It’s 5am and I have only slept about 4 hours. My nerves have officially reached a crazy level. There’s something about a “marathon” race that gets to me. I did my usual gear and food check, then hurried out the door by 5:40 in hopes of arriving at a decent time to meet up with my running crew, bib pick-up, and a bathroom break.
I remember thinking that the temperature felt much colder than the high 30’s. I could forget any hopes of the sun as the sky was covered in clouds. Whatever, I was overdressed and would shed most layers throughout the course. I arrived at 7:40am and located John, the 40 miler, and Nicole, the 20 miler. Picked up my bib, rounded up the group for our obligatory picture, and then we headed to the start line to see John off on his journey at 8am. I started at 8:30, then Nicole at 9am.
So I knew this race was scenic, but did not expect the insane amount of hills and sharp vertical inclines and declines. Pretty much from the beginning, with the exception of the first half mile, I started going downhill on rocky terrain. By the time I reached the first aid station, at mile 3.5, the hills were rolling on and off without a break. I cannot underestimate the amount of enthusiasm bursting out of the volunteers. They catered and genuinely cheered on the runners. And look at that aid station food!
The trails relentlessly continued on with hills. This was the easier part of the race as the hills rolled a bit more. About a mile after leaving this aid station the first 20 miler flew by me. It was pretty exciting to see him and that motivated me to pick up my pace a bit. By six miles I was hydrating pretty well. My mix of 2/3 water with 1/3 gatorade was keeping my tummy happy. Next aid station – 6.5 miles. Again, the friendliest volunteers, music blasting, great food.
This aid station marked the trail split for marathoners. We ended up doing a lollipop around a separate section of trail to add 10k onto our distance. We were also warned at the start line that there wouldn’t be aid stations for this next portion of trail. Well, do you remember how motivated I was by the 20 miler’s speed. I chose to snap some picks and hold off on hydrating / eating at this aid station. Horrible decision.
About 5 miles in, I started running on fumes. I shed my gloves and black shirt as the temps were reaching into the mid 40s. Around this time I also finished off my second bottle of water/gatorade. My energy was zapped. My pace suffered tremendously. A few people passed me, but I wasn’t in as bad shape as others. I clearly remember passing a guy who just stopped and kneeled to the ground. He said he was okay so I kept meandering along. I kept willing myself up the hills. It really was non-stop. By the time I reached the next aid station, I gave myself a five minute break. Two PB&J quarters, a twizzler, a salted potato quarter, and some laughs with the volunteers cheered me up. After refilling my water bottles, I was off. At this point you crossed a bridge to join the 20 & 40 miler trails. More trails of hill hell, but with a twist. These were farmland trails, very similar to the local horse trails I run on. Slightly comforting, and yes, there were horses.
Mile 16: By mile 16 I experienced something new for me. I mentally hit a wall. It was like my body regurgitated any and all insecurities into the front of my mind. I clearly remember this hill that just compounded the climb one on top of another and my thighs were screaming at me. No decline. I was upset, did I not train enough? Was I taking in enough calories? Why am I talking to myself? This was different. There was no one in sight for this entire mile. I reverted to doing simple math to snap myself out of it. I counted my right foot stride in multiples of three, then repeated on the left strides. It was the longest mile of my life. But I kept going, one foot in front of the other. By the time I arrived to aid station 17, the cloud lifted. At this point I took full advantage of the aid station amenities. Food, one Motrin, a salt tablet, and a half cup of beer did the trick. We cracked some jokes. Many jokes actually. I must’ve looked rough. I was so grateful for their kindness. Then, I was off.
Luckily there were about 3 miles of relatively flat trail ahead of me. I took advantage and worked on increasing my speed.
Mile 20: My strategy changed at this point. I wasn’t going to let my mind get the best of me again. I turned on my cell, started blasting music and singing. My pace per mile kept creeping down and I started adding a few sprints into the mix. I made it to the next aid station and kept it moving along. I started passing a few people and caught up with my friend John. He was on his second loop going in the opposite direction. After a few encouraging words, I pressed on. My face was beaming as I knew the end was in sight. Two miles later I caught up with Nicole. I must have been deliriously excited as I told her, “Ok, I’ve got to go, there’s only 3 miles left and I want to do it in 15 minutes!” Ha! That explained the perplexed look on her face. In my excitement I even kissed her on the cheek before heading off. This was it! I had finally reached that runner’s high and my endorphins were sky high. Fuck these hills. Hell yeah, I deserved it.
The finish line was in sight and I felt tears on my cheeks. Happy tears. Each tear was sending mile 16 off to hell. I picked up my pace for the final quarter mile and heard more cheers. I crossed the finish line with 27.2 miles. This was a fantastically hilly race. Stephan, the race director, did an outstanding job creating this course.
Lastly, I cannot underestimate the amount of preparation that went into the final food stop at the end. Hot bratwurst, freshly made German potato pancakes with applesauce, carrot cake, tons of side snacks, and lots of water. And as luck may have it, I ran into Carolyn and Cheryl, who ran the February FebApple 20 miler with me two weeks ago. We caught up with more friends and headed out to the marsh for some final pictures.