(FYI, this installment is really long.. so be prepared).
So, I had reached the halfway mark. 16.3 miles down and 16.3 miles to go. I headed back to the trail with an energized spring to my step. I was feeling good. And hitting the trail again... as a 50ker, knowing that all the 25kers that I would meet along the way would know that I was a 50ker made me feel like a badass. And you know I loved that.
I knew that this stretch was going to feel long. The beginning of the race, I was hating every moment of this stretch. But this time around... I was used to the cold water and the mud (although, the mud got worse and worse... the more people who trodded through it. We seriously must have destroyed the trail by the end of it). I focused on the trail and simultaneously let my mind wander. I started thinking about the accomplishment that this was going to be.
As I ran, I thought of what it has taken me to get to that point. I thought of the obstacles I've overcome and the changes I've made in my life that led me to that exact moment on that trail. And for the first time in my life, I felt really proud of myself. I felt proud that I had taken control of my life and that I was living my life the way I wanted to live it. Right now. Not next week. Not next year. Not tomorrow. But today and everyday. And that's what I felt most proud of. Taking the proverbial bull by the horns and running with it (pun intended).
My life is no different than everyone elses. I've had obstacles to overcome, challenges to face, demons to wrestle with, but I finally started facing them head on. And without getting all Tony Robbins on you, I just want to urge anyone who's not living life like that.. to DO IT. Today. Now. I promise, it's soooooo worth it.
Ok... enough with the inspirational BS.
So, as I ran this 5.1 miles to the next aid station, I felt on top of the world. It was my favorite stretch of the race. Miles 16-21. It was also at this point in the race that I learned the value of a shuffle jog. Holy shit people, that is THE way to go when you're running through mud and water. Just get you a nice little rhythm and shuffle jog your way through it. (Although... this course wasn't super technical with roots, etc... so.. if that were the case, the shuffle jog would not be well advised).
It was also at this point in the race, where I started singing. Out loud. For whatever reason, I had "Jimmy Crack Corn" stuck in my head... so, here I was, shuffling through 6 inches of mud singing... "Jimmy Crack Corn and I don't care, Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care..." over and over again. And.. the sad thing is... it didn't even annoy me! I eventually switched to the the epic Joe Espositio classic from Karate Kid: "You're the Best Around." It was good. Real good.
Right before I got to the aid station, I ran upon two guys coming down a steep hill. The lead guy immediately started singing... "She was walking in, as I was walking out." (From "Glory Days" Bruce Springsteen). I joked with them that I wished I was walking out, instead of walking in... and then asked if they'd switch with me. They laughed. And then kept on... I guess they weren't keen on the idea of switching with me.
Once I reached the aid station, I was still feeling awesome. Loving that I only had a little over 11 miles left to go. I chatted up the volunteers while I stuffed my face with peanut m&ms, Heed, and bananas. One of the volunteers asked me if I'd seen many people on the trail... I told him about the girl behind me and that I had just met the two guys. Then I casually asked..."So, how am I doing on time? I'm not in danger of missing any cut-offs or anything am I?" He looked down at his watch and he said... "well, not really... but you've only got about an hour to get to the lake."
I almost choked on the Heed. I had NO idea that I was getting close to a cut-off.
"The lake is about 4.5 miles away." He said. "You can make that in an hour. Once you get there by 2, then you're golden. That's the last cut-off. "
I looked down at my watch and saw that it said 12:55. I dropped the half eaten Oreo I had in my hand and I took off. There was no freaking way, I was coming this far and NOT finishing. But, I knew he was lying. I knew that the lake was actually 5 miles away, because they had told me that the first time I was there. F***. There is no way I can run miles 21-26 in 1:05. But, I had to. HAD TO.
This was the 3rd time I fell... coming down a big hill, I fell on my ass and just stayed there till I had slid all the way down the hill. Faster than trying to get back up and regain my balance. I pushed it. I ran as fast as my legs could go. There were a few small spots where we were up high and the trail wasn't too wet and sloppy and on these few parts I really tried to kick it into gear. When I reached the next aid station, I flew right through it. "Gotta get to the lake by 2!!!!" I yelled. "See you when I'm on my way back!"
I kept looking at my watch. Trying to figure out how much trail I had left. I ran harder than I've ever ran in a race. Not that I was running all that fast, but for the conditions and the fact that I had already been running for 5.5 hours and that I was running miles 21-26, I was going as fast as I could. One guy passed me on the out and back loop and said, "Tear it up." I liked that. Tear it up, indeed.
As I started getting closer to the lake (or what I hoped was closer, haha). I started seeing people coming back from there... I asked one girl.. "how much further to the lake??" "a little more than a mile and a half." she said. NOT the answer I wanted to hear... at that point I had about 20 minutes before 2:00. I started asking people when the cutoff time was... none of them knew.
Eventually I came upon the guy in front of me and as I passed him, I told him.. "dude, I think we have to be at the lake by 2:00."
"Naw.... 2:30." He said.
2:30 was exactly what I wanted to hear. But... who do I trust? A man at an aid station? Or a guy who has been out on the trails for 5.5 hours?? I continued on.
There was a big climb to get to the point where you hit pavement and run down to the aid station at the lake... that damn hill slowed me down. As soon as I hit pavement I booked it. I ran my ass off and when I got to the tent, I looked down at my watch and it said, 2:00:30. "DID I MAKE IT???" I yelled out.
Everyone kinda looked at me and I was like.. "ohhh SHIT." I waited for someone to speak.... "Did I make the cut-off??" I asked again.
"Oh yeah, you have till 2:30."
OMFG. Are you serious??? I just ran my legs off. I ran 5 miles in 1:05 in muddy, sloppy trails. I told the guys what the other Aid Station guys had told me... "oh yeah, they don't know what they're talking about." one guy said. Awesome.
I took my time at this aid station. The volunteers were chatty and kept telling us... "oh, you've got 2.5 hours to make it back and you've just got about a 10k to go."
Sooooo doable, right??? I mean.. I could WALK 6.2 miles in 2.5 hours. Easy. I could probably cartwheel the whole way. Right???
I headed back to the trail for my last 6.2 and after hightailing the last 5 miles and thinking I had all kinds of time for the last 6, I slowed down considerably and when I came upon the girl I had passed at the half-way point. I told her.... "Just a little over a mile to go!" to which she replied... "Yeah, but I'm not going to make the cut-off." to which I emphatically told her... "Sure you are! You've got till 2:30!!!." And she said glumly.. "It's 2:25, now."
And that's when I realized what an asshole I am (I did apologize to her) and I realized that it had taken me about 25 minutes to go a little over a mile. F**K!!! Where did the time go??? At this point, the dude I had passed was right on my tail and I let him in front of me...
We chatted a bit. It was his first 50k, too. He was from St. Louis, he asked me about 15 times in the span of a mile if I thought we were going to make the cut-off. (I think he was really foggy at this point). When we reached the last aid station, the volunteers (who were the ones I blazed past earlier) said... "you made the cut-off!!" and I explained that I had till 2:30 which I didn't know. The lady told us that we had just over 3.5 miles to go, so I opted to not stop and just continued down the trail. I needed to be finished more than I needed a Golden Oreo.
I also knew that I still had a snickers bar on me, and decided to eat it once I came out of there. I scarfed it down as I shuffle jogged and made my way towards the end. This stretch felt REALLY, REALLY, REALLY long. I couldn't help but become obsessed with my watch and I must have looked it a zillion times. I also tried to keep ahead of the guy behind me. Only as a way to keep on a steady pace. I didn't care whether I was dead last or not... but I wanted to be done sooo bad.
With about 2 miles left, I could see people ahead of me. They were the two women who bolted in front of me when we first got on the trail at the very beginning. I tried my damnedest to catch up with them and let my brain obsess over it for the rest of the trail. I think deep down I knew I wouldn't catch up to them... but at this point, it was just about finishing and with a goal of catching them, I was getting there faster than I would otherwise. The last 1.75 was killer. I had noticed a sign that said... 1.75 on it and I knew that meant it was 1.75 to the end (or at least to the end of the trail). I glued my eyes to the trail, looking for every marker that counted down another quarter of mile. Finally, I got to the big, steep hill that meant that the trail was almost over. I climbed up it and came out of the woods and onto the grassy area to the pavement. I saw April's car and then I saw April... I ran towards her. Hoping that she'd run the last bit with me. I was going to beg her to, if she didn't automatically. Luckily, she did and I immediately started talking to her... (she was probably walking to my jogging, haha). I dont even remember what I said or what she said... but I was just happy to see her and happy to see the finish.
As I crossed the finish line I immediately started crying. If I had let myself.. I would have bawled like a baby... but I tried to fight the tears and ended up with that awkward, loud, half sob, half sniffing thing. One guy made some comment... "that's right... get emotional." and that helped, cause it made me crack up.
I stood for a minute, trying to get a hold of myself and eventually I sat down on a bench for a second. I noted to April, "this is the first time I've sat down in 8.5 hours."
I tried to get out of muddy clothes and shoes and socks as fast as possible, cause I hated that April had been waiting on me for SOOOO Long. But it was a slow process. Just getting my shoes off took 5 minutes. Each foot was swollen and the mud and water had caked them to my feet.
Eventually I got into clean clothes and stuck all my clothes and shoes (I threw my socks away) into a plastic bag and we hit the road...
My official time was 8:29:37. I was 22 out of 24 (they ended up letting the girl behind me finish).
I did it. I completed my first 50k. It was hella hard. But I made it. And I got the kick ass medal to prove it...
(the volunteers make the medals!)
Later that night, after the hamburger, onion rings, and milkshake... I had to take 3 advils. I've never had to take a pain killer after a race before. But, from my knees down.. my legs just ACHED. My calves, my achilles, my feet, behind my knees. I was laid out on April's loveseat and about snapped her head off when I mistakenly thought I heard her ask her husband for a leg massage (she actually just asked him if she could stretch her legs out. My bad. haha).
It was worth it, though. I'm ready for my next one :) (a dry one, preferably!).
I just want to take a minute to thank April for carting my stressed out, bitchy ass around all weekend and for being patient with me and waiting on my slow ass for 8.5 hours on Sunday. You're the best. I love ya :)
And, in case you're wondering... here's all the finisher's times for the race:
5:29:55 (Last year, 4:42 was the winning time).