It’s official. I’m officially one of those nut jobs that love running an ungodly amount of miles and subjecting oneself to some serious suffering. Yes…that would be a “Trail Ultramarathoner”. HAHAHA! The North Face Endurance Challenge was certainly just that, a challenge of endurance, that’s FO SHO!
I went into this race feeling mentally strong. I had recovered well from my calf tear in mid-February and was receiving care with the fabulous docs at Airrosti Rehab Centers! (Dr. Bill Kempe, THANK YOU!) Of course, I missed out on some valuable mileage for several weeks, but I was determined to do my best.
Two weekends before race day, I set out for my longest long run (yes a little close) which was planned for 24-26 miles on the actual race course, but it turned out to be 29.7 because I missed a cut through at the end and got lost a few times on the trail. Still, even with long breaks and self-supported, I completed it in about 7 hours and change! I was SUPER stoked! I also left that training run feeling so much better that I had familiarized myself with most of the race course. It really helped with not getting demoralized on race day when faced with some pretty steep climbs at the beginning and the end of the race! In hindsight, I wished I hadn’t done such a long run so close to race day, but it is what it is! I didn’t fully recover from that run and it showed yesterday!
Everything was running smoothly as planned! Got to race site with plenty of time, met some great runners from TAUR (Trail and Ultra Running FB Group), took selfies, etc. I had the least amount of pre-race jitters ever!
Feet immediately soaked within first few hundred yards…thick mud. Thankfully the SmartWool socks helped and it didn’t really mess with me too badly. I only ended up with 2 smallish blisters and 2 really tiny blisters on toes. But ya, the embracing of suck started pretty early on. First part of course was much muddier than it had been just a few weeks prior. April showers doing its job! Couple of runners lost their shoes to the mud. An experienced trail runner friend reminded me to double tie my laces at the start line. I did so very hastily as the race was just about to start and dammit, TOO tight!!! So ya, pretty quickly, I was running with those damn numb (and now soaked) blocks sometimes known as feet! I know all you runners reading this know how THAT feels. But after you just push through that initial discomfort, it just magically goes away. Well, at least for me it does. It just takes a mile or so!
Nutrition-wise, I felt pretty confident but the night before, I was already having some tummy problems but wasn’t too worried because it had settled already in the morning. I was very focused on getting in more calories in the first half of race, but failed to match that intake with enough water (in hindsight). I was also using a super potent electrolyte mix supplying my body with a TON of sodium. By mile 4ish, I already had sloshy stomach. I still wasn’t too concerned even with my sausage like fingers that developed pretty early on. It was the hottest day of the year so far, reaching a high of 84 degrees and MAN, I was NOT heat acclimated by any means. That was the first real SUCK EMBRACE. It’s funny though, throughout the race, I wasn’t really all THAT concerned about anything because I was so dead set on finishing this damn race! Being focused on the little crap that goes wrong is what leads to many DNFs…(aside from serious injury and illness!).
The early hills at miles 4ish and 9ish went well and gave me a boost of confidence as I headed into Great Falls Park, which, in my opinion is where the race really starts mentally. That loop requires a little more technical work and you know that once you’re out of it, it’s time to head back.
The Middle Miles
By Mile 13, I was pacing to finish a little less than 7 hours and I was taking it slower the first half to plan on a negative split. My fantasy goal was anything under 6 hours! My realistic goal was 7 and under.
I think it was around Mile 15 that I felt a gush. You ask, “Of what?” Let’s just say, female problems. I had been PMSing all week but the 18th was a few days early so I wasn’t too stressed. Sorry, the following might be TMI, but I’m SURE I’m not the only woman who has had to deal with this during a race!!! Anyhow, in the morning, I did have a little spotting, but normally, that means it takes a day or two for it to “officially” arrive. Stupidly so, I did not pack any feminine hygiene supplies. I ran into another friend around Mile 16ish aid station and asked her if she had anything. No. I asked the aid station people and no, nothing, not until back at Visitor’s Center which was about 3 miles away. I gobbled up some orange slices and downed an Isagenix e-shot and I was zooming because I had to get to the next aid station! (Note: I was also stupid not to pack more than one e-shot, bc that sh*t was AMAZING!!!!)
What came to mind at this point was that awful meme of running dude with the runs. I was thinking that I would be the next internet meme with gory looking blood instead. I know….EWWWWW! The thing is, since childbirth and 40s, the flow FLOWS heavily. Hahaha. But not. Not when it’s happening in a public place and you’re trying to run 31.1 miles for the tee-shirt. Mini-triumph: Even with this new circumstance, the thought of QUITTING did not cross my mind! I couldn’t let my people down!
I got out of Great Falls Park loop but only after the SCARIEST moment on some of the rocks. I hopped a little too aggressively from rock to rock and my right calf literally froze into a charley horse and I felt that all too familiar twinge of a calf tear. That was the only time I thought, “Yup, that’s it, it’s over!” This is when my NASM training kicked in…I steadied myself against a tree, static stretched the calf for 30 seconds to activate Golgi Tendon (LOL) and BOOM, it released. And magically after that, both my calves that were being spazzy from mile 8 (way too early) just calmed the eff down and I was happy.
I stocked up on the needed supplies..thankfully I had on my most awesome Orange Mud HydraQuiver vest pack that has TONS of storage space. Unfortunately, all they had at Visitor’s Center aid station was “regular” tampons. I knew I was going to have to change at least two more times before all was said and done to prevent horrific meme from actually happening!!!
The Later Miles
The back half of the course was pure torture. Fingers were full-on kielbasa at this point. Tummy was distended like a starving child in Africa…sooo gassy and crampy from period. I seriously felt like I had a 3 month pregger belly. Fatigue and low spirits were in high gear. I seriously thought that taking a nap in a patch of nettle was a fabulous idea. LOL. I felt myself almost falling asleep in those later miles. The e-shot had long dissipated.
Getting to Carwood aid station (Mile 24) was sheer torture. I started crying as I approached it finally. And this is when I discovered COCA-COLA!!!! OMG….my tummy finally settled, and although I never drink soda, being all healthy and sh*t, I was just besides myself. I woke up, had to run a few hundred yards off the trail to do my lady stuff…and trekked on to next aid station. Let me say this now….the aid station volunteers and how well stocked they were MADE this race. Thank you so much! And, ORANGE SLICES! Orange slices helped me sooo much because I just had no desire nor could stomach anything by Mile 13. No more energy gels, no honey waffles, nothing. My mouth was dry as dirt. #saharadry
The fact that my tummy felt more settled and I was buzzing from the Coca-Cola helped me power through the last climbs. Mini triumph: Had a little burst of energy and really conquered those last climbs and barreling downhill so much so that I got reprimanded (“You better slow down!”) LOL. I have to say at that point, I was like “F*ck off, buddy” but I ignored and move on. I truly felt great with my climbing technique…it really came pretty naturally…do deadlifts, anything hip hinging, and squats…oh and interval training. And wow, how I LOVE downhill running! Agile, improvisational, fast…it truly reminds me of partner dancing, except now I’m dancing with Mother Earth. I just LOVE it!!!!
The flat, boring single track, especially when there are others that are walking it, is what kills me! My mind wanders, I get sucked into the walking laze even though I know I could at least be jogging. However, I did get to learn exactly how and when to pass and let pass on the trail. I also consider that a mini triumph!!!
Towards the end, I got bunched up with a couple of young guys and an older guy. I got trapped behind one guy who couldn’t have been older than mid-20s. Fit, shirtless, no hydration, just a walking stick he picked up. He was walking pretty slowly…I felt kinda bad and I knew at this point, my fantasy goal and my realistic goal were out of reach…so I walked behind him for awhile. I finally had to pass him though bc it was driving me nuts and that’s when older guy passed him and me both. I kept up with older dude until Sugarland (last aid station!) He was super nice. We had passed a couple of younger guys and we were joking how they could let an old lady and old guy pass them.
So I get to Sugarland aid station and in MY mind’s calculations, I had only 1.1 miles to go. But no, it was 1.7! I know, 0.6 miles…no big deal….but I have to say I was PISSED. LOL. I was like, “GODDAMMIT, flat and fast course, my ass! And now you tack on .6 miles!” Hahaha. I was a bit dazed and emotional at that point.
Finally, the Finish Line is in sight and I mustered enough energy to sprint to the end and managed to get a couple of pretty bad-ass looking finish line photos! And THANK GOD, no bloody memes will be circulating on the inter-webs!!! No, I did not achieve my “goal” finish time, but I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I would be (being the Asian overachiever that I am). My first 50k was an amazing learning experience! I even almost accomplished one of my goals which is to finish dead LAST. LOL. Most importantly, I showed up and I finished!
Lessons and Gratitudes
Obviously, there are so many lessons to learn from running ultra distances on trails. So many more things can go wrong! And that’s life, isn’t it? Dealing with crap that doesn’t go as planned or expected. Learning how to be more structured, disciplined in training, and paying those mileage dues. That is the only way to learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Experience can’t be bought. It just has to get done. The suck must be embraced and overcome!
Gotta say, ultra races are so nice because they are WAY smaller…there really is a feeling of more community. And hello…NO porta potty lines?! The courtesy and support along the way was really pleasantly surprising. It was awesome to hear “Shines” a couple of times on the trail…and “Good job” (as they pass you….LOLOL). There was very little if no douchebaggery that I witnessed! Thanks again to the volunteers at the aid stations as well, I’m certain you saved many of us yesterday!!!
I also can’t thank enough the amazing people I’ve met through Trail and Ultra Running Group. You have coached me, inspired me, made me laugh, and best of all, have just made it so much fun!
My Isagenix team…I am so proud of all of you and your concern and support and love is just heart-warming! I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to help you along your successful journeys as athletes and entrepreneurs!
To my family, closest friends and soulmates, you were in my heart the whole way. #LOVE
So, normally, my official race photos are blackmail-worthy HORRIBLE pics that should just be completely deleted from all of the inter-webs. I was pleasantly surprised to see how happy I actually looked running this trail! Honestly, the reason why I’m smiling so damn much is actually because I was quite miserable for much of the race. A trusted friend reminded me to smile and practice good posture, especially during the dark times! Well, it worked! Look how awesome these turned out! Ok, I tweaked some of the lighting with filters, but stillll you can’t filter on a smile or my quad definition!! LOLOL. Enjoy.