Be patient with this girl as this is my first time writing a race recap. Just go with it. Going along with the theme of firsts, this was my first 50k distance race (I’ve run the 26.2’s and the 50’s and skipped the 50k – maybe I subliminally have a prejudice against metric measurements). It was also my first ultra race on trails. It was also my first (and easiest) race of a slightly daunting list I signed up for this year.
I had signed up for this 50k with the idea of using it as a “training” race. After getting drawn out of the Wasatch 100 lottery, I figured I might as well get my feet wet (or cracked and blistered) with something easy. Easy is a relative term, right? (Laugh and wipe slow tear from eye). The Buffalo Run had two aspects that appealed to me. First, it has a total of 3,900 ft of elevation gain over 31 miles. That’s like the bunny hill on the grand scheme of ultras. Perfecto for this trail race virgin. Second, it is in March. In years past I have basically stopped running from December through February, claiming the Utah weather card. My idea was that if I totally blew goats on this one, I could just tell everyone it’s because it’s early in the season for Utah runners and I didn’t have adequate time to train. Brilliant, right? Well after learning about the trail running community Wasatch Mountain Wranglers via Instagram and then joining their very active Facebook page, I quickly realized that trail runners are a rare breed of bizarre that still train when it’s so cold that your snot freezes to your face and still wake up in the middle of the night to get in a 2 or 3 hour trail run before work. Brilliant plan ruined. Thanks guys. I am easing into this diehard thing, like an ugly duckling still waiting to hit puberty.
Training. Well, crap. I did sit down and write myself a nifty little training plan that looked real great on paper. Enter reality: 3 kids, carpool, part time job, snow, dark, a husband who also needs training time, and no friends that also thought the idea of waking up at 5:00am to run in the dark with the mountain lions sounded like a good idea – weird. I will say that despite not training adequately according to popular standards, I did manage to log about 3-4 runs per week with a reasonable long run on Saturday mornings and a few of those on the trails. I also heavily cross train with weights. I’m a big fan but that’s a post for another day. Luckily I was able to join in on a group run on Antelope Island where the race took place 3 weeks out from race day. I logged 20 miles that day and realized this was going to be a lot harder than I thought.
I was honored and happy to drive out to the island the day before to cheer on my ultra cyberbuddy Janice Cook in her first 100 mile race. We had never met in person, meeting via Instagram then chatting back and forth through it. If you are social media savvy, then you are probably familiar with the hashtag #runnersmakethebestfriends. It’s true. You find you have so much in common, you know just the kind of support the other needs and you can relate to the struggles. It was fun to see her off with all the other 100 mile runners. I later learned that she finished as 2nd overall female with of time of 22:17. I just love race day. The positive atmosphere is contagious. This left me feeling energized and excited for my own race the next morning.
I arrived with 10 minutes to go time. I prefer this because I hate standing around, anxiety ridden and freezing my extra round butt off. I had just enough time to do a gear check and off I went. I had decided going into this race to leave all expectations at the start line. After all, you only get one first at each distance. You have nothing to compare to – no PR and no failure. With it being my first trail race, I really had no idea what pace to expect. I wore my Suunto but decided not to look at it and I never did the entire race. I wanted to listen to my body and not my watch. I started off mid pack and decided to take the first 2 mile climb nice and slow. I figured that since I had no idea how many people were ahead or behind me, I wasn’t going to start my usual calculating of who I needed to pass in order to start picking off people in my age group. The first 15.5 miles went pretty darn swell. I was very conscientious of my fueling and took a GU at mile 6 (much sooner than I usually do on road races). I knew that the elevation gains and losses affect your body much differently than what I have been used to. I never stopped at the aid stations because I had plenty of electrolyte drink, water and GU in my hydration pack. On that note, I realized after surveying the start line that my pack seemed a little bulkier than the majority of the runners. This made me a little nervous wondering if I had made a rookie mistake. I ended up being happy with my choice. My pack never bothered me and I was able to sustain my own fueling throughout most of the race, avoiding time costly stops at the aid stations.
I started to notice that as I could see the line of runners ahead of me, I only noticed about 3 women. My immediate competitive nature kicked in and I started to wonder if I’d be able to catch any of them. I didn’t speed up, I still listened to my body and the gap between us remained about the same until mile 13. I hit a second wind (I guess this means you have about 17 winds on these longer distances) and started to close the gap between myself and these powerhouse women. I passed all three as I came into the 15.5 mile aid station. This 50k was a two mile loop of the 25k distance. As I started to near the halfway aid station, all the runners ahead of me started passing me the other direction as they went back out. This allowed me to see how many people were ahead of me. I saw only one woman pass me. That meant that coming into the halfway point, there was only one (or two if someone was so speedy that they had long turned around and headed up the path) women ahead of me. I arrived at the halfway point at 2:37. I was pleasantly surprised with my time. This gave me quite the mental boost as I filled up my electrolyte bottle and turned out for round 2.
Round 2: The Second 25k. Heading up the first 2 mile climb of the second loop was tough. My mind was renewed but my legs and heart rate were crying. I turned up my music, put my head down and just put one foot in front of the other until I reached the top of that crusty biotch of a hill. A few guys passed me on this hill, one of them yelling back “You’re looking strong, you’ll pass me later.” I laughed and said I doubted it. One thing I have learned about these ultra distances is that you can’t focus on the entire distance, that will crush you mentally. You have to compartmentalize. Once I got to the top, I knew it was nice and flat then downhill for another 2 miles before the next major climb. Two more women passed me looking fresh and holding a steady pace while I was running out of gas. When I hit the notorious switchbacks the second time around, I almost couldn’t fathom making it to the top. I ran one switchback then walked the next, alternating this to the top. This mentally was my lowest moment in the race. Feeling so fatigued and knowing that I had to magically get to the top of the hill and still run another 8 miles was such a mind game. These are the parts that I secretly crave. I go into that dark place in my head where I know that the race becomes more mental than physical. I’ve been there before. In fact, it’s a familiar place. The benefit of running ultra distances before is that I know what this feels like and that it ends with me on top. I started repeating a mantra that had popped into my head during the switchbacks on the first loop: “relentless forward motion”. I knew that no matter how slow, I just needed to keep moving forward. Forward is progress. Forward is all I could give. I started to bonk pretty hard as I came into the last aid station at mile 26 so I stopped to eat a PB and jelly sandwich (my fave race day real food), my stomach needed something other than GU. The guy that had run past me and yelled back just past the halfway point was stopped at this aid station. I overheard him saying to someone “I’m at 4:45, you think I can finish in 5:30?”. Up to this point, I had no idea where my time was at. I knew I was doing okay, considering I had made pretty good time on my first half. I only had 5 miles to go and it was motivating to hear that I would probably finish under 6 hours. I finished with everything I had. Everything I had meant walking up the last short hill. Everything I had meant picturing my family at the finish line. It meant being acutely aware of every ache, every sore muscle, every stiff joint. It meant doing exactly as my mantra stated: “relentless forward motion”. It didn’t have to be my fastest, it just had to be the most by body could give.
I crossed the finish line with an official time of 5:45. It was good enough for 6th woman overall and 3rd in my age group. I will take it for my first trail ultra. It humbled me but didn’t break me.
You know what might break me though? Squaw Peak 50 miler, Speedgoat 50k or Wasatch 100. I came home after this race, knowing what 3900 ft over 31 miles now feels like and studied each one of these courses. I’m scurred. I guess that’s part of what motivates me to keep going. Pushing past fear is an empowering feeling. Any one of these races may break my body, but I promise you that my body will go before my mind. One more impossible checked off my list. Onward and upward my friends.
Hydration Pack: Nathan VaporShape
Socks: Some Adidas socks from a giant pack at Costco. Seriously guys, I’ve run in them for years and love them.
CEP compression calf sleeves
Shoes: Pearl Izumi M2 Trails
Pearl Izumi Ultra gaiters
Shorts: Pearl Izumi Split Fly
Top: Pearl Izumi Flash Long Sleeve