It wasn’t my morning. I slept like shit. On my drive down the day before, my eye started bothering me. Either something got in it or it was some infection. It kept me up all night and when my alarm went off it was mostly shut and dark red. I flushed it out in the sink of my hotel room and made the decision to wear my contact in that eye. Which I think made it better and made me believe something was in my eye because the contact was blocking the irritation feeling. But my vision was still blurred and sometimes the double vision effect came on.
When I was about to drive off from my hotel, I realized I forgot my foam roller in the room. I really didn’t want to waste 5-10 minutes going to get it, so I just left it. I figured I would just get another one since I work at a running store. Also, I didn’t find out until after the race, I had left one of my car windows down. It rained a butt ton and the passenger side was soaked when I finished the race.
The morning was humid. I thought that it felt like a summer morning in Georgia already. It was about 70 degrees and I debated even wearing a shirt. I placed my drop bag in the designated area and tripled checked I had everything I brought. I stuffed my shorts with gels and s-caps in my handheld’s pocket. The RD announced we had about 10 minutes to go. I just hung out, sipped some water, made sure my shoes were tied and did some light stretching. And I got to meet my first fellow blogger in person. (Rebecca. She had a great 50K that day!)
We lined up as the RD was giving everyone course instructions. We were to do a small 5 mile loop, then 3 15 time loops, to make it 50 miles. Everyone was clicking on and off their light source to make sure they worked. Small jokes were tossed here and there which gave it a very chill and light mood. The final countdown was declared and then we were off.
Right away a guy my age was by my side. He had done this race before two years ago. It was his first ultra and he won it. Then his next one was the Keys 100, which will be my first 100 miler coming up. He told me how much of a disaster that was for him and now this race was his third ultra. We were in the lead pack but in the back of it. We both wanted to started off super slow. We kept reminding each other to slow up a bit a few times.
This first part was mostly on a service “road” made of sugar sand. There was rain the night before which made most of it compacted but there were still areas where it was pretty loose. So almost like running in the sand at the beach.
By the first mile, I was draining sweat. I almost forgot what it felt like to sweat so much after the long winter we had in the South. I knew I had to stay on top of my hydration because otherwise I’ll be sorry late in the race.
We went about 3 miles on this then hit the main trail. This last few miles of this loop was also the last miles of the bigger loops. So we were now on the course. This section had a good bit of roots so we had to step carefully. Even with all of our lights, occasionally someone would stub their shoe into a root but no one fell victim.
We made it to the start/finish area. The 50K runners were getting ready to start and they cheered everyone on as we went through. Everyone I was running with blew past the aid station and the chance to get anything from their drop bags. I stopped to grab another gel and to add some water to my handheld.
I started the first big loop with a couple of guys. It was still dark so we still had our headlamps. Well I actually used knuckle lights. I was behind them. Eventually the lead guy made a slight wrong turn off course. I didn’t follow, so now I was leading both of them.
Slowly the darkness faded but the weather was overcast leaving a greyness in the sky. I was feeling good and settled into a very easy pace. Up ahead, I could see a few runners in the distance. I was barely reeling in.
As we ran on, I could hear this awful bugle sound in the distance. I soon realized it was a vuvuzela that I remember hearing from watching the World Cup. It was from the guy manning the first aid station. When I made it there he refilled my water bottle and I tossed a few cups of cold water over my head. Before taking off, I took my first and only pee break.
Off and running I could still see the same few runners just ahead of me. The course winded through the woods. A few fallen trees were in the way that we had to get over. There were some tiny inclines and declines but mostly it was flat.
Eventually I passed one runner but also around this time, runners doing the 16 mile race started to pass. And then I kind of lost track as far as who was who and in what race. I got to the next aid station and the same story there. Someone filled my bottle up and I cooled down with water over my head. I made sure to take my time at each stop. No point in rushing and making myself more tired.
The next little part went by quick and I don’t remember much. It felt like I had just left the last aid station when I came up to the next one. Turns out it was only 3 miles from the last one. Anyways, I welcomed it and made a stop. They told me that this was the last stop and I had a little over 4 miles to finish this loop.
This final part of the loop had the most inclines. The smart people were walking up them already, I decided to chug along and run up them. I even told myself that might not have been the best idea.
Running on I finished the first big loop feeling great, comfortable and at ease. I was 20 miles into the race but still had a long ways to go.
I reloaded on gels and s-caps, then took off for my second big loop. I was sticking to my original plan of one gel every 30 minutes and one salt pill every hour. I took a gulp of water about every 5 minutes and I switched my bottle to the other hand every 15 minutes to avoid getting sore arms.
I was happy to hear the vuvuzela this time around and found it comical that this guy was doing that all day. This was around mile 25 and from there I made it to the next aid station with no problems.
I was coming up to a guy who looked like he was having problems. He was in a run/walk shuffle. I was feeling great and just when I was about to catch him, a hamstring cramped up when I was jumping over a log. I stopped for a minute to work it out. Once it settled I was back running again. But the guy ahead was no linger in my sights.
About 5 hours into the race is when I first started to tire. My heart was started to pound and the heat was making my head thump. I took my first walk break to regroup. After a short 30 seconds I was running again. But it was a slippery slope from there. One walk break led to another and I was living in my own darkness. This was just after about 30 miles into the race.
Everyone one of us has that person in our lives that tells us we can’t. That we should quit. That we are pathetic and that we are not good at anything in life. That person for me is me. I am my own worst enemy…
From that point on for about 4 miles, I felt like a failure. I felt like I was an awful runner. I wanted to quit and just go home. Each time I got into a run, my mind got in the way and told me to walk. And I caved in.
I really wanted to finish the last mile to get back to the start/finish area. Slowly my mind came back to my corner. I felt down but it was yelling at me to get back up. To fight. To push through this shit hell I was in.
Most of the second loop it was thundering in the distance. I was starving when I got finished with that loop. I ate a PB&J sandwich and drank some Coke. I went over to my bag and reluctantly stuffed the rest of my gels in my pockets. I went back to the aid table and ate some cookies. I took longer at this stop than any other. I was beginning to get that cold feeling from standing around after running for a long time. Then a giant boom went off overhead and rain just dumped down.
I was so hoping for the race director to say something like, “all runners stay here and keep safe.” But instead he said something like, “woooo! It’s gonna be a fun one out there.” Fucking shit was all I could think of.
I started the final loop, 15 miles, with two other runners. The trail had already flooded in just minutes. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud because of how miserable I felt. A few minutes later I was another person. The food pulled me from my own hell, the rain kept me cool and running with others helped me suck it up. I began to embrace everything and turned it into a positive experience.
I left for the final loop at 6:10 and knew that if I wanted to break 9 hours I wouldn’t have any room for any walk breaks. I would have to run the whole loop.
The rain continued to drop on us and I couldn’t help but to think of Forrest Gump when he was in Vietnam. It felt like we were in the same scene with this much rain coming down. He was at war with another country though. This was different.
We race to run against others. But every single race ends up being a war against yourself. No matter the distance or the time you are out there, you will be put against yourself. Each race is a different battle and each mile you win, you become a stronger, different and new being.
One guy eventually had to slow down. But me and another guy fell into a wonderful rhythm. No breathe was wasted on words. We just ran.
Each aid station I ate more solid foods. I had no issues with stomach cramps. I still took my time at each stop but knew I had to get a move on. I stayed strong and never had a negative thought this lap. I began to pay more attention to watch. I was so determined to go under 9 hours.
As the minutes clicked by my pace started to pick up. I didn’t take any walk breaks this last loop. It felt like I was running hard, but in reality I probably wasn’t running fast at all. I pushed hard to the finished and crossed at 8:56.
It was a tough race. The humid conditions at the start and down pour the last 15 miles made for a challenging race. I had one rough stretch but powered through it. I didn’t give up, as bad as I wanted to, and finished with a new found pride and strength. I am very pleased with my performance and ready for the next one!
*I stopped by my hotel after the race before heading home and they still had my foam roller! I also stopped at a CVS and talked with the on staff doctor about my eye. He recommended a certain eye drop and it has cleared up now.