3:30am my alarm went off although I had been up and down all night, nervous. My running partner John met me at my house at 3:55am and we were off. We made it to the Croom 50 course with enough time to pick up our packets and use the restroom before getting to the start line just as the race director yelled, “go!”
I was quiet before the race. I was scared to jinx anything or to realize out loud what we were about to attempt.
The race included a 5 mile loop followed by three laps of the main 15 mile loop to total 50 miles on trails. We began at 6:00am in the dark, keeping high knees with the exposed roots and soft sand, struggling to see in front of us with the dim headlamps of the group. I didn’t bring a light so I followed closely behind John trying to mimic his steps. I held my breath most of the first lap before sunrise, scared of falling and deep in concentration.
The race really started when we began the main 15 mile lap. By this time the 50k and 16 mile runners has started so a large group of us settled into a nice pace, running single file and holding on to conversations throughout the pack. I love the characters who keep up the momentum by being silly, like getting everyone to sing all the wheels on the bus… and loudly yelling “LOG!” at the most obvious trees across the path. I love running in groups and appreciate zoning out watching the shoes of the person in front of me and taking a break from looking from course markers for a while.
We ran most of the first lap with different parts of that group before making it to the finish area where we’d begin our second lap, or the real meat of the race in my mind. I figured the first section we just pushed through, knowing it was too early to even think of the finish. The second lap would bring us to 35 miles and, if finished strong, would allow us to take it easier on the last lap knowing the finish line was close.
The hardest part of the race came at mile 16 for me. This is when it feels hard during a marathon and the same held true for the 50. My legs were hurting and it was really hard to stay focused and not feel overwhelmed.
Stay in the moment.
Luckily, right before my race my (uncle? uncle-in-law? Richard’s uncle.) Matt gave me one bit of advice: stay in the moment. He told me to not think about the race as a whole but to focus on running and how I felt at each moment. Ladies and gentlemen, I feel like I discovered the key to races of all distances and speeds. By focusing on each moment, I avoided ever feeling like I was running 50 miles. Rather, it was a bunch of small moments that added up to a beautiful day in the trails that added up to a fifty mile ultra. I was so focused that it was almost a really intense meditation.
I make no apologies and no excuses, but my goodness did we spend a lot of time at the aid stations. There were three along the course and one at the finish area so 12 in total. We loved talking to the runners and station volunteers… and eating. We spent 5-10 minutes at each station which is huge considering how many stations there were!
I have an unbelievably sensitive racing belly. It has flat out ruined races for me so I put things in my mouth during a race with great caution (TWSS). For example, I don’t take in a single calorie during a regular marathon. It’s just easier than being in pain while running. On my last race I ate some M&M’s and discovered that they gave me energy… and didn’t hurt my stomach at all! At each aid station I ate M&M’s, drank water and took two salt pills. We didn’t carry any water of food which was okay except mile 41-43 where the next aid station seemed like it was never going to come.
We significantly slowed down the last 9 miles and eventually walked most of the last three. We needed water and food and the last part of the lap was so much uphill. I think if we didn’t slow down and get so discouraged waiting for the aid station around mile 43 we could have kept going at a faster pace. Before the third lap I literally said, “John, we’d have to try so hard to get 11 hours or more.” And… we went over 11 hours.
We crossed the finish line around 11 hours 23 minutes and were just so happy that we did it! I remember stumbling over to the water cooler and trying to find a cup to get myself some water. Instead I got frustrated and couldn’t stand anymore so I laid down in the leaves and dirt in front of the water cooler. I guess I was a bit delirious
I have to give a huge shout out to the Croom 50 and Tampa Races race director and crew. This is the most welcoming, best organized race that really takes care of their runners. Every volunteer is so accommodating and friendly and I’ve never seen them out of anything. Thank you!
Thank you to everyone who didn’t give up on me and this crazy goal. Your readership, tweets, comments and messages helped carry me along the trail.
The thought that I would never again have to run 50 miles after this race really helped propel me to the finish line. Even the moment after we crossed, I vividly exclaimed the words, “never again!” Although yesterday I blurted out that I could imagine doing another, especially for a better time. And today I actually said I want to do another.
Maybe it was how hard I focused on staying in the moment or maybe my mind is blocking the horror that can be 50 miles, but I only remember the good parts- the people I met, the beautiful trail and the feeling of finally crossing that finish line. It was a great day that I wouldn’t mind repeating.