My First Ultra Marathon - Land Between the Lakes 60K on March 11, 2017

After getting pneumonia in October 2016, I had to sit out the race I had spent the last 6+ months training for. It was a 50k in the Red River Gorge in KY, and it was to be my first ultra marathon. Luckily I had run my fall "A" race in September - the Moose Mountain Marathon in Northern MN - and everything about that day had been amazing and perfect.

I was devastated to be so sick I couldn't run my first ultra. But I was so sick I hardly even noticed what I was about to miss out on. I was also very worried about and devastated for my friend Jeanette, who had been diagnosed with a rare salivary gland cancer the week before our MN race. Jeanette would be having a second surgery a few days before the 50k, and so both of us were focused on getting well and taking care of ourselves (and each other, a bit).

I finally tried running again around Thanksgiving, but took it slowly and struggled to get my mojo back and find motivation to increase mileage again. Jeanette found out that her surgery was successful in removing all of the cancer, and was recovering quickly. We talked about Land Between the Lakes, which was March 11, 2017, has great reviews especially as a first ultra marathon, and we registered for the 60k (approx 37 miles).

Signing up for the race in late December is just what I needed to get myself going on the training! I researched and developed a plan, and I started piling on the miles. I had many great training partners. Jeanette and I did most of our long runs together, and my friend Amy joined for a few of those plus was my early morning training partner for the midweek long runs.
Mary Rose is a truly inspirational mother runner who mailed me this awesome card before I left for the race.

Getting ready for the big day, we had the usual discussions of what to wear, what to carry, etc. Jeanette and I planned out our drop bags. We watched the weather forecast, which was all over the place. Looked like the day would include cooler temps and some rain, and then even colder and snow! I was really psyched for the snow!

I took a half day off at work and Amy, Jeanette, and I drove to Grand Rivers Friday afternoon - a 3ish hour drive. It was a beautiful day out, but we knew it would get colder for the race. At this point, the snow forecast was gone but the temperatures would be in the low 30s and rain would start in the afternoon on Saturday.
Arrival in Grand Rivers where the race started and finished
Lighthouse near where the start line would be
We picked up our packets and went to the cottage we rented at The Moors Resort on the waterfront. It was a perfect place for our weekend home.
Our cottage; view is from the lakeshore
We began dinner of spaghetti and garlic bread, and started to prepare our clothes and other items for race day. Later, other friends Nancy, Jennifer, and Harmony joined us. Nancy and Jennifer were running the 23k, Harmony and Amy were running the marathon. There were many firsts in our group, and we were all excited to get up and race!
Sunset Friday night from the cottage
I went to sleep feeling grounded and ready. I had done the training. I had done my best training ever, in fact. I really nailed the workouts and did a good job balancing family, work, and training. My husband was super supportive throughout my training, and my kids always cheer me on.
Sven wrote the sweetest card. I carried it with me to the race and remembered his wise words when I needed to dig deep. 
I've learned to be flexible so I do not miss things while training, and I also learned to have good nutrition, hydrate well, and sleep about 8 hours every night.

I slept well the night before the race. We got up at 4:30am and drank coffee, got dressed, grabbed our drop bags, a dry change of clothes for the end, and hydration packs. We stepped outside to the cars at 5:45am to discover a layer of snow and it was coming down! We drove the 30 minutes to the race start, used the restrooms, and walked the 7-8 minutes down to the start line. There was a cold wind coming off the lake and we took a few pictures and I started to get into the zone. Mentally preparing for my race - I didn't know what it would bring, but I knew it would be my longest distance ever. I was excited!
At the start line!
Back row L-R is Jeanette (60k), Marian (60k), Amy (1st marathon)
Front row is Jennifer (23k), Harmony (1st trail marathon), and Nancy (23k)
Jeanette at the start line, enduring snow beating into her face and a bitter wind
(photo taken through a baggie)
Marian at the start line (photo taken through a baggie)

The first 1.9 miles were down the paved road to the trailhead. Jeanette and Amy and I stayed together and we had a conversation about our pace that later became humorous. In my race plan, I thought I would likely end up running an 11 minute mile pace on the roads because of my race excitement. Jeanette had planned a 12:30 minute mile for that portion, because she wanted to start conservatively. We talked about how fast we were going but not explicitly enough to understand that Jeanette's watch said we were going a 12:30 pace, while mine and Amy's said we were going a sub-11 pace. Hahaha!

When we entered the trail, it was really beautiful with all the snow.
At the beginning of the first loop. Jeanette is the second one in, with the blue hydration pack.
The man in black in front of me was doing his first trail race and his backpack was loose on him and the shaking of it was so loud! I was glad to lose him eventually because of that and his endless complaining.
The trail was a loop and was 11ish miles, and Jeanette and I would be running 3 loops. I felt really good, except I must have slept wrong on my right shoulder because the movement was kind of bothering me a little while running. We were running easy, but we were all focused and we were not talking to each other. I was in the zone. Taking myself too seriously. I knew Jeanette and I would not run the race together, but was glad to keep up with her the whole first loop. After that, I pulled back. I knew I need to slow down the second loop so I could leave something in the tank for the third loop (and those 1.9 miles back on the pavement, which I was dreading). I ran right through the aid stations since I was carrying all my fuel and was not out of water/Tailwind yet.

On the second loop, I realized that my focus was hurting me, as was my right shoulder. I was taking myself too seriously and was so far into the zone that I wasn't having fun. The snow was melting. The sky was gray. The trail was getting very muddy. The mud was the sticky clay kind. It was slick and required walking in some sections. I started to feel like I was going really slowly and thought I probably started too fast. My arm was throbbing with every movement. I kept trying to move it around to fix whatever was pulling on it. Then Amy caught up with me again and talked to me and I perked up! It was great to see her. She showed up just at the right time for me and got me through the end of that second loop. She then went on to finish her race and I stopped at the aid station for the first time before starting the third loop. My shoulder was hurting so much I was desperate for ibuprofen or something to relieve the pain.

The volunteer who had checked me in the day before was at that aid station and recognized me. He asked me what I needed and I was a little bit in bad shape. I had done about 22-23 miles and was completely out of hydration, feeling underfueled and was having gas pains when I drank my Tailwind. I asked the volunteer for Sword and water and I hoped it would agree with me. He filled my front water bottles for me and I grabbed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich quarter too.

Then I started my third loop. I was feeling a bit revived. I worked really hard to each that sandwich but it was tough to get down. It became glue on the roof of my mouth and I couldn't maneuver it to swallow. That was frustrating when I was perking up and trying to really dig deep. I was still alone. I thought about Jeanette and how far ahead of me she probably was. I had been running for 5 hours when I started that loop, and I did some math. Wait, it looked like I had another 2.5 hours on the loop and then 25-30 minutes to finish the last miles on the road. Was I going to finish in 8 hours? I couldn't believe it. I redid the math several times in several different ways. My goal was to finish in 9 hours. I was aware that I had done way more running than I usually do on the trails, since my training grounds have very steep hills that require power hiking. Today I was using different muscles than usual. There were a few small hills but nothing like JMF, so I was running running running instead of getting breaks where I could use different muscle groups. I knew this was hurting me and I thought about how I would train differently for a future race like this with more running and less elevation. My shoulder was starting to consume me with the pain.

The mud on the third loop was pretty awful. I was being passed by 50-milers. There was little conversation from other runners, but there was a group of 3 men chatting and as they passed me and one of them said to me that their leader was a story teller. I jumped at that opportunity and said "I need some stories right now!" and so I tried to keep up with them for a 2 mile stint between aid stations. That helped me a lot but they were going faster than I could manage at that point. They told me I was doing great, especially for my first ultra. I really needed that I tried to remind myself of it. I watched my watch hit 26.29 miles and I knew I had never run further than that. I drew energy from that knowledge for awhile and watched my watch hit 28 miles, 29 miles, 30 (!!!!). I wanted to cut my arm off from the pain in my shoulder. Every movement was excruciating. I passed some marathoners who were really struggling and I tried to encourage them and tell them they were doing a great job. Then I started to count down the miles. I was done. I wanted it to be over. I had 5 miles left, and then 4, and then 3, and then I hit the end of the third loop and hit the road. UGH! Road running when you're that tired. It was just as hard as I thought it would be. And all I could think about was my shoulder pain. Not the hot spot in the arch of my right foot. Not my left arch pain that sometimes rears an ugly head. Not my tired legs.

I really wanted to be done. And I had 15 minutes to beat 8 hours. So I took off. I plowed up the hill on the bridge. I made sure I was maintaining an 11 minute pace, I envisioned the finish line. I didn't know who would be there, if anyone. I hadn't taken pictures throughout the day so I hoped there would be one of my finishing. My shoulder hurt too badly to be reaching for my phone and maneuvering it. I could hardly reach my water bottle because of the pain. I passed someone who looked badly injured. He was limping and going really slowly. I can't imagine what his day had been like, but he was going to make it to the finish. Then I turned toward the finish line and I could hear cheering and I could see everyone there and then I heard my name!
Marian coming into the finish!
They were there waiting for me! I felt like I was dead last in this race. I have never felt so slow and dejected. But the end was right there. I picked up my pace and ran down that hill and I tried to smile and then I started crying because I did it. In 7:56! Well over an hour faster than my goal! I was really proud of myself.
My first belt buckle! (the race medal)
Marian's shoes after finishing
For those who like the stats!

Sunrise on Sunday morning from the cottage. I loved watching the moon set and the heron on the still water.
Sunday lunch - we culminated the trip with a visit to the Bambi Bar for a burger and a beer
But I felt letdown after the race. Subdued. Quiet. Lying to people and telling them it was great. It wasn't great and I had a hard time pinpointing why. Today, 8 days after this race, I ran 16.5 miles at Jefferson Memorial Forest with some people I don't know well. I had more fun today than at the race. Was it the high elevation change? The lack of loops? My different mood? My ability to run with joy? My lack of arm/shoulder pain? Lack of mud?

I went on this reventure expecting the outcome to feel better. What will redeem it? Maybe another race. Maybe a different adventure. Maybe another unsupported long run for fun with Jeanette. I don't know, but I can't wait to find out!

Post-race hydration in my favorite glass.


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