So, here we were four months later driving to Hell, Michigan. I was trained, in good shape, surrounded by friends (that came to run AND came to cheer) and I was ready for adventure. This race did not disappoint!
Race day started normally enough. People showered; got themselves race ready and we exited our room right on time. Win! We were greeted by Sleeping Party Boy. While we were laying out all our goodies for race day the night before I had heard some noise outside our room, I would have to assume that this guy might have had a little too much fun at the party. He was passed out on a chair in a lounge area still wearing his shiny suit vest and dress pants. His friends were even thoughtful enough to throw a blanket over him. Good or bad race day omen? I have no idea. But at the very least it was a funny way to get the day started.
After a 35 minute drive on curvy unlit roads, we arrived at the start. As the parking attendant flagged our car in, he told us “the port-o-potties were knocked over last night…. So do what you gotta do”. We had no idea what that meant but we were thankful our car was directed towards a parking spot that was 30 feet away from a port-a-potty that was not knocked over. We “did what we had to do” and relaxed in the car for a bit. At about 5 minutes til start we headed towards the starting line to hear the speakers saying the race would start in ONE MINUTE! Yikes! Quick warm up run to the starting line and then we were off!
The race started at 6:15 which meant DARK. We all started out with headlamps. Had I practiced with my headlamp? Nope, not at all. I wear one in the winter so, I figured it will only be an hour or so, what could go wrong? Oh, I know… I freaking HATE WEARING A HEADLAMP! Ugh, mine is uncomfortable and makes my head hot and it kept sliding all over the place. And then I tried to tighten it and the buckle came undone. Oh for pete’s sake. This was not working the way I planned. Aside from wanting to throw my headlamp into the abyss and counting the seconds until it was light enough to pack it away…. I did notice that it was kind of cool to be running in the dark with only little reflective lights to show you the way. Well, it was cool until I thought, “oh my god, there’s no one behind me. I’m already the very last person in the race and it’s dark and I hate this 75 pound headlamp and THIS IS THE DUMBEST THING I’VE EVER DONE!” To be fair, about two miles into every race I run, I almost always wonder why I do this crap because it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. This is a pretty standard thought process for me, headlamp or not.
Dawn finally broke and I was able to stow my stupid headlamp and settle in. The cool thing was that I had already stumbled through almost five miles before daylight even happened. The not cool thing was the cool but humid weather that the previous night’s rain had brought and the hot headlamp sweats I was having were causing me to burn though my salt pills at lightning speed to try to avoid cramping. When the sun was finally up I grabbed another salt pill and saw that I was already down to four. CRAP! I decided on a rationing plan hoping that the humidity would drop a bit (it did) and my body would level out (it did). My stash was also refilled when my husband (who had taken a wrong turn due to some missing flags) came up from behind me! He’s a faster runner than me so it was a surreal moment when I heard him shouting my name from behind. Thankfully his head was in a good place and he was enjoying himself. AND thankfully he had not used a million salt pills in the first nine miles of the race so we traded salt pills and he zipped ahead with the other “got lost boys”.
It might have been somewhere around this point that I was trotting down the trail and noticed a one person camouflaged dome tent on my right. And it was that point that I realized I was not close to any other runners. And it was that point that I sped up…. A lot.
Two of our friends and their adorable pup Toby had come to the race for cheering and general merriment and we had no idea where they would be on the course. This adds a whole new level of fun. Every dog bark had me wondering…. Is that Toby? Nope, just some dog that wants to eat my face off as I tromp through the woods…Is that Toby? Nope, just some unseen death dog out to get me. When I finally did see my friends and Toby I, of course kept my cool and started screaming Toby’s name at the top of my lungs. Always keeping my cool…..but not at all…..
I left friends and pup and started on what would be a big loop. Follow the blue flags up and the pink flags back.... got it. On the way out I saw my friend that was running the race and shouted things to him. He looked strong and was smiling, so that was encouraging. I settled in to a groove and got moving, following the pink flags. Eventually I caught up with another runner. As I eventually passed her I asked if she was ok and she said yes. The funny thing is.... this is something that happened a few times. As a lifelong back of the packer, I just assume that if I am passing someone, they are having some kind of catastrophic breakdown. Or maybe, I've just become a stronger runner and am not used to giving myself any credit. Anywho...
I knew there was a big hill coming up that was refered to as the stripper pole. I had seen a You Tube video of it and it was not encouraging. As I was running with a gal, I found out she had run the race last year. I then proceeded to ask her, "is this the stripper pole" on a steep incline. Nope, she said I would know when I saw it. I did. I believe I stopped in my tracks and said, "holy sh!t". I yelled back to her that yeah, I get it now.
At some point after that we hit our first water crossing which felt amazing. I took my time and enjoyed it. Too my right, there was a guy sitting in the water cooling off. A gal next to me told him, "you know there's a chemical in the water that turns blue when you pee in it". He shouted back, " I ALREADY DID". These people are great. Nobody is taking this too seriously which means 100% more FUN!
The first water crossing was chump change compared to the hike down the river. I had a fella in front of me that allowed me to see where the water got deep and various hazards to avoid.
When we came to our exit point we were greeted by Satan as we climbed up the hill and out of the water. Seriously? This is fantastic!
Around mile 20ish I started having a heated discussion with myself:
Why would I ever want to run a 50 mile race? That's the dumbest idea ever.
Sure, my legs feel fine, but my feet HURT!
And then... the question that always pops up around mile 20
Yep, Hokas. When I'm running a 4 mile run Hokas look like weird Kiss style platform shoes that I would never consider in a million years....
I crossed a road and realized I was heading back to the start.... wait a minute. I'm gonna be really short on mileage. Wait, there's all my friends! Why is Steph running at me? Oh my lord she's holding a giant fat head of me! That's the most horrifying/awesome thing I've ever seen! Honestly, friends that come to the race just to cheer for you are great. Friends that come to the race and make giant fat heads of you are friends that you keep FOREVER!
As I ran past my friends laughing about the giant heads I asked them where I go. They said, “just follow the flags”! And the flags took me right to the finish line… My Garmin said I was short on mileage, but it the flags lead you into the shoot…. I guess you’re DONE! When I crossed the finish line I was told that I was fourth in my age group and I got a pint glass for my MAJOR AWARD (which I promptly filled with beer).
It ended up being a great race for me for quite a few reasons. I haven’t run a trail race of the marathon distance or longer on my own and that ended up being quite an experiment. Without anyone to push my pace or cry to, I had to depend on myself and made of conversations with other people in my head to keep things moving forward. Sure, that might look crazy when I type it out, but it made total sense during the race. I’m in better shape and could tell that I have improved from when I started slogging around with heart rate training. WIN!
The distance wasn’t what I had expected, which was initially disappointing. But then I thought more about it. Why did I sign up for this race?
Who needs a couple of extra miles when you have a whole boatload of awesome and a giant fat head of yourself? Total WIN!