Land Between the Lakes 60K
I love this. With all of my heart I love this. I haven’t been very vocal about this training cycle. During my first ultra marathon training schedule, I was so excited every single week to share what I was doing and how I was feeling, I wanted everyone to be able to experience it with Bailey and I. This time around it has been different. When I scheduled this race, Bailey was still struggling with her knee injury from our previous ultra. I was on a high from such a fantastic race, that I really didn’t want a break from training, and I became determined to train for this ultra by myself. I told myself that there is no way that we will be able to run every single race together for the rest of our lives (although I think I was very wrong in this logic). I decided I wanted to train for this race because I wanted to work on my mental toughness. It was more about that than anything else. I want to push myself to my limits, and I knew that training for an ultra marathon almost completely alone would do just that. So, I have been training for the past 12 weeks for my first Trail Ultra Marathon. Training actually went quite well. I felt strong and healthy for the majority of it, with only one really bad week of being sick (my usual liver dysfunction). I was getting faster and I really felt like an endurance athlete. A 16 mile run would go smoothly and my soreness wasn’t so bad afterwards. I started doing a lot more strength workouts (still need to improve), and most I was importantly doing a lot of preventative rehab on my tendons and muscles.
It wasn’t until about 3 weeks out from the race that I started dealing with my first injury. I struggled after my first race with pretty bad IT band pain, and it was creeping up again. I didn’t push my training the last 2 weeks before the race; I knew my foundation and sheer brute force would carry me through to the finish line. The struggle during this training cycle was not the physical toll on my body, it was the mental aspect of it. It is hard to explain how mentally exhausting it is to train for an ultra marathon. You sacrifice so much of your time and energy to this sport, and don’t get my wrong, I would not change it, but it is hard to do it alone. I called Bailey multiple times crying my eyes out because I just needed her, which sounds really lame as I am typing it, but I’m just being honest. This is a very raw sport, and you are stripped down to the core of your emotions. I made her promise me at least once a week that she would run the next race with me. I wasn’t mad at her, I just needed her, like a lot. I did have some great company during a few of my long runs, Meg came down and hung out for my 24 miler, and Andie dealt with me for quite a few of her long runs as well.
Going into race weekend, I was emotional (just get ready to read that word a lot, because it is a common theme). This is the longest race I have done, and it is on trails, which will be much more difficult, and on top of that, I don’t have my PIC. Lets just put it this way, I prayed a lot, gave myself a lot of pep talks, and tried not to think about how bad it was going to hurt. P.S. not only was this a big day for me, it was also Andie’s (my roomie/BFF) first half marathon (actually a 23K/14.2 miles). She started her running journey last summer, and we have been scheming ever since. From her first mile, to now officially starting marathon training, I could not be more proud.
The night before we left for the race, I spent hours in the kitchen getting my food ready for the weekend. I am really picky about what I bring and eat the day before a race, and I cannot chance eating food that I have never tried before, because there is just no correcting that mistake. So Andie and I prepped all of the food. Including my favorite brownie recipe, mini donuts, chickpea cookies, and some regular chocolate chip cookies for good measure. If there is ever an excuse to eat copious amounts of carbs and sugar, this is definitely that occasion. On Friday afternoon, Bailey, Mom and I drove to Grand Rivers, KY to pick up our race packets with Dad, Reese and Andie coming a little behind us. During the previous weeks, Bailey had decided that she was going to run the last 14 miles with me, for support and because you need someone to keep you sane at that point. We had a fun Friday night, we went to Cracker Barrel with Kel and everyone got dinner, and then we went back to the hotel and hung out for a while before it was lights out. I felt pretty good about everything, and was trying not to let myself get nervous about the 4:15 wake up call. I am a creature of habit, so I get up and drink water, eat a bar, get dressed and put my hair in a French braid (I wear it like this for every race). We take some pictures and I am getting really excited for Andie, but really nervous for me. I know that isn’t the best sentence structure, but that is how I felt.
Our hotel was only 3 miles from the start line, and in that three miles I had to will myself not to cry. I swear to you, there must have been something in the water, because I just could not help it. I got out of the car and Bailey puts her arm around me and starts giving me a pep talk. Dad, Andie, Bailey and I walk to the start line, which is a little ways from our car. It is a beautiful overcast morning right on the lake. It gave me some peace, I just felt like God was there. There is also this really cool feeling at the beginning of an ultra race that is very hard to explain. You know that everyone around you loves the same thing that you do. They put their body through the same things you do, and they have the same fear and insecurity that you do.
The gun goes off, and we wave to Dad and Bailey, knowing we will see them later. The first 1.9 miles of the race are on the road and leading us to the trails. Andie and I were just trucking along. Enjoying the excitement of what was about to come, and taking in all of the characters that we were seeing and running by. Without fail, you will see some elderly people who you have no clue how they are running, and they will no doubt beat you and make you look like weak sauce. But I’m okay with it. It makes me super happy actually, I hope I am one of those people one day. Side note: this is a pretty big race for trails. Most of the course in single track, and there are 4 different distances being run (23K, marathon, 60K, and 50 miler). What I am getting at is that the beginning of the trails were very congested, and it was pretty slow running. It was easy to get caught behind a group, and since they weren’t really wide enough to pass in most places, it took some patience in the beginning few miles. Not that we minded, Andie and I were really enjoying ourselves, and didn’t even have a hiccup until around mile 8. At around mile 7 we saw a bald eagle and even stopped to take a picture, because it was absolutely beautiful and if you are going to be out in the woods for 10 hours, what is an extra 5 minutes?
The race is a 12 mile trail loop. The first 6 miles of the trail were not nearly as hilly as the second 6 miles. Not to mention that it had been raining, and hundreds of people had already been on the trail, so it was extremely muddy, and slippery in certain places. We also seemed to jump over a lot of creeks. After the second aid station, it got really really real on the trail. There was a lot of incline, and I’m going to be frank right now. I didn’t really train for it. It was exhausting, and painful. Andie and I stayed together until mile 10, then we split up, I felt like the most horrible friend ever, but I think she was secretly glad to get rid of me and my constant talking. I had a deadline to meet for the second loop, and I was afraid that I would be close. I ran the last 2 miles alone and going into the second loop, I met Sara! Sara was the best surprise! I knew I didn’t want to run the whole second lap by myself, so she was such a welcomed surprise! You all know me by now, I will talk to a picture on the wall, so I just told her we were going to run together. She was so sweet and we talked about life, love, work, and running. She lived in the area and she ran those trails all of the time, so it was kind of nice to be able to kind of know where we were going, and she didn’t mind me asking how far away the aid station was every 30 minutes or so. Around mile 15, I started feeling bad…little did I know this would be my trial during this race. My legs were still feeling good at this point, the only pain I was really feeling physically was in my toes. I hadn’t trained much on trails, and running down the hills jarred my toes and was causing some pain. I knew my feet were already starting to get blistered, but there wasn’t much I could do, so I just tried to put it out of my mind. You know how people will sometimes punch you in the arm when you have a headache, and joke by saying at least you aren’t focused on your headache. Well….that is what happened with my feet. It was hard to focus on my feet when I felt like I wasn’t going to make it to the next aid station to the bathroom. I was putting all of my focus into not being one of those horrible memes on tumbler were a marathon runner had crap running down their legs! Haha What I didn’t realize at the mile 15 was that this would not be a one and done feeling during this race. It was going to be continuous, and by continuous I mean that it was one of the most miserable things I have ever experienced. The aid stations were up to an hour a part, and as soon as I would make it to one, I would need the next one within 20 minutes. The feeling was brought on even quicker if I drank or ate anything. Which is also a problem, because I was getting dehydrated, my electrolyte balance was very off (hence the problem in the first place). This is just not a problem you want to deal with when you are going to be doing a race that is at least 8 hours.
On a positive note, Sara was super understanding of my bathroom breaks and didn’t care one bit. The even better part was that half way aid station (mile 19), my whole family found me! I took a little extra time at that aid station and took my socks off to access my blisters and of course went to the bathroom. I met Sara’s husband, who was super nice. The best part was that my Bailey Boo was there ready to run, which I was not expecting at all! I was very very thankful, because I can candidly talk about my tummy troubles with her and she always has patience, always makes me laugh about the things I cannot change (which with my crazy body is a lot). So for the rest of our second loop it was Boo, Sara, and I trucked through, and
I didn’t get in my head too much. It was rough though. I was starting to feel the side effects of being so sick. Bailey would push me to run for periods of time, made sure I was still drinking Nuun, and was in relatively high spirits. When we finished the second loop we had beat the cut off by an hour and a half, which I was really happy with. Until I started having tummy troubles, everything was almost going too easily. When we were at the aid station between loop 2 and 3, Sara went on without us, which I was a little grateful for, because I felt like I was slowing her down. We also met another girl, who coincidentally had a food allergy to peanuts. The reason that information is so important is that she accidentally ate a peanut butter filled pretzel. She started getting hives pretty quickly, even though she spit it out immediately. So, we talked to the race director and she decided she wanted to finish, and that we would make sure she was okay. We had the race director’s phone number ready just in case her reaction got worse. She was super nice, but if I’m being honest, I was feeling really really bad. I think I had already gotten sick 4-5 times at this point, and I was feeling very weak. I felt like the trees were swaying, and I was just focusing on getting one foot in front of the other. Peanut allergy girl (I can’t remember her name, I was too busy trying not to quit) left Bailey and I after a couple of miles and I was SOO glad! She was super sweet, but I was not in the mood to be sweet. I just needed focus, and get through it. The next five miles were a blur, it did help that Bailey hadn’t been on that part of the loop yet, so I got to look forward to showing her the bald eagle section. It also helped that I was getting the hang of this trail, and I was pretty oriented with where the aid stations were. At the half way mark in the third loop, we saw Sara again, and unfortunately, she had gotten very sick somehow and there were 4 men with her helping her get to the next aid station. They called the squad to get her IV fluids. It made me super sad for her. I don’t know what happened during those 6-7 miles, but I hate that she didn’t get to finish and that she got so sick. I said some prayers and we had to keep moving. Every aid station was getting harder and harder to leave, because I just wanted to be finished. At this point my feet were completely mutilated and destroyed. I could feel my pinky toe squishing with fluid in it every time I took a step. I honestly don’t even remember how I got through those miles. Then, the icing on the cake…the funniest part of this whole race (it wasn’t funny at the time, but I laugh pretty hard now, because what else can you do?). Thank goodness Bailey and I had the forethought to get some toilet paper from a porta potty, just in case of an emergency. There was an emergency. Side note: At this point in the race, it was not congested anymore. You would actually go a pretty long time without seeing anyone. Which happened to be very good when I was wrestling with myself and whether I should go behind the nearest large tree and take a crap in the woods. I was mortified. I went about 200 yards up on a hill behind a very large tree, and made sure Bailey couldn’t see me from the trail. Bailey was keeping lookout for me. I just kept telling myself that this was a much better option that pooping my pants. I guy came running around the corner, and I said OHH SH*T (can you see the hilarity here?), and ran back down the hill. Bailey and I just looked at each other and laughed. She just shook her head, and said, “Sh*t happens, Blaine”. How can you not laugh. I had been in the woods for 8 hours, I just lost all of my humanity and went to the bathroom in the woods, my toes felt like they were going to pop off, but I had less than 6 miles left and there was absolutely no way that I was stopping now. To top off those six miles, you need to cue pouring down rain, not a sprinkle; it was rain where you couldn’t really see in front of you. I also fell in some mud with about a mile left in the third loop and my whole backside was covered in mud. Can you see the humor in that? I was mortified the entire race about crapping myself, and with 3 miles left I just bust my butt and get covered in brown anyway. Touché Mother Nature, touché.
Bailey and I finally made it to the end of the third loop, and when I saw the pavement, I literally burst into tears. I know you think I am kidding. I’m very sure that you probably think this is an exaggeration, it really isn’t. I felt so overwhelmed. I could not stop crying. I cried for the last 1.7 miles of the race, pretty much non stop. Bailey just kept hugging me and squeezing my hand. She is my legitimate hero, I could not get through this life without her. I ran to the finish line and my whole family was there cheering me on almost 10 hours after I started, that's commitment if you ask me. I don’t think they enjoyed all of those hours, but the end was worth the wait. I can easily say that I earned my first belt buckle with blood, sweat and tears. Mostly sweat and tears. I’m a crier and a sweater.
Afterwards I felt like I got hit by a bus. Pretty much as soon as I stopped moving and the pictures were over, I felt a wave of something (exhaustion just does not describe it correctly) wash over me. Bailey and I found some hot showers to get the mud off with, and that just opened up a whole new can of worms. When water hits your body you realize how many places rubbed the wrong way….no amount of body glide can prevent this. I am sure of it. I limped back to the car, felt like I had the flu, and just kept sighing. I just didn’t know how to deal with how my body felt. We stopped at waffle house, because we needed food and I love breakfast and because we are classy. No one judges you for limping around, and looking like you might be on drugs because your hands won’t stop shaking. Mom told our waitress that we just got finished with our race and she just looked back at her, didn’t say a word. It was hilarious. She did not care AT ALL!
Anyway, the next two days were rough. My feet looked like they might never be useable again. My hair was so matted I thought I might have to cut it off. I have never hurt that bad getting out of bed. I couldn’t even sleep because my body hurt so bad. For the whole next week, people asked me if it was worth it. Without hesitation, I answer yes every time. I don’t think this will be my best race memory, and it was definitely not smooth sailing, but I knew that was a possibility when I toed the start line. The race is just a culmination of all of the hard work that goes into training for something like this. I do this because it changes my heart from the inside out, and it humbles me a little more every single day.
P.S. I took 3 complete weeks off of running after this race. I am still only training when I choose to and what feels good. So, any of you who think this isn’t good for me, I have it handled, and I am a smart chick!
P.P.S. I am really sorry about the two cuss words…I just felt like it just wouldn’t have been right to leave that part out. It was too funny, and too perfect. The forest will make you do crazy things! haha
P.P.P.S. I just want to say one more time how thankful I am for my family, and for Andie and how cool it is to be a part of other people's journeys.
With love and all of my miles,