A week ago I finished the Pemberton Trail 50K.
That’s right… I’m an Ultramarathoner!
During the weeks and days leading up to the Pemberton Trail 50K writing about running did not appeal to me and, in many ways, neither did running. The training for this 50K was more than I bargained for in time and fatigue.
In typical Stephanie fashion, I started to dread my long runs very early in the week. One of the three week stretches required Saturday/Sunday combinations of 22/10, 22/10, and 24/10 mile runs. Unfortunately,dreading these runs did NOT make me a very pleasant person to be around.
I sat with Glenn one night and told him that I wondered if I could finish the training. I was very concerned I wouldn’t be able to finish the actual race. While I pretended to ignore it, doubt had taken up residence in my mind and had begun to make itself very comfortable – spreading out, taking up quite a bit of space, and trampling all over the confidence that used to reside there.
Thankfully, as we talked, all on my own I started to shoot down that negative voice. While Glenn was honoring my thoughts about not racing and weighing the pros and cons I found myself negating any and all suggestions that I might not race. It was then that I realized how much I have truly changed since my second marathon. Though I allowed myself to wallow in self-doubt and self-pity for some time, doubt hadn’t set up as permanent a shop in my mind as I thought!. The athlete I am becoming is sick and tired of anything other than (whenever possible):
Making. Shit. Happen.
So, even though I spent some time after that not wanting to do my really long runs (or my mid-week kinda-long runs, for that matter), and the night before the race I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into and was nervous and afraid… I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was going to do everything in my power to finish the race.
The week of the race, my concern was the heat in Scottsdale – it was expected to be in the 80s and sunny for the race. Even some of my badass friends voiced their concern about the heat and that I take it seriously. I bought extra Gatorade (but was pretty sure I wouldn’t drink it since I didn’t train with it), salt tabs, and made a hydration plan. For the Tucson Marathon I drank lots of water during the week and a LOT of water the day before the race. That became the strategy for this race as well (stopping the drinking extravaganza an hour before the race began). I also planned to drink at least once a mile from my backpack and take Heed to drink at each of the aid stations.
Friday I packed up, made sure I had a boatload of podcasts downloaded, created a “Pemberton” playlist on my iPhone, hopped in the car, and headed down to Fountain Hills, AZ. After checking into my hotel I went over to Denny’s for dinner (pancakes!), Target for ibuprophin, and Fry’s for sunglasses (I don’t even want to talk about losing my sunglasses for this race in the desert). I settled into my hotel room for a night of snacking, laying out my race gear, and reading. One particular quote resonated with me from an article Kara Goucher wrote in Runner’s World Magazine, “When I catch myself projecting ahead or concerned about the pain, I say the mantra, “Run the mile you’re in.” I let the gratitude for what my body is doing pour in.”
My alarm went off at 4:40 AM. After hitting snooze a couple of times I stumbled out of bed.
Drink the coffee, make the PB&J bagel, pack up the race gear, pack up the hotel room, pack up the car, start the navigation, stop for water at the gas station, start to eat the bagel. Robotic motions.
After my Garmin tried to run me off the road (thank God a car passed me with runners in it heading to the boonies like me) I made it to McDowell Mountain, paid the cheerful attendant and headed into the park. The beauty of a small race (100 runners from – if I remember correctly – over 20 different states, and 10 relay teams) meant I parked in a lot that starting line was in and there were bathrooms right there!
I picked up my packet and sat in the car to get situated: finish my bagel, lube up “potential to chafe” areas, apply sunscreen, text Glenn and my parents, and make sure everything is ready to go in my hydration pack. I hit the bathroom one more time and then headed to the starting line.
The race director gave instructions before the race. These chats are awesome at small races. We got a brief history (this was year 15), learned the aid station volunteers’ names, and were told what to expect on the course..
Time to line up
“Start” in shaving cream
The rest of the “crazies”
7:00 AM – Let’s do this!
I spent time feeling out the course and taking note of what to expect on lap two when I would be tired. There were rolling hills but the trail was mostly uphill from mile 2 – 9.
The course was only rocky in certain areas and was otherwise pretty clear and flat. My feet drag when I’m tired so I was glad there weren’t going to be many places for me to trip on lap two when my legs were fatigued. I tried to get a “feel” for how far apart the aid stations were – not just in mileage, which I knew going into the race – but how far apart they “felt.”
The views were gorgeous. I thought about taking pictures and then decided that I’d wait until lap two. If I was a mental mess and completely drained taking pictures might help to distract me from the pain.
I spent time being thankful. Thankful for my body being able to try to accomplish this feat, thankful for my family, thankful for the beautiful sunrise, thankful that the sun was at my back during the uphill climb.thankful for each and every mile that it wasn’t terribly hot and there was a nice breeze, thankful for the aid station volunteers filling us up on water, Heed, snacks, and good spirits.
I listened to my body, remembering to drink water, and take in fuel every 4 miles. I also worked on settling myself into a comfortable pace that I thought I could maintain for the long haul. My goal for this race was to finish, and besides hoping to finish in under 6 hours, I didn’t have a pace in mind.
I think this shows I found my pace!
When I finished lap one I was still feeling good and, though I was tired, I wasn’t exhausted. “Great job! You’re making it look easy!” someone shouted at me from the aid station set up at the starting line/halfway point/finish line. Sometimes people know just the right thing to say!
I knew more about what to expect this lap and began to prepare myself for miles 17-24. At mile 17 I turned on my music. Mentally I felt fine, but a lot of work had gone into trying to get my computer to add songs to my playlist and I felt like I owed it to Glenn to at least listen to my songs for awhile! I passed a few runners and was still feeling strong before the first aid station on lap two. There were mountain bikers on the trail (many of whom were polite, cheerful, and encouraging) and one of them called out to me, “Your running form is the best I’ve seen so far! The people behind you are shuffling!” Again, sometimes people know the right thing to say! I was shuffling, too, but I was willing to believe the lie!
Miles 20-24 were tough, but not unbearable. I had a silent celebration when my Garmin read 21 miles knowing that the number of miles left in the race could be counted in single-digits at that point (9.9 miles!). Every time I started to get tired I just thought, “One mile at a time. One mile at a time.” The mantra worked and eventually I started the decent from mile 24 to the finish line. I waited for the pain to become unbearable. It didn’t. I waited to be so mentally exhausted I wanted to give up. I wasn’t. Another silent celebration after my Garmin read 26 miles. In a few tenths of a mile I’d be running further than I had ever run before! I pulled out my phone during this lap to take a couple of pictures because I didn’t want to miss having them for my blog – not because of pain and fatigue. I did I was, again, thankful.
My Garmin warned me that it was low on batteries. “Me, too!” I thought. At the last aid station the volunteer added water to my pack (my first refill) and I headed out for the last 5.5 miles of the race. I wasn’t miserable. I felt strong.
A gentleman passed me, then a pair of ladies did. That’s ok, I thought. I’m not out here to break any records. Then… with about a mile and a half left I heard another set of footprints behind me and I thought, “Oh, hell no. Not again.” I sped up and tried to run as strongly as I possibly could. The sound of footsteps subsided and I passed the gentleman that had passed me. I tried to keep my strong pace through the end of the race… and I managed to make that happen!
Glenn surprised me at the finish line! I didn’t expect for anyone to be there. My father-in-law, Tom, went to Gabe’s soccer game to be with Glenn and to cheer for Gabe that morning. AT the game they both decided to hop in the car and drive over to watch me finish. I’m so incredibly thankful they did!
Standing at the finish line I was amazed at how good I felt. Completely, utterly drained? Yes. Ready to pass out and die? No! Glenn grabbed my Muscle Milk and Gatorade from the car, I had a sandwich from the awesome spread of sandwiches, chili, chips, soda/water/beer at the finish line, and waited for the awards.
Ian Torrence (another TRF board member and a legend) won the Masters Men’s division.
My official time on the website – 5:18:06 (5/9 in my age group). The Master’s (40+) winner for the women came in at 5:05:57 and the next 40+ woman (winner of the 40-49 age bracket) finished in 5:21:04. I wish I was already 40! I was only a few months shy!
What a day. I have so much more to say but I think I’ll stop for today. I’m grateful for the ongoing encouragement I received from family and friends. I’m thankful I can say I finished this race. More reflections are sure to follow!