Saturday I attempted to run my second 50 miler, the Bel Monte in Love, Virginia. Training for this had not been ideal with my last long training run of 24 road miles having been on 9 January from which I developed tendinitis in my lower hamstring, located behind my right knee. Then three weeks before the race I developed tendinitis in my left big toe knuckle which pulled on the tendon in my arch, causing my pain threshold to be tested. Not being able to run more than 12-15 miles in the two months before this race and barely any running three weeks prior, I was nowhere near confident in my ability to complete 50 miles safely. I was going to give it a shot anyway.
Except I got there Friday afternoon and just wasn’t feelin’ it, like at all.
My friend, her husband, and I set up camp, got everything situated, checked in and picked up our bibs. Cooked and ate dinner. Said hello to other runners setting up camp. Then went to bed.
I still didn’t feel right about the race, the confidence was not materializing. I was worried about my left foot given it had not allowed me to run even three miles a full week before. I knew I did not have an adequate mileage base and that was also giving my confidence a hit. Then there’s that dreaded phrase no ultra runner wants to ever consider: the DNF or Did Not Finish.
Friend C found me at the start; seeing a familiar face gave me a lift and suddenly the distance felt a little less lonely. We got separated at the water stop and found each other again at the first aide station, Camp Marty. On the way there I had made the decision to drop to the 50k. When I saw Friend C, I told him of the change and I immediately knew that was the right choice.
Then I surveyed the table of food and saw absolutely nothing I wanted nor could eat. I trained with bananas and grapes, not M&Ms, pretzels, skittles, Oreo’s, saltines, Nutella on Oreo’s, etc. There were oranges, but none cut up for easy grabbing. I filled my bladder with Cliff Electrolyte mix, looked at the table again and, spotting the open jar of peanut butter, used both index fingers to scoop gigantic gobs to eat on the way down.
Downhill was probably the best part of the whole race. I chatted with Friend C as we turned a corner and started down. Next thing I knew I was flying and it was awesome. We had climbed about 2150′ and were descending 3100′ in only one mile instead of the three it took to get up. I put my arms out and let my feet do all the dancing. It was spectacular.
Once down the hill and settled, the trail was flat and windy for another large amount of mileage. I did not wear my watch for this race and you know what, I think I will leave my watch behind for future races as well. I had no idea how far I had gone or had left to go, I just ran and it was glorious. That could have also been because I now knew I was only running 31 miles as opposed to 50. In much the same way your body can bust out a speedy half marathon after having run several full marathons, I had already run 50 miles so knew 30 would be cake. I remember thinking something along the lines of, “It’s on now motha fuckas!”
So when you are passing a string of people on the right and you trip over something, I’m pretty sure it was a branch, and have an epic wipe out in front of all those people. That was the best fall I think I have ever had, landing on both knees and skidding to a stop on all fours. I sat on my heels, threw my head back and laughed. The guy who stopped to help me up said, “And she laughs.” I said, “What else can you do when you wipe out so epically when trying to pass?” He checked to make sure I was okay and off I went again.
I was jamming and so pumped ready and excited. I love running in the woods and climbing mountains. In several places the tree line opened to views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Had I not been in a race, I would have stopped to admire the impressive beauty of it all. It was breathtaking.
When I got to the Turkey Pen aide station, I still felt good. I grabbed a slice of cheese and two chunks of orange and set off for the next aide station 3.5 miles away, also the turnaround for the 50k. Turns out that was mile 17.5, ultrarunners love bonus miles, right? I filled up my bladder, grabbed another slice of cheese, ate 2 chunks of potato lightly dipped in salt, stashed more oranges in my pockets and set off to return the way I had come.
And that’s when the wheels came off.
I knew my quads were tight from that downhill. In fact, as I was running down, I remember thinking I was going to pay for it later. Before the race, I had done a lot of incline training on the treadmill, but nowhere around here can you practice running downhill for more than half a mile at a time. I had to trust that everything was strong enough and it would even out.
Well, tight quads and undertrained legs mean ITBs that blow up around mile 18. Both of them. In each knee.
So I did the run walk thing back to Turkey Pen where I informed the woman working that station I would have drop. Saying that out loud fucking sucked. I walked away from the incoming runners and paced. I cried. I wished I had my phone so I could call a friend to talk it out with me. I cried some more.
I was doing so fucking well! I was jammin’! I was going to complete my first 50k! I was looking forward to climbing that mountain again and running down without the continuous line of slow pokes in front of me! My mind needed that long run so fucking bad!
But your body always knows what it needs, you just gotta listen. And so I dropped out of the race.
I got my first…
This race taught me I’ve gotten even stronger since my first 50m on Iron Mountain. I knew after that run what I needed to do to train my body better and I did exactly those things. I was able to zip right up that mountain on Saturday, passing runners by the dozens. It was a euphoric feeling, the strength of my legs carry me up and back down.
I will find redemption in September at Iron Mountain, the race that sings my siren song. I know what I am now capable of pushing myself to do so I’m ready to conquer the IMTR 50m course again and this time as a faster stronger experienced ultrarunner.