I don't know when the idea first took root in my head that I might be able to run 50 miles. I like to blame the facebook Chicks running group that I was added to earlier this year. Through that group I have met, both virtually and physically, so many amazing and inspiring runners that it helped to convince me that I could go farther than I ever thought possible.
After Hagg Lake in February I immediately signed up for the Gorge 50k. I wanted to improve my time (still a laughable goal after I realized the difficulty level of the Gorge course) and try a point to point course. After the Gorge I think was when I heard rumblings amidst the running group that people were signing up for a 50-miler. I checked out the website. The run was called the Mt. Hood 50 and it was held up by Mt. Hood - starting from the Clackamas Ranger station. It was a double out-and-back course which appealed to me. You ran back by the start/finish at the 28.4 mile mark so if you just weren't having a good day you could stop there. I hemmed and hawed for a month or more before I saw the registration starting to fill up. I took the plunge and registered.
Then the training began. How does one train for a 50-miler? I had no idea so I just made it up as I went along. I tackled a hard 50k (Beacon Rock) in June thinking that would help prep my legs for the difficulty of running 50-miles on trail. I ran hard in the Vancouver Marathon in June to work on speed. Then in late June/early July I did 30-miles on trail, 35 miles on road/trail, and 40 miles on trail. I followed up the 40-mile trail training with a hilly half-marathon in wine country - wanting to stress my legs two days in a row in preparation. I was pleasantly surprised that my legs seemed to handle the miles pretty well. I was sore, but not overly so post-long runs.
However, as the race got closer, I continue having second thoughts. Was I really capable of going that far? Would my legs hold up? Would I get hit with severe cramps? Could I make the time limit? It was the time limit that really stressed me out. I had several communications with the race director trying to get some advice on whether or not I should take the early start. The early starters would set out at 5:30, giving them 13 hours instead of 12 to complete the course. He took into consideration the races I had done and convinced me to take the regular start. He felt confident I would be able to make the cutoff without any trouble. I still wasn't convinced so I talked to a few other friends, but they also assured me that the regular start should be fine. So with great trepidation I did not sign up for the early start.
My friend Lynn was volunteering at the race and she offered to give me a ride. She picked me up at 4 AM and we made our way up the mountain. It was pretty light by 5 AM and we got a great view of Mt. Hood as we drove by on highway 26. As we passed the Frog Lake parking lot we could see Lynn's aid station table had already been delivered. Once off the highway the driving was a little slow, but we still arrived at 5:45 just as planned.
It was a very chilly morning and volunteers were wearing puffy jackets and long pants. I had prepped my drop bags the night before and clearly marked them so I just need to find the right place to drop them off. I headed to the registration table to check in while Lynn met with the race director to discuss her volunteering duties. I then found the 3 tarps that were set out for drop bags. The first drop bag would be at the first turnaround point at mile 14.2 (the aid station that Lynn was manning). In this bag I had 2 8oz bottles of gatorade, and one 8 oz bottle of chia seed coconut water, along with some snacks and a stick of bodyglide. The next drop bag wouldn't move, it would stay at the start/finish line. We would come back through this spot at the 28.4 mile mark. This drop bag contained real food - crackers & bars - along with more 8 oz bottles of gatorade and drinking vinegar. In addition I had a change of shoes and socks, icy hot, ben gay patches, bodyglide, more S-caps and Endurloyte pills, and an extra skirt in case I was super sweaty.. The last drop bag was pretty simple with more 8 oz bottles, shot blocks, gu, and a pair of Crocs in case my feet were done with shoes.
It was almost 6:15 by the time I was feeling settled. I stripped my wind pants and fleece and gave them to Lynn to take back to the car. I was wearing my white Sparkle Hearts skirt, a blue tank top, white arm warmers and compression socks, a navy blue long sleeve shirt, my amphipod belt with 3 full 8 oz bottles, shot blocks, and gu, and my New Balance 101 trail shoes. I looked around at the other runners and felt intimidated. The usual sinking feeling of "you don't belong here" crept up on me as I looked at their lean and sinewy thighs and calves. "What am I doing here?" "I should have taken the early start," and "you are going to get left in the dust" where the thoughts that were raging through my head. Thankfully I didn't have too long to think before Todd, the race director, got us together and readied us for the start.
The course would be marked with small green flags and some green tape at confusing intersections. He informed us that the trail should be very easy to follow and that it would be hard to go off course. Then there was a quick countdown and we were off!
Since I knew my GPS watch wouldn't have enough battery life to get me through this race I decided to use it as a glorified stop watch instead. I disabled the GPS and planned to hit the lap button at each aid station. That should give me a good idea of pace. I then figured it would make sense to run by heart rate since I wouldn't have instant feedback on pace. The goal was to do the flats with a heart rate between 140 - 150. I would give myself a little leeway on the uphills to go up to 155, and I wouldn't worry about my downhill pace unless it dropped below 125 (then I would try to pick up the pace a bit). I was going to try to take in 200 calories per hour, along with 1 S-cap (essentially a salt tablet) and 1 Endurolyte cap (mostly magnesium and potassium). Along the first out and back the aid stations would be at mile 6, 9.1, 14.2, 19.3, 22.4, and 28.4. My goal was to make my bottles last between drop bags and to supplement with water at the aid stations.
The first 6 miles seemed quick. It took a couple of miles for the group of runners to think out so we weren't running in pack. After the first two miles I found myself alone for the majority of the day. I was not in the back of the pack as I had feared, instead I was probably somewhere in the middle. It didn't take long for me to warm up enough to shed my long sleeve shirt. My goal was to make it to the first aid station between 66 and 72 minutes. The main goal for the day was to finish, but the secondary goal was to finish in 11 hours, which mean running 13 - 14 minute miles. While I know you can't bank time for later in the run, I felt that if I was running comfortably, I might as well move through the early miles faster.
I cruised along with a heart rate between 140 and 145 - a very comfortable pace for me. I could have chatted with someone if anyone had been around. Instead I enjoyed the silence and the beauty of the terrain. I felt incredibly happy and peaceful. At that moment there was no place I would have rather been. I was determined to not only survive this race but to enjoy as much of it as possible. There were a decent amount of rocks and roots, but overall the terrain was very runnable. Before I knew it we were at the first aid station. I passed it up b/c I had already eaten several shot blocks and had 4 oz of fluid off my belt. I was surprised to see my split time of 57:12 - that meant I was on a sub 10 pace. I hadn't intended to be moving that quickly, but since I was feeling good and running by heart rate I decided not to worry about it too much. I also factored in the adrenaline rush from the first few miles and figured I would slow down a bit when that wore off.
It was just a short 3.1 to the next aid station - 36:47 - a much better pace. There was some rolling terrain through here and a bit of climbing as we worked our way to Highway 50. It didn't seem any time at all till we arrived at the next aid station. There were wonderful volunteers offering to fill bottles and fetch you anything you might need. I took advantage of the porta-pottie, drank a couple of cups of water, and headed back out.
This next stretch was incredible. A decent amount of climbing but not overly steep - just a gradual incline. There were a few inclines that I walked to save my legs, but the majority was still runnable. Around the 11 mile mark we got several amazing views of Mt. Hood - so strikingly beautiful that I watched the woman in front of me trip b/c she was looking at the view and go down hard on her arm and face. But she picked herself up and dusted herself off and seemed good as new. Along this stretch was where we were being passed by the early starters and the front runners. I saw my friend Sarah D. around mile 11.5 ish. She was looking super strong and had a big smile on her face. I saw another friend Jodi around mile 12.5. She was also looking strong and happy with a big grin on her face. It was fun to see the front runners - they were cruising! Moving faster than I could ever hope to on rough terrain.
And then we were done with the leg - 53:07 (5 miles) - I saw the aid station, the drop bags, and lots of people. I reloaded my belt with three full bottles, grabbed another pack of cliff shot blocks, drank several cups of water, and downed a packet of Gu. I got to say a quick hi to Lynn and then I turned around and headed back.
For a couple of miles along this stretch I talked with a 52-year old woman who had run a 3:30 marathon in Eugene last year. It's so great to realize that running is for all ages, shapes, and sizes - I am always reminded of that at events like this. We may not all be the same speed but we can all be out there. I find it inspiring and I hope I am still running in my 50s, 60s and 70s. We chatted a bit about speed work and she told me she had just run a 6:40 mile a couple of weeks prior, and she had a friend who was a couple of years older who could do 6 minutes miles. Impressive stuff.
I passed her and then spent some time on my own before a guy who was from Napa caught up to me. He kept me entertained for a couple of miles chatting about Napa, his girlfriend, and the fact that his friend who had talked him into signing up for this race had bailed on him. He eventually passed me up. I was disappointed to hear later that he had taken a fall and didn't end up completing the course.
More to come soon. Off to CLR!