On February 2nd, 2007, just a little over eight months ago, I ran my first trail (race), the Woodside 17k. I was vaguely aware of the longer distanced runners out there, and felt like I was missing out in not continuing on past the aid station to the 35k loop. After the run, I stayed behind for hours, talking to runners about trail running and 50ks. They were all so nice and encouraging, and I started thinking about maybe doing my first 50k at Woodside in December of 2007. Surely 10 months would be enough time to get up to that distance.
However, I soon learned the addictiveness of trails. I started doing almost every PCTR even on the calendar that I could after that, and, after doing my first 30k at Pirate's Cove, decided to sign up for the Tahoe Rim Trail 50k. When that went well, it seemed like perhaps I could do a 50 miler this year, and so I signed up for one that I thought would be challenging but still doable, the Dick Collins Firetrails 50.
Now, completing a 50k was a huge accomplishment, and something I was (and am) very proud of, but it didn't necessarily feel that different from the marathon. Doing 50 miles seemed like something altogether different, and as the race approached, I started fearing that I wouldn't be able to do it. There were so many unknown variables and I was scared. Added to that, I hurt my calf muscle three weeks before the race on a training run, and even my last run, 2 miles on the Wednesday before the race, the calf was hurting and I walked part of it. If I couldn't do a comfortable 2 miles, how could I do 50? I really had no idea. When I talked about the race to people, I always tried to phrase it that I was going to try to run 5o miles, but I might not finish. I was afraid to get my hopes up.
To add to my worries, rain suddenly arrived the week before. Thursday night and Friday it poured, and, panicked, I sent an email out to the ultra list, asking about what to do in case of rain. I got lots of email from locals telling me that it wasn't going to rain and not to worry, as well as countless suggestions on what to do. One woman, Suzie Listers, made the incredibly generous offer of giving me a Montrail windbreaker she had but didn't use. Others also offered to let me borrow jackets. I'll never cease to be amazed by the generosity of runners.
Ed and I drove up Friday in a torrential downpour that made the freeway river-esque and frightening to drive, and had me doubting the promises of sun the next day. We did some last minute shopping (picked up a flashlight, a calf brace just in case, and some other goodies), got dinner (chipotle burritos) and watched A Race for the Soul to set the mood. I must have seen this movie 8 or 10 times, but its always good, and provided lots of inspiraton. Sarah came home about 9:30 and we went over the plans for tomorrow. Ed would go to Skyline Gate and Lone Oak, then go get Sarah, have lunch, and bring Sarah back to pace for me at mile 37. I was getting really excited (as well as nervous) at this point and didn't want to go to sleep, but my good friends convinced me otherwise. After a night of somewhat fitful sleep, it was soon 4am and time to get ready. I had a small bowl of yogurt with honey for breakfast, planning to eat more but forgetting to bring the pumpkin bread.
By 5 Ed and I were out the door. We needed change for parking, so stopped at Safeway, where we also got Ed some breakfast since I had forgotten to grab the pumpkin bread on the counter. I got a banana, but felt too sick to eat it. I decided to drive, since I knew the area better, and we soon arrived, right at 5:30, at Lake Chabot. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning, with amazing stars blazing overhead. In the dark everyone looked the same, and I thought I saw a familiar face. I went up to him. "Mike!" umm...no. I figured I might as well introduce myself. However, when I said I was Addy, he replied that he was Bsmiz! So I knew him after all :) Walking though the lot, I heard a familiar voice. It was Norbert and Harry! Soon after Mike went by telling me I had far too much energy for this early :) I was so nervous and excited I was talking far too much.
After checking in and making my first bathroom stop, I saw even more familiar faces. E-rod showed up, who I hadn't seen in ages, and we excitedly talked about being nervous for the race. Flora, Ernesto, and Laura were all there, as well as Michelle Barton, who I knew from my time in So Cal over the summer. I found Mike again and gave him a copy of the pacing chart I had made up (laminated and highlighted of course!) This was the most nervous I had I ever felt before a race and I was eager to just get started. I actually thought I was really going to throw up at one point, which was a whole new thing for me, but luckily held it together. I finally saw rick right before we were going to head down, and he gave me a few last minute words of advice. "Think of the first 19 miles as a nice easy training run. Take it slow, walk the hills, keep it relaxed. Then you're just doing a 50k, and you've done those before. But don't think of the 50k first!"
Keeping those words in mind, I said goodbye to Ed and headed down to the start. Suddenly, I was in a panic. I had lost Mike! With hundreds of runners all in the dark, I was freaking out. I called his name to no avail. Wandering around, now quietly, as race instructions were being given, I looked into the faces of runners. Finally in the dim light I saw Flora. We wished each other luck and I asked if she knew where Mike was. She pointed to the side and I went that way, finding him. Thank Goodness! With just a few seconds to start, I quickly retied my shoe, and then we headed off. Immediately I took note that my calf felt okay. Phew! The early morning light was beautiful as the fog settled over the lake, and we started off at a good pace.It felt like it was pushing a bit for me, and during some of the climbs I fell behind Mike and Laura (who was running with us) but once we reached the first aid station, Mike hung back to stay with me. I was just afraid of pushing too much too soon. We still had a long ways to go.
Ed's photo of the lake in the morning, once it had gotten light. We saw it up from above, which was beautiful!
Ed's photo of the lake in the morning, once it had gotten light. We saw it up from above, which was beautiful!
The sunrise was absolutely spectacular that morning, and I was so happy to be out there. Now that we had started, my stomach felt much better, so I made sure to eat some at the first aid station. We were doing great, about 10 minutes in front of the 11:30 finish time pace, my goal for the outbound section. I met so many runners throughout the whole race. Mike, of course, seems to know almost everyone, and introduced me to all his friends, letting them know it was my first race. I got to meet lots of the people who had responded to either my email about the Firetrails race reports, or to my one about the rain ("are you the rain girl?" was a common question of the day :). Aid station two went by and we were still doing a good pace, though it felt like faster than what I had imagined we'd be doing. "Mike knows what he's doing" I thought to myself, and just made sure to stick with him. Getting to Big Bear aid station (mile 10.5) was exciting because I knew after that we'd be at Skyline, where Ed would be waiting. Running through Redwood park was beautiful, and reminded me a lot of Santa Cruz. There was a bit of climbing in this section, though, and my legs were getting a little tired, which worried me. But, no use thinking about that now!
Arriving at the Siblely was exciting because I realized that I had run our exact route before on a transports evening run. Of course, when I had done it then, I got exhausted after 2 miles out and turned back early. I obviously didn't have that option this time, so I hoped it would seem easier. It was starting to get a little warm, though we still had lots of shade for the first half. However, with that shade came...MUD!!!! thick, goopy, slippery mud that stuck to your shoes and tried to steal your shoes. It made for some slow going, but luckily was only about 3/4 of a mile. After we crossed the road, we started the switchback climbs uphill, which I remembered as being hard. They still were, but didn't go on for that long. And soon enough, we were at the steam trains! I had run most of this section too, both on my own, and at Mike's 50k. We started seeing lots more 50 milers on the way back which was super inspiring. I got to meet, in passing, Mark Tanaka, which was really cool, as well as Donald, and many others. All my friends were looking super strong and doing great, which was exciting. This section seemed like it was taking forever, I think because we were nearing the turn around and I knew we'd have to climb back up out of all of this in the not too distant future.
Leaving lone oak, I fell behind mike by 20 ft or so, a distance I kept for most of the uphill sections. The uphill actually felt quicker than coming down, which was nice. It was hard, but I knew it would be the toughest section, so I was okay. I was still worried about the Sibley and Huckleberry sections but pushed those out of my mind for the time being. As we came down into the Steam Trains at mile 30, Mike turned to me and said, I think if you push you could break 12. I responded by essentially saying, I don't care! I'm perfectly happy being DFL. As long as I finish, I couldn't care less about my time. I honestly don't even want to break 12, because that'll be hard and I'm already tired. I don't know that I actually said all of that, but I was certaintly thinking it.
Mike was great because miles 26-37 I started getting tired and he kept me going. I had lots of mental conversations with myself and to Mike, like "Mike, this is called a hill! Why are you running? We aren't supposed to run up hills? I don't feel like running any more..." and towards myself, "could you honestly go back to your little first graders and tell them you just got tired? that achieving a goal isn't important?" and finally "at least you still don't feel as badly as you did that first mile of Diablo three weeks ago! That whole run you felt like crap and you still did a marathon. You have less than that mileage to do now and you feel better than you did then. You'll be fine". It was also good because Mike continued to tell people we passed that his was my first 50, to which they often responded "well you look great! Good ahead and pass us" to which I wanted to respond "I don't want to pass you! I'm tired!" But, I just smiled and pushed the pace. Mike knows what he's doing.
Drinking my Ensure and getting all set for the last 11 miles with the help of my amazing crew/boyfriendFinally finally finally, we reached Skyline, at mile 37. I released Mike here and got my official pacer, my friend Sarah. I was feeling queasy again, so tried out this ginger drink made by the ginger people. Sometimes those ginger chews are hard to swallow, so this was a good alternative. I also had some cookies and some Ensure. It was so nice to see Ed and Sarah, and to know I was going to have new energy with me. I was dallying a little and a man (who I do know, but have forgotten his name) said, "Okay Addy, get out of here!"
Off we went. My stomach was still a little questionable, so I backed off the pace a bit, which was nice. I felt like I could really just do my pace now, instead of trying to keep with Mike (which, while being a really really good thing, in terms of keeping me going, was really tiring). I walked a little more, and started regaining some energy. Sarah also had her garmin on, which was great. She could tell me exactly how far we had gone since the last aid station, and how far it was to the next. She told me we were on a 12 hour pace right now and asked if her pacer duties meant she should push me to keep that or just let me do my thing. I explained that I didn't want to break 12, so just let me walk. We kept pretty steady through this section, and really enjoyed the redwoods.
[Now, I'll stop here for an interjection on my odd fluid intake in this race. I was warned by countless people to take in enough water, and as I generally don't do that, I was being super cautious. I felt like I was drinking enough, but didn't go the bathroom until Lone Oak, and not much there. Hmm... so I got better and tried to do 2 bottles between each aid station. With all the climbing that wasn't hard to do. However, after leaving the Steam Trains, I then had the odd change of suddenly having to go ALL THE TIME! I must have gone 6 or 7 times that second half. So suddenly I was overhydrated, but still thirsty and with a headache. I asked Rick about that later and he thinks the headache was from a lack of salt. I did do the potatoes in salt as well as succeed, but I guess I need to be better about that]
So, during this redwood section, I stopped for the bathroom. I ran with a nice man for a while, who I kept catching and then losing because of these frequent bathroom stops, who told me that unless something went wrong, we were going to finish, it was just a question of time. And, at our pace, we were looking at 12:15. Fabulous! I picked up the pace a little, as I was feeling good (and had had an espresso gu) feeling more motivated.
It was an odd sensation to be passing people, but passing we were. My legs were feeling much better than I thought they'd be feeling, and the hills weren't as bad as I was fearing. I did lots of running in spurts (to the big tree, to the shade, etc.). It was turning into a perfect evening. It was also fun to run with Sarah again, since we hadn't done that in a few months. I had her stand guard for me for my bathroom stops, and call out mileage. She informed me at Big Bear that we were actually right on track for the 12 hour finish, based on my pacing chart. Really? Hmm...
I kept catching and losing a man named Chuck as well, who I reintroduced myself to before I realized we had actually met around mile 8. That seemed like so long ago! He would get ahead at aid stations, because I took a bit longer, but then I'd catch up within a mile or so. He commented that we were impossible to lose! Finally, around 4 from the end, he said, "You can smell the barn now, can't you?" I could indeed. It had been a fun race, but I was ready to be done.
I was really running now, and soon we were to the lake. I caught up to a man who told me that we should be able to break 12 hours. We could see the dam, and from there, it wasn't much further. I tried to push, but the hills still slowed me to a walk. Sarah told me we'd still be on pace if I walked though, so I shouldn't tire myself out too much. I pushed though, and ran the smaller hills. I know I said I didn't want 12, but now it was only 3 miles away and very achievable. After we crossed the dam, it was a mere 1.5 miles away. I passed another 4 or 5 people in this last section, trying to pick it up more and more and cheering with each quarter mile achieved, marked out on the asphalt. Soon, someone said that it was just around the corner, and when I reached the cones to go left. I was getting really excited. Sarah told me she'd pull to the side when we got there. Before I knew it, I could see the finish. "Lets go!" I yelled, as I kicked it up to a sprint. I heard everyone cheering as I gave it everything I had, smiling my biggest smile and moving my legs as fast as I could. It felt like hundreds of people were cheering for me and I burst across the finish line absolutely on top of the world. Ann Trason congratulated me, saying, number 22, and I bet she's 22! I confirmed :)
Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would have finished my first 50 miler in less than 12 hours, or have run so hard for the last 10.
None of this could have been at all possible without all my amazing friends and family. My family because they have been so supportive of this whole ultra running thing, despite being caring and concerned about this trail running sport. They couldn't be there but were definitely there in spirit and their support really means the world to me. I had so many great friends who helped make this a success as well. Mike Palmer, first, because he took me on my first long trail run on Mt Tam, introduced me to the trail running community in the East Bay, and kept me going for those first 37 miles. Sarah, because she's been a huge inspiration as well as amazing friend since we started running together in April (I think?). She let Ed and I stay at her place this weekend, was an amazing pacer, and has just been such a positive and wonderful force in my life since we've met. Ed, for being a fabulous crew, waking up at 4:30 in the morning to wait around and cater to me all day long, without any of the glory of running himself. He was just so amazing and wonderful this weekend, dealing with my frazzled nerves and constant requests, for which I'm hugely appreciative.
And finally, all the other amazing running friends I have that were there, Rick, E-Rod, Ernesto, Flora, Norbert, (and others that I'm forgetting!) as well as all the new ones that I made out there. All the encouragement from everyone out there made such a difference, and is one of the many reasons why events like these are so much fun. And, of course, a huge thank you to the volunteers and Ann and Carl, for running and putting on such a fabulous and wonderful event. I hope to be back for many years to come :)
I'm not sure what's next for me, but I can say with certainty that there will be lots more ultras in my future :D Thanks for anyone who read this whole thing! And thanks for the constant encouragement on here. All you guys kept me sane when I was freaking out about doing this, and have all taught me so much. Thanks for helping get me to the finish!