Monday. Ooph. Well, I finished. Rock the Ridge 50 mile endurance challenge. 18 hours and 38 minutes. Yep, you read that right eighteen hour and thirty-eight minutes. My goal had been 15 hours. I now know that probably the best I could have done would have been 16, but first the wheels fell off, then the transmission went and finally the engine just died. I will say I found the “race” hard, beautiful and hard.
The number one thing that keeps coming back to me is how blessed I am to have friends who would give up their valuable time to come out and support me for the entire weekend. I truly underestimated how much assistance I was going to need. My friends Rob and Mo helped me get my gear together the night before, got up at 5 a.m. to drive me to the race (then go park and take a shuttle back). They were there are the rest stops (later Steph and Tim joined too) feeding me, cheering for me, reminding me of things. Then helped me finish. I am truly blessed to have such amazing people in my life.
The first leg of the race, I prepared for because I had done the first uphill on Lenape Lane many times in my Trilife training. I knew from the get-go that I would walk it. It is too steep for me to run and continue for 45 more miles, and most of the “normal” people were walking. I felt I was doing my plan exactly on point — walking the steep uphills, jogging the downs and running much more than I thought I would on the flats. I was feeling good. I made it to the first aid station right about the correct time. Then I immediately gorged on every bad piece of food they had there and didn’t care. I ate pop tarts, banana, peanut m&m’s and just for good luck ate another pop tart! Right there I blew all my challenge food points out of the water — gladly. Didn’t care. I think I did not fill up my camelback (water pack) fully.
The next leg was the climb to Skytop. From mile 10 to approx 15 mostly uphill. There was one short section through the woods (meaning, woods trail not carriage trail). Logs and rocks underfoot. And then a staircase to climb. That was my first indication that hmmm, I’m kind of tired. When I got to the top of the staircase, climb, climb, climb. I was just about to say “this sucks” when it breaks into an incredible view. Looking out over the mountains with Mohonk Mountain House below was the definition of majestic. There was a little platform that jutted out over the cliff. I was too chicken to walk all the way out, but I did snap this picture from the edge.
But that picture does not do it justice. The views are incredible, and I immediately forgave the steep climb. When I got to the top of Skytop, I was surprised that there was no rest stop there. It was quite a climb, and I thought that 5 miles was a long way to go without a water station. I took time for a restroom break and quick stretch. On my way back down I saw the final runners (followed by sweeper), so I knew I was close to the back of the pack.
Around mile 17 I ran out of water (that’s why I suspect I did not fill my camelback correctly at mile 10). I asked a guy (who was hiking up) if he saw a water station below, and he said yes, about 2 miles and then asked me if I needed water. I said yes and he said he had plenty and gave me a 16 oz bottle of Poland Springs. I guzzled it down and thanked him profusely. Mile 19 had the real water station, and I filled up.
This water station placement is what I don’t understand. Why would you have me go 9-9.5 miles with a really steep climb and no place to refresh with water, but then put a rest stop at the bottom of the hill 4 miles from the major rest stop? I’m sure there is a reason (probably permits) but it stumped me.
I found it difficult to run again after that. When I finally got to mile 23 (the rest stop) I thought I was doing so terribly I should probably quit. But my friends were there, and they lifted my spirit, assured me that I was not far off of my goal and encouraged me to keep going. None of the food I brought was appealing to me. But, all the crap (the sugared gummy bears I had stuck in reserve), and Rob had a bag of Fritos (which I love but never allow myself to eat) all seemed wonderful. They had steamed potatoes (yeah!) with salt and some tomato soup (not bad). The massage guy rubbed my feet a bit. I was there 20 minutes and then took off feeling not too bad.
Leg 3 starts out innocent enough, through woods past Awosting Falls (gorgeous) and then takes a wicked turn uphill. Okay, I was prepared for it, uphill just keep it going. Then downhill and a water stop. That felt strange to have a water stop only 2 miles from the major stop at Lyons road. They did say it would be hot out on that loop, and they would be handing out water bottles but I made double sure to fill my camelback AND fill my emergency water bottle AND fill my emergency hand held. I drank them all in that 13 mile loop. It was basically six miles straight uphill (and not gradual uphill), climbing, climbing, climbing while looking over the cliffs. Stunningly gorgeous but I spent the whole time thinking “where is the mile 30 marker?” I knew mile 30 was the end of the climbing. According to the map, the first 30 miles were mostly up, and the last 20 were mostly down so in my head I had set the goal — just get to mile 30. These were the longest 6 miles of my life. Winding along the cliffs — up, up, up. Gorgeous views that I got to take in because I was climbing so slowly that I could see it all.
Finally I got to what I thought for sure was the top. There were two people and their dog taking a rest looking out over the stunning view. This was Castle Point. Wow, gorgeous. I took a moment to take it all in. But I was aware I had STILL not found the 30 mile marker. The couple took my picture.
Then I set out to continue the search for the 30-mile marker. I thought maybe I had passed it and missed it. (BTW my Suunto watch had stopped when I took off my second shirt at rest stop 1 and I didn’t notice until 6 miles later — I’m selling it for cheap on Ebay.)
About another half mile (guess) I passed another wandering couple and I said “any chance you saw a white sign that had “Mile 30” written on? She said “why yes, we did it’s just up that way…..” Before she could even finish I was yelling behind me “THANKS!” and I bolted to find the sign and there it was. Mile 30. Yahoo!! Everything was going to be easy from here on out. Yeah right. (Later, the two army guys who were behind me said “we lost sight of you at Castle Point, all of a sudden you were just gone!” Woosh the adrenaline rush set my feet on fire.)
And then steep pitch down. Just because it is downhill does it mean it is easy downhill. Now I feel my big toe is shoving into the toe of my shoe. I had to stop and tighten my shoes but the damage was probably already done, I could feel my toenail was loose. I was eating the organic sugar candies — gulping my water, eating the Fritos, more water. They were actually quite a nice combo. Intense sugar and then salty. Everything in small bite sized pieces. Then only problem is I found everything hard to reach. To constantly be going to the side pockets was a pain but it is what it is. I was glad to have my extra water. Had to stop a couple of times to put it the water and figure out how to do the handheld with my poles (I stuck it in my belt). Had to stop a couple of times to pee in the woods. On the run, I had company – two army guys and another guy with his wife all about my pace. We all just kept trading spots. Anyone paused the others would pass. But we all remained in sight of one another.
Then after that another water stop. I guess they couldn’t put one up at castle point for parking reasons? I do not understand the water station system. At this point I am getting tired — I just want it done. Though I realize I have to keep eating. I have been taking my salt tablets and something called Sports Legs. I am aware that I have not had a cramp yet (a problem that has been plaguing me for the last couple of events) and I’ve had not one bit of knee pain. Considering all the climbing, I thought this was a win.
Any thoughts of quitting left me at mile 30. At this point, I was going to finish no matter what. I was now officially willing to crawl to the finish. I made it to mile 30 and the hard part was over and now I was not going home without that finishers medal. I knew my 15-hour goal was out but I still thought maybe I had a shot at 17. The cutoff was 24 hours. But, now I was heading toward sunset and that was going to bring on a new set of problems.
Mile 37, Lyons road aid station. I didn’t want more soup. I think I ate a potato, can’t remember. More Fritos, yes, I found another bag of the candies. I tried some applesauce — blech too warm. But my feet were okay. I took 10 minutes and then got on the road. My pace had come to a slow one. I wasn’t exactly hurting, it was that my legs felt stiff like peg legs. Everything was stiff. I’m sure I was just out of energy.
My friends met me at mile 39 and walked with me for a bit before they went off to dinner. Gave me a chance to vent a little. We said our goodbyes and then I pretty much descended into darkness. There was a full moon, but it kept going behind clouds. I found the trail scary because on the right side was a cliff and on the left side it was rocky and not as smooth. My trekking poles (which I used the entire time and thanked non-stop) saved me from falling several times. As I was getting more and more tired, and it got darker, I could see only three feet in front of me (I had a headlamp and Rob had adjusted it before he took off so it was diffusing the light properly). It became a chore of one step in front of the other. The last 10 miles were seriously difficult.
I finally made it to the last aid station at mile 42.2. I was almost crawling. If not crawling I was doing something akin to a death march. I had felt something go twang in my calf. It felt like a cramp but not as bad. I must have pulled a muscle. It wasn’t that bad, it wasn’t like I couldn’t move.
I was aware of a few headlamps behind me. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time at the aid station. They didn’t have a coke left for the back of the packers. But I decided to take a gel — (chocolate cherry that wasn’t that bad) because it had caffeine in it. Anything to help perk me up. A gal who had been following behind me sat down on the rock to rest — something I knew I could not do otherwise I would never get up. I asked the aid station attendant if there were any more big climbs. She hemmed and hawed and finally the gal who was on the rock said “I did this last year. Mile 44-45 is a long climb. Last year I cried when I got to it.” I smiled weakly and said “but not this year, this year no tears!” I took off immediately after that. Just get it done, just get it done.
Along the way, I climbed a little up hill here and there. Hmmm did she mean that hill? Did that make her cry? Hmmm, maybe I’m done. That caffeine seems to be kicking in. And then I see some lights in the distance. Hmm, who are they? Is that the finish line? I get there and it is a truck with a very nice guy and two gals directing me. “You are going to go left here, do this loop, come back here and then head down there.” He gave me another gel with caffeine. And then I started the loop. Holy Guacamole, a mile straight uphill. It’s almost like a spiral. As you are climbing, you can see the people ahead of you above you climbing up. And then when you get up to the top you can see the headlights of the people behind you below. Dark of night so I couldn’t see bodies but I knew that gal from the last aid station had to be the person below me so I yelled how “we are doing great. No tears, right?” And she yelled back “not yet, but there is a distinct possibility!”
And then the descent down. Not too, too bad but not runnable, in the dark with a headlamp and cliff (was that a cliff? I don’t even know I couldn’t see how far down the drop was). It was simply self-preservation at that point.
And then I heard the guy call out my name. What? Oh, no what did I do? How does he know my name? Did I do something wrong? Am I disqualified or something? He said “you have someone here looking for you.” It was my friend Rob. He had climbed up the mountain nearly 4 miles in the dark to make sure I was okay. I don’t think I had ever been so happy to see anyone in my life. He had an extra flashlight. I didn’t care if it was illegal to have him walking next to me. The trail was bumpy (we were off the carriage path but heading back towards it). I was getting more and more tired. I had lost all track of time. It took forever to get down, but I’ll say this, I’m not sure I would have made it on my own without an injury.
Finally, one step at a time we made it back down to Lenape lane and there Mo, Steph and Tim joined us. I was fading fast. Only a mile or so to go. The longest mile in history. I was getting delirious. I did not eat enough for being out there that long. I also think because I felt safer since they were there my mind just kind of went. It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning so clear headed that I realized how muddy my head had been. I don’t want to think about what I might have stupidly done in those woods by myself. Fallen asleep, fallen down or worse.
I have no idea how long the last 3-4 miles took but could have been 90 minutes easily. Heck, the last mile might have taken an hour. I don’t really know. I just know that it took some help from my friends to get me there. For that help I am extremely grateful. I’m just sorry that it took me so long and I had to keep them up so late.
The race director put the finisher’s medal around my neck. I remember asking “make sure it is the solo medal, not the relay medal. I did that whole thing myself — not a relay.” I still don’t know why that was so important. Silly stuff.
My friends drove me home. The gals helped me get dressed and to bed. I begged them not to make take an ice bath at 1 in the morning. I fell into a deep sleep. I woke up the next morning and it was the clarity of morning that made me realize how unclear I had been last night.
I had a short massage at the dayspa across the street. She thought I had damaged a ligament in my calf. She’s not a doctor or anything, so I figure I will just watch it and see how it feels. The ligament is almost all better already. I’ll just hold off on the biking and running for a couple of days until it is better. Meanwhile, I can get back into the pool and do some easy stuff there.
My big goal in this event was to get my brain back to the place where quitting is unacceptable. Of course if I felt that if I was truly injured I would have stopped. But I wanted to make sure I could once again gut through something. That just because it was uncomfortable I could keep going. That just because I wasn’t doing great and was not having a PR (personal record) — I could still stick it out. In the end that’s what draws me to endurance sports. First I love the adventure of seeing the world, going to places that most people don’t get to see. Second there is no other time in my life when I feel so connected to myself. It’s the deepest form of meditation (for me.) Those moments of 100% alone in the great outdoors only my own thoughts for company. In these moments I get glimpses of myself. Every single time I have one of those moments I feel like I am placing a piece into the bigger puzzle. Competing, contemplating, completing.
Ice bags on my swollen tootsies.