I woke up easily on Saturday morning around 4:30 to the sound of my husband showering, rather than my alarm, from the best pre-race sleep I’ve probably ever had. (This is not saying much because I truly suck at sleeping. Big time. But for me it was great. Plus, I made the conscious effort to stock up on some zzzz’s the week leading up to the race just in case I became a total insomniac on Friday night. Luckily that didn’t happen!) I was feeling pretty well-rested, fairly “bright-eyed” and partially “bushy-tailed”, with a touch of nervous energy I didn’t know what to do with. (I attribute these feelings largely to the effects of taper; therefore, I guess I did it right!) I knew that the nerves would immediately subside once it was time to run!
We left the hotel around 5 am to make the short 10 minute drive to Robert H. Treman State Park. The boys and I had made blueberry bagels with cream cheese in the lobby’s toaster to eat on the ride to the starting area. Jen had texted me before we even left our hotel room to let me know she and her family were already there.
The temps were in the upper 40’s…perfect for running but cold for standing around and waiting to run!
Only one race morning thing that didn’t go so well. All you runners out there know what I’m talking about. The ONE thing you need to do before a long run. One of my friends calls it making a “deposit”. If you still aren’t catching my drift, I did not have to poop. I guess it was a little too early for me. “Why is this a big deal? ” you ask. Let’s just say it’s REALLY hard to run when it hits you that you DO have to go. Plus, we had specific rules given to us in a pre-race email about this very thing. See meme below…
There were nice real restrooms to use near the start area, but since I wasn’t able to make my deposit, I figured I’d just have to start running and hope for the best!
Jen and I ran easily together, chatting away and walking any steeper hills to help our legs warm up. I had my Garmin on, but only to see the time, not for the GPS. We both wanted to run aide station to aid station and focus on one section at a time. A mile or so into the race we were running on stone stairways, nothing too terribly steep like we had imagined, and there was a bagpiper serenading us on one of the platforms overlooking the waterfall. It was pretty cool. I felt like I was at the Celtic Fest!
We ran through the new one mile loop that had been added to the course the night before. There were pretty wild flowers in some tall grassy fields, and regular woodsy trails but we hadn’t encountered anything too technical, hilly, rooty, or terribly difficult. We continued on through the well-marked trails to Underpass aid station. You could always hear the cars on the road when you got close to this one. We both stopped here and had some fuel. I think I handed my husband my Nuun bottle so he could refill it for me, and we chatted with our families. We both asked Kevin, Jen’s brother who has run this race before, when we were going to get to the hills. The elevation chart had made us think that the first 7 miles would have been harder than what we had just done. He politely told us it was time to get moving which was good because we probably didn’t need to spend a lot of time there at that point.
Heading out of Underpass, you run through some tall grass and then over train tracks and through the largest creek crossing (which you end up doing 3 more times during the race). The creek was deep enough at one end for me to be up to my shorts, but it felt good!
Soon Jen and I came to a long super steep hill that you have to power hike to get up. I’m pretty sure we both stopped talking at this point and concentrated on getting ourselves to the top. Although, Jen did say, “Here it is!”. The hill we were waiting for…. it never seemed to end! It reminded me exactly of the Flat Rock Trail crazy mountain repeats that I made myself do during training. I must have hiked it faster than I realized because when I got to the top, I started to run, but looked over my shoulder for Jen to make sure she was behind me. She was a few people back so I figured I’d run easy and see her again. At this point I realized the race had really spread out already. There was no one in front of me and no one directly behind me. I crossed a small stream, followed the trail that meandered uphill through the woods and then stopped to look for Jen. I looked down and saw a few people about to cross the small creek that I just had and figured Jen must be in that group somewhere, so I kept a controlled pace to the third aid station, Buttermilk, thinking I may see her there. That whole time I was thinking of Jen! I was also thinking about how I could probably make a deposit now. I was really hoping for a bathroom!
The trail came out into a grassy field. The sun was starting to feel hot so I made sure to run it steadily so I would be back on the shaded trails sooner. I ran through thick goopy mud once I was back in the woods. Just when you thought it was over, there was a huge shoe-sucking mud section that you had to plow right through. Mud devoured my shoes and made my feet feel heavy and slippery for a few paces as I pressed on. At one point we were on a paved road running through the Buttermilk Falls State Park. I truly dislike road surfaces because I find it really boring, so again my strategy was to keep a steady pace get this part over with.
As I got closer to my next stop, I heard Jen’s family ringing cowbells. I came into the Buttermilk aid station, 12 miles done so far. I was still feeling good. I saw my boys playing football on the grass in front of the waterfall and my husband came over to refill my Nuun and tell me I was doing really well. A volunteer came right up to me to ask me if I needed anything. “A bathroom!” I said. He pointed to a building to my left said, “Real potties right over there!” I was so happy ! I handed my Nuun bottle to Jeff to refill and made my deposit.
I probably ate some watermelon and chips here too. So many aid stations stops and too much food to remember what I ate and when! I told Jen’s Dad and brother that she wasn’t too far behind me. Jen’s family asked how I was doing and said not to worry about Jen and to just run within myself. We knew we probably wouldn’t be running the entire race together, but I was missing her company and wanting to know what she was thinking about the course so far!
Next was the steep climb on the stairs up Buttermilk Falls. I didn’t find these stairs to be too bad. Nicely spaced and not too terribly steep. I stopped to take my only scenic pictures of the day.
The loop back was slightly different but connects right to the trail you have already done to get there. By now the marathoners were on their way and the lead runners were passing by, just about the time I made it back to the hot grassy meadow and muddy sections. Coming back into Underpass I asked about Jen again, ate some glorious bacon, watermelon, oranges, pickles, and chips. My boys handed me more Honey Stinger Waffles to take with, as I had already eaten one or two (can’t remember!).
I was still feeling pretty good and was enjoying the trails. A couple that I had been running near for the majority of the race came up to me. The man booked it down the trail and the woman and I started talking. They were from Canada and were going to be doing another ultra, a 54 miler, in two weeks. We got to the point where marathoners were climbing the huge, steep hill I had done out of Underpass. Luckily they were with me and knew we were supposed to turn right because I thought we had to go back down the steep side of that hill!
Once at Underpass, I heard the cowbells again. I saw my family and Jen’s standing by the railroad tracks as I went to cross the creek. My feet slid down something slippery as I tried to enter the water, but I somehow balanced myself and didn’t tumble head first into the water! My boys filled my Nuun bottle for me (they are becoming pros), I stuffed my face with more watermelon, chips, and pickles, got some encouragement from everyone, and was off again. I told my family I’d see them at Old Mill.
I don’t remember much about that stop really, I was just focused on getting to the halfway point at North Shelter. Eli said, “Good job Momma, you just have 3 miles to the turnaround now!” This may have also been the point where Jen’s Dad asked me how I was doing. I said something about it starting to get real and he gave me a quick pep talk about staying within myself, focusing on something straight ahead, staying relaxed.
Making it Halfway!
I was excited to be running past the waterfalls again, but kind of disappointed when I got to the North Shelter turnaround. I think because I wanted oranges and they didn’t have any there, so I didn’t stay long. I also think I felt that way because it wasn’t anything special to stop. This was the only station my family didn’t come to for me and it was fine because it was only another 3 miles back to Old Mill. I later found out that they stayed to see Jen and knew it wouldn’t be long until I got back. I’m glad they chose to do that!
Not too far out of North Shelter, I passed Jen coming down the long grassy service road. It was great to see her! We said hi quick and grabbed hands and then kept running. She looked great and I figured she was only a mile or two behind me at that point.
On the way back into Old Mill, I knew I was making decent time, but I started to feel my legs getting tired. This made total sense because I was about 5.5 hours in and was now starting to run beyond my longest training run. I continued on and settled in behind two guys. The next thing I remember is being on a single track trail and thinking that I must be coming up on Old Mill soon. The guys in front of me disappeared and I pressed on down the trail and suddenly realized it did not look familiar. All of sudden I was alone and had branched off onto a double track trail with fencing on one side. I just assumed the guys had booked it down the hill, but the farther I went, the more I began to realize that it would have been impossible for me not to see them up ahead. Then it hit me that I hadn’t seen a single pink flag since I had started this descent. I stopped and heard voices down the ridge to my right and figured that had to be Old Mill. “Did I really just fuck this up again?” I said out loud to no one. Everything had been going smoothly and then here I stood a good quarter mile off course and a bitch of a hill to climb back up to go searching for the last pink flag. I took a deep breath and thought, “Okay, well it’s happened before, I’m not too far off, I’m going to run this bitch to make up the wasted time.” So I ran most of the entire climb back up, and came to the where I had made my mistake. Marathon runners were coming up the hill from the other direction and turning to make their way to the start/finish area. I almost headed that way too until I asked one of the runners and realized that was the direction I had come from. It’s really easy to mess up when you have runners coming and going in two different directions and you have been running for over 6 hours!
Thankfully I made my way into Old Mill again, with probably only an extra half mile or so more than needed. Maybe our previous meme should have been more like the one below, because later I couldn’t believe my ears when I found out that Jen had gone off course at the same exact place.
My family said I was still doing a great job and that they were so proud of me. I remember Eli running me into the food table and telling him I had gotten lost but that it wasn’t for too long; however, in my mind I had been worried that they thought I was taking too long to come in! I felt better after seeing them, and then set out for Underpass again. More watermelon, more bacon, more pickles! I basically stuffed my face with watermelon first every time I saw it! I took a boiled potato and some chips with me in a Ziploc, but it took me forever to finish the potato because I found it be cold, mushy, and bland. Jeff asked how I was feeling, and I said I was starting to hurt a little, but that’s what I came here for so I was just going to embrace it. I thought many times about changing my socks due to all the mud and creek crossings, but they would literally just get wet again I decided that since my feet didn’t seem to be bothered by it, I wouldn’t invest the time.
Back through the creek crossing, shoving chips in my face, and then up the crazy steep power hiking hill. I chatted with a guy from London who lives in Ithaca. He was super nice and it made the climb up the hill pass pretty quickly talking with him. He gets to run these trails anytime he wants, basically right outside his front door!
Coming back into Buttermilk, I had to pee, so I used the same bathroom as before but noticed my pee was darker than it should be. My boys also commented on how salty I was when came back out. I was literally covered in it. I wasn’t too concerned because I felt fine, and tend to get pretty salty, but my older son also said I was also pale. A volunteer filled my hydration vest to the brim with water (which made it super heavy on my back), and I got another refill of Nuun from Jeff (as I had been doing at all aid stations). I took a salt pill, ate a ton of chips, took some chips with me, and headed out. My boys and hubby had me promise them that I would drink way more than I had been. I thought I had been drinking enough, downing Nuun between every aid station and sipping on my water, but it hadn’t been enough after all. My boys told me not to worry as I only had 12 miles left to the finish and they said “12 miles isn’t even a long run for you, Mom”.
I made the climb back up the stairs by Buttermilk Falls and took it easier this time. I sucked on my bite valve to rehydrate and also to alleviate the weight on my back! I continued on the 5 miles or so back to Underpass. About halfway to that next aid station, I realized my stomach was feeling slightly off and my hands were a little swollen. For a few seconds they even tingled and I felt like I couldn’t move my fingers too well. Hoping it was the salt tab kicking in, I continued to drink and was pretty much in a zone of make it to the next aid station. The downhillls started to KILL but the uphills were fine. I kept picturing having to run that downhill that the Canadian man had flew down past me on the first loop of the course. I was running near a guy in a green shirt and he asked me if I was okay when I had to walk the downhills. We had been near each other a good portion of the second loop. I told him my knees were not having the downhill and we stayed about the same pace for awhile. He only trained on flat roads until two weeks before the race. I told him in that case he was doing awesome!
All of a sudden I saw Jen again. I remember hugging her and she told me later that I had a faraway look in my eyes and that I said I didn’t want to go down that big hill again. I don’t remember saying that, but I remember thinking about it! She told me we had to do it and I continued on, soon realizing that I had to pee REALLY bad. I figured I was still miles out from the Underpass aid station, but everywhere I looked there were tall plants surrounding the trail and a lot of poison ivy. Finally the ground cleared out a little bit and I let a runner pass me so I could find a tree. No sooner did I have one picked out as I was running, than a photographer came out of nowhere! I smiled my best smile at that point and then ran another quarter mile or so and found a perfect, huge tree so I could pee. I couldn’t have made it another step without stopping to do that! As I got back on the trail, the photographer was walking back in my direction. It was pretty funny actually. I continued running and made it through the grassy area back through the creek crossing and train tracks and my boys were waiting right there for me. They told me they were going to run me into the aid station. Eli was behind me and Hunter behind him and we ran all the way through the tall grass and emerged into the aid station.
I shoved more watermelon in my face (surprise!) and pierogies as well. They tasted so good. I think the bacon was gone at that point. Got a refill of Nuun. The boys said I looked better than the last aid station. Jeff said the tingling in my hands was probably the salt kicking in and I did feel a little better. The aid station was out of oranges but I had packed Clementines in our bag and had one of those. Then I was off! 7 total miles to go to finish this thing.
Between Underpass and the last stop at Old Mill (4 miles), I tried to stay relaxed and focused. My watch had read 4:19 pm when I left Buttermilk and I knew that if I kept a decent pace I could finish before 6:00 pm, so that became my goal. Things would hurt and then not hurt. My knees would scream at me, and then I’d feel nothing. I kept thinking how in the world is it possible that I am still running after all this time? Hiking up steep little hills seemed to loosen up my legs and allow to me run with less pain each time. I realized I could never do a flat ultra. My legs and my mind need the varied terrain!
As I made my way down a short flight of stairs into Old Mill for the last time, at mile 47 or 48-ish, I saw my whole family standing at the bottom of the stairs and cheering for me. I fought back the tears because I knew the next time I would see them would be at he finish line. Eli ran to the food table with me but all I really wanted to do was pee one last time. (Yes, I took my hydrating seriously after the Buttermilk episode). I ran in and ran out, didn’t bother to fill any drinks because I knew I had enough to last the final 3 miles and set off for the finish.
The Final 3 Miles
I ate a final Honey Stinger waffle as I made my way through the homestretch. I told myself I was going to run as hard as I could at this point. Although this meant a final climb up Lucifer’s stairs. The steps here are steep, narrow, endless, and unforgiving, but I did not let myself stop to take a break. I hiked up keeping as steady of a pace as I could and then continued running when I reached the top. I ran past families taking family photos with the waterfalls in the background. I ran past dogs on leashes, children playing on the trail, and even past a few fellow racers when I could. I dug deep and when I hit the grassy decent where I had first seen Jen, I could hear the sweet sound of the finish line area.
Some people were at the bottom as I turned to the field and past the playground. It would soon all be over. People yelled, “Great job!” and “Way to go!” The finish line was straight ahead. I took my pack off and threw it in the grass to the left and a woman yelled, “Yeehooo, I LOVE it!”
I ran as fast as I could and the next thing I knew I had crossed the finish line 5 minutes under impromptu goal, 11:55 on the clock. Official time: 11:54:44. My last 7 miles were 2 minutes faster than my first 7!
I got some pulled pork and corn on the cob and we settled into a shady grass area. Jeff took my shoes off for me and we watched and cheered some others to the finish. I found out that Jen was having a tough race and had just made the cutoff at mile 43. Her family was hoping she would finish before the 9:00 cutoff. I wanted to wait for her but my family insisted I needed a shower first, as I was shivering, so we went back to the hotel.
We grabbed some pizza and then headed back to the finish line to see Jen come in. The whole time I was trying to send her the strength to keep going. I knew she wouldn’t give up no matter how things were playing out. She is a fighter and was determined to finish this thing. As soon as we got out of the car we spotted Jen’s family at the finish line. Literally seconds later, there was Jen running to her finish, a half hour ahead of the cutoff. I was SO incredibly proud of her! Looking back on it now, I don’t think my race felt like it was truly over until I watched Jen cross that finish line.
We hung around to watch the rest of the runners cross that line. I was completely inspired by every last one of them who had not given up and pushed on to cross the finish in time. It was an amazing thing to see the sweeper running behind the last finisher, carrying the pink flags, and with seconds to spare, the last runner crossed the finish line.
It turns out that about 80 of the people who started did not finish. Tons of people were dropping out or not making cutoffs. But we were not one of them.
How I Feel About My Training
- Mountain repeats were worth every step. The climbs seemed shorter and uphill was always doable. Downhills hurt, but they hurt in the mountain repeats training runs too, so I expected it.
- Long runs on tired legs the day after a long run are priceless.
- Eating on the run, down pat.
- Hydration, apparently I need to be a little more regimented in that regard. I need to incorporate Nuun Performance over the Active more steadily for long runs. Thanks, Jen!
- Climbing Stairs? I totally rocked them both up and down. Mountain repeats probably helped with this too.
- Mental game? Pretty solid I think despite my loss of salt episode. Even after I got lost, I didn’t think about it again during the race after telling my family. When I encountered a problem, I let it happen and worked around it.
- Paying attention to the little pink flags? I could use a little work in the navigational department.
- Stomach? Watermelon, bacon, pickles, and chips make great fuel. Along with Honey Stinger Waffles. I really ate SO many chips though.
- How would my body feel after running past 6 hours? It’s going to hurt. It’s going to suck at times. Then it’s going to feel better. Then bad again. But you push through because that’s what you signed up for.
What Surprised Me the Most About Myself
I never really felt tired, not mentally anyway. Physically my legs were tired, but that was it. I really expected to feel this way because I did on some of my long runs, but I never once felt exhausted during the race. I was just in pain but I could always push through. I wish I knew why I wasn’t so I could make it happen again for another race! I just know I was in a “get it done” zone most of the time!
My guess is that I just had the highest flood of endorphins running through my system that I have ever had in my life.
Thanks so much for reading if you made it this far. I started this blog as a way to document my running for myself but I love sharing these experiences with you all.
Recovery and My Next Goal…coming up on the next blog post!