Disclaimer: I didn’t take any of these pictures. I “borrowed” them all. Thanks, friends.
The Free to Run 50-miler was on Saturday and it was tough!! I knew it was going to be a challenging race – the RDs mentioned 10,800 feet of elevation gain/loss (more on that later) – but I definitely underestimated the other variables. The course was a 12.5-mile loop that we repeated four times… let’s take it from the top:Loop 1
The race started at 6am so it was dark. I think this was a good thing – it takes away the temptation to start too fast. I could tell we were running along a river because I could hear it – aside from that, I was keeping my eyes on the ground because the terrain was already a bit tricky. And we were going up – up, up, up. We hit the two-mile mark and we had already climbed 900 feet of elevation – yowza! As the course leveled off, my hopes for a reprieve were quickly dashed. The downhills were uber technical and required constant attention. Down, down, down.This character greeted me at the first aid station. He was all business. I grabbed some oranges and a drink and I was on my way. Up, up, up – and this one was steep! The climb started out at a 10-15% grade and I’m guessing it got close to 25% at times. At the top, the trail did become more runnable, and it was a great opportunity to regroup. Up, down, up, down. The next aid station provided a fantastic view and it preceded a short and merciful road section. Also, Ralph Crowley, who ultimately finished second, caught up to me and we ran together for a minute. Up, down, up, down. Ana! The race was super tough and it was definitely nice to see a familiar face at the next aid station. Ana was one of the RDs of the Vegan Power 50k and she was serving up oranges and watermelon – woo hoo! After leaving Ana, the course started descending… fast. It gave back about 1,000 feet in less than two miles. Ouch. I knew that would be a quad-burner later in the day.
Loop 2 was more of the same. No surprises this time – I knew it was going to suck. With that being said, it was light out for the entire loop and it was still relatively cool. This provided a nice opportunity to run a decent split. I focused on taking in calories and fluids. Oranges. Watermelon. Water. Sports Drink. So much sports drink – not good, but a necessary evil.
I started loop 3 and I was beginning to feel it. I had run the 900-foot climb the first two loops, but this time, I started mixing in some walking. It was about 11am now, and I was starting to feel the heat. I was also spending a bit more time in the aid stations. Oranges. Watermelon. Water. Sports Drink. My feet were bugging me a little bit from hopping around on the rocks, but nothing felt terrible. I just tried to keep moving. My mantra for road marathons has always been “Just Keep Running” – once you stop, it’s very hard to start again. In ultras, my mantra is “Just Keep Moving (and never sit down)” – same deal – once you stop, it’s very hard to start again.
I missed a turn near the end of the loop – oops! The course was marked perfectly – there just happened to be a group of people standing in front of the markers when I went by. Lucky me! That earned me a little bonus time on the trails :)
I started the final loop around 2pm and it was definitely a bit warm for me. By this point, most of the half marathoners were finished and they offered support as I headed out for a little more punishment. I really didn’t know if anyone was close to me so I just pushed ahead doing the best I could. I was having a bit of a rough patch, and I walked nearly the entire first climb. At the top, I stopped for a minute to empty the rocks out of my shoes. It actually helped quite a bit – oops, I wish I did that sooner! The trails were quiet now – in fact, on my entire final loop, I only saw three or four people. I hit the second to last aid station and realized I was dilly dallying too much. I cut my stop short and started running. In fact, the more I ran, the better I felt. No doubt about it, I could smell the barn. Footnote: it’s a good thing I woke up and started running because Ralph was much closer than I realized. I caught up with Marie, who was finishing up the marathon, and we ran and chatted for a little bit. Then I saw Ana one last time, and her support was fantastic. The final descent was grueling. As I was running/stumbling/bumbling down the descent, I knew I would feel it in the morning. FINALLY, I spotted daylight as the woods gave way. I knew it was only a quarter mile to the finish. Phew!
Final time: 10:57:24
I managed to snag the win! The 50-miler had 5 finishers out of 17 people who started – a finish rate of 29%. Full results of the Free to Run races are available here.
My GPS died after nine and a half hours or so, but this is what the elevation profile looked like up to that point:
I’m guessing it was going to come in around 11,500 feet or so, although other folks had it closer to 12,000 or even 13,000. Yikes!! I guess Jake and Michael were just giving us the conservative estimate :)
I ran with music for two of the loops!! This was a first for me. Here’s who I brought along:
Family of the Year
The Lowest Pair
Great Lake Swimmers
Cold War Kids
Old Crow Medicine Show
Carly Rae Jespen
Lana Del Rey
Finally, a huge thanks to Jake and Michael who did an awesome job as RDs. And a thank you to their families who were working the aid stations all. day. long. Thanks to Benn and Ana and Curry and other people whose names I didn’t catch. You were all awesome.
Finally, I’ll leave you with the two inspiring stories of the day:
Farahnaz Afaq finished 8th overall in her first half marathon. I had the chance to talk to her after I finished, and she was already talking about running her first marathon. It was really inspiring to see firsthand what a great organization Free to Run is. In the future, if you are considering any charitable giving, please keep Free to Run in mind.
The second story is about a gentleman I ran into at an aid station on my final lap. He was hurting but he kept on moving. As I was leaving for the day, he was just coming into the finish area and I stuck around for a minute. Apparently, after completing two laps, he realized he wasn’t going to meet the final cutoff for the day and would be unable to finish the 50-miler. Knowing that, he went out for a third lap anyhow – just because. While he ultimately took a DNF, he definitely got his money’s worth.
And the winner of my most recent blog giveaway is Sean Scott! Sean, I’ll get in touch with you and hook you up with some cool stuff!