Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Overwhelmed

So how do you start a blog for one of the hardest and most successful races of your career? I guess I'll start from the top. When I crewed last year at the 2011 Umstead 100, I watched in awe as runner after runner crawled up the finish to complete their lap and thought "I'll never do that" There was everything to the girl literally unable to walk without dry heaving, to the winners who came breezing into the finish, to the ever determined walker/hobbler that despite my thoughts would go out for another loop. Months later and a few successful races under my belt, I signed up for my first 100 mile race.

Weeks leading up to the race were full of anxiety. I not only wanted to finish but I wanted under 24 hours, which is aggressive considering a lot of runners DNF their first attempt. Leading up to the race, I was over trained, over stressed and plain old worried about making it that far. Tom and I agreed that 2 weeks out I would just start a taper and be done with the running to give me the best shot. We met on Tuesday before the race to go over the race plan and although it gave me anxiety, it was digestible and as long as everything went well physically I would finish under 24 hours without going breakneck speed.  Two days before the race, I realize I have a seeded bib...they seeded the first 50 runners based on past performances. I was #28...you have to be kidding me I though....No pressure right?

Tom and I headed up to the Umstead Park (same place my marathon was a few weeks back) on Friday afternoon. I had meticulously packed my bag with everything I would need and then some. Tom had his pacer/crew gear all ready to go as well. We chatted lightly about the forecast and things to expect during the race. Tom is a veteran Umstead runner himself so the insight was helpful. We checked into the hotel and then headed for packet pick up and the race briefing at the race headquarters. If you have never been to Umstead to pace, crew or run,  I will tell you it runs like a well oiled machine. Blake Norwood, the RD is awesome. The army of volunteers that help out is amazing and they are the best I have ever seen.

The briefing started precisely at 6pm (and I do mean exactly) and took almost an hour to go over. No detail was left unexplained and we heard from so many members of the staff and crew on what to expect and how the race would go. With the last few minutes, Blake asked all the first time runners were to stand up. I felt a little relief with seeing so many new faces that would be struggling out there with me. He spoke of how some of us wouldn't make it and how the race isn't about endurance, but rather about will to finish. Those words would ping pong around my brain the entire next day.  We then were given the task of setting up the tables and dinner was served. It was a yummy spaghetti with meatballs, a salad and a roll. Complete with cake and ice cream for Mama Rosa''s birthday who is 94 and comes down to spend her birthday at the race all the way from Philly. We ate with John from Canada and Cathy Lee and Joe and chatted about past races, joked about the every changing forecast and finally parted ways for the evening. I showered and crawled into bed. Trying to draw inspiration, I popped in the "Unbreakable DVD" and watched what I could before I began to feel sleepy. I knew how important that night would be to get rest. I had skated by in the past with little sleep but with the prospect of almost 24 hours of running facing me, I knew I needed it.

The alarm sounded at 4am and race prep began. In support of my Buckeyes, I donned a OSU dri-fit tank, my compression shorts and doubled up on my socks. Grabbing my regular breakfast of oatmeal with a dollop of PB in it, I packed my gear, watched the rest of Unbreakable and Tom and I headed out to the race just before 5am. At race headquarters, the lodge was bustling with activity.  I felt at home with so many other runners embarking on this challenge. I caught up with a few of my runner friends including Shannon who I had met and run with at the marathon. We were both giddy and nervous for our first 100 and wished each other luck.Tom and I picked a choice spot for the pacer/crew camp and laid out the necessities as best we could for the many hours ahead of us. As a last minute decision, I chose to stay in just my singlet and forgo wearing my headlamp seeing that there would be almost 200+ of them out there. As the gun went off, we plotted off for the first of our 8-12.5 mile loops.251 runners toed the line that morning. Either by choice (you can pull out at the 50) or by flaw...only 150 of us would complete 100 miles.

I started out too fast and kept checking myself against my Garmin. I knew that it wouldn't last the whole race but I needed to get an idea of what the pace Tom was expecting from me would feel like. As the jokes ripped about me checking my watch, I settled in with a lot of first timers and we chatted about the race. The first lap was uneventful. I recognized a majority of the course from the marathon and walked the big hills and cruised the downs/flats. I made mental notes of where my "walking trees" were and which parts of the course would be harder at night. I felt good and tried to relax knowing it would be a long day. I stayed ahead of my nutrition and hydration by keeping my Amphipod bottle full and grabbing a get at the unmanned aid station. This is where I discovered my new fav flavor of Gu "Expresso Love" which has always sounded unappealing to me but found a special place in my running plan that day. I finished the first lap at 2:13... a good half hour ahead of pace. I knew that was faster than where I wanted but it wasn't ridiculous. Tom warned me to slow down and I took heed to his warning. I pulled a 2:28 the next lap and he seemed to approve but still said I had a lot of miles ahead of me. The third lap was 2:38 and I was still feeling good. I had ticked off 37.5 miles and was feeling very good. My ipod had been a good choice on lap 2-4 for both the reading of the Hunger Games series and my tunes that kept me jammin. I had seen Shannon on the course several times those first few laps and she was rockin' it and looking strong. We kept exchanging smiles and positive wishes as the laps went on. Twice, the race leader Mike Morton passed me. It was impressive to see him gliding so easily on the course and I sent "keep it up looking strong" his way both times...he was set to break the course record and I knew he would. I had read an impressive article in Ultra Running just last month and I was aware how talented he was. After the race I would learn that he set the course record at an impressive 13:11:40....crazy fast!

As I headed out for lap #4, the sun made an appearance. The weather in the first half of the race had been ideal for me. It had stayed cooler with high humidity and a slight sprinkle had kept me clothes cool and wet. I ditched my tank top and soaked up some sun. I caught up with two incredible runners on that lap. One was a woman who was running her 9th consecutive 100 mile race and was looking for 30 to set the record of most consecutive races. The second was am amputee whose leg was a blade from the knee down. I was in complete awe of both women of their determination to reach their goals. It inspired me to keep pushing onward. At one point we passed a beautiful turtle slowly crossing the trail and I looked back, pointed at him and said " Ladies, that is gonna look like a sprint by the evening."

As I pulled in to complete the 4th lap at 2:36, I saw Tom there eagerly awaiting me. He had been there since 5am helping out (mostly in the kitchen, lol), keeping track of my time and serving as my gopher after each lap to ensure I was eating and to do a quick check that everything was golden. At lap 5 you can pick up your pacer for the rest of the race and this means a mental break from yourself and company for the dark. Tom and I headed out of camp and out on the course.

I recapped the first few laps for him and we decided to stick with a moderate pace as we walked the ups and cruised the downs. I told him how I tried to keep my aid station stops to a minimum but still managed a regular pb and j square or two with a banana. We wound our way through the course and he was fantastic about keeping my bottle filled.  We finished that lap at a pretty steady 2:43. When we pitted, we found Steve waiting for us, all smiles and ready to run. We picked him up and headed out again. At this point in the race I still had no major issues. My legs were tired and my body was generally fatigued but nothing was bothering me. I had kept up a steady intake (yes still well within the normal dosage) of aleve to ward off any issues so I was cruising. We headed out for #6 as three little amigos with a mission to "plotz on"

We passed the time with stories, songs and a steady stream of jokes. Tom and Steve were amazing pacers. Through lap 6 they traded carrying my bottle for me and making sure I always was running comfortably. Its awesome when you can keep moving and not worry about anything. Jokingly they told me I needed to slow down at aid stations because they were having problems keeping up with me. We finished that lap in 2:51...staying pretty steady. Tom had to call John to tell him I was so far ahead of schedule that he needed to plan on being there by 4 to catch my finish. The original plan was for him to come out on lap 8 but my race had been so aggressive that the best he could do was probably come out for my finish.  I asked for a score of the OSU game and was told we were leading...that gave me a smile and we picked up headlamps (which I didn't have to wear yay!!!) and headed out for 7.

At the aid station situation just before mile 7, Steve decided he wasn't going on so Tom and I headed back to base.  As we hit the back half of the course, I started to notice lightening. We dismissed it as heat lightening because the forecast hadn't called for rain but as we broke into mile 9, it was clear that a storm was coming and coming hard. The breeze picked up and the thunder rolled in. Just past mile 10 the heavens opened up. In a matter of moments we were soaked and as we passed under the power lines, I prayed that the ever flashing lightening wouldn't strike one. Tom worried our base camp because we had left everything out...phones, ipod, clothes etc were exposed to the rain. As we passed mile 11 we decided not to worry about it, it was going to be wet no matter when we got back. Tom had started to notice that his foot was bothering him slightly and we made a check list of what needed to be done when we got back... The only pain I was starting to have was a nagging shin pain in my right leg but I decided it was nothing major. We capped that lap with a 2:48 and dragged our stuff into the lodge. I asked for the final score of the game and got the disappointing news that OSU had lost a close one after blowing a 13 point lead in the last half of the game. I was sad but  grabbed a last bite at the aid station and went into the lodge to get Tom. As I saw him in the chair with Jonathan working on his foot, he gave me the cut to the throat sign and my heart sank. I wanted him with me on that last loop. He had told me that he was doing some calculations and wanted to discuss a game plan for the final lap. I swallowed hard and told him I would go get a substitute pacer. Because of several factors, we couldn't find my pacer and I became inpatient. I decided to grab my ipod and go out on my own. If I couldn't do it alone, what could I do. Tom wished me luck and apologized a million times. I told him to rest and I would be back shortly. With those words, I tore out of camp. For someone who had 87.5 miles on her legs I was pretty damn determined. I focused solely on getting it over with. I has told Tom that I was mad and wanted to be finished during lap 7. I was tired, I smelled, I was sick of running and I just wanted to get there already. I put my head down and told myself to grind and grind hard. I flew past other runners, dashed up inclines that I was previously walking and flew on the downhills. I stopped briefly to catch my breath as a heard of does surprised me when I came around a corner and their eyes glowed in my headlamp light. With that sudden stop I had become aware of what felt like a blister on my left foot between my big toe and second toe. I said a silent prayer that I didn't come this far just to have a blister get me and started back running. I felt it give shortly after that and hoped it wouldn't start hurting. After a final stop at the aid station, I thanked the staff for being so awesome and kept pushing on. One of the volunteers remarked as I was walking away;  "She looks like she is on lap #2" I smiled to myself, smacked a kiss on the mile 7 sign (I was well past halfway on that lap) and power walked the uphill.

I hadn't thought about what Tom had wanted for the game plan but decided to glance at my watch. Something I hadn't done all day. It read 2:52 am. I did some quick math in my head...roughly 60 minutes to get 5.5 miles in and my time would be under 21 hours.  That was his plan but could I do it? The back half has 3 killer hills that are not runnable and it was dark, which always slows me down. I needed to be fast and all I could do now was try. It was crazy to think my original plan was to finish somewhere in the 23:20 range and I was hoping now for a sub 21...hell ya I was going to do everything in my power to get there. I checked my watch again at 8 and 9 thinking that I would be close but no cigar. Then a glimmer of hope...I always set my watches a few minutes ahead...was that the case with this one? I couldn't rely on that but that hope lit a fire under me. As I headed up to the last station before mile marker 11...I checked the clock again. It was possible...closer than I thought. I had managed to make up some time on the killer downhill around mile 10 and now I needed to finish hard. As I turned into the last half mile of the course, my watch read 2:56. I had 4 minutes to get a half mile in. For my track peeps, yes I did the 400 split in my head to get a reality check. I tore past runners, pacer, cars and anyone on the trail. The lighted sign that serves as the finish line came into view. It is an uphill finish to the aid station and for the only time that entire day, I ran....correction...sprinted up the hill. As I crossed the line, I yelled out my number for the last time,  put my hands on my knees and prayed that I made it. I asked for the time and after what seemed like an eternity, it came back at 20:58:19. Sobbing, I hugged Tom, John and Steve. I had not only finished my first 100 in under 24hrs but I had smashed my expectations by almost 3 hours. I was overwhelmed with emotion, relief and general fatigue. After gathering myself and greedily accepting my first belt buckle,  I walked into the lodge and Tom updated me on my standing and overall finish. I had no idea how I would fare against a pretty competitive field. I had finished in the top 10 females,  second in my age group and 28th overall...precisely the number on my bib...couldn't do better than that. ( Later, I would come to learn that my actual place was 26th overall, 6th female and 1st in my age group) I grabbed dry clothes and headed for the shower. Overall I felt amazing, yes I was tired but my legs were still moving and my feet had only suffered minor damage. In those moments to myself  in the shower I let the joy and appreciation wash over me along with the hot water. I finally felt like I could say I was a true Ultra Runner. I has gotten my wings with this first 100 miler and I soared. Below is the moment I found out I finished under 21 hours...completely overwhelmed.








Can't control the emotions
Splits in hand for the proof...Tom looking proud

2 comments:

  1. EXCELLENT report! I loved reading this. You are amazing and I am in awe of your performance!! I hope we can run together in another race sometime soon. WHAHOOOOO!!!! You rock!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Incredible feat. Congratulations.

    ReplyDelete