Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Prairie Spirit 50 miler

I'm not sure where to start on this one.... I ran 50 miles at the Prairie Spirit 50 miler. It's a big deal, I suppose. I guess it was big enough of a deal that I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. But I want to get some stuff down before the rainbows and unicorns of a foggy memory and awesome pictures make it into something it wasn't. Because let me be very clear... I ran 50 miles and a lot of it was NOT pretty. But, I ran 50 miles, and that's kind of amazing. 

Maybe I should start with the night before the race. There was a pre race meal and David Horton would be speaking. If you don't know who David Horton is, stop here and google him. He's a legend in ultra running. As the weekend progressed we also discovered he's an excellent speaker, a great motivator, and he gives a great hug! We got to the venue, got some food, and settled in for some nervous chatter. Our table started out as a group of five that had made the trip from Indiana. 3 fifty mile runners and two very supportive crew members/ drivers of broken runners. We were later joined by two more Indiana folk. Eric Steele (race director) welcomed us all and went over the rules. I was an internal auditor for five years and I love me some rules. But there was something about Eric going over the rules and telling us that if he was informed that we broke a rule , he would let us finish and THEN let us know that we had been disqualified that freaked me out! All of the sudden I became terrified that I would accidentally do something to be DQ'ed. Would I ever cheat? No! But Eric is intense guy, and I don't want to cross him :) David Horton then gave an energetic and motivating speech about things to remember during the race. The two that came back to me during the race were:

1) this too shall pass
2) when someone asked how he got through his toughest races he said he was like a pit bull. He bit down and didn't let go.
I'll come back to those later.


I was up obscenely early, which was normal, had a pretty standard breakfast, got my stuff together and headed to the start to dump off my drop bags and you know, do the race and stuff... We nervously paced around, giggled, got our Garmins all linked up to satellites and then it was go time.
We were off. The first part of the race was a two mile out and back and then we would start the GIANT out and back. This would pay off at the turn around because we would be over half way when we got there. But for now, I had four miles to get through and the monumental task of trying to calm myself down. Thankfully I had the company of a best friend and partner in crime to keep me in line (no need to sprint, we got all day to get this thing done).
We shimmied along the starting out and back taking walk breaks when Christy's heart rate monitor told us we should. And before we had gotten to the first turn around we got some welcome whooping and high fives from our friend Ben that was in the lead. We hit the turn around at twoish miles and gave some quick jazz hands to the photographer as we headed out for the big out at back.
So how did I feel? I was a mess. I woke up feeling slightly dehydrated and spent the first two miles wondering if the quad pain that had been worrying me all week before the race was going to do me in. My left quad was grumbling loudly immediately, but I didn't say anything.... Hoping it would work itself out. Thankfully it did. But I had many other pains and aches to deal with as the day wore on....

I went into this race terrified. The distance seemed, well.... LONG. 50 miles? That's an annoyingly long drive! And it's hard not to look at your Garmin 4 miles in and think, 46 miles to go. It was going to be a long day. But I had a dear friend, a two liter Camelbak full of water and snacks, and a stubborn mind that had decided this was going to happen, and it was going to happen TODAY! 
We knew that a flat out and back course was going to be a challenge. A challenge on our muscles because they wouldn't have the variety of a hill to break things up. But more than that, it would be a challenge to our minds. How do you keep the brain interested on a flat no turn course? We had trained during a super cold super snowy winter. In a way, all the treadmill runs that I hated were good training in boredom. Was the course pretty? Yes! But after many hours it began to make you crazy. It's an old train track turned into a biking and running trail. It's tree lined and looks out over beautiful Kansas farmlands. At first it was beautiful, then it started to feel like those dreams where you were running to a door but you can never get there... a never ending hallway. On the outside, this race looks easy. Flat and fast, no surprises. But it adds a level of difficulty that you may not expect.
As we tried to settle into a comfortable race, we took in our first food at about six miles. I had broken the race down into 9 aid stations and roughly 8 "eats" (nutrition breaks). This made more sense than trying to take in the whole 50 miles to go "thing". I still couldn't settle my nerves and started to worry about how long this day would be. I kept thinking...
What am I doing?
This is going to take forever. 
Am I even equipped to handle this? 
Well, I told everyone I was going to do it, so I should at least get past ten miles...
My quad pain had let up but I was getting random new cramps and muscle tightness all over. Looking back, this was probably due to my pre hydrating fail, but it also did not help my race nerves that would not let up.
The first aid station was water only and unmanned. We cruised through it happily thinking, 8 aid stations to go! The next aid station gave us a potty break (with toilets and toilet paper, a luxury that we did not always have), a quick hello from Christy's husband who was crewing for her (and thankfully cheering for me too). And we were off. No need to fill up my Camelbak because two liters will last me plenty of time. Right? Right? Wrong.
At mile 13 I went to take a sip of water and got nothing. I checked my bite valve to see if I had locked it... Nope. I had drained a two liter Camelbak in thirteen miles. And the next aid station was five miles away. Crap. Christy kindly said I could drink from hers if I needed to, which was very generous (and also a life saver). I told her I'd be fine. And I made a plan in my head to ask her for a sip every half mile. Logically I knew I'd be fine for five miles, but it was near high noon and the temperature was around 60. 60 is beautiful and perfect in the spring.... But when you've only trained in one 60 degree day for the last four months? Your body hasn't quite acclimated to the warmer temp.  And did I mention the lack of shade in that section? This five miles gave me yet another reason to wonder, why did this seem like a good idea? Ever?
To break up this five mile panic attack and break down the miles, I started to run for .4 miles, walk for .1, ask Christy for a sip of Gatorade. Run, walk, sip... It passed the miles and gave us both something to focus on. I was so grateful to see the aid station and got my Camelbak filled to the brim with water. The volunteers were lovely. Asking to help and reminding me to take some electrolytes. We were off again, one unmanned aid station and 9ish miles to the turnaround. Onward!
As we ran down the endless hallway, I would sporadically asked Christy, "is that a thing up there? Is something different?" Every road crossing was a thing of interest because it looked different than the other things we had been staring at down the trail. The other thing I kept looking for was the fluorescent green shirt of our friend that we knew would be heading back towards us at any minute. This was made more and more frustrating by the runner that was in front of us wearing JUST enough green for me to constantly think it was Ben heading towards us. Soon enough it actually was Ben! He looked relaxed and stopped with us to have another runner take a picture of the three of us! Yeah, he was in the lead, but stopped for a photo op. This is a guy that had helped both Christy and I understand that we had the ability to even attempt a race like this. It was really cool to have him on the course.

After seeing Ben, I went back to trudging towards the turnaround. Every runner that passed us in their way back exchanged a "good work runner" and we gave them a "good job runner" and it took all I had to not cry every time someone passed. I wanted to be going towards done! But first I had to get to the turnaround. As we got closer I told Christy, "when we get to the turnaround, I need to listen to my music. I'm in a bad place and I have to do something DIFFERENT to get me out of it, because this isn't working." She had been struggling too and neither of us had been talking anyway. The closer we got to the turnaround, the more excited I got. Because when I was there, I just had to get going and I would be heading towards DONE! Everyone we saw on the way to the aid station kept telling us the same thing

I'm not a good eater when I run and tacos sounded so gross, but the other runners were so dang excited about it that you couldn't help but laugh a little. And we could use a laugh.
We finally got to the turn around, checked in, replenished food supplies, reapplied sunblock, and said hi to a few folks. It was bustling aid station and the energy was really nice. But I was excited to get back to work, so we took off again.... At a surprising pace. Before the aid station we didn't even have interest in running but now we were running some of our fastest miles. I think we were excited to finally be on the much anticipated BACK of the out and back course. This excitement wore off somewhere after 30 but we both had our headphones on and felt no pressure to entertain each other. 
Christy is a heck of a fast walker and every time it tried to walk with her I would cramp up. So, she would get ahead of me and then I would run some to catch up with her. By the time I would catch up to her, the running felt better than the cramped up walking so I'd keep going for half a mile or so. And the music I was listening to went excellent with my angry mind. I wanted this race to be done and I was going to finish it and I remember David Horton saying he just bit down like a pit bull and wouldn't let go. And I just took off running and wouldn't stop. Anytime a song would come on that might be too happy or uplifting I would skip it. In fact, it turns out all I wanted to listen to was Ice Cube's Predator album. Except for the song Today Was a Good Day, nope, that one was a little to chipper.

As I approached the next aid station at a run, I saw my husband and Ben had come to cheer us on as well. This was a blessing and a curse. I could pretend I was ok in front of Christy's husband, but I'm not as good at faking it in front of my own. But when I ran up to them Ben had his wife Steph on FaceTime to say hi which was a fantastic surprise! It snapped me out of my funk even if it was just for a minute. My husband asked how I was doing and I said "this is the stupidest hobby ever". The volunteers got a kick out of that, and that made me smile too. I grabbed my headlamp and headed out again.
The next aid station was six or seven long miles away and I pulled out every mind game I had to try to get through them. I counted, I tried to get angry, I tried not to cry, I tried to cry.... And then I started to feel sick. Like oh crap, this isn't right, sick. I had been vurping (you know, vomit burping?) more and more as the day went on, but I was now at the point that my burps were getting really watery and my guts weren't right... Oh crap, I realized I had probably been over hydrating. Big problem. I immediately stopped drinking and just started swishing water in my mouth and spitting it out if my mouth got too dry. I was peeing a ton (remember how I said toilet paper was a luxury?). So I figured I'd keep an eye on things and keep reassessing. 
I got to the aid station at Princeton fantasizing about telling my husband I wanted to quit. I knew he would let me if I cried hard enough, but I knew Ben wouldn't, so I gave up on that plan. I mean that aid station was seven miles from the finish. If I was going to DNF that would be a stupid time to do it. So instead of dropping, I decided to use the potty (WITH toilet paper WITH sitting), sit down and dump out all non essentials from my Camelbak and put my arm sleeves and gloves back on because the sun was setting. It was one last mental break before the final push.

Oh and I got to talk to Steph again on FaceTime. This is me probably telling her that everything is stupid. I said that a lot during this race.
Christy flew out of the aid station and I picked up my pace to catch her. It was good that she did because I was starting to get comfortable at the aid station. I jogged a little to catch her and she slowed her walking pace a bit and we started talking. She wasn't feeling great either. My water issues seemed to have leveled out, but I didn't feel like running. And neither of us wanted to be alone in the dark. So, with a sunset that we could both realize was beautiful, we decided to walk it in.

We were tired and struggling and up from behind us came David Horton on his bike. He had been riding the course all day and was trying to get back before dark. He stopped to ask us how we were doing and we mustered a smile and a mumble. And as he rode of he shouted back at us


Now how cool is that? When do you get a pep talk mid race from a legend in your sport? And really, I was on a trail with one of my best friends and we had less than 10 miles to go to finish one of the craziest things I've ever attempted.... When did this become my life?
We kept up a brisk walk and turned on our headlamps when the light finally faded. I'm not a good walker so my hip flexors were complaining. In fact, during the last ten miles they complained so loudly that I would involuntarily yelp (or curse), we would slow a bit and then get back to work. Even with the random yelping pain, this was my favorite part of the race. We knew we were in the home stretch and it was dark enough that I couldn't see that never ending trail in front of us. Just keep walking until someone gives you a buckle.... Just keep walking. 

We could see the final corner to turn to the finish chute and the 100 mile winner came blasting by us but was sweet enough to tell us good job. We shouted for him and heard his finish. And before we knew it, we were finishing too! I was smiling my face off! Happy to DONE! Happy to have my friend with me the whole way. Happy to hug my husband. And happy to tell Ben  this was all his fault. Eric came running at us and gave us both a huge hug and our finisher buckles.

We shuffled inside to get some food most importantly SIT! Before we sat down we grabbed David Horton for a photo op and he gave us a hug and reveled in our shared sigh at being done. If you've heard of him and heard he was a great guy, believe it.

I'm sure that as the days wear on I'll romanticize this race day into some magical super fun thing. In a few months, David Horton will be riding a unicorn as he tells us this too shall pass, and I'll forget all about the pain and the tears and the frustration. But those were what my race really was. It was hard. And I had more not fun than I had fun. I think it would have been a bad day for a ten mile run, instead I did 50. And I'm damn proud of that. Could I have done it that day without Christy? No. Even though we weren't talking to each other every step of the way, I felt better having her there. I kept myself together because she was there. 
So am I glad I did it? You bet. It was a heck of an experience and I have so much to learn from it. The Epic Ultra crew and Eric Steele put on a great event. Am I going to do another fifty miler?
For now, I'll do some relaxed running, enjoy having toilet paper, and take some time to take it in. When I turned my phone off airplane mode after the race I was overwhelmed by the social media support and cheers from friends. My running community is amazing and I was (and continue to be) touched that any of them even knew what I was up to. It was a big day. And I'm so grateful I got to share it with people I care about.
Read Christy's post race blog here:
Find out more about the Prairie Spirit 50/100 miler here:


  1. YAAAAAY!! Congrats. That sounded terrible...y awesome ;)

    1. terrible...y awesome just about sums it up. Definitely an adventure.

  2. CONGRATS!! I teared up reading your post, so happy for you! My goal is to run a 50-miler before I turn 30... but secretly I hope to do it next fall right away I turn 29. I've got my eye on this race since you said the cut off time was really liberal and that is something I will most definitely need!

    I've heard awesome things about Tim and I'm jealous that you got support from him during the race! How freakin cool is that?!!!!!!

    1. It's a great race put on by a great goup of people. But man that course is tougher than you think!

  3. Great report! You and Christy rocked it out there!!! It's hard to explain to someone how difficult it is to look down that tunnel of trail and trees for so many hours...

    1. That trail made for a VERY long day.

  4. Really enjoyed reading this report! Great job!

  5. Though I experianced the very same thing and thoughts, David's speech set it up to know about it in advance. Great review and Finish. I appreciate the time on the Trail with you ladies! Congrats on your finish!

  6. Just now reading this. It's amazing.
    I'm so proud of you all.