It seemed like a pretty quick trip back to the Start after the turnaround. People in the campground we ran past on the way out were waking up and were curiously watching us as all these runners with numbers went running past their campsites. The coffee in the air smelled delicious and I was wishing I had been able to start my day with a cup.
I knew that when I hit the start/finish area that I wanted to get in and out without spending much time. I started running through what I needed to do about a mile out. I was surprised to hit the start/finish just under 5 hours. I had planned to be back at this point between 5:30 - 5:40 so this was a positive sign. Instead I made it in 4:59:31. My friend Rose came up and asked if I needed anything. I didn't know she would be here (she was going to pace a friend on the second half) so it was a nice surprise. I stopped and grabbed my bag, changed out my three empty bottles for three full ones, grabbed a new pack of shot blocks and set back out.
The next "half" of the race was only 21.8 miles. I knew the second half would have a lot more climbing and would be more exposed to the sun. It was beginning to get hot, so I wasn't looking forward to being in direct sunlight. The first mile or so rolled by pretty quick. I caught up to Sarah and Desiree, both of whom were looking strong, talked for a few minutes and then continued on. The next aid station was supposed to be 3.8 miles from the start, so I felt like I would get there relatively quickly. The climbing had already begun, but it didn't feel overly steep and was quite runnable. I still tried to take walk breaks though as I didn't want to burn myself out and chance cramping. 30 minutes went by, then 40, then 50. Where was the aid station? I started asking people that I passed if I had missed it, and they assured me that I hadn't. One hour and 7 minutes after leaving the start area I arrived at the aid station. Psychologically I was struggling at this point. There was no way that was 3.8 miles. If it was it was the slowest 3.8 miles I had ever run. I asked the aid station volunteer if he thought the mileage was accurate. He assured me that it wasn't and this it was closer to 5.3. I was a lot happier to hear that, but it still felt like I had taken too long to get there. Emotionally I was hitting a low point.
But I filled up my bottles, tried to shut out the negative thoughts, and continued on. The next stretch was a long downhill to a creek, and then a seemingly interminable climb up to the next aid station. Miles were seeming much longer than in the early stages of the race. By the time I arrived at the aid station I was cursing under my breath. It had taken me an hour and fifteen minutes to cover that stretch (less the time that I spent at the aid station; my strategy for laps was to hit my lap button as soon as I arrived at an aid station, thus the aid station time was built into the following lap). If the first aid station was at the 5.3 mile mark, then I had just run 5.5 miles in appx and hour and 10 minutes. Granted, I had descended 1000 ft, and then climbed 600 ft, and it was hot, but it still felt like I was taking too long. When I had pulled into the start/finish under 5 hours, I had allowed myself to dream that I might finish in under 10 hours since the second half was only 21.8 miles. Having spent 2 hours and 28 minutes making it to the farthest point of the course diminished that hope. With all the climbing left to do and my legs starting to fade, how could I reverse course in less time than it had taken me on the way out.
I spent very little time at this aid station. I grabbed my full bottles from my drop bag along with a packet of blocks, I stuffed a pb & j square in my mouth and set off again. I had been continually taking S-caps every hour along the way to prevent cramping and although I wasn't cramping I was starting to feel a little heavy. I now needed to descend a relatively steep (for efficient running) 600 ft to the creek before climbing back up 1000 feet to the Red Wolf aid station. Not ten steps out of the aid station I knew I might be in trouble. My IT Band on my left leg was starting to make itself known. Descending with a cranky IT Band is a bad combination. I tried to focus on anything but pain and just kept on trucking. The creek came and went and then I was on the long climb back up to the pass. I talked with a few folks along this stretch and just tried to stay focused on the end goal. I desperately wanted water and couldn't wait to get to the aid station. When I pulled in a greedily drank 3 8 oz bottles full without stopping. I was clearly getting dehydrated in the hot conditions. I filled up one bottle with just water to add to my belt and set back out.
It had taken me an hour and 23 minutes to get back to Red Wolf Pass. I had exactly one hour and 9 minutes to get myself back to the finish in under 10 hours. The last 5.3 miles were a very long, gradual downhill. My IT Band and knees were protesting strongly at this point. I had to stop and walk every 5 minutes or so just to give my knees a break. I got passed up by 4 or 5 people along this last stretch. At the 35 minute mark I had a woman tell me with extreme confidence that I was only 2 miles from the finish. I asked her twice to confirm and she said yes, less than 2 miles. I gave it everything I had at this point. I could do another 2 miles and make it under 10 hours. But 20 minutes went by and I knew I wasn't that close to the start. At that point I saw a woman who told me I had 3 miles to go. How was that possible? I knew that couldn't be true but in my depleted state I believed her and it just sucked all the energy right out of me. My knees were killing me. I knew I couldn't make another 3 miles and be under 10. Thankfully not 5 minutes later I recognized a landmark and knew I was really close. There was a short hill (which felt delightful on my knees after all the descending), a turn on to road and then I was there.
I saw Lynn and Jodie cheering for me as I got close to the finish. I think they could see the pain on my face b/c they asked if I was OK. I responded "No" and felt the tears start to spring up. I tried to find some speed and kicked it in to the finish. And then it was over. I had made it - 9:54:15 was my official time. It had taken me 1:03:20 to do the final 5.3 miles. Lynn was right there as was Todd (the race director). They both asked if I was ok. I think I was crying and swearing at the same time. I felt more emotional at this finish than I ever have. I'm not sure if it was because of the pain or the fact that I achieved my goal but the emotion was a bit overwhelming. Lynn & Jodi kept me moving to prevent me from cramping up, and got me some cold water. We got to watch more finishers come in, and were lucky enough to see several of my daily mile friends cross the line.
Overall a good first 50. I had my seriously low moments, but I had really high moments as well. I look forward to my next one.