Aloha poor neglected running blog. I return to you with several more miles on these ol’ gams and a medal around my neck after completing my first ultramarathon!
I think a good place to start this post race write up is explaining how I even got the idea to tackle running an ultra. Well, as with all things running in my life, enter Mr. Runwithgarrison. Michael has always believed I had the ability to run even though I wasn’t necessarily “an athlete” or “a runner” and has always encouraged me to sign up for races. The road to my first and only marathon, in April 2013, was brutal but also deeply gratifying (you can read about it here). I won’t go into specifics, suffice to say running and anemia do not go together well.
After the marathon, I didn’t have any big goals in terms of running. I was looking forward to having some healthy runs without the pressure of anything big looming on the horizon. Running was starting to look different-happy even- in my post anemic world. Unfortunately, I got into a bike accident, hurling myself into a ditch (operator error) which, combined with being sidelined for a while after the marathon lead to some awful knee issues. It took some rehab and becoming friendly with the foam roller to get back to running anything over 3 mi. It wasn’t until the late fall/early winter that I began running truly healthy.
In January, Michael was gearing up for the HURT 100 (one of the hardest ultras) and I was feeling better about my ability to complete longer runs. I started tagging along on his training runs and was slowly building confidence with the runs. Around this time Michael and I started to plan a trip to the east coast in June to see folks post wedding and we thought it would be a good time for me to do a 50k. When I spoke to my brother about it, he too drank the ultra Kool-Aid and began training. Thus, the ultra plan was solidified, brother and I running our first ultra (50k) and Michael running a 50 miler (overachiever) in June 2014!
January to May was a blur of wedding, running and working. Unlike my marathon training plan which I stuck to religiously, I followed my 50k plan loosely. I got into a good rhythm of running home a few days a week and got in some nice long runs on the weekends. I had a few shaky long runs in the beginning but got that under control rather quickly by fueling up better and going back on the iron supplements. I felt better going into the 50k than the marathon even though I’d put in less miles during this training.
Onto the race report!
So, I don’t travel well. Ever. I don’t sleep in moving things (planes, cars, trains, etc). And apparently I don’t sleep in non-moving things that aren’t on Hawaii time. I’m not sure how I overlooked all of these facts in planning my first ultramarathon, but indeed I did. As Michael and I trekked from Hawaii to the east coast, I somehow thought 4 days would be sufficient to acclimate to the time. My body however, thought that sleeping every other night was a better idea. I was pretty exhausted by the time we made it to DC (we had a stopover for a few days in NY). The running trio (Michael, brother and I) got in two short runs before the race day (June 7th), one of them being on the trails we’d be running on for the race. I felt tired but confident I could finish the race given the 9 hour cutoff time.
We had a great plan on race day. Michael’s 50 miler started at 5 am and our 50k started 2 hours later. The plan was to get a good night’s sleep, load up brother’s Westfalia with race essentials, head out to the start/finish about 3:30 am, send Michael off on his run and nap before our 7 am start time. What actually happened was quite different. I got no sleep the night before the race. I Googled running a 50k on no sleep. I contributed to the minimal sleep Michael got the night before the race. I left my iPod behind making us turn back en route to race start to get it. This delay made my brother floor it in the Westfalia which may or may not have caused a belt to snap rendering Westy useless and smoking on the side of the road at 4:15 am.
If I had my way that’s probably how the race would have ended. I was so sleep deprived and my spirit had waned so much that I felt defeated before the run even started. When Westy decided she’d had enough and we got everyone out of the van safely, our next priority was to get Michael to the start line about 5 miles away. We finally flagged down a cab to do the job and brother and I stayed behind with the van and gear. We started pushing and rolling her out of the way of the highway on ramp and were thrilled when a nice man pulled over and offered to tow us to a parking lot he knew was safe. He also gave us a ride, gear boxes and all to the race start so that we could see Michael start his 50 miler. As great as that moment was, knowing we had made it despite the obstacles, I was in my head too much about the race. Brother and I still had 2 hours to sit around and, with Westy gone, it was colder and less comfy than I’d like. Another nice gentlemen at the race gave us plywood so we could set up our gear boxes and sit on top of them drinking hot water with Sktrach labs drink mix (I highly recommend this on cold race mornings). Brother did a great job being an optimist and keeping me motivated when I was such a Debbie Downer I could hardly stand being around myself. As we lined up behind the start line I knew I had to try, it was okay not to make it, but I couldn’t just walk off to be a spectator especially since I’d told Michael I’d see him on the trails. After some last motivational words from brother we were off to run our first 50k!
The run started off well, I was distracted watching where I was going and passing some runners. Brother and I didn’t have any plans to stay together and said we’d run our own races, however we were running a pace that was comfortable to both of us so we just cruised along. Things were going so well, I’d even forgotten that I’d pulled an all-nighter. A few miles into the race there was a river to cross which I did an excellent job falling right into. Nothing was broken so we pushed on, although I knew the silt settling in my socks was going to catch up with me at some point. Just a few miles after that, a runner in front of brother pushed a dead tree over which, as it started falling, broke in half and landed on brother. He crumpled to the ground. We got the tree off of him, found his glasses and really just kept on going. I was worried he’d been injured, especially once he started bleeding from the back of his head. At that point there wasn’t much we could do but press on to the next aid station where we could get to a medical tent. When we got to that aid station, brother stayed behind and I kept going hoping he’d be okay and would catch up with me along the course. The aid station at mile 13.1/19 (the race was mostly an out and back) was the only one with crewing allowed and we had family & friends supporting us there. I figured if brother couldn’t continue anymore he’d probably be taken there, so if I didn’t see him there it was a good sign that he was okay and still on the course. As I came into the aid station, I didn’t see brother and figured he’d be okay. I waved to family/friends but didn’t want to stop and make anyone worry about brother. Instead of leaving them with the uncertainty of his status, I just told them he was behind me and that I’d see them at mile 19. About mile 15-16 brother chased me down and we trucked along through the turnaround which is where we caught our first glimpse of Michael, already 30+ miles into his run. Just the jolt of motivation I needed.
We kept trucking along, riding the high of seeing friends/family at mile 19 as long as we could, our run slowly turning into a shuffle and our uphills morphing into a hike. My Garmin died around mile 24 and it was difficult not knowing how much farther there was to go. Miles 25 to 28 or so were pretty rough with more walking than running, the blisters on the feet were getting hard to ignore, although I was happy not to have any deep muscle pains or cramps. I tried to keep my head from paying attention to every step and looked for other things to think about. We celebrated mini victories on the trails including brother surpassing his longest distance ever run (18 mi) as well as the completion of his first marathon on course. Around mile 28 we found Michael again and I caught a fourth or fifth wind and paced us (shuffled us) along another 2 miles or so without a walk break. It was incredible being out there on those trails with two men I admire so much. We thought at that point, so close to the finish line that we’d be lucky enough to finish together, but 1.6 miles from the 50k finish Michael was sent for another 3 mile loop. It was hard on me and I know it crushed Michael… even an ultramarathoner is upset at running another 3 miles when he has his mind set on 1.6 miles to finish. We did our best to keep our spirits up and brother and I agreed to walk for one mile as long as we ran the last .6 miles into the finish. The last .6 miles was the best part of the race, knowing that the end is near, that the road to get here, as hard, uncomfortable and anxiety ridden as it had been, was worth it. We crossed the finish line in over 6 hours and hung out at the finish to watch Michael finish in under 9 hours.
We celebrated with some friends and family at the finish, got some much needed beer and food, and made our way back home to get cleaned up. Michael and I were stoked about completing the race and were looking forward to a couple of beers at a local bar to wind down the day and celebrate our finishes. Instead, we walked into the local bar to find a bunch of our family and friends from all over who’d gathered to throw us a surprise wedding/ultra finish party. After the initial shock, we did our best to take everything in, still trying to figure out how my incredibly resourceful family located our friends- a true feat considering neither one of us is on Facebook. We had an amazing time catching up with everyone, it’s a night we won’t ever forget. I’m not eloquent enough to accurately write how I felt that night but Michael hit the nail on the head when he said the following day that if I ever felt unloved I should think about that night. He’s right, we felt absolutely loved. We spent the Sunday catching up with some more friends and family with a relaxing bar-b-que and took the time to revel in the completion of the run and reflect on how amazing this trip had been.
I want to thank everyone for everything they did for us to make our trip so special-from supporting us at the race to celebrating with us over the entire weekend; My wonderful family (including our extended Long Island family that made the trip down!), my mom who’s my hero and for whom I was running for in my heart, my siblings (including my sibling-in-law) who’ve always made my life more interesting in the best way and apparently now more paranoid, our freaking amazing friends who traveled from afar, ditched their kids/pets, lied to us, and even showed up to rally two days before a due date (yes-as in pregnancy) all just for us. For everyone that was contacted, sometimes incessantly, by my family about this gathering we apologize and want to say we don’t plan on remarrying anytime soon so this should cover it for eternity.
Thanks all for tuning in!
❤ Mrs. Runwithgarrison