Here's what I did:
4:15am - got up
4:20am - got dressed
4:30am - ate a bagel with some bacon
4:45am - drove to Mt Si High School
5:30am - went to the bathroom
5:45am - ate a energy bar and drank some Gatorade
5:50am - went to the bathroom again
6:00am - ran 50 miles in 11 hours 13 minutes and 30 seconds
5:15pm - drank a beer
5:30pm - got driven home
6:30pm - sat in a cold bath
6:45pm - had a shower
7:00pm - lay on the bed and didn't move till Monday!
The observant amongst you will notice the large jump in the middle of that day. Yes Sunday was the big day. Sunday was the day I've been training for for the last 6 months. In reality though the training for this has been 5 years - you don't just decided to run a 50 miler 6 months before. There were many years of 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, triathlons, full marathons and 50ks before I even decided to go for this one.
In fact this really all started 4 years ago. I was training for my first marathon I think and was on a long run - just me and coach N talking about crazy races like eco challenge and ironmans and I happened to say 'wouldn't it be cool to run 50 or 100 miles'. Well at the next team training she announced that 'Andy wants to run 50/100 mile ultras' and we all had a good laugh about it. Who knew eh?
The last 6 months training went to a new level of crazy. No more tapering down before marathons or 50ks - no those were now just long training runs. Instead of my usual 2 training sessions and a long run at the weekend I had 3 days of training and weekends with very long runs or even 2 days of long runs. There's been a couple of times I have wondered if tired legs is the new normal for me. Thankfully I remained injury and illness free for the entire time. I think I missed 1 workout due to travel and had to walk one due to tiredness but otherwise did everything coach said. I ran long runs in England in the snow (26 times round the soccer field), did 3 hour runs the day BEFORE a half marathon and changed in a hotel at 8am becuase it was too early to check in so I could get a 3 hour run over the Golden Gate bridge.
Honestly, 50 miles is so much its been more than my brain can comprehend - other than a few nerves when I looked at the map the build up wasn't bad. I've done so many races now that I tend not to worry about them. This is good. Some of my running friends are more nervous about races than me - I can't imagine how they would feel with a 50miler on the table.
Friday and Saturday we packed the drop bags. You can have 2 bags - one at mile 6/14 and another at mile 29 - this means you don't have to carry 50 miles worth of supplies. We've been making a list of things we might need for 6 months now. Changes of clothes, hats and shoes in case of rain, layers and gloves in case of cold, a big selection of food and drink, body glide to stop the chafing, wipes/TP in case of 'trips into the woods', refills for my camelbacks and gel supplies. It was like going on vacation and it was clear to us both that we likely had over packed - but it was my first and I wasn't going to miss the end because of a missed item.
Tried to get a early night on Saturday but I'm just not an early sleeper and 4am comes round very quickly. Load the bike onto the car for J to ride with me and we are off. As we drove into the school we see the 5am starters leaving. If you think you won't do it under 11 hours they let you start early. Its a bigger group than I expected and I feel a little nervous. Those are likely the people running my pace. I need to be at mile 29 in 6.5 hours or I will miss my bag. Plus they take the finish line down at 11 hours. I expect to finish sometime after 10h30m (12:30 pace) so I know it could be close but I chose to take the normal start anyway. The weather is in the high 40s so no need for the layers... I start in my shorts and just 2 shirts. I've been promised nothing above 58 which is perfect for me.
6am comes round quickly and off we go. Some of my running group have arrived for their 6:30 relay start so I have a good crowd of cheerers to see me off. As I jog out easy I hear 'so are you trying to break 8 hour today?'... Hmmm better drop back... wow these guys are going a bit fast too... drop back more. OK now there's only 2 people behind me... maybe I should have taken the early start. Lets check my pace on my GPS watch... thats odd its not on... Beeep... look again and its off again.. Beeep... looking carefully 'Battery Low'... and off again. OK there goes my only accurate pace guide. Thankfully I have my normal watch on my other arm so at least I know the time and how long I've been going.
The sun is slowly rising and after an hour or so I'm getting close to the bag drop. I realise the bag drops are 5.7, 14, 29 so I can work my pace out there. As I hit the first one I realize that I'm running under 11 minute pace. Normally a nice pace for me but way too fast here. I drop my bad watch, my long sleeve shirt and grab some food and drink and head off resolving to slow down. There's still a few people around me but they are pulling away so I assume I'm doing well on that front. As I pass 7 miles the leader is coming back the other way. He's already 6 miles ahead of me. For the next 3 miles I get to see how far in front everyone else already is. Thankfully I'm under no illusions about my speed so its not as depressing as you might think. With fresh legs its much harder to tell 11 minute pace from 12 minute pace so as I hit the turn around at mile 10 I'm slightly annoyed to find I'm there in 1h50m - in other words still at 11 minute pace.
I double my efforts to slow down on the way back. The 6:30 relay runners are 30 minutes and about 2 miles further behind (they have an extra run to the changeover point) but the lead teams are now coming towards me. After a little while I spot L who is concentrating very hard on catching someone up and doesn't see me at all until I yell - I think I made her jump - its nice to see the team. I make it back to the 14 mile bag drop at 2h40m and eat some food and my average is 12:30 pace for that segment... great back on track. Overall I'm still ahead of goal though (11:40 pace). That's good because it means there's almost no chance of missing the 29 mile bag drop deadline. I head out at the same pace. Legs feel great, weather and scenery is beautiful and I've only got 36 miles left to run !!!!!
At mile 15.5 or so I see D from our other relay team. They started at 8:30 so they are heading out on the first leg. He's looking for me so we have a quick manly high 5 and continue on our way. I've been running for almost 3 hours now and they are just getting going. As I approach the steps (yes there's several sets of steps - its mean) that take me from the trail back to the road section my gut is starting to feel uncomfortable. This isn't good.. I have 7 more hours to go at least. I can't work out how serious it is but its not something I want to run much further with. Thankfully I know there's a relay checkpoint coming up and they always have porta potties - no need to 'go like a boyscout'. After a few minutes of personal time (though no reading matter - come on guys you can only read the cleaning log so many times!) things seem a bit better so off I go. J is waiting at the next checkpoint, a mere 4.5 miles away. The running seems better but within a mile or 2 my belly is once again fermenting away. I'm a little concerned now. The next toilets are 2 miles away and there's not too much cover to hide behind on this segment of the trail. The runners dilemma here is 'do you run faster or slower'... I manage to run it out without the evil alien bursting out my stomach and as I see J I yell 'off to the little blue huts' and dash across the carpark for the 2nd time. 27 miles still to go - this may not be a fun day.
After mile 20 you are allowed to have a 'pacer'. Fast runners need a pacer - people like me need 'company' or a 'distractor'. Someone who can ensure that I don't think too hard about how tired my legs are or how far there still is to go. Even though she has a busted sesamoid in her foot that is going to be removed on Friday J was not going to miss the chance to be with me on the race. The plan is for her to bike me up the 8 miles to Rattlesnake Lake where she will rest and cheer our relay teams while I do the upper 10 miles. Then she will meet me for the final 10 miles.
Mile 23 is in the middle of the long boring flat and straight part of the course - this is also miles 45-50 on the way back when its going to be even more long boring straight and painful I am sure. However right now I am feeling very good other than the nagging gut. My time is 4h40m right around 12 minute pace. After 2 more miles a couple of things happen... 1. My gut seems fine... (Boy are you glad you don't have to read 12 more toilet stories!) 2. We hit half way! 3. We start going up hill.
Ah the hill.... from mile 25 to 35 its a slow gradual climb - its only 1000ft over those 10 miles so you don't really notice other than you slow down a bit. I've run this hill several times before but never after just over 5 hours and 25 miles. Yes folks you heard that right at half way I was right on 12 minute pace and feeling pretty good about it too. Everything was going well now. Was there a chance of finishing closer to 10 hours than 11 - I admit it crossed my mind at this point though I should have known the hill was going to slow me. As we hit mile 26 or so we see the winner coming down. He's at mile 45 - just 5 miles to go - and he looks like he's out for a morning jog.
As we go up the hill J reads me the emails my friends and family have sent - some are funny some are touching and some make her cry! Thanks to everyone who sent words of encouragement in whatever form - it helped the hours melt away on the up hill. And then we are there - the bag drop comes into view and mile 29 comes into view at 6h - wow that took longer than I expected. Remember what I said about the hill and tired legs! Those 4 miles took me almost an hour to cover. I take a fairly long bag break here - switch out my water bladder, change shirts, eat some Mac and Cheese, Cadbury Creme eggs and potato chips... Lube up the places that are starting to rub, refill my gel supplies and give J some extra food since I won't see my bags again till the end. We leave at 6h10m so my pace is now over 12:30. All my 10 hour illusions are gone thankfully but you know I'm still feeling pretty good so no complaints. We run on for one more mile when J stops for her rest and I go solo for miles 30-40.
I don't know if it was the lack of company, the continuing hill or the fact that in the next 3 miles I passed 31 miles and 6h30m of running into new territory but this was the first part of the course where my legs started to let me know that what I was doing was not actually something they had planned to do that day. They've done some long runs over the last few months but I guess they hadn't got the memo about the extra 19 miles and 4 hours they were going to have to find today. The relay turn around point is 2 miles up the hill so you run past the 2nd worst sign on the whole course. It says "Ultras straight ahead, Relay turn around". The relay folk have been passing me for the last 5 hours and its good to see them even though they are going fast - plus they almost always cheer you and say nice things which helps. At this point I wont see them for 6 more miles till I'm on my way down. All I will see is the tired faces of the ultra runners coming back. I keep plodding on telling myself its only 3 more miles till I too get to turn around but its taking forever. My run schedule is run 20m, walk/eat/drink for 2m and I've managed to keep that schedule for the whole race so far. On one of my walk breaks I feel like a muscle in my hip has seized up and there's no trees nearby for me to hold onto to stretch it out. I don't think at this point its wise to balance on one leg to stretch. So I hobble to the next bridge and stretch there. I'm a little worried because it doesn't seem to help much. I try to run and it actually feels better and in a few minutes it has loosened back up and at the next walk break all is well again. The numbers of runners coming towards me is dwindling and I start to recognise a few who were near me at the start of the race so I know there isn't far to go. And then there is it the worst sign on the course... how can that be you say? The sign is telling you its time to turn around and you are just 15 miles form home. If only it was that simple - the turnaround is at the bottom of a hill. Yes we've climbed for 3 hours now we go down to the trail head and then we have to walk back up. Its was evil at mile 17 on the 50k and its even worse at mile 35 on a 50 miler. But you have to do it so down I go. I eat at the bottom and say hi to the guy who has been chasing me for the last 20 miles.
I walk up the hill and man my legs hurt... ONLY 15 miles to go says the sign at the top. It doesn't sound far especially when thats a medium length training run. I call J to tell her I'm a bit behind schedule so not to worry. I'm at 7h35m so it took me 1h25m to go 6 miles - wow 14 minute pace. Average is now 13:00 so I'm back to a 10:50 finish time. But no time to worry - there's running to be done. It helps that at this point you have a pretty good feeling that you can complete this. You are running home. 15 miles doesn't seem that much and the end is totally in sight and the last uphill is done.
Off I go.. and guess what - its not so bad. The downhill is helping, the slight wind is behind me and I feel pretty good all of a sudden. I rip though the first 20 minutes and when I stop for my gel/water/walk the guy behind me finally passes me... I never saw him again. He did a better job pacing than I did I guess and took even more advantage of the downhill than I did. After 3 miles I see the relay turn point and right on time there is M from our 1st relay team... cheers and high 5s and she goes off like a bat out of hell. At least she can tell the teams to hang around to cheer me. A couple miles later I see M from the other relay team - he lets me know my mileage and carries on. I'm only 4 miles ahead of that team so they will easily catch me before the end. 12 minutes later I pop out of the forest to a wave of cheers - both teams are there and J is ready on the bike. I've run the 5 miles down in under 12 minute pace and the 33-35 mile funk seems to far behind me. Coach N decides to join us for the next 7 miles so I have 2 distractors. J continues to read the words of encouragement and her and N both have tears in their eyes at some of them - girls eh? At other times they just rabbit on to each other so I can just listen and run and before I know it we are at 45 miles and there is no more downhill.
There's JUST 5 miles left, 10% of the course... at this point you know that you will make it... you can walk it, you can crawl it in... though my legs are tired and getting worse with every step. The hip muscle I had trouble with earlier tightens again so a bit of stretching and once again I run it out thankfully. We lose N at mile 46.5 and she heads off to the finish to prepare the reception committee 11 hours is looking unlikely at this point and I know she knows the race organisers.... "Don't let them take down my finish line" I think were my last words to her.
As I mentioned these last 5 miles are a long straight line - I'm slowing all the time I can feel it. The 20 minutes runs seem to take forever and for the first time I can't finish some of them and have to take some extra walk breaks. In reality I should be happy to still be running at this point I know but I'm a little annoyed. J asks if I want her to shut up - apparently I've gone all quiet and am not responding to her witty repartee. I tell her no keep going I need all the distractions I can get but I'm concentrating on just getting to the end so don't expect too much response.
Finally at mile 49 I can hear the finish line to my left and all I have to do is run to the bridge and loop back into town. The bridge is less than half a mile away but its a struggle to get there... my watch ticks past 11 hours and all I care about is that the finish line is still there. But even if it isn't I realise that all my friends are still there and I will still have the best finish crowd of any runner that day. This is the best reason for running with a team. Eventually the bridge appears and I walk down the stairs (YES STAIRS!!!!) and J carries the bike down. She heads off to get the cowbells and cheering ready and I struggle on the final small incline. I take one last sneaky walk break because I'm not going to walk in front of the team... then I run around the corner and head down the street to the school. There's one last little loop into the school drive and the team are there with cowbells, signs and high 5s all round. And the finish line is still there too...
I cross the line arms raised in 11h13m30s, 13:27 pace - the winner did 5h54 but I doubt he had the cheers I did.
There's a beer waiting for me and it doesn't last long, nor does the chocolate milk.. after a few minutes I'm feeling pretty good. I stretch a bit and chat about the race and nothing seems to hurt too bad. I guess its the euphoria. Man I am so happy to be done. I get a cool glass medal to show I finished and really thats what its all about for me. I'm very unlikely to win anything but I think there's not many people out there who have run 50 miles.
This is way too long so most of you stopped a while ago but for those still reading I want to thank N for all the training, the team for waiting at the end end to cheer - I know you could have all gone home because you you were a bit tired and my friends and family who sent words of encouragement.. I know most of you think I'm 100% crazy.
And finally most thanks to J - you've got up early with me, you've biked with me, you did 20 slow miles reading stuff without falling off and you washed my legs and feet when I couldn't bend over. I couldn't have done it without you. love you xxxx.
[Tomorrow: What happens AFTER you run 50 miles]