I’ve been posting a lot about checking items off of a list lately, but today’s post is not about birds. Nope, we are going to cover another one of my precious lists – this time it is another notch on the life list. I was a bit tardy on my last notch thanks to the dreaded Heat Miser inflicting a heavy toll. The goal was to get the 50K trail ultra prior to my retirement – a gift to myself, if you will, while I still had full medical coverage ha! You already know how that first attempt went (link here). Add in the pandemic and it took two years to wipe that blemish off my record. Missed the time goal, but at least got it crossed off. That brings us to the other running entry on the life list – the 50 miler by 55. With everything shifted a year thanks to the worldwide shutdown it was getting pretty tight – it was this year or be late AGAIN.
Opted to go with the Farmdale Ultra again – same place where I ended up getting my first 50K out of the way (link here). The cool October weather takes most of the heat concern out of the equation and I knew (well I thought I knew) the route like the back of my hand. By the way, the irony isn’t lost as I make a post on a run now sponsored by a running organization that goes by “No One Cares You Run Ultras”.
Hit the jump to see how this latest life list endeavor turned out!
For these ultra runs, I like to camp at the course the night before. There is so much gear to get ready and there’s stress enough in the morning without having to worry about getting up and out the door before the sun even thinks about rising. With the move up to the 50M I’d be launching at the same time as the 100Ms at 5:00AM. This allows us to get some extra laps in before the rest of the participants hit the course (50K, Half Marathon, 10K). Having those lower distances trying to blast past you on a primarily single track course can be startling when the drain has your focus narrowed to a few feet beyond your next stride.
Usually the nerves prevent quality sleep anyway, but up at 3:45AM didn’t really leave much time anyway. I felt bad for Linda having to get up that early and we had three extra dogs we were babysitting that had to be tended to while I was trying to keep from being carried off the course. Pretty sure she had the more difficult task of the day. Slapped the headlight on, listened to the race director’s final instructions and started out in the standard trail low key manner “Have fun” – no need for starter guns on a race that has a multi-day time limit. Took about three steps and tragedy hit – okay, maybe more of a slight annoyance. As I brought my hand down I pulled off my bib number – CRAP. repinned it and headed out again – this time now in the very back. The minute it took to fix the issue wasn’t of any concern, but I was now the last in line on a single track course. Any pauses or stops ahead would ripple down. Looking back, it probably was as good thing as it held me back from expending too much energy in the first part – also forced me to be more conscious of the trail hazards which were even harder to see in the flat light of the headlamp. That first 10M loop was fairly uneventful. The waterlogged shoes from the water crossing dried out quickly and other than a few root clips – through unscathed.
I took a quick break after that first hoop. Assessed the gear, refreshed fluids, grabbed a bite to eat and headed out for more fun – still dark out, but still ahead of the other distance launches. Things went much smoother that loop as I now knew a little bit better what the course was – it was definitely different than expected – harder for sure. There were still a few places I wasn’t sure of as I was a bit disoriented in the dark the first time through. At one point even asked some other runners where the hell I was as I couldn’t see my standard confidence points. With the sun finally rising the course was becoming clearer – to me at least. As I was heading up a long steep hill I was met by a runner coming right at me. I assessed where I thought I was and convinced myself I was on course. The older runner coming down at me was convinced he was right and practically tried to argue with me – “Feel free to check with the runner coming up the hill behind me if you don’t believe me”. Apparently he didn’t as he continued on past me. At the top of the hill there is a large switchback. Spotted the guy running with the lady behind me … now in the right direction. Chuckled to myself and continued on. Things were pretty uneventful through mile 16. Enough light out now you didn’t need the headlight, but still dark enough that a root or two could easily be hidden in the leaves. Came upon two other runners around 17 that were keeping a slow steady pace that perfectly fit that part of the trail. They graciously asked if I wanted to pass “No, I am fine, this part has a lot of roots and I want to take extra care”. They concurred and we continued on. We were passing the time chatting and all of a sudden the runner directly ahead of me went down like a bullet – clipped a root. Helped him up and noted the previous foreshadowing.
With 20 under my belt now I was feeling great. No falls, no pains and most important, not really drained yet. I was still in the standard training range and the slower pace through the first two loops was paying dividends. Topped off the fluids again and took the time to consume a decent amount of food. You have to stay on your fluids and energy in the ultras even when you have zero interest in chewing one more bite. Plenty of light now, discarded the light along with the extra caution. It was time to let the legs do what they were trained to do.
That third loop was downright fun. I didn’t have to worry about holding back and by then I was completely familiar with the course – the water crossings, all the steep hills and every tricky section. Now properly oriented, I could rely on all the training runs to know when to hold back a bit and when I could push it. Also enjoyed several chats with other runners I came up on now that my pace had significantly increased. It’s the pleasantries that really distinguish the trail community from the road races. The splits, the competitive drive to get ahead of the next runner are gone by the wayside and replaced with the goal of just making it to the end – endurance over speed, camaraderie over competitiveness. This is the right place for me. Not sure everyone gets it though. I spent 4 miles listening to someone go on and on about how he didn’t train for this race and how unprepared he was – mortar for the excuse foundation. His partner was taking it in stride (see what I did there ha). She would quickly try to change the direction of the conversation and bring up another run or ask about a race she wasn’t familiar with. He’d respond to that (that part I enjoyed as I always love to learn about other runs), an inevitably start back on the lack of training. Decide it was time to move on and passed at a wide spot in the trail. Thought the lady would go with me, but as I passed noticed she was struggling a bit – going to be a long race for her – in words and miles. Made it through mile 30, tiring, but still feeling relatively good. Little did I know a mile later the wheels would start coming off.
The shoes were pretty soaked by then and the socks were definitely slipping. Not wanting a repeat of the CMAR blistering, decided to change socks and swap shoes. I had purposely been breaking in multiple pairs with the intent of changing them frequently – losing layers of skin off the balls of my feet at CMAR wasn’t fun. From what I can surmise, changing my shoes at that point allowed my feet to swell. Didn’t notice that when I put the new set on and everything felt normal as I headed out for the next 10 miles. One mile in I felt pain forming at the bend on my left foot. I use ankle lock lacing so it was right below the last crossing of laces. Warning signs going off in my head. Took a quick moment to readjust the tongue and check the tightness – seemed okay so carried on. 5 miles later I could really feel it and started favoring it a little and shorting stride. Made it up a nasty hill you basically have to crawl up and took an extended break at the aid station they had positioned at the top. The pain didn’t subside like I thought it would. Ugh, it was time to live the “endure” part. By the time I had made it to the final hill to end the 40th mile it was aching pretty bad.
After crossing the loop timing mat I asked the race directors if there was someone that could wrap my ankle. I forgot to mention the other big different between trail racing and road racing – the absence of on duty medical professionals. Learned that painful lesson when I dropped at CMAR. Same for this race – no one officially available and no one willing to do it for a stranger. I can understand the concerns of what could happen if they did it wrong, but I wasn’t about to hold anyone accountable beyond myself – I just didn’t want to bend down and do it. Hobbled back to the base camp and assessed the situation. Call it 4/5ths of the way through or suck it up and deal with it. Linda and I did NOT come to the same decision. Grabbed my bag, pulled out my emergency bandage and wrapped it up the best I could do while cursing being tired and having to bend over. Linda decided to capture the moment for posterity in case I ever doubted her again ha! Put on another pair of shoes that were much lighter in weight with shorter lugs providing less chance of turning an ankle at the cost of some grip. Took a step, it held – time to go. A check of the time was a bit disheartening. I thought I would be done before darkness fell again – taking my average 10 mile loop pace through the tough course and then adding time for the ankle meant it was going to be very dark less than half way through the final trek.
Linda felt obligated to capture the moment – for the record I am STILL smiling – not because I wasn’t hurting for sure, more like I’m this close to a life goal. Probably never forget that last 10 miles. It started out okay. The wrap was doing its job. Still tried to keep a lot of the weight off it and made sure I led with the other foot on drops. It was definitely getting darker and luckily remembered to bring my headlamp. Forgot to mention in the 3rd loop I ran a long ways with the wife (pretty sure wife.. could be girlfriend I guess) of the individual who not only won the CMAR event this year – he set a course record. That guy is an animal. He was doing the 100 that day and passed us halfway on that third loop. She is quite the runner as well and we had a great time chatting away the miles. She stopped at the aid station to encourage her husband who I believe was on his 4th or 5th lap already – definitely in the lead in his race by a significant margin. While at the aid station on my 4th loop the volunteers were telling another 100 miler to just keep going no matter how far behind he was because trail races can go horribly wrong at any moment. Guess what.. as I was coming up on the 43 mile mark, I see the leader with hands on his knees and looking like something was definitely wrong. Another runner was with him – asked them if they needed anything and then continued on when they said they had it under control. The guy he was with ended up passing me about a mile later – informed me that the leader had accidentally cut off parts of a loop on at least two loops. He was demoralized and didn’t have the energy to make it up and thus was calling the race. The guy told me he even offered to run it with him (that would be the camaraderie part). The leader was out – the aid station volunteer was dead right. Thinking about that guy crushing it and giving up kept my mind off my foot for at least a mile.
Apparently pissed off by the lack of attention, the ankle got upset after that. No more running – more like an odd trot. By now it was pitch black except for what my light could cut through. Good thing there wasn’t a lot of extra fluid in my body or I would have lost it when a big ass Deer came crashing through the woods and crossed less than 20 feet in front of me. Scared the hell out of me. Made it up the bastard hill the older runner was confused on earlier in the day and noticed another runner coming up behind me. Ended up being a 100 miler. We had a great conversation about what it takes to train for the 100 – just wow. He didn’t expect to get done until 12 more hours – yes, all through the night and well into the NEXT day. Get this, he was going to go home, shower and them go run a local marathon that was being held across town. Rarely do I label other people, but that guy is insane. We made it up another rather large hill (are you getting the picture of this course!?!) and was starting our decent when he looked to our left and startled me again – standing is his light less than 15 feet away was another giant Doe and her offspring. Swear I could have reached out and touched it – likely it was laughing at how slow we were and none too pleased we were invading his nightly resting place. I had to take a break for a bit to recover from the damage the two Deer had done to my heart. Wished the other guy luck and watched him head off.
A mile after that was the hill from hell below the aid station. Exhausted, sore and honestly wondering where the energy was going to come from to climb up that hill. Halfway up that now wet, muddy hill the footing under the bad ankle gave out forcing the foot almost straight back due to the extra weight being placed on it. That officially hurt and sent pain all the way up my leg. Quickly caught myself and scrambled up the rest of the hill before my brain had time to react. Grabbed some fluids at the aid station and assessed the damage – it was done, could barely hold any weight and when it did it felt like a firecracker was lit inside it. 5 miles to go – tuck or man as they say – tuck the tail and take the failure or man up and honor the time already invested. It took me two long years to redeem my only race failure to that point – man up it is. Walking, shuffling, whatever it took to get that foot to stride knowing the minute it hit the ground it was going to hurt like hell. Now completely alone in a very dark woods you get a chance to find out who you are. As each mile passed, I kept seeing shortcuts that were pulling me back to the car and the DNF. Sorry mind, the truck needs a new magnet and did you see that belt buckle! And so it went until I crossed the finish line. Was it all worth it? Hell yes… did Linda make me go to the doctor two days later – hell yes.
X-rays were negative for a breakage, but didn’t rule out a stress fracture. Wanted to order me crutches – that was refused. Asked him when I can start running again (Linda’s eyes roll) and he gives some totally out in left field response of when you do not feel any pain at all. Think I need to educate him on the fine print in this ultra addiction. That point doesn’t exist. Quite the enjoyable ride home with Linda (not). Happen to have a good friend that is an ankle surgeon. Reached out to her, got her expert opinion on what she characterized as a “very angry” ankle and then planned my next training run. To appease Linda I did make that for three weeks out which was nearly an eternity – pain free, not even close, good enough to hold weight, sure. It has taken me awhile to feel comfortable on the uneven trails.
Now let’s see here, tap tap tap tap enter, mouse click there, click over there, tap tap tap tap – Hey Honey, hope you are okay, I just signed up for the 100 miler next year. (Ummm I might have said that in a very very very very low voice).
This one took everything I had and then some – just like all my other life list checks. If it was easy we wouldn’t appreciate it as much. Now just need to go give that buckle another polish!