Big Turtle 50 Miler Race Recap

Two weeks before race day, I signed up to run the Big Turtle 50 Miler when someone offered to legally transfer me their bib. I was already planning to be at the race because another runner (who I hadn't met yet) had asked me to pace him for miles 33-50, and I had agreed. I was pretty sure I was undertrained after losing so much time while healing after the bike accident, but I had managed some long runs and some back to back mileage lately and I kind of wanted to see where I was with training anyway. Three weeks later I'll toe the line at Dark Sky 50 Miler, so I planned to treat this as a training run.

I spent some time figuring out how I would be a good pacer while also running the race. I didn't really know Rick, but I had been following his training. I planned to run the first hour or so with him so I could get a feel for his pace and style, and then meet up with him at mile 33 to stay with him the rest of the race. I always like to have a few miles to myself on a long run. Gives me time to think.
Laying out clothes and gear before packing the suitcase.
I left work a bit early Friday and drove to Morehead, KY where I was meeting another couple who planned to camp. They decided to stay in the parking lot for the race, so I did too. I found some trees to hang my hammock on, grabbed some Wendy's for dinner (my stomach of steel has only failed me once on race day), and then went to bed at 9pm. We would be getting up at 5am and the night would be down into the mid-30s. Cold for a hammock.

Hammock all set and cozy.
I actually slept pretty ok for the night before a race. I got up around 5am and got ready. I was planning to wear less clothes than I'm used to. With the morning temp of 36 degrees but a predicted high in the 60s, I didn't want to put myself in a position where I would be too hot mid-day, or uncomfortable in capris. I ate a greek yogurt and a clif bar for breakfast, put in my contacts, took an Allegra-D, and drank some water. Then I headed to check-in to get my bib and set out my drop bag. This was my first race as a member of the Next Opportunity Endurance Team, and we all gathered for a picture at the beginning (I haven't seen the pic yet though) and I got to meet a few of the team members which was fun. We all cheered each other on. I was wearing my singlet underneath the top layers needed for the cold start.

Rick and me in the gym before the start.
I had well-wishes texts from a few friends and my mom before the race started. I was ready. As usual, I was feeling very introspective and quiet. I knew I would have to make conversation at some point, but I love the quiet of the beginning of a race. The race started up a massive hill and I listened to the chitchat of other runners while keeping my heart rate below 140.

I felt good. Really good. There were lots of hills which we hiked as planned. Rick kept asking me to slow down. We came into the first aid station under our goal pace, which I expected the first few aid stations. I took off my thin jacket as it warmed up, and then my wool Icebreaker shirt a bit later. I stayed with Rick, and he said he appreciated it. The pace was easy and we could pick it up later if we wanted. We chatted and got to know each other. We chatted with other runners too. Around 13-14 miles, we had to wait in line at a bridge because you could only cross one at a time, you had to walk, and there were 50k runners coming back too. We grabbed a selfie while waiting.

Waiting in line at the awesome bridge "one at a time"

In line at the bridge
We hit two aid stations close together, and then we had an 8 mile long section before the next one. I am always surprised at how much time some runners spend at aid stations. I like to get in and out:  refill water bottles and grab a snack and go. The volunteers were great. Helpful and cheerful. I was feeling great. We got to 17 miles and Rick hit a real low point. By then I had gotten to know him enough that I could use my tools learned from other runners (especially Jeanette) to talk him through it. I can usually get through my own wall within a mile. We ended up slowing down, adjusting fuel (I offered my bottle of Sword, in case he need electrolytes) and then he was hurting pretty badly. Nothing I did or said was helping. He could not run. We started to talk about what would happen at the next aid station.

Rick, hiking up a hill.
Those 8 miles were long. Rick was in pain. We slowly made forward progress and by 22 miles, Rick had decided he should stop when we got to the next aid station. This decision was so hard for him, but we both knew it was the right decision. Accepting a DNF (did not finish) is an emotional journey. We talked through the "whys" and the importance of preserving his body for future endeavors.

I started turning my thoughts to how I would run the second half. I had fire in my legs, but had already covered 25 miles, and the stop and go slow walking wasn't giving me a good feel for what I might be capable of. We finally arrived at the next aid station, 25ish miles in. I had been out of water for a few miles and I was hot, so I knew I needed to hydrate well before leaving the aid station, refill, and then make sure I had enough fuel for the next 8 mile section. I made sure Rick was OK, chatted with the other runners there, heard the volunteers say that there were only 3 more runners left to come into this aid station. As always, the volunteers were attentive and helpful. This was my longest aid station stop, probably about 4 minutes. We were almost 7.5 hours into the race which had a 15 hour cutoff. I knew I could make up some time but was surprised at how far back I was.

I took off as soon as I could. My goal was to encourage those last 3 runners as I passed them, and then see how many runners I could pass while still being smart about my pace. I paid attention to my breathing and how my heart rate felt, and power hiked up the hills. I felt strong. I passed a lot of runners. At least one every mile. I asked each of them how they were doing, and a few times stopped to walk with one and chatted a bit. I accidentally scared a few too. Oops.

Before I knew it I was already back at the bridge. Good time to fuel. This time I could take my time and get a picture. Crazy bridge! I can't imagine what it's like when it's wet! I realized that I had completely forgot about my dropbag at 35 miles. Haha.

Ready to cross the bridge on the way back; 13-14 miles left to go. 

A selfie while crossing the bridge. You can see the dried salt on the side of my face. 
I kept going and was still feeling good until 39 miles when I hit my low point and a pretty challenging steep climb at the same time. Ugh. Two runners ahead, who I wouldn't be able to pass for awhile. One of them saw me and asked how I was doing and I yelled back "awesome!" but I didn't mean it, and they laughed like they knew I was lying. I let them get ahead a bit and I stopped to pee for the first time. I needed to drink more. I had to stop to lean over a log and let a wave of nausea pass. 

I decided to not push myself. I would just take it slow for a bit, keep my heartrate low, and just be there in the moment, stripped down to my core, raw. This is a moment when your walls are down and you're forced to really feel. It's followed by the moment you have to face putting yourself back together. Sometimes there are deep thoughts. Sometimes mere strategy. I focused on the task at hand: relentless forward motion. I thought of my friend who says this, the same friend who texted me at the start line and reminded me to have patience. I remembered that I had treats. I got out the sour patch kids and ate one. Yuck. I couldn't even stand it in my mouth. I drank more water, took some Base salt. I thought of Jeanette's reminder to smile, and I smiled. And there I was.

By 40.5 miles, I was out of the darkness of the low point. I was thrilled. I knew the next section was mostly dirt roads and the easiest section of the race. I continued to walk up the hills but could pick up my pace otherwise, and managed some faster-for-me miles. My contacts were starting to bother me and my allergy meds had worn off too. I had a hotspot feeling on my left heel, especially noticeable while I was going uphill. (I had started to notice it around 34 miles and decided not to bother with it while it was still just a minor hotspot annoyance.) I had been watching the time and I was ahead of my original pace plan which meant I had made up about 45 minutes so far this second half. I felt happy. I kept passing runners and we encouraged each other. I helped a runner who was lost, and eventually passed him.

I got to the final aid station and felt really good. 5ish miles to go. I refilled my water, grabbed a few pickles, chatted with the volunteers and their cute kids who were playing in the dirt and having a blast and cheering on the runners, too. It was an awesome vibe. I checked the time and I was back to being ahead of my predicted times and wondered if I could finish before sunset. Maybe even not take out the headlamp I had borrowed...

The sunset was beautiful but photos couldn't capture how the sky looked like it was on fire. 
Wow, this section was a lot harder on the way back than I had remembered! So many climbs. I was working really hard to beat dusk but I stopped to get a quick pic of the sunset. Photos wouldn't do it justice but it was quite beautiful. I finally got to the last long descent. The last person I had passed was using his headlamp by now, but I could still see. My eyes were watering like crazy. My toes also hurt. I was glad I didn't prematurely burn out my quads. I could still run. I picked up the pace because soon it would be too dark without the headlamp, and I was almost to the last bit which was road on the Morehead campus. Passed my last runner, cheering him on and lamenting his injury with him for a moment. I was feeling tired but happy, and then there was Rick! He was cheering for me at the finish! So cool! I rounded the corner and headed into the finish chute and received my medal. Done. It was around 8:30 p.m. Awesome. My predicted finish time was between 8:50 and 9:10 p.m. I was really proud of my comeback the second half, to be able to make up that much time and still beat my goal. My final time was 13:33:27.

I was too tired to think though. I knew I needed food but couldn't execute. I sat down for a few minutes trying to figure out how to function. I texted the people who had asked for updates, to let them know I had finished. Rick came to check on me and I declined the invite to dinner because I was too tired to socialize and also still had a 2 hour drive ahead of me. I grabbed a bag of Doritos and decided to go wash my face. Race Director Mike checked on me, wanted to make sure I was OK. So thoughtful! Another finisher was in the bathroom, raving about the shower, which I was going to skip but she kept going on and on about it and finally convinced me. I walked the long walk to the car to get my stuff and RD Brandy ran after me to check on me. I was starting to feel less awful, but didn't want to ask her to make me a sandwich, since she surely had better things to do. Maybe I could make a sandwich after the shower. I was touched by how thoughtful Mike and Brandy were being. They knew I wouldn't have anyone at the finish line and genuinely care about their runners.

The shower was indeed incredible. Hot water at high pressure. I didn't even care that I forgot to get my soap out of the car. I got dressed and decided to get on the road right away. I owe special thanks to the friends who checked in on me during the day and then on the drive. I pulled over to sleep for awhile, and then ate some McDonald's and got back on the road. Extra thanks to the friend who stayed up really late texting me to ensure my safe travels home.

I was tired the next day but had very little to complain about besides a nasty sunburn on my neck and shoulders and a toenail that will surely not survive until the next race. My quads were a tiny bit sore, but my joints were all fine and I felt good. I biked on Monday and then ran again by Wednesday and I'm back to training for the next race: Dark Sky 50 Miler on 5/12!

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