This is the last in a series of posts about my training for and running the Siskiyou Outback 50K.
Other posts include:
My friend Julie at work had been telling me for years that I should run an ultra. “The 50K is ONLY 6 more miles longer than the marathon.” she’d say. Yeah, well, if you’re like most people who finish a marathon, you can’t, won’t or wouldn’t even want to add 6 miles to the 26.2 you just ran. I remember after my first, I felt lucky to be able to walk to the porta-potty after I crossed the finish line. But then again, when I first started running I remember reading in a women’s running book that once you get hooked on running, you won’t be able to resist the marathon. Resist? Just watch me, I thought. There’s no way I’m doing 26 miles in a row – ha! And then I found myself doing several 26.2 mile TRAINING runs in preparation for my first ultra, the Siskiyou Outback, fondly called the S.O.B.
I finished the 50K in tears. Not because of pain although there was plenty of that surging through my body and not because I didn’t make my time goal (cuz I really didn’t have one), but because it was one of the deepest personal experiences I’ve been through. I have been putting off writing about it because I kept thinking that written words would not give justice to the beauty I saw, the depth I dug to continue the relentless forward motion and the euphoria I felt at the finish.
I trained hard for this race, running many hilly miles on the trails of Mt. Pisgah and Ridgeline in Eugene, upping my weekly mileage, trying to keep speedwork in the plan and resting when I felt an injury looming. As much as I thought I was ready to tackle the distance, here are some things I didn’t plan on:
1. While I knew the aid stations were going to be filled with yummy food, I had no idea they were going to have watermelon and cantaloupe and how much of it I could eat! By the last station, I was running with both my hands full of fruit, sucking down the sugar water like a giant bee, slurping and spitting out seeds along the way.
2. While I knew there’d be folks to help at the stations, I had no idea they became your personal servants. At each station, I had someone come up to me personally and ask me what I needed. Me? Are you talking to just me? They ran to open the porta-potty that was accidentally locked. They brought me a chair and a scissor so I could sit down to cut moleskin and patch a blister. They filled my hydration bladder with snow along with water (it reached 86 degrees that day) They shot me with giant water guns full of fantastically cold water, they wrung sponges over my head, they kept me entertained with wigs, funny glasses, tutus and a bluegrass band.
3. While I knew it would be pretty, I had no idea that this forested course in Southern Oregon held views of some of the most beautiful country I’ve seen. I have skied all over Europe, been to botanical gardens in Korea and walked the gorgeous beaches of the Indian Ocean in South Africa, but this! This was heaven.
4. While I knew the course covered 31 miles filled with 4,200 feet elevation gain, I had no idea what a 4-mile long solid, steep climb felt like and that I could do it without stopping.
5. While I knew the race would be really hard and several panic attacks washed over me during the 48 hours prior to the start, I had no idea how calm I could be in executing my plan. I wrote the locations, in miles, of each of the aid stations along my left arm with a Sharpie, and planned to eat what I could at each of them. I took a Gu every 4.5 miles, no matter how close I was to an aid station. I took three draws off my hydration pack every single mile. I took a salt tab every hour on the half hour. All the timing went perfectly and it gave my brain something to do. I never felt hungry, thirsty and, miraculously, never bonked as I had done in the marathon distance.
6. While I knew trail runners seemed like a different, more encouraging and friendly breed, I had no idea that each runner I passed or that passed me would offer words of encouragement. Every. Single. One. Even the front-runners. I was humbled.
7. While I knew I would probably need my iPod, I had no idea how much I didn’t want to listen to music. I didn’t need distraction. Instead, I let my mind, body and spirit feel it all. When my quads screamed at me for taking them up another hill or when my feet felt like they would explode as I pounded them on the downhills, I let myself explore it, feel it, embrace it. I knew it was all part of the experience and I didn’t want to miss anything.
So, at the finish line, when the volunteers put the medal around my neck and handed me a delicious 22 ounce IPA while my bestest runner girlfriends threw their arms around me, I just cried. There was much more life packed in those 6 extra miles than I can tell you in this blog post.
When I went to work a few days after the race, I thanked Julie. “For what?” she said. “For telling me to do thing I thought I couldn’t do. For the extra miles.”