About 6 weeks ago, frustrated with nagging injuries that had really diminished the joy I get from running, I hired a coach, Meghan, to help me get on track. When I first saw the plan, which included three 3-mile days per week, I was disappointed. Doesn’t she know I need to run at least 6 miles in the morning to be “normal”? This was very different from my current non-plan, of running whatever I felt like, whenever I had the time. But obviously, my non-plan wasn’t working.
It didn’t take long to appreciate the low mileage days, from the standpoint of: more time to sleep, more time to clean house, and less PAIN. Over this 6 week period, I put full faith in her plan, and the first real test would be the Silver State 50 on May 16. My longest run in preparation was 30 miles, mostly on the Western States course, 2 weeks before. It was an amazing training run, and I logged into memory how well I felt, and how I planned to mimic that on race day.
Tapering week began last Saturday, with a nice 15-mile run on the TRT.
The next morning, JP came over and he and the kids served me breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day (in the recovery pants of course).
After church, I brought the kids to their Grandparents and Jon (their dad), and headed up to Negro Canyon for a glorious 10 mile out and back.
Coach Meghan’s advice was simple: focus on the things I can control – goals of nutrition, hydration, and effort. My final goal was to feel good – if I stopped having fun, I needed to take immediate measures to turn that around – more fuel, more hydration, slow down, music- whatever it took. This was supposed to be fun.
I watched my good friend Kathy’s interview after taking 2nd at The Canyons 100k, and kept her words in mind- focus on good running form, and when seeing other runners doing well, instead of getting discouraged, mimic their form and confidence.
I called my dear friend Betsy for advice (she has ran it over 10 times, with a couple wins), and she emphasized running the first 25 very conservatively, then picking it up after mile 25, where the race would start. She said to do well at this race you pretty much had to run a negative split (a faster 2nd half). No hard running before mile 25. No matter what. She also told me that although she couldn’t be there physically, to remember that she was always with me. Oh and “Run Like the Wind”.
Considering I had run a 9:41 at the TRT50 last summer, I thought an attainable goal for Silver State was 10 hours, or 12 min/mile. It would be nice to break 10 hours, so my next goal was to finish the first 25 in 5 hours, and run a negative split.
During taper week, I followed Meghan’s plan, very low miles, with one up/down Negro Canyon (4 miles) on Thursday. Despite going into the race more prepared than I have been in awhile, and purchasing Surviving the Marathon Freak-out with the intention of reading it before, I was too scared to read it. My week was stressful enough with life to not let me think about the race until Friday afternoon; at which point I started to panic. As in, nearly hyperventilating. I do realize how silly, selfish, and pointless it is to worry about something so trivial, when I have plenty of real-life things to be stressed about, or when I think about other people with much more severe realities, but for some reason, I allow myself to get caught up in it.
Fortunately, Carla was able to see me after work on Friday for an acupuncture treatment, and although I walked in a total mess, I was quickly calmed to a jello-like state, which resulted in easy preparations and a full night of sleep. Love Her. I did have a very vivid dream of having a perfect race but getting lost and losing 30 minutes, but this really helped me stay focused on the course markings (which I’ve had trouble with previously).
I woke up at 3:40am, calm and excited – had an egg sandwich and a cup of coffee, then JP picked me up and we drove to the start in Reno. He dropped me off and headed up to Peavine Aid Station, where he would volunteer all day long with our friends George and Helen. I would see them at miles 12 and 39. It had rained and snowed the past 2 days, it was about 42 degrees F at the start, and the high was only forecast at 61 degrees. Race Director John Trent briefed us:
“The key out there today will be to have patience with the elements.”
– referring to the cake-like mud, cold temps (29 F at the highest point of the course), and possible rain/snow in the forecast. I kept his words in mind as we took off, and the mud almost instantly adhered to the bottom of my shoes.
After about 10 steps, my feet were extremely heavy with mud, until, unpredictably, a big clump would detach and I’d have to fight to keep balance. After about 3 miles, as we made our way up the trail, our first cheerleader appeared, standing on a rock outcropping, ringing his cowbell and calling out to the runners.
I fell into line with my friends Clare and Nettie. Clare was training for Hardrock, and Nettie was making an incredible comeback after having a baby just last year. We were reminded of how all three of us first met each other- during a race, in 2011.
The views were breathtaking and surreal, with dramatic clouds, the ground covered in sections of green and flowers (oh, and mud), and every once in awhile Peavine Mountain, magical, covered in snow, rising sharply above us, would appear through a break in the clouds.
I got one last shot of Nettie, before they both pulled ahead and I was left to focus on keeping it slow and steady. The mud was on and off for about 6 miles, after that, it was rarely an issue. Phew.
On the long road up Peavine, I chatted with Keri, from Wyoming, who had run this in 2014 in 10:26 (good enough for 2nd female, I later learned). She was very strong, calm and focused and hoped to finish a little faster due to the cooler weather. Seeing how tough she was, I started to doubt my goal of 10 hours…
I arrived at Peavine (mile 12) at an average pace of 12:45/mile – right on target. JP refilled my drink, and I took off, forgetting my gloves. I was wearing short shorts, my Donner Party Mountain Runners “Unafraid” t-shirt, and that’s about it. It was 29 degrees F. For the next 30 minutes, I rotated handkerchief from hand to hand, wrapping it tightly, while blowing on the other hand to stop the freezing.
I got passed by many runners in this section down to Long Valley/Dog Valley, and I got discouraged. My ankles hurt, my legs felt weak, I knew my [slow, conservative] pace was on target, but I started to doubt my plan – what if I only got slower? I could never run a negative split at this rate. There were no runners in sight- ahead or behind, and I thought (briefly) of where I might drop out (mile 33? mile 39?). I knew I needed an attitude adjustment. I turned on some music, focused on Betsy’s words of wisdom, Kathy’s advice to mimic good form, and tried to trust that my training was sufficient.
Despite my attempts to improve the attitude, by the time I reached the 19 mile aid station, I really felt like I was in DFL (Dead F-ing Last). I saw my friend Annie working the aid station, and asked if I was pushing the cutoffs. She laughed “no” and commented my nose was bleeding, and sure enough there was blood spotted all over my handkerchief and I hadn’t even noticed. Perfect! Maybe something’s really wrong with me.
Kari from Wyoming was at the aid station (she had stopped to change), and we started out together. She gave me a fist bump and took off. Ugh. I felt so weak (I didn’t realize it at the time, but mile 19 would be the last time someone would pass me in the race).
Shortly after, I caught up to and fell into pace with a young guy from Idaho, Jackson, who was running his first 50 mile race. We shared a mile or so and I remembered why I was out here – running is fun, and racing is a chance to meet new people, share experiences, and enjoy the challenges. He wisely noted he was going to slow down a bit and I eased forward.
It was around mile 22 that I began to pass people, and when I arrived at the 24 mile aid station (the most awesome theme ever- bachelorette party with male dancers), I was looking forward for mile 25- where my race would officially begin.
Over the next 4 miles, I climbed up, picking off runners one by one, some of them putting up a long fight, which helped both of us push the pace. I smiled often, feeling so grateful to have had the talk with Betsy – it felt amazing to have completely fresh legs after mile 25 – which I hit in exactly 5 hours.
On the long, steep descent to River Bend, I slowed to spare my quads for the last 11 miles – it wasn’t worth blowing them here. I saw runners on the brief section of trail (almost 2 miles?) where there is an out-and-back, and I noticed a girl with short black hair, who must have been 3 miles ahead of me, and I thought she might be one of the leaders. Shortly after, a girl and a guy came up together, and then Clare, about 1/2 mile from the turn-around. Each one of them was running up the hill, and I thought my chances of catching any were slim.
Leaving the aid station (mile 33) with a full hydration pack (pace now 11:55/mile), I slowly targeted runners, realizing I had passed at least 6 women since mile 24. It was a long, gradual climb up a windy road, with several places where I could see the runners I had passed coming up the road. I did NOT want anyone to catch me. At the Sandy Hill aid station (mile 36), I grabbed a small cup of coke, and climbed towards Peavine. I had run this with Gretchen several weeks earlier, so I knew exactly what lay ahead, and while running it with her, I had visualized race day and how good I wanted to feel at this point.
Everything went according to plan; I ran when I could and power-walked when I couldn’t (also keeping in mind a quote I had read:
“When it hurts to run, and it hurts to walk, then run“.
When I reached Peavine Aid Station (mile 39), my dear friend Helen was jumping up and down, cheering me on. I knew she, JP, and George would be there, and I had been looking forward to seeing them, and I was determined to show up happy and ready.
I still had plenty of fluids and didn’t want to waste any time (average pace now 12:24/mile after the last climb) so I just grabbed 2 gels from George, a sip of coke, and took off. 11 miles to go. During TRT last year, I had arrived at this point in the race in similar condition, and knew I was capable of pounding out some fast (for me) miles in the last part of the race. This was what I had saved myself for, and I was going to give it everything.
Unlike TRT, this last section actually had some climbing, so although I was cruising at sub 8-minute miles on anything downhill or flat, the climbs slowed my splits down a bit. The views were breathtaking. I slowly picked off runners, and around mile 42, I spotted the girl and guy who had been about 2.5 miles ahead of me at mile 31. I spent the next mile chasing them down.
Turns out the girl was a pacer, and not in the race, but the couple called out as I passed that I might be 3rd female – there was a girl with short black hair ahead of them (who had been 3 miles ahead of me at mile 31). I thought it was very unlikely that we were in 2nd and 3rd, but I had a new goal of catching her- why not?
I cruised through the Ridge View Aid Station (mile 45), hearing Chaz and Pete B yelling, as I ran past. Their cheers and excitement made me go faster.
Each time I passed a runner (more frequently now) my energy was renewed. Pain is temporary. Finally, around mile 48, I spotted the girl with the black hair. I figured if I had made up this much time on her, she had to be slowing down. She saw me about the same time, and picked up her pace. She was not giving up easily. When my watch read 49.8 miles, and I was about 20 feet behind her, someone on the trail called out “only about 1 mile to go” – it was on.
As we ran under McCarren Blvd (through a tunnel), I entered about 15 feet behind her and I honestly felt a little bad for her, hearing my feet echoing through the dark tunnel, inching closer and closer. I couldn’t see anything for about 10 seconds, aside from her silhouette ahead, but I sprinted as hard as I could and hoped I wouldn’t trip on anything. Shortly after we exited the tunnel, we rounded a curve, and I passed her as we reached the pond near the finish (looking at my watch, we were running a 6:40 pace at mile 51).
I crossed the finish line only 14 seconds ahead of her. As I came into the finish chute, I saw Stephen and Avian, JP and Jon, all cheering for me. What an incredible surprise! The kids hadn’t seen me at an ultra since my first one in 2009.
It was so rewarding to see them, and they helped me pick out the handmade finisher’s medallion and were super excited to find out I had finished 3rd female in 9:46.
Turns out I was over 2 hours behind the 1st female, Emily Richards (7:38) and the 2nd female finished in 8:01 (Kaci Licktieg), so my status as “3rd female” doesn’t really mean that much, but what makes me so happy is that I stuck to my plan, made adjustments to feel better as needed, and for those reasons, I ran my best possible race, feeling super strong through the finish. I ran the first 25 in 5 hours; 2nd 25 in 4:46. I had incredible friends and support along the way, and I got to see my kids. A perfect day.
Nutrition: Hammer orange-vanilla drink and Gu energy gels. no solid foods. 3 quick, small cups of coke at miles 33, 39 and 47. salt tablets every 90 minutes.
Gear: Nathan hydration pack (amazing) and Hoka Challenger shoes from Alpenglow Sports. I also wore gaiters for the first time since 2012 (not sure why I stopped?) which helped immensely, never having to take my shoes off to empty out sand and rocks.
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