“Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I was pulled from the Big Horn 50 mile race last Saturday just after 32 miles (and more than 10 hours of running) when I missed a time cut off by a few minutes. It’s been bugging the crap out of me. I felt fine, strong, even, when they pulled me and it troubled me that I wasn’t even allowed to try and finish the race (which had plenty of downhill in the remaining 18 miles, which is my strength.) I kept thinking, “I would have made the 15 hour final cut off if I’d been allowed to continue.”, but who can say for sure.
All week long I asked my husband, “What should I do with these feelings, now? It’s months away before the next 50 mile race near where I live. I can’t live with the big question in my heart, “Can I really do it?” for that long.
My friend, Randy announced a group run a few days ago. He was planning on having the group meet on a trail head, a few miles from Bogus Basin and then climbing up, up, up to Shaffer Butte (around 7500) and then back down. It was going to be close to 25 roundtrip. That got the wheels turning in my head. Hmm…. What if I did it twice? 50 miles in the mountains. Maybe I could do my own little “Big Horn Repeat.”
My friends Ryan and Michelle mentioned to the group that they were going to start early, near the top at a spot called Deer Pt (around 6884 elevation) and run down to Corrals Trail, where the elevation is about 3700. Michelle was planning on doing around 12 miles and her husband was planning on doing the out and back for about 24-25. I asked if they’d mind if I joined them at the earlier start (5 am) and told Ryan about my crazy plans. Now, Ryan’s a pretty accomplished runner. After losing 135 lbs a couple years ago, he trained hard and qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2010 in his first attempt! Shortly after, he paced one of our ultra friends in his first 100 mile attempt. They made it 93 miles before being pulled for a time cut off. Ryan ran Boston this year in 3:19 and then came home and ran “the toughest half marathon in the northwest”, Robie Creek course out and back all on his own, since he’d missed the race due to the Boston conflict. He ran my Lake Lowell Marathon shortly after that, holding the first place spot for many miles until he struggled and faded back. In late May, he ran the Pocatello 50 miler (a really challenging course, with tons of water crossings, snow and elevation gain and loss). Just last Saturday, he ran an unofficial 50 miler called The Schaffer Butte Run and crushed his time from the Pocatello by a few hours. So, it was a big surprise to me when Ryan volunteered to run the entire 50 miles with me again this week! The man’s a machine!
When I told my husband about my idea, he was very supportive and even decided to come along and run the first 12 miles with Ryan’s wife, Michelle, which I thought was awesome. I’ve been hoping to get my husband interested in trail running and this was a perfect opportunity!
We started our run, bright and early at 5 am. It was still dark out, so we all wore headlamps. The crisp, early morning air was delicious and I enjoyed staring up at the stars and the crescent moon up in the velvety black sky as we ran hard through the mountains so early into the new day. Deer Point starts at 6,884 ft. We ran from the top, on forest roads, until we reached a trail called Hard Guy (which we agreed, especially on the way back up, is a fitting moniker!) From Hard Guy, we ran to Corrals Trail, to the parking lot for a total of about 11.84 miles one way.
Starting the run up high reminded me a lot of Big Horn’s start, which, for this year’s snow course, also had a nice elevation loss in the early miles. I ran like a maniac last week in the first few miles, loving the downhill start, despite the mud and over-crowded singletrack. Ryan and I started our run very similarly. My Garmin recorded our first mile as a 7:47 pace! We were flying and I felt determined and strong!
One thing I felt very strong about was leaving the Garmin on the entire time – no matter what happened (stops to use the bathroom, to adjust clothing, to chat with spouses and friends, to eat, even later on, to wait for traffic multiple times at crosswalks when we headed back into Boise (which, indeed happened probably 10 times.) I wanted to treat my run like a race and see if, even with the delays that come up, I could “make” the 15 hour time cut off Big Horn had. I needed to know if I had what it takes to do it or not. I figured the delays we would face would mimic time in aid stations, crowded trails and check ins and outs at Big Horn last week. I couldn’t replicate the mud – the crazy, calf-high, shoe-sucking miles of mud from Big Horn, but I did replicate multiple water crossings, crazy elevation loss and some serious climbs on single track. I was also running on legs that had put out a pretty hard effort just one week before – more than 10 hours at Big Horn giving my all. I figured that would even things out some, too.
Ryan had jokingly told me before we started that he wanted us to get down to the Corrals Trail parking lot in about 2 hours. He later confessed, he really didn’t think he’d make that time goal – but it turned out that we came awfully close! We passed our friends, who were on their way up from the 7 am start, about 1/2 a mile from the parking lot! It was awesome seeing our pals and gave me a mental boost. We got down to the parking area (which also has an outhouse) and I used the facilities, while Ryan refilled our water with jugs we’d left in my car there. He was awesome, helping me and then sending me back up the mountain, while he hid some of our extra food for later, since my husband would be taking that car home and it wouldn’t be there the next time we came down the mountain. He told me after he caught back up that we’d only spent maybe 5 minutes in the “aid station” there. Doing good!
Now, I can run downhills very well. I run flats good. But uphill, I seriously suck! I went from seeing a nice steady downhill pace to a sudden slow-as-molasses uphill crawl. Mile 17 was a 31:48! The sun was out. It was getting hot and we were slogging back UP that sweet downhill on rocky, single track trail. It was slow-going. It was about here that I started to struggle with nausea. That would become the biggest trial of the day off and on for hours. I felt like throwing up. I took a gel. I use the GU Lemon Sublime ones that have ginger and chamomile in them and thought it might ease my stomach distress. It only made it worse. I spent the better part of that climb burping and feeling awful. (I had to apologize to Ryan for all the unladylike behavior. haha.) I soon realized I’d accidentally left my salted potatoes and hand held full of soda back in my fridge at home (guess it really was like Big Horn all over again, where the aid stations had ran out of potatoes and soda when I got to them!)
We trudged along, Ryan way ahead, while I dragged along behind up, up, up the mountain. I was craving Coke. After dealing with severe morning sickness with all five of my children, I’d learned that Coke can always settle my stomach when it’s upset. I became very focused on getting some, even though it was a pretty ridiculous wish way out there in the mountains, so far from any stores. Poor Ryan. I’m sure I repeated my longings for soda at least a zillion times. Thankfully, though, Ryan did have some pop in his truck back at the top of Deer Point – about 23.5 miles into the run. He ran ahead where he found a couple of our friends and asked them to grab me an orange soda from his cooler and bring it back down to where I was lagging behind, nauseated and plodding along slowly uphill.
About mile 22, I looked up and saw two smiling faces coming towards me! My friends, Sparkle (who is every bit as fun-loving as her name suggests) and Chele were jogging down to me holding the longed-for drink! I could have kissed them both! Ryan had teased them earlier to go slowly on their descent, so as not to shake the soda too much. They had replied, “We’re graceful runners! We GLIDE, we don’t JOG!” hahaha. Well, despite their “gliding” the soda started spewing out the top when I opened it! We all got a good laugh out of that! Ohhh and did it taste heavenly! Cold, sweet, orange soda just hit the spot. I gulped down several mouthfuls before continuing on. We just walked, while we chatted and I drank several sips along the last mile or so back to the car. With every sip, I started to come back to life. My stomach settled, calories got into my blood stream and I started to feel good again.
It was such a treat to reach the car and see my husband, Wayne, Ryan’s wife, Michelle and several of our running friends waiting there. Wayne even had a folding lawn chair set up and I took the opportunity to sit down and take my right shoe off and pour several pebbles and some dirt out of it. Ahhhhh. I ate a few bites of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, sipped some more soda, filled our packs with new water, posed for a couple of pictures with my friends and then we were off again – heading once more back down the mountain.
The heat was really getting to me, so I ran pretty slow the first few miles. My stomach was still settling down and Ryan was feeling strong, so I had a hard time keeping up. I enjoyed chatting with my friend, Chele for a bit, before I sent her on her way, too, since she was feeling stronger and I didn’t want to hold her back. It was about this point, that I remembered my mp3 player in my pack. I took it out, along with the second Garmin and put them both on. I had the 2nd Garmin just in case my first Garmin died on the run, so I’d be able to keep track of the miles and overall time no matter what.
Once I got that music playing, things started to change for me. My mood lifted. My legs turned over faster. I started to feel GOOD again. The first song I heard was “Be Ok” by Ingrid Michealson. I felt it was appropriate as she sang the words, “I just wanna be ok, be ok, be ok. I just wanna be ok today.” It truly was my heart cry. I just wanted to know at the end of the day that I was “good enough.” That I could, indeed accomplish a big goal that I’d set before me.
We reached the Hard Guy trail, and that’s when things really took off for me! I love the single track through this section. All around us were wildflowers – white, yellow and purple! The scent of the white ones was similar to lilacs (my favorite flower!) The Boise Foothills are so beautiful this time of year! Lots of green grasses swaying in the breeze, some trees and all those lovely flowers! It was a high point for me to be running while surrounded by such beauty. Pink’s song, “So What” came on about here and before I knew it I was running about an 8:30 pace easily, rocking out to my tunes, dancing, leaping down the hills, running like a maniac. The Beatle’s song, “Help” came on after that. I just kept running and didn’t look back. After ZZ Top’s “She’s Got Legs” was over, I hit pause on the mp3 and turned to say something to Ryan. Ryan?! He wasn’t there. I looked way up the hill and saw him in the distance. I almost laughed out loud! I guess I was feeling better. I decided to just crank the tunes again and let him catch up with me when he could.
That didn’t take long, either. Soon, I was marching on an uphill and Ryan caught up. I grinned and said, “I guess music helps me run better, huh?” He said, “YEAH! You should always run with music if that’s what it does for you.” Ryan stayed ahead the rest of the way to the Corrals parking lot. I relaxed and twirled on the mountain top, stuck out my arms like a bird, ran swiftly and just HAD FUN for a change! I realized that when I’m having a great time and my mind’s in a happy place, I tend to run better. So, I went with it for as long as it lasted. Unfortunately, I had ran out of food at about mile 28 and I’d only had water – warm, disgusting, blah, water – for many miles. I was fading again. My nausea returned with a vengeance. I slowed way down again, just shuffling and feeling in a foul mood. I started muttering about cold Coke again. It’s all I could think about.
I ran the last 1/4 mile into Corrals at a dead man’s shuffle pace. Ryan was patiently waiting at the gate for me. I looked him in the eye and said, “I really need some soda, Ryan. Please, can we run down the mountain on the road to the grocery store about 3 miles down so I can buy one. I’ll buy you one too.” He said we could and my mood improved. I used the porta potty and Ryan refilled our water and pulled out our stashed snacks. My stomach felt ill just looking at the things I had available – trail mix, a half peanut butter and jelly sandwich which had been smashed and was sweating in the plastic bag in the heat. I just stared at the unappealing food. My brain knew I needed to eat but my stomach just felt so terrible it was hard to get an appetite for anything I had. I put the trail mix in my pocket and took a couple tiny bites of the sandwich, then put the rest of it in my Nathan pocket, too. I stood up, leaning on my knees, trying to steel myself for another 16 miles of running.
We were heading out of the parking lot, towards Bogus Basin road, when Ryan spotted the first of our friends making their way back to the parking lot! I was worried about time since my pace had slowed way down, but seeing first one, then another and then another smiling face pop around the corner at the end of the trail really was very encouraging. I stood as each of our friends came down to chat with us. They asked how I was and I told them I was feeling sick and needed some cold Coke. Mike, Ben Blessing’s dad, said, “Did you say Coke?” I nodded. He walked over to his truck, opened it up and pulled out this huge cooler. He lifted the lid to reveal tons of ice-cold drinks buried in ice – including one, ice cold Coke!!!!! He held it out to me and I rushed up and gave him the biggest hug and said, “You just saved me!” I couldn’t believe it! It was like a miracle! I think the other runners had similar thoughts of him being a magic Genie when he passed out beers and water. I think Mike became everyone’s best friend right at that moment!
With ice cold Coke in my hand (a screw-top, thankfully), Ryan and I headed out to the road and started running downhill towards town. I had on my tunes, was sipping soda and was starting to feel better again. Just a few minutes later, I saw my husband, who passed us in his car, waving and smiling! He turned around and met up with us shortly after. He was there to crew us the last 16 miles! Glory hallelujah! Wayne’s crewed for me many times, so I knew we’d be well taken care of for the final leg of our journey.
When he pulled off the road, it was such a relief to take off our Nathans and dump them into the car, knowing we’d have access to them along the way, as needed, without having to carry them anymore. YES! He’d also brought me the potatoes with salt and flask of soda I’d had in the fridge at home. I was still too nauseous to eat, but was thankful to have them nearby if I did later on. I kissed him and told him how much I loved him and then Ryan and I headed into town, aiming for the Boise Greenbelt to finish our last few miles. I had roughly figured we’d earned enough elevation gain and loss in the mountains to equal Big Horn, so this was our final stretch where we just needed some flatter miles. The Big Horn finishes up on a very flat stretch of 5 miles of road, so this was as close as I could get for that.
It was about 6 miles of running, having to stop at stop lights, then finding our legs pretty locked up so we’d creak and shuffle across the crosswalk, laughing at how ridiculous we looked, only to repeat the whole business again a couple blocks later. Ryan and I were in good spirits in this section. Wayne kept waiting for us every mile or so with cold drinks and an encouraging word. It was wonderful having his help!
It was very, very hot by this point. We were really tired and I remember passing one home where the sprinklers were going. I shamelessly walked right through each and every one of them — loving the icy water yet almost immediately wanting to scream from the pain it brought from the chaffing of my inner thighs. Ouch! I’d been feeling blisters forming on the bottom of my feet and my toes for many hours. The bottom of my feet felt like someone had hit them over and over with a hammer. My brain was foggy. I was lethargic, tired, ready to be done. I was walking a lot. I remember looking at my Garmin and seeing that I was doing a 20 min/mile. I realized I still had about 11 miles to go and I almost started weeping thinking I’d have to keep going for 3 1/2 more hours. Ugh!
When Ryan and I finally got to the Greenbelt, I was relieved. 10 more miles. Right away I noticed a patch of soft-looking grass under a tree and flopped down and stretched out. Ryan did the same. Man, it felt good to stretch the back out, but I didn’t want to get up. Ryan said, “C’mon! We still have more running to do.” I groaned and got up, trying not to focus on all the footfalls I still had left before I’d reach 50 miles. Ryan pointed out that we were “crushing” the time goal. I wanted to finish in 15 hours – the same time cut off that Big Horn has and we were well on our way to coming in under that goal.
I think it was around mile 42 or 43 that we came across the flooded sections of the Greenbelt. We’d ran through two water crossings each time we’d done the mountain section (so, 6 times we’d submerged our feet as we forded the crossings) and here we found sections of the path covered in overflow from the Boise River, which runs parallel to the Greenbelt. My feet were so hot and I felt terrible, so this section really picked up my spirits. Ryan was ahead of me and at first was trying to pick and choose his steps across it, trying not to get his bright red running shoes wet again. I was ankle deep in freezing cold river water and yelled ahead, “Embrace it, Ryan! Just run through it! It feels great!” Within seconds, he was charging through, whooping and having a ball! “That’s the spirit!” I yelled.
My shoes felt pretty heavy after that, but I didn’t mind. The cold water had been refreshing. We kept going and going and going, slowly making our way down the Greenbelt. Ryan promised me somewhere in here that when we finished our 50 miles in Ann Morrison Park, that we’d both jump into the Boise River to celebrate! It sounded wonderful and I kept thinking about that, as we slowly went along, doing a whole lot more painful, slow walking than running at this point – just intent on getting to the 50 mile mark.
At some point in here, a couple of faster runners passed us, giving us a look like, “What the heck is wrong with you two?” We were shuffling like a couple of old ladies and most of these runners were probably out for their daily 3 miler. I’m sure they were thinking, especially after glancing at Ryan’s muscled calves, “Yeah, right, buddy! Pick up the pace!” We laughed about that. When we finally reached 45 miles, we turned around to head back the final 5 miles to the park where our spouses, Ryan’s kids and our friends, Randy and his wife, Patti were waiting to cheer us in. Knowing that they were there for us was a real mental boost. It really did feel like a race to me.
We encountered some dude doing speedwork about here. He ran at us, hard and fast, panting and puffing, then stopped right in front of Ryan and turned around to head the other way. Ryan looked at me and said, “That guy is taunting me!” I said, “Ok, bigshot! Go show him what you got!” I laughed as Ryan tried to pick up the pace and chase after the guy. I was actually pretty surprised when he did, in fact, get some knee lift in there and looked fast for about three seconds. Then he was done and shuffled back at me saying, “That’s all I had left.” We laughed. It was funny to feel so slow. We started making dumb jokes like, “This IS me sprinting right now” as we dragged our sorry selves across the pavement at a break-neck 17 – 25 min pace. Old ladies walking dogs, little kids on trikes – all passed us easily here. None of them knew what we’d been through or how long we’d been running or the mission I had before me. It was kind of funny.
At about mile 48, Wayne met up with us again. Ryan handed me over to Wayne for the final stretch and he ran ahead to the park to let the others know how close I was. I hugged Ryan and thanked him for helping me on my journey. As soon as Ryan was gone, I looked at Wayne and burst into tears. I moaned, “I’m soooooo tired. My feet hurt soooo much. I don’t like this. I never want to do it again. I just want to lay down, honey!” Wayne hugged me and chuckled at me. He’s seen me like this before – usually at the end of a marathon, when I’ve given all I have on the road and am reduced to a raw, empty emotional wreck. He was smiling, too, since he knew I was going to achieve my goal by that point. Even in my deranged state, I knew it too. I knew I was crushing my time goal – despite flopping onto the grass every half mile or so or leaning on my knees and just coming to a standstill over and over and over.
Somewhere in here, Wayne offered me that salted potato again. I finally took a few small bites. My brain new I was bonking hard and that some fuel would help, even though my stomach wanted nothing to do with anything to eat or drink. My stomach was so bloated from all the water that I looked a few months pregnant. I was sloshing and yucky feeling. But, I made myself eat just a bit for the final part of my journey.
We had to make some circles around the block, then headed back to the Greenbelt. Right when we hit 49 miles, we spotted our friends again. Noooo… I said to Wayne. We’re too soon! I feel bad! They were so encouraging, clapping and cheering and I had to shuffle along and say, “I’m so sorry. 1 more mile! Just 1 more mile.” and I kept going. Ryan and Wayne switched again and it helped having my “pacer” back by my side for the final mile of my journey. I turned on my music, blocked out everything else and slowly but surely started to find my stride again. We ran until I’d hit 1/2 mile out, then turned back towards the park and our waiting support crew. I locked my mind into race mode once more. I’d noticed my watch showing that I was nearly the 14 hour mark and I made it my goal to finish before the watch showed 14 hours. My goal had been 15 hours, so I was still ahead of what I’d set out to do and felt really confident that I was about to become a 50 mile runner no matter what! It was a great feeling! I cranked the pace once I hit .25 away and when I saw my husband and our friends I really laid it down and went into my final kick! My Garmin shows I hit about a 5:25 pace at the finish line! My Garmin battery died just as I hit 50 miles – in 13 hours and 57 minutes! I did it!!! I reached my goal! I proved something to myself out there! I redeemed myself from the Big Horn thwarted attempt! I hugged and kissed my husband and said, “I needed you so much out here today. Thank you for everything!” and Then I hugged Ryan and told him, “You were awesome to help me so much today! Thank you so much!”
Ryan took off running into the Boise River and dove in with a splash! We were all laughing – especially his four kids! Then he looked at me and said, “Come on!” Wayne helped me get off the Garmins and mp3 player and I started to take off my shoes and everyone said, “Don’t even bother! Just go in!” So I did. I walked right into that water and when I reached Ryan I pumped up my fists in the air in triumph and yelled, “We did it!” It was awesome!
Stats: 50 miles, baby! Time: 13:57. Pace: 16:45. Best pace: 5:25. Moving Time: 12:00 (wow, I stood still throughout the day nearly two hours – those flops on the grass, those aid station stops and those stop lights really added up!) Moving pace: 14:26. Ave HR: 132. Max Heart rate (the HIGHEST I’ve ever seen it by nearly 20 points!) was: 223. Elevation Gain: 4,977 feet. Elevation Loss: 9,180 feet. Fastest mile all day – mile 1 – 7:47.