One year ago to the day I began a journey down a path that I never thought would be possible. Already a huge fan of trail running, I loved spending as much time as I could running trails wherever I was. I raced shorter distances thinking that my poor abused knees couldn’t handle the punishment of the longer distances, I barely trained and ran mostly recreationally maybe 45 or 50 miles a week during the summer until winter and I would quit running until the next year, but then June 3rd hit.
After having returned from an amazing experience of trail running in New mexico and completeing a tough half marathon trail race which put me on the age group podium in 3rd, I was pumped to get back out and see what I was capable of. I registered for the 1st inagural Alaska Endurance Trail race 6 hour challenge. I trained for it, actually trained and was scared to death of running for 6 hours not knowing how my body was going to be affected by the distance.
Typically things happened that I expected and things happened that I never dreamed would take place. My knees began hurting around 23 miles into the race, I expected this but not the hamstring cramps that nearly destroyed me, I failed at nutrition and hydration. I never thought about sodium, electrolyte levels and I believed I was doomed but I carried on and finished 3rd overall, far exceeding everything I ever thought I was able to do and the sense of accomplishment was overwhelming. Thus began my introduction to the ultra marathon trail running world but there was more, recovery. I took time off to let my body heal from running 32.27 miles and my knees ached, my body ached! I didn’t think that I’d be able to race anymore that year but after a week my body responded and I was running again, so now this was for real.
Later that summer I ran in a trail marathon for preparation leading up to my goal race of the year, the Deadhorse Ultra 50k in Moab, Utah and I new that this was getting pretty real. This race would show me every flaw I have, every weakness I’ve been hiding or refusing to believe existed and it did. Again, 22 miles into the race I experienced severe cramping in my hamstrings but the knee pain was no longer a primary issue, they still hurt but not as bad as before. I did it again, failed at my nutrition but hydration was on point. The over all physicality and highly technical nature of the course took its toll on me. I finished the race in less than stellar fashion right in the middle of the pack but I did set a personal record for the 50k distance of 5:46:49 shaving a mere minute and change off of my time from the AETR 6 hour.
I finished and in my mind that is what counted and with winter approaching taking a month or two off away from running was the plan but something else would happen to change everything, the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Ultra Trail Race. Earlier in the year I had registered for the race on a whim for in fact this was a dream race, a bucket race whatever you’d like to call it and thinking I wouldn’t get selected in the lottery process it couldn’t hurt to drop my name in the hat and get the juices flowing.
December 14, 2016 the lottery selection for the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile took place and the next day I received an email from the race director confirming my entry into the race. I was elated, excited, surprised, scared, terrified! I wasn’t expecting this and had to rethink my winter plans. I would have to train through winter, interior Alaska winters average a temperature of -17F degrees from December to March and now I had to train through it. By March I had survived the worst of winter and the training was flourishing, I was reaching all my training goals and staying injury free.
Lake Sonoma was an eye opener for me and I entered the race for the experience of it and with the mindset that this experience would be an education for me, to learn how my body responded during the run and how it would affect me in the long term. I ran that race conservatively and my body responded by going over 35 miles before my knees began hurting and my quads were wrecked, but most of this was from the total abuse the nature of the course inflicted on me. I finished my first 50 mile race and the recovery process went off without a hitch, so it was on to the Alaska Endurance Trail Race. After 10 days of total recovery I was back for another 4 week training block of intense mileage focused more on endurance rather than speed and elevation gain. Over the 4 weeks of training I ran a little over 375 miles with training week mileages from 90 to 110 miles. I was ready for the race as I entered my ten day taper.
Race day arrived and I was bouncing off of the walls to get on the trail. Up at 6:00am, drinking coffee and eating a bagel I methodically got all my gear together double checking everything to make sure I didn’t forget anything, mornings are not my best times. I arrived at the race site with 30 minutes to spare before the race started and then time sped up and before I knew it I had 1 minute to start, I dumped Tailwind into my bottle filling it with water, grabbed my hat and bolted to the start with less than 10 seconds to spare and bang we were off!
I didn’t pussy foot around this morning, I had a very specific race plan and I had focused on it for weeks. Go out slightly fast for the first 6 mile loop, faster on the second lap and then settle into a comfortable pace for the rest of the race, especially knowing my body will start falling apart somewhere in the 40+ mile range and the sooner I got to that mile barrier the better. The start was perfect, I felt a little weak but I managed to drop everybody in the first few miles and on the second lap I felt great!
By the time I got to around 28 miles I realized I could set a personal record for my 50k time so that became my first goal. Heading out for the 6th lap from the aid station everybody was cheering me on as I was all business running in grabbing fresh Tailwind in my bottle, snag some food to eat during the run and go, barely any talking, totally focused I was in the aid station for less than 2 minutes. Just 2 miles into the 6th lap I hit the 50k mark, 31 miles in 5:29:10 beating my previous best by 17:39. I was feeling so good, now I could really relax and settle into a normal pace when I thought of something.
My time at Lake Sonoma 50 mile was 11:20:15, my only 50 mile race so far, my mind began thinking again. If I covered 31 miles in 5:29:10 that means I could go sub 10 hours for the 50 mile, huge!!!!!! With a new purpose I began running stronger again, but when I hit the aid station I was still pumped from the 50k PR and was talking to friends and race volunteers about the race and my new PR. They were cautious with me, I was in first place of the race and they didn’t want me to blow up chasing these races inside the race.
When I realized how long I had been in the aid station, somewhere around 8 minutes I took off after the new goal, but after a couple more laps I was deep into the 40 mile zone and my body was beginning to show some serious wear. I had slowed my pace to a much more economical speed and was walking most if not all of the up hills and as the miles ticked away I was lost in the time and wilderness of the trail almost forgetting everything except for the moment in front of me.
I went into lap 9 exhausted, it was mile 47 and I was shot from my knees aching, my muscles in my legs ached so bad I wanted to cry and my right ITband was hurting so bad that starting back up running after hiking a climb was agonizing pain until the tendon warmed back up. But it happened, mile 50 came up on me and I was rejuvenated when I passed the 50 mile barrier in 9:57:29, a new 50 mile PR! I pumped my fist, grimaced my teeth and forged on to finish this last full lap and to get on to the half mile loop so I could pad my lead and possibly secure my victory.
When I arrived at the timers table at the end of my 9th lap I enquired into where bib 720 was, he was chasing me and I needed to make sure I had the distance on him. Bib 720 was out on lap 9, shit! I started running the short loop laps and began doing the distance math in my head, there was 1:15 left in the race, bib 720 should make it back to the start/finish line with 30 minutes to spare and then hit the short loop laps. I had roughly (at this point) 30 minutes to run what I could run before he would hit the small loops with me.
I ran, my quads were aching like they’ve never ached before, but I ran and ran ticking the half miles off. By the time the 30 minutes remaining time arrived bib 720 hadn’t arrived yet, more time estimates and calculations. My 9 laps totaled 54 miles as is bib 720’s 9 laps but he was still out on that lap as I was ramping up the half mile loops and I was at 57 miles now. I knew he could arrive at any moment and slap on 4 more miles tying up with me again, so I ran, I ran to make sure I covered every angle and with 10 minutes left in the race and no sign of bib 720 I stopped nearly in tears from the aching in my legs, I was deep in the pain cave and I desperately needed to get out of there!
So after finishing that last small loop lap I went to my chair and collapsed, I tilted my head up in time to see bib 720 arrive from his final big lap and take off on the small loop. with 9 minutes to go there wouldn’t be enough time for him to catch up. I did what it took to get it done. I half laid, half sat in my chair sipping on soda and nibbling on what ever friends shoved in my hands, miserable, exhausted, happy and alive.
When the race director announced my name as the 1st place runner of the 12 mile race I pumped my fists in the air for a second and then accepted the pair of hands that helped lift my from my chair, barely able to stand let alone walk I hobbled up to the RD to accept my award and light applause from my friends, fellow racers, runners and volunteers that followed my race and the many little barrier goals I challenged myself to all day.
A week has passed and I started running again the other day. My legs are still tired, the knees are feeling better and my ITband is coming along nicely. Next week I get in a quick training week before going into my next race, the Kesugi Ridge Traverse and that story is going to be amazing!