It's been so difficult to process because crossing that finish line was the single greatest thing I have ever accomplished while simultaneously being a crushing, embarrassing failure. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning, shall we?
I felt ready and excited as we packed the car and headed out on our epic trek to Montana. The day was beautiful and cool. A storm had rolled through, bringing with it the promise of cooler temperatures for race day. The drive went smoothly and we had entered Big Sky Country without incident. The western Montana landscape is gorgeous. I knew I had chosen the perfect place to tackle my first ultra.
|Pretty darn gorgeous.|
|Thanks for being there, little dirt track.|
My hotel was right next to where the bus would be picking us up, so I was able to just walk over without having to wake anyone up to drive me. I was ready to go sooner than expected, so I was about 10 minutes early for the bus. I wasn't the only one though, and that gave me a chance to get to chat with some of the other runners. I met a very nice man named Jeff who was running this race as his 199th ultra. Sheesh. Everyone (all 17 of them) were very kind people. Ultra runners are a different breed. It's not like people are mean to me at other races, but this was a different feel all together. They treated everyone there as if we were all friends and had been for some time. There was no air of competition, just camaraderie. Another thing I noticed is that most of the people there were quite a bit older than I was. That helped me feel optimistic about my future as an ultra runner. My best years are still ahead. I've got time. (Those are some of the things that were said to me at the start. And they're right.)
|I have to go how far?!|
When the gun went off and we started on our way, there was a marked difference in the pace at this race versus all the other races I have been in. No one took off like a jack rabbit. Everyone was content to cruise along and enjoy the scenery. Within the first three miles, we came to my favorite places on the course. The Dominion Tressel and the railroad tunnel.
|Seriously, this was my favorite.|
|And running through a cool tunnel, second favorite.|
|If it would have been like this the whole day, things might have gone a little better for me.|
|That's still a lot of miles...|
|At this point, the struggle really started.|
By the time I reached mile 22 (Only 11 more miles to go! Hooray?) all I could think about was how badly I wanted to be at the finish line. The heat was taking a toll and I was beginning to hallucinate. My brain decided that it wanted to hallucinate a cow. So it did. That was unsettling.
|Here are some actual, non-hallucinated cows. This was at mile 32.5 and I was using every excuse to stop and take pictures.|
I kept hoping the aid stations would have something to sate my growing hunger. Sadly, I was spoiled when I went to the Umstead 100 and I had unrealistic expectations of aid station fare during an ultra. There was everything and anything you could possibly want at Umstead. Here, there wasn't much choice. I did enjoy the dried apricots and ate copious amounts of them, but what I really wanted was salty, crunchy things. I would have loved to have some potato chips. Or salted potato chunks. A hard boiled egg with salt. I was taking electrolyte tablets, but the salt craving was intense. Another thing I really wanted was some flat soda, like Coke. I felt an intense need for that sugar and caffeine. These are all things I could have carried with me, if I had known how badly I was going to want them. And now I know. Knowing is half the battle. LEARNING.
I could tell by mile 24 that my seven and a half hour time goal (goal A) wasn't going to happen. So I settled for my B goal (sub 8 hour). When it became apparent that was not happening, the C goal filled my brain (8.5 hours, because there was no way in hell I was going to finish in 9 hours. That was unacceptable.) When I had a total breakdown and cried for all of mile 31, the D goal of just finishing was all that was left.
|I knew I was the last 50K person out there, the 50 milers had started passing me some time before.|
The breakdown at mile 31 was interesting because it followed a strange surge of speed and awesomeness that happened when I hit mile 30. When my Garmin told me I had gone 30 miles, I was filled with overwhelming excitement. It was a milestone I had never hit before in my life. And it just so happened that that mile of the trail was shaded. I took off running and I ran that mile in about 10.5 minutes. Which is a fast mile for me on any regular day; it was a bonafide miracle after having already logged so many miles on my poor legs. And then the breakdown. It was a dizzying high, followed by the soul crushing low. Ah, running. You do know how to toy with my emotions. LEARNING.
By mile 32, I had stopped crying. Now my effort had devolved into a death march. I just kept trudging along, not even bothering to try running anymore. There was nothing left to give. It seemed that everything I had in me had been sucked out by the heat, distance, and time on my swollen feet that for some reason wouldn't just go numb already! People running the 50 miler had been passing me since about 16 miles in. And they continued to pass me in that last mile. But at least many of them were also death marching at this point. We were all miserable, together. That helps, it really does.
|32.5 miles. I hurt most everywhere. LEARNING.|
|I AM moving. Just very, very slowly.|
When I crossed that finish line, I was thrilled. 33.25 miles and I was still alive. But my Garmin also told me that it took me 9:09:48 to manage that distance. And that hurt. It embarrassed me and shamed me, even though no one else was mocking me or shaming me, just good old me, my own worst enemy. Jeff, the 199th ultra guy, was there at the finish line and gave me a hug. Everyone was happy that I made it. My mom was proud of me and took a ton of pictures (thanks, Mom!).
|Something I need to remember here.|
|I somehow managed a real smile!|
|And this is pretty neat.|
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly... who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly." -Theodore Roosevelt
I dared greatly.