What an incredible day. I still feel a little bit like it didn’t really happen. Did I really do that?
We woke up at 3:45 and packed up the car. It was full of everything needed for a 12 hour day of running– munchies, changes of clothes, extra socks, extra shoes, and most importantly, BEER! Scott and I picked up our friend Jeff and headed to Decatur, AL for the 6:00 start. The race takes place at Delano Park. There are a few races the runners can compete in– the 50k, the 50 miler, the solo 12 hour race, and the 12 hour relay. The park has a 1 mile loop made of crushed gravel, and the runners are almost always in sight from the picnic area where everyone hangs out. Everyone sets up chairs, tents, and tables with all of their personal aid and there’s always music playing and lots of people hanging out– it’s a very social environment and always a good time. Our relay team, Will Run For Beer, was ready to rock it! I had absolutely no expectations for the day other than to have fun.
It was FREEZING when we arrived, the weather app on my phone said it was 25 degrees. I was the first runner in the relay, which was nice because I knew that meant I would get to warm up soon. A few minutes before 6:00, all the racers headed to the start area. Right on the dot, the race director yelled “GO!” and we took off on to the still frozen pathway. I settled into pace with my friend Kim, who I have written about many times on this blog and who is one of my favorite running partners. I honestly can’t remember what we talked about, but at some point we DID discuss a Harry Potter themed craft party. Parts of the path were still covered in slick ice, so we had to be careful around those areas. Other than that, it was total autopilot. I whipped around the track 4 times, then tagged Scotty for his turn.
When I wasn’t running, I was parked at our little picnic area near the mat that counted the runners laps. It was a perfect place to cheer on friends and see how everyone was doing. I was so impressed with all my friends– I had so many out there killing it! Jeff ran a quick 3 miles with an average of a ~9 min/mi pace, and then he tagged Scott for his turn. I was mildly worried about my digestive pain when the day started. The night before at dinner it was hurting pretty badly, and I hoped it would leave me alone today.
Scott also ran a fast 3 miles, and it was my turn again. Since we were there just for fun, I didn’t feel the need to hop back on to the track immediately. I waited for my friend Kim to come back around to the starting point and joined her. She was running the solo 12 hour race and was aiming for 40 miles minimum. Thankfully the day was warming up and it wasn’t so bitterly cold anymore– the sun was starting to come out too! The icy spots on the path had melted and turned into wet, sloppy mud. My favorite 🙂
Truthfully, I can’t remember much from mid-morning. I know we continued to follow our relay schedule, and both of the boys ended up with 7 or 8 miles. Around noon Scott’s knee was starting to hurt and he decided that he might be done for the day. I was running with Kim and was at 10 miles for my personal total– I realized that if Scott was done, Jeff might not run very much more either since he was pretty tired too, and started to entertain the idea of running a full marathon. I took a bathroom break at mile 11 and decided to run until mile 15 and then take a break to eat something. I had been snacking on potato chips and drinking a small cup of coke every once in a while, but my stomach was growling and I knew I needed something more substantial.
I told Kim about my goal for a marathon for the day and she was excited for me– she’s definitely one of the most encouraging people I know. We laid out a game plan for ourselves. She was going to stop and take a diet coke break at mile 30 for her, and I was going to stop at mile 15 to eat something. We trucked along around the path several more times, now with a few walk breaks here and there. This day wasn’t about speed– it was about having fun and enjoying the atmosphere, and I definitely was! You know how sometimes mid-way through a long distance race you get the sads? You’re tired, you’re hurting, you’re questioning your entire existence… That never happened to me at Delano. I was a happy camper all day long!
When I hit 15 miles, I stopped to change my socks and grab a slice of cheese pizza. Jeff decided to run a couple more miles with Kim while I was eating, and after Jeff ran Scott did one more loop. After that, I hopped back on the track and set my sights on getting to 20 miles. It was around this time that the idea of running a 50k creeped into my mind. That would mean running 11 more miles after I hit 20. That seemed really hard, so I didn’t let myself dwell on it and just focused on the next small goal: 5 more miles to get to 20. Turns out this is a really good way to get through a long distance event!
(This photo and all photos from this point on were taken by Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville)
Kim and I were still sticking together and had set points at on the track for our walk breaks. From the blue trash can to the white trash can. From that one tree to the other tree, from one edge of the fence to the other… This schedule of walking/running was perfect and made me feel like I could run all day. I was already past my farthest distance I had run this year– 15 miles. I haven’t gone farther than that in SO LONG. Surprisingly I felt great; I was tired, but was still in a happy mood and the conversations with Kim were entertaining as always.
One by one we ticked the miles down, and soon enough I hit 20! I was so excited. Only six more until I hit the marathon point! And that made a total of 38 miles for my whole team. I took a bathroom break and drank some gatorade and water. I officially didn’t feel like eating real food anymore, and took some candy from my friend Eric, who was spectating and provided amazing support to us.
Kim was nearing her goal for 40 miles, and was understandably tired and wanted to take the pace a little slower. I set out to hit my marathon miles on my own. My body was pretty fatigued and even though I was happy, I think the tiredness was definitely showing. I knew I needed to focus so I just kept repeating the number of the mile I was on in my head over and over, “twenty three, twenty three, twenty three,” with every step. Finally I was on my last lap– one more until 26! I came up on my friend Ronnie, who was running the 50 mile race, and we ran beside each other for the last one. Somehow, even after 26 miles, the one mile loop didn’t feel boring, but it did seem to get a little bit longer with every lap.
MILE 26 WAS DONE! I was so excited. I finally allowed myself to entertain the thought of a 50k and according to the timer, I had plenty of time to do it. Only 5 more miles to go!! I took a short break at to change my shoes. One of the biggest issues of the day was rocks in my shoes. Every couple of miles we had to stop and shake them out because the muddy conditions made it so easy to fling the tiny gravel up and into your shoe. It was surprisingly painful, and sometimes the rocks even made their way into your socks… I eventually got to the point where I felt like I couldn’t get the rocks out now matter how hard I shook my shoes around, so I changed into a different pair. My mom had arrived to cheer at this point. I decided to walk a couple laps and let me legs rest, I was very fatigued and was suddenly very aware of the fact that I was about to double the distance of my longest run for the year.
Mom walked one lap with me, mile 27, and then Kim walked/shuffled two more with me, miles 28 and 29. She had finished her 40 miles (GO KIM!!) and so I was very grateful to her for walking those two miles with me even though she was done with her race.
(Us walking while trying to make it look like we were running for the photographer, ha!)
I was so surprised at myself. Was I really about to finish 31 miles? 50k?? What in the world?? I was starting to have flashbacks to all the times I said ultra runners were crazy people, and I found myself dwelling on the 50k I missed last year and all the emotions I went through during that time. I had no plans to do this today, but somehow it was really going to happen. I decided to run the last two miles, and Scott joined me (he took off his chip and bib, so our relay team wasn’t cheating by having two people on the course at once). I was TIRED!!!! My legs were heavy and my feet hurt so bad. Scott was pushing me through though, his encouraging words kept me going. We crossed over the mat and it was time for the final mile…
My friends cheering for me caused me to speed the pace up just slightly. About a quarter of the way into the last mile the all too familiar upper abdomen pain shot through me– the white hot pain in my side and back took my breath away and I groaned loudly. Scott continued to encourage me, “Only ONE MORE MILE TO GO, don’t stop now, you CAN do it!” There’s no way I wasn’t going to do this, I continued to run while gripping my side. In the last bend I attempted to pick up the pace and Scott called out, “Go get it girl! 50k is yours!” He stepped off the course and allowed me to cross the finish line on my own.
(This photo taken by my awesome friend Kim)
My friends cheered and I felt a massive surge of happiness. My whole body was tingly and buzzing, and if I had the energy I probably would have been jumping for joy. I crossed the finish line and immediately wandered off into the grass and toppled to the ground– it felt weird to sit down, my legs wanted to keep moving. Kim ran up and sat down with me and gave me a hug, and several other friends immediately rushed to congratulate and hug me. I was absolutely THRILLED. I RAN FREAKING 50K YALL!!!!!
All in all, team Will Run For Beer ran 49 miles. I ran 31, Jeff ran 10, and Scotty ran 8. Not to shabby for three friends showing up just to have fun!
What an amazing experience. Once again I am left with a deep sense of gratitude for the amazing community I am a part of. All day long I was surrounded by so many other friends doing the race– each time we saw each other on the track we shared encouraging words, and seeing so many of my favorite people succeed inspired me so much. My two team mates, Scotty and Jeff, were so amazing and supportive. I am so happy that I had them on the sidelines cheering for me and bringing me water and whatever else I asked for. I definitely teased them by saying I totally carried the team, but the truth is I wouldn’t have been able to run my race without them graciously allowing me to hog all the track time. I wish I could give a big fat kiss (or maybe just a hug) to all of the people that weren’t even running the race, but showed up just to help us out and give us aid and even run a few laps with us. And Kim– MY AMAZING, STRONG, BEAST OF A RUNNING FRIEND! I could have never done what I did without her by my side for most of the day. She is sincerely one of my favorite people in the world and I have gained so much from having a person like her in my life.
Moral of the story: sometimes the best things happen when you aren’t expecting them at all. Will power is an amazing thing. My friends are great people. I can do anything I want to do.