Thursday. Home. What a great week. Mini vacation in Yellowstone, 50 miler, an award, mini vacation in Jackson Hole and helpful people at American Airlines. All good. Still recovering, but even that is going well.
I signed up for the Yellowstone 50 miler to make sure I had a big enough goal to keep training. There was a 100 mile version that started in West Yellowstone and went to Tetonia Idaho. My version was the 50 miler so we started 5 hours later in Mesa Falls Idaho (jumping in on the 100 miler course) and finished in the same place in Tetonia.
You don’t bluff your way through an Ironman or a 50 miler. My goals have to be big enough to scare me just a little. But since I did a 50 miler back in May (Rock the Ridge) I have to say I wasn’t really scared. I was resigned. I knew I had trained enough to get through it. I knew it was going to hurt. I knew that I would probably be disappointed because let’s face it, I haven’t really had a good result in… well I can’t really remember that last one. I remember a lot of post race tears and incoherence from past races. But today, finally I can say, darn it all, I had a good race! It had nothing to do with being fast. I had a good race for me. For someone else they might think it wasn’t so great. But the older I get the more I understand it is all relative. If you are trying to compare yourself to the winner, unless it is you, you will be disappointed. And even winners are often disappointed because they may have just missed beating the record or their previous time. When I compare my race to me, to how my race life has gone since 2009 (when my thyroid was removed due to C) for who I am, where I am in my Journey of Fitness — it turned out pretty good. So I happily submit my race report. Of course I think I could have done better, but for once the good stuff overshadows the second guessing and I am happy with it.
I’ve always maintained the sign of a good test in school is when you learn something new while taking the test. If you can learn something in the questions asked — that’s a golden exam. I think that is true in races and tennis matches as well. Forget the score or the time. Did you walk off that court or course learning a little bit more about yourself or your process or what to do better for next time? I have to say boy oh boy did I learn a lot in this race.
I arrived in Jackson Hole Wyoming on Wednesday morning and drove up to West Yellowstone Montana via Yellowstone National park (spectacular). I checked into the race hotel, Grey Wolf Lodge (it’s okay, ultra runners are not known for luxurious accommodations — they will cram 10 people into a closet to sleep if it is cheaper.) So the Grey Wolf is like your basic motel, clean, adequate, nice people, nothing to complain about, nothing to rave about. They put out a breakfast for the 100 milers at 3 a.m., that was pretty nice. But by far it’s greatest feature is it was 500 feet from the 100 miler start! Roll out of bed, grab coffee on your way out the door and there you are at the race start! That’s nice.
I had a couple of days to acclimate to the elevation. It’s about 6,700 feet over sea level in Yellowstone. From previous training camps in the Tetons I knew that I was okay up to about 8,000 feet. 8,000 I would start to feel the difficulty in breathing, 10,000 it would really slow me down. But this race was going to be pretty much at 6,700 feet the entire way so in my mind I figured I would be good.
Thursday was sightseeing in Yellowstone. Beyond beautiful and one day was nowhere near long enough. I would have loved to have done some of hikes off the road — all different lengths and views but I stuck to the car and got out at the major sights. One of my most memorable moments was when a bison jumped in front of my car to cross the road. I came to a screeching halt. He was followed by about 200 other bison. They couldn’t have cared less that I was there. I’ll never forget it. After they passed, I stopped at a hill to snap a picture of them in the valley. Beautiful.
On Friday I drove to Tetonia (the race finish) to leave my car and take the shuttle back to the start. As this was a point to point race, once I left West Yellowstone I would not be going back. Many of my fears (bears!) about the race were allayed when I drove the course. After the first ten miles it was mostly open land as far as the eye could see. Bears like trees and water so even though I had bought the required bear spray, I figured it would be mid morning in my first 10 miles and hopefully enough cars and people around to shout if I needed help. Once I hit the open road I knew I would be okay. The views were so breathtaking I couldn’t wait to run them. (Wait, did I really think that? No so sure….)
Arrived in Tetonia, saw my coach. Hellos all around. Took shuttle back to race start. I had two gals staying with me for the night, K, who I had met before at a training camp, she came in from the Cayman Islands. She was doing the 100 and had done two other 100’s earlier in the year. (What? I know. Crazy) And M, who came in from North Carolina. She too was a seasoned UltraMarathoner and had done both the 100 mile and 50 mile version of this race. She also would be doing the 100 mile version. Even though I was doing my second 50 miler and I had done stage races and Ironman. I felt like an underachiever and newbie….
Before pre-race dinner we roomies hammed it up with a picture in front of the race start bear. The race starts in front of the Grizzly.
Saturday – Race Day
I got up at 3 with the gals so I could see them off for the 4 a.m. start. I thought it would be fun to see how the 100 milers do it at 4 a.m. (Ooph that’s rough to say the least, but if you are running for 20+ hours then a 4 a.m. start is the LEAST of your worries!) It was freezing cold. It also started in front of the wolf discovery center so you could hear the caged wolves howling as the runners took off — in the dark…. in the cold…. Spooky.
I went back to bed for an hour and went downstairs for breakfast at the civilized time of 6 a.m. I was meeting my ride to the start at 7. M.S. and her husband. I had met M.S. at Rock the Ridge. She had a great race in New Paltz so I was happy to see her again.
We got to the race start and it was a BEAUTIFUL day. Weather was perfect for me. On the cool side so I was wearing layers to start out.
The First 10
The first 10 miles went great. A lot of downhill some uphill but I was feeling good. I had my hip holster loaded with full size bottles of Infinit. Unlike Rock the Ridge where I wore a hydration pack, I decided to go old school. I wanted to be able to get at my bottles fast…ish. I wanted to be able to put powder in there and not worry about gunking it up. At Rock the Ridge I only had water in my hydration pack and it was too cumbersome for me to get at the food… so I didn’t eat as much as I should have. Now I was loaded up on liquid calories, a couple of snack in my front pouch. Everything easy to get at. no excuses. I was also taking 1-2 Salt tabs an hour (1 being recommended amount) AND taking my Sport Legs 1 an hour. With the sodium in my Infinit Formula I knew I had plenty.
I think it was mile 15 when I figured out something was not so right. When I got to the cemetery water stop I felt my toes on my right foot curl under. Ugh, not a good sign. I would like to say it was some haunting, but since most of my races have fallen to cramps, I suspected it was another ending in the cramp crypt. I stamped on my foot for a bit to get it to straighten out. Stamping didn’t work but the strangely the curled toes didn’t hurt either. So I decided to just keep going. Next up was a nice long downhill so I thought I could at least do that.
At this point the Memphis duo caught up to me. A gal and guy who must have started after me because I didn’t remember passing them. They seemed about my age and about my pace. We chatted a bit. She had done 13 marathons, he had done 11. But this was their first 50. They asked me how long I would expect to take. I told them I would like to finish in under 16 but any time would be fine. They said “Same for us.” So we knew we would be spending a lot of time together on the course. They took off running, I was still trying to uncurl my toes.
Miles 15-20 had some seriously steep hills and a lot of them. My lower back was starting to hurt. My quads were getting tight. It wasn’t looking good for me. I had been taking my nutrition. I had enough calories. I was taking my salt pills. I was just cramping. I figured okay, this is just my lot. Whatever it is, I can’t do long distances any more. It wasn’t so hot because there was a nice breeze. My head felt clear and good but I just couldn’t get my legs to move. My quads and hamstrings were tightening and every once in awhile my calf would spasm. The spasms. Yep, remember them well. I’m done.
I get to the aid station at mile 20 and my coach is there. I tell her I have to get down on the ground and roll out my back and my quads. They are so tight. They have a foam mattress there for me to use. As I lie down, everything seizes up. All my muscles are cramping and I call to Lisa to show here “this, this is what happens to me.” At least finally someone could see that I wasn’t making this up.
Lisa was very cool. Assured me that I was not the only person this happened to. She helped me put some ice on my calf muscle that was popping out. She switched me over to Enduralytes and told me if I had some Advil to take it. (I had in my pill pouch.) I was now going to take some Enduralytes every half hour instead of one salt pill an hour. After some painful writhing. I managed to stand up and was feeling better.
So I stuck to the plan. Continued with my Infinit. Every half hour popped some Enduralytes. BUT, if I felt any kind of twitch or spasm. I didn’t wait. So at first it was like every 20 minutes. Then after about 2 hours of that, I noticed that the cramping had pretty much stopped and I was actually able to start running again.
I had a moment here as well that felt very special. It was warm but it wasn’t HOT. I wasn’t reeling from the heat or anything, but there was very little cloud coverage. As I was going up a hill I felt the wind on my back. It was circling on my back like someone’s hand trying to sooth me. I had to stop for a second to acknowledge it. It really felt like wind was a person. Encouraging me. I thought back to my race in the Sahara, another lifetime ago when it felt there, too, that the wind was a partner in my journey. I tried to snap a picture of the beautiful mountain range in front of me. It’s just too hard to capture on cell-phone camera.
By the time I got to mile 30 aid station, I was feeling pretty good. This is the aid station where I had my drop bag with my night clothing – jacket, headlamp, hand lamp, gloves, hat, etc. As I pulled in the Memphis duo was surprised to see me. I told them I had been fixed up and was feeling better. They congratulated me on making up the time and took off. That was my favorite rest stop because they just waited on me hand and foot. It was a family. The mother fed me potato soup and the dad filled my water bottles. The kids got me coke and helped me get my stuff out of my drop bag. They filled me up with more enduralytes and I was on my way. Feeling surprisingly alert. Had I really just done 30 miles? I wasn’t sure but I think I might actually be feeling better than when I started the race. My head was clear, clear, clear. My legs were feeling fine. It was the weirdest feeling. I put on all my garb. Thanked the family and took off. I took off running. Which was blowing my mind.
I was very happy that I had made it to the aid station when I did. Any later and I would have been running in the dark without my gear. But now I had my arm warmers, my bright yellow jacket, my headlamp and my other weapon was my hand held bike lamp that I had brought along. When I had done Rock the Ridge it got very dark and my headlamp was not strong enough for the woods at midnight. My friend R had come out to find me on the mountain and he had a hand held flashlight. So this time I brought my own. I had a headlamp and a portable. Wow what a difference it made!
As the sun was setting. The sky was a brilliant display of reds and oranges. The potato farmers were still working and starting to put on their lights. There was one tractor in silhouette against the sky. I ran to catch up to him before he put on his lights. He saw me running with my camera and stopped and waved. I clicked my picture and waved back. He turned on his lights and kept going. I was overcome by the beauty of that sunset.
Every 5 miles or so was a plain water station. I was using them as my mini goals. It seemed to be taking forever to find the mile 35 station. Then I saw a car parked with headlights on. I started running faster to get to it. Yep, it was the water stop. I thanked the guy for putting his headlights on. He said he was there for his wife and saw me coming so he stayed. Nice guy.
When I get to last aid station at mile 40. The Memphis couple took one look at me, gave me a quick hello and took off. I thought that was weird but I figured like me they were just trying to get to the end. But at that moment I decided I was going to not only catch them but I was going to pass them. The couple at the rest stop were super nice and helped me fill my water bottles with my Infinite formula. I wanted to eat some real food but that wasn’t happening. I did manage one mouthful of watermelon and one half of a bite of a peanut butter sandwich. Stomach lock down had begun. I was familiar with it and that’s why I had my liquid nutrition. But I was feeling, dare I say it? Amazing.
“How far to go?” I asked the guy at the aid station.
“9 miles. The couple ahead of you said they can do it in 2 hours.”
“Ah yes, they are from Memphis. 2 hours hmmm? Well 1:59 minutes for me it shall be! I will be overtaking them. He laughed. I said “I’m quite serious.” And I was. This wasn’t like me at all!! I just finish. I don’t pass people. But there was something in the look they gave me when I got to the aid station. Like they didn’t want me to pass them. And something in me clicked that I was in fact going to do exactly that. I don’t know why but that became my goal. I was going to use them as a tool to get me to the finish as fast as I could.
I took off ‘running’ on the dirt road in the dark. All of a sudden a car started beeping at me. It was the guy from the aid station yelling to me I had left my bottles at the aid station. I got them, wiped my brow at the close call and headed out into the night. Headlamp, handheld lamp — all was good.
We ran on a dirt road for several miles. I stopped for a second and looked up at the sky. I had never seen anything like that. When they say “big sky” this is what they mean. The night was so clear, the stars so bright they looked like you could reach up and pluck them like a blossoms from a tree.
Soon after leaving the dirt road I saw the blinking lights of a car. Ah must be the turn. The lights kept moving. Argh, what the heck? At a turn I finally caught the lights and I saw it was the same guy from before. He was waiting for me to make the turn and kept his blinkers on for me to see where he was! How nice was that? He was crewing his wife but waited until I caught up. I thanked him profusely.
A little further down the road I saw him stopped. His wife was now in the car with him taking a break and drinking some water. Wow I had officially passed someone. He waved to me and told me I was doing great and I just kept going.
Calling it ‘running’ would be a stretch. I was fast walking, breaking into a jog, short run and then back to fast walking. I was doing about 30 seconds of each. But I had energy and my legs felt fantastic. They felt like feathers! I had never in my life felt this good this far into any race, never mind a 50 miler. My head was clear as a bell. (Flash back to Rock the Ridge when I didn’t even know where the heck I was — all I remember about the last ten miles of that race was stumbling and delirium.) Here I was doing math in my head. My attitude was fantastic. And most of all I was on a mission to hunt down Mr. and Mrs. Memphis.
They knew I was coming. Everyone had to wear blinking lights. I would round a corner, I would see their lights. They would be still, I would see them turn their headlamps toward me. Then all of a sudden they would take off. I would say they were about 1 mile ahead of me. I could only see them if the course was straight. Any turn and we would pop in and out of each other’s sight. Every time they would pop back into sight, I was just a little closer. I was closing in.
Finally at mile 48 I saw three sets of lights. Hmmm. Someone else is with them. The other person went ahead and now it is just the two lights again. They were moving more slowly. They were walking. I’m doing my run/jog/shuffle thingie but I’m moving a lot faster than they are. And then at mile 48.5 I catch up. I am cheery. They are not. I tell them we are going to make our goal time, we can do it. They say “you will make it, we won’t.” At that point I didn’t really care about beating them. They were simply a tool to get me to the clock before 16 hours. I do better when I am chasing something down. But I also do better when I’m encouraging someone to come with me. I said some more encouraging words. Confirmed they only had a mile and a half to go. They could do it. And they really could.
I set my sights on the next light in front of me. It was only about a half mile away. It was moving. Steady but slow. Even though I was a mile away from the finish I kept taking my magic pills. These things are amazing. Every time I would take one I would feel stronger.
Finally I caught the lamp. It was my friend MS! I gave her a hug, was so happy to see her. She had some stomach issues. I tried to get her to run with me but she told me to go on. I knew I had to keep going to make the sub 16 hour which I really wanted at this point. So I left her and kept running. She only had 3/4 of a mile to go. She would be fine.
At the end they make you run past the finish line around a parking lot and back in. Ugh, that was hard and painful. But I kept pushing because I knew I was close. I ran into the finish and the clock read 15:54! Woo Hoo I was so happy. Granted it was not a stellar time (breaking 15 would have been good for me, 14 even better) but based on how I had felt earlier in the day, how great I was feeling at 1 o’clock in the morning, that I had passed the Memphis duo, I was feeling great.
MS came in right behind me, 1 minute to be exact. That took a lot of guts to run 25 miles on a bad stomach. Ugh. Been there. Not fun.
Then at 16:01 the Memphis duo came in. I congratulated them. They asked if I could take their picture. I said sure. They she asked me if I was in her age group. I said “I’m 55 what age group are you in?” She said “I’m 52, we are in the same age group.” Aha, mystery solved. She was trying to stay ahead of me. We had used each other to get to our goal. That’s okay. It worked.
I was so grateful to have a bed there at the finish line. I collapsed happy.
We had an awards pizza party Sunday afternoon. Everyone cleaned up so nicely. I was thinking I had come in 2nd place for my age group (there was a faster woman who I never caught so I figured she was in long before me.) As they handed out the awards, my roommates won first and second place female in the 100 miler. Wow, Can’t even imagine. The age group awards went by decades. They announced my name and I won 1st place in the female 50-59. The Memphis gal came in 2nd. Apparently the faster woman dropped out at mile 30. She had been 1 hour ahead of me.
So this was a small race. There were only 30 people registered for the 50 miler. 8 didn’t start. 2 didn’t finish. So only 20 of us who signed up actually finished. That is pretty much the smallest race I’ve ever run. Compared to the NYC Marathon with 50,000 runners? Much smaller. No place to hide.
In my age group (Female 50-59) there were only 3 of us. All 3 started, only 2 finished.
So yeah, I didn’t beat a huge field. I didn’t have an amazing record time. Not even near my marathon pace. But for me, I had a great race. I finished in the time I wanted to finish. I came back from the dead at mile 20 (seriously I think was ready to drop out), I got stronger as the race went on and I can tell you that has NEVER happened. I had zero injuries. No knee problems, no blisters, my head was clear and my cramps were all gone. I passed 4 people in the last 5 miles. That never happens to me. I crossed the finish line running. I will say for me, that was pretty darn good and for that reason I accept this award with pride.
My coach Lisa with gals from the Florida running camp. We all got awards.