Sunday, August 30, 2009

"it never always gets worse".. the GLER 50k race report

unfortunately. i cannot accurately site the above quotation. i heard it said by dean karnazes, but i think he was quoting someone else.. i suppose it doesn't matter who said it, because the point is - today i lived it.

saturday afternoon we landed in a great hotel in east syracuse... really, we couldn't have gotten luckier- fully stocked kitchen, king size bed and cheap! After picking up our race packets, we got to have dinner with friends. oh boy - what a fantastic spread and such a deliciously fun night spent talking about training and racing and getting to know some UMers better. back at the hotel i did my usual no-sleeping routine, where i distinctly remember falling asleep just before 11, and awaking promptly at 3. after lying in bed thinking of all the things that could possibly go wrong today for 45 minutes, i decided any attempts at regaining slumber were useless. watched the weather channel instead. (sidebar - the weather channel has gone through the same metamorphosis as MTV... it has essentially no weather, and is all made up of documentaries and "reality" shows. i had to watch for a full half hour to ascertain what may happen overhead today. i wished i hadn't bothered.. it was cool and sunny for the 50kers... pouring rain later in the day for the 100kers.)
so - the race site was pitch dark but we made it with the help of some well placed glow sticks. did the whole setting up the cooler, bathroom, stand-around-and-shake-your-legs thing. 100k left, then our turn a bit later. got the ready, set, go and felt good and prepared for the pain sandwich i was about to consume in 4 bites.
the first bite was good, i ran strong as it was ridiculously cool out and i was particularly well rested. there is a couple of really significant uphills that were walked, but i ran the rest confidently. the downside was that about a half hour in i got my customary side stitch. then 20 minutes later i got one to match on the other side. by the end of the lap i had a cramp than ran the entire front of my torso - sternum to pelvis. i felt like i was being squeezed, and worried about having a heart attack! this was an entirely new and unpleasant phenomenon, and it would be 4 hours before i could take a deep breath again.
pain sandwich bite #2, and as i am walking the big uphills am thinking... these didn't seem that big the first time. exiting the forest for the serengeti (open shadeless grasslands that roll on for 4 miles) i begin to feel tight in my shoulders and neck. great - more wierd cramps! by the end of the lap i am ready for my MP3 player.. feeling like i need to get a tiger in my tank somehow and hoping that music will soothe me. ran the second lap a bit slower than the first... but not too bad. am happy.
bite# 3.. well. bite number 3 was not good at all. going back to my aid station, i discover that the MP3 player is not working. decide not to be a baby and pout, suck it up and keep going. by this point the shotbloks have become unappealing, and the chips.. eh.. i don't want chips. i just grab a handful of electrolyte pills and mosey down the road thinking i'll eat at the first aid station. the uphill this time - brutal. "God! am i going the right way? why does this seem so much worse?!" (another sidebar - todd and team marked this course so well, even i couldn't get lost. that is saying something!) amidst the big up, start to feel the quads go, just above and inside of each knee. what the?! i have taken about a zillion electrolyte pills and drunk only HEED.. how is this possible? at that moment i ran into jill perry and she assures me that i can keep running through it, that they'll go away. it was the exact molly-coddling i needed at the moment. jill said it, so i believed her. out on the serengeti, my stomach is in knots. i have no interest in eating and am feeling nauseous. at the aid station i ask for HEED and a popsicle, and on a whim i swig a glass of ice cold coke. BIG MISTAKE. i don't drink caffeine, nor do i drink soda, can't say why i did this... it just looked so good sitting there that i grabbed it. felt sick and walked so much of that loop. still crampy.. but the tightness in my chest begins to ease.. so at least there is that! the third loop took a half hour longer than the first one.
bite #4 of the pain sammy.. again, can't eat anything. grab about 5 pills and some water (so sick of HEED at this point that i can't even bring myself to drink it.. so am getting dehydrated) and head out. besides the leg cramps and the nausea.. i felt okay. and this is what was surprising and inspiring to me about the entire day. after the first lap, i was virtually alone.. save for being lapped and seeing folks on the 2 way traffic stretches. and though i felt like hell, i managed to keep myself in a good frame of mind. i was frequently smiling, managed to encourage a few folks out there, as well as graciously accept the unbelievable encouragement i got from others, and was happily singing to myself, daydreaming, and sharing witty remarks with my imaginary friends. so .. i got off track.. the fourth lap was faster than the third by about 15 minutes. the only thing i was able to consume was e-caps, gingerale and water. i walked the big ups, but ran most of the serengeti and all the way around the lakes and happily told all the aid station folks that i would not be seeing them anymore today! my quad cramps never left me, but i found i could run pretty comfortably with short steps anyway. finished with an okay time for a first trail run, and first 50k time of 6:45:14... 79th place overall (out of 106 ). not great, but not terrible. importantly i reached my goals of finishing this hard course in under 7 hours, not getting hurt and having fun.
i guess the biggest thing i showed myself today is that it never always gets worse. there were plenty of times i could have despaired my situation and shut down mentally, like i did back in april. i've come quite a long way since then i think. i've learned an awful lot about myself, about being tough, about being malleable and going with the experience.. the bad parts and the good.

i was thinking today that ultras are not a lot like life.. that they ARE life. what it means to live - to despair, suffer, triumph and rejoice. to try your hardest and fail, to exceed expectations.. to submit to the lack of control you really have, to laugh through tears, to grit your teeth and bear it. to fight. to win. and to be okay with loss. i also learned about faith, hope.. not so much in myself and of myself, but in others. to trust that the person flying by you down the hill, will be able to lift you up in someway. to believe that the aid personnel will protect you, look after you when you are incoherent and cannot look after yourself. to trust that when you cross the finish line - even if you are dead last - there will still be applause for you.
and that is the crux of it, right there. i will likely never cross a finish line first in my entire life, but it doesn't mean my run doesn't count, that my race doesn't matter. am grateful for this wonderful community of runners who embrace everyone - the strong and the weak, the old and the young.

special thanks to mom, dad, and wendy for taking care of our 3 babies. and to the race committee and all the volunteers who put on such a fantastic event today. if they didn't put them on.. we wouldn't run. it's that simple. and thank you all, for caring about my little journey.

special note to the barefooters - my feet are about the only thing that felt absolutely fabulous today - though there was a fair amount of mud, i managed to stay upright, not get stuck, nor slide. my little flats formed themselves nicely to any and all obstacles.. making holes, roots, rocks and uneven surfaces that others rolled their ankles on, barely a blip on my radar screen. no blisters and no hotspots to report. thanks for your support on my evolving journey too!


Jason Robillard said...

Great job, Shelley! You managed to capture the very essence of running ultras... the pain, the suffering, the triumph, and the camaraderie. It also reminds me of my favorite ultra quote- "Any idiot can run a marathon. It takes a special kind of idiot to run an ultra!" -Alan Cabelly

You made us barefooters proud!

Donald said...

Excellent job! Way to hang in there through the tough spots and get 'er done. As Jason said, you nailed the spirit of ultraruning - I'm convinced that it's that quality as much as anything else which gets us to the finish line.

Recover well, and enjoy your accomplishment.

shel said...

thanks boys! and interestingly - i signed up to run another 50k in 5 weeks. a road 50... thank God... trail dawg i am NOT! jason - for your curiosity's sake it's the canlakes 50s.

Allison said...

Glad you made it through and feel good about the experience. Another one in 5 weeks, huh? That's great!

Syndibee said...

I'm impressed. Loved your review. I'm thinking I may be a marathon idiot rather than a special ultra idiot.
That was real amazing.

oboros said...

Congratz! So happy to see you were smiling. That rocks. I hope to be where you are one day!