Changing Plans and Chasing Cutoffs
The Door County Fall 50 Mile Run
October 20th, 2012
If things went as planned, I would have been pacing a friend in to her first marathon finish in Grand Rapids, Michigan this weekend. She wound up with a stress fracture and had to postpone her race to next year. I deferred my entry as well, hoping next year we can get her to the finish line. I then began scheming which race I might be able to do in place of the one that was no longer going to happen.
I batted my eyelashes at my wonderful husband, Erick. I started with, “We could go camping in Wisconsin!” Then, I followed with, “While we are there, maybe I could run a 50 mile race.” He did what he usually does, shakes his head at me in disbelief that I asked him about yet another race. Of course, he said yes. Have I mentioned how lucky I am? (Hopefully he sees this when I ask about the next race.)
Signing up for the Door County Fall 50 miler hurt the pocket book as much as it was going to hurt my feet. Wow. Those race entry fees are steep. One hundred and forty dollars later I read the fine print on the race details. An eleven hour cutoff! What?!? Thinking back, I realized my best 50 mile race took me thirteen hours and one minute. And this race would be six weeks after my first 100 mile finish. Who knew what kind of shape I would be in then.
I finished the 100 miler and took exactly one week off from running. I walked a lot that week, which helped me recover faster. My feet were not pretty. I wound up losing two toenails, a third is hanging on by a thread. Other than that, I had nothing worse than a little tendonitis in the ankles.
I worked a new training schedule into place. I didn’t run anything longer than twelve miles after Woodstock. I had a ten day break while we were on vacation in Peru. Lots of traffic and narrow, unfamiliar streets stopped me from venturing out. I did manage to run once. It was only thirty minutes on a run down soccer field, but it was better than not running at all. 12,000 feet of elevation made me winded and I had to take a lot of walk breaks. At home, I did a week of short runs and it was time to head to Wisconsin.
Finishing my 100 mile run was a huge mental boost to me. It reminded me that I am tougher and stronger that I think I am. I knew with an eleven hour cutoff I would need to kick this race into high gear. I mentally prepared myself by saying there was no acceptable outcome from this race but to finish in eleven hours.
The night before the race I texted both of my pacers from the 100 miler. Mike told me that if there was an eleven hour cut off, I should aim for a ten hour finish. My other pacer Dave offered words of encouragement such as, “Well, there’s no rocks, roots or snakes- this will be a walk in the park.”
We had four days of rain before the race. I reminded myself it was a road race and that I wouldn’t be in eight inches of mud, like some previous races I have done. Race morning I woke up at 5:00AM, it was still raining. Erick packed up the RV and we were on our way to Gill’s Rock, Wisconsin. At the start I met my friend and fellow ultra runner, David. He also ran his first 100 miler at Woodstock. His wife, Amanda was there to run as part of a relay team.
David and I joined the crowd of about 150 solo 50 mile runners at the start line. The race announcer gave some sage words of advice. “Get to Gill’s Rock, head south, and don’t stop until someone hands you a beer.” Man, I love ultras. Minutes later we were on our way. Within a mile I lost sight of David and never saw him again until the finish line.
The weather started out about forty degrees and warmed up a bit every hour. The fall leaves were still mostly on the trees. Brilliant colors popped as the sun came out and lit them up. It made me feel alive. I had some good tunes playing on my iPod and all was right with the world.
Sherpa Erick met me every chance he could along the course. It was awesome to see him and our pup, Jersey along the roadside.
I tried to keep every mile under thirteen minutes, to ensure an eleven hour finish. At the half way point I only had a few miles over the thirteen minute per mile mark. I had some time banked. Time in the bank can be a dangerous thing, it can mean you went out too fast and you will pay the price later. Some times that one minute you put in the bank at the start will cost you five minute later on in the race. I hoped I hadn’t gone out too fast.
The course is run on the shoulders of roads and on some sidewalks. There are no police or volunteers to direct you or stop traffic. I had to stop and wait for traffic to clear to cross roads. Their were signs every mile with the race logo to let you know you are still on course. Some small symbols were painted on the road to assist you as well. It wasn’t hard to follow, the race director told us that if you are in doubt of where to go, go straight.
I was surprised that in my race packet there was a front bib and a back bib. Both had my number and the word “solo” on it. I figured a back bib was for if fell on your face, they wouldn’t have to bother rolling you over to see who you were. I pinned the bibs on front and back as instructed. I did not realize how much this one thing was going to motivate me during this race.
At some point between 15 and 20 miles, I started seeing runners fly up from behind me. As they pass, they say, “Nice job solo!” I see on their backs they have bibs that read, “relay.” I now realize why I am wearing a bib on my back. Almost every relay runner said something encouraging to me. One lady who must have seen my earphones in, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Solo, you are amazing.” I have never had this much support from other runners at a race before. It was heartwarming and really pushed me harder towards the finish line.
The first half of this race has some nice hilly sections. After that it leveled out nicely and was easy running. I say easy, but after thirty or so miles sometimes easy is not the right word. There are nine aid stations over fifty miles. I planed ahead and took my hydration pack with two bottles of water and gatorade. I also have several packets of GU and Clif Shot Blocks. The aid stations have cookies, bananas, Clif bars, oranges, apples, gatorade, and water. Not a bad selection but nothing compared to the smorgasbords in some ultras. The 28 mile aid station will have home made chicken soup. I have thought about this all day. Soup broth was one of the main things that has helped me though my other ultras. I get there and the nice ladies hand me a cup of the best soup I have ever had. Super salty and warm. I think about the time I am wasting at this aid station, so I head out.
All is going well. My miles are mostly below that thirteen minute per mile goal. Then I hit a rough spot, miles 41 and 42 take almost thirteen minutes. Miles 43 and 44 are closer to fourteen minutes. I am having a real low, I think I need real food. Just then a lady runner starts to pass me me. She says her name is Ann and that she is David and Amanda’s friend. She senses that things are getting tough and asks what will help. I said a peanut butter sandwich and a coke would be amazing. She tells me it will be waiting for me at the next aid station and she heads off. I feel like she was an apparition.
Shortly after, I see Amanda running towards me. She greets me with a sandwich and coke. The food and drink hit my bloodstream and instantly I feel better. I thank her and head out. I have less than six miles to go. I see Erick along the roadside, he is surprised that I am doing so well after hearing from Amanda about my low spot. I’m feeling good, so I just go with it. I can’t believe I have so few miles to go and my strength and spirit has returned. I hope this feeling can hold out until the finish. I realize at this point that a sub-ten hour finish is within reach, if I can just keep this pace up for a few more miles.
I pass a lot of people, mostly solos and a few relay runners. I hear what people say as I pass them. They all are surprised a solo runner has so much energy so late in the game. At mile forty-eight, I see a woman cheering on a man I believe to be her husband. She was part of his relay team. She crosses the road and gives me a high five and tells me that I have inspired her to consider running the solo race next year. I am thrilled that I inspired her.
I finally see the marker for mile 49. I kick it in high gear in this last mile. My last few miles have been some of my fastest all day. I wasn’t sure how long I could keep up this pace, but I know I can do it one more mile. I round the corner and I can see the finish. I am almost overcome with emotion, seconds later I cross the finish line. My time was 9:48:28. This was three hours and thirteen minutes faster than my best previous fifty mile race.