Wow, this song takes me back. In high school, Kim, Jennie, and I were intimately familiar with the collected works of INXS so it is always a bit nostalgic for me to hear them. And with the falling and dirt theme, this was a natural pick for the title of my Last Chance 50K race report.
Sometimes I have fabulous ideas for adventures. Eagle Endurance's Last Chance 50K was one of them. A 50K race, near Charleston, on a flat trail through the country. What more could you ask for? Doug and I have been eyeing 50K races for several years as we volunteered at various GUTS events and met a lot of cool ultra runners. We love the low-key atmosphere of the ultra events and discovered that we can camp! Who would have thought?
So, last year, I emailed the race director (Chad) to ask about the distance and race particulars. He responded immediately with a blast of positivity: "Yes! You should do the race! It will be great!" And with that, the die was cast.
All that was lacking was talking some friends into joining me. Becky and Katie were taking time off. Natalie just started a new job. Karen was game, though, and Doug modified a plan for us to train. My friend from the Savannah Marathon and the Goofy Challenge, Cathy, and her run buddy Noah were racing too, so that made it feel perfect.
So, how do you train for a 50K?
You run A LOT.
Doug made up a plan for us that looked a lot like a plan I found online and we plunged into training. Because of the late start on training, we were a little behind from the beginning, but it was OK. Karen did the whole plan and ended up way better trained than I did. I fell down [insert foreshadowing music here - BUM BUM BUMMMMMM] on a couple of morning runs, and pulled my hamstring both times, so I missed a couple of long runs but thought I would be all right since the leg healed quickly. Better undertrained that injured, right? Training was really empowering, though. Something about busting out a 13 or 15 mile run in the middle of the week makes you feel like Superman. Me, myself, and I had plenty of good talks on those mid-week runs. On the weekends, I tried to cajole Natalie or Karen into solving the problems of the world with me, but sometimes those runs were solo also.
As the race drew nearer, I got a little full of myself. Chad published the race packet here and it did not even make me nervous. [more foreshadowing music] I was more worried about the "facilities" than the race. We drove to Summerville the night before the race and my tummy was a mess, so maybe all of my nerves were subconscious. Luckily, in addition to my trusty GU, I packed the ginger chews that show up in all ultra race bags.
Race morning dawned cloudy and cool. We met Karen and Tom in the lobby of the beloved Hampton Inn, where I promptly spilled my water all over the floor not once, but twice. We caravaned to the race start where Doug and Tom would leave one car for Karen and me while they went out for breakfast.
I was dressed not in my planned race shirt and vest with the pockets, but in most of my soft post-race gear, because someone was not focusing and neglected to pack the planned race shirt and vest. Luckily, I remembered the headband at the last minute, and Doug was willing to return home to get it, so my ears did not freeze. I secreted my GU in handbottle, capri pockets, and jogbra and Karen and I milled about and met a bunch of neat ladies (the Quick Chicks, I think?). We finally found Cathy and Noah before the start. I ate two ginger chews during this time and I think they helped my tummy calm down.
Then, Chad said "go" and we were off! We started off into the pine forest along a pinestraw covered trail. The trees met overhead and the trail was narrow, so it was hard to find my own pace and pass when necessary. Miles 1- 3 were 11:17; 10:20; 10:22
The inevitable potty stop happened in mile 4. I was pleased to have made it three miles without needing to stop. As I came back out of the woods, Karen happened by and needed to stop also, so I waited and then tried to run her back up to the lady with the blue flowery socks, who was her beacon. That was fun because I like a job! Miles 4-7 were fast because of this and because my new experienced ultrarunner friend with the skull shorts dropped her hankie and I picked it up to run it back up to her: 13:27; 9:56; 10:24; 10:17 I fell for the first time during this section. I was following the lady that eventually passed me in the last two miles of the race with her two run buddies when I tripped on a root and supermanned into the peaty trail. It didn't hurt, but I was quite surprised to suddenly be facedown sliding through the leaves and dirt. I must have been extra stealthy because they people ahead of me did not seem to notice the fall. Later on, I stepped into a hole and did not realize it until my foot went down instead of springing forward into the next step and suddenly I was on the ground - WHUMP! It was disorienting, but did not hurt and I don't think anyone else saw me. I kept finding Accel-gel packets and beer cans on the trail, so I picked them up and carried them until the aid stations. Littering is a huge pet peeve for me, so it made me angry to keep finding these things. Whoever raced with Accel gels and Chocolate Raspberry Roctane has lost some serious karma points, I am telling you!
The aid station in mile 8 was lovely, with a beautiful porto-john. Yes! I had a party for myself, visited the potty, used my hand sanitizer, grabbed a handful of pretzels and continued on my way: 12:31 Somewhere after this, the wheels fell off of my running train. As promised by Chad's detailed race packet, we exited the pine forest and entered the hardwood forest. Chad had thoughtfully blown the leaves from the trail so that it was easy to follow the path through the trees and so that it would be easier to see the roots. Unfortunately, I don't look down when I run, so I fell here at least twice more. These falls were onto packed soil and roots, though, and they hurt a lot. And, for each fall, there were several trips on which I managed not to fall, which were sometimes more jarring than the actual falls. I hit the valley of darkness in this section and after the 4th or 5th fall, I gave myself a stern talking-to. I was running like a mack truck and I needed to run like a deer. This gave full opportunity for a flashback to my fat years and a cataloging of the character flaws that cause me to do this kind of thing to myself.
"Look at the ground!"
"Stop being so stubborn! You can't muscle through this!"
"You must adapt to this terrain and pick up your feet!"
"Get your head out of your . . . . !"
This got me past the 10 mile tree without turning around and quitting, so that was a huge victory.
It was not a pretty time for me and luckily the guy in the blue shirt that kept flickering in the corner of my eye was not actually the mirage I thought he was and when I caught up with him, we ran together for several miles to the halfway point. I fell one last time onto some roots after finding blue shirt guy (who is doing Ironman Nice this year because of a family reunion), and we had some good conversation after that point. Miles 9 - 16: 11:00; 10:41; 11:03;
12:46; 11:03; 10:44; 10:22; 12:34
I had two handfuls of pretzels at the half-way mark and continued on with some modicum of mojo. This portion of the race was through a narrow passage that looked like a cross between something out of Children of the Corn and running through someone's backyard. The footing was still dicey, but I stayed relatively upright without falling. 10:14; 10:15; 10:22 Then, sometime around mile 20, I found the pain.
Later, I realized that the pain was probably because I was undertrained and underestimated the course and went out too fast, but also because my body was sore from all of the falling and trying-not-to-fall-ing. In a marathon, this pain does not usually happen until mile 22 or so, at which point you can suck it up because you are almost done. In this race, though, I still had ten miles to go, which led to another valley of darkness. This time, however, the valley was wider than the Grand Canyon, and I could not find any path out. Miles 20-24: 11:48; 11:23; 10:59;
12:12; 13:38 Sometime during this stretch, I found Noah in my punch-drunk state and we battled to the final aid station together. He had given away his water and was cramping badly, so I gave him some of my mine. We must have been quite a sight because I was not making sense at that point and though I knew the aid station was coming up, I could not articulate this concept with any clarity. I had a banana and some pretzels at the aid station and got back underway. Miles 25-31 were run-walking as I battled to keep moving. I ran with a very nice lady during this section who was so sweet and positive that I had to leave her behind. Usually I am that positive person, but the nice Steph I used to know was long gone. I just wanted to lie down. I whimpered a lot, but was too tired to cry. Miles 25-27: 11:25; 12:39; 11:57
I tried to run as much as possible, adhering to the ultra-running adage that if it hurts to walk and it hurts to run, you should just run. At times it was too much, though, and I walked for longer and longer stretches before talking myself into running again. I passed a guy in this section who had given away his water, so I gave him mine, which immediately made me feel as thirsty as if I were in the Sahara. It was just in my head, I knew, because the darkness was making me negative. The dark-haired woman and her two running buddies passed thirsty man and me at this point and I jumped on the back of their group thinking I could just tail them to the finish. Alas, their pace may have been steady as a rock, but it felt herky-jerky (constantly speeding up and slowing down) to me in my cloud of funk and I had to walk just to get away from them. During this whole section, I could not sing songs, not even my happy song, and I was reduced to counting the miles as I do laps in the pool: 28, 28, 28, 28, 28, 28, 28, yes!, 29, 29, 29, 29, 29, 29, 29, 29, etc. You might think this would cause insanity, but it was oddly comforting.
I had thought that the race was 31.5 miles long, and when the finish line appeared just after 31 miles (what I thought was half-a-mile early), though I felt a pang of guilt at it being short and briefly contemplated running the rest after the finish, I was completely relieved. It turns out, 50K is 31.06 miles, so I was wrong. Whew! The last splits were : 12:28; 12:51; 12:27; 10:57 partial Doug got me some water and I lay on the ground for a while before changing into my warmer clothes.
Cathy had finished just in front of the dark-haired woman and her buddies, so we hung out until Noah arrived.
Then, Karen arrived and was not (as I feared) mad at me for talking her into this ridiculous endeavor, but was beaming! She had had a great race. : ) We drove to Charleston, checked into our hotel, and proceeded to sample the local brews and snacks until bedtime.
It has taken me several weeks to come to terms with this race. Physically, I had a pretty good race. My legs were sore, but not destroyed at the end, and my GU every 5 miles plan worked very well so I had plenty of fuel. My plan B outfit and trusty Brooks Ghost 5s held up fine, but I lost the mental battle.
You may ask, "why would you want to run so far when it is so unpleasant?" I don't think it has to be unpleasant, so I can do a better job than this and I will try again.
Maybe next year.