I planned this race and trip for my 60th birthday extravaganza that I would share with my best friend, Susan, back in July. I don't remember if I planned this before or after I figured I'd go for a BQ and KQ next year, but it doesn't matter. At any rate, I knew I'd need to train like a mofo for 50k, and it actually frightened me a bit since I hadn't run a marathon since late 2013 during Ironman Cozumel.
I know there are a number of people who probably scoff at my crises of self-confidence when it comes to endurance sports, but honestly I do have them because I have a great deal of respect for "big" things, and a 50k is a big thing, especially when it's a trail race. I also have much respect for FAST things like sprint triathlons and 5k/10k races. Those things can put the hurt to you, and unless you intend to just waltz through them as a participant, they require devoted preparation and mental focus.
If you've never done a long, true trail race, let's just say that their objective is to fuck you up, especially if you don't train on the race's terrain. In my case, what I have available to train on near me is basically crushed limestone and the one big hill at Greene Valley. What I actually ran on in Rainbow Gardens (part of the Lake Mead Recreation Area) was rocks of every color, shape and size, plus sand plus rutted trails in the mountains! It was fantastic!
I'd tested out my gear and nutrition in training for the race. I did a number of weekends where I did back to back long-ish runs, although my actual longest run prior to the race was only 14 miles! I also did a lot of fast walking/hiking to get lots of time on my feet in training. My highest volume of combined running and walking was the week of 10/3, where I put in 11.4 total hours/59.62 miles. I figured that was enough for a 50k, and actually I could have run 50 miles depending on the terrain.
One of the things that's important about training for these big endurance festivals is putting the hurt to yourself in training, because you know it's going to hurt while you are out there racing, and if you can't handle pain, then you have zero business doing these things. Because the pain will come--both during and after the race itself. And you need to be OK with it. I definitely put the hurt to myself in training, and had sore legs for much of the lead up to the race itself. I've done this sort of thing before, and I'm very attuned to my body, so I can tell the difference between actual muscle damage versus expected soreness and/or referred nerve pain. I never actually hurt myself in training, but I sure had referred nerve pain and soreness! But that's what swimming, stretching and massage are for!
Two weeks ago, I basically felt like crap, and every time I ran, I felt like crap. Like I had zero power or speed in me, and shit hurt. Shit hurt so much I was actually frightened I might not be able to finish the race. But that turned out to be normal shit, and I'd just forgotten that that's how tapers go much of the time (thanks Debby for reminding me of this!). But the Saturday before I left, I had a great 1-hour run on the treadmill, and that was a good confidence builder! But what the fuck--I was going to be running a lot farther than that!
I did a full week of formal heat acclimation, following the protocol I found in Meredith Kessler's book, "Life of a Triathlete." Buy the damn book and read it if you are at all serious about competing! The heat acclimation worked like a charm during the race--while it got probably into the lower 80's, I never felt hot, even at altitude (the race started at 2100 feet and we climbed another at least 1000 feet twice). I knew I was sweating, but I never felt icky (it's a "dry" heat, right?), and I never felt overly thirsty, although occasionally I would just shoot water over my lips and not drink it. I drank my custom Infinit mix for my race nutrition and nothing else. That worked perfectly!
For breakfast on race morning, I ate 2 hardboiled eggs, had a Powerbar Triple Threat and 300 calories of Ultrafuel. Plus maybe 3 mugs of coffee, and then I drank a bottle of water on the way to the race. I took a cab from Mandalay Bay because I knew I wouldn't be able to drive myself back, and my friend Susan was to pick me up.
I'd told Susan to be at the race 7 hours in, as I thought I should probably be able to finish in that amount of time. Where the fuck did I get that number? Fuck if I know! It just seemed reasonable, even though I had no fucking clue what the actual terrain was, since there is no course map published on the race website!
I got lucky with the cab driver, because he knew all about ultrarunners and didn't think I was too crazy until I told him about Ultraman. Then he put me in the loony bin category! I'd printed Google Maps directions to the race start and had him look at them knowing I had it precisely right and there was only one way to get there.
We got to the little kiosk--really just a tiny wooden stand--and the race people were setting up, so there were lights in the pitch black. It was beautiful to be able to see the stars not that far from Las Vegas! Of course, in the dark, I could not see where the hell we would be running! I met a man from England, Stuart, and we chatted, and I told him I hoped to go 7 hours (he was doing the marathon), and he said that would be a pretty good time for this race. I still had no fucking idea!
As I collected my bib, chip and shirt, as usual, I got the dry heaves, and one of the volunteers asked if I was OK, and I said this is normal for me prior to a race! I used the porta-potty a few times, the sun came up, and it was GO time. I could see the mountains off in the distance, but still had no clue what the route was. The marathon and 50k people started at 7:00, and the 5k, 10k and 1/2 marathon started at 7:30. Someone blew a horn and we were off!
Most people took off like jack rabbits. I had no fucking idea what I was going to be running on, and right away it was rocks. And you had to pick your way through them--these trails are also used by off road vehicles--and there were ruts from the heavy rain the week before, so it was all very uneven footing! And we started climbing pretty much right away, and I had sunglasses with me, but I never even wore them because I had to see what was right in front of me the entire time!
We did 2 out and back sections--the first was about 17 miles, and then the other part was about 14. I had (2) 3.5-hour bottles of Infinit concentrate--one with me, and one in my drop bag. I thought the drop bags were at the 16.5 mile mark, but I got there in 3.5 hours and the guy said it was 17 miles, so I was ahead of schedule! I only out and out walked the first section when I had to drink Infinit, which I slugged every 30 minutes. I could grab my water bottle whenever I needed to and sometimes carried it.
Oh--here's all my crap laid out the night before the race:
Anyway, I'm running the first out and back and just laughing to myself inside because I'm thinking I had never run on anything like this ever before! But I just ran a comfortable pace with a short stride and picked my way through the rocks and didn't worry about where other people were. But after maybe 8 miles I started passing people. Not that I was going very fast, I was just steady and not slowing down. I passed my buddy Stuart, and I think he was a bit surprised. The marathon and 50k people were on the same course through maybe 21 miles. There was a guy I kept leap-frogging with that I eventually passed for good right before the marathon turnaround.
Anyway, the scenery was gorgeous, and it looked different in each direction, because you had to pay so much attention to your footing and you could only look around so much. But it was stunning! The entire time I was out there I felt so grateful to have the fitness and financial means to be in such a beautiful place running! I held back on shedding any tears, though, until I was maybe a mile from the finish.
So I finish the first like 17 miles and I'm excited and thinking I can finish this fucker! Maybe I don't suck so bad! And while the first out and back had a decent climb in it, it was NOTHING compared to the second part! As soon as I grabbed my second 3.5-hour bottle of Infinit, we started going UP! And it was this big fucking mountain and I thought, holy shit how high are we going? But I kept picking my way uphill and didn't walk too much on the way out on this section, and I totally spaced where the marathon turnaround was but wondered why I didn't keep seeing some people...oh well, I never expect my brain to function 100% during these things!
So we climbed for maybe 4 miles and then we went downhill to the turnaround and then it was back the fuck uphill again. Holy fuck, by this time my legs hurt like mofos. Actually, they'd begun to hurt about 3 hours in, but I expected it. I alternated between quads hurt, lack of hip flexors (always a fun feeling!), and even my adductors were pinging me because of all the stabilization I needed to do with the uneven footing! I did end up walking uphill maybe 30 minutes on the way back, but felt that I wouldn't be running much faster, so I just kept going. I even passed a few people while I was walking!
All I could remember about this section of trail to gauge where the fuck I was was by the humps around me. I knew there was a major hump at the start of this section, and I was like WHERE THE FUCK IS THAT HUMP? And I was starting to become mentally weary and worry about whether I would go over 7 hours because I didn't want Susan to have to wait for me! But then the big mountain receded from view and I knew I was almost home, and this song came on my MP3 player (it was set to shuffle):
and then I started bawling my eyes out because I was looking around me and it was so beautiful and I was going to finish this thing and now I just kept running and when I finally saw the cones with arrows for the finish line I was so happy! I thought I would go under 7 hours, and we had to climb this stupid little hump that you almost had to clamber up, and then it flattened out for about .2 miles to the finish, and I knew people could see me and that I had to run it all, and now NOTHING HURT ANYMORE and I just kept going and I broke 7 hours!
A volunteer told me I was 3rd woman overall so I got a stainless steel cup award. Here's my medal and shirt and stuff:
I am still overwhelmed that I was able to do this thing in a respectable time and now know that I can go the distance again! This race was so fucking hard that it will make Disney seem like a cake walk! I am so grateful that I can do this stuff and that I have such great friends that support me in my insanity. Honestly, there is nothing better than having your best friend waiting for you at the finish line! I told Susan how much that motivated me, but I know she knows that a lot of it was my usual (over-?) preparation and mental toughness. I am just happy that maybe I got all that back and can keep going at this shit for a few years. This was an amazing experience and I get why some people only do these hard trail races--they really are a different animal. I don't know when I'll go back and do this race again--I definitely want to--but now I am thinking I want to climb Mount Whitney, which isn't too far from Susan's house. Maybe 2018. It would be nice to add another different endurance event!
Hope you enjoyed reading, and GET OUT THERE AND RUN IN BEAUTIFUL PLACES!!!