I have so many ways to start this post! So many things to share! Guys - I finished my first 50 mile and let me tell you how awesome I feel! I'm going to take you on a ridiculously long blog aid station by aid station :) In way more detail than you want! But I promise lots of pictures! I'll also be talking about the course as though you know it, but I think that will be okay, even if you don't. Step one, though, is to say a public thank you to my awesome crew - my dad and my buddy Mike. You can definitely do a 50 mile without a crew (especially this one) but it was sure nice to have them.
We all camped in Jay Cooke the night before so that we were closer to the race start. I have a pop-up camper so I had a bed which was really quite nice. I slept pretty well and woke up not feeling tired at all. I had everything ready to go - clothes were laid out with my race number on top (to be pinned on race morning). The bag for my dad to carry was packed and ready to go. So, first step was some quick breakfast (mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, Boost!) and then time to change.
When we got to the start, I wandered over to Kim to check in and attempt to trade in my race shirt. I swore I ordered a medium, but no, even after their warning ahead of time about the small shirt sizes, I didn't double check to make sure. So it was very nice of them to let me exchange!
After that it was time to wander about and chat until the start. I'm in the center-ish here, in the soon to be familiar to you Northwoods jersey, black shorts and Austin-Jarrow hat. I'm running eerily close to my soon to be new pal, Tom. We would spend a lot of time together several hours later as he caught me on our way down Skyline! I came to recognize his wife Nancy's bright green shirt at the aid stations before I knew who she was there for. I also never asked his name the entire time we were running together and ended up having to ask Nancy after I finished. Ooops. Who needs names when you're running together?
Now, how the heck do you start a 50 mile race when you've never done one before and your goal time is anywhere from 9:30-13:00? I opted for slowly and let a lot of people by me until I hooked up with Rick. Perfect! Rick has done tons of these and he'll help me start smart. So I latch on to poor Rick as we head into the single track to Jay Cooke. If Rick walked up something, I walked up. If Rick bounded around a group of slow, unsurefooted runners heading carefully over technical trail, I bounded around a group of slow unsurefooted runners heading carefully over technical trail. I decided if we were still running together after Jay Cooke that I would speak up and let him know to tell me if I were driving him crazy. It was a good way to start, though. He was surprisingly aggressive, passing around a couple of groups I think I would have just waited behind had he not led the way.
Soon enough, we came to the swinging bridge in Jay Cooke where my mom was waiting to cheer and take a couple pictures. She told me to think cold thoughts. A most excellent idea! Sadly, at the aid station, Rick told me he was much too far ahead of where he should be so I set off on my own. Another Rick was at the road crossing so I stopped for a brief hug and then it was off to play tag through the next section with a guy I'd see on and off for most of the first half of the race. The trail was much muddier in the next section than I expected. Funny how you try to go around the mud some in the start of a race just to crash through it later.
Up next was Forbay Lake. I'm caught here with my head rather down which is not good running form, I know. It's rather hard to run with your head UP while you're on trails, though. I do try to keep my head up and only my eyes down, but that tends to bring the head down eventually anyway. But, that's getting off track. So this is one of the few pictures of me (all pictures are by my dad or buddy Mike except for two by my mom) that my dad took where I wasn't smiling like I was having the time of my life. So, grab a gel from my dad's bag and on to the next section.
Running on the Munger is just gross when you get to spend so much time on nice soft trails. I focused on keeping a nice even pace, though, as long as I had flat and smooth. I remember watching the woman in front of me but I don't remember what about her I was paying such focused attention to. I think she might have been wearing a skirt and I was deciding if I liked it? That might have been later, though. I passed a couple of people as we came into Gil Creek - I know I'm good with single track so I figured I would be able to stay appropriately in front of the small group instead of going around them just to slow down. I flew in front of them down Gil Creek but they caught back up on the way up. I know Marcus, don't say a word! I have a handful of things I really want to focus on and one of them is upping my walking speed if I have to walk up something. They (mostly) didn't actually pass me on the way up, though, so I couldn't have been walking up too slowly. I decided it wasn't yet necessary to dump water over my head at Gil Creek but that would soon be the norm.
Here I am coming into Peterson's. This pictures makes it look rather uphill, doesn't it? I don't remember it feeling uphill at that point but I DO remember it feeling downhill on the way back. Most interesting . . . The reverse side definitely felt uphill on the way back, though, let me tell you. There's a few spots that last much longer than the distance between aid stations seem to indicate and Grand Portage back to Peterson's is one of them. But I'm getting ahead of myself by several hours . . .
This is Mike's picture of me coming into Peterson's (seriously, there's a ton of pictures, which is pretty cool and I plan to share them all). For some reason, it really amuses me that he's caught me looking at my watch. Here's why, though - Dad told me here that I was still on my original pace. I had written down for him the earliest times I would be at an aid station so he would have some sort of idea when to expect me with the caveat that I probably wouldn't be on those times and that they'd get increasingly off. I also wrote down distances between aid stations and the amount of time each section would take - again with that "fastest I'd be going" pace. But he told me I was pretty much still on so I looked at my watch in surprise. And then laughed at myself because I had no conception of what the time on my watch meant at that point. My only real goal for the day was finishing and I had such a varied time ability depending on weather, etc, so I didn't try to remember any particular times that I 'wanted' to see at aid stations. I didn't much look at my watch for reasons of race time until I was getting closer to the zoo, just for seeing if it was gel or salt time yet.
Through Peterson's and on to Grand Portage. This might be a good time to mention that I don't like to dilly dally at aid stations - I even had several people comment on how little time I spent in them (or was that just a couple of people saying it several times? It all blurs together). Since I had Dad carrying my extra gels, I really just needed to grab a new one or two from him and get my water bottle refilled at each aid station. And, of course, get a hug if someone I knew was working there! Which is actually a very cool thing about this race and one of the reasons I chose it as my first 50 mile. Since it's right in my backyard, it felt as though I was always seeing someone I knew and that's a nice lift. I had friends at aid stations, friends cheering along the way, friends biking back and forth along the course (Randy! You should post your pictures!) and that can really make a difference in your day. Anyway, it's easier to zoom through aid stations when you don't eat a lot of solid food, too. I ended up eating maybe a couple of pretzels and a couple slices of watermelon total the whole day. And some frozen grapes! My stomach was fine on the gels, so that was good as I wasn't sure if I'd stop being able to get them down or not.
Crossing whatever creek it is on the way down to Grand Portage, it was finally time to start dumping hat-fulls of water over my head at each crossing. Well, I think I started with one hat-full per creek but trust me, that soon became two or three later in the day. Cue the pictures where I start looking more and more like a drowned rat. The pictures where I have a funny looking, misshapen, lumpy head from the ice in my hat will follow shortly. This is coming into Grand Portage when I see Rick K. Again! Big smile for Rick. If I look as though I'm starting to run in the wrong direction, it's because I'm heading for my dad since it's time to trade a waterbottle for a Camelback. I didn't think the powerlines would be all the muddy but I wanted both hands free for grabbing at vegetation, anyway. Plus, I was already sucking down water and I didn't think the handheld would last me through the open-to-the-sun Powerlines.
Let me tell you, the Powerlines are much worse going up from Grand Portage than going the other direction. It seems as though it's much more uphill. Much more. But, at least the temperature wasn't too bad - it was overcast and I decided even if the weather gods were just teasing us and saving nasty weather to come, I would take it! It was definitely nice to know that we don't have to go as far as it looks - when you're coming over the last hill, you can see powerlines stretching forever and ever away and if you don't know you're about to head into the woods and away from the Powerlines, it could look pretty disheartening. I had a white shirted shadow at that point (he seemed to latch onto to someone and follow exactly what they did until they were going too fast or too slow for him. Which seemed a bit familiar to my first few miles . . . ) who wondered allowed if we were almost through, so it was nice to be able to tell him we were. Eventually, I was going too slow for him and I lost sight of him on my way up Skyline. I have no idea who he is and still wonder if he was able to finish.
Coming into Seven Bridges, my Dad tried to send Mike through Zapp's Loop with me. Which confused me to no end - I wasn't planning on having him run with me until the second time through the Powerlines or the way up Grand Portage so why would he be trying to send him along so early? Turns out my awesome dad was writing down all of my aid station splits (which are interesting to look at and I bet they'll be helpful for planning next time around) and looking at my split through the Powerlines, I think I understand why, now . . . I don't think I fully warned them that that section would be much slower. Heading down to Fond du Lac, I tried to stretch out some and ducked around a couple guys (I think one might have been my soon to be pal, Tom, but I can't remember for sure) only to not really speed up all that much (or maybe they decided to hang on to me) but I tried to at least be fast enough to not annoy the guys who just let me around them.
Fond du Lac (no pictures since I had my crew skip this) had the nicest aid station volunteer! She asked what I wanted as I peered at the cups on the table. What I said was "Water, please. For my head." In which I meant that I wanted a full glass and not a partially filled one (why I thought she would have any idea that was what I meant, I have no idea, but my mind was already in it's own little spot) but she decided that meant I wanted the water poured on my head for me, which she promptly did! I was a bit surprised but thought it was quite nice. Happily, I was never tired enough to forget to thank anyone (at least, I don't think I was!). Remembering Shane's comment about my first 50K (he said I was grumpy through his aid station), I tried to make sure I was remembering to be overly polite to the aid station workers which probably meant I was at least being polite since it seems I have a messed up view of things the longer I'm running. I also worried about being short/grumpy with my dad so I tried to focus on that, as well.
On to the second half of Zapp's Loop. I love Zapp's Loop - it's my second favorite NMTC race (well, my favorite now that Hartley is different). I was very glad that I decided to give it a go backwards the weekend before since I had never done it backwards before. It's rather surprisingly uphill at first! Happily, there are lots of river crossings which means plenty of opportunity for happy wet feet and happy wet capfulls of river water. Apparently, this section also meant plenty of opportunity for feeling like crap. Hmmmmmmmm. Not what I was looking for. It was in this section that I started really worrying that I might not finish. Not that I would drop out but that I would be going so slow that they'd pull me from the course. I was not feeling good at all and I wasn't even halfway through! This seemed like a very bad sign, despite trying to remind myself that Lisa hadn't felt good until mile 30 the year before. There was some dry heaving and some swearing and lots more walking then I wanted to be doing. Especially since I was going downhill . . . But my stomach wouldn't let me run so I decided that I would at least walk until they forced me off the course. I did manage to get back to running on the way up but still with lots of worrisome doubts going about my head. I had started the race taking one salt pill an hour and I honestly can't remember when I changed to two but I hadn't gotten my schedule down yet. Later in the race, every time I started feeling a bit nauseous, I would look at my watch and it would almost always be about time for salt or a gel.
Coming into Beck's, I just felt hot and ugh. Which is about what I said to Eve when I saw her but happily, she had my favorite - frozen grapes. Mmmmmmmmmmmm. I don't know why but nothing tastes as good to me on a hot long run as delicious frozen grapes. It became apparent here that Mike would be coming with me at this point whether I wanted him to or not, which meant he was going all the way to the Zoo since I was having Dad skip Magney/Skyline. Which isn't worded quite right - it's not that I didn't want him to run with me, just that I wanted him LATER and I worried this meant he changed his mind about which section to run. My dad has issues with heat and humidity (we're a great team for a late July race!) so I worried that he wasn't doing great and Mike was running now because he'd need to crew later. It was nice to have company as I slugged up Skyline, though. And slugged is the right word - though Mike missed the joys of dry heaving up Zapp's Loop, I wasn't feeling all that great for the part he was along for, either.
So, up Skyline. Happily, I saw Randy here, who took a picture of me gallantly striding up the hill. Even faking feeling good lets you feel good for a bit! That's a long way up Skyline, though - a full mile uphill on pavement. Ew and double ew. Then the turn into the Magney ski trails. This section was crazy slow for me and I was doing a lot of walking/barely running. We were starting to see racers coming back at us, though (actually, I lie, the leader came at us while we were still on Skyline), and that's a ton of fun. Ultra runners seem to generally be very supportive of each other, even when you have no idea who the other person is. It's always fun to see how the lead runners are mixed up, too. I love out and backs! Towards the end of this section, I realized I didn't have a gel with me. There was some mix up and I didn't communicate well enough to my Dad about water bottle/camel exchanging earlier and I forgot to grab a gel, thinking I already had one. I decided I ought to be okay and didn't think about it for a while.
Coming into Magney/Skyline and waiting for me were my friends Kelly and Amanda! They watched in dismay as I drank some Coke (it looked good for some reason so I drank a partial cup) and ran with me until we turned off of Skyline. I chatted with them quite a bit and found myself completely out of breath as Mike and I headed across Spirit. As in sprinting a 5K out of breath and having quite a bit of trouble feeling as though I was getting enough air. More than a bit worrisome since I was still moving rather sloth-like at this point and that didn't seem to bode well for the rest of my race. This called for a full blown sit down in the creek crossing - I decided I was overheating since I hadn't been able to pour a good amount of water over my head in a while. I'm still going with that theory too - especially since, later in the course, even though I was already wet, pouring water over my head made my breath catch it was so 'cold.' So, I plopped myself down on a rock and dunked my wrists in the water for a quick minute, dumped a couple capfulls on my head (noticing the large amount of dirt in each capfull) and then we were on our (still slow) way.
So I'm still hot, moving slowly, breathing like I'm about to keel over, alarming Mike and lamenting my lack of a gel now that I realized I was way overdue for food when I tripped on something and down I went. Clearly there was a giant root there. Or maybe a massive boulder. Or some sort of zombie hand reaching out from the ground. Or, you know . . . absolutely nothing that would cause a normal person to trip. Hm. Now, some of you know that I can make a lot of noise when I fall - the more tired I am, the louder I will be. I think I believe in that moment that more noise equals less pain. By god, I can scare the pain away if I saw ow, shit and damn loud enough! It was one of those horrid slow motion falls where your reflexes just aren't there to stop you even though you're falling so slowly. I landed hard and skidded a bit and swore a bunch and then some more at my right calf that decided to painfully cramp now that it didn't have weight on it and then bopped back up and on my way again. This all thoroughly alarmed the two women coming at me - I had to apologize and let them know I was louder than it actually hurt. Though, it was nice to know that it looked more painful than it felt. So I'm hot, still breathing hard, and now worried about the amount of dirt in what must be massive gouges in my leg and shoulder. Happily, it really didn't hurt all that bad once I got back up and moving. At least, not enough to make me limp more than the first couple of steps.
Coming into the Zoo was nothing short of awesome, cheering section wise. I had Kandi and Tara on the bridge above making lots of noise, random people who knew my name cheering at the corner for me and at the aid station were: Dad, Shelly, my co-worker Karri with an awesome sign, Kelly and Amanda. What a welcoming committee! I zeroed in on Shelly at first and went straight for a hug and then to find my washcloth to get the dirt off my surely festering wounds of doom (because a gash can definitely fester in the 10 minutes it took me to get there. Really). I grab my (clean!) washcloth and started unscrewing the top of the water container. Part-way through this, I realized the poor volunteer next to me has a rather horrified expression on her face but doesn't seem to want to stop me so I let her know that the washcloth was clean. I can only imagine her trying to decide how to stop the crazy runner from dunking her gross, used, sweaty washcloth into the water everyone drinks! Not to worry, though, I didn't even let my hands get wet, I just dipped the washcloth in. As it turns out, of course, my wounding wasn't nearly as impressive looking as I thought it would be once the dirt came off. Ah, well.
So this is where I thank Shelly for helping me wash off! She was being so nice and gentle - dapping at my shoulder so as not to scrape it down more. Well, by this point, I was getting antsy. Like I said, I don't like to spend time in aid stations. I fill up my water, grab what I need from Dad and go on my way. So I tried to convince her to just rub the dirt off fast, though she was rather insistent about being nice to my scraped up shoulder. Somewhere in here, she was quizzing me on how I was fueling. I am very proud to say that I stuck to a schedule and stuck to it well the whole race! A gel on the top of the hour (except for the one I missed coming into the Zoo) and a salt pill at about quarter to and quarter after give or take. It did take a bit to get the salt schedule figured out, but I stuck to it once I did. Happily, I've found a gel that I can take even when I don't really want to, so that helped a lot.
So! Halfway through! Time to head back! And the end of Part One. I hearby promise that Part Two will not be long in coming.