Once I learned that there were races held on trails, my interest in running grew even more. And, after working up to over 50 miles running in a week, I knew I wanted to run a 50K race…I just didn’t know when that would happen. Life gets in the way….relationships, work, volunteer duties, even surgery….
In December, I signed up to do the 30K (18mile) Calico Ghost Town race taking place in January. I thought it would be a good step towards a 50K, especially being that it was just 5 weeks post-op on my hernia surgery. But, as the day drew closer, I knew I really wanted to make this my first 50K–especially because race day fell on my one year anniversary of starting to run.
So, this past weekend, we drove to Barstow, CA to compete in the Calico Ghost Town Trail race, and I switched my registration to 50K! I have been feeling good, but maybe not quite as prepared as I would have liked to be, having just started back to full running mode about two weeks prior. But, I knew I could at least do the distance, and set a goal to finish under 8 hours. Seemed fairly doable – that is, if I didn’t walk the whole thing!
Race day morning, I was excited, nervous, and intimidated to be around such great runners. I thought surely they’d see right through me as a “wanna-be/newbie” ultra runner. I was feeling out of my league. After waiting for about 30 minutes for the gun to go off, the cold morning breeze sent us all running down the road and off into the desert hills.
The first 3 miles were on a gentle downhill slope that finally turned onto a sandy desert road. I was chatting with a woman who was telling me she was new to the 60-69 year old category, when she stubbed her foot on a rock and went down! She got back up, said she was ok, and kept on going. I cringe to think I will eventually do the same some day.
My running partner Gary coached me with a 4:1 run/walk strategy that worked out pretty well. It was just the right mix to keep us moving along and save enough energy for later. The course meandered around the desert at a steady climb and runners began to space apart. Pretty soon, we would only see the same few runners for many miles.
The path became pretty rocky but it was a nice change from the unrelenting steady climb. No sooner did we get through the rockiness and were back to more steady climbing up through mile 19! We had drop bags waiting for us at the mile 17 aid station but it was perched on top of a mountain and the wind was howling so bad I didn’t even get my bag out of the box. Just had a PBJ quarter and off we went again.
Mile 19 was a steep climb to the top of a pass. They stationed a poor volunteer in the biting wind just to tell runners to be careful going down the chute. Turns out his cautions were well warranted. The chute was steep and slippery. I almost slid down three different times. You can see how steep the stretch is in the pictures.
Nice thing was, the next four miles were a nice steady decline. We were running at just over a 10 minute mile pace. Felt nice to stretch the legs out a bit and feel strong and capable again. The mile markers were ticking by. Unfortunately, that came to an end all too soon. It was back to climbing again and this time the hills got pretty steep!
The downhills were also steep and, at this point, my IT band on my right knee was threatening to revolt. I had to walk (sidestep) down the hills. I was so afraid it would just give out altogether and I’d have to walk the rest of the way back, so I really tried to be cautious.
Gary was a great coach and partner. He would gently push me to run for a minute or two at a time and I would begrudgingly say “ok.” At one point my knee was hurting so much (as was the rest of me!) that when he suggesting running, I just said, “NO!” But, as happens in these races, the course changes again and what was once hurting, no longer did. So I got a second (or third or fourth) wind and was back to running again.
I was actually feeling pretty good but was bummed that I still couldn’t run the downhills. So, I decided to run the uphills as best I could and walk the downhills. Reverse strategy – I know. But, it seemed to work for me at the time.
Mile 28…mile 29….mile 30…and the finish was in sight. Did the “parking lot shuffle” to the finish line but the RD had one last trick in store. There was a serious uphill side road from the parking lot back to the Ghost Town finish that had me walking one last time. Gary pushed me hard to finish under 7:40 but as it was, I was right on 7:40.
I wish I could say I was thrilled, happy, hungry right afterwards, but I was so exhausted and things were hurting that I couldn’t think straight. For 7+ hours, I was focused on doing what needed to be done at the moment. Now, every pain and feeling that I’d pushed away came back to test me. Body hurt, legs tried to cramp up, stomach was getting evil. There were so many yummy goodies at the finish line but nothing looked good. I grabbed a pudding cup and sat outside.
One thing I’ve noticed at the end of long efforts like these is that the emotions tend to overwhelm me at the end. I just didn’t feel happy and wanted to be alone and cry. Not because of anything I did or didn’t do. I just think it’s a physical reaction coming out in emotional form. I sat for a while and held myself together when Gary came out and suggested I take a look at what they were giving for awards. Good ideas for things we could give away for the races we put on.
I went in and checked out the nicely hand-painted marble slabs. A great volunteer artist had painted Calico Ghost Town on them with a sunset and Joshua tree. Then she was adding the winner’s names and dates. I looked over and noticed the RD was entering times, so asked where I was in my age group. To my surprise, he said, “Third place! Go get your award!” Uh….what?? Cool! [postscript: the results were later amended to show me as 4th…oh well]
Surprisingly, about an hour later, I felt pretty good–almost like it had never happened. No lasting injuries, just a little tired. I did it. I went from the couch to a 50K race in one year! Not only did I come home with a nice (unexpected) award, I came home fully satisfied for being a great example and inspiration for “running without limits.”
See all the photos here: