Monday, December 17, 2012

Beyond the Marathon...

50K t-shirt
On December 15th, 2012, I met a long time running goal of mine. I became an ultramarathoner. I participated in the Seashore Nature Trail 50K at First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach, VA. I volunteered at this race last year. I wasn't at all ready to run it when we first moved here. I had the job of taking off people's timing chips from their ankles, and Christy was working the time clock at the finish line.

The original plan was to train for it - as is always the plan. A year was plenty of time to train for a December ultramarathon, and with no Texas heat, it should go pretty well. Then, the original plan changed when we found out that Christy was pregnant and our baby was going to have a complicated birth. With that news, I figured that I wouldn't do the race since the plan was that we would deliver in December at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Grossly undertrained for a 50K
Then, as always, when I think I've got it all figured out...plans changed again. All of a sudden, the lengthy stay in Philadelphia wasn't happening anymore. With all that was going on with Christy and the baby, I wasn't training at all. At best, I was barely hanging on to my running streak with my daily one milers. Every now and then, I'd feel brave and do three miles. I did a couple half marathons during Christy's hospital stay - none with spectacular times. But after the whole situation settled down, I needed to do something for me. I needed to run for a long time.

As a certified running coach, running 50 kilometers (31 miles) of rooted trails is not...I NOT something I would recommend to anyone. In fact, it's not even something I would jokingly say to someone considering it. It's really not a smart idea. I talked to Christy about it. She was against it until next year. Before the baby was born, I ran the idea by a trusted running friend, MaryBeth. She was against it until next year. After everything settled down, I ran the idea by MaryBeth again.

Me: MaryBeth...should I sign up for this 50K?

MaryBeth: No. But with what you've been through, you've pretty much reserved the right to do whatever you want for at least the next month or so.

Thus, I was able to get one of the last spots before the race sold out.

Brooks Pure Grit
So...I met up with my running partner, Jessica, at the start of the race. The weather was clear and 43 at the start of the race. I started with a jersey, a long sleeved tech shirt, a very light jacket, hat, and gloves. There was a bag drop off where they would take your bag to 64th St. which is 5 1/2 miles in. We'd end up passing 64th St. four times throughout the course, so you could bring whatever you wanted or drop off things along the way. I ditched the jacket, gloves, and hat the first time we passed it.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have huge feet. They're abnormally big for my height. I'm only 5'9". I shouldn't have a size 13 foot. I should either be taller with this size foot or stay my current height with a smaller foot. I would prefer to stay my current height and have a size 10 foot. Unfortunately, that's not going to change. Big feet + tree roots = imminent opportunities to fall. I tripped two times before the flat out horizontal fall. Somehow, I didn't scrape anything or bleed. Aside from a small bruise on my right knee, I ended up being okay from it. Fortunately for me, my running partner was quite supportive and refrained from pointing and laughing.

Aside from the fall, the majority of the race was relatively incident free until I was a fool and didn't eat and PB&J at the second to last aid station of the course. It was the last time we would pass our bag. I filled up on sports drink and ate a few chips for the sodium, but I should have taken more. Lesson learned.

Totally worth it
We passed the marathon point together. It was a HUGE milestone. The course was basically a double loop, so we passed the marathon point sign on the first loop. On the first pass, it was both demoralizing and motivating at the same time. We had SO far left to go. But on the second time around, we gave each other a well deserved high five and knew, no matter what, even if we didn't finish, that we were now ultramarathoners just for taking one step past that sign. It was a fantastic feeling of accomplishment.

I was holding my well trained partner back. I knew that I was. Before we started, we had discussed the possibility of a 5:30:00 to a 6:00:00 finish. At 28.5 miles, the trail in front of me was spinning from lack of training and lack of nutrition. I knew I was going to finish the race even if I walked the last 2.5 miles. The time limit for the course was 8.5 hours. But I didn't want to hold her back from a sub 6 hour finish like we had discussed. I told her to go on. There was no way I could have gotten to 28.5 miles without her. And there was no way I could have finished without the volunteers who provided nourishment, motivation, and smiling faces.

I struggled with the last 2.5 miles, but it was a good time of reflection on the past weeks and months. Christy fought hard for all those weeks in the hospital. Our baby fought hard for 3 hours while he was alive. The NICU staff fought hard for him. I felt that I needed to fight hard for those 31 miles. I would have had an easier time if I would have prepared. But so many people struggled to help our little man, and no one was prepared for the outcome. rationale is probably a little different than most people who might choose a different way to grieve, but it works for me. I made some peace with some things on that trail in First Landing State Park.

Christy was there to see my finish. Knowing how grossly undertrained I was, she was worried that I might not make it, and it probably scared her a little to see Jessica finish without me. I'm happy she was there for my first ultra finish. Seeing her there was the perfect finish to the perfect race.

Am I physically suffering from it? Yes. Do my quads feel like they're being stabbed by the blades of a thousand hot knives? Sho do! I wouldn't trade that feeling of aliveness for anything right now.

In other news, the day before the race, I found out that I was selected to represent Brooks Running for my fourth year as a member of the Brooks I.D. Program. I'm looking forward to another year of inspiration and Running Happy with my Brooks family across the globe.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on your accomplishment bra. When you told me you had a race I didn't know it was an ultra marathon. I guess that is pretty close to being something.