Oh man. I ran 37 miles.
Where does one even start?
Let’s go with mile 8.
I hit the turnaround for the first part of the race with glee. It had been a great morning. I had consistently been running under 12-minute miles, my goal pace. I sped off from the checkpoint even faster. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, and my hip-flexors were starting to feel a little tight. Still, it felt like everything was going my way.
Every ultramarathon story I had heard of talked about dramatic highs and lows, but maybe sometimes everything just goes right.
I didn’t have a lot of nerves in the week leading up to the race. This may have been because I was incredibly busy. On Wednesday I drove down to Nashville and got to spend a couple of days hanging out with my best friend. Friday I went over and picked up my registration packet.
“Oh look honey, there’s another young woman running,” cooed a mother when she saw me. The other girl was running the 50-mile event.
“Oh, I’m just running the 60K,” I said apologetically. The group of people standing around the registration table burst out laughing. What kind of crazy place do people say they are “just” running 60K?
The kind of crazy place my best friend dropped me off at Saturday morning. As we drove through the pre-dawn streets the radio literally starting playing a pump-up playlist. I started to tear up listening to “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, because the day had finally come. In January I had decided I was going to run a marathon in 2015. Now I was going to do that, plus more than 10 miles on top of it.
People say a lot of nice things to you when you tell them you plan to/have run 37 miles, like how awesome/brave/strong you are, or other things like that.
Make no mistakes, ladies and gentlemen, it can be debated whether or not those statements are true, but they are certainly not the primary reason I was running this race.
It’s just that I clearly don’t have good sense.
That became painfully clear as I neared the 17-mile mark, the point where I would cross back through the START/FINISH and into the second half of the race. I was already within 3 miles of my longest run to date and had run almost twice the distance of my longest race. The pain was quite literal as my hip-flexors had now reached “threat-level midnight” levels of discomfort.
“Chips, bathroom, coke, stretching,” I murmured to myself as I came into the aid station.
Even with all that, and a Trail Runner Nation podcast playing, things were going rough. The upside was that after the whole morning on asphalt trails I finally hit some dirt. We wound through Nashville parks, and the scenery was beautiful, but my legs were so sore I couldn’t get back up to pace. It felt like my legs were cooling off and stiffening as I ran, which I had never experienced before.
Because it’s a race with multiple distances, and you are allowed to switch mid-race, I knew my main challenge was to get myself past the 50K turnaround. If I ran past it I would keep going to my 60K turnaround, and by then my only choice was to run back to the START/FINISH.
I was starting to understand the low side of an ultramarathon.
Still, I envisioned talking with the volunteers at the 60K checkpoint.
After the turnaround, I had about 10 miles to get back. They would be painful, but I would accomplish it.
And again it hit me that today I would run 37 miles. And again I got all teary.
The dirt trails let out to more asphalt. Miles 21-25 are mostly a boring, determined blur. But then I passed the mile marker for mile 26 and burst out crying. I had done it. I could collapse on the ground right then, and I would have accomplished the goal I had worked towards for 10 months. I had run a marathon.
But they don’t call it an ultra for nothing, kids. I still had 11 miles to go.
I made it the miles to the turnaround, stretched a little more and grabbed some snacks, and then headed back. By now my hip flexors were screaming in pain. Then I landed on my left foot weird. I slowed to a walk and took some deep breaths. I could do it. I would walk up the hill slowly until I could tell if my foot was ok, then start running again.
Just then a race volunteer on a bike popped out in front of me.
“You’re looking strong,” he said. “Can I get you anything?”
“Um, not unless you have an extra pair of hip flexors,” I said.
“If you want to take a break I’ll help you stretch them,” he said.
I hated to totally stop forward progress. At the same time, I knew at the rate I was going I would be crawling before I hit the finish. So I took him up on his offer. And lo and behold, by the time he was done I could run again!
So I took off, feeling slightly nauseated but ok. I realized I hadn’t eaten much lately so I grabbed a bag of cheddar veggie straws I had picked up two aid stations ago and chowed down. They were so delish. By the time I got to the aid station at mile 30 I was feeling so good I downed half a cup of Coke and grabbed a bag of pretzels. Sure, the bottom half of my body felt like I had just run a marathon (hahaha) but mentally I felt amazing.
About a mile later I was on the other end of the pendulum. My nausea returned with a vengeance. Everything in me wanted to puke. I slowed down to a relaxed walk, simply determined not to lay down beside the path and take a nap.
I was pretty sure my race was over. I had already gotten to the point where I was close to my goal time. If I had to walk the last 5 miles I would be in considerably later. And this was not speed walking. This was old lady sauntering at best.
I reminded myself I could still finish this race, even if it was slow. I considered putting in my final push playlist, but it felt like even that would make me more sick to my stomach.
Then suddenly it passed. I felt much better. I turned the music on and picked up the pace.
From there to the end was pretty amazing. I was brought to tears again as I realized I was going to finish, and finish running, not just limping like a cripple. As I ticked down the miles it was also reassuring that I didn’t have to eat anything more.
My playlist ran out during the last mile, and I was thrilled to see the finish line. Right before it came into sight, another race volunteer came by on a bike.
“They’re waiting for you!” he called to me.
I sprinted through the end, so focused on my finish I didn’t even see my friend standing by the timer. She had apparently arrived minutes before.
And that was it. I ran 37 miles. Eleven months ago I made a commitment to make it 26.2, and now I have left that number in the dust.
So what’s next? Hopefully more exciting things. And obviously there was some intense recovery called upon in the following week.
But for right now, I just want to enjoy this. I did it. And it was great.
Huge thanks to race director Dennis for organizing such a beautiful course, and to all the amazing race volunteers that kept the day running. Especially Mike from St. Louis. You really saved my day, Mike!
Also, here is a video of me rambling for five minutes after the race. Please enjoy. There are a lot of tears: