Several months ago my friends, Julie and Becky, and I decided that on February 6, 2016, the 22nd White Rock Classic would be our first 50K. We were going to become ultra together.
We started at I had just recently ran the 25K at Bandera, Texas, in just under 5 hours so I planned on it taking me about 10 hours. I knew there was no way I could keep up with their pace so I told them to go on ahead.
I was not going to start out fast. I had to reserve as much energy as I could if I was going to make it to the halfway point. For the majority of the run I was all alone with plenty of time to think. There were lots of crazy thoughts going through my head. My husband, Jeff had been to Team RWB trail camp and gave me some tips on things he learned about nutrition. So I knew if my thinking got a little odd, it was nothing that eating a Cliff bar or popping a couple of salt tabs couldn’t fix.
After about 5 miles, I told myself I was just going to enjoy the run, the beautiful scenery and go as far as I could. However, if I managed to get to the halfway point, I was all in. I trotted along averaging about 3.5 to 4 miles an hour until I got to around 11 miles or so.
Trail runners are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. Here I was, the only one with trekking poles, going along what probably seemed to them to be as slow as molasses, and they all shouted out encouragement as they passed. One lady even told me I was the smartest person out there because I had trekking poles. At that point I didn’t feel very smart, but another lady said, “Use those poles. Dig in and go! You can do this!” Not one person had said, “What the heck were you thinking? Go home!” Even one of the guys that I’m sure was going to be one of the first to finish said, “Nice work. You keep it up. You got this!”
There was quite a lot of time for self-reflection and coming to terms with who I am. I am a slow runner. At one point I even thought about starting a support group for slow runners and could tell you at least 50 advantages a slow runner has over a fast runner. I thought about all the people who will never try to run a marathon because they know they will never run one in less than 5 hours. They will never experience the indescribable feeling you get knowing you just ran 26.2 miles. I used to apologize for being slow. Then I figured out there is no apology necessary. It’s my race at my pace.
It seemed like every curve at the top of a hill revealed yet another hill to go up. Around 12 miles Jeff came on the walkie and said he was just leaving the aid station around mile 10. I got to thinking if I kept up a decent pace it was possible we would meet at the top at the halfway point at the same time. I knew if he passed me, I couldn’t ask him to wait for me, but there was a chance it would all work out. From that point we kept in touch over the walkie and he finally caught up to me just as we reached the aid station at the halfway point. We took a couple of pictures and then said goodbye as he flew down the hill, back the way we came. Before he left he reminded me I had just four hours to finish.
When I got to 22.5 miles, my watch died. I turned on Runkeeper and figured I had about 3 hours to go and 9 miles. I was averaging about 3.5 miles an hour. I kept trying to do the math in my head. The last I heard from Jeff he said I had an hour and a half left. At that point I figured I still had 7 miles, but I knew somehow I could outrun the course patrol to get that last 30 minutes if I needed to. I knew I had to run a lot. I started picking out a tree, a rock or a random pole as far ahead as I could see. I told myself make it to that point, get a drink and re-evaluate. At about what I thought was 7 miles left, I had lost radio contact with Jeff. The last time I talked to him, I knew he had made the aid station, but he faded out and I didn’t know if he was trying to tell me the aid station would still be there or if they would be gone by the time I got to it. I did hear him say you have an hour and a half left before they close the course.
I’ve learned a lot from Lisa Gunnoe about mental training. As a matter of fact, if I would have had phone service, I would have called her so I could hear her tell me to suck it up. No negative thinking on the trail. I had this. I was going to finish. So all I could do was pretend that she and I had that conversation, because I knew exactly what she would say. I dug my poles in the ground and started running.
I was on a downhill and in the distance I saw a guy sitting in a chair on the side of the road. As he saw me approaching, he stood up and walked to the edge of the road. I felt a lump start to form in my throat. It seemed like it took forever for me to get close enough to him to hear the words I knew he was going to say. I forced myself to hold back the tears as I choked out the words, "Are you going to make me quit?" His reply was, "do you want me too?" What? Did I hear him right? I knew he had to wonder if he should let me make that call when I repeated myself the second time. He told me I had about 2 or 3 miles. I thought he meant 2 or 3 miles to the finish line. I left thinking I don't know how that's possible, but if that's all there is left I can do this. About 2 miles later I found the last aid station.
Kevin King was waiting at the aid station for me to arrive and give me a rundown of my options. Option 1: Call it quits. You ran a good race. You made it 27 miles; Option 2: You have about 4.8 miles left. You can keep running and see how far you can get before I have to pick you up in about 30 minutes; and Option 3: Go rouge. Finish this thing. I heard the words, but I couldn’t believe they came out of my mouth, “I’m going rouge.” Kevin poured me a cup full of Pedialyte (husband’s orders) and filled my bottle with orange juice. I left with the instructions to run all the downhills, power walk the up hills and do not say anything to the ham radio operators up ahead about finishing. Just tell them that he’ll be behind me to pick me up in a few.
Somehow I found the strength to run and power walk my way right past the ham radio operators. I smiled at them and kept right on going without a word being said. Then I heard the sound of gravel crunching under the slow moving tires of a truck. The ham radio operators were now following me. No big deal. I’ve got my story straight. I stopped and waited for them to pull up beside me. “Do you have enough water? You doing okay?” the one asked. I told them I had plenty and asked if they had any idea how much further I had to go. They said we were a little way away from Petey’s rock, so they figured I had about 2 and a half miles left. They followed me along for a little while and before they went on ahead, the other radio operator said, “You finish this.” The whole time they were following me I was rehearsing the line in my head “Kevin is coming to pick me up. I’m just seeing how far I can get.” Well, I guess I had rehearsed it too much because by the time Kevin pulled up, I believed it.
I looked at the course ahead and saw it was yet another steep uphill and then looked at the empty seat in Kevin’s truck. He told me he was pulling me off the course. I was the worst runner gone rogue ever. I crawled up in the truck relieved that I was forced to give up. He tried to make me feel better by telling me I wasn’t a quitter because he was having to pull me off the course. Little did he know I had been in the process of coming to terms with not finishing for several miles. I had even thought of everything to console myself down to even the smallest details. I wouldn’t be able to get a 50K sticker now, but I could get one that said >26.2. I took a deep breath and settled in for the ride to the finish line. I start preparing myself to tell everyone I was okay and it was okay that I didn’t finish. There would always be next time, but of course I had already decided screw this I am never doing this again!
About half a mile down the road Kevin stopped the truck and looked at me. He said, “You’ve got 2 options.” What? More options?! He handed me his phone so I could read the text message he got from PoDog. “She has a walkie. Her husband is on the way with a flashlight. Let her finish.” I just looked at him in disbelief. Seriously? So of course I had to ask, “Can I get out here?” No. He had to take me back to where he picked me up. As we spun around and flew back to the place where he picked me up, he told me that I had what it took to finish. He had come in dead last in many a race. There is no shame in coming in last. One thing I told myself over and over is I might not be fast, but I am a finisher. Now was the time to prove it.
So I sucked it up and got out of the truck and took off yet again. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to finish. These people were going to make sure they pushed, pulled and prodded me over the finish line if they had to! Fortunately, I had gotten a fifteenth wind and somehow found that grit inside me that everyone knew was there. Jeff hollered at me on the walkie and said he was on his way. A little way up I saw him in our car making the curve in front of me. From there he started following behind me in the car. I asked him how much further. “Just a couple more miles,” he said “this is the last uphill climb.” We rounded the bend at the top of the hill and there sat our friends whooping and hollering, “only 2.2 miles to go!” Finally, I knew exactly how far I had to go.
I kept running and Jeff jumped out of the car and had our friend, Becky, drive our car behind us so he could run with me. Relief. Not only was I going to make it, I was going to make it running. I could not get off that mountain fast enough. Jeff kept telling me to look for the orange finish line spray painted on the ground. Once I rounded the last curve all I saw was Lisa standing there waiting so I ran straight into her arms and bawled my eyes out. I did it. I became ultra.