I’m walking a little funny today. Feeling extremely hungry. Have heat rash in various places on my body. I’m pretty tired. And yet, I couldn’t be happier on a Monday.
This weekend I participated in the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 miler on Saturday along with many of my favorite ultra running friends (congrats to Jenny Maier, Maria Sharoglozava, Jessi Goldstein, Levi Goltz and Debbie Heard on fantastic finishes this weekend!!) and then went standup paddleboarding in Sausalito on Sunday with #BellaThePoodle (SUP turned out to be a surprisingly great recovery activity!)…
Anyway, back to the race…
This year marks my 5th year completing the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Miler and I came in with a time of 9:41 (resulting in 4th female in my age group, 10th female overall and 54th place overall). And while it wasn’t my best year time wise (PR’ed in 2009 with a time of 9:23), looking back I realize just how much I’ve learned and gained as a runner.
I can still remember the first time I did the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Miler. It was October 7, 2006 and I was 23 years old (no need to do the math). It was my very first ultra and I had no idea what I was doing. I got to the start line wearing a tank top, shorts and a hat and carrying only a small hand-bottle filled with water and a few salt tabs. I had no drop bag, no fuel and no real plan. I figured I’d just get out there and run the damn thing. I had a bunch of friends committed to coming out to cheer me on, another friend who was stupid (er, I mean lucky?) enough to pace me for the final 25 and a lot of determination.
My first ever ultra marathon….
I remember getting to the turnaround fast – in about 4 hours – and then a few miles later realizing that I had just run farther than I ever had before (my longest run had been a 30ish mile training run prior to that) and still had about 20 miles to go. I can vividly remember getting to mile 43 or so. I was so close to the finish, yet still so far. My legs were so crampy and tight, each step was becoming harder and harder. The hills were mocking me…downhill, uphill…it didn’t matter, it all sucked. I held back tears, tried to exchange jokes with my pacer and walked almost every opportunity I got. I remember having a terrible burning feeling in my stomach for most of the second half of the race (also known as dehydration and hunger — HA!) and trying to breathe through it. I remember the miles dragging on and on and on….when I was crossing the damn and had less than two to go, it felt like 10. And then the finish line was there — right in front of me — and I shot through it, sprinting with whatever energy I still had left for a finish time of 10:25. I remember it being the best feeling. I laid in the grass, enjoyed a beer, and relished in my accomplishment…already scheming and planning my next race.
Thinking back, I realize that in the 8 years since I first completed the course, I have come a long way as a runner:
I show up prepared (maybe even over prepared): I wore a Nathan hydration pack with plenty of water to get me through the miles and the heat of the day – packed with nutrition, salt tabs and other essentials (cookies and wet wipes, naturally). I also had a drop bag with fresh clothes, food and even a change of shoes.
I train (and race more!): When I ran my first ultra, I ran mainly on the weekends and maybe once during the week. I did a little bit of yoga and barely even scratched the surface when it came to any form of strength training. When I hit those last 7 miles, its no wonder my legs wanted to give out on me. And no surprise I could barely walk for a week after. Now I run with a group during the week, try to fit in a longer trail runs on the weekends and strength train and practice yoga consistently – helping my legs (and body!) put in the miles and recover more quickly.
I have a race strategy: I checked the weather forecast the days leading up to the race not only to ensure I had the right clothing but also to plan how I would run on race day. Given the forecast called for heat and humidity, I decided to give myself a running start. I’m usually more conservative when starting a race – I tend to like to go slower in the beginning to make sure I have enough steam to get me through the end – but because I knew that the longest, hardest climbs were miles 21-30something, I wanted to get them done before the heat of the day really kicked in. I made it through the turnaround in 4:37 (which was just fast enough but not so fast that my legs gave up on me in the last 10 miles).
I lean on friends more!: Since this particular course is so close to home (and my birthday), I managed to get a small handful of friends and family to join me at the finish line. I also managed to sucker my husband into pacing me for the final 13 miles. But I didn’t have a crew following me around from aid station to aid station. Instead, I fed off the energy of all the amazing runner friends I knew out on the course and those supporting runners at each aid station. At nearly every aid station, I ran into someone I knew – whether volunteering, cheering or pacing other runners – and it helped keep me in a good mental state throughout the race.
I am better at managing my lows (and embracing the highs): After you’ve done enough races, the lows just never seem as low. And when you do get low, you learn how to manage them. I’m not gonna lie, I had a few lows during the day on Saturday. I took a pretty bad spill – basically superman style skidding down the hill – banged up my knee and hands. It felt pretty shitty and definitely set me back for a few miles as I had to walk off the pain in my right knee. I held back tears and played a game with myself. I set a goal for the number of steps I would allow myself to walk it off and then I’d be running again. It helped me focus, get over it and keep on keeping on. I basically used my numbers game to get me across the finish line – I had developed a counting rhythm in my head that seemed to be helping me breathe deeper, put one foot in front of the other and stay motivated…so I went with it. Counting….weird, I know!
I’m less salty: I used to finish ultras sheet white – caked in salt from head to toe – I used to assume I was just an extra salty person. Now I take salt tabs more frequently, hydrate better and even mix in sports drinks at aid stations.
My race gear:
- Socks: Balega Second Skin
- Hat: I wore the Arcteryx Accelero Hat for the first time ever. It has a nice fit, kept my head dry and protected me from the sun. I generally hate wearing hats but this one is pretty good and lightweight (and great for someone with a huge head!)
- Hydration: I used TailWind Nutrition’s flavorless drink mix in my pack to keep me hydrated and energized. I love it because I can mix it into my pack and it’s like drinking water with added benefits (I can’t stand overly flavored drink mixes for all day use)
Post Race Gear:
As this will likely be my last (or nearly last) big race of the year, I think I can safely say that 2014 was the year I truly learned how to run. And I owe it all to my amazing friends in the running community, a couple DNFs, and my amazing SweatPink family, of course!