|Great photo by Greg Sadler (sadlershots.com|
For three days before the race, the trail was subjected to rain showers of differing magnitude. The night before my race I awoke to thunder and lightening. My thoughts went to those amazing people that were doing the 100M and 100K, they had been running for several hours already while I was cozy in bed, listening to the thunder, they were running through the storm. I admire those runners!
The rain continued through the night and into the morning. It was still raining when it was time to start my race.
As I lined up for my start I looked around me at the other 50K'ers and realized the first major difference between this race and others I have run. When I did the Flying Pig there were over 20,000 people at the starting line. Here, there was maybe 500 runners and most of them were running the half and full marathon. After receiving my race instructions (follow the pink markers) I was off.
My strategy for the race was pretty simple, duplicate what I did in training. That meant running the first four miles straight through then start the Jeff Galloway "Run/Walk/Run" method. For fuel I was to eat GU gels and drink water, Gatorade and Recoverite.
Right away I saw what the continual rain had done to the trail. The first four miles were riddled with large puddles of muddy water. Many runners were trying to baby foot around the puddles but if you know me, you know I love running in the mud. I passed a few people as I charged through the middle of the puddles. Although my feet were muddy and the rain continued coming down, I was feeling pretty good. Focusing on a relaxed pace and ignoring the runners racing past me, I made it to the first aid station.
This was when I noticed another difference with ultra marathons, the spread. Along with the traditional wares (GU, Gatorade, and water) there was a wide variety of other foods (Oreos, Fig Newtons, brownies, potatoes, etc.) I have read about ultra runners eating cooked potatoes with salt, but I was going to stick with the plan, so I grabbed a GU and headed back on the trail.
For the next couple of miles I ran on dirt roads. The flat wide roads were a nice change from the muddy hills I had just run. I know my strategy called for switching to the run/walk/run method but I was feeling good and decided to continue running to the next aid station. Settling into a nice pace, I relaxed and ran. I passed some people and others passed me but I didn't care. I was just there to run my own race. If I recall correctly, the rain had stopped around this point.
When I got to the next aid station, which several runners were calling "The Yurt". I was amazed that the spread from the last aid station was nothing compared to what was being offered here.As the nice volunteer filled my bottle with Gatorade I looked at all the choices. In addition to what was at the other station, this one had chips, fruit, and soup. There was coke and sprite to drink as well. I have been to weddings with less food than this. With all these choices I just couldn't leave with only a GU in hand, so I tried a salted potato. OH MY GOD! It was delicious. I scarfed down a couple more pieces before heading out.
Eight miles behind me I was still feeling pretty good so I decided once again to keep running. About a mile past the aid station I hit a root hidden under the sand and crashed to the ground. Luckily nothing was hurt so I got up and continued running. Moments later I heard a "OMPH". I turned around and saw that another guy took a spill at the same spot. Our mutual mishap sparked up a conversation and for the next couple of miles on the trail. It turns out he was an Army guy from Virginia who had just weathered a hurricane and tropical storm. So today's rain was nothing for him.
Eventually the trail spilled out onto the road again. This is where I met the girl with the flower tattoo. She was an experienced ultra runner (having done over 50 events) with an orange and yellow flower tattoo on her right shoulder blade. She was second guessing the route she took to get to this point thinking she may have taken a wrong turn and done some extra miles. While talking and running with her, I noticed my pace had picked up. It was faster than I would have run alone but it wasn't painful, so I stuck with her for as long as I could and we talked about all the races she has done. After about two miles, I couldn't hang with her anymore and she slowly faded from view.
This is when I hit the next aid station, which was actually the same one I hit the first time. It was a nice surprise to see my wife and mother-in-law there. After a few words with them and grabbing more potato pieces I continued my run.
|Leaving the aid station at mile 12.|
Still feeling pretty decent, I postponed the walking again and decided to run to the next aid station, back at the starting line.
This was about the time I hit the mud again. But instead of fun puddles that I could run through, the constant foot traffic had turned the trail into mud soup. A thick, mucky, sole-sucking, soup that reduced my pace to an even slower jog. While trudging through shin deep muck, I met a girl from New Hampshire.
|Me and the girl from New Hampshire|
At the aid station I met up with the girl with the flower tattoo again. Her, New Hampshire, and I headed out on our second loop together. However the two ladies were better runners than me and eventually pulled ahead. I wouldn't see either of them for the rest of the race.
My legs were getting tired but I still wanted to see how far I could go before starting the run/walk method. Someone once gave me the advice to "run until you can't, then walk" and I decided to do just that. After 18.5 miles, I hit that point. My legs were hurting pretty bad, the skies were darkening and my mood was starting to darken. It was time for a break. It was time to begin the Jeff Galloway method that has worked so well for me in the past. It didn't help that I was once again dealing with the mud, which was now pissing me off. It was so hard to get a good stride going when I had to deal with all the mud. The second loop was worse than the first. The mud was thicker and the puddles were deeper. There was even one stretch where the water was past my knees with ankle deep mud sucking at your shoes.
Running my five minute segments, I continued on. Constantly repeating the mantra "relentless forward progress". It didn't matter how slow I was going, as long as I was moving forward. Eventually I made it to "The Yurt" again. After clearing the plate of potatoes and grapes, I grabbed a dixie cup of M&M's and continued on. Only six miles to go. I could do this.
I want to take a moment here to do a special call out. All of the volunteers were wonderful, but there was a lady at this aid station offering to rub some of the knots out of our sweaty, muddy calves. Ma'am, you are a true angel!
Six miles to go. Only a 10k in front of me. Relentless forward progress, right? But my legs were so tired. Every time my watch told me it was time to run, I swore at it. I recalled another saying at this point: "If it hurts to walk and it hurts to run, you may as well run." So I ran.
My spirits were really low at this point. I think it was partly due to the fact that I hadn't seen any other runners for about a mile. I knew I was on the right course since it was marked so well. But I had the continual thought that everyone had finished the race and they were just waiting for me.
Luckily when I popped back out on the road, I saw several runners and my mood brightened. I still hurt but I could go on. I knew that my final aid station was at the end of this road run then it was only two miles to the finish. My hips were very grateful to be on flat ground again and didn't protest too much when I had to do my running segments. It still hurt to run, but I didn't stop; "relentless forward progress".
I made it to the final aid station, filled up my bottle, grabbed some more potatoes and M&M's and heading out for the home stretch. My mood was good, then I hit the mud. The GD, MF, soul-sucking mud. I was so tired of slipping and sliding in this mess. My body hurt, my shoes were heavy and now I was at my wits end. At this point I had to pull out the mantra that gets me through the toughest times, "just finish". I didn't worry about my time, my pace, or being passed. I had one goal only. JUST FINISH.
I was tired, hurting and dirty.
Not only did I finish,
But I placed 4th in my age group and got me a bus. Of course there were only 5 in my age group. Overall I was 42 out of 70.
I want to take the time to thank the people that have got me to this point and helped me finish the race.
First I want to thank my wife Lisa, who may not encourage my extreme behavior but continually supports me through them. Next I want to thank Julie for being a good physical therapist and a great running buddy. Your advice and friendship has made this possible. Sherry and Mike, I thank you both for getting me back into running and joining me for some of my crazy adventures.
Thanks also goes to Jeff Galloway for publishing information on your Run/Walk/Run method, that has proven to get me through tough runs. To Bryon Powell for writing Relentless Forward Progress, not only a great book that has aided my training and my race day performance but has provided me with a mantra for running. To Kevin Green for creating the Just Finish community which helps anyone attempting something difficult to focus on two little words, "Just Finish".
And a big THANK YOU to the volunteers of Run Woodstock. If it weren't for all of you, nobody would be finishing their race.