My last 50 mile race was 2 years ago and it was on trails in early July in (mountainous) Ithaca, NY. It took me 10 hours and 40 minutes to complete, mostly because I had no idea what I was doing and took it very cautiously. This time, it was about 30 degrees cooler and the race — the Nashville Ultra — was on much less technical terrain. With the more favorable conditions, I wanted to see if I could maintain a 10 minute mile and finish between 8 and 9 hours.
All packed and ready to go.
I lost a toenail the night before, and, like the crazy runner that I am, considered it a stroke of luck. When the race started the next morning, I was nervous, but was mentally okay with the fact that if my injuries started to bother me, the absolute worst case scenario was that I’d DNF. (And if that happened, I was really hoping I’d make it at least halfway.) The course was mostly on paved bike path, with a few miles on trails. It was 2 out-and-backs, the first was a 17.5 mile loop, then we came back to the start/finish area where we then went on a 32.5 mile loop in the opposite direction.
For the first 10 miles or so, I was actually a little bored — I was running at a pace that’s 3 minutes slower than what I’m used to so I eventually got impatient and started passing a bunch of people, but since I’m a nervous Nellie, I was worried that I was going too fast and everyone would pass me again later in the race. I made quick stops at the mile 5.5 and 12.5 aid stations for a little Powerade and saw Sam at the start/finish at mile 17.5. He told me I needed to eat something and handed me a sandwich. Right. Calories. I forgot. I had been running for over 3 hours and the only thing I ate were some Honey Stinger energy chews. My bad. So, I (begrudgingly) ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich over the course of the next 3 miles, probably ingesting as much tin foil as bread.
Around mile 21, my energy dipped and I started to doubt myself — I knew I still had 29 more miles to go and at this rate, I realized it was going to be a long day. Thankfully, Sam surprised me at the mile 23.5 aid station where I got a hug, blew my nose and got snot all over my sunglasses (so classy), and had my first sip of flat soda. I don’t drink soda, but that Coke was delicious. Mmm sugar! I got an energy boost when he told me I was in 2nd place. Wait, what?! My goal was just to finish in one piece and now I might podium? The competitor in me woke up and I blew out of the aid station at 8:15min/mile. I kept trying to slow down, but I’d subconsciously keep speeding up. At that point, I had made it halfway, still feeling good, so I decided I would run at whatever pace I felt comfortable, after all, I “only” had 25 miles to go (ahh, the things that sound normal in the middle of an ultra). I kept up a faster-than-expected pace, making my way through downtown Nashville, having a quick “oh shit I’m lost moment” where I stopped for a few minutes, but calmed down and realized I was on course. Crisis averted.
Pit stop at the mile 30 aid station — more Powerade, more Honey Stinger chews. I tried eating another sandwich, but just didn’t have the stomach for it, so it went the way of the garbage. As I was passing mile 32 on my way out to the turn around point, I saw the first place female on her way back in, at her mile 35. I calculated that she had about 25 minutes on me, so something drastic would have to happen for me to move into first. I just kept going at a pace that was comfortable, so happy that I was running so fast so late into the race. I hit the turn around point, a volunteer asked for a selfie, and then I headed back towards the start\finish. Met up with my personal pacer Sam at mile 37, took a swig of Coke, refused more food, and kept going.
I breezed through the mile 40 aid station, feeling remarkably good. More tasty soda, more Powerade, and we were off. At mile 41, I passed a guy who said to me, “how can you be running so fast after 40 miles?!” I said I wasn’t really sure, and that was the honest truth. But after that, I started to think, “OH GOD. I JUST RAN 40 MILES.” At about mile 44 I said something to Sam about being amazed I was keeping up a sub 9min/mile pace, and then of course 10 minutes later came the inevitable mental crash. I knew I was almost done, but at the same time it felt like I still had so far to go. “I have to do this for another hour? UGH.” And since it was an out-and-back, I knew what portions of the course I still needed to cover, including a hill that in my mind had turned into a large mountain, when in reality, it was probably only slightly steeper than Cat Hill in Central Park. Sam was telling me all these great, inspiring things, but all I could do was grunt in response. I kept my head down, and just kept moving.
With less than a half mile to go, Sam took off so he could make it to the finish before me to get pictures. I ran the last half mile by myself and cried. Goddamn. I did it. 50 miles. Under 8 hours (7 hours 51 minutes, to be exact).
I wiped my eyes as I crossed the finish line, and felt remarkably okay. Last time I was so dizzy I had to lay down, this time I hung around the finish area and ate what tasted like the best donut I’ve ever had in my life. (Also, I learned that cold Domino’s Pizza is DELICIOUS after running 50 miles.) I changed my clothes, walked around, face timed with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, and spent the next three days in utter disbelief. It was a great day. I was relaxed, I felt good. I had a ton of fun. And then I ate all of the BBQ in Nashville.
It would be dishonest of me to make it seem like I crossed that finish line by myself. I had a team of amazing people that helped me get through the summer and fall: thanks to the fine folks at Honey Stinger for keeping me fueled. Super thanks to my family for checking in on me and keeping me laughing and full of food (and wine). Thanks to my coach John Hirsch for his help training both my mind and my body, and for always telling it to me straight. Thanks to my physical therapist Dan at DASH PT for the early morning Mets chatter and for working miracles on my IT band and tendinitis. Thank you to Sam for dealing with my pre-race jitters (AKA when I turn into a bitch), and for being there at mile 49.5. Thank you to my big sister Meghan, for her unyielding support and encouragement. Maylo, the life force is stronger with you around. 🙂