I finished my second ultramarathon last weekend, the Paleozoic 50K,
It's the same ultra I did last year -- a really well-run race by awesome race directors Bill and Michelle Thom in the hilly, leafy Palos Forest Preserve southwest of Chicago.
It was great, but hard. Compared with the DPRT trail marathon I ran a month ago, this was much, much tougher.
Leading up to race day, I was not thinking much about the race. Work felt like more of a zoo than usual, with multiple deadlines and challenges to my mental energy. If I didn't fall asleep on the couch at like, 8:45 at night, I was crashing in bed only to wake up at odd hours like 3 or 4 a.m., unable to get back to sleep.
I have no idea what I really ate during the week, and I know I didn't drink enough water. I'm really bad about that.
So, when Friday rolled around, it was a long day, but I was able to be home by 6-ish. I was exhausted, and wondering how in the hell I was going to run an ultra.
I decided to keep my expectations low and give myself all the time needed to finish.That proved to be a worthy strategy.
The morning of the race was beautiful, matching the day's forecast of sunny and highs in the 50s -- incredible weather for mid-November in Chicago.
I got up early to the sunniest morning. Since I was up alone in the house, I quickly gathered my race gear and caught up on the headlines I had noticed just minutes before falling sleep at 8:45 the night before about the horror in Paris. Dear God. I felt a little guilty getting to get up and go run a race when so many were suffering.
My running pal Krista picked me up. This ultra was her first, as it would be for Lindsey, Krista's awesome friend who has run with us a few times.
We talked about Paris on the way down and I read the latest on CNN.com. We made great time and got to the race start more than an hour early. Frost laid across the grass like a glittery blanket -- it was so pretty! Lindsey arrived and climbed in Krista's car to stay warm and chatter. She was nervous, I could tell.
Weirdly, I only felt a little bit of butterflies. I was pretty sure I was in for a tough race, which proved to be right.
We heard the start horn blast as we stood under the picnic shelter. Oops, we weren't paying attention to the time! We laughed at ourselves.
The course has 50K runners run the same 15-ish mile loops twice. I felt OK the first few miles, but not great. I chalked it up to being tired. Krista seemed to be enjoying herself. It was so pretty out and warming up quickly, so I made a point to focus on the beautiful day. Lindsey, a faster runner, was ahead of us from the beginning. I hoped she was having a great race.
We ran into another woman running her first ultra. Turns out she was also an Ironman, like Krista, so it was nice to listen to them talk about Ironman races. (I have no desire to do an Ironman. But I noticed plenty of Ironman shirts on this race course.)
The first unmanned aid station is about 3.5 miles from the start and 4-ish miles from the turnaround, where there are volunteers and food. I knew by then it was going to be a tough day.
Sometimes when I do a long run I will feel pretty good after a few miles. I felt OK, but not "good". I still had my "oh well" mental attitude, though, which was good. I've blown up at too many races in the past to put high expectation on these things now.
That's why I love trail running. It's low pressure and just chill. My tightly wound self needs that.
We got to the first turnaround and took a break, which helped.
Running back to the start line to complete our first 15-ish-mile loop was, well, hard. I noticed Krista got quiet, too. I was worried that a kidney infection she had been fighting was coming back, but she assured me that she was fine -- just tired, too.
Well then. Nothing like having a running pal in the same boat as you.
A mile or two from completing the first loop, I admitted I was a little panicked because I couldn't see how I had the stamina to do another loop.
The hills felt so big. I knew I was undertrained for hills -- I hadn't been able to run down here for six weeks. But man, they were kicking my butt.
Krista is nearly 20 years younger than me and a wise old soul, I've told her. She's also way more chilled out about stuff than I am, which is one of the many reasons I like her so much. She quietly told me that it would be OK, and to just focus on finishing the first loop.
I tried to focus on that and not thinking about repeating the whole loop a second time. My hip bones ached a little, but I noticed that I really didn't feel too achy anywhere else, which was good. I was just tired. You can run tired, I told myself.
We got back to the picnic station, when Bill, one of the race directors, enthusiastically greeted us and told us we looked strong. Gosh, he and his wife are just so nice. They're like that at every race of theirs I've run.
I considered telling Krista I was thinking about dropping out. But I felt like a jerk. This was her first ultra. And we're both stubborn and don't like to quit.
So I kept my mouth shut and we headed out. A few miles later I confessed what I had been thinking to her. She had thought the same thing. Ha! Too late now. We were in this till the end. (And I doubt we would have dropped out. Stubborn!)
We agreed to continue walking the hills.
When we got to the manned aid station/turnaround the second time, I was tired but I had rallied a little. That was encouraging.
We saw our friend Terri in the distance. She had promised to come spectate. She did that last year, too.
I hugged her hard and surprised myself by getting a little teary. She asked me "are you OK?" and I sniffed "yes, it's just hard, we're OK." Terri stayed with us at the aid station and offered to get me a Diet Coke and meet us at the next station, which we figured we'd hit in about another hour. I began to look forward to that!
From that point on, it was a slog. Krista and I walked and ran. At one point in the course, a very large tree had fallen on the path and you had to go over or under it. The first loop, we laughed about climbing over the tree, because there was no easy way to do it gracefully.
That third and fourth time climbing over the tree? Oh Lord.
The final time we could barely lift up our dead legs. Hoisting ourselves up, we just sat on top of the tree and laughed at ourselves. Dorks. Krista asked me if my feet felt tingly, too, and I noticed they really did. It felt so amazing to not be on my feet.
Around Bullfrog Lake, someone alongside a line of parked cars yelled "Flatlander!!!!", noticing my Flatlander Ultrarunner shirt. It was the Flatlander group! I've only met a few of them -- it's a growing group of folks on Facebook who run ultras. Many of them do 100-mile races around the country and tell amazing stories. I'm in awe of them.
And their cheering really helped pick up my spirits. XXXXX
I realized that many of them would have been at the funeral earlier for Alfredo Perro Pedro. He was a local ultra runner who, based on what I would see on this Facebook page, was much loved by this group.
He had been diagnosed with ALS just a year ago. The FB page in the last year had been filled with photos of him in a wheelchair or stroller, sitting covered in blankets at races to cheer on others, or being pushed by friends in races. I never met him, but cheered for him and hoped for the best.
Last Sunday, after co-hosting a baby shower for one of our running friends, I learned he had died, just 47 years old. My heart went out to this group of runners who lost their friend, and here they were, out cheering loudly for runners doing little ol' 50Ks. They're such a great bunch of people. I hope to meet more of them eventually.
I'm also 47 years old. His death sure reminded to appreciate every day and every run. You just never know.
Also during this leg of the run, we noticed how low the sun was in the sky, even though it was mid-afternoon. The day had a surreal quality to it, given that even at midday the sun was never really high in the sky. Since dusk was 4:30, we knew we had to keep moving. You know, so the wolves wouldn't get us.
(I like to joke about wolves eating us. This summer, we were doing a pre-dawn trail run with headlamps, when we came upon three sets of glowing eyes in the woods. I utterly freaked and assumed they were wolves. Because, you know, wolves are running around Cook County. They wound up being deer. Dork.)
As we neared the final unmanned station, I checked my GPS and noticed we were at 26.3 miles, officially past the 26.2-mile marathon distance. Krista, I said, you're an ultramarathoner now! I high-fived her. Yay!
Minutes later, we were at the aid station, with Terri and a delicious Diet Coke. Krista and I both remarked how we were rallying at points during these last few miles. Still tired, but encouraging. The end was in sight.
A few miles later, Krista ran slightly ahead of me and finished strong. Terri and Lindsey were at the finish line. Neither had ever met the other, but they had already figured out they were there to watch for the same friends.
I was so happy to be done. And so happy we stuck with it. So, so glad. Race time: 7:19:21, just eight minutes slower than last year. I'll take it!
The next morning, I woke up to the typical stiffness and soreness, but nothing too bad, thanks to the cold bath I reluctantly took when I got home to bring down the inflammation.
I puttered around for an hour in my still-quiet house, drinking coffee.
I decided it was awesome that I could finish and stick with a tough race. My marathon the month prior I had felt so strong and great -- and this race had been very different.
I decided right then that I would run my first 50-miler next fall, the DPRT (flat!) trail where I had done the marathon last month.
If I can run 30, I can do 50!