I’d been looking forward to this race for months. I was eager to prove to myself that I could go the distance and becoming an ultramarather. I’d attempted an unofficial ultra on Jan. 30th and made it 7 hours and 23.33 miles before GI distress overcame me and I quit the race. That race was on a single track, technical trail in the mountains and it was an exciting, fun one with snow, ice and lots of mud! It really bothered me that I didn’t finish that one. That course was also short and was closer to 28.5 – 29 miles. I kicked myself for months for not dealing with the stomach problems and pushing forward. I was determined to finish this race no matter what happened – which is good – because I ended up having a repeat of the Jan races stomach problems. Nothing like a chance to relive history and this time conquer the giant!
The race was about 2 1/2 hours from my home, so I got up at 3 am to get ready and woke the children and husband by 4 am. I’d slept about 2 hours since I was up the night before also seeing to preparations for the race. I thought I’d left enough time to get my usual bathroom routine done before we left – but it didn’t work out that way. That would be mistake number 1.
We drove to the race. It was chilly out – about 38 degrees and I was in awe at how many others had camped at the race start (the local fairgrounds) in that type of temperature. I knew I was running with some really hard-core people!
I laughed when I saw the lineup of porta-potties — all two of them — at the race start. Just one week before I’d raced at Robie Creek, where a small tribe of probably 50 porta-potties had greeted me at the start. This was a much smaller race, though, with around 20 relay teams (of 5 each) and 29 ultra runners going for the 50k distance.
I visited the porta-potty, but was too nervous about the race to do what needed to be done. Mistake #2.
I hung out with my friends and family and we took pictures before the race start. I was excited. My best running buddy, Bertha, was right at my side and I hoped we were going to have a great race together.
I hadn’t eaten much before the race, though I had intended to. I had a few bites of a muffin and some water before we left home and a few bites of a small, stale bagel at the start. Mistake #3.
I heard them calling for us to line up and heard them saying, “Still waiting for solo numbers something and something and something.” Bertha and I felt like rock stars being in the solo group! We lined up, the air horn sounded and you could hear the beep, beep, beep of many race watches starting to record the journey.
Right away the crowd surged and looking down at my Garmin within a few seconds I could see Bertha and I were running too fast – about an 8 min pace. We pulled back a bit to level off to our usual long distance comfort zone of closer to 10:30 – 11 min miles. It leveled out. Our first mile was 10:14.
We pulled back just a hair more for mile two to 10:55 and by mile 3 we were at 11:11 — all within our comfort range for the marathon or longer distance for the two of us.
The scenery was spectacular! The entire race was run on a converted railroad track, right alongside the Weiser River. There were huge mountains, beautiful trees, farms, valleys, wildlife and grass as far as the eye could see. It was the prettiest course I’d ever ran. The wind was blowing (and at times picked up to 22 mph) and I found that I preferred listening to that than to my mp3 player I’d brought along. There’s something very soothing about the sound of a rushing wind.
The first checkpoint was at mile 4.1. My husband and children were there cheering for us! I handed my husband my running jacket, since I’d warmed up and headed for the 1st bathroom stop. If you would have told me there that I’d have to stop for bathroom needs in the race closer to 30 times, I wouldn’t have believed you — but that was what was laying ahead of me on the race course – a battle of the stomach and bladder.
After a quick, unsuccessful trip to the bathroom (mistake #4), I pulled off my running capris and felt more comfortable in my shorts and tank – and felt ready to race. Bertha and I grabbed a bottle of water, Wayne handed me a bit of banana and an orange and we were off again.
Mile 4 had been at a pace of 10:38 and mile 5 (the aid station) was 13:43. At mile 6, we leaped over a dead garden snake (eek) at had a pace of 10:43. Mile 7 was 10:39, Mile 8 10:45. We were right on target for our goal of finishing before 6 hours. Other than my stomach starting to give me some trouble here, we felt good. Bertha and I took turns leading the other and keeping an even pace. We made a great team.
Around mile 9, another runner caught up with us. We thought it was another solo runner, but it turned out, she was a relay gal, who’d already done her leg and was just running the second one for fun. She and I started to run together and chat. She was fast! Mile 9 was 10:00, Mile 10 was 10:18. We wished her well, and she took off after that and Bertha and I settled back into our own pace and did mile 11 in 11:11.
At this point, we figured we were the very back of the pack of solo runners and we were ok with that. I’d googled some of the other female solo racers and found that several of them had other ultras under their belts, so we knew, with this being both of our first “official” ultra – that we’d likely be the back of the pack. We were ok with it. We didn’t realize at that point that there were, in fact, one more racer behind us — an experienced ultra woman in her late 60’s or early 70’s.
Aid station number 2 was just after the 11th mile point. Again, I headed for the porta-potty line, while Bertha went in search of some body glide to prevent chafing. After my 3rd unsuccessful bathroom visit (mistake #4), we grabbed our Camelbaks (mine filled with Gatorade), Wayne handed me anther orange slice and banana chunk, and I grabbed a snack bag of potato chips from the aid station and we were off. Mile 12 (including aid stop) was 17:42. Bertha was feeling good and took off ahead of me. I was feeling hungry and decided to walk for a bit to eat and see if it helped me. I walked most of that mile, trying to get fuel into my body – but I could tell right away, things were going south. I was glad my friend had gone ahead since I didn’t want to hold her back.
At mile 13, I was running along in silence, when all of a sudden I looked down at my feet and jumped back! A snake! A live one this time – just a little garden variety with a beautiful red stripe on his back. He jerked back when I did and I think we scared each other! I took off and was hoping to avoid any further snake sightings on the course. Mile 13 – 11:43.
By Mile 14, my stomach was revolting! I was feeling nauseous and my face was flushing. I knew I was in for some trouble, just like I’d had in my last ultra attempt. Though we were mostly secluded on the path, much of the area was fenced with wire fencing, so it was impossible to get off alone to use nature’s bathroom. Other parts of the course, without the wire fence, were slanted steeply to the river on one side or steep mountains on the other. Other parts of the course, ran directly behind towns and homes and some were even near the main road. It ended up being quite a game of seeking bathroom spots that were out of sight and accessible. I did find such a spot around here, where a huge tree had grown enough to form kind of a canopy. I did what I needed to (finally) but it was only the beginning. I got back on the path and started running, only to find that with every 20 steps or so – the need returned! I ducked in and out of the trees along this part several times. My pace for miles 14 and 15? 14:54 and 18:06. This is where I realized, “This is just going to be a test of survival today.”
Coming out of the trees around this point, I was surprised to meet another runner – the older woman who’d been behind me. She looked fit and experienced and she gave me a big smile. It was such a nice thing to see a friendly face when I felt so bad. I started running again and passed her for just a few mintues, then remembered I had something else in my Camalbak to eat (since I was feeling hungry despite the other problems.) Unfortunately, the usual running foods I like weren’t with me and I was 9.1 miles from the next aid station. But, I had a Snickers bar in my pack and figured I’d take a few bites to help my sagging energy. Mistake #5. Not long after taking those bites, the lady passed me – and would stay far ahead until the end. I got sick several more times and mentally, I was starting to find I was in a fog. I didn’t have enough nutrients in my system and everything I ate or drank was leaving just as quickly, so I just started to walk.
Since it was only a week past my half marathon at Robie Creek, I was also experiencing tightness in my hamstrings and soreness in my lower back and right ankle (an injury from more than a year ago.) I felt terrible. My bladder felt like it was on fire and every time I’d try to start jogging again, it only made it worse. I decided to try speed walking and found that it was a really good idea. I could keep a better pace than regular walking but I didn’t jostle my stomach so much.
Not long after, I started to hallucinate — or so I thought. I could see two figures in the distance. I started to speed walk faster, hoping to be near other runners again. The closer I got, I could see it was the woman who’s passed me and another runner – a man, in his 40’s. I could tell by his slow, shuffle – he was suffering too. I caught up with him and slowed down to walk with him and see how he was doing. He told me, he’d been throwing up for the last few miles and felt terrible. He said he’d done many ultras before – but this would be the first one he was going to drop out of – as soon as he could reach the next aid station. We were about 5 miles from there. I wish I’d had some water or crackers to offer him but I didn’t so I wished him well and headed on, hoping I could get to the aid station and send someone back to help him.
Mile 15 had been 18:06. Mile 16, I was on a mission to try to get help to my fellow runner – pace: 12:03. My stomach was still bothering me and I felt weak, but I was feeling a bit better. Mile 17: 12:17 Mile 18: 13:41. Mile 19: 13:34. Mile 20: 13:40. Something wonderful happened at Mile 20. I felt horrible. I was starving, every bone was aching from the totally flat race (former railroad) and I was feeling worn down. My brain was a little fuzzy from lack of nutrients — when all of a sudden, I saw four of the most graceful deer running across a field ahead of me. I just stopped where I was to watch. They glided so effortlessly across the path in front of me and I just stood in awe as they went by. I thought to myself, “You guys have it right! I could use an extra pair of legs right now, Then, I bet I’d run more gracefully too.”
Right before Mile 21 was the next aid station. I saw the wonderful, older men holding up traffic, so I could run across the street to reach it. I was so relieved!!!! As soon as I got within earshot, I told them about the sick runner behind me. They said they’d send someone on a 4 wheeler to bring him in. I felt relieved that I was able to help. I grabbed my capri running pants from the vehicle and headed towards the lone porta-potty – just as the older man who was in charge of the aid station shut the door. I waited and then when it was my turn – I changed pants (the winds had picked up), and took off my shoes and shook out the rocks (the entire path is dirt and rocks so my shoes had quite a collection of them) and I tried to use the bathroom. I was pretty dehydrated by this point, so it really just turned out to be a clothing stop.
I’d left little baggies of food at each of the checkpoints. I knew I’d left a half peanut butter sandwich at this one and I thought a baggie of goldfish crackers. I’d been thinking of them for nearly every step of the last few miles and knew I’d feel better when I got them. Unfortunately, either another runner took my food or it was lost along the way — but it wasn’t there. I was so sad. I really needed something substantial – but gentle on my stomach. I was a little afraid to eat much of anything else that Wayne tried to offer me, so I took one cracker from a lunchable and grabbed a water bottle, some salty peanuts and a stale small bagel and off I went. Mile 21 pace (aid stop included) 20:49. I was happy to see the sick runner brought in before I left. I knew he’d be ok. He had dropped out to get some help, which was the right thing for him — but that also meant I was officially the last runner on the course.
There is a bright side to being in last place. You can use natures bushes without fear of another runner coming up behind you and seeing you. You also no longer have any pressure to try and go fast. It’s just pointless when you’re so far behind the others that you can’t see anyone in any direction – so I accepted it, relaxed and started to eat small bites of the food I had. That was a challenge. My stomach wanted to reject every bite, so I had to take tiny bites, walk for a while, then take another tiny bite, etc. It was slow-going but I knew I needed the calories to get to the finish.
Mile 21 was 16:51. Mile 22 went through some really beautiful rocky canyons. I could see the highway way above the path and spotted my husband taking pictures from there! I grinned and felt so blessed to have a family who loved me enough to cheer me on with enthusiasm – even when I was in last place! I thought to myself, “I’m already a winner. I have five amazing kids and a husband who loves me. Life is good – even if this race is going terrible.”
The food did help. I started to sing to myself, “I’m Walking on Sunshine” while I speed-walked past some funny looking cows. I noticed there was a long row of black ones – and one white one! I yelled at him, “Hey, buddy, – you’re the white cow of the family! Cool! It’s not so bad to be different!” I smiled at him, but I don’t think he smiled back. Mile 23: 14:45. Feeling better. Can only handle jogging for a bit before my bladder feels on fire. So I alternate slow walking, jogging and speed walking.
At mile 24, I hear the sound of 4 wheelers in the distance. I move to the side and two adorable, little grannies ride past me on their 4 wheelers. They’re the race gals who sweep up the course from the back checking for injured runners and keeping an eye on the one in last place – a.k.a. – ME! I laughed and thought, “Well, this is as close to being a celebrity as I’m ever going to get. Enjoy it.” They said, “We’ll go ahead a few miles and then you can pass us up again later. I said, “Thanks for checking on me!” and they took off. Mile 24: 18:16.
By Mile 25 : 16:45 — I was so tired. I could see by my Garmin, that I was now so slowed down that I’d be lucky to get in before 7 – 7:30 hours had passed. That was discouraging since I’d really thought I’d do the race in closer to 5:45 – 6:00 hrs based on my training runs (the longest being a 27 miler that I’d done with an ave pace of 11:37 – and had felt like running another few miles at the end of it since I’d taken it easy.) I just took a breath and started playing games to keep moving forward. I played, jog 100 steps, walk 100 steps. That kept my brain busy for another mile.
The final aid station finally came into view and I could see my husband! I didn’t even pretend to run this time. I just walked up to him and the two men standing there and said, “Well, here I am! The last runner! Sorry I kept you guys waiting so long for me!” One of them shook my hand and saw my smile and said, “You’ll be fine! Congratulations for making it so far!” I thought that was awesome. I grabbed a new water bottle and an apple and walked right back to the course. Just as I did, I heard my son, Jr. (9), yell, “MOM! I want to give you a hug!!” I threw out my arms and said, “How did you know , that’s exactly what I was needing right now?” He gave me the world’s best bear hug and I knew, right then, that love is the best medicine! I waved and took off again, eating my apple and drinking my water. I never would have imagined that an apple was the world’s perfect food for me that day – but it was! I felt so much better after eating it. My stomach handled it and I felt renewed again. Mile 26: 18:07 (with aid station stop.)
I looked at my watch as I hit 26.2. Marathon distance. My first marathon was October 4, 2009. I did it in 4:57. In training this year, I’d gone the marathon distance another 2 times. In the training run, I did on my own for that distance, I hit the marathon distance in 5:04 which made me feel pretty good since I wasn’t pushing too hard. So, to see that it was marathon distance again was bittersweet. I was thankful to have made it that far – but so sad to see my time was 5:56 – nearly an entire hour slower than my real marathon time. It was a reminder of how hard the day had been on my body. I shook that off, though and focused on the fact that, even in training, I’d never gone past the 27.0 mile line in the sand. I was excited to see what it felt like to see the Garmin keep counting after that distance!
At mile 27, I caught up with the nice ladies with the 4 wheelers. They were on the side of the road picking up the trash of the runners before me. One yelled, “YOU GO HONEY!” and the other said, “You’re gonna make it!” I grinned and said, “Thank you so much!!!” and told them how I’d never gone past 27 miles before and was excited they were t here to witness me doing it. Mile 27: 13:07
Not long after hitting 27 miles, fatigue set in. I was tired. Really, really, bone tired. My lower back was killing me. My hamstrings hurt and felt incredibly tight. The bottoms of my feet just ached and it felt like I was getting blisters on a couple of my right toes. The only thought in my head was, “If only I could lie down and stretch a bit, I’d feel so much better. I’ve been on my feet for about 6 hours and I’m dead tired.” As if by magic, right before me in the path, there was a stretch of GRASS about 2 feet wide going the full length of the path to a farm. The rest of the path had been dirt and stones. I took it as a sign. I laid down right in the path and stretch out. As soon as I did, I felt better. I looked up and saw that the clouds were forming some pretty interesting shapes in that wind that kept changing shapes. I just wanted to lie there and stare at clouds for hours it felt so nice, but I took a deep breath, took a mental picture of the moment, then got back up, saying, to myself, “You’ve still got a mission to accomplish, Missy! Get to it!” I got back up, brushed myself off and set off again. Mile 28: 17:28.
At this point, I thought I still had more than 3 miles left in the race. I couldn’t fathom running that far. I couldn’t fathom running ONE mile since I was so drained and everything was hurting so much. So, I just walked. Mile 29: 15:25.
Now, off in the distance, I saw what looked like a blue tent cover (what the other aid stations had used) and what appeared to be people. But, it didn’t make sense. I looked at the Garmin and thought, “No, I still have more than 2 miles to go. Is it possible?!” I had thought the course might be measured a little bit short – but wasn’t expecting it to be that short. It was too good to be true! I started to jog again, then picked it up the more the sight came into view. When I heard the crowd whistling and cheering about half a mile away, I started to cry and run faster! I kept repeating, “I’m going to make it! I’m going to make it!!!” and pushed on! When I got close enough to see the finish chute, I gave it everything I had. The announcer read my name and my time as I hit the finish line. I couldn’t stop crying I was so happy!
My husband was there taking a picture. I saw my kids and my friend, Bertha and her family and ALL of those wonderful volunteers – who’d kept everything up just for me! Me -the last runner. I felt so touched by their kindness. The park was nearly empty by this point and they were folding up tables and chairs — but they’d kept up the food tent – with piping hot food – just for me! It was amazing!
The race director walked over to me and said, “Congratulations! She handed me my finishing hat and a large blue lollipop. She said, “This prize is for you – because you’re One Tough Sucker”. I started to cry again and said, “Thank you!” They made me feel like a hero — and I’d been the worst runner of the day. It was amazing. It meant the world to me!
I did it! I became an ultra marathoner. It was SO hard! My finishing time was 6:43:06 With an average pace of 13:43. I don’t think I’ll ever do another one — but I’m so glad I get to check this off my list.