March 17, 2018
I am five days post-race and I am still having difficulty writing how I FEEL about this race. My first ultramarathon is in the books. It was amazing. It was incredible. It exceeded my expectations in most every way.
As most of you know if you follow me here or on Instagram, my training had its ups and downs. I ran most of my training runs alone. It wasn’t on purpose or because I wanted to; the schedule I have just doesn’t work out for most of my running buddies. I don’t like to run alone all of the time, but this training cycle it turned out running alone allowed me to process many of the stressors I was under during training. It was good for me. It was my therapy. There were days I ran with joy, but there were days I ran and cried; not out of pain or sorrow, but because I was dealing with more this training cycle than I had others. The stress was personal stuff, professional stuff, internal stuff. I had never trained for this distance, so there was also this creeping doubt and insecurity that comes with training for a “new” thing. Some training days were heavy, I am not going to lie. But enough about that, you came for the race report…so here it is. If you want to know what running your first 50K on the road might be like, well, here is my take…
My husband and I headed down to Alcoa, Tennesse the day before the race. We arrived late afternoon to a beautiful day of sun and mild temps (a perfect race day), but that would soon change. We checked into the hotel and my husband gave me a care package from some of my biggest mother runner supporters–there were notes filled with encouragement, fuel, homemade treats, a CTM Band, bath bombs, and ultrarunner swag-I was blown away! The cards and notes were my favorites and I carried several with me on race day. I will treasure them always!
Once I collected myself, we went to packet pick-up. The first person to greet me was Mary Beth, the assistant race director. She greeted us warmly, pointed me towards check-in and wished me the best as she raced off to her next duty. Pick-up was quick and painless…I was the only one in my line! We picked up my bib and then was ushered through the lines of swag pick-up. I couldn’t believe all of the nice things we were showered with (see pic below). We then went to the “mandatory” pre-race meeting where we were briefed on all of the details for the next day. The amount of detail was amazing; you can tell the Race Directors put so much time into this event! Then, they started the Pistol Squat contest– anyone present was invited up on the stage to participate–whichever male and female participant completed the most pistol squats in 2 minutes received their race registration back in cash on the spot! It was amazing to watch! Then, they gave away several discounts and prizes. I won a free t-shirt and gift card just for being there! It was a very generous pre-race meeting.
Another highlight of this race: every year there is a guest/celebrity speaker that talks at the pre-race event and this year it was Catra Corbett – I was so amazed! If you don’t know who she is, google her, she’s a bad@ss. After the meeting, we went to eat and then back to the hotel so that I could prep and get in bed at a decent time.
I woke up an hour before we had to leave for the race. The hotels that are a part of the race are very convenient-only a mile away from the event! Everything went smoothly except with my nerves that morning, I tried to put my husband’s contacts in when I woke up instead of my own! He had to point out why I was panicking because I couldn’t see! Nothing like a little pre-race laughter to lighten the mood a little. I checked my hydration vest one more time and then we were off!
The weather was warm at 7 a.m. I had been training in mostly 30 or 40-degree weather but it was already 42 degrees before the start. I chose to wear a tank and shorts because I knew it was only going to get warmer-there was a predicted high of 72 with a chance of thunderstorms so I didn’t want to overheat. We arrived to find a lovely spread of coffee and Panera bagels. I had already eaten but nibbled on a piece of a bagel while we waited.
Then, it happened — it was time! Now, this is where many people will learn something new about me. I have a severe anxiety of toeing a start line. I’ve run so many races and I’ve made sure every time I started way in the back (sometimes behind the walkers and strollers). It makes me want to vomit. Mainly because when I was very, very young (around 5), I toed the line at my very first kids run (the Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon Kids Race). When the gun went off, all of the kids behind me started but I froze. I subsequently was knocked down and trampled! I still remember my aunt and mom running over to check on me and I was crying and just a mess. So, what do I do at my first ultramarathon surrounded by a bunch of runners I don’t know…? Well, I go straight up to the start line right in front and yelled at my husband to take a photo. I am certain he thought I looked like a lunatic, but I didn’t care! Today was redemption day and I was not going to allow myself to fall or get trampled! And I did! The gun went off and I went flying out of the start line. I smiled and waved to my husband like, “Look at me! I didn’t fall! Noone is stepping on me!”. It was the first of many amazing feelings on this day.
So, the Pistol is a 10-mile looped course. It is billed as flat. It might be flat to trail runners, but to roadrunners, I would describe it as rolling hills. I took off faster than what I wanted (totally worth it though) but pulled up and fell into my planned pace within mile 2. The course was beautiful! It was so GREEN and lush and beautiful. The course is paved and winds through parklands and alongside the Pistol Creek. Rain started to fall during the first loop, but it was a light mist and felt good. I knew my husband would be at the mile 10 mark with dry clothes if I wanted them. I was prepared and not worried. As I came into mile 10 he was there waiting for me yelling, “You look strong! Great job!”. And I kept running. My pack was full of liquid and solid nutrition and I was happy with my work on the first loop.
The second loop. That’s where I started to question my choices in life.
Why was I doing a looped course? I liked point to point courses.
Why did I pack so many damn waffles? It was too hot to eat at this point and I just wanted ice!
Why wouldn’t my headphones work, I might need them? Oh, wait, my phone died around mile 12. Geez, I didn’t plan this.
Was that bacon on a donut sandwich that I just saw at an aid station?
Didn’t I pass that Leprechaun once already?
Then, I saw my running friend Abbi on the course. She didn’t stop to talk to me but smiled, waved and yelled as she passed, “ARE YOU ON PACE?!?”. Shoot, better speed up a bit because she’s watching! Other people also smiled, waved and yelled out my IRun4 running buddy’s name as I passed, “Go! Run for Jessica”! That always helps me get some pep in my step!
I decided to talk to people on the course at this point. There were 100K and 100 Milers on the same course, so I thought they might need company and it would pass the time. And it did. As I neared mile 20, I sped up. I could see my husband waiting for me and I could hear the crowd cheering. I reminded myself I had been at mile 20 many times; no big deal. And then I heard my husband yell, “You are STILL on pace! You look strong! What do you need?”. I smiled because he sounded surprised and pleased with my progress. I told him to meet me with my waist pack and ice. Lots of ice. And he did. I threw my hydration vest at him and took my waist pack filled with icy water. I took a huge block of ice and stuffed it in my sports bra. And I kissed him good-bye and kept running!
At this point, it was so hot. The sun was out beating down on us. People were shedding clothes and slowing down. I kept on my pace plan. At around mile 23 I decided to slow down a bit; I was on pace to beat my own marathon PR and thought, “That can’t be good! I will have 5 more miles to go after that!”. And then at mile 26 when I realized I PR’d, I stopped at the aid station and asked for ice and a lovely volunteer said, “Sure! Do you want a popsicle, too?” and right then, she looked just like an angel and I said yes and took a banana popsicle. It was the best popsicle I’ve had in my whole life. And I walked and ate it. Carefree, in the middle of a race, I just walked and ate my popsicle like I was done. I don’t know what I was thinking, but at that moment, I could see and smell everything so well. I wanted to remember that moment, so I just took it all in. And, I yelled out to other people passing me, “THEY HAVE POPSICLES!” like a deranged person. It cracks me up thinking about it now.
And, then I ran. It was a clumsy, lumbering feeling, this running. I worked hard to get my legs going again. At a little over 27 miles, I slowed to a stop to fuel while I walked. Then, I saw Abbi running towards me again. I was so happy to see her-she smiled and stopped to say hello and asked me if I needed anything. We took a selfie because that is what BAMRs do. I said I was fine and asked her how she was and she smiled and said great and told me to go! So off I ran. As I started to run again, I realized, I had less than 3 miles and I would be an ultrarunner.I started to cry a little and then pulled myself together remembering I still had 3 hard miles to go, most of them uphill. I felt like I barely passed anyone at this point; I wondered if I was one of the last 50K runners out on the course. And I remember good advice my BAMR friends gave me a long time ago, “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other” and so I did just that.
As I neared mile 29, I sped up. I ran towards the point I knew my husband would be and there he was running towards me. He was waving and carrying a large diet fountain coke and a bag of salty french fries! What can I say, he knows me too well. I smiled and he smiled and he said, “I have these for you when you are done!” and I told him I didn’t want to run up that last hill again. And, I told him he better be at that finish line to get photos when I did get up that last hill again! I did not stop. I ran as hard as my legs could go and I made that last hill. As I came into the finisher’s shoot, people were yelling and I could hear my husband yell, “Run, Steph, Run!”. I didn’t know why he was yelling at me but I started sprinting; I would only find out later that he was trying to push me to a certain time.
As I crossed the finish line, there was a young lady offering me water and also my husband smiling gleefully. They walked me inside and it was everything I could do to hold in all of the tears, but walking and crying at the same time seemed too difficult, so I just walked. I was stopped at the timetable and was told there was an issue with my time print out. I was confused but happy to take my medal. I wasn’t clear on why they wouldn’t let me move forward and then my husband said, “You placed!”. I was astounded. Apparently, the time was such that they had to discern my place in age group–it turns out I was the 4th woman to finish AND I won 1st in my age division (F, 40-49). When they told me that, it was everything I could do to stand up. I figured I was one of the last women to finish! The volunteers and assistant race director all congratulated me and were so kind. I was so grateful to have them there and so happy that my husband was there! He helped me get back to the showers and change out of my wet, sweaty clothes. I had a sunburn (note to self: stop to reapply sunscreen after 20 miles) and I was starving but you couldn’t peel the goofy grin off of my face. All of my hard training had paid off and I was now officially an ultramarathoner! I cannot say enough about this race-from the swag to the aide stations to the volunteers to the scenery-it all blew me away!
Let me be clear when I started this running journey five years ago, I never had my eyes set on this goal. But, with the help of so many people, this idea became a goal that became a reality. If you want something bad enough, you will do it. It may not begin or finish the way you expect or plan, but it can happen. I think the key for me was to surround myself with people who believe in me as much if sometimes more than I believe in myself.