On race morning my friend Danielle drove me to the start of the Run the Rock 50 Mile and tried to calm my nerves as we waited. It was brisk 32° with clear skies. The forecasted high was 60 and cloudy. I decided to wear shorts, tall socks, short sleeves, arm warmers, gloves with hand warmers, my trusty buff over my ears, hat, and my Houdini jacket. Basically all in black. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve never had to start with a headlamp before and although the sky was brilliant pinks and purples it was too dark to run without one for about the first hour. Surprisingly it was easier than I imagined. The first 3 miles were mostly uphill on single track so I just fell in line with the other racers, my calves were tight and crampy right away but that happens sometimes so I just hoped it would go away. Mostly I took in the spectacular views and tried to stay as relaxed as possible.
Most of the first loop went as planned. I was close to the time goals I had (averaging 10 min/miles) and the field was really spread out, so in running all alone it was easy to focus on my effort. My legs never really felt fluid, powerful or strong but I didn’t really have pain either so I just tried to stay patient and maintain a consistent effort. I was working harder than I wanted to be but I have been really cautious in a lot of my recent races so I wanted to try to go for it and see if I could hang on. The course is amazingly runnable so it was easy to just roll with the terrain. It didn’t take long to get warm though! My headlamp, Houdini, and arm sleeves got stuffed into my pack and already on the big climb I was feeling overly warm. Tad had given me a race plan and summary so I just kept thinking of the miles – 3 up, 5 down, 5 flat, 7 up, 8 down. The 7 up was a grind but I loved flowing down the 8 miles to finish the first loop. The first loop was 4:20 – a little over but close to my goal of being in the 8:30-9 hour range. A few guys passed me early on but from mile 10 to the finish I only moved up. I caught 2 women on that long downhill of the first loop.
Mentally, the start of the second loop was way easier. In the first loop I felt tired and still had so long to go! I held doubts of even finishing, when I considered how much more there was left to race. Originally, I’d signed up for the race to get UTMB points so I could possibly race in Europe next summer. 15 miles in I started thinking, “Forget the points! I don’t even care anymore!”
It’s days like this race where I spend a lot of time fighting the negative voices in my head that are convinced quitting is the better option.
But starting the second loop impossible started to feel possible and I was happy to be mostly running, even if it was a bit slower. Because of the heat and the dry altitude air I was drinking and sweating way more than normal! I typically like to bypass most of the aid stations and just keep moving but that wasn’t going to work today. I stopped, refilled bottles and tried to find ways to cool down but couldn’t really find water or ice. Running flat or downhill wasn’t too bad, but in running uphill in the heat, it was like my brain shut down: “WARNING you are overheating! If you keep doing this bad things will happen!” I felt like it was the better of my options to walk a bit, get my HR down and lightheaded-ness under control. At mile 33 I got a much needed pep talk from Danielle and caught up to the 2nd place female who was hanging out at the aid station. I convinced myself I should fight to stay with her but she charged down the trail and I couldn’t keep up. The next 5 miles were mostly flat and I tried to just keep rolling as best I could. Getting hotter and hotter all the time. “Why did I wear all black??” “Should I stop and take my shirt off and risk the chaffing disaster that it could turn into?” “How can I possibly cool off??” The course went along the river, so anytime it actually went down close to the water I would use my buff to soak my head, hat, shirt, and then put the wet buff around my neck. I tucked my shirt up to make it a crop but all the extra layers in my vest weren’t helping. All in all I’m pretty sure I looked like a huge dork, but some things just don’t matter in a race.
Mile 38 is where the wheels came off. Going back up the 7 mile climb on tired legs and a too-hot body got me going real slow real fast. I was so nauseous from the heat; I tried to fuel but was waiting longer and longer between to let my stomach settle. I remembered passing this horse trough of green sludge water and kept looking for it around every turn so I could dunk my head! Desperation for sure. At the mile 41 aid station I caught the number 2 female again but just like before she left at a strong pace and I couldn’t match it. I thought maybe I would be able to run strong on the downhill and catch back up to her but I never did. At the last aid station I finally found ice and stuffed my shirt with it. It helped a lot as I could feel my core temp finally coming back down. I fought to the finish as best I could. My watch died and my time goals slipped away but I held my position and finished 3rd female! All in all I’m proud of the effort and shocked at how hard 50 milers are! Somehow I had forgotten!! Hopefully I’ll forget again because I’m hoping there are more in my future 🙂
By Nikki Buurma