I went back and forth with this choice: Stay with the 50K race and know I can finish or attempt the 50 mile race and possibly fail. About a month prior to race day, I took the risk and upgraded to the 50 mile race. After all, I did 43 miles in March and survived. What’s another seven?
I took comfort in the fact that I knew much of the 50 miles of trail having been there last summer. And I felt relatively prepared, but still a bit nervous and unsure. 50 miles is a big deal. Checking in a packet pickup, I felt a little out of my league, guessing all the other runners had so much more experience than I did. Plus, the weather forecast went from saying race day would be 75 degrees (average for this time of year) to now a heat wave of 90+. Somehow I always end up with less than optimal race day weather conditions.
The alarm was supposed to go off at 4am Saturday morning, but I was already awake at 3:45. I laid there wondering how the day would unfold, knowing that the next time I climbed into this bed, I’d have the answer. I hoped the answer would be a good one. Dressed and ready, we headed out to the start. I put on my two-bottle waist pack. One bottle had water and the other had ade.
The horn blew and the runners were off. We chose to take an extra few minutes to visit the porta potty and let the crowd disperse. Soon, we were in the famous “conga line” following the train of runners and walkers up to Marlette Lake. All systems were go and I was feeling great passing several along the way. We quickly flew through the Hobart aid station at mile 5. I topped of the quarter of a bottle that I drank.
Around mile 6, we hit some great vistas of the lake. It really is “other-wordly.” If there is a heaven for runners, this is it. You wished everyone could see and experience what you were seeing. It’s just so beautiful.
Coming in to the Tunnel Creek aid station at about mile 11.5 I still felt awesome. I was happy to be about 15 minutes under my estimated time. I dug out my sun cap, drank an Ensure, and topped off my half-empty water bottle. I hadn’t yet done the upcoming Red House loop but heard it was a doozy. So, I set out ready to conquer the challenge.
As much as I really wanted to charge down the steep grade, I held back trying to save myself for the miles to come. In fact, as I was jogging down the hill in a nice rhythm, the gal behind me paid me the sweetest compliment. “You have the prettiest running gait. It’s so graceful!” Man, these trail runners are the nicest people.
I rounded the loop and made it back to the Tunnel Creek aid station at about mile 17 still feeling good but starting to heat up. The nice volunteers helped me use their icy sponge bath to cool down and put ice in my water bottle. The volunteer, dressed as superwoman, wrapped up ice in my bandana (formerly snot rag) and tied it around my neck. I had to quickly untie it before my head exploded from an ice headache. She meant well.
Off we went the next three miles to the Bull Wheel aid station. We tried to run but kept getting stopped by mountain bikers coming at us. They’re allowed on the trails on even-numbered days, which this was. However, most don’t know that they are supposed to yield to people on foot. Instead, we stepped off the trail nearly every time. Probably two dozen bikers passed us in those three miles.
Despite having a hanky of ice in my hand, I was getting pretty hot. I tried to keep sipping my water and thought I was doing ok, but soon felt an ache in my stomach. I told Gary either I am hungry or I’m getting a stomach ache. I feared the latter. We hit the aid station and they had cantaloupe! I chowed piece after piece and filled my half drank water bottle. I was pretty exhausted and not feeling all that great. I asked to sit on the chair and the kind volunteer suggested I could just walk down the hill and drop out if I wanted. Something NO volunteer should EVER suggest – even if it might be true.
So, I plowed ahead knowing there was only about 5 more miles of trail before we hit the downhill and could get down from nearly 9,000 feet. It was already in the low 90’s and the direct sun was HOT. Those 5 miles took forever. I felt awful and was walking at a snail’s pace, just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. I knew it had to end at some point. I wasn’t moving fast enough to be breathing hard but my stomach was a mess. I couldn’t even begin to think about putting anything in it besides water, which I only had a half bottle left by this point.
Those 5 miles were fairly flat and the next 4 were a downhill drop of about 2200ft, so this section should have been a breeze (relatively speaking). Unfortunately, it was where it all fell apart. I wanted so desperately to sit down, but knew I needed to keep going in order to get down from the altitude. By mile 27 we still hadn’t dropped much and my stomach was really beginning to revolt. We stopped to take a quick break and, as another runner passed by, Gary told him I wasn’t doing well. Maybe it was suggestive because my body chose that moment to purge what very little was in my stomach. My apologies to the runner having to witness that.
Immediately I felt some relief so we moved ahead. We walked in silence mostly. Although I knew it but didn’t want to admit it, I finally said to Gary I wouldn’t be going on at the next aid station. I was done. Gary agreed and said he would drop out too. If I hadn’t been feeling so bad, I would have been more sad. I was just happy to make it to the Diamond Peak aid station at mile 30. It felt so good to sit down and drink. The next two miles would have been too challenging in my condition and on that hot day–1700 foot climb in 2 miles under the ski lift fully exposed to the afternoon sun.
I got in touch with my good friend Holly from Tahoe who was all set to pace me at mile 35 and bring me in. She heard from the aid station that we dropped and headed back home. I was sorry to have let her down. I was even more sorry to let Gary down. He was overly kind to me and ran my race not his own. That night, I had a good cry about all of it. It still hurts even though I know many runners DNF for various reasons all the time.
I was proud to have been hitting my estimated times through mile 20. Proud to get to mile 30. But I was really disappointed in myself for not doing a better job with hydration, especially at altitude and especially on such a hot day. I’m pretty sure that’s what did me in. Huge lesson learned for next time.