It started out a morning, a cold morning, the moon shining bright. The crisp air was a tad bit too crisp, it was a warm (insert sarcasm) 22 degrees at start time. The sun rose quickly over the park as about 100 people or so were waiting to embark on a journey a lot of us had never conquered, and believe me, it was something to conquer.
Dan, the race coordinator, asked for a show of hands who was running an ultra for the first time, many hands went up, including mine. Surprisingly I was not nervous, I was excited. Excited to begin a new challenge, a new adventure, and to prove someone wrong, my father. In an older post I wrote about our conversation at Christmas where he asked me if I quit during a particular race. My response, (I controlled myself really well because in all honesty I wanted to crawl across the table and punch him) was that I don't quit.
And though, dear god, I wanted to quit so many times during that race, because I was tired, there was no way in hell I would. I had to prove him wrong and I did.
Saturday morning, my mother in law and Nik accompanied me to the race. It was cold as I mentioned before, a bonfire was blazing as we parked and walked to the finish line. The warmth it put off was much appreciated. Familiar faces started to appear, William Schmitz, Greg Howell or Coach G as I refer to him, and Jim Morris. William and Greg were racing, Jim volunteering. My best friend Lori was meeting me at the midway point to run with me through the last half. She and her husband, Greg showed up a couple hours after the start, thank god.
The National Anthem was played by Dan's son, and Slash style rendition on an electric guitar. Though non-traditional, a lump still formed in my throat. The sun was beginning to rise, the darkness to brighten and the cold was lingering. It was almost start time. There was a 10 hour cut off. It was the beginning of a very long, but fantastic day, one that will not be forgotten soon.
As the race began that morning, I could not possibly fathom the events of the day. It was a distance I had never been, and the tale tell wall of mile 20, the taboo of races, will I hit, will I not, stayed in the back of my mind. Then the reality hit that I had about 11-12 miles more to go past that...until I reached that point I couldn't even begin to know what I was up against. Would I be able to run after a certain point, would I be able to walk, would I have to walk to finish, god forbid.
I get my good game smack on the butt from Nik, a kiss and good luck. I get my good game text from Laura. At this point a swell of pride and zap of adrenaline and I headed into the woods, a point of no return until I cross the finish line. No turning back for this girl, I am no quitter.
I had agreed to take my cell phone with me on this run, in order to let Nik know that I was doing ok and the progress through the course. Poor guy, it is torture for him to wait, he is always a bundle of nerves. His mom came with us today, she gave up her whole Saturday as well to wait on me to make a dream of mine come true.
Being new to me, the ultra distance, I was not at all aware of what I was heading into...the abyss. The sun was shining, the course well marked, my feet were ice blocks, my hands were frozen, but I was smiling. Let the adventure begin.
Aid stations were set up roughly every four miles or so, those would be a child's delight! Aid stations in Ultras are so completely different than water stops in other races. Similarly compared to Ironman style set ups, except that there is candy galore, cubed baked potatoes, pb and j sandwiches, soups, chili, cookies, fruit, bowls of salt, salt caps, and ibuprofen, like a dream.
I had on my camelbak, the water was freezing in the tube, if that gives any indication of how cold it was. I had packed my camelbak with some nutrition as I had no idea what my time was going to be like to get to the next stop. Thankfully so, I needed it. The potatoes rolled in salt were my saving grace along with the oranges and bananas. At one stop I had a pb and j, bad decision, I started to burp it up. That subsided soon enough, then stomach issue began and feeling crampy. That's when I started eating potatoes and salt. The stomach issue subsided, as well as the pending feeling of cramps. All I'm going to say is thank god for baby wipes, and that I was insistent upon taking them along in my pack.
The course out into the forest was beautiful. This particular course was a double loop, so I knew what to expect having been out here before but, not for two loops. The first half though it was slow was the relaxing part. I felt pretty good, I was about 5 miles in before I could feel my feet. My hands never warmed up. I didn't fall, climbed over trees that were down in the path, jumped across streams, sludge pits is more like it, and felt alive. My ankles and knees started to hurt and ironically it hurt worse to walk than to run.
Calling Nik every time I got to an aid station, was comforting for the both of us. Seeing a familiar face at the one aid station was comforting and at one point he, Jim, handed me a paper towel to wipe my runny nose. He sympathized with me when I said to him that this whole thing sucks, it's harder than the half-ironman that I did. When I got back to the 16 miles start of the second loop, Nik, Greg Tucker and Lori were waiting on me. Lori had agreed to do the second loop with me, I was so happy to see her. I had been running by myself for a great deal of the race, talk about mentally taxing, dead silence. Self doubt had been creeping in at that point but I could not quit dammit, my father could not be right. I had to finish, run, walk or crawl, I had to finish.
As we start back into the woods, the second time, I was so happy to have company, someone to talk to, someone so that I wasn't alone. We joked about feeling like we were the lone survivors of the apocalypse. Running from Zombies, in those woods, not place to go except around the trails, back and forth and over rocks and proving to myself that I can go further than a marathon distance.
When we got back to the same aid staton where I had just picked Lori up from, we both ate. We were at mile 20, the dreaded mile 20 in a marathon, the wall. In a marathon I'm always thinking to myself "yahoo, I made it to 20 and screw you wall I'm not hitting you today!" However in an ultra, there's more than a 10k left, like in the marathon, there's almost two 10k, a little shy of another half marathon. Unimaginable or so I thought, and admittedly I wanted to quit. I feet hurt, my tendons hurt, my knees sounded like rice crispy treats, I was cold, I was tired, but I was not, I repeat, not tired of running. I was just exhausted.
Lori and I got back to the dreaded Spider Woman trails 1&2, to me those are the toughest ones out there and I had to do them twice. Most of it was walked but I don't care in the least, technically it is hard. Seriously I'm going to set up a field trip so people can see what all of us spent our Saturday running on, it makes Sesquicentennial Park look like you're running on the sidewalk.
I remember telling Lori once when we were maybe 27 miles or so in, that I'm doing it, I have passed the marathon distance. I realized it was possible for me. We got to an aid station, 3 and 1/2 more miles. A guy on the course who had nothing to do with the race was a total ass. He spoke and said boy you still have a long way to go. He was on his bike and had I the energy at that point, I would have pushed him off the cliff. There's always got to be that one asshat. Moving on, I called Nik to let him know I had 3 and 1/2 miles left. He was surprised with how good I sounded and it wasn't an act. I was really ok, excited to be finishing soon and impressed that I could still run. I also told him that if he had to leave to go that I understood. Saturday night, there were fights at the Township. Many of the guys from our gym were fighting and he was cornering them so he had to go to the pre-fight meetings and such so there was a good chance he wouldn't see me finish. I knew he was leaving at 3:30. I tried my best to make it in that time. Needless to say, he didn't see me finish.
We round the corner, one uphill, two more lefts and then the finish line. The second left came and in the distance I could see two people standing there, it was Jim and Laura. I had four friends run me in that day. I asked Laura how much further, she said through those trees, there's the clearing and the finish. So I ran, Lori ran, Laura and Jim ran. I could see it, there it was plain as day, the finish, or should I say the "FiN" and a long line spray painted on the ground. I see it, the open field, no more trees, no more, trails to stay on, the end. A smile started to creep onto my lips, a full toothy grin that I somehow mustered up.
I had done it, I had proved him wrong, I finished, I finished it all. Before even getting my medal, I took my phone off my arm and called Nik. I said I'm done. I had finished at 3:31. I missed him by a minute.
I looked at William, Greg, Laura, Lori and Jim and said if I ever say I'm doing another ultra, please remind me of today, 1/5/13. I used a very bad expletive and said (insert really bad f word here) Ultras!
That was the hardest thing I've ever done to date. I hurt, a lot. My knees and ankles hurt. I was thirsty. I was exhausted but I was elated. I was greeted by the most welcoming, supportive group of people I know. I was adrenalin charged. I was thinking how disappointed I would have been had I given at the half way point. I would have been crushed.
I remember Lori telling me that several people did in fact quit at the half way point, she had witnessed it while she was waiting on me at the second loop. That day, Lori took my hand to help me over a log as I groaned. She said to me, " you know I love you, I would never do this for anyone else." As I type this, I'm tearing up because I know exactly what she meant. She put herself out there for me, risked hurting herself, as it is dangerous out there, to help me achieve my dream of running an ultra. She wouldn't even cross the finish line, she stepped off and stood by her husband as I finished. Greg said now there's your best friend, to come out here and do this with you. I agree whole heatedly.
On that day, Saturday, January 5, 2013, through those woods and every pain I had, I felt more alive and at peace than I had for months. Every time I venture out to do something new, to reach the new goal, chasing the next high, I learn more about myself than I knew before. The journey truly is the reward.
That night I went to the fight. I managed to shower and eat and even dry my hair and put on makeup. I was going to support the husband who always supports me. Thankfully our friends, Mark and Bre, were going to the fight and offered me a ride. All our fighters won. It was a great Saturday for both of us.
Sunday when Nik and I were standing in the kitchen, he asked me to pinky promise, no more ultras. I laughed, he said seriously pinky promise. Those are serious and cannot be broken. So, I would not pinky promise. He laughs and said, "I knew it, you adrenaline junky." He then said at least no craziness for a while.
We had a celebratory meal at Arizona Steakhouse on Sunday evening. During the meal we talked about how our Saturday had gone. During the conversation, I said I needed those toasty hands glove inserts for when I do it next year.
Less than twenty-four hours after the ultra, I knew I would be revisiting it again. It was another incredible moment in my life.
I had the greatest people in the world to share it with. When I showed up at the fight, congratulations from all our other friends were offered up. One guy came over to say he thought Nik had made a typo on his Facebook status about my 50k. He apologized and said that is insane.
I agree, it is insane. I am thankful my body held up, she's pretty amazing but what got me through that day was grit, heart and support of those around me.
I found the following quote on the Internet and it is so true. I learned what I was made of and what I am not...a quitter.
I made Nik promise me that if I ever told him I wanted to quit a race, to make me finish unless I was physically injured, like something broken and not just my spirit. He swore to me he will. Man, I love that guy.
"Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense.
The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being -- a call that asks who they are ..."
- David Blaikie
Just one more thing...dream big, set sights high...anything is possible, you just have to want it and be willing to put in the time and effort.