It’s 4 a.m. and I get a whiff of something horrible in the SUV. Turns out it’s Jeanne’s egg and ham sandwich that she is eating prior to the start of our Dirty 30 50k in 2 hours. Who eats that before a race? Apparently Jeanne. Normally it might not have smelled so bad, but I had that pre-race queasy stomach. Nerves mixed with curvy mountain roads of Golden Gate Canyon. Let’s not throw up before this thing even starts.
The race starts at 6 a.m. We live over an hour away and wanted to be sure to get parking and poop time. Plus, there’s always the last minute debate about what to wear and the application of “taint paint”, i.e., anti-chafe stuff to hidden body parts.
I knew this was going to be a long day. 32 miles takes a minute to run even if you’re not attempting to climb up and down technical trails going up to almost 10,000 feet. Just the course elevation profile was enough to make me shart.
So, yeah, that’s 7,250 feet of vertical for my first ultra marathon.
Before I moved from the lowlands of Maryland to Colorado I had no idea about measuring things in feet. Who gives a shit about feet? But once I got here I realized that’s how people talk about the hills and mountains. For perspective:
- The famous Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon = 91 feet of vertical
- The vertical gain from base camp to the top of Mt. Everest is about 10,000 feet
Those are two extremes, but you get the idea. 7,250 feet of vertical over 32 miles was gonna hurt.
I guess you’re supposed to have a race strategy. Here was mine: Power hike the really steep/technical climbs. Run the flats and downs. Eat 150 calories an hour. One gel every hour then supplement with “real food” (i.e. candy, potatoes, chips) from the aid stations. And most importantly, do not stop. Keep moving forward no matter how slowly.
Mentally, I broke the race down by aid stations: Mile 5, Mile 12, Mile 17, Mile 24, Mile 29.
It’s 39 degrees at the start. Being cold is my least favorite feeling after being nauseous (foreshadow) and needing to poop desperately while stuck at a train crossing (not that that has ever happened to me).
|I wore my tooth for the occasion|
We start out at about 8,000 feet and I quickly realize I have no clue how to pace myself. I want to work hard and push but I don’t want to burn out over the course of such a long day. I basically go by perceived effort. When my heart rate gets high, I slow down. After the first big climb of the day, I hit Aid #1 in 1 hour and take a shot of Coke. I don’ know why. It was there.
I quickly head out towards climb #2. I’m feeling solid, but it’s still way too early to really tell. I play leap frog (and hopscotch and four square!) with these two twenty something girls from Michigan. They smell good, which is a weird thing to say, but when you’re behind people for miles and miles you notice these things. At least it wasn’t farts. I find out it’s essential oils: Peace and Calming from Young Living (better than farts!). I spend some time thinking I might want to get some. I have a lot of time to think. I’m happy that at 52 I can hang with the twenty somethings (and later I would pass them and not see them again!)
I also think a lot about the next aid station and what I need to eat. I notice that one the downhills my stomach is sloshing, which means I need to eat and I probably need more salt. I reach into my pack for a Salt Stick tab and realize the valve on my hydration bladder has been leaking onto my tabs and they are disintegrating. Shit.
Aid Station #2 (12 miles) in 2 hours, 47 minutes . Feeling really good. I grab an orange and some potato chips. I dip boiled potatoes into salt. I grab a couple of pickles. I’m in and out in about 3 minutes. I take note of this sign.
Spoiler: For once it will NOT be me!
Coming out of Aid 2 is a short but enormous climb. There are so many huge boulders to climb over it is tough to even know where the trail is. Then we are awarded with a nice down for awhile. That’s when I fall gracefully into a bush. My only fall of the day! At this point I’m already thinking about Aid 3 at 17 miles because I’ll be more than half way done. DONE. But I’m not even letting myself entertain the thought of being done yet. Just got to stay in the present and not get ahead of myself.
I cruise into Aid 3 (17 miles) in 4 hours, 21 minutes. This is the Cadillac/Thanksgiving of all aid stations with perogis, turkey roll ups, pickles, candy, fruit, peanut butter and jelly. But it was also incredibly over stimulating, crowded and hectic as this is the only place on the course where spectators can be. I had planned on eating a lot but just wanted to get out of there. Probably a mistake. A volunteer filled my bladder and I thought it was full, but it wasn’t so that was also a (rookie) mistake.
Here comes the third climb of the day. It’s getting hot. I need a boost, so I decide to listen to a music for a bit, something I never do on the trail. After two songs, I was over it. Trail running and headphones just don’t go together. I am approaching mile 20 and fading a bit. I’m tired. I’ve been out here awhile and I still have so far to go (and the steepest climb of the day). I don’t buy into my mind trying to psych me out. Instead I stop looking at my watch completely and press on.
As I come into Aid 4 (24 miles) in 6 hours, 20 minutes, I’m told this is the last chance for food on the course. I drink some Tailwind but don’t fill my bladder because I thought I still had a lot of water left. I’m a stupid idiot fucker. I grab a bunch of boiled potatoes, pretzels and pickles and head out towards Windy Peak.
I’ve done Windy Peak twice before this. It involves climbing 1,300 feet in about 2 miles. I guess it’s pretty but I’m always in too much pain to notice. It is also strategically placed at about mile 28 of the race, so let’s all give the finger to the race director (Love you Megan). On the way up WP I started getting crazy nauseous, which never happens to me. Then I realized I was dehydrated and was out of water. It would be one huge peak and 3 miles until the next aid station. I felt like shit summitting the peak and it took awhile because it’s steep, technical and rocky. Even coming down is kind of treacherous with lots of loose rock.
|Pretty but painful|
|I came close|
I hit Aid 5 (29 miles) in 7 hours, 54 minutes. I chug some water and Tailwind, and haul ass out of there towards the finish. There are a couple short climbs before I begin the descent to the end. A volunteer tells me I have 1.25 miles to go and it is at this point that I finally let myself believe I am going to finish. I can hear the crowds and the music. I’m getting so close. My goal was to finish in 8 to 8.5 hours and it’s been 8 hours, 15 minutes. I cruise into the finish, spying Ken and Emma waiting for me.
Finish lines are weird because they are the ultimate combination of everything. I feel disgustingly sick, totally elated, extremely fatigued, super emotional and significantly proud. I cry for all of those reasons.
Glad to get 4th in my old hag age group (50-59)!
No race is complete without learning some lessons for next time if: 1) there is a next time, and 2) you are open to learning. I’m still processing the day, but here are a few takeaways:
- I hate the bladder. I prefer bottles. With the bladder it’s too hard to know much you’re drinking and to get enough fluid. Personal preference. I did not pee the entire race. I have just ordered this vest
- Keep Salt Stick tabs away from water. Duh.
- Don’t even attempt music.
- Eat more.
- Learn to suffer better. Don’t be afraid of it. It comes with the territory.