The sky is falling! The sky is falling! I'm finally finished with part two! So without further ado . . .
The way back was definitely much better than the way out. Loads better. I looked at my watch 5 or so minutes out of the zoo and saw there was still tons of time before the cut off (well, maybe 30 minutes or so? That counts as tons of time) and from that point on, it was golden. I told myself that no mater what, now, as long as I kept moving forward, I would be fine. I wasn't racing the cutoff so everything was a-ok. It might have been a little early to be assuring myself of such things but I don't think it was a bad thought per se - it kept me very positive the rest of the way back. I didn't worry a bit and mentally ran the very model of how you're supposed to handle a long race - aid station to aid station only - without even having to force myself to think that way! I only once thought about total distance left before the last aid station - somewhere around 15 miles left it was forced upon me (gee, thanks, Tom!) but I was able to put it out of my mind :)
Anyway, I stopped at the creek again to do a quick wash off of the mud left over from my fall (festering wound, remember?) and on my way back up I found Kelly and Amanda walking their way back toward me. They accompanied me back up to the Magney aid station, which was nice. Kelly complimented my swift walking speed at that point in the race, which was nice to hear. Strong walking was something I'd been working on. It's tough not to when you have people like Marcus around, who can beat you walking up a hill when you're running up a hill. Punk. Anyway, I was able to do a lot more talking now, too, without feeling as though I was going to hyperventilate, which was good. I grabbed a lifesaver from the aid station (something about this aid station was making me grab things that wouldn't otherwise be appealing) and, saying bye to Kelly and Amanda, continued on my way.
Heading into the Magney-Snivley, I felt much better than I had on the way out. And I know I ran a lot more on the way back even though it was much more uphill. Things just felt a lot better, despite having to focus at times on not choking to death on my lifesaver. Someone caught up with me here and he helped the time go by talking to me. Silly guy kept asking me questions though - half of which I couldn't hear and needed him to repeat only to not feel as though I had quite enough breathing power for sustained conversation. He eventually skirted around me, though, after we traded places a couple of times and then it was on my way down Skyline.
About halfway down Skyline is where Tom Burr caught up to me and we stuck together for a long time after that. Some great things about Tom: He's done this before (both 50s in general and Voyageur in specific), he has a lot to talk about, he doesn't need you to talk a lot back if you don't want to. We ran down Skyline together and into Beck's Road where I lost track of him briefly.
Here I am getting more gels from Dad. At this point, he asked if I wanted more sunscreen. Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Sunscreen? Nah, it's getting later in the day and I'm about to head through Zapp's Loop which is quite shaded. More sunscreen didn't seem necessary and I didn't feel like taking the time for it then, anyway. I headed out down Zapp's Loop only to find myself wanting fresh sunscreen maybe ten minutes later. But probably sooner. Ooops. I passed Tom while he was, um, paused for a moment and he passes me back and disappeared strong down the hill.
So - Zapp's Loop is one of the NMTC Wednesday night trail races. My favorite one, in fact! And it comes with an unexpected (if you haven't done it before) uphill that's riddled with trenchs/ruts/bad footing. I timed myself up it one year and found it's less than 5 minutes up so since then, I've used that as a way to make myself suck it up and push up the hill. Now that it was mile 30-something, I tried the same thing, only with walking fast up as opposed to running fast up. Lo and behold - I caught back up to Tom! He regaled me with all sorts of interesting things (if only I could remember more of them!) as we made our way around the Loop and told me good things about how strong I looked, which was nice. He was great to have right behind me at that point, even if he did seem to think I wanted to hear how far was left :) Coming into Fond du Lac, I finally realized that the green shirted woman I'd seen lots of was his crew (his awesome wife, in fact).
Tom pushed me quite a ways up the other end of Zapp's but then he started asking me questions. And expecting answers! Which brought my breathing way back up and my pace back down. Bummer. I let him by me and focused on getting my breathing back to 'normal.' Up the last hill, onto the Munger Trail and into Seven Bridges aid station. I focused on running the entire length of the Munger until I got to the aid station as long as I was on flat, even ground.
Heading into the Powerlines = ice in hat. I was also smart enough to ask for sunscreen this time and my dad was awesome enough to smear it all over my super sweaty arms and shoulders. What an awesome dad! I traded my handheld for my Camelback again and headed off. It seems especially cruel that in order to even GET to the Powerlines, you have to head uphill. Finally, I broke out of the trail and onto the Powerlines. I took a second to pause, have a sip of water, say hello to the Powerlines (and if you've run with me near here, you'll know that was literal) and headed off.
In case you've missed this announcement since: I now own the Powerlines! I can't believe how well I ran through them. I think when you're planning on moving slowly to begin with, moving slow doesn't bother you? In any case, I felt super strong and had no problems with them at all. Just one foot in front of the other. I even caught two (three?) people going through them! Tom was one of them, so it was nice to see him again, though I was sure he'd catch me again on the way up from Grand Portage. Fun factoid of that section: I have some sort of bug land right on my lips at the top of a hill. I had just finished a gulp of nice, sticky E-Gel and apparently, the bug decided I wanted to share. No go, bug, sorry. I was super excited coming into Grand Portage. I still felt pretty good and nothing gives you confidence like owning the Powerlines :) I knew it was going to be a long haul up to Peterson's but I felt as though I had gotten the heat under control (the extra heat in the Powerlines didn't even bother me!) and knew I had a couple of creek crossing to use for their cooling powers. Not to mention another opportunity for ice in my hat.
Mike's getting ready to join me for a few miles here as I'm getting my water refilled, putting more ice in my hat. Which I never felt, by the way. I figured I'd get a cold head at some point but I never felt the ice up there, even though I knew it was doing good. I'm also informing Dad (to the amusement of the people next to him) that I now own the Powerlines. Hey, it's important information for him to know :)
So then it's on to Peterson's. Ooof. That's a long way up and it was nice to have some company. Mike came along with me here and we talked a bit more than last time (I had more breath heading uphill here than downhill previously . . .). Grand Portage to Peterson's is a section that feels as though it's much longer than it is. You just get off the Powerlines and then keep going up and up and up. Even when it seems like it's leveling off, it's really still going up. Happily, there's a couple of creek crossings, allowing me to continue dowsing myself with water. At this point, I'd ceased to care about how dirty the water I'm pouring over my head looked as I scooped it up with my hat. As a side note, my hat was amazingly not super stinky at the end of the day. It just sort of smelled like lake water instead of smelling as though it had been on top of an active sweaty head for 12 hours in the middle of summer.
I think the worst part of the course might be when you come out onto the ski trails both the first time here and after Gill Creek. Something is inherently evil about ski trails after coming off single track trails. You get onto this nice smooth-ish (comparatively) surface. Nice and wide. Good footing. Maybe the hills aren't as steep. And . . . what's this? I'm still crawling that the same pace I was going before? Surely I should be able to go faster here! Add to that how your pace always seems faster on single track than anything that's wider open and everything suddenly feels very tough. Plus . . oh, yeah, you're still going uphill! I'm moving pretty slowly here, lots of walking. My legs haven't fallen off yet but they're feeling rather tired and not interested in moving very quickly.
Into Peterson's and mile 41.5. And it's Shaun! He was just about to leave when I came in and I gave him a quick hug before booting him out. I also got another hug from Rick who was working this station, too. More water over the head and pose for a quick picture. All smiles! Out I go to 'chase down' Shaun. I was surprised I was so close to him but he seemed pretty sprighty still, so I didn't think I'd see him again. I'm going to skip the part here, where I sent poor Mike running back for forgotten gels. Twice. Only because I wasn't clear the first time that I was going to be picky. And then ended up not needing one before the next aid station anyway . . . Thanks Mike!
Heading out of Peterson's is downhill. Yay! More down to Gill Creek (steep downhill. Ow.) and more water over the head. This water was so cold (or my body was so hot?) that I practically felt my heart stop from the shock of sudden temperature change. Which meant time to throw a capfull straight on my core and than another on my head. Up out of Gill Creek and . . . back onto ski trails. Uphill again. But now it's close enough to the finish to start sort of tasting it, just a little, even if I was still thinking just to Forbay Lake. At one point I promise myself that if I run all the way to the Munger, then I'm allowed to walk the ENTIRE Munger Trail section if I wanted to (which I didn't expect to but the offer was there). I didn't quite make it there, though - it was further than I originally thought. So then I decided that that meant I wasn't allowed to walk ANY of the Munger since it was flat.
And actually . . . Hmmm. I can't entirely remember. I know I had to stop and do something - fiddle with my camel? I'm not sure. Anyway, I walked just a tich but mostly ran the whole thing. And, of course, promptly forgot where it was we turn back into ski trail and thought I had a whole lot longer on the trail that I did. The guys a bit in front of me suddenly disappeared and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what happened to them because I KNEW we still had to go around the next corner too. Mike speculated a bathroom break and I decided I must have imagined that extra corner. And then we got closer and I saw the magical orange arrows spray painted on the tar pointing me into the trail and lo and behold - I HAD imagined that extra corner. Huzzah! That meant we were practically to Forbay Lake!
Into Forbay Lake and . . . Shaun again? He likes to hang out in the aid stations! I did a quick gel grab and water dunk, Mike ducked out and I headed out just behind Shaun. Headed out onto the longest 2 miles in the world. I was getting really excited here which probably didn't help this section feel any faster. I was still thinking 2 miles to Jay Cooke but allowed myself to think about the last section that would follow. Plus Shaun just kept running! No walking of uphills for him. Except for one where I was sure I was going to catch him. And I sort of did. Sort of. But then he took off again and I was all by my lonesome making my way through trail I didn't remember being nearly as muddy a mere 11 or so hours ago . . .
Coming up to the Highway 210 crossing, there was Shane manning the crossing for us. He was incredibly happy to see me since he was afraid I had dropped and it was nice to see a grinning face. He escorted me across the highway . . .
And there I was at Jay Cooke! I glanced at the aid table first (of course, when this picture was taken!). Then I saw my Mom, Sister and Nephew cheering for me! Well, Mom and Jess were cheering for me, the little guy looked a bit confused. Big smile on my part and a kiss on the head to the little guy who may or may not have recognized the voice of wet, smelly Auntie running at him. Dad was sitting down (I think) and I barely saw him here. I don't remember seeing Mike at all (I guess I saw them all day long and it was time to focus on someone else?). Beeline for the table. I handed my water bottle to Ron with a request for fresh water, please. I'm amused that I barely registered that it was Ron beyond briefly being amazed that he must have finished already and came back to help. Something I didn't even think to question until a different day! Even though he was changed, possibly showered, clearly hadn't JUST shown up and wasn't completely done in looking . . . ah well. Next up was Lisa, brandishing a plastic container of Heed.
She asked if I wanted it dumped on my head. I was momentarily confused, thinking about dumping Heed on my head but realized it was water and, though I wasn't ridiculously hot anymore, it sounded pretty nice. And it was. By the looks of things, though, Lisa was enjoying dumping water on me as much as I was. Hmmmm . . . But! There went Shaun and there was another women who was in front of me but looking like she wanted to leave so I better head out now! And away I went - Lisa yelling "Nice running" behind me. Come to think of, I was still moving okay (probably the same steady as she goes pace I'd been doing for much of the day) and felt alright. One good thing about the heat was that I didn't feel down on myself for being slow at all. Okay. I'm going to stick with Shaun! If for no other reason then to make the woman right behind me think that I'm so full of energy she might as well not even think about trying to catch me on this last stretch.
Last stretch! Less than 4 miles to go! More like a 5K, but I decided to think 4 miles instead. I can run 4 miles! Shaun was flying up the hills like a gazelle but I stayed with him . . . for a couple of minutes anyway and then he was gone for good and put way more ground on me then I want to admit. And then I was all by my lonesome. I knew that woman was back there somewhere and after a mile or so, I started catching glimpses of someone in white just going out of sight in front of me and I entertained fantasies of speeding up and catching her. And then my legs got very, very tired. The evil part of this section is how it keeps going forever. And the roots. And the rocks. And the part where it's uphill. Oh, and how I had no idea where on the trail I really was, just that you don't know you're almost to the Munger again until you come to the bridge. The bridge I was SO SURE was JUST around the corner. Ooof.
I dragged myself onto the paved Munger, determined to run the whole way in. After all, who knew how close that other woman was and I didn't want a sprint finish and I certainly didn't want to be beat right at the end. I made it about 10 feet. Walked some. Forced myself to run again - this time to the end! Or for another 10 feet, you know, close enough. You know that super high armed, arm pumping, determined power walking that you see some people do down the street? That was me. My legs simply wouldn't run any more. But they would walk fast! So walk fast I did! Arms high and pumping! But, by god, I was going to run the whole way in from the corner - a mighty two blocks. Slightly downhill. In fact, I was going to round that corner running! Round it running from a block before the corner! Okay, maybe round it running period was good enough. And I did run the whole way in from there, which shows my legs had more than they thought since I couldn't have run two blocks two minutes ago.
Now, you can't tell in this picture, but I'm grinning like an idiot for that last block. It's a neat finish line, with most everyone who's already finished still hanging out and cheering for those of us in back. And if it feels like grinning like an idiot after 50 miles, then I don't even want to think what it looked like to someone who wasn't just finishing 50 miles :) Anyway! I'm finishing 50 miles! And I'm running my way in! And smiling!
12 hours 22 minutes and 50 seconds. Definitely between 9:30 and 13 hours! So I'm happy. The more I think about how hot it was, the more I can't believe I did it. 109 finishers (I was number 95) and I'm not sure how many started but I heard 30 something or so dropped out. I no longer have any rights to bitch about running in the heat. Here I am, still rather soaked, collecting my awesome finisher mug and red beanie (new favorite hat!) from Andy and Kim.
Despite having requested a chair from Mike back at mile something or other (40 something, maybe?), a chair didn't look nearly as nice as hiking myself onto the cement border at the finish line with my friends. Christi finished almost 4 hours before me and was still there cheering in the finishers! That's how awesome my fellow ultra runners are. I sat until I realized I was shaking. Gee, how could I possibly be cold? I've only been soaking wet for much of the last 10 hours or so . . . So it was into the school to change. Now, I wasn't walking all the way across the gym to the bathroom so I settled for going around the corner to change. And promptly discovered painful chaffing. I highly recommend RE-applying any body glide you may be using if you plan on continuously dousing yourself with water for several hours . . .
Sadly, the finish line lasagna did not look good. I had some sherbert, though, and a bit of chocolate milk. I hung out as long as I could until my poor crew was definitely ready to be done. So it was back to the campsite for a shower and some pizza hotdish (I wasn't very hungry) and bed.
50 miles! I'll be back next year!