|C||Super secret hope: Top 3 female finish||Shockingly Yes|
I did not follow any strict plan leading up to this race. I signed up on a whim at the end of October, then gradually ramped from the ~20 mpw I was averaging to a peak of 56. It looked roughly like the modified Hal Higdon plan I followed for my first 50k, but compressed by a few weeks, and my longest run was only ~23 miles. I would come to regret this. That being said, training went really well. I was logging some fast times, killing the elevation profiles, and generally feeling really good with some aches along the way, but no lasting injuries. Despite my compressed schedule, and less than stellar mileage, I felt pretty confident. At my first 50k I clocked in at 6:56, and I was really confident that I could come in well under that, despite the additional elevation, and maybe even break 6:30 this time. After scoping out previous year’s results, I even started forming some big fancy ideas about how that time could make me competitive for a third or fourth place finish. I would pay for this hubris.
Remember when I said I felt confident? That was until the weather report called for temps starting at about 5 degrees at start time, with a high of 18. not counting wind chill. yikes. I had trained in colder temps, but none of my long runs had been THAT cold. Oh well. If this is how I die, so be it. I certainly wasn’t about to drop to the 25K distance. That would just be crazy.
I spent the night before race day in a sketchy motel, didn’t sleep terribly well, but stuffed my face with everything in sight. Leftover holiday cookies are an important part of any runner’s diet. The morning of, I woke up around 5:30 am, and spent the next hour debating how many layers is too many. Grabbed a bagel and banana for breakfast and made my way to the park.
Start: So cold, but I felt reasonably cheery. The prerace meeting was quick and dirty, and I was a little surprised by how few 50kers were there. It looked like a lot of participants dropped to the 25k race. We would be running the same course, with 50kers doing two laps, except for the very first climb. Without much fanfare, we started off down a paved road until the 50k course split off into the woods for the first climb. Words don’t do this climb justice, except for the words “this is gonna suck balls on the next lap”. Bright side: being forced to walk this bit gave us time to really appreciate just how lovely the snow covered forest was. Just stunning views on some nice technical, but not overly rocky and ankle-twisty single track.
To Aid Station 1: After the climb, we met back up with the 25ers and ran on a really nice gravel service roads. I was running this bit a little too hot, but it was a great stretch to bank some time, and space ourselves out a bit. After a bit more bouncing between single track and that service road, a big ol’ pack of us made it to the first aid station, and the Sasquatch sighting! During my last race, I lost a lot of time hanging out at aid stations too long, so I was very conscientious about chugging hot fluids, stuffing my pockets with pretzels, and getting the heck out of there. Obviously I was not in too much of a hurry to give Sasquatch a big sweaty hug though!
Feeling great. Feeling good. Feeling speedy.
Snacks: Warm water, Coke, pretzels to go.
To Aid station 2 Back to single track. This time a really nice descent. Absolutely gorgeous views, and now we were sorting into smaller groups. This might have been the most pleasant stretch in the race. Once we were down in the holler, we were treated something out of Bob Ross’s dream journal. Frozen stream crossings, pretty little pine stands, and all around niceness. At the bottom, we came out on another paved road, and I ran this as hard as I dared to bank some more time. Came into the second aid station cold, but still in really good spirits. They had a fire going, which was tempting, but I didn’t trust myself to leave if I got too close.
Feeling chilly, but confident.
Snacks: water, Coke, M&Ms
To Aid Station 3: Out of the second aid station was the next nasty climb. Not as bad as the first, but pretty aggressive. This had the disadvantage of being a shadier climb, so the chill really started to set in now that I was moving slower. Still very pretty, though. At the top of the climb, it was back to the service road, were I tried to make up some more time. I think this is where I actually made the fastest mile of the entire race. Scenic and gentle downhills through here. The downside was that being at the top of a ridge left me very exposed to wind. My fingers were starting to be unhappy about that. Made it to the aid station, where they were pumping some jams, and had another roaring fire. Glorious. Warmed up as best I could and tried not to stay too long, despite how friendly and funny and welcoming the volunteers were.
Feeling cold, feeling the hills.
Snacks: Hot cocoa, HEED, more hot cocoa.
Back to start: This part was fun! All down hill single track! Wheeeee! Came through here pretty hot, all while tiny smart head voice was reminding me “you’re gonna need those quads for later”. I did not take that advice. I would regret that.
I got to the start feeling good, but reeeeeally apprehensive about having to do that whole thing over again. I felt concerned about the cold upon hearing that the temp was low enough that almost all the liquids at this aid station were frozen. they did mix me some slushy HEED on demand though, which was rad. The only thing that motivated me to actually get moving again was hearing that I had made my goal of finish loop one in about 3 hours. Spot on for time goals! I decided to reward myself by taking a few minutes to pee in the heated bathroom instead of saving it for the woods. Less efficient, but so worth it.
Loop two I was correct. The first climb sucked way harder the second time around. At this point I was also running solo, having lost sight of any other 50kers. I normally love the peace of finally running alone, but something about the possibility of freezing to death alone was really demotivating. I was feeling really rough around the edges by the time I got to the first aid station again. This was turned around with an infusion of hot cocoa and the news that I was the second female to come through. Good news! Sasquatch promised to hold up anyone else coming up behind me. I stuffed my pockets with potato chips, and fleetingly thought “why am I stuffing my pockets with chips? that was such a dumb idea”
The next decent felt shaky, but good. Happy feelings, unhappy quads. Unfortunately, this petered out by the time I made it back to the paved section. I knew I should be going hard here to make time, but the lower temps in the holler were really getting to me. Legs just refused to move quickly. My core temperature felt fine, but the muscles just felt like sludge. Dark thoughts started creeping in. Luckily, Aid station two appeared on the horizon. This time with more tater tots. I credit those tots and the chicken broth they gave me with saving my life. I also saw two runners at this station. They looked as sad as I felt, which gave me hope.
The next climb was bad. terrible. awful. I knew it would be. I was correct. It was cold. I was tired. I was praying just to make it off the godforsaken mountain with all my fingers intact. I was praying to just die on this godforsaken mountain quickly. For about 2 miles, the only coherent thoughts I had were “You have stupid fucking hobbies” and this scene on endless loop. I finally pulled into the last aid station and nearly cried tears of joy for more broth and hot cocoa. I ran into the two runners I saw at the last station, and another one caught up with us. solidarity. I plodded out with renewed hope that it would all be over soon.
Last descent was not awful, but I couldn’t go nearly as fast as the first time. I definitely needed those quads, I definitely did not save them. At one point, there were a few particularly steep meters were I had to drop my pride and my ass and butt scoot down the slope to keep from wiping out. Not my finest hour.
The last dash across the parking lot to the finish was extremely satisfying, because it was also a dash back to the heated bathrooms. I hobbled across and was met by the RD with a hug, a pair of socks, and a sweet painting for my second place win! It was definitely one of the more original trophies I’ve ever seen. Final time was 6:57, which was 1 minute over the time I was sure I could beat. I now regret taking the three minutes to pee between loops. It was disappointing, but I was so glad to be done and so surprised that I was the second female finisher that the disappointment didn’t stick.
I ate so much veggie soup, and schmoozed with other runners and volunteers. I pet a dog. It was good. I didn’t stick around too long, because I still had a 2 hour drive back home and I just wanted to be somewhere properly warm, but it was nice to get some warm food in my body.
For as much as I suffered, and was undertrained and over ambitious, this was a really well run race. The RD was great, the volunteers were incredible for sticking it out in the cold, and the swag was unusual and fun. I walked away with a homemade finishers “medal” made out of local wood and engraved with a sasquatch, a new Smartwool gaiter and a pair of socks, and of course my custom painting! It was a small, local event, and the masochist in me is already thinking of signing up next year (but maybe just the 25k!)