It’s been just over a week now since Nat and I finished our first 50miler and I think it still hasn’t hit me yet that I physically ran that far! I just keep thinking 50miles/80km…I actually ran that…on my own two feet….WHAT?! I think it just keeps reminding me that you are so much stronger than you think you are! I never would have thought I could run that distance, even on the morning of the race I was having SO many doubts about how it would go. I knew it would take a lot for me to quit, but I had no idea what mental and physical challenges were going to come my way that day and I had no idea if my training had prepared me to handle them!
Ignorance is Bliss….
Nat and I set out on our 12hour drive to Ashland, OR in the early hours ofThursday morning. Our drive down was pretty seamless…we snap chatted, took a million pee breaks (actually 12, but whose counting) and talked about what we thought the race would be like. So far so good right? Well yes, but as I said, ignorance is bliss!
During our training we had been so concerned with the weather and heat on race day that we hadn’t really considered the starting elevation of Mount Ashland #oops It turns out (when we decided to google it after the race) that Mt. Ashland’s elevation at the ski lodge where the race started is 6,500ft/1,981m; which for us sea-level runners is REALLY noticeable! In our training we had climbed up to that elevation, but we hadn’t spent a lot of time at that altitude let alone started a run from that elevation! AND because of the elevation, it was actually 10 degrees cooler and the heat was negligible. Note to self: GOOGLE THAT S*$T PRE-RACE NOT POST!
On with the race…
Our race started bright and early at 6am, so we got there at around 5:30am to pick up our bibs and timing chips and then hung out in the port-o-potties line up (as you do) until it was go time. At 6am the gun went off and we set out through the Ski Lodge parking lot for the first mile before connecting to the Pacific Crest Trail. The first few miles were all about admiring the sunrise views of Mount Shasta, getting in front or behind the right-paced people on the single track trail, and shaking out the initial pre-race jitters. Mile 4 is when I first started to question the possibility of altitude. Normally it takes me about 2-3 miles to settle in and get comfortable, but by mile 4 I was still feeling slightly short of breath. I thought at first it was anxiety or nerves, but after about 10 more minutes of feeling this way I started to question the elevation. I didn’t want to say anything to Nat, but I was definitely feeling the effects of the thinner air! Eventually, by around mile 6 or 7 I started to relax and find my legs and my lungs and I settled into cruise control for the next 6 miles.
Embrace the suck!
I knew going into this that there were going to be some dark moments, and I’d mentally prepared for them to come. I had been saying before hand, “I just want to make it to 30-40km/20-25mi and feel good!” Well, that didn’t quite happen. At around mile 13-15 we started a slightly rolling section of the course with a gradual uphill climb. It wasn’t particularly steep, but it was enough that my hiking pace felt fairly equal to my uphill-running pace so I opted to hike it out. I was in the front for this section and was feeling like I was holding Nat back. After about 1/2 a mile I remember asking her if the pace was okay, and she was like “oh yeah, 100%”…which made me feel better that we were both riding the struggle bus together. At the end of this section we got to the 15 mile aid station at Jackson Gap where our drop bags were being kept. Here we changed our shoes, re-fueled our packs and got back on the trail, and as soon as we started up again I felt like a new women! I think thats when I realized, as quickly as the crappy moments come on, they can go away just as fast and I’m going to have to EMBRACE THE SUCK!
Miles 15-22 ticked by and I felt pretty good. This part of the course was filled with flat sections through the meadows and covered downhill sections through the trees. At mile 18’ish we crossed into California, which gave me a burst of energy that we’d made it across state lines. At mile 22 we arrived at an aid station where they told us we had to run 3 miles out to get a key from the mad hatter (they were going for an Alice in Wonderland theme) and then come back to return it to them. I was feeling pumped as we left the aid station because I knew we were almost half-way, BUT as we headed out for our key, we quickly realized the next 3 miles were up, up up! So we put our heads down and power hiked our way to the half-way point. I think the only thing that kept me sane for this section was knowing we got to run the next 3 miles down! At the end of a steep climb we grabbed our key, took in the beautiful view and took off! We bombed it back down hill to the aid station smiling and feeling pretty awesome that we were on our way back.
At mile 28 we delivered the key and started up a long uphill section for the next 6 miles. Pretty soon after we started climbing I started to feel nauseous. It started off as mild and got worse and worse as the climb went on. I got really quiet at this point and remember weighing my options of the pros and cons of throwing up, but all I kept thinking was that if I start vomiting it was game over for me. This for me was the darkest point of the entire race and all that I focused on was trying to stay with Nat as she was leading us through this section. At mile 35 we hit the aid station at Jacksons Gap again, re-fueled our packs, dumped ice on our heads and re-grouped. I chugged some Nuun that I had in my drop bag and I think it saved me! When we headed back out again my nausea was gone and I felt ready to tackle the last 15 miles…like I said embrace the suck!
The end is near!
The last 10 miles of the course for me was a mix physically, mentally and emotionally. At that point everything was tired, I was sick of eating all the fuel I’d packed and all I wanted to do was lie down; but surprisingly I still felt pretty strong mentally. As much as I just wanted to be done, I knew we were going to finish and I felt so incredibly proud of us and how we had done so far! All I can describe it as is that I was at total peace with the fact that I would finish feeling that I had gave it my all and ran a strong race. I really wasn’t too concerned with how much longer I had out on the course at that point. I had no doubt that I could do it at that point, which with so much self-doubt leading up to it was a very empowering feeling.
In the last 1/4 mile climb to the parking lot off of the PCT trail, Nat took off up the hill looking SO strong. I didn’t feel like I could keep up with her so I power hiked up trying to keep her in my view and cheering for her to keep going, but when she got to the top she turned back and waited for me. When I got there she told me she wouldn’t cross the line without me and I immediately I started to tear up. I sucked back the pre-finish line tears and we took off sprinting through the parking lot fuelled by the cheering crowd and the last bit of energy we had left. With 100m to go we grabbed each others hand and crossed the finish line together in 9:59:10, placing 4th and 5th female overall and 1st and 2nd in our age group, which was totally unexpected!
Find your strong!
Now that i’s all done and dusted, I still can’t believe we did it! Some people have asked me if I’m done running that far, if I’ll do it again or if I’ll go further; and to be honest I have no idea…never say never right?! But if that’s the furthest I ever run and I never run it again, I couldn’t be more happy with how it went and that I got to experience the whole thing with Nat. I know now more than ever that I can do anything I put my mind to and that I am mentally, physically and emotionally stronger than I ever imagined I was!