Wild Idaho 50 Mile Endurance Race – Man, What a RIDE!

 

It was with much excitement and terror that I showed up to race the Wild Idaho 50 Mile Endurance Ultra Marathon in Crouch, Idaho this past weekend. I was really thrilled to race in the mountains so near to the little cabin my parents had kept for many years as I was growing up. It felt like coming home again since I have so many treasured memories of spending happy summer and fall days in this part of my beautiful state.

I was even more excited to share this experience with some of the closest friends I have in the running world. To say my pals are the most caring, loving, fun group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing is truly an understatement. I adore my friends and getting to share this epic journey on the trail with so many of those I care about made me all the more eager to do the race. My cousin, Ben, was race director (and did a fantastic job!). Many of my friends volunteered to serve at aid stations, came to cheer or crew and others were running the race alongside me.  I  also like to say for every successful ultra runner, there is usually a very supportive spouse back in the shadows doing many thankless jobs like providing encouragement, crew support on the course, pep talks when the going gets tough and big hugs when necessary.  My husband, Wayne was also there in full support of me, crewing me along the course, taking photos,  driving on narrow, dirty, difficult-to-drive roads just to provide me with my longed for ice cold sodas and sea-salted potatoes along the way during this race and for that I’m truly grateful!

The first runner on the course this year was my good friend, Jon K.  He was running the 100 mile race solo one full day before any of the other runners even started since he had a funeral to attend and needed to get his race done sooner.  When my husband and I arrived to set up camp, Jon had already completed 71 miles of his unsupported ultra race.  He was bathing in the river.  When he came out, I gave him a big hug and told him how proud I was of him and he hugged me so tight he lifted me right off my feet! I was in awe that in the 90 degree heat and after that very long journey in the mountains that he had any energy at all, but he looked really strong.  Before long, he headed back onto the course to finish what he started.  I heard a cheer in the middle of the night as we slept in our tent when he in fact, DID complete that solo race! What an accomplishment!

The 100 mile racers started their journey at 6 pm after a beautiful performance by Ben (the race director) and three of his Army National Guardsmen and women performed the National Anthem. It was really touching seeing all the racers and their support crews and the volunteers, with their hands on their hearts, looking solemn and wistful as the lovely notes floated through the forest all around us in the mountain air. It was a sentimental moment.  And, then they were off!! The 100 milers attacking the inaugural, spirit-crushing course with 31,000 feet of elevation gain and loss! It would be one of the most difficult journeys in the ultra marathoning world, in the 92 degree heat of the day.

After setting up camp not too far from the gentle rippling of the nearby springs and under the protective and delightfully scented pines and socializing with several of my friends (and making some new ones), it was time to try and get some sleep before the race.  That didn’t last very long! I’m a night owl as it is and the night before a race my adrenaline is really pumping.  I happened to overhear my friends Ryan and Michelle arrive at the check-in and decided to go chat them up.  I wanted to encourage Michelle who was taking on the epic battle of the 50k with 10,000 of elevation gain and loss as her first ultra marathon.  The three of us talked for a little bit, then decided to take a little walk under the stars in search of some of our other close pals in a campsite down the road. After a few minutes, we found Emily, John, Amy and Craig and their children huddled around a cozy campfire. We made ourselves at home and before long there was plenty of laughter and story-telling. It was a pleasurable way to relax and unwind before the race — spending time with dear friends.

About midnight, Ryan, Michelle and I said our goodnights and headed back to our own beds for some sleep.  As soon as my head hit the pillow and I’d snuggled up to my husband to get cozy, I fell into a deep, restful sleep.

At about 5 am our alarm clock rang. I was already hearing the happy, nervous chatter of the other runners outside our tent and couldn’t wait to get dressed and join them! It wasn’t long before Ben was playing the National Anthem on his tuba and the race countdown began – 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 — and we were OFF!  I loved having the 50k racers and the 50 milers beginning together. It made the field seem nice and full and meant there were plenty of people to chat with in the morning light.  My good friend, Ryan showed up at my side and offered some encouragement to the rest of us as he wished us well on our journey. I appreciated that!

The first 7 miles of this race are uphill. The truth be told, I don’t think I experienced ANY flat sections on the entire course – it’s just a series of steep ups and steep downs it seems. I settled into a relaxed pace early on and chatted with the nearby runners. As is common in ultra running, right away people were getting into the rhythm of power hiking the steepest sections of the ups, jogging the flats and running the downs. It was like a pleasant, but challenging ride on a roller coaster!

I loved watching the sun rise over the thick forest of pines.  The morning air was chilly and delicious – tickling my bare arms and legs exposed in my pink tank top and short compression shorts. I felt great – ready to tackle this enormous challenge before me with gusto! I kept an eye on my heart rate, making sure to not go out too fast. I felt I was right on track by mile 5 or so.

I was having a ball right from the start. My legs felt strong, my stomach felt calm, my mind was at ease but very focused on the task at hand and everything seemed to be coming together in perfect harmony for my race. I was running faster than I expected to be – making good use of my arm swing on the power hiking, which increased my uphill pace and relaxing and letting the legs fly on the downhills.  I glanced down at my watch and saw that I was comfortably running 7:00 – 8:30 min pace for several of the downhill miles. I was having a great time passing the faster runners as they did their out and back, high-fiving all of us as they went.  There was such a positive, supportive vibe in the group – everyone cheering for everyone else’s success! Some of the most encouraging comments I heard out there were “You’re really tearing it up! Keep it up!”,  “You’re looking so strong!” “Way to go” and the like. Each kind word only served to increase my confidence and help my pace to stay strong.

Somewhere around here, as I descended a steep downhill, I saw my husband and my friend, Ryan taking pictures and cheering.  Ryan called me a “rock star” and my husband told me I was the 1st female and about 6th place overall in the race! No way! I had no idea since the 50k racers were also on a similar course and I wasn’t sure which ones were 50 milers and which were doing the 50k. I felt like someone had just told me I’d been crowned QUEEN OF THE WHOLE FREAKING WORLD! I don’t think I’ve ever smiled that big. I just kept plugging along, enjoying my good race and feeling really strong.

Around mile 21, my IT band started to hurt. I’d noticed it bothering me last week and had hoped it wouldn’t be a problem, but there it was, starting to speak to me. I let up on the pace and took a walk break.  My heart was overflowing with pure, simple joy. All around me were the most beautiful, grand trees.  Butterflies were gracefully floating about, doing a lovely little ballet, it seemed. The sky was baby blue and I just felt my heart overflow with delight at the beauty all around me. The song, “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus came to mind, so I just took a deep breath and started belting it out, loud and clear. It felt right. I felt so alive and so happy!

My good friend, Emily passed me about here and I smacked her on the bottom and said, “Way to go, first place girl!”  She laughed.   After a bit, I decided to try and run again and see how the IT band would respond.  It was hard not to limp, but I managed another couple of miles to the Boiling Springs checkpoint at mile 23 in the race and at that point had pulled ahead about 1/3 a mile and couldn’t believe what an awesome race I was having — back in 1st place at 5 hours and 22 minutes into the race.  I felt like a million bucks (other than the sore IT band) and really thought “This might be MY day – the day I blow the doors off this race and surprise myself!”

But, it was not to be — at least — not like that. As Emily and I left the aid station together, happily talking, I started to notice the pain in my right knee getting worse. It felt like sharp jabs of a knife every time I’d try to run a step.  I went into power-hike mode, pumping my arms and keeping my back straight.  But, as I increased the pace, the pain in my knee would increase, so I had to back off and let Emily go. She was looking so strong and I was so happy for her!

The second section of the course should be named “Death by Extreme Climbing in the Unrelenting Heat of the Day”.   It got hot. It got really, really steep, really, really fast and soon I was panting and leaning on my knees just to catch my breath before taking another series of short steps and repeating the whole process. It was HARD! The dirt underfoot can only be described as fine and powdery – making it easy to lose your footing and find yourself sliding back downhill at times. There were rocks and roots and fallen branches and trees. It was a challenge – but we were surrounded by deep, lush, green forest and wildflowers and tall grasses. It was quite a juxtaposition of extremes – extreme pain and challenge and extreme loveliness and beauty!

I bumped into my friend, Mark about here. He was running in the 50k and was heading back towards camp and the start/finish area.  He didn’t look well. He told me he’d been vomiting and feeling miserable and was pretty sure he was experiencing the pain of kidney stones. I felt terrible for him, but encouraged him to go ahead and DNF (ultra marathon speak for Did Not Finish) so he could lay down and rest instead of continuing to race when he was experiencing a pretty serious medical problem. I’ve heard other runners change the acronym of DNF to = Did Nothing Fatal. I think that applied here. It was a good decision.

From the Boiling Springs campground until the next aid station, there are 7, long, steep miles.  I would describe them as the hardest 7 miles I’ve ever hiked in my entire life! I started to struggle with nausea in the heat of the day here. It would be 4 hours of steep hiking, slip-sliding on the powdery dirt, grabbing at times with my bare hands just to keep moving upwards and forwards, before I’d have another sip of my beloved cold soda — the drink in ultras that seems to give me Super Powers – since there were no aid stations other than a water jug refill spot for that entire section.  I saw several runners struggling here just like me — flopping on the sides of the trail, moaning, talking about upset stomachs and needing some calories — but we’d all have to wait until we reached the next aid station, which was still quite a ways away, given the uber slow, turtle pace I was managing in this section. The horseflies were the biggest irritation, though! They were huge and pesky and it was painful when they’d bite – and bite they did – over and over and over! It was using up a lot of energy just to keep swiping them away only to have them dive bomb again.

I met a couple of really fun runners here – Dana and Ryan.  I teased Dana “I’m crawling in the dirt here. Come on! You can do it! Pass me so you can be second place female!” She’d giggle and then sometimes pass and I’d say “Wow, you totally sprinted that one!” which was pretty silly since we were both barely moving — feeling lethargic and sick, worn down and tired.  It really was a total contrast to how I’d felt bolting into Boiling Springs at 23 miles.   The going was so slow through here, that mile 30 and 31 were 47 and  53 minutes! I was a mess. I felt like puking. I wanted to lay down. I had no energy and I was feeling dizzy in the heat.  Every time we’d reach what appeared to be a summit, we’d groan since the aid station was still not in sight.

Somewhere in here, I was  a bit ahead of the next runner and needed to take my 3,258th pee break of the day.  I squatted down, pulled down my shorts and proceeded to go.  Almost instantly, the next runner caught up to me (a GIRL, thankfully), but I was so embarrassed that I instinctively yelled out, “OH my gosh! I’m so sorry you have to see this” and covered my face with my hands (somehow believing she could NOT identify me later in a line-up when asked, “Ok, Miss, so which one of these ultra runners crudely mooned you out there on the course today?”  Clearly, I was covering the WRONG body part with my reaction.) haha

It felt like we were climbing slowly, yearning for the aid station forever.    When I finally did look straight up and saw my husband’s orange t-shirt, I yelled, “I’m DYING! I need cold soda! PLEASE!”  He yelled back, “That’s almost impossible! I’m not at the aid station – it’s 1/3 a mile away from here. Just come up and get it.”  I started to cry. He realized how badly I was struggling and I could see him start to jog away – I hoped on a quest to find me the desired tonic to my ails – that precious soda!

As I finally reached the spot where he’d been, no one was in sight. I heard a bubbling brook (the FIRST and only water encounter we’d have on the course all day long) and I went in search of a way to reach it.  I had to go off course about 20 steps, but finally I was at the water’s edge, kneeling and scooping my hands into the shallow, sparkling water and bringing it towards my parched lips.  I’d gotten so very thirsty through this section, I’d noticed my tongue actually sticking dryly to the roof of my mouth. It was a relief to have some ice, cold wetness on my tongue and lips again even for a moment. I also splashed water on my arms and shins – hoping the water would keep me cool for a little bit as I went looking for my husband and the aid station.

I stood at the intersection of mountain paths and wondered which way to go. As I’d come up the path a sign had said, “Aid Station” with an arrow. It seemed to point straight ahead. Then another couple of signs pointed towards a path that headed up to “East Mountain” aid station.  I wasn’t entirely sure which path my husband had gone down.  I felt a little disoriented, very drained and incredibly unhappy.  I found a tree, slumped down under it and started to sob. Where just a few hours earlier, I had felt like a strong, focused, fast runner, I was now reduced to a shell of my former self – needy, self-pitying, thirsty, hungry and bone-tired. I thought of the book, “The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” and thought that title summed up my little mood quite nicely.

After some tears had spilled and I’d wiped my eyes, I looked around. It really was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen in my life — wide open expanses of sky and mountains and the forest tops of hundreds of thousands of gorgeous trees surrounded me. And here I was miserable, hot, uncomfortable, my feet, back and legs aching and not really enjoying it the way I should.  I stood back up, dusted myself off and said, “The Pity Party is officially cancelled. Let’s do this!”  I stood and waited for my husband to arrive from one of the paths.  Within a few minutes, he finally did – sweat just pouring off his face, and panting and puffing.  My husband doesn’t really work out much, so he had gone to an extreme effort for me in the heat to run down to the car and get the soda and bring it back.  I hugged him and said, “Thank you!”   I cracked open the Orange Crush and started to gulp it down, feeling the sweetness pour over my dry throat, bringing relief and calories again.  I was still really nauseous, though.  Once I go a long stretch without nutrition in the heat, that tends to happen to me and it’s never an easy fix to get me feeling 100% again.

I slowly followed my husband down the path towards the aid station at Skunk Creek Summit. I saw tables with food like chips, gummy bears, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and de-fizzed soda.  Nothing looked very appealing honestly. I just wasn’t feeling well.  My husband reminded me that I needed to eat something to keep my energy up. I finally settled on a banana and headed for a cot to lay down.  I took my shoes off, shaking out the loose sand and powdery dirt and tried to close my eyes to see if I could get the nausea to abate.  Instead, my stomach decided to revolt on me and I sat straight up and told my husband, “Help me find a private bush or tree FAST! I feel sick!” I quickly put the shoes back on and, after gathering some of our stash of T.P. from the car, we scooted out of the sights of the volunteers and runners at the aid station and found a private spot where I could take care of business.  I started to laugh looking up at my husband, standing guard there over me and said, “Isn’t this the most romantic thing we’ve ever done?!” He laughed too. Crewing for an ultra spouse is definitely not glamorous work!

When my stomach had been dealt with and I was cleaned up and back near the car, I told my husband that I needed to just rest for a bit.  I needed my body to recover from the trauma of the last 4 bad hours so I could go on to run the other 21 miles still ahead of me. (The race is actually 52.6 miles – not 50.)  I was making a strategic decision – the type I’ve learned to make in these situations.  This particular race did not have any cut offs along the way like most ultras and for that I truly want to thank Ben the race director! This gave me the freedom to take care of my body without the pressure of being pulled from the course at a very strict time cut off.  Most 50 mile races have cut offs of 15 or 16 hours, with cut-offs along the way (like Big Horn which had a 10 hour cutoff at 50k into the race.) This one had the same cut off for the 50k, 50 milers and 100 milers — Sunday morning at 10 am — which meant we 50 milers had a very luxurious 28 hours to get it done.  So, I took advantage of that cushy cut off and laid down in the car, my head propped up on my husband’s jacket, while I nibbled Teddy Grahams and sipped Mountain Dew, waiting for my stomach to settle back down to normal.   My Garmin shows that mile 32, where this aid station was located took a full hour and 43 minutes – the climb was slow, I waited at the top for my husband for several minutes, I checked in, got food, used Nature’s Porta Potty and got a little time laying down.  When I left that aid station, I felt a second wind again. My stomach was settled, calories were in my blood stream again and I was ready to rock and roll.   The only problem? My IT band was a mess! Every time I tried to run a step, the sharp pain would cause me to limp instead. I was reduced to a walker the rest of the race.

I walked to the intersection again and read the sign that said “East Lookout Mountain.” I had to smile.  My best friend in the whole world was volunteering at THAT aid station! I knew that climbing the next 6 miles up, up, up, that steep trail would lead me to arms that would encircle me and remind me that I was loved and looked after. I’d get to see Bertha! Around here, I decided I was in need of some trekking poles.  Being quite far from the local REI, I decided to shop in the Forest Store, which always has great prices on poles — FREE! I located a couple long sticks and started using them to help me climb up the mountains and keep from sliding and slipping in the rocks and loose dirt.   I found a rhythm. I wasn’t feeling perfect, but I was moving forward again.

About two miles up the trail, I heard voices behind me. I turned and saw two hundred mile runners hiking my way. I clapped and cheered for them.  When they approached, the tallest one said to me, “You. Run with me.”  These men were over 70 miles into their 100 mile journey.  They had a far-away look in their eyes, like they’d been to a war zone. They told me they were in second and third place in the 100 mile race! I was so inspired to get a chance to run with these great men who were helping to lead the toughest race out there that day!  I tried to chat and keep their minds off their pain, their exhaustion. I hope it helped. We stayed together for about a mile, when I went ahead a bit to go to the bathroom. I came back and took a couple of GU Chomps and then joined them back on the trail.  Within about a minute, I realized the GU Chomps were a bad idea. I’m not familiar with them and they sent my stomach into a downward tailspin once again. Oh nooooooo… I wanted to puke. I felt awful.  I let the 100 milers go on ahead and I sat on a log and leaned my head into my hands, trying to take some breaths and get my stomach to calm down. After a couple minutes, I picked up my walking sticks and started slowly hiking uphill again – moving slow but steady.

It felt like I was just walking in place, with how slow the progress was. It was starting to get a little darker as the sun was setting and I was starting to feel myself shiver in the cold in my tank top.  I didn’t have my jacket or my head lamp with me. They were waiting back down at the bottom (6 miles from the summit) with my husband. I kept hiking, finding myself alone most of the time on the trail. I couldn’t wait to see Bertha, but it felt like I’d never get there. I longed for my friend – knowing she would lift my spirits with her positive, bubbly energy and encouragement.

About a half mile from the summit, I started to hear cheering. I craned my head up and saw a cute Hispanic gal jumping up and down yelling, “CHRISTIE!!! CHRISTIE!!!! I’M SO PROUD OF YOU!” Instantly, I got emotional.  My friend!!!! Then I saw a second cute Hispanic gal jumping up and down next to the first also yelling, “YOU’RE DOING GREAT! WOO HOO!!!! CHRISTIE!!!”   I started to cry, realizing that not only would I get a hug from my best friend, Bertha, but also her twin sister, Lupe! I have known both girls since we were all six years old and they are like family to me!  I picked up my pace, eager to get to my friends, but the happy tears just kept on flowing!  Seeing my friends was to my tired and weary soul an oasis in the desert. I knew they would refresh me.

Within seconds of hitting the summit, I was clobbered by both of their enthusiastic hugs! I loved it and hugged them both back fiercely! The three of us couldn’t stop laughing and crying! Lupe said, “I tricked you, huh? You didn’t know I’d be here, did you?”  We all got a good giggle out of that. Very quickly, they ushered me over to their little “Heaven on a mountaintop” aid station.  The views from this spot were honestly the most spectacular of any I saw the entire rest of the day.  It was the highest point of the entire course and you could see for miles — Cascade Lake, the mountains, the forests of lush green trees in every direction.  It was breathtaking!  Bertha’s husband, Joel rushed over and embraced me in a nice bear hug and asked me what I needed. “Soup,” I said. He immediately went off to get me some. Bertha’s son, Marcus started prancing around, chatting and telling me the funny tricks he’d been playing on his Mom, Aunt, Dad and Uncle — pretending to sprint into the aid station saying, “I’m a runner. I need gummy bears” or “chocolate” or “a sandwich.” haha! The whole group was smiling. They told me how they’d enjoyed looking after the runner’s, meeting their needs and tending to them until they were ready to go face the course again.  I was so inspired by their giving hearts, their kindness, their warmth and their good humor. As I sat, wrapped in a blanket they’d provided, sipping the delicious soup Joel had prepared for me, I was surrounded by love. These people are like my family and I was soaking in all the caring, joy, laughter and attention.  I could feel my body renewing itself again. I was coming back to life with the love and care of my devoted friends.  Lupe noticed I didn’t have a jacket so she took off the one she was wearing – gave me the only thing she had to keep warm and insisted I take it. I almost cried happy tears again. Then she rushed into the camper and came out with her headlamp and told me I could also borrow that.  That quickly, I was ready to race again — having all my needs — both in body and spirit — filled to the brim with the kindness of my friends. The sisters and Marcus walked with me as I headed back down the mountain.  We joked around, giggled and it felt like any other stroll. I almost forgot I was in the midst of a 52 mile race! It was just what I needed. I walked away from them just as the sun was setting, ready to take on the next leg of my journey.

Soon, I was alone on the course again.  I stood on the mountain, looking out at Cascade Lake far below, framed in a pink and purple sunset – the mountains in the background a slate shade of blue. I breathed. I smiled. I took it all in and felt honored to be at that exact place in time, enjoying the show that Mother Nature was putting on for me and me alone it seemed.

I started hiking. I turned the headlamp on and within a few minutes, darkness had closed in all around me.  I felt warm in Lupe’s jacket and the head lamp provided the perfect beam of light to keep me safely moving forward.  I saw a little light in the distance and a few minutes later a 100 miler was crossing paths with me. We chatted. I encouraged him and gave him a hug and told him my friends at the top were stoking up a nice, toasty fire for him to warm himself around and I mentioned that they were even making grilled cheese for any runner who wanted one (I certainly had begged for one after my soup and they were delicious!)   We parted ways with shared smiles.  Soon, I was alone again in the pitch black darkness.  Every rock or odd-shaped tree seemed ghastly and ghoulish in the shadows of my light. I started to hear sounds in the forest and quickly my mind went back to the sign that read, “Bear Country” back at camp.  Gulp!  Was there a bear right nearby? Would it eat me? I certainly couldn’t outrun it with my limping, slow gait!

A few minutes later, I spotted another runner’s headlamp light bobbing towards me. I assumed it was another 100 mile runner, since Bertha had told me that I was the last 50 miler to check in at her aid station.  I walked on as the light grew closer.  As the figure approached, I squinted to see who I was about to pass by.  The figure moved in very fast and quickly was face to face with me. I gasped, then realized it was one of my closet friends– Ryan!! He wasn’t even participating in the race! He was there to cheer on his wife in the 50k.  I was so excited to see him all the way up on this mountain – nearly 12 miles from camp! He said, “You wouldn’t believe how FAST I ran up that steep section to get to you! I was like a midget with my hair on fire determined to bring you a headlamp and a coat!” I was so touched! My husband and my friend had collaborated and decided to try and save me from being stranded in the cold and dark! I couldn’t believe he was really there! He told me “I’m here to help you. I’ll stay until you’re through.” I told him about my injury and how slow I was going.  He said, “It’s fine. We’ll just have fun, take our time and we’ll get you to that finish line.” I felt really grateful to know I wouldn’t have to be alone for the rest of the journey.

We fell into a happy rhythm of easy conversation while carefully walking back down the mountain.He caught me up on the gossip back at camp (how did everyone’s race go who was ahead of me? I want details!!!). We turned off our lamps and stared up at the night sky.  There was a bold, bright half moon and the sky was literally twinkling way up on that mountain top with all of the stars. We looked for constellations, but that didn’t take long since neither of us know very many by  heart.

When a snake crossed our path, Ryan squealed like a little girl and went to hide behind me. I said, “So you’re my Knight in Shining Green Shoes, huh? Don’t worry, Scaredy Cat! I’ll protect you from the big bad, snake!”  haha  When we heard more frightening howls in the depths of the forest, I hid behind him and said, “Ok! You’re turn! You protect me now!” We giggled a lot, knowing neither of us had any mad skills when it came to crazed, hungry wild animals. Ryan would clearly win the sprint to get away from any such creatures, and the poor, injured runner would become a tasty meal, for sure!

Since Ryan had been my “pacer” in my private 50 mile race about a month ago, it really did feel like deja vu. It seemed a good sign of my success to have him back at my side as I traveled yet another journey to that fifty mile destination. Any fears I’d had while being alone in the mountains at night, faded instantly with a friend by my side. It’s amazing how the company of another person can make something that was a little frightening become something to be enjoyed!  Somewhere in here, Ryan mentioned his “Mad Man Diaries!” Ryan likes to blog, too and he sometimes includes these funny videos he makes during his races as he loses his mind to the ultra marathons. He pulled out his camera, set it to “video” and we both took off our headlamps and turned them to the spooky red color, cupping them under our chins to give our faces a sinister appearance.  We cackled evil laughs into the lens and Ryan chronicled some of what we were going through on our night run through the mountains of the Wild Idaho race.  It was hilarious!

The chatter of my friend eased my misery. I was getting two huge blisters on the bottoms of my feet. They were threatening to burst at any moment! They hurt so much! My sprained ankle felt swollen again after being on my feet for so many hours.  My IT band was screeching out in pain every time I’d try to pick up the hiking pace. I was fatigued. I wanted to lay down.  Finally, I did.  I just took off my Nathan pack, plopped down to the powdery, dusty trail and just flopped back like it was my bed.  “Goodnight, Ryan,” I said. You can tell my husband to come find me right at this spot in the morning.  I was kidding around, but it did feel awfully nice to take a little stretch break right on the dirt.  It must have looked comfy to Ryan, too, because soon he flopped down on another section of trail and looked suspiciously like he was about to snore too.  I was thinking how weird we both must look laying down on a trail, high up in the mountains in the middle of the night — but we’d only look weird to those who’ve never ran ultra marathons.  To other racers, we probably would have seemed perfectly sane — just taking care of a physical need (exhaustion) in any way we could.

We both got up, brushed ourselves off and hiked on. Probably the funniest story I remember from our whole evening  of random chat was when Ryan said, “My sister in law saw me looking quite serious the other day.  I was deep in thought. She said to me, “Ryan, what’s on your mind. You seem pretty serious. And without missing a beat, I looked her in the eye and said, “I was just wondering if Locks of Love would accept my beard if I grew it out really, really long.  I wonder what type of person would wear a man’s beard as their hair, though?”  That story had me rolling!!!!!  With a friend who’s that goofy and silly, the hours honestly flew by, even though we were out there, slowly hiking for a very long time.

We finally arrived back at the aid station my husband was waiting at. He was so relieved to see I hadn’t been eaten by a bear and that Ryan had brought me safely back to him to check in, too. We ate a little food, got some water and then headed back to the trail for the final 8 miles of the race.  It was very late. Midnight, maybe? The aid station workers (a bunch of college kids mostly) were playing beer pong and had some music going. They seemed to have a very different night planned than what I had for the remainder of my evening.

Not long after we were on our descent on the final trail, Ryan showed me what huckleberry plants look like. I honestly had no idea before! He picked me some and let me try them. They were really yummy and a nice little treat to perk up my weary body.  The moths started to attack somewhere in here, too. They’d buzz around our headlamps, sometimes aiming straight for our eyeballs, noses or faces! Spit, spit, spit, UGH! That was my usual reaction.  The trail was also so dusty, that our headlamps sometimes showed a dusty haze all around our line of vision from the dust being stirred up by our very own feet. I remember Ryan and I going “stick shopping” together (I totally hooked him up with the sale rack) and somewhere in there one of my long braids actually got stuck on a tree and I had to yell ahead at Ryan to come back and untangle me. I’d probably still be stuck there if he hadn’t.

As the middle of the night wore on, it started to get chillier. We were both starting to feel cold, but kept plodding along towards our goal — the finish line! Finally, when I’d started to think someone had moved the finish line —- we were almost there.   Ryan said, “Come on now! This is your chance! I said, “Ryan, I am limping. I’m not sure I can even run.”  He said, “Try!” It was fun, we picked up my slothenly pace just a hair – quick limp, quick limp, quick limp.  It must have been pretty funny to see.  As we rounded the bend and could see the finish line, I was stunned to see so many of our dear friends, our spouses — all up at nearly 5 am, wrapped in blankets, wearing pjs and beanies, clapping, hooting and screaming, “Way to go” for me!  I ran as well as I could to the finish line and someone took a picture.   My cousin Ben, the race director then threw his arms around me and gave me the tightest hug and said, “I’m SO glad you’re ok!” I thought that was really touching that he’d been concerned about me up there alone in the dark, fighting an injury. It meant a lot! He handed me my finisher’s prize — a small Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat engraved with the name of the race!!!! I was SO excited to get that — proof that I did indeed finish a 50 mile race on trails in the mountains!! I DID IT! It took forever – 22 hours and 45 minutes!  I’d hit mile 23 at 5:22, so it took me nearly 17 hours to complete the second half of the difficult course once my injury flared! Holy smokes! I never would have dreamed I’d be that slow — but slow or not — I did it! Ryan teased me and said, “I guess you just wanted to get your money’s worth on this one, huh?” haha I couldn’t be prouder of myself for refusing to give up or DNF even when I was struggling out there. I’m proud that I have learned to overcome my difficulties and stay mentally strong when the going gets tough.

And, honestly — I felt so cared for during this entire race by so many good friends — Amber, Bertha, Lupe, Joel, Chele – at aid stations , Lupe loaning me her jacket and head lamp when I needed them, my husband for crewing for me all along the way and Ryan for having the heart of a saint to give up his restful night and come run in an injured friend in the forest for several hours. To each and every one of you — thank you from the bottom of my heart! You are all truly the wind beneath my wings! 🙂 I am a lucky gal!

You know, I was feeling a little disappointed that I hadn’t been able to get in much speedwork with my focus on getting the 50 mile race finish checked off my “must accomplish” list — but check this out!!!! My best miles at the ultra over the weekend were: Mile 8 – 7:49 pace. Mile 9 – 8:09 pace. Mile 18 – 7:03 pace. Look at that! I was MULTI-TASKING! 😀

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