Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Me v. Red Shirt, Part II

Where was I? Somewhere in the woods around mile 10, I guess.

I ran and ran, and smiled and smiled. Suddenly, a crowd! The aid station at mile 12.4 was just ahead and it was packed. I heard someone yelling my name from far away. Genny! I told her I'd probably wear a grey shirt and orange shorts and she managed to spot me from about 100 yards away. I was impressed.

Maybe I should have used more energy to run and less to smile.

She had Gatorade! And, even more importantly, she had Skittles. Lots and lots of Skittles. I stuffed several dozen of them into my cheeks. So amazingly delicious! The rainbow of fruit flavors never tasted so good. Maybe Skittles will sponsor me.

I was like this hamster, only slightly taller and with less fur. And with Skittles instead of Cheerios.

And then, just ahead, stuffing his face almost as quickly as I was, was Red Shirt! I grabbed some peanut M&Ms and sprinted (ok, shuffled) off, figuring I'd put him behind me for good. He continued to scarf down snacks as I ran past.

The route took us to a slow, wide, gravel climb. We'd merged with the 50 milers by this point so I actually had people to attempt to pass and to run away from. After a steep descent we squeezed onto the narrowest of trails with a rock wall on one side and a drop into water on the other. This part was an out-and-back so we all channeled our inner mountain goats as we tiptoed through carefully in attempt to keep our own footing without smooshing runners on their way back off the trail. Most people were kind and there was more "excuse me please, thank you, you go ahead, have fun, top of the morning to you, don't fall, good job, hooray for you" than pushing and shoving. Nice!

A few meters later I found myself at the 15.1-mile aid station. I couldn't believe I was half-way done, right where the Mom and Dad were supposed to be. Uh oh. I checked my watch and realized that I was about 50 minutes ahead of schedule. I told them I'd be there at about the 3 1/2 hour mark and I was only about 2 hours and 40 minutes in. Hmm. Do I wait? What if I never see them again? What if they get here and think the course has eaten me alive and start to worry?

Then Red Shirt pulled into the aid station right next to me, gulped down some water and sprinted back the way we came. I hesitated for a moment and then took off after him.

This part of the course was my favorite. We worked our way almost all of the way back to the aid station where Genny was before veering off up a long, technical climb. The race directors apparently imported every rock in the East Coast to this part of the course. It was more of a scramble than a run and I chose my footing carefully as the route rose well above the river.

The view at the top probably was spectacular but I didn't get a chance to look around. People were everywhere. The entire population of the D.C. metro area apparently decided to spend the gorgeous Saturday morning at the top of this trail and I used up a bit of patience waiting for hikers, their cigarettes and their miniature pot-bellied pigs (ok, I only saw one pot-bellied pig, but isn't that one too many?) to move to the side to let runners through.

I worked my way up and over the climb and found myself back at the 12.4 mile mark that had magically morphed into the 19-mile mark. There was Genny! Holding more Skittles! Really, she's sort of the best. She told me that my parents had just left that spot, confused as to where I was and where they were supposed to find me. I chowed down on more glorious Skittles and some Pringles while she called my parents who were, fortunately, still in the parking lot. They hopped out of their car and ran over to the trail.

"You just ran 19 miles!" my Dad said.
"You sort of smell," said my Mom. "But you look happy! And you aren't bleeding like a lot of the other people going by, so you have that going for you. And you are going faster than you thought you would!"

I waved and told them I'd see them at the finish. It was right around the corner after all, wasn't it? Only 12 miles to go. Easy.

Except not so much. I realized that I essentially had a half-marathon to go and that suddenly seemed very, very far. And Red Shirt was so far ahead. And sweat was stinging my eyes. And the next aid station was 7 miles away. And I no longer had the fun part of Dog Days Are Over stuck in my head. Instead, on repeat, I had the part where she slowly wails like this: IIIIIIIIIIIIIiiiyeyyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee nnnnayeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee ooweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee yoweeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.


And I still had 11 miles to go. My hands started tingling. I looked at my fingers, swollen, red, shiny and disgusting. I flapped them around a bit like that was going to get the fluid out. I realized I looked ridiculous and started to giggle.

"My fingers look like Snausages," I thought, and started to laugh. Hard. So hard that tears came out. I couldn't see where I was going. "Oh my God, what if my fingers actually turn into Snausages?" I was clearly a bit dehydrated, my electrolytes were a bit off -- marathon brain was starting to kick in.

Somewhere in a part of my brain that should have remained covered in cobwebs there was this:

Snausages replaced Florence and The Machines in my head. Dear God. What's wrong with me? Snausages? I've never even had a dog.

I continued on and started to feel a bit better, fortunately. That was the only time I felt low during the entire race. About five people passed me, including two women. Marathoners started to pass me on their way out on the course. Fifty-milers started to pass me as they drove toward the finish, holding a pace that I'd be happy to keep on an on-road 13.1. But I felt fine and decided to pay attention to myself instead of the people passing me. And slowly I began to reel in people ahead of me. Not a ton of people but I passed more than passed me over the last 10k.

I walked a few steep climbs, ran the descents and the flats. I stared at my feet, glancing up only occasionally. And then, A SNAKE! A DAMN SNAKE. Not a big one -- maybe two feet long, skinny and green. "I don't want to ever see any more snakes ever again!," I yelled out loud to no one. Apparently snakes don't read my blog and therefore don't know that I hate them.

The trail zigged and zagged and I finally found myself at the aid station at mile 25.5. I ate and drank as much as I could as quickly as I could and was on my way, passing a few people in the process. I was mostly staring at my feet, making sure that I didn't trip over anything or, more importantly, step on a snake.

I'd glance up every so often to make sure I wasn't about to slam into a tree -- something red off in the distance. Red Shirt! There he was, about 100 yards ahead. And he was going nowhere. In fact, he was barfing into a bush while hopping around grabbing his calf with a cramp.

Hmm. What to do? Ok, I really gave it no thought whatsoever. "Man, that sucks!," I said. "The aid station is only about a quarter-mile behind, you should probably go back."

The place for me in hell gets more and more special every day. I ran on, glancing over my shoulder a few times to make sure Red Shirt wasn't sneaking up again. I could see him off in the distance but he never caught up.

Wahoo! Me: 1, Red Shirt: 0.

Skipped the last aid station with 2.5 miles left to go. For a second that seemed like an obscene amount of distance to cover. I slowed to a walk for a few steps and then realized I would rather run.

I checked my watch. Five hours 15 minutes with a bit more than two miles to go. I couldn't believe it. I'd been nervous about not meeting my goal of 7: 12. And I'd loved every step. I never hit the wall. I started to, but, thanks to Snausages, I manged to bust through it. I thought about how, in road marathons, miles 22 until 26 have always been basically unfun. 50ks, where have you been all my life?

My feet hit the flat paved trail leading to the finish line. A volunteer told me I had less than 400 meters to go. Really? I picked up the pace, smiling. A lot. I broke through a small cluster of trees and the crowd was yelling. My parents and Genny should really be Laker Girls or something -- they are pros at cheering.

Genny took a picture of my Mom taking my picture. Except
Mom managed to miss me, somehow, and took a picture
of the grass instead.

Notice Genny is actually near me and my Mom
is several feet away. Apparently I stunk. 

What's more awesome, my hairdo or my crooked race number?

I was going to crop out a lot of the grass and zoom
in on myself but then I realized my eyes are closed
and that my hat is weirdly balanced on the top of my head.

I ran across the line and looked around, grinning like a dork. 5:35:53, good enough for 12th female out of 105 and 63rd out of 332 overall. Fine by me.

I tend to exaggerate, a lot. But, sincerely, I think this might have been my favorite race ever. Possibly better than Boston, better than New York, as rewarding as 24-hour adventure races. The fact that it was well-organized and that the course was gorgeous didn't hurt either. Good race shirt, arm warmers ... the stuff given out cost as much as the entry fee. Well-stocked aid stations, a course so well-marked that even I didn't get lost. A very good introduction to the 50k distance, to say the least.



Elizabeth said...

Great race report and congrats on an excellent finish.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! This was a hell of a first 50k. Amazing! Plus, I think I found a way to your heart: I just cheer and bribe you with skittles! ;-)

Jeff said...

Nice job! Don't you love it when it all comes together?

Beth said...

Congrats! That really was the most beautiful course and the most fun race ever!

Julie said...

LOOK at your quad in the 2nd picture! Great legs :-)

Snausages had me snorting.

The special place in hell had me hooting.

That picture with your hat on funny was just ridiculous.

LOVED this race report! By all means, do more of these if your reports will always be this great!