I’m officially an ultrarunner.
Before the Blackfoot 50km, I defined success as a finished race. As long as there was not a DNF beside my name, I’d be happy. As long as I left the race course on my own two legs (as opposed to a stretcher…or upside down being dragged by a Moose), I’d be happy. As long as I legitimately tried to follow my race plan, my time didn’t matter. I just wanted to finish.
I started off on Friday night with the greatest pre-race sleep ever. I have family who live south of the Blackfoot course in a farm-style home and I hunkered down in their spare bedroom, a pillowy heaven covered in warm blankets knitted by my own Grandma, photos from my childhood on the wall, and a home-cooked meal (complete with rhubarb for dessert) in my tummy. I spent about five seconds falling asleep and was out cold until my alarm went off at 6. Great sleep is a side effect of me running so much, and as a reformed insomniac, might be the greatest single thing about training.
I was sent out the door by my lovely aunt and uncle with a cup of coffee in a to-go cup and a hi-lighted map of where I needed to go to get to my race. The benefit of farmers in your family is they know the twists and turns of every single back road between Calgary and Edmonton and were able to plot out the best route for me.
I was early to the race and got a good parking spot. I signed in, grabbed my race number and swag, heading back to my car to spend a good 20 minutes putting my race number on straight (WHY is this so HARD to do?), making sure I had the right snacks in my pack, and liberally applying SPF. Fair Skin McGee here, I knew I’d be sweating it off at some point but wanted to give myself half a chance.
In no time we were getting ready to start. I sat on a wooden stoop and watched my fellow racers buzz around. I made a conscious decision not to wear my watch, and therefore, didn’t have it there to fidget with like everyone around me. Why no watch? Because I just wanted to finish. Time was not important. My estimate, if things went well, was somewhere between 6 and 7 hours. The race started, we were off, and the fun* began (*can be substituted with the word ‘torture,’ depending on how you look at life). We were doing two loops of a 25km trail.
I had four key words in mind the entire race and started out repeating them to myself. As my yogi friends might say, a mantra.
Patience. Nutrition. Represent. Grind.
Patience meant to go slow. Slow slow slow. And I did. I walked up every single hill the first loop. And I mean Every. Single. Hill. This was not a strolling-through-the-mall walk. This was a power-it-fast type of walk. But I walked, and I was patient. At one point I told myself it was like holding the reigns back on a horse. But then I thought, don’t be silly, you don’t look like a horse, that’s offensive. So instead, I told myself I was holding the reigns back on a very pretty pony. No joke, this is how I entertain myself when I run.
Nutrition was a tricky one. I ate between 5 and 10 Honey Stinger chews every 45 mins to an hour (I was guessing, as I didn’t have my watch on, but close enough). Handful of chips at each aid station. My water was an issue but I’ll get to that in a minute.
At the halfway point (where I could see my car parked – that seemed cruel to me!) I turned the corner to loop back on the course. I was SO TEMPTED to ask what my time was. SO TEMPTED. But, by the time my internal struggle of wanting to know yes-no-yes-no-yes-no I had already turned the corner and it was too late to ask. Which was good. I knew if I found out my time, I’d be either a) disappointed or b) amazed and try to compensate in the second half. So I just kept plugging away. All I wanted to do was finish.
As I made it through lap 1 with Patience, I decided to try pushing it for the start of loop 2. Instead of walking up hills, I ran up them. This was where the Grind portion of my mantra came into play. I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to run the entire course this time but elected to run the shorter and less-inclined hills, and power walk up the long and steep ones. It worked. Grind.
Nutrition drop-kicked me in the face about 5km into the second loop. It was pretty warm and I was drinking water like it was going out of style. What really got me (I think) was the electrolytes I put in my hydration bladder. I was drinking a LOT of water and I think I overdid it, plus my decision to Grind wasn’t helping. I felt nauseous, bloated, and had absolutely zero appetite. But since Patience-Nutrition-Represent-Grind was rushing through my head, I forced the food down. As soon as I was able, I filled my pack with fresh water, diluting out what was left of the electrolyte mix. My stomach started feeling better after about 1.5 hours of agony. Relief.
Represent is a segment of my running mantra that might not make sense to some. It was a reminder of why I’m doing this. That includes: who I’m doing it for, and what I want to get out of it. At one point, yes, I felt sick. Yes, I contemplated making myself vomit. (Yes, I’m too chicken to do that at this point). But I never really considered stopping or slowing down because I want to Represent. The work I’ve put in. The sacrifices I’ve made. And the people that helped me get here. Plus, Represent – it’s a bit ridiculous as a mantra word and it makes me giggle. Good to lighten the mood, ya know?!
I still had absolutely no clue where I was for time, and I’m so glad I didn’t know. If I had a watch I would have looked at it every 2 minutes. Instead, I used the aid stations as milestones. Once I passed the last aid station for the second time, I knew I was home free. I estimated there was about an hour left to run and again, it was time to Grind. And I did. My legs were cement but I was legitimately happy. There was a cool breeze and I thought about the blog I posted before the race, all my friends who showed support through text, facebook, and phone calls. I sang Calvin Harris over and over in my head (not out loud…we are there to be at peace with the wildlife, not disturb them with tone deaf singing). I turned every corner thinking it was the last one. Until it actually was the last one. I finished.
I glanced at someone’s watch and did some calculations, optimistically thinking maybe I had beat the 6 hour mark. Turns out I was 5:54:10. Under 6 hours and I am super, super pumped about it. Even more exciting – my split times. 2:56:28 and 2:57:42. Pretty much the same pace all the way through. I actually don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of anything in my life than I am of my split times. That might be a stretch but….let’s just roll with it, ok?
In conclusion – Patience works for me. Nutrition is a challenge. Represent, always. Grind until the finish.
First Ultra Race ever – success!