Fear of the Unknown

First day of school. First day at a new job. First race at a longer distance. First blog post. These firsts all cause some mix of excitement and trepidation. It seems that, at least for me, as the event gets closer, the more the trepidation rises.

As the date of the Antelope Island 50k drew nearer, I got more and more nervous. I began to question my training, my strategy, my will-power. I would almost get sick everytime I thought about the race.I was afraid. Afraid of failure. Afraid of the unknown.

Morning of

It was about a 90 minute drive from our apartment to the start line, plus we had to check in and get my bib number. I am pretty obsessed about being early to races, and wanted to be at the start as early as possible. This meant having to wake up at 5 am. The drive up was uneventful, and before I knew it, we were at the Antelope Island gate.

Everything went smooth and quickly I was checked in, had my bib, entered the park and drove toward the start. We were treated to some really cool views as the sun started to rise. There was a crazy optical effect where it looked like there was no horizon, it was a little disorienting, and the pictures don’t do it any justice.

No Horizon

Pretty Sunrise

More Sunrise

We got to the start line at around 7:15 am, but stayed in the car for half an hour, because it was so cold out. Eventually, it was time to head out to the start line, luckily, Kelsey brought the warmest blanket ever and I was able to wrap up and stay warm. As we were waiting in the porta-potty line, we saw our friend Brooke. It was good to see a familiar face and talking helped distract me from my nervousness.

Race start

After what seemed like no time at all, it was time to line up. At bigger road races, there is music playing and the start is accompanied by a gunshot or a countdown. This seemed a lot more low key, no gun, no countdown that I could hear. Just one second I was standing there, and the next people around me were running.

I tried my hardest to not get caught up in the excitement and go out too hard. Especially since the first few miles have some decent climbs. I probably went out a little harder than I should have, but I was feeling This is where having more ultra experience could have helped me.

I had heard a lot about the buffalo on the island, and I was curious if I would see any. During this first section, I was enjoying some of the scenary and I saw a few buffalo hanging around. I pulled out my camera and snapped a few pictures.

Are those buffalo?

Yup

Near the top of the first climb I looked back and just took in the views. I wanted to take in the beauty of the island. In road races, many times you don’t get the great feeling of being connected to nature. This is one of the reasons that I have really enjoyed starting to hit the trails.

View from the top

Take your eye off the ball

The first aid station was at mile 5.5. I stopped briefly to just grab a handful of pretzels, and started on a 2 mile downhill run. I was feeling pretty confident on the downhill, especially so early in the race. I felt light and nimble.

After the downhill, I was running on a flat section. It was a double track, jeep road. The track I was running on was a little sandy, so I was going to hop over to the other one. I’m not sure what happened, but my foot slipped as I jumped, and my other foot got caught on a plant. Before I could catch myself I was skidding on the ground.

It was quite a shock. I picked myself up and tried to play it cool. There weren’t many other people around, but I still felt pretty dumb. As I started running again I could feel some pain in my knee. I looked down and saw this:

Ouch

This was about mile 7.5. I was freaking out a bit. Could I run 23 miles on a hurt knee? Was I going to have to drop from the race?

The pain wasn’t terrible, but I was worried about it throwing off my stride. It did.

I tried my best to not worry and just keep running. The pain on flats wasn’t too bad, going uphill hurt a little more, and downhill really had some pain in my left knee.

After a couple more miles, I got to the biggest climb of the hill, right around the half marathon mark. It was pretty brutal. I felt so out of shape. I tried to just focus on keeping a steady, allbeit slow, pace up the hill.

It was such a relief to reach the aid station at the top of the hill. I grabbed a little salted, boiled potato and a small PB&J sandwich, refilled my water and was on my way. I had heard stories of runners spending long times at aid stations, so I was conscious of not dilly-dallying at the aid stations. I think I did an ok job.

Low points

Being at the top of the hill meant I had some downhills. My knee was feeling a bit better by this point, not great, but ok. I was still feeling fast on the downhill but I may have taken them too fast. By the time I reached the bottom, and as I was going by the ranch, I just felt like I had nothing left in my legs.

The next 4ish miles until the next aid station were brutal. The change in my stride led to a few killer blisters. I wasn’t sure if there was anything I could do to help them. My shoes felt a little loose, so at the aid station at mile 20ish, I took off my shoes and tried to get all the rocks and sand out, and then tried to tighten them up a little. After that my feet felt like they weren’t slipping as much, but I already had the blisters, so it was still painful.

Lokking back, I wonder if I should have drained and wrapped my blisters. I didn’t even think to ask some of the aid station volunteers for help. Next time I’ll ask for advice and help.

Grinding it out

The next aid station came and went quickly, only about 3 miles from the previous one. I knew that the next stop was the finish, maybe 7-8 miles. I knew I could make it. But I wasn’t sure how long it would take.

All day, I tried not to focus on time. I was thinking that I would be in the 6-7 hour range. My friend David said that I could do 5.5 hours, but I’d need to have a perfect day. After the last aid station, I started focusing on my mileage a lot more; I’d check my watch a few times every mile. It was awful.

I had some major lows during this stretch. My stomach was a bit upset, and I was finding it hard to take in food. So, the last 8 miles were done with no nutrition. I think my electrolyetes were off too, because I had a really bad headache.

I was able to find inspiration in a weird place, however. I was listening to a Ginger Runner Live podcast with Bryon Powell. Bryon’s book Relentless Forward Progress was one of the books that I read to get some information and guidance about running ultras.

Bryon was talking about running Hardrock 100. He said that during the low points, you just need to focus on moving forward. As long as you don’t stop, you are getting closer to the end. This hit me so hard, my emotions are pretty close to the surface when I run and I was legit tearing up at this point. I just kept telling myself that I just needed to keep moving. And I was able to do just that. I never stopped moving forward. So, thanks to Bryon Powell and The Ginger Runner for getting me through the low points.

Finish

The last couple of miles are a brutal mental game. You can see the finish, but you have to go around and come back at it. It was so painful. When you see the finish you just want it to be over, but then you realize that you have another mile to run. I thought about just walking it in the last mile, but I kept pushing.

As I got nearer, I could see Kelsey taking some pictures. I was happy that she was there. She ran in the last hundred yards with me. And then, just like that, it was over. I was officially an ultrarunner, a 50k finisher.

I finished 78th out of 199, with a time of 5:55:43.

6 hours of running is a long time, but it is in fact a short time when you take into account the months of preparation that went into this race. Crossing the finish line is the visible end to a long, often solo, journey. Distance running is an incredible journey. It shows me that I can do hard things; that consistent effort over time can change you.

The aftermath

My emotions are pretty close to the surface when I run, I end up getting teary eyed during most long runs. As we were leaving the island, I was thanking Kelsey for her support and it was beyond my capabilities to express my gratitude without crying. She has always been supportive of my races, travelling long distances, waking up early, sepending time alone. Running is a bit of a selfish hobby in some ways, so I appreciate her support and willingness to indulge me.

The ride home was rough. I was so sore that every position was uncomfortable, but moving hurt even more. The blisters on my feet were killing me. My feet and legs were super dirty.

Dirty Feet

Blisters

I took a long shower and laid down for a short nap. It was so hard getting out of the bed. We went out to dinner to celebrate, and going down the stairs took a herculean effort.

A day later and I’m a little sore, but I’m actually feeling surprisingly good.

So good, in fact, that this morning I was looking at the races in March, at Antelope Island. I was thinking about maybe trying another 50k. They are also putting on a 50 miler. 50 miles is a long way to run. It’s scary to think about. I don’t know if I could do a 50 miler. But I know that I want to run one. The thought of running my first 50 miler fills me with excitement and trepidation. But since it’s so far in the future, mostly excitement.