Holy cow yall, I am finally committing to sitting down and typing this all up. I have stared at the computer screen for so long trying to come up with just the right words to tell you about this crazy awesome 50k experience but I am finally accepting that perfect is not a real thing and that it will just have to be one big gushing post. They always say to write like you talk right?! Well that I can do ;)
If you happen to prefer the more technical details of the race, be sure to check out my review on Bibrave. This will cover the more personal aspects of the journey and go into waaayyyyy more detail about my precise feelings regarding sugar sand!
To start with, I should probably tell you that my training was absolutely awful for this race and I simply did not put in the mileage I meant to. Between working way more than anticipated and the weather sticking around 85 for pretty much forever, I just was not running like I knew I should be. That said I was pretty much terrified going into this race and almost emailed asking to drop back to a marathon or even the half. About two days before the race I finally gave myself a stern talking to and convinced myself that I had been looking forward to this too much to drop out now and that, as long as I took it slow and steady, I would be able to get through just fine. I had heard horror stories about the terrain the previous year so I wasn't planning on going all that fast anyways!
Race morning came around not so bright but very very early. Charlie was going with me and volunteering so we needed to be there by 5 a.m. Factor in the hour drive to get there, and you know we were out the door way before the sun even thought about coming up!
When we got there I was able to sign my waiver (because it's really only my own fault if I fall in a swamp or die of heat stroke) and grab my number, tracking chip, and super amazing soft as all get out shirt quickly. Most of the runners weren't starting until 7 a.m. so there wasn't really a rush at 5. Oh and remember how I said the shirts were awesome and soft? Well get this; the race staff also print them all! They have been able to make the whole shinding an in-house operation. I mean I don't think they make the gummy bears or grow the oranges at the aid stations, but all the shirts/medals/mile markers etc. are made by them. I love it!
While Charlie was off getting situated as a volunteer, I spent a lot of time in my car drinking my coffee trying to stay warm. I am adapting to Florida quickly and anything in the 60s is pretty much my version of freezing at this point I think. Once the sun started to come up just a little bit I set up my tent to be my pit stop. The course worked out that you went through the start/finish area twice before the actual finish. I don't really like running loops, but later I was very grateful for this approach. I wish I would have gotten a picture of my tent because I was so obsessed with getting everything laid out just right so I could get to whatever I needed quickly. I was so busy overthinking the whole thing I forgot to get a picture of my awesome organizing skills.
I did have a minor panic attack on race morning because I realized I had forgotten my Orange Mud water bottle at home in the fridge. I was relying heavily on carrying water with me because I knew, despite the chilly start, it would be very very warm later in the day. I had not intentions of getting my first DNF due to dehydration. Luckily I had brought a bottle of MiniTOR to drink before I ran and the bottle fit perfectly in the Orange Mud vest. It didn't hold as much water as the other bottle would have, but I was very glad to be able to carry any water at all!
Finally it was time for the race to start and I was honestly still not sure why I had ever thought this was a good idea. The 50k started out with the 5 miler, half marathon, and full marathon until the 5 mile loop split off after about a mile. All the races were relatively small so it was never packed, but the first loop was certainly far more populated than the later laps were! Despite all the preparing I tried to do, I never thoroughly scoped out the course. Therefore it came as a bit of a surprise to me that we were actually running primarily through fields and around swamps and ponds rather than through the woods. It was nice for the first stretch but I knew right away that it was going to get pretty brutal later in the day when the sun was up because there were no trees to provide shade for a majority of the course. As the race went on I was more and more glad that the race was loops of the same course so I knew what to expect. It was nice later in the day to know exactly where to expect the water stops and how far I needed to go to get to a shaded part of the trail. When we were running the first loop I realized that there were about 4 miles between the first and second water stop which was key to know later when I was thirsty but knew to ration my water during that stretch so I didn't drink the last sip until I knew I could make it to the next aid station.
The biggest downside to knowing that the weather and course were going to make things rough later in the day was having to constantly fight the urge to go faster and bank some time and get further before the hottest part of the day. While I probably could have gone a little bit faster than I did for the first few miles, I knew i had not trained well enough to really gun it and see how far I could get before the sun came up.
Of course all thoughts of speeding up and banking time were long gone dreams by the time I got to the sugar sand. Right around mile ten there was an aid station and they warned us that the next stretch was the sand. I am still not sure whether it was better or worse knowing what was coming! Of course nothing really prepares you for a two mile stretch of fluffy loose sand. I tried to run briefly but that just burnt way more energy than it was worth. My first trip through the sand was brightened significantly by a new friend! I met another lady who was running the half and it was so fantastic to have someone to chat with as we trudged though the hardest part of the race. After the sand there was just over a mile left to the finish line, so we ended up sticking together until she finished and I split off to my tent. I don't think I have ever been so grateful to make a new friend and I could not have asked for a better person to have covered those mile with!
Remember how I set up all my goodies in the tent before I set off? Well I forgot to mention a couple things. The first was that I had the coolest tent city neighbors ever! They were so awesome and cheered me on like they had known me forever....not just for the hour or so I spent quietly in my tent before the race! I found out later they even questioned Charlie when he was getting into the tent after volunteering since he hadn't been there when I set up! The second thing I forgot to mention was that I did the single smartest thing of my life and packed an extra pair of shoes and two extra pairs of socks so I had a fresh pair to change into every time I came through the staging staging area. The first loop was the only time my feet got wet thanks to the dew still on the grass, but being able to get all (ok most) of the sand off of my feet was such an incredible feeling. I am going to spoil the ending and tell you now that I finished the race with no blisters or missing toenails! I think that having spare clean socks and shoes played a huge part in this.
I was surprising eager to set off for the second lap by the time I changed my shoes and refilled my water bottle. The people hanging out near the start/finish were so encouraging and friendly that it helped me to get back out there. I had been a little worried that sitting down would kill any motivation and momentum I had going!
I hadn't been wrong on the first lap; with the sun up the second lap was for more brutal. I was still making pretty good time though and feeling really good overall. I had the usually little aches and pains here and there, but no major pain or soreness slowing me down! This was the last time I had to do the 4 mile stretch between water stations and I was dangerously close to running out and never more thankful to see a place to refill my water bottle. This is also about the point where I started to soak my Buff in water at each aid station to help keep me a little cooler. Between the promise of water to drink and to pour over my head and the snacks at each stop I am not sure what was more motivating. Either way I was happy to be making steady progress all the way. By the time I made it back to the sugar sand I had met another new friend and was more than happy to walk and talk through that 2 mile stretch again.
I am going to take a break from the recap to tell you that this is one of the huge reasons I love trail races. Most people are in it to finish and maybe PR. There isn't the crazy competitiveness you sometimes find and it is so easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger. To be totally fair this is actually a big reason I love running in general. Runners are so easy to talk to even if they are way faster or slower than you. You have something in common and most runners will happily talk your ear off about it. There is also so much support and encouragement within the running community. That said, I have just always experienced trail runners taking just a little step further.
Back to the whole point of the post: I am not going to lie, I asked someone whether or not the sugar sand was on the 5 mile course (which was the last leg of the 50k) and probably would not have finished the race if it the answer had been yes. I had mentally prepared myself to finish my second marathon and call it a day. Luckily the answer was no and I worked on mentally preparing myself to finish that last loop. It was tough. It was so much tougher than anything else I think I have done. I changed my socks and shoes and thought about how good it would feel to put on sandals and be done. To go home and drink a beer and eat a cheeseburger. I was getting to the point where the bottoms of my feet hurt...I honestly expected to see that they were bruised. At some point I realized I had worked way too hard to get this far and stop just five miles away from finishing this huge goal. When you have already drug yourself through 26 miles, what is the point in stopping with such a relatively small distance to go? I knew I could never live with myself if I didn't finish what I had started so I set off again. I totally ended up layering my 2XU compression socks over my 2XU compression tights so I couldn't feel my legs screaming at me....but I set off and that is what counts!
It was not a glamorous five miles. I sat down in the grass on more than one occasion. Other than the volunteers at the aid stations I only saw a couple people the whole way. It was such a crazy feeling of being entirely on my own with only my own determination to get me to the finish line. I won't say I didn't think about sitting in the shade and waiting for someone to find me. I won't say I didn't think about scratching and catching a ride back. But I will say that I didn't do those things. Every time I sat down I stood back up and kept going. Every time it felt too far I reminded myself how far I had come. I never in a million years would have dreamed that this was something I could do, yet here I was doing it. As much as it hurt and as tired as I was, this was the most in love with running I have ever felt. I felt powerful and capable and so much more confident than I was before I started. By the time I made it withing sight of the finish I was beside myself with joy. I had done something so incredible. I had changed my own life.
I didn't cry going over the finish line but I have never felt more amazingly complete. (Which doesn't mean I am not tearing up just a little right now thinking about it....because I totally am.) I was so happy to be done and to be able to sit down and drink a beer, but I was even happier that I had done it!
Sorry to wax poetic on you at the end there...it's a pretty overwhelming experience. And I warned you this was going to be written the way I talk right? If I have ever talked to you, you will know I was telling the truth!
I have to throw in one more little tidbit that just blows my mind. My watch batter died so I didn't actually know how long it had taken me to finish but I estimated a bit over 9 hours. Well lo and behold the race results were posted and I found out that I finished in 9 hours 5 minutes...and won my age division! I was so shocked I just sat there and stared at the screen for a very long time!
So anyhow, that was my experience at my very first 50k. I could still walk the next day so I am thinking about running the MOAT 50 miler next year...because why not right? If that happens I imagine I will have another crazy emotional story to tell you after it happens ;)
I am sure I left things out that I will share with you later...but for now I just want to know if you have run a 50k or have one you would recommend? Do you plan to run one? Want to run one with me?!