My husband said it was just like learning to ski. You start out on the easy green slopes, work your way up to the blue, and years later when you’ve finally reached the bottom of a double black diamond, you throw your hands up in the air and scream “I did it!” That’s when the emotion of the whole journey sets in. He is so right.
My focus for the past couple of years has been all about ’speed‘ – how everybody else has it, and I don’t. The thought of putting my toes on another starting line and running my hardest to match a finish time I held in my head – a time that probably should have been debunked long ago – it made me crazy. I love to run. I just wanted to run.
The biggest confession of this race is that there were only 8 weeks left for training after the stress fractures on my feet healed; hardly enough time to build up to the mileage of most ultra training programs. So I trained for a marathon. Some runners have claimed this approach spelled disaster for their 50k, and some runners say a marathon training program works just fine for the 50k. There was only one way to find out.
I thought I’d struggle with two things: surviving the extra time on my feet beyond where my training had taken me (one 20-mile run), and convincing my mind to stay out of it.
I knew I could keep my brain placated by feeding it sugar, so for the first time (perhaps amazingly), I experimented with GU gels during my training runs and discovered the exquisite burst of energy achieved from the GU that touted 20mg of caffeine. My husband bought me a bag full of those little pouches of GU, and although I could only stomach two during the race, they did their job.
I also vowed to try a little of every type of food offered at the aid stations, which included trail mix, M&Ms, pretzels, chocolate chip cookies and several varieties of potato chips. In 6 hours, 16 minutes and 59 seconds, I never hit the wall. My legs were a different story entirely.
As much as I like to groan over the elevation of my typical training run, some coaches say running up and downhill causes a change in which muscles are used and the percentage they are used, while running on a flat surface uses the same muscles. . . which could cause problems if your legs aren’t adapted to long hours on a flat terrain using the same muscles. My legs went stiff somewhere along the middle miles.
The race course included 3 out-and-back segments along Chicago’s lakeshore path. A light rain fell in the same place for 2 out of the 3 segments. There was a warm(er) spot, an area that was strikingly frigid, a tunnel that was gruesomely muddy, and the wind grew steadily to over 14mph as the race lingered into early afternoon (welcome to Chicago!). The 50-mile runners had started two hours earlier, which left a constant shuffle of runners along the same path; back and forth, out and back, hour after hour.
There were a few onlookers here and there that cheered us on. One guy held up a sign for hours that read: Run like zombies are chasing you! Otherwise, we were mostly left to our own thoughts and the quiet, peaceful attempt to run further than I’ve ever run before. I absolutely loved it.
Everyone wanted to know if I would run another 50k. Yes, definitely.