Searching for a Second Wind {High Cliff Ultra 50k Recap}

Well so, I did a thing. I got that whole ultra thing out of the way. What a freaking relief.

As is customary for me, I did not train for this race. I will never learn. I only signed up a few weeks ago, after the Dances with Dirt marathon didn’t completely ruin me. I figured, well that was hard, but it wasn’t that hard. I hadn’t trained for that race either, so I thought – how can I make life a little bit harder? Let’s run 5 more miles.

So I signed up, promptly pretended I hadn’t signed up, and then freaked out the day before when I realized I actually had to go do this thing. There was an 8 hour cutoff, but I really wanted to finish in 7 hours – an arbitrary time I set for myself based on literally nothing. I didn’t even know what pace that equaled to, I just decided that’s what I wanted.

The day and the night before, it poured and stormed and generally sucked outside. I’m about an hour and a half south of the race, so I just kept thinking – well, maybe it isn’t so bad up there. We got up around 4:15 and I finished my last minute preparations and then we got in the car and settled in for the drive. At around 6:10, we were pulling into the parking lot at the race start.

The rain had subsided for the morning, that is, up until the race start. Shortly after the gun {airhorn} went off, the rain started. It didn’t stop or let up throughout the first 25k. I can’t say I minded though, as it was preferable to a muggy, humid morning like we have been having for forever it seems.

The 50k course consisted of four loops done twice. The majority of the first two loops were wooded dirt trail which are my bread and butter. I love them. I could do them all day. There were some steep sections, which I personally like because it breaks up the run. And if we’re being honest, it gives me an excuse to walk. Sadly, these loops were only about 6ish miles per big loop, so like, 12ish total of the whole race. Also sadly, there were no steep descents, which are the only thing I like more than wooded dirt trails. I love to bomb them. Anything that could have qualified as a steep descent was too slick and slippery from the rain. Bummer.

So anyways, that leaves roughly 19 miles, and they were the 19 miles that cumulatively sucked my soul from my body more than probably anything I’ve ever done in my life. Anyone in my vicinity during any of these 19 miles heard one thing on repeat: I just hate running prairies. I don’t know why, but the bane of my existence is running through prairies. I thought what I hated about them was that you’re out in the open, i.e. exposed to the sun and other disgusting summer elements, but it wasn’t even sunny. In fact, on the first pass, it was thundering and pouring rain the whole time. My excuse was out the window. Turns out, I just don’t like running them.

At around mile 10 was the first time I stopped to walk in earnest. Not because it was steep, but because I was sick of running in that damn grass. I had started the race with 300 calories of Tailwind in my handheld, and it was around now that I finished it and refilled with plain water. I told myself I’d walk awhile to let that settle in my stomach and drink some more water before I hit the aid station coming out of the prairie. I probably would’ve kept walking even longer if it weren’t for Trisha, who I had started the first half mile of the race with and then we leapfrogged a little until we hit the prairie and we stuck together. She started running and I said screw it, I’m gonna run with her. We realized we were comfortably running at a 10 minute pace, and we were feeling GOOD.

We finished the god awful prairie loop to start the “last” of the 4 loops – a quick 2ish mile mix of prairie (UGH) and wooded dirt paths (YES) and we were still in good spirits. I remember saying, the next time we see this we’ll almost be done! It was both of our first 50k’s. The rain broke and it started to get a little humid and a little too bright for my liking. We came through the finish area {avoiding crossing the finish area, because neither of us wanted to} and went over to the main aid station where our drop bags were. I took an ibuprofen and ate some grapes. I struggle with eating during marathons and beyond because I really hate how sweet and fake tasting everything marketed in that category is, so I was glad to have a drop bag where I could leave some real food. I pocketed some grapes for the road and then talked to Bryan for a little, who happened to end up in the area just as we were coming through. He tried to get me to change into a dry shirt since it had stopped raining, but I just really didn’t want to. I was secretly praying it would start raining again so it seemed pointless.

I’d done all I really had to do at the aid station, but my new found friend was changing into different socks. We’d spent so much time together already, and I wanted to start off again with her. I wasn’t in a hurry. We just kept saying “as long as we’re not last” and we both wanted to finish in seven hours, which seemed doable since we started to second lap of loops at around the 3:25 mark. Less than a mile into the second lap, she stopped to fix a bandaid in her shoe and told me to go ahead. I asked if she was sure, she said yes, and I replied something to the effect of “you’ll catch up to me when I stop to walk” – but much to my dismay, she never did.

Everyone else who would run near me or talk to me for the rest of the race just served to irritate me. I was suffering at this point, and I wanted to be left alone. My toes had started to hurt so bad for some reason – probably a combination of the rain and massive puddles and my wet socks rubbing on them – that it became a struggle to run. It hurt to run, but it pissed me off to walk, especially since by all intents and purposes, this part of the loop was insanely runnable. I kept trying to tell myself to run while I was still in the woods, because I knew I’d want to walk a lot in that damn prairie. Try as I might, it was more of a shuffle into the aid station just before the prairie started.

The prairie. There isn’t much to say about it other than it was such a slog. I was walking almost as fast as I felt like I could run, so I just gave in to walking for longer than I’d like to admit. I kept thinking, where the hell is that second wind people always talk about? {Spoiler, it apparently is after 31 miles for me, since I never found it that day} I started staring at my watch, thinking 6 more miles, 5 more miles, 4 more miles… while simultaneously doing the math in my head – if I can keep moving at at least a 15 minute per mile pace, I can finish in xx time, if I can move at a 12 minute per mile pace, I can finish in xx time…I’m not going to collapse, in xx time I. will. be. an. ultrarunner.

My fingers had started to swell which was starting to concern me, because it had only happened to me one other time – at Dances with Dirt earlier this summer. My assessment based on no knowledge whatsoever was that it was because I needed more salt. Ah well, nothing I could really do about it now. Note to self, bring salt caps to 50 miler…3.5 more miles… where the hell is the aid station…

I finally got back to the prairie loop aid station, refilled my water, and was told there were 2 miles to go. I started the last loop and was determined to run it all. Well, that didn’t end up happening, so I was determined to at least run once I broke out of the woods to where the finish area was setup. I was religiously checking my watch at this point. Getting angry that they said the finish was 2 miles away when it clearly was NOT 2 miles! It seemed like the longest short distance of my life. I was still doing my mathematics and was so crazed that I felt like rainman trying to figure out if I could finish under 7 hours. Once I saw the finish line, looked at my watch and knew it was going to happen, I lost it. 6:52:42.1 – hell to the yes.

Nothing to write home about, but everything to write home about. Earlier in the year I intended to run my spring 50k {that I ended up deferring} in under 6 hours. Given the complete distaste for training and running I’ve had this summer, 6:52 seems like a godsend.

It was the first year for this race, but it was extremely well done. You could see how much the race director and all of the volunteers {who sat for hours on hours in the rain and cold} cared and the effort they put into it. I would recommend it to a friend and definitely plan on coming back next year.

And the one thing I took away from this weekend:

There’s nothing in the world like a finish line after suffering. Nothing.


Off days and weeks and years and an impulse 50k

Most people have an off day, maybe an off week. But I think I’m having an off year. There’s that classic saying, old habits are hard to break, and it’s becoming apparent that it’s like, really true in my case. When I was in the habit of running, or at the very least working out every day, it was second nature. Rest days felt weird and annoying and I would go for a six mile walk just to fill my time. But when I got out of the habit, I got really¬†out of the habit.

With a disgustingly little amount of anything resembling physical activity this summer, I somehow managed to crank out my first trail marathon (marking my 2nd this year, and 6th total) in a not too terrible time in my book. A couple weeks later, I ran a 5k, a 2 mile, and a 5 mile race in the span of 4 days because I decided speed was important? I magically placed 2nd in my age group in the marathon, the 2 mile, and the 5 mile races. I thought, okay, this’ll light a fire under my ass. It… did not do that.

Speaking of my ass. I’m still having these disengaged glute issues that originally cropped up halfway through Lakefront last year. They went away for awhile after that and then pain reared it’s ugly head shortly before the Oshkosh Marathon this spring. I’ve somehow managed to suffer through all the runs I have actually done this year, but it hasn’t been easy. But it also isn’t going away, so…

So. After the trail marathon, I was like – that wasn’t so bad! I should sign up for a 50k before my 50 mile race that for some reason I still think will be okay even though I haven’t run more than 12 miles at once all summer not including the marathon situation. So I did just that. And well, it’s Saturday and I really don’t want to do it. It’s supposed to storm and be generally awful out and that’s not helping anything at all. I’m horrifically unprepared on literally every and I am pretty sure I’ll get lost and there are loops and it’s confusing and UGH. I had some serious contemplation about not going. I didn’t really tell very many people about signing up at all because pressure can be suffocating.

But I digress. I’ve never not gone to a race I’ve signed up for (except for that one time I forgot I signed up for a 5k and then signed up for a marathon the same day so I forced my sister to run it for me), so I’ll be there in the morning. As to what happens after the gun goes off, damn, I really don’t know what to expect.