Sunday, March 22, 2015

My First 50K Ultra Marathon

"If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try." - Seth Godin

A few years ago I started setting goals for myself that seemed "impossible" and challenged myself towards them. Last weekend I ran my first ultra marathon. I joined the ranks of some amazing runners at the Old West Trails 50K Ultra, which took place in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. 

50K = 31 miles. Yes, it's only 5 more miles than a marathon, but it's twice as hard. Running on trails was outside my comfort zone. Having never run on a trail before, there was a learning curve involved. After six months of training, I was ready to take on the challenge.
We arrived Friday and stayed the night in the Stagecoach Trails Horse Campground (literally steps away from the start/finish line). Here's my hubby setting up camp. The race organizers provided a nice pre-race dinner at the Lodge and a perfect breakfast in the morning.
Checking my Garmin (which stopped working at mile 5).
Here's the start line. Not too many people run these sort of distances....about ninety-five 50K runners in all. Minutes from the start it really hit me. I was so nervous! "I don't belong. Look at all these elite runners who all know each other. Did I train enough? How did I get myself here? What have I done? I don't fit in." Seconds later people were running. I didn't even hear a gun go off.  A kiss to Bryan and off I went, no time for self doubt. 
photo by Fernando Garcia
My nerves wore away fast as I fell in line. The first half of the course was absolutely beautiful. 
photo by cory schmelzer
I tried my best to look up and take it all in, but all I could do was steal a glance here and there. The trail was lined with jumping cholla cacti.
photo by Fernando Garcia
There I am heading into the canyon. I loved being on this trail with like minded people, breathtaking views and just being in the moment.

I made it to the first aid station, mile 8.10. My husband was there and so were the potato chips! Yes, that's right, during an ultra you lose a lot of salt so you eat potato chips while you awesome is that?!
photo by cory schmelzer
Beautiful, but not something you would want to run into!
photo by cory schmelzer
Or this!
photo by cory schmelzer
Tiny little yellow and purple flowers everywhere....and bees! 
I am so happy!
photo by cory schmelzer
Who's thinking about sore feet when you are surrounded by these beautiful blooming cacti?!
Still smiling. See those mountains behind me....I was in them earlier! See that thick sand I'm running sucked! This is mile 15.70, second aid station. Grateful to see my husband.
Two pounds lighter....and maybe not as happy.
From mile 18 to 22 the heat started to make itself known. I slowed way down. Around mile 20 a stranger (an angel on the side of the road) gave me a red popsicle. I don't know if I could have continued without that popsicle! The next aid station seemed like a mirage and I was running in the Sahara Desert. Is it a tent? Is it a car? No, it's a rock? Where are you aid station....
Mile 22 aid station: That's me wondering what the hell have I got myself into and my mom in her desert hat, supporting me. The volunteers were so helpful and friendly. They took my hat and bandana and filled them with ice. My wonderful husband refilled my pack and sprayed me with sunscreen. 
My body was depleted of sugar, so I loaded up on melon. That's Sandrine, a new friend who was also running her first 50K. The shade at the aid station was a blessing...I didn't want to leave.
That's me shuffling along. I could barley lift my feet because I felt like the squeaky Tin Man. 

Mile 22 through 26 were challenging. Temperatures reached 87 degrees. I had to run/walk more than I had planned. I went an hour without seeing anyone...just me in a vast, dry, hot desert. This is where the race was going to break me or make me stronger. I had to mentally talk myself through this leg. Finally, the last aid station was steps away (mile 28)!

A couple minutes in the shade, a water bucket dumped on my head via hubby, a hand full of oranges and some encouraging words from my family brought me back to life. 2.5 miles left to the finish line. I had energy to run it all the way in. 
7 hours, 22 minutes. Done. Elated. In shock. Tired. Need fruit. Will a beer go down? How bad am I gonna hurt? Did I just really do that?! Feeling OK. Surprised. Grateful. One of the best days of my life. Runner's high. Blessed. Happy. Happy. Happy!

You can't see them because they are standing in the shade at the Lodge to the left, but they are there....the other runners who came in hours before me are cheering me on through the finish line. It was one of the most overwhelming feelings of gratitude I'd ever felt.
I thought about a juicy cheese burger a lot during the race, but in the end it came down to a big bowl of pineapple. 

We ran through the wild west, so of course our finishers medals were made of leather! 

The biggest thank you to my husband, who spent every other Saturday following me on the trails on his mountain bike for hours on end. I WOULD NOT of been able to finish this race without his help. Thank you Bryan for being at every aid station (riding his bike in the heat) and being a pillar of support throughout this adventure. 

Thank you to my son, Jack and his cross country team at the middle school. I run with Jack and his friends three times a's the best part of my day. 

Thank you to my friends and family for your support and listening to me babble about this race for months! Thanks mom and Fred for your support at the race. Thanks to the other runners, race director and volunteers!! 

Thank you to my running buddy Christina. I would not of made it to several of my early morning training runs without you! You are a wonderful source of inspiration and a phenomenal runner. You are a ball of positive fire and I love that about you! Congrats to Christina who rocked her second LA Marathon last weekend! And kudos to Laurel who also ran the LA Marathon, her very first! Way to go girls!!

During my many months of training, I was often asked the question, "Why would you want to even think about running a 50K?"

The answer is, "To see what is possible." That's why.

The 50K distance was the hardest race I've ever run, but it was also the most amazing thing I've ever done. Is the 50 Mile distance now in my horizon? You bet it is!

Love & Gratitude,