I have gone from the couch to running a 50K in less than a year. Yes, indeed, you read that right. It is still hard for me to believe. Let's take a look back at the beginning. Just under a year ago, I had had enough. Enough of feeling tired, soft, mushy and fat. I had let myself go, not out of laziness, but because of lack of goal and improper prioritizing. I wasn't doing anything for myself. I missed running and I missed feeling fit. In July of '09, I began the Couch-to-5K program. I loved it. Then my friend Kathy stated her dream of running a marathon to me. The two of us joined a half-marathon running clinic at The Running Room. We were very dedicated to our training throughout the winter months. In March '10, we ran a half-marathon. At the end of March, a 30K. In May, I ran my second (1st being '92) and Kathy ran her first full marathon. We are training for another full which we will run in September, and have a couple of half's and 30's scattered throughout the summer. This past weekend, on Saturday June 19, I ran my first (and it won't be my last) ULTRA Marathon! I ran a 50K race. In less than a year's time, I went from not being able to run 50 seconds, to running over 6 hours and 50K! I still find it mind-boggling.
The route followed the Niagara Recreation Trail with the gorge of one side and the vineyards on the other. It was a beautiful route with our half-way turn-around being at the famous Horseshoe Falls of Niagara. My friend Cindy and I started out together with the intent to move at a slow and controlled pace and enjoy ourselves. We had our head's wrapped around the fact that we would be spending the greater part of our day out there running. But Cindy felt crappy. She had a cold coming on and was suffering a sore throat, sinus congestion and drained energy. I tried to keep her feeling uplifted, but just past the half-marathon turn-around, she urged me onwards as she really was not feeling confident she could finish.
I reluctantly headed out on my own. Kathy lent me her iPod, thankfully, as it would have been a long and lonely time in my own head. I have never run with one before. I have since purchased my first MP3 player.
My game plan was to run 15 minutes, walk 2 minutes and to not rush through aid stations -- take advantage of each one. Being an ultra, they were set-up every 5 K's, so you had to be prepared. The day was slated to be steamy hot, so I had a lot of electrolytes, gels and water on me and restocking at the aid stations was essential. I loved the 15:2 ratio, it allowed be to get into a running rhythm and enjoy it for a while, and the two minute rest allowed me to take in a decent amount of water or electrolytes and really rest the legs.
At one point, however, I got pulled off my game. I caught up to a RR teammate who was running 8 minutes: walking 50 seconds. She swore by her method, so I went along for a time, but found it too choppy. She was struggling, so I went back to my game-plan and edged ahead. There comes a point in a marathon or an ultra, that you have do your thing. I was by no means out to set any records. I was slow...slow...but steady and just had to keep moving forward. that was basically my mantra for this race...KEEP MOVING FORWARD.
What a surreal point in the race to run PAST the full marathon half-way point. I can't really say I was happy, but I was excited. Given the option, I would not have turned around. I was there to run the 50. What a reward the 50K runners received at our half-way turn-around -- the Horseshoe Falls of Niagara. Sure, dodging the tourists, when agility is not quite your forte after running 25K's was tough. But the mist off the Falls and the scenery was priceless. Another surreal moment was at the 30K mark, when I said to myself, "Yeah only 20K's to go", I mean who says that, really?
I firmly believe that in any race experience, we will meet our running angel, be it a fellow runner who says what you need to hear when you need to hear it, or a spectator on the sideline who thanks you for running for their cause. I once had a Golden retriever join me on a trail run for about 5k and then he turned back for home. Well, on this day, at the Falls I saw a malamute. I ran over to the couple walking him and asked if I could steal a hug and he proceeded to lick the salt off my face. I mentioned I had 15 at home. They asked if I showed and bred. I said yes, asked where they got him and it turned out to be from a friend of mine in Michigan. I came across them again after the turn-around and a ways back up the trail where they had driven to have a picnic lunch. My encounters with Cooper-the-mal made my day. Another nice surprise at the Falls and the turn-around? CINDY!!! What a girl, she kept on moving, caught up to Tracy and they supported each other through to the end.
As beautiful as the course was, it was not without it's challenges. On the outbound route, we ran uphill for about 10K followed by and equally long descent. After the turn-around, we had to climb again until we had 10 K left to go and then it is winding trail through the park system on a trail with a very awkward camber. Owee, said my ankle. And the heat -- it was hot. I was smart with my pace, water, electrolytes and gels, sunscreen, sun visor and shades and therefore, oddly enough, did not feel overwhelmed by the heat. Normally I am. We were very lucky to have cloud cover for much of our race, in addition to a fairly strong headwind on the way out, which became the blessed wind-at-our-back on the way home.
That final 10K? That was hard. That was where fatigue had set-in and the iPod and the mantra KEEP MOVING FORWARD became essentials. People were struggling on the route. I maintained pace as best I could, kept up with my 15's and 2's and started to pick people off. It becomes a game at this point: that guy in the red up there, I am going to pass him by the end of this 15 minute run. That sort of thing.
I lost my way with 1K to go as I missed a turn. A man reeled me back in and set me straight, but I managed to tack on a 0.2K bonus distance that I really did not need. The last 800 meters is on grass and it was at that moment when I heard my friend Joan, who had run the half, jump up and yell "There's Jen!" I have said it before, and I will say it again, there is nothing like the Barrie Running Room gang: supportive, enthusiastic -- simply AWESOME!
I felt euphoric as I crossed the line. Where's the beer and pizza, was all I could think. That was what they were providing at the finish line (along with the obligatory Gatorade and water) and I think I had started fantasizing about beer and pizza an hour earlier.
The rest of the day was devoted to eating carte blanche, though it is hard to shake the good eating habits. I ordered a freakin' grilled vegetable sandwich on multi-grain with hummus. Seriously. Then when we went for ice cream, we opted for mixed berry frozen yogurt. I kid you not. Finally, when my blood sugar bottomed out while Cindy was browsing souveniers at Niagara-on-the-Lake, I buckled and got myself a caramel apple with smarties sprinkled on top. That's more like it, albeit, I shared it with Joan.
Funny enough, none of us were that sore. I think the slower pace and longer duration helped our bodies to process and rid the lactic acid from our systems. The next morning I felt like I could run again, so I headed out with Kathy to our Sunday group run. We had a 16K scheduled, of which I ran five. My ankle was acting up and five was enough to help loosen things up again.
Would I run another 50K race. In a heartbeat. I will definitely run that race again.