Had an amazing day at the McCall Trailrunning Classic 40 miler over the weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed running on some of the most technical, difficult trails I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing through some of the most eye-popping scenery Idaho has to offer!
There was a plethora of gorgeous scenery (I took about 130 photos to prove it), a zillion fallen trees to climb over (some so big I had to climb on top as though I were riding a horse just to make my way over) huge mountains to climb, valleys of wildflowers to take in and that perfect silence of all things beyond the trail were all highlights of this course. There were several ice-cold water crossings to crash through to cool the body off and refresh the soul – my favorite was through a swift current, up to my thighs with a rope to help assist the runners safely across, which was HEAVEN on my inflamed IT band! I stayed there for several minutes. All in all, the journey was a rugged, beautiful journey through paradise (or hell – depending on how hard you were running and what demons awaited you for the day.)
I felt really good for the first 20 miles and was running fairly conservative but strong with similar runners which was enjoyable. I settled in early to two chatty girls and relaxed and let them do the talking, while I enjoyed the faster-paced single track trail of the early miles and the conga line of racers heading along the course through the shady, pine-scented forest. I took the time to stop and really take in the scenery, to take some photos and to say hello to each and every friend on the course (I’m not kidding when I say I knew the majority of the 40 mile racers and the volunteers, so it was a truly relaxing, social time in the mountains catching up with friends.) I was holding back, intending to save some turnover for the final miles of the race. I was feeling wonderful, fueling really well and playing it smart. I didn’t fall once though the footing was pretty tricky in many spots and I saw plenty of bloodied knees and heard of a broken finger, so the risk was there if you didn’t play it smart! I had a rough expectation of around 12 hours for the course and was on track for that for a very long time.
Then coming up Boulder Mountain the IT band just locked up (reminded me of Wild Idaho 50 miler a few years back where I limp-ran the final 29 miles.) It was painful and I tried stiff-legging it and running with one normal acting leg and one locked up, but it was difficult to get a reasonable pace going like that with all the boulders and rocks and downhill to deal with. I stopped at a tree and stretched and did some hip-loosening exercises that I’ve used in the past to help. And, they did help – for a few minutes each time, but as the hours passed it became apparent this race would just be a day of getting through and not be a day to push myself hard in pace. I took an ibuprofen hoping it would reduce the inflammation just enough to let me run again and for a short while I did get the glorious feeling of motion going again, but it didn’t last very long. I even resorted to trying to do Graston therapy on myself (the one thing that always helps me when I struggle with this injury) but let’s just say it didn’t go too well with a smooth rock rubbing up and down my IT band out on the mountain and I gave up my self-doctoring idea pretty quickly!
Luckily, I’d packed several tropical flavored Life Savers and some Caramel Coffee Werther’s candies in my pack and sucking on those and putting on the IPod helped pass some of the tougher stretches when my leg just wasn’t cooperating. I just lost myself in the scenery and made the best of it.
Having struggled with IT band syndrome in the past I knew that I could keep going but that it would be a slog. The IT band had started to act up on me at Silver City 100k three weeks ago, so it did not come as a total surprise. I’ve spent some time reading a book about an athlete’s mental training the past week and this was a point in the race where I really tapped into those exercises (deep breathing, focusing on a positive outcome no matter what and controlling my emotions) to help me accept what was and to choose “joy” instead of disappointment at the events of the day.
It wasn’t too difficult. I really was having so much fun, I was out in one of the most beautiful mountain ranges I’d ever experienced and I had many friends greet me, hug me and high-five me along the way! How could I not be happy? I’ve definitely had my days of disappointment in races in the past and some of those I took to heart. I understand the sting of a dnf and how that can mess with your sense of self-esteem and chip away at your confidence. But, I’ve had my share of successes, as well.
I’ve ran two 100 mile races and have the belt buckles to prove it! I’ve battled injuries and getting lost in other races and have managed to still find myself at the finish line eventually, crying tears of joy and exhaustion at overcoming the difficulties that I’d encountered to arrive there. I even qualified for Boston two months ago – the dream more precious to me than any other running dream I’ve dared to dream in the past! So, I guess you could say I have finally gained some perspective at this point. Sometimes races don’t go as planned and that’s ok! Because sometimes they are out-of-this-world, over-the-moon WONDERFUL – and it all balances out in the end if you continue to dust yourself off and try, try again in the future, learning from your mistakes and gaining knowledge from what you’ve done right.
The only failures in this world are those who give up and never face their giant again. Because I believe most giants CAN be conquered. And, isn’t that really the point of these difficult ultra marathons? To push ourselves beyond our comfort level. To pit man and woman against mountains and weather and long, grueling miles on the body? We, who choose this sport are not here to be coddled or given the “easy road”, we’re here to test our limits, to find out what we’re made of and to ultimately conquer the course – slay the dragon at the finish line! It doesn’t come easy or with any guarantees of success on the first, second or third try! But, it’s always worth it in the end to keep coming back to the fight until it is won!
I slogged along the next 17 miles or so, excitedly jumping up and down and cheering when I saw the front runners pass me (I was especially thrilled to see Joelle!!) and stopping for hugs and pictures from each friend who came my way as we all made our way through forest and up and over the mountains together. I had a smile on my face, though my right knee was inflamed, sore and tight the further I went.
I finally checked into the Boulder/Louie Lake aid station where my friend (and aid station captain, Emily,) refilled my Nathan with fresh water, offered me watermelon (which I downed hungrily) and a mashed up Popsicle in a cup (which tasted like the sweet nectar of the gods in the heat of the day) and my wonderful mentor and friend, Ande offered me two small peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to take along with me for the final 8 miles of the journey (she assured me they were soft and would hit the spot and she was right!) I headed out. My Garmin showed a bit over 37 miles at this point and Emily told me it was closer to 8 miles until the finish (the actual distance of this course is 45 miles) I’d been on my own for hours, was feeling tired, though well-fueled and was eager to head towards the finish line, though I knew I still had a few more hours to go before I’d arrive. I left the aid station about an hour before the cut off there and knew I would make it as long as I stayed steady and kept moving.
I headed down the dirt road, then took a left at the sign that directed me, then walked on, eating my sandwich. About a mile away, I hit an intersection where I didn’t see any pink ribbons (which had been my guide all day.) My Garmin said I was about 38 miles into the course and I didn’t have the heart to turn back and go ask Emily which way I was supposed to go (which I later would regret.) I stood there puzzling over which way to go.
Straight ahead was the Louie Lake Trail head, a parking lot was on my right and to my left was a road. I didn’t know which way to go. A woman standing in the parking lot saw me and asked, “Are you lost?” I told her I was in a race and was looking for pink flagging to direct me which way to head towards the finish line. She said, “I just came from the Louie Lake trail and I saw pink ribbons way up high there.” So, I decided that must be the correct way and I started heading uphill onto the trail. My instincts were uneasy, though since there was no flagging, but I kept going thinking, “The woman saw some up ahead. I’ll feel better when I reach that.”
Unfortunately, I climbed on and did not see any flagging. I went for another mile or so and found myself along the dam of the lake, where I realized I’d been earlier that day going the other direction. I started to really doubt my choice to continue. I saw a fisherman and asked him if he’d seen other runners heading this way. He said that he had and so I continued on (unknowingly going further and further off course.) Finally, after not seeing any flagging for another half a mile I turned back. It just didn’t feel right and I knew getting lost was the last thing I wanted to do as darkness would be approaching within the next couple hours and I didn’t want to get caught in the mountains without a cell phone or head lamp alone.
Just a few minutes after turning back I started to get worried. I was afraid by the time I got back to Emily’s aid station everyone would have gone home and I was worried I’d be stuck, lost and confused waiting for someone to find me. I tried to remain calm, but found my fears overtaking me and I started to tear up. Just then, I looked up and saw 3 men coming towards me! I was so relieved! One of them was my friend, David and I recognized his t-shirt as one of the volunteers from Emily’s aid station! He was with a runner who wasn’t feeling very well and that man’s friend, who had also jumped in to offer encouragement for the final stretch. They thought they were going the right way. We chatted about not seeing ribbons and they decided we should head on another path nearby. They told me my friends Sparkle and Jenny had also followed them up this path, so all of a sudden it seemed this might really be the right way after all! All I knew was that I was so relieved to not be all alone out in the mountains in unfamiliar territory again! I had people with me and I felt instantly happier and safer!
After another half an hour of not seeing any ribbons (or seeing Jenny and Sparkle) we all agreed we were lost. I noticed one of them had a cell phone and I asked if he had any coverage on it. He said he did and I asked if I could call my husband. I dialed his number and it rang but went to voice mail. I left a message and we continued to try and figure our way out of where we were. I’d gotten really turned around when the boys took me on the second path so I no longer knew the way back to Emily’s aid station, even and when I tried to get my Garmin to “go back to start” – it just froze and would not function properly, so it wasn’t much help.
After another half an hour of making no progress on finding the course, I asked to use the cell phone again, hoping to get Wayne to answer. Again, it went to voice mail. I dialed my own cell phone, then, knowing my 13 year old daughter had that one and I was hoping she could tell him and the race director that we were lost. But, that cell went straight to voice mail, too. Finally, the man mentioned that he had the race director’s number!!! He dialed it and Jeremy picked up (YAY!!!) They spoke for about twenty minutes with a bad connection, while the man tried to give our gps coordinates to him that he was finding by using an app on his phone at the same time. Jeremy tried to figure out where we were and how to guide us back to the proper path with that information. That was the most wonderful feeling when we realized that others knew we were lost, approximately where we were and we had some guidance again! We walked for another half an hour or so (the other runner was having stomach problems, was dehydrated (I shared my water with him) and he was having plenty of pain in his shins, so we slowly progressed towards the final aid station and were never so grateful to see the two ATV guys there manning it waiting for us!! I could have hugged them both!
I sat down on a log, looked at my Garmin and saw I’d made it 42.3 miles. It was 8:10 and the race cut off was 8:30 pm – and we still had over 5 miles to go to the finish line. It was an obvious decision to ask for a ride back at that point. There was just no way with the IT band seized up that I could have made it to the finish before the cut off (I mean 5 miles in 20 minutes would mean I’d probably be setting some kind of world record anyways!) and I knew it and accepted that. I was honestly just so grateful and thankful to know I was safe again and would see my husband and children soon.
The cool part was when the golf course owner (the venue for this race), showed up in some sweet looking Swiss Army jeep thing that reminded me of a narrow Hum Vee and gave us a ride back on the ATV trails in that thing (what a wild time!!!) Going up and down the crazy course in that thing, ducking to not get knocked over by the pine trees’ branches smacking in the open windows! Driving through the water crossings! It was AWESOME! They even gave me a Coke and some trail mix which was much appreciated since I’d been running for over 14 hours, then had to wait for the ride for another 30 min or so and I was a bit hungry. 🙂 There was plenty of laughter on that ride back to the start/finish line and my heart was happy. The day had not turned out like I’d expected it, but it had been an adventure nonetheless!
I was overjoyed when we pulled into the golf course parking lot! My husband was really happy to see me and he held me tight! I was smiling and genuinely thankful to Jeremy, the race director, for answering his phone, guiding us back and sending help to us out there! I was very grateful to the man who’d driven out there and given us a ride back and I was exceptionally happy to be allowed to just rest again. I couldn’t wait to get back to the camp site and hug my sweet kids!!! They were very happy to see me! My 6 year old had even colored this really great poster that said, “GO MOM! I <3 Mom!” for the finish line with pretty pink (my favorite color) flowers and hearts on it. I felt bad I’d gotten off course and she’d not been able to cheer me in with that — but it meant the whole world that she’d made it and I hugged and kissed her and told her how much I loved it!
I’m happy. I’m fine. I need to deal with the injured leg. I’m hoping to see my chiropractor later this week for Graston therapy and hopefully I’ll be running again by next week.
P.S. The things that went supremely WELL in this race:
1. My attitude. I have been reading about mental preparation for athletes lately and have really focused on staying positive no matter what. That paid off for this day and I looked the race director in the eye after it was over and told him wholeheartedly that I took full responsibility for myself and getting lost and had a GREAT TIME on his course and thanked him for doing an excellent job! That felt good to accept my fate with no regrets.
2. Zero blisters or feet problems again! Love Pure Grits!!! Even with my feet plunging right into about 20 or more water crossings I was just fine and dandy! And the feet felt fine at the finish, still.
3. Zero chafing. Yay for Body Glide and knowing how to apply it liberally!
4. Fueling!! THIS was my biggest success!!!! I decided from the start to try to stick to a mostly liquid, simple-to-digest diet for this race and see how it went. I brought along 2 Vi Fuel packs flavored like peach cobbler and they were awesome! Then I turned to what the race offered – Hammer gels and probably took about 8 of them during the race. I have never taken more than 3 GUs or anything like that for any distance before and didn’t know if it would cause stomach distress. I was FINE!! I also had 2 Mrs May’s natural granola bars (about 220 cals each), a few bites of watermelon, a bite of a banana and at the last aid station two small squares of peanut butter and jelly (which was wonderful since I got lost for hours shortly after.) I never bonked. I felt awesome! I took s caps and endurolytes throughout. Seriously would have ran so great on that fueling if the IT band wasn’t an issue. That was a great feeling!
Elevation gain: 9,626 feet or so. LOTS of climbing – especially when you add on a few extra mountains just for the heck of it!
The McCall Trailrunning Classic is a must-do ultra marathon in the Salmon River Mountains! With plenty of single-track trail and some of the most technical and challenging running I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing in a relative paradise of wildflowers, lakes and shady Ponderosa Pines, it will take your breath away! Of all the other race courses I have ran in the past, this most reminded me of Big Horn in scenery and difficulty.
The race directors, Jeremy and Brandi Humphrey (ultra runners themselves) put on a well-organized event and pour their heart and soul into it. Well stocked aid stations, world-class race volunteers ready to meet your every need at the many aid stations along the course and a delicious baked potato bar at the finish make this a race not to be missed!