THE FIRST 50K EXPERIENCE
First, I want to commend The North Face Endurance Challenge Wisconsin team on coordinating a phenomenal event. They had amazing, encouraging, responsive, and helpful volunteers, a very well marked course, and an extremely well run event with everything you hoped for as a runner. They did a fantastic job of planning and implementing a very complex event. I'm impressed!
The day started out fine. I woke up easy, did some yoga, was in a state of calm thinking I had plenty of time until Phil said, "Hey we should go soon." and I was like "Give me 7 more minutes" which he replied, "the race starts at 7". Oh shit! This was about 6:23am and it was about a 23 minute drive to get to the race location and we still had to pick up our bibs and drop our bag. Neat. This is not the nice calm morning I had planned!
I grabbed everything I could fit in my hands and we headed out the door. I ate a couple snacks and a banana on the way but had hoped for a much more substantial breakfast. Then we thought we took a wrong turn, so we went the other way only to discover it was the right way but there was nowhere to turn around, and the anxiety is getting very high! We managed to find our way back, and then while we were walking to the start area, Phil thought he forgot his water bottle and had to go back to the car.
This was not the nice relaxing morning I had visualized the night before. I don't know what I was thinking. Luckily, we managed to get our bibs on and be ready for the race about two minutes before having to start, but there was no more time to worry about it. It was game time now.
Phil and I ran together for the first ten miles, which was a nice surprise since I didn't think we would run together at all. We came upon the first hill and everybody, and I mean every-single-body walked. I was really surprised to see this and continued jogging up the hill. I did not train to walk up all the hills, and I couldn't believe no one would even attempt them. We did start in the last wave, but I thought that at least someone would be running up some of them. This was interesting to me, and a few hills later I was guilted into joining them walking up the big hills, but by the end this became an important part of my finishing strategy. In a race this long you get to learn new things, play with them, and implement them strategically all before finishing the race!
For the first half of the race my legs felt heavy and tired, and about mile eight, I went down. I caught my toe on a root, tried to catch myself with my other leg but only ended up straining my hamstring and going down getting my hands and water bottle all full of sand. My adrenaline spiked, which slowed me down and distracted me for a couple miles, but I managed to settle back down. I went on to catch that toe on two more roots and straining my hamstring twice more but without going down, but it seemed to have worked itself out throughout the rest of the race.
The first 15 miles were tree-covered, wide trails offering nice shade and pleasant scenery. We couldn't believe there weren't any mosquitoes driving us crazy! After the second aid station around mile 11, Phil went on ahead of me while I stretched a little longer. I overheard a volunteer saying in about three more miles we would be out to the prairie and fully exposed to the unexpectedly hot sun. It ended up being in the mid to high 80s with humidity over 50%. There were no clouds in sight when I got to the prairie and barely a breeze. It was warm, and I smelled really bad by this point and I was hoping for any change in wind direction!
For the next ten miles, I ran way faster than I anticipated! My legs got much lighter and didn't feel so tired. I let some people run in my space and run behind me, which is very hard for me to do. Having people run near me creates a lot of anxiety, but I embraced the discomfort and allowed other racers in my space. In turn, I think this created a lot of energy that allowed me to run at this faster pace. I kept looking at my watching thinking about how crazy it was that I was able to move that fast. I was certain this pace would kill me for the last third of the race but as much as I would try to slow down, my body just kept propelling me forward. In longer races, I've found running with the way you feel is more effective than trying to use the extra energy to slow yourself down considerably.
Around mile 22, the really big hills started and I decided to take it easy for the next five-ish miles. I walked up the hills trying out new techniques. I found that keep my stride length very short and taking quick steps helped get me up the hills faster with burning less energy. I kept jogging the flat parts and downhills continuing to remind myself that I needed to continue the "keep running" mentality. There were about three miles of rolling large hills and then open prairie. There were parts that I wasn't having fun and thought about why I was doing this. I walked a lot and it went pretty slowly but overall I stayed in the game mentally and felt good about my progress.
There was about six miles between the two aid stations where we were most exposed to the sun, I started to run low on my GU chews and got very hungry and I got worried when I almost ran out of water, so I decided I needed to eat more and take a little extra time and water at the next aid station. I probably spent 4-7 minutes at each aid station refueling, resting, and stretching. Each aid station was well stocked. They had a good assortment of food: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, oranges, bananas, canned potatoes and salt, chips, pretzels, candy, energy chews, etc. I took my time at the next station eating and drinking extra electrolyte drinks and standing in some of the tiny amounts of shade they had. As the day got hotter, they starting offering towels soaked in ice water to the runners and that was true bliss! I never imagined squeezing sweaty, dirty, ice cold water on my head could feel so amazing but it so did! Runners do some disgusting things without a second thought by the end of races!!
The final aid station was around mile 27, and in my head I thought I had 5-6 miles to go but on the board it said 3.7 miles to the next aid station which was the finish line. I stared at that board for a good two minutes doing the math thinking there was no way that I only had four miles to go. I was stoked! I got out my iPod, put in my headphones and felt energized. I started jogging and looked at my watch to see it saying 11:30 min/mile, Say what?! I had never, ever run at that pace past mile 17 before. That pace didn't sustain for long, but I felt good. I walked the hot, open prairie sections and the hills, and maybe a little more but mentally I was in it and I was excited.
When I would start jogging again after walking during the last couple miles, all I could think was "Lighting fast, Rachelle, lightning fast!" It felt so dang slow, but it made me laugh and in reality it only felt slow, I wasn't really running that slow. Then finally the last mile, but the last mile was so, so long! You could see the finish area for quite awhile and it seemed like it took forever to get there, but I kept truckin. Phil managed to find a cheering squad for me about 100 yards from the finish. They were all yelling my name and cheering me on, which made me start to cry. So many emotions came at that moment. I couldn't believe I had just finished a strong 30 mile race, and I couldn't believe there were a whole group of strangers cheering me on enthusiastically, but I started accepting this new reality and I liked it.
Running has taught me so much and created so much empowerment and growth within me. It has been an incredibly powerful tool of expansion and I am so happy that I became connected with it(thank you Michele! *SSC*) and continue to get out there and practice it. I encourage everyone to explore tools you can use to create growth and empowerment and get out there and practice them as much as possible in your own lives because it really can make a huge difference.
Thank you so much for allowing me to share this journey with you! Your support helped to carry me to the finish line! I appreciate you!
You can see the race photos here: http://www.racephotonetwork.com/QPPlus/Packages.aspx . They captured some pretty great expressions.