Trevor had just arrived at the aid station and said, ‘Isn’t it great to know you are at the last aid station?” Uh yeah, but I had to do another loop. Boo!
I finished the second loop and my friend Rob was picking up signs. “Do you have another 4 and a half miles in you, Wendy?” he asked. I looked down at my Garmin. I’d already done the equivalent of a marathon. I was tired and starting to feel dizzy. I wondered for a minute if he was going to pull me from the course, but in looking at my Garmin again, I knew I had plenty of time. “Yep!” I said. “It’s a PR no matter what.”
I took off for the home stretch. My feet hurt at this point, so I would run even though I was exhausted because it hurt less to run slowly than to walk. I was starting to get long run brain, where the math didn’t add up and I would wonder if I was on the right path.
Around mile 28 I was admittedly looking a little rough. A guy on a bike came up behind me.
Guy on bike: You ok?
Guy on bike: Are you going to be done soon?
Me: I certainly hope so.
I saw signs for the Emergency access point. I pulled out my phone only to discover the battery was dead. By this time my time was dropping like lead. The trail neared the road and I saw a car go by. I wondered if I should just bail and hitchhike back to the finish line. I wondered if I would be picked up by some creepy dude and decided I’d better take my chances passing out on the trail where hopefully a friendly biker would see my bib and know to follow the orange flags to find someone who might know how to identify the body and notify my next of kin.
I decided that I most definitely, absolutely, never wanted to do a 50K again. I need to work on my speed. This sucks. I’d stick to marathons. Or maybe not run at all. Who needs running? It’s kind of a dumb sport. This sucks.
And then, when I thought I had a mile left, I saw the driveway that led to the finish line. Somehow my Garmin had lost half a mile in the switchbacks and I was DONE!
My friend Efrain was there to take this photo:
I was never so happy to see the finish line in my life. Kim congratulated me and said that Troy was probably inside by the beer. I headed towards the lodge and Troy came hobbling out to give me a hug.
He told me the good news, that my soup had been voted best comfort food! I was actually pretty proud of that.
Afterward we sat around eating soup, drinking beer, with our running friends and I decided that I couldn’t wait for my next 50K to see how much I could improve my time. This running is awesome! It’s the best sport ever!
I still can’t believe that I was able to do this.
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