Monday, May 21, 2012

Race Report!

This race report is brought to you by: ibuprofen, ice packs, and my awesome mom, without whom, I would not have made it through the race nor been able to get back home.

This is a long post. (It was a long race). Here is a summary: I did it! I finished the race I set out to run.'s still kind of unbelievable to me.

My mom and I arrived in Los Alamos on Thursday. It is a friendly little town at 7320 feet of elevation. They are all about physical activity: bike lanes and sidewalks everywhere, a ski area, an outdoor ice rink, and hiking trails accessible from the center of town!

That afternoon, we drove to find the start and the two aid stations where my mom would wait for me during the race, and then went to pick up my packet. I got a great shirt and a beautiful poster, showing a section of the trail that burned in last year's Las Conchas fire.

On Friday we did a little bit of hiking before attending the pasta dinner and pre-race briefing that evening.

The 50k started Saturday at 6:00 am with cool, breezy weather. The check-in and start were very low-key, but I was nervous anyway, and feeling nauseous. I had choked down a granola bar and some grapes for breakfast, but I should have eaten a little more before the race started. This being my first ultra, the start was pleasantly different than most other races I have run: no gun or airhorn to signal the start, and no one took off incredibly fast.

I managed to trip and fall after only two or three miles, but other than scraping my knee and being embarassed, I was fine. The first aid station was around five miles. I still had plenty of water, so I took an orange slice and kept running. Oranges must have magical powers; I felt instantly awesome and wished I had grabbed three or four slices. It didn't last long, though; the nausea came back. By this point, we had started gaining some elevation via a switchback climb, and I knew I had better make myself eat something. So while walking up the switchbacks (I walked most of the uphill portions, along with many other runners), I nibbled a few pretzels and ate a package of CLIF ShotBloks.

My mom was waiting at the aid station at 10.4 miles, which I reached in about two and a half hours (much later than I had estimated--she waited a long time for me). She handed me a fruit cup while I refilled my water, and then I headed out again.

The section between the second and third aid stations, at 10.4 and 16.4 miles, was the toughest overall: it was almost entirely uphill to the top of the Pajarito Ski Area, above 10,000 feet in elevation. The climb was so steep in places I was using trees to pull myself up. All the runners I saw at this point were hiking rather than running this long, steep climb. I tried to eat as I hiked, and I ran anytime the trail took even a brief turn downhill or across level ground. During the two hours this stretch took me, I contemplated several times dropping out at the 16.4 mile aid station--I felt that bad. The nausea I was experiencing and the trouble I was having breathing and going uphill at the high altitude was causing me to have serious doubts about my ability to finish this. But then we started going downhill. It was steep, straight down a ski run, but I was so grateful to not be going up anymore that I was almost certain I could finish the race now.

My mom was waiting at the ski lodge aid station. Even though I was feeling better, I must have still looked bad, because one of the EMTs at the station hung around to make sure I was okay. I couldn't figure out what I wanted to eat, and finally ended up devouring some grapes and some Salt & Vinegar kettle chips (thanks Rebecca!). My mom sent me off with a peanut butter sandwich as well, which didn't appeal for some reason--after a couple of bites, I chucked it into a bush.


After this aid station, I continued to feel better, and I remembered wishing I could let my mom know how much better I was doing so that she didn't worry. The scenery was beautiful the entire way, but at this point, because I wasn't as miserable, I was really able to enjoy it. There were three more aid stations to pass through, and the last one was my favorite. Cardboard signs led up to it, saying "Just ahead: Last Chance Saloon!" "Last Chance for Beer and Pumpkin Pie!" and "Last Chance to get spiffed up for that finish line photo!" It was great. There were two more miles to the finish, and even though the advertised beer and pie sounded amazing, I just drank some soda and kept on going.

My official time was 9:08:14. (All the results can be found here). I wished I had stopped my watch at the aid stations, to get a better idea of the amount of time I actually spent covering the thirty-one miles, but it didn't occur to me then. 

I was so glad to be finished that it didn't sink in immediately. And it's still kind of unbelievable to me, that I really ran that far and achieved this goal.

I have so much to be thankful for in this. Foremost, for the Lord's help, for being with me when I felt alone out there. For my mom, who woke up at the crack of dawn, waited hours in the morning wind and afternoon sun, provided indispensable support, and took awesome pictures. For my sister, my dad, and my friends, who provided encouragement and believed in me. And for all the awesome aid station and race volunteers who kept us all going.

There were times during the race that I thought, "This is it. This is the longest I'll ever go, no more long races, I'm done." I was in pain then. I don't know if I have already forgotten how bad some of it was, or if I'm just crazy, but I'm already looking for another challenge. I want to  know, maybe, how fast I could run a 50k on flat ground, at a lower altitude. Or if I could (someday) run a 50 miler. But for now, I have some recovering to do. And a lot of laundry.