This past Saturday, Peter and I ran the Stone Cat 50 Mile Trail Race in Ipswitch, MA. The course consisted of a 12.5 mile loop on single-track and double-track trails. There were 3 aid stations on the course, which was great for both regular consumption of food and the mental relief of being able to break down a long run into short sections of 4 or 5 miles. For example, I had three sections for each loop, which were 4.7 miles, 3.3 miles and 5 miles in length, respectively.
The first section was the hardest for me. It was the hilliest part of the course, and though none of the hills were long or steep, they were tiring, and I walked a lot to conserve energy.
The second section was the shortest, but by no means the easiest. This section was also pretty hilly, and more technical than the rest of the course. Navigating rocks and roots really slows you down and is hard on the feet. I felt like the third section was the easiest of the three. It was mostly flat, and mostly on double track trails that were smooth and easy to run on.
My first time through the course, I had a great time. I started off slowly because the sky was still pitch black when the race started at 6:30 a.m., and it was hard to follow the trail with only the light of a flashlight. Thankfully, we had daylight after half an hour or so, and from then on, I maintained a faster, but relaxed pace.
There were a lot of people on the course, so I followed along behind some other runners going the same speed as me, and settled in for the long haul. I was hoping to meet up with my parents at the first aid station so that I could give them my pullover and gloves (I was getting too warm now that the sun had come up), but they weren’t there. I put them in my pack instead, grabbed a couple of PB&J quarters and headed back out. They were at the second aid station (turns out they couldn’t find their way to the first one, so they would rotate between the other two throughout the day), and I got some more PB&J, lamenting to them that the aid stations didn’t have anything good to eat. I finished out the loop in 2 hours and 15 minutes, found the tasty treat I had been hoping for at the aid station, refilled my hydration pack and set out again.
The second loop did not go nearly as well. Whether it be that treat I ate or something else, I started feeling nauseous shortly after I left the aid station. I couldn’t run for more than a couple minutes at a time without feeling like I was going to throw up, so I had to walk a lot more than I normally would have at this point. I made it to the first aid station and was disappointed to see that my parents weren’t there (I was hoping for some sympathy!). I forced myself to eat a grilled cheese sandwich because I was worried that my stomach issues were from not eating enough. I walked most of the way to the next station, feeling worse if anything, and burst into tears when I saw my mom. “I’m so sick!” I wailed. (Yes, I realize that I have the emotional fortitude of a 5-year-old.)
I was feeling pretty depressed that my race was getting off to such a bad start. I drank some chicken soup at this station, hoping that it would settle my stomach. Thankfully, this seemed to do the trick, and after a mile or so, I was feeling well enough to resume running. I finished that lap in just over 5 hours and felt fine by then.
I was greatly relieved to have Jaime join me at this point for the last two laps of the race. Just having her with me gave me renewed energy, and though she set a blistering pace, I was grateful for someone to push me at a time when my own motivation was starting to wear thin.
We made pretty good time for the first half of this loop, but I started wearing out a little towards the end. My legs were tired and my feet were hurting, (little did I know, they would get MUCH worse) but I finished that lap right around 8 hours.
Just as Jaime and I were heading out for our last lap, we passed Peter coming in for his finish! He finished in 8:04, which was about 2 hours faster than his previous PR in a 50-miler and landed him in 12th place! He couldn’t have been happier!
For me, this was a bit discouraging though because I was ready to be done, too, and I still had SO far to go before I’d be crossing the finish line. Jaime kept me going throughout that very long last lap. The soles of my feet felt like they’d been beaten with rubber mallets and every step was intensely painful, a huge blister developed on my big toe, my legs were moving slower and slower, and I worried that I wouldn’t finish before the cut-off time of 12 hrs. 30 mins. Throughout all my complaints and anxiety and despair, Jaime was the rock that I clung to for support, and she never failed me. She encouraged me, distracted me from my pain, and absolutely refused to let me give up.
I’m not at all sure I could have finished the race without her, and I am certain that I would have done it much more slowly and with a lot more tears if she hadn’t been with me. Peter and my parents met us at the 2nd aid station, and I got a big hug from Peter and shed some tears in his arms. I felt better mentally after that. A couple ibuprofen took the edge off my physical pain as well. As we approached the final miles, the sun started setting, and we had to use our flashlights once more. It seemed like the end would never come, but I was keeping a better pace at this point, and soon we were running the final yards and crossing the finish line. I had successfully completed 50 miles in 11 hours and 30 minutes.
The main emotion I felt at the time was immense relief. Finally, FINALLY I could sit down and take the load off my poor, throbbing feet! (Unfortunately, my feet continued to pound with pain for the next several hours, and my knees weren’t much better!) I also felt slightly depressed that I had suffered so much for something that felt pointless to me because I hadn’t been able to enjoy the experience. Later though, once the pain subsided and I could think of other things, I started to feel proud of what I had accomplished. I had tackled something incredibly difficult and persevered to the finish in spite of sickness and debilitating pain. And I realized that just because I had struggled and I didn’t have much fun, didn’t mean that the experience was worthless. I’ve thought about it over the course of the past several days, and I’ve decided that I would choose an adventure with hardship over no adventure at all. Every time.