I finished the 50K!  As Jenny and I discussed this morning, it was really just a walk in the park- it started and ended in a park, and there was in fact lots of walking.  But seriously, it was really hard!

 In the days leading up to the race, there was a lot of talk of bailing.  Toberer, Mike, Jeanni, and I were all signed up- Mike and Jeanni for the 50 miler- and the heat wave continued, and fires burned, and conditions were not looking good.  But the fires were typically not upwind of the race course, and I spent the week or two before the race working from home a lot without AC to get used to the heat, doing my runs later in the day (it has usually been above 90 by 8AM), and doing hot yoga (as usual), so I felt prepared for that aspect of it.  I was not interested in bailing unless the fire situation changed for the worse (I have no desire to run through smoke).  Eventually, we all agreed to at least show up, although Mike did switch to the 50K.  Our parents came into town, we had a campsite booked, and everything fell into place.

We camped out near the start, and race morning was the usual pre-dawn wakeup and mostly failed attempt to eat something.  Toberer forgot to bring breakfast but was able to scrounge enough food from the rest of us.  I choked down some fig newtons and Coke.  Breakfast of champions.  As we all shivered at the start line, I fantasized about how hot it was going to get that day.  I will take too hot over too cold any day, which is maybe related to the fact that I hate getting up early.  I was somewhat proud of myself for seeing my second sunrise in two weeks.  That was definitely my big achievement of the day.  We started up the first hill, also the steepest hill, and I was relieved that pretty much everyone seemed to be walking it, not just me.  The course is nice single track for the most part, very smooth and runnable, but I settled in for a 1000ft hike up the first hill and turned on some music.  Eventually, I did run parts of it out of boredom, but tried to conserve energy.  Also, it’s impossible to walk while Judas Priest is playing.  Should have included more of that in the playlist.

As I ran through the woods for the first few hours, I was running near other racers the whole time, which is actually unusual for me since I usually end up at the back of the pack pretty early on.  This race seems to have a lot of other people around my pace, which was nice.  The country there is beautiful, too, with lots of rock formations that I want to come back and climb one of these days.  And as much as others might complain about the burn zones, I like getting out of the trees and getting a good view, and kind of like the desolate landscape.  The first ten or so miles were pleasant, and I was looking forward to seeing my family (including dogs!) at Buffalo Creek, mile 10.  I was even doing a pretty good job eating and drinking regularly, and was running the downhills pretty fast since I didn’t want to overuse my cranky hip flexors with excessive deceleration.

After a quick stop at Buffalo Creek to refill water and food, eat some snacks from my drop bag, and pet my dogs, I continued up the next climb.  This course consists of three major climbs and descents, all less that about 1000 ft, for a total of 4500 ft of gain in the course, so it can be roughly divided into three 10-mile sections.  Section 2 felt harder, and there was definitely still a good amount of walking up the next climb, but it was still beautiful countryside, not too hot, and pretty pleasant all around.  My hip flexor did start to hurt, which tends to happen when I do a long downhill and then start uphill again, but I knew there would be ice at Shinglemill and had taken two more ibuprofen at Buffalo Creek, so I was optimistic.  If there was one thing that could ruin this race for me, it was my left hip flexor, so I was trying to be pretty careful with it.  At Shinglemill, the halfway point in the race, I stopped for a good 10-15 minutes to put at ice pack on my hip, eat some food (which was becoming increasingly challenging), and pour some water on myself, since it was getting hot.  I chatted for a while with a guy who had recently moved back to Colorado and was feeling the altitude.  This was his second 50K, and he was looking to improve his time.  I was glad I had no finish time in mind and could relax about my pace- including spending massive amounts of time at aid stations! 

 After Shinglemill, I had a nice set of downhills and flat sections to get back to Buffalo Creek at mile 20.  I was warned that this was the hottest section, so I stuffed my hat and bra with ice before heading out.  Then I had that momentary realization that if I’m doing something that requires packing my clothing in ice, maybe I should start to question my sanity.  My headphones sang, “I remember when I lost my mind… there was something so pleasant about that place… does that make me crazy?”  Gnarls Barkley is great running music.  So I ran along, ice dripping down my back, watching the much more sane mountain bikers tackle the same trail in a much more efficient way.  My hip flexor felt better after the ice, and I resolved to do that at all the aid stations.  I headed back into Buffalo Creek, put some more ice on my hip, took some more vitamin I, and ate some of the most delicious watermelon ever.  Andy tried to convince me to eat something with actual calories, but that was more challenging.  I definitely was not going to eat the “treat” I packed in my drop bag, a now-fully-melted salted chocolate bar.  I also took the opportunity to change my shoes, since my feet were starting to hurt, so I went from my trail shoes to the much cushier road shoes.  There is something to be said for running a trail that’s smooth enough that I can get away with that.  It was also about this point that I found out that my mother had gone out looking for me and gotten lost.  I decided I shouldn’t worry about it, and sure enough, she showed up before I left, totally out of breath from running around at altitude and freaking out because she though I was lost!  So we were both relieved to see each other, and I headed out again, this time on much more tired legs, but no race-ending pain.  This was about the point that I realized that I might actually finish this race.  “I am iron man,” my headphones said.

 Foot soreness and generally tired legs meant that I walked a lot of the next section, and that, combined with my 10-15 minute aid station breaks meant that I was pretty much alone for the last ten miles.  This always creeps me out in a race, mainly because I’m really bad at paying attention to trail markers and junctions, so there is a very good chance of getting lost.  I have yet to get lost during a race, but it happens all the time during training runs.  However, I did eventually make it to the next aid station, an unmanned water stop at mile 24.  I was the only person there, which was definitely a little strange.  Eventually, another racer showed up- she was moving pretty slowly and wearing a 50 mile bib, and told me she was going to DNF because she’s from Colorado Springs (where there’s a huge fire) and had had an asthma attack on the first hill because of all the smoke in her lungs.  However, she had not dropped at any of her chances so far (Buffalo Creek twice, and Shinglemill) and I convinced her to at least finish the 50K instead of taking the shortcut to the finish.  I gave her my last two ibuprofen for her hip pain (I probably would have gone into kidney failure if I had taken any more, anyway) and we headed back out on the course.  I hope she made it to the finish, and came home to a not burned up house!

At mile 26.2, I figured I deserved a break, and stopped to capture the moment I finished my first marathon.  Seven hours is a good marathon time, right?  Ha ha. I was pretty much just walking except for very short sections at this point, partly because my feet hurt and partly out of pure lack of will to run.  I knew I would get there eventually, and didn’t really care when.  Shortly after the 26.2 photo, my Garmin battery died (so much for a ten hour battery life), and I tried counting songs to estimate the passing time.  It didn’t work at all.  “Falling down, falling down, falling down… shake it off, we’re all dying in the end..” sang Atreyu on my playlist as I stumble-ran some downhills.  I finally reached the last aid station, mile 28.5, and one of the volunteers quizzed me about my salt intake because I “looked swollen.”  Right, I said, that’s because all my electrolytes are in my water, and I’ve stopped drinking water because I’m queasy.  That’s normal, right?  So I sat down with another ice pack on my hip, a big plate of potato chips, and some water while he explained the benefits of salt pills to me.  Wow, those were good chips!  I have no idea how long I sat there shoving chips in my mouth, since my watch was dead, but probably a while.  Eventually I got back up, tried to run, and of course regretted that I ate anything, and then walked for a while.  My headphones tried to convince me to run… “Yeah its still the same, can’t you feel the pain, when the needle hits the vein, ain’t nothing like the real thing… you better move, I said move, run away, run away, run children, run for your life…”

 I reached the lake in Pine Valley Park, near the finish, and found everyone waiting for me there- Mom, Andy, Linda, Mike, Jeanni, Toberer, and the dogs.  They walked the finish with me (I refused to run any more) and we chatted and I gave Jeanni shit about quitting after “just” 50K instead of the full 50M.  My mom was pretty excited that I finished (and so was I!).

I almost immediately went to soak in the creek, something I had been looking forward to for at least a few hours.  My feet and legs went numb, and it felt great.  In the end, it took me 8.5 hours to finish, and I was not in last place even.  Over the last few days, my legs (especially quads) have been pretty sore and tired, but I don’t think I have any nagging injuries from this, which was the real goal!  I’m looking forward to being lazy for a while, at least until I start training for the Aspen Marathon.

So, would I do this again?  Yes, I think so, although I would choose a “harder” race, i.e. more hilly.  The uphills are a great excuse to walk, and thus I found myself looking forward to them, and flats get kind of boring.  In terms of training and injuries, I’m sure I could have gone faster if I had trained more, but that wasn’t really the point.  I probably should have hiked more to train for all the walking I did.  I’m not sure how to make my feet hurt less- that may just be the nature of being on them for that long.  They were just really swollen and sore, and it was making my toes go numb.  I’m still not entirely sure what’s wrong with my hip flexor, but I think the 1000’s of leg lifts I did helped, so more of those would be good.  Also, I guess I should bring salt pills next time, but overall I think I did pretty well with eating and drinking, since I never bonked, puked, or peed blood.

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