I think I still can’t really wrap my head around the fact that I ran 31 miles yesterday. The whole experience seemed kind of surreal…probably because I spent most of it alone and running through fog.
Rodeo beach is just north of San Francisco in the Golden Gate National Recreation area. It’s an AMAZINGLY beautiful area, even if I just caught glimpses of it through the fog and rain. We got to the start about 45 minutes early and I was definitely a little nervous.
I think I’m smiling here because I can’t fully grasp what I’m about to put my body through.
Just before the start, the race director asked anyone running their first 50K to raise their hand.
At this point I kind of felt like a fraud, because I really wasn’t sure I was going to do the whole 50. The way the course is set up, you do a 30K loop and then a 20K loop, so I knew if I was dying at 30K, I could drop out. I really hoped I wouldn’t have to do that, but I was preparing for the worst.
And then we were off. The course stayed flat for about 20 meters before beginning to climb. It got steeper and steeper over the first mile until we were climbing stairs, and at that point everyone around me was walking. It’s so different than running a road marathon, because when it gets steep, it just makes more sense to walk and save your energy. After the first huge climb, the trail descends to an aid station. Then there’s a 10K loop that has another insane ascent and descent. At this point I was completely high on life, LOVING everything about trail running, and pain free. It was raining off and on but the trail was decent, except for one downhill stretch that was basically a mud-bath. I think I picked up about 2 pounds of mud on each shoe!
As we were finishing the 10K loop back to the first aid station, I briefly ran with a woman who was incredibly sweet. We chatted about how this was my first ultra and she asked if I had a time goal. Um, to not be pulled off the course before the 9 hour cutoff? She said I was doing really well and predicted I could finish in under 6:30. I thought she was crazy!
After the aid station there was an endless, but more gradual climb. I alternated running and walking, just like everyone around me was doing. That was by FAR my least favorite part of the course, because it was just a straight, uphill fire road with no interesting scenery. The worst part was that I would have to do it one more time!
I went through another aid station, then descended back down to the 30K mark, which was also where the start finish was. Although my knee felt a little achy, it was feeling way too good to stop. The one thing I HAD to do was get rid of my fuel belt. It normally doesn’t bounce around, but because of all the ups and downs and hopping over rocks on the trail, it was not staying in place and it was driving my absolutely insane.
So I left it with Mike, chugged a cup of Coke (I never drink Coke but during this race it was all I could think about. I had some at every aid station and it was AMAZING!)
The last 20K was all on trails I’d run on earlier so I knew what to expect, but this time around I was MUCH more tired, so I ended up walking up more of the hills. I got to the aid station 5 miles into the loop (the same one I’d gone through twice before) and was kind of out of it. I just stared at the table full of food, not really sure what I wanted or if I wanted anything. One of the volunteers recommended a handful of trail mix, so I took it (and of course a cup of coke too!) Then I set off up that long, straight, boring fire road.
By this point my knee was starting to really hurt, so I was alternating a few minutes of walking with a few minutes of running, stopping every few minutes to try and stretch or massage my right IT band. The downhills were especially rough, and by mile 25 or 26 (I am guessing on the mileage – there were no mile markers) I was having a REALLY rough time, mentally. I was alone, it was raining, my knee was hurting, and I figured I had at least 2 hours left of running. I was getting so tired and I swore I would NEVER do another ultra again. Unless maybe it was in Florida or somewhere else pancake flat.
I went through the last aid station, which was 3.6 miles from the finish. It was cold and rainy but the volunteers were cheerful and upbeat, and after another cup of Coke, I was determined to run the whole way down to the finish…and I did! At the bottom of the hill there’s a long flat stretch and then you come to a sign that says “Rodeo Beach 0.4 miles.” That .4 miles to the finish was ENDLESS but I made it!
And that lady was right, I did break 6:30. My time was 6:21! And look, I barely even got dirty (hah).
1. Trail races are so unlike road races – there are no mile markers, you have to focus constantly on making sure you don’t trip over rocks, and lots of people end up walking quite a bit up the steep hills.
2. If you need crowd support or you like running with other people, a small trail race is NOT for you (obviously)
3. Running for the better part of 6 and a half hours is incredibly exhausting, both physically and mentally. I experienced euphoria, misery, and all sorts of emotions in between, sometimes within minutes.
4. Coca cola. Miracle.
5. How the hell does anyone run a 50 mile run?!? And yet, a little part of me wants to train for one (once my knee is better, obviously)