Leading up to this race, my training wasn’t really where I had wanted it to be. It took me longer to recover from my 50 miler than I expected and we’ve had a brutal winter so far here in Chicago so I was lacking motivation to get outside and run. I was doing plenty of treadmill runs, hitting the weights and even running the stairs but I was missing my long runs!! I think before this race, the longest we went was like 12.5 miles, I knew we’d be able to survive but it probably wouldn’t be pretty but then again I always say running isn’t supposed to be pretty, well at least you’re not supposed to look all that good doing it but if you can hit the trails then you’ll definitely see something pretty.
Since it was my 30th birthday, Brady and I decided to make a mini vacation out of this race and would spend a few extra days in the San Francisco area. Seeing whales in the wild is on my bucket list so we decided to take in a whale watching trip the day before the race. That probably wasn’t the best idea, it was a long day and we were stuck on a boat – it was windy and freezing and the waves were huge, I wasn’t feeling so great but we did see a few whales so it was worth it :) Plus being gone all day and traveling the day before, my nutrition and hydration was a bit sub-par especially since we needed to be fueled up for 31 miles!!!
After looking at previous times and the elevation gain, we took a guess that this beast of a run would take us about 6 hours. Driving to the race was quite scenic, through twisty roads and redwoods, I knew we were in for a real treat once we hit the trails. It was a bit chilly in the morning so I decided to go with shorts, a long sleeve shirt and gloves. Figured I could remove layers if it warmed up a bit.
Mile 0 to King’s Mountain Aid Station (Mile 6.0)
We toed the invisible line in the grass with other runners and then we were off but we quickly came to a standstill as people made a sharp switchback turn to get onto the actual trail, for a while we were running in single file, right up against one another. I thought to myself, are we gonna run like this for 30 miles?!? We were on a single track so there wasn’t much space to maneuver so you were pretty much stuck where you were for the time being plus I didn’t really want to dart off during the 1st mile because I knew I’d need my legs for all the elevation!! The path finally widened and began to climb; I decided to go with a little pack. I turned around and could see Brady behind me so knew he was in good shape. I decided I’d run with this group for a little while and just kinda go with the flow. We hit a steep uphill and those around me started to walk so I followed suit, I learned my lesson when I ran up Mt. Washington last June – walk those really steep sections, its more efficient than running and will save you energy, you don’t actually gain any time/speed on anyone if you try running it (at least I didn’t!). This hill seemed to be unrelenting, we continued onward and upward and I picked up the pace when everyone else did. I looked at my watch when we hit 3 miles and was shocked how slow I was moving, not sure I’ve ever ran that slow!! I realized, this run is gonna take a long time!!
Over the past few miles, I looked back several times hoping to catch a glimpse of Brady but he was nowhere to be found, I was somewhat concerned because the trail was pretty technical with lots of rocks, roots, etc so I was hoping he was still back there and hadn’t twisted an ankle or fallen off the side of a cliff. I decided that I would wait for him at the first aid station. I reached that first stop, filled my water bottle and chatted with the volunteers. After about 5:00, Brady appeared. He told me that he figured I would just go ahead and he was totally fine if I wanted to race the thing, I told him I wanted to make sure he was ok and that I wanted the two of us to enjoy some of the race together!! He grabbed some snacks and we hit the trails.
King’s Mountain Aid Station (Mile 6) to Bear Gulch Aid Station (Mile 11.7)
The next aid station was another 5-6 miles away so had to survive until then. I wasn’t sure how to fuel for this race, should I base it off of distance or time?!? I decided that I’d take some kinda fuel every 7-8 miles or so, so the night before I stuffed my bottle with some chewies and stinger gels. Brady and I ran together for a little while along with a pack of a few guys. Brady and I were running side by side and the next thing I know he’s on the ground laying on his back, guess the trail got the best of him and a tree root took him down, luckily he got right back up. As soon as we hit the next incline, I was off, I ran with a few other guys for a bit – one of them told me to let him know when I wanted to get around him and that he was scared of me because he said me take that other guy down (i.e., Brady), we all had a good laugh about that one. Once the path smoothed out a bit and we hit a downhill / flat section, me and another guy decided to pick up the pace. I wanted to push it on this “easy section” while we could, it felt good to open up my stride and move a little faster. At this point, I was feeling pretty good and popped some chews around mile 7-8 to keep my energy levels up. We cruised along for a while until we hit a few switchbacks, dang those are rough!! Just back and forth, zig-zagging up the side of a hill. I was starting to run out of energy at this point, my legs were feeling the elevation and I walked a few of the steeper sections. I just wanted to make it to the next aid station which was around 11 miles. We got there and I decided to wait for Brady again, I ate another handful of chewies and filled up my bottle again and had a few extra sips of water. During my 30 mile training run leading up to my first ultra, I tried carrying my 20 oz water bottle but my arm was getting sore and cramping up so I was forced to carry my 10 ouncer, which just didn’t get it done! Leading up to this race, I’d be hitting the weights (both upper body and legs) so I was feeling strong, this time around I carried that 20 ouncer with no problem and it was gonna pay off when I needed it. Although I still think that I might need to try out carrying 2 bottles at once to get some extra fluids but that might be a bit much for me.
Bear Gulch Aid Station (Mile 11.7) to Bear Gulch Aid Station (Mile 20.6)
It was drizzling a little bit and I was starting to get chilled while waiting at the stop. People came and went, several of them complaining of bee stings. One girl asked me if I was like alright, I was like umm yea and she explained that several people had come across a swarm of bees and were stung. Hmm, luckily I made it through there without any altercations with a bee! Brady came up the trail and started chowing down on oreos again so I waited a bit more and then we hit the trail. Both of us were kinda feeling it at this point and we still had 2/3 to go!! We had to run out and do a loop before making our way back to this same aid station and it would be about 8-9 miles, hopefully I’d have enough to keep me going!! I ended up getting a little ahead of Brady but came across a corner that was a big confusing on the course so I decided to swing back and find him to prevent him from getting lost, he said his legs were tightening up a bit and needed to stop and stretch. Once he loosened up a bit, we started running again and came across a little group running together - 2 guys and a girl, they were chatting loudly and obnoxiously, we passed them while they were walking up a slight incline. I could feel my energy levels fading; I was starting to crash bad. After thinking about it, I’d been drinking water but hadn’t really been taking in any electrolytes. Around mile 15, I was forced to walk any uphill section, as small as it was, I just didn’t have the energy to make it up, my legs felt trashed and even walking didn’t seem all that great. I took down a stinger gel and was hopeful that my energy levels would spike. Brady was much better at walking than I was, I felt slow and could barely keep up with him especially going uphill. We’d walk for a stretch then start running again, I’d try to pick out a spot and make it there. we played leap frog with that annoying group of runners for several miles, we’d pass them then they’d pass us. I just wanted to escape their obnoxious chatter and I could tell brady was getting annoyed with them as well. we tried to pick up the pace but then I’d need to walk again, I was holding us back but luckily brady was supportive and stuck with me. I just wanted this loop to be over, I was running out of water and needed to refuel a bit.
Bear Gulch Aid Station (Mile 20.6) to King’s Mountain Aid Station (Mile 26.2)
We finally reached the aid station and at this point we were 2/3 done, only 10 miles go!! I ate some chocolate and a few nuts and raisins for some fuel. At this point, the PB&Js and oreos were looking mighty tasty but I wasn’t sure how my stomach would handle them so I decided to stay clear. The obnoxious chatters flew through the aid station, which was alright with me, now we wouldn’t have to listen to them go on and on about whatever it is they were chatting about. At this point, we were going back on the trail that we came in on those all those uphill switchbacks were now downhill, this was fun! I lead Brady lead for a while and just followed his pace, every now and again we’d switch it up and I’d take over. Now we were kinda running solo, we’d come across a few people but the big pack that we had on the way out had dissolved and it was a bit more spread out. Perhaps because when we started we had people running various distances but now most of the people left out there were part of the 50k. We walked a few rough spots but ran most of the way, we had a good stretch where we just put on the burners and went after it. Around mile 23, Brady was running front and I must’ve tripped on a root or a rock, next thing I know I’m on the ground, hanging over the edge of the trail. I yelled out for Brady, he turned around to find me dangling off the edge. Luckily, it wasn’t a sharp drop off!! He ran back to help me, I wiped off the mud and started running again, that was a bit alarming! Soon thereafter we were at the last aid station.
King’s Mountain Aid Station (Mile 26.2) to Finish (30.8 – 49.6 km)
We reloaded at the stop, I ate a few more M&Ms, nuts and raisins and the oreos were still looking quite tempting. I decided to put a few in my bottle to eat when I got to the finish. The mileage on my Suunto was a bit off and I thought we still had at least 5 or 6 miles left but the volunteers told us there was only 4.6 to go and most of it was downhill!! I was shocked, so that was quite a pleasant surprise!! They said that most people’s watches will be off when it comes to the total distance, I’m not sure why that might be. Maybe from all the switchbacks and the GPS not picking up signal in some spots? Who knows but I was quite happy that we were gonna be done sooner than expected. I thought we had to go back the way we came so the 5-6 miles wouldve made sense. We started off and soon after, I was ahead of Brady again. I could taste the finish and I could tell that we were going back a different way than the way we came, ah that’s why the distance was shorter. I started to hit a downhill so I opened up my stride, at this point we were running down a big open road. I was trying to figure out how much time I had left, I wasn’t sure if I could believe the volunteers so I kept telling myself I had to make it to 31 and would give myself a range of how much further I had to go. At this point, I felt like the 6:00 mark was slipping away from me, I thought I’d end up closer to 6:30. I kept pushing the pace on the downhill and tried to stay relaxed. I could hear some people and saw the park where we started, I rounded a corner and started sprinting, once again I finished an ultra, sprinting. How is it possible that one can sprint after running 30 or 50 miles, is beyond me!
I looked at the clock 6:03, eh, not too shabby!! Right around where I thought I would be. I took those oreos out of my pouch and took em down right away, they definitely hit the spot. Of course, they had a table with all sorts of treats including Oreos. I grabbed a few more and filled up a cup with pretzels filled with PB, one of my favorite snacks that I’ve been avoiding for months now – those totally hit the spot, even more than the oreos. I was really started to get chilled as I waited for brady to finish. I started to walk back towards the course to see if I could see him coming and he finally rounded the bend and crossed the line. We made it!!
I thought this race was much tougher than the 50 miler I did in October, the terrain had much to do with that. My first ultra (DesPlaines 50 miler) was on a wide flat trail whereas the Crystal Springs 50k was mostly single track so you really had to concentrate on foot placement and the elevation gain was significant!! Plus I was well trained for my 50 miler, had done plenty of long runs and was feeling ready to go, before this 50k, the longest we had done was 12 miles! I asked Brady what he thought, he told me this was his first and last ultra, haha. Guess I’ll be doing these runs solo from now on but at least he can be my crew leader :)
I have the Ice Age 50 miler on May 10th up in Kettle Moraine, WI. This winter needs to let up so I can start hitting the trails, I definitely need to get more trail experience before I tackle that 50 miler!!