You are convinced that you can go further. Faster. In new climates, over new terrain.
Once you become curious with your body’s limits, there is almost nothing you won’t try at least once. The biggest problem here is if you keep falling in love.
And I do.
Earlier this summer, I made the decision to switch up my “usual” routine or riding, running and racing on the road alone. To make a push to get out and enjoy trails, the wilderness, to connect to the endurance-hippie in me. The first stop on the 2010 calendar? An 50k ultra-run to test the waters, and prepare for longer, more intense races to come (a 50-MILE ultra-marathon) Come December, the game was on, and so was training — oh how time flies.
Its true that just 8 short weeks of training is not your typical window to prepare for a race of this duration, or this intensity. A 50k is no laughing matter. On this journey my training-buddy hubby and I would be meeting two new friends; mud and singletrack. We would then challenge them to a dual lasting 30 miles. A dual at least 5 miles further than we had ever run before.
Under the care and trust of my coach, Mark, we worked these weeks. Hill repeats, negative splits, long runs in the forest. I was building up on a base nearly 3 years in the making and feeling strong. D was charting completely new territory. While only running up to a distance of 22 miles made me completely comfortable, I think he was ready to curl up under a bush at the starting line and hide. But, when the sun came out on race morning, he was there by my side, smiling nervously.
The “scene” at an trail ultra-marathon is more fabulous and entertaining than any Ironman or triathlon competition I have ever visited. Out come the men in running skirts, crazy print running clothing, shoe-less wonders, tin-can experts and lanky beginners that will stride right over you. And there we were, pretty normal, clearly athletic, but without that edgy streak (that we hope to acquire with seasoning….) And this race, in case anyone asks you, is about as fabulous as they come. Small, yet dedicated and experienced crowd, beautiful scenery, excellent support, and a fabulous vibe surround you as you await your fate of the day.
A group countdown marked the start. “GO!” And off we went.
D and I made a promise to each other that we would finish together. For me, this meant holding back. Trying to keep calm, remember that the RACE here didn’t matter – gathering information for the races ahead was the reason to run today. I love to compete. I love to push myself and redefine myself as an athlete at each opportunity — man it was so hard letting those girls get by me especially because I KNEW I could catch them.
Promises kept. Derek and I cruised along the out and back, and into the first 15-mile lap around Hagg Lake — the sun was shining, the forest was quiet with the exception of the occasional giggle or battle cry as a runner ahead or behind you splashed into the mud pits strewn about the course by both mother nature and the race crew. Rolling hills, rolling hills, clear grassy valleys and vistas of the crystal cold lake were rewards to be gathered as if we were pawns in a video game “hop up on the log, jump down, eat a bite of energy bar and POWER up! OOOH! A mud puddle puzzle!”
All was well as we approached the first aid station, 10 miles in. I needed a pee, D was invigorated by the aid spread (at 206 lbs, he requires more fuel than I do.) And we were off again. Less than 2 miles later, it was apparent that a piece of our formula was off. Derek was covered in salt, sweated out by his bod, and he needed electrolytes….bad. We stuck it out for the remaining 4 miles to the second aid station where seasoned ultra-runners awaited us with advice that is more easily heard by an outsider than your wife. Nutritional supplements are part of this endurance game. All natural, whole foods, water and will power just sometimes aren’t enough to cut it.
With this nugget tucked into our back pocket, we left the aid station, and bounced off to finish the last of the 15 mile loop – with a tube full of salt tabs in hand, and a few gel packets. D was at last on a fueling regiment that would at least come close to meeting his needs. Enough to bring us to glory …..just as soon as we passed the loud, proud, crowded finish line filled with 25k racers that had already completed their devotion for the day. We shed a few layers, and headed out for round number two. Ran into a few runners that dropped out of the race at the halfway. D was feeling rough; years of football injuries, tricky body cues, and the intimidation of the “what might be” were hanging on his shoulders in his hydration pack. But they weren’t going to bring him down.
And so it went. A game of management, little characters bumping about in our forest video game. Oopy, gummy bears bad, PB&J good. Salt, good. More salt, better. Mud puddle, sucky. Thorns, ouchy. Single-track, tricky. Finish line, tantalizing. Stomach, topsy-turvy. Ankles/Knees/Hips, ready to quit. Mind, ready for more. Already at the half-way point, I had some assumptions about our finishing time, but little fear about our ability to succeed. In many ways, I knew, that after all of the full-distance Ironman racing, all of the 70.3’s and marathons and half-marathons that we had collectively raced in, this would be our shining achievement….regardless of the time in which we finished it.
It took us 6:43 to complete these 31 miles. Each step we took together. Communicating about what we needed, me keeping his nutrition in line. Playing the “carrot” game….encouraging each other to keep on. I have never had a running partner like this – I am a one girl show. D learned how to truly, madly, and deeply listen to his body during these 31 miles. He watched how each and every bite of fuel we put into our bodies effects our well-being in some way. Found that if he chose to smile, suddenly all of the pain was temporary, even laughable.
We crossed the finish-line healthy, happy and smiling just 30 minutes shy of Derek’s estimation of time for himself. Not bad for a first shot. Not bad at all!
I learned that sharing the love for the finish line, for the accomplishment, is as wonderful a feeling as blowing past your competition in glory. Well, almost. 🙂 But I also learned that my curiosity for the depth and breadth of the human spirit is not yet quenched – a wonderful feeling that each day is a new adventure, a new challenge, so long as I invite the contender.
Just 48 hours after this 31 mile hoorah, we are planning a 50 mile race for the summer. Moving along as planned. Plus another 50k in May to warm up. Such is the power of love, I suppose. 🙂
To watch our adventure in real time, check out our Hagg Lake 50k Video HERE