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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Call me UltraNey

I'll start at the beginning.  The night before the race I was a bundle of nerves.  I finally thought I'd figured it all out when I did a last minute weather check that revealed it was snowing on the island and would continue to do so throughout the whole of race day.  Let me take a moment to say that The Weather Channel can put their weather report where the sun doesn't shine because they were 100% WRONG!  Of course, I wouldn't find this out until I got to the island the next day.  But I digress.  I steeled myself for a long hard day in the snow.  Something I did many times this winter, but just really didn't want to do on race day.  I finally went to bed at 11:30 and slept all of four and a half hours, not consecutively might I add.  I was awake for the day by 4:30am.  

When I got up I did my usual pre long run routine.  Hot tea, a banana and gearing up.  Then there was the matter of scraping 4" of snow off the car.  It was dumping!  I was very excited, but I won't lie.  I was very nervous about the horrific snowstorm that was going on outside. I headed out just before 6am.  By the time I got to Layton it wasn't snowing any more and when I headed out onto the causeway and the sun was coming up it was like a miracle!  The sky was BLUE!  There were only a few clouds.  It wasn't snowing!  I did a happy hoot and made a quick call to Katherine to let her know the wonderful news.  She was thrilled! We wished each other luck and hung up.  I parked the car and headed into the very cold morning.  It was bitter cold and windy.  There was a wonderful warm tent set up and I went inside and chatted with a few other racers.  I also saw a few people I know from the training runs I've done on the island.  Lindsay and Jeremy, who I have run with before and are ultrarunning veterans, were both particularly encouraging.  

It wasn't long before it was 8am and time to go.  The crowd wasn't huge, and I was quickly at the back of the pack.  I was hell bent on going my own pace and walked much of the first two uphill miles.  It was quite cold at first and my face was numb, but it wasn't long before I warmed up and felt just right.  The first loop was very exciting.  There were 100 mile runners and their pacers coming in as we 50k runners were heading out.  What an uplifting thing to see these folks that are finishing something that most of us can never even fathom doing!  A quick hello to the pairs of racers and their pacers let you know immediately which was which.  The pacers would give a thumbs up and a "good job," and the runners would give a primal grunt without even moving their faces.  They just ran nearly 100 miles, it's no wonder!  Then, it wasn't long before the 25k started and many of them started to pass by.  The amazing thing is, all but a few of the runners who passed me going either way all gave words of encouragement or thumbs up.  It was a very friendly and positive crowd.  For the entire first loop there were many people running along near me and people passing the other way.  I felt great and ran with a smile feeling very confidant.  At one point there was a group of buffalo a little close to the trail for my liking, but they didn't seem to even notice the runners and so I plugged forward and just pretended they weren't there.  

At each of the aid stations the volunteers were wonderful.  We were to check in, having a volunteer write our race number down at each aid station so they knew where to look for us if we never showed up!  When I got to the halfway point back at the start/finish area Lindsay was volunteering and she was wonderful.  She filled my water pack, asked if I'd been eating and was very encouraging!  This was a great boost of energy and I headed out on loop two feeling confidant that I could do it!  It was now getting a lot quieter on the race course.  There were a few runners ahead of me and I suspected, but couldn't see any runners behind me.  One couple and I passed each other a few times and joked we were playing tag. Around mile 19 I started hurting physically, but not too bad.  The uphills were feeling harder this loop.  I was getting sunburned because I thought it was going to be snowing all day and didn't put sunblock on.  My nose was getting chapped from blowing my nose so much.  Small things can make a huge difference in this situation.  

Then I went dark.  From miles 7-10.5 and then again at miles 23-26.5 there is a huge climb.  I walked both times, but the second time was brutal.  I had been out there for about five and a half hours and I was hurting mentally and physically.  It started when a couple on horseback came up behind me and the woman rider started asking me questions. (Disclaimer: had this very nice woman wanted to chat with me at any other time during the course of my race I would have welcomed the company, however I was not in a friendly place when she came upon me)  "Have you run this before?" "How long was your longest training run?"  "Have you done a lot of marathons?" On and on.  I was growing increasingly agitated with her and tried dropping hints, "I've been out here for over five and a half hours, I'm not really with it."  She didn't catch on and proceeded to tell me, "Well at least you'll finish strong."  That was the most absurd thing I had ever heard.  I silently cursed her and after she told me all about how she ran a marathon but she had bad knees and now just rode horses instead I vowed that if she said anything else I would try as politely as possible to tell her I didn't want to talk any more.  Luckily she and the other rider dropped back and I never saw them again.  

This is when I plummeted into despair.  I could see a few runners far in the distance ahead of me, and a few behind and then suddenly, no one.  I was alone.  I cursed myself.  I muttered at how stupid that woman had been "at least you'll finish strong."  Then a runner passed me.  She was running up this climb!  I would never finish.  At this pace it would take me eight hours to finish.  I couldn't continue that long!  I contemplated sitting in the dirt and crying. I did cry a little. I swore I'd never run a 50k again, or a marathon.  Hell, maybe I'd quit running all together.  What was I doing out here?  I was killing myself.  Why? How on earth was this possibly a good idea?  My stomach writhed.  I had horrible gas and my mouth was parched, despite drinking often.  My hands were swollen.  I was so queasy I thought I would throw up.  I forced myself to keep eating, though not as often as I should.  Then, I saw it!  The aid station.  It was coming.  People!  I would get encouragement and maybe something different to eat.  This lifted me a little.  I kept telling myself to just keep moving as fast as I could.  Then the aid station disappeared.  It was farther than I thought.  I knew it was there though, and was able to start running as there were now some flats.  When I came around the bend and the aid station was in front of me I thought, "I will tell them I need a pep talk."  

I walked up and the friendly volunteer, and he asked what he could get me. The volunteer writing down race numbers walked up with a smile and I looked at them and said I needed ginger ale and a pep talk.  They encouraged me.  They reminded me that I was doing it!  Only five and a half miles to go, and mostly downhill.  I headed out of that aid station a new person.  The ginger ale did the trick.  My stomach felt better and I felt renewed.  A song came on my mp3 player, "everything is alright, yeah, everything is alright.  Don't know why, but everything is alright, yeah." And it was alright.  I was alright!  I was going to make it!  I thought of my friend Rachel who had suggested that song for running and about her calling to encourage me before the race.  I was able to run now.  There were flats and downhills.  I knew I could do it.  There was only one hill of any significance left.  I ran as much of it as I could and walked when I needed to.  I realized I was coughing and used my inhaler.  That helped.  

After I made it up the hill there were other runners in sight again.  It's amazing how encouraging it is simply to know you're not alone out there.  This was it.  The last push.  With only a 5k left, I dug down and picked up the pace.  I had to pee, but I had already visited three different rocks so far and wasn't sure my stomach wouldn't expel it's contents if I stopped.  I tried to name all the people who encouraged me.  I thought of Dean Karnazes,  whose book inspired me to want to run this race. I was nearly there.  The soft dirt underfoot felt good.  Then a runner passed me.  I was discouraged at first, but then she stayed right in front of me. She offered to move if I needed to pass, but instead we ended up running together.  We introduced ourselves.  Her name was Katie and she told me her stomach was giving her trouble as well.  She was hurting as badly as I was and I think also welcomed the company.  It's amazing how much of a moral booster running with someone can be.  We were in the final push.  We came around the bend and there it was!  The finish was in sight.  One foot in front of the other, miraculously, I finally found myself rounding the bend at the fence toward the finish line.  

Then I saw my family.  I saw Lila and Kurtis first.  I saw my mom waving her arms. I could hear Meghan and Rob cheering.  I waved at them and smiled.  Lila ran up to me and took my hand and we ran together.  Then Kurtis joined me.  Then Jeff came and gave me a high five, he brought me flowers.  Clarissa took my other hand and we all ran together to the finish.  Crossing the finish line was euphoric.  Running together with Jeff and my kids to the finish was one of the most amazing things ever!  I had done it!  Katie put her hand up and we gave a high five and congratulated and thanked one another.  Lindsay and her husband, Ryan, were there congratulating me.  Lindsay had bought me a gluten free beer!  Other people I didn't know were congratulating me as well.  I was so happy to be done.  Happy that I made it.

The girls were cold, so we headed into the tent.  I laid in the cool dirt.  It felt good.  I ate and drank.  I grinned.  The girls kept hugging me and Lila kept telling me that she was proud of me.  I finally got to pee.  My stomach was a bit upset with me, but not too bad.  We hung out a little bit and headed home.  

Running this race was the hardest and most rewarding thing I've ever done.  It was amazing.  It was brutal.  It was magnificent.  And I did it!  Today I'm sore, but not too bad.  Plus, I'm still grinning.  

Race results are in!  You can check them out here http://strideracing.com/2013/march/buffalorun.html by looking at the 50k results by overall, gender or age position.  I wasn't last!  15 out of 17 in my age group.  41 out of 49 women and 137 out of 156 overall. You might wonder why I'm so happy about my placement, but honestly I'm just glad I wasn't last!  My official chip time was 7:36:06, a 14:02 pace!

Race nails.  I had to do something to pass the time the day before the race!
Running to the finish with my family.  Thanks to Meghan and Rob for taking these pictures.


Now I can say that I am an ultramarathon runner.  I did it.  Did I love it?  Yes. Will I do it again?  It seems likely, doesn't it?

12 comments:

  1. Great Job!!I wish I had the power to do it,but I am no runner,I just signed up for the color run and aleady am like..what...did..I ...just...do?Still pressed that pay now button though :)

    Teresa !

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    1. Thanks! That will be super fun! Enjoy!!

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  2. The body can take extreme physical punishment and you have proved it. Completing this took more than physical toughness it takes extreme mental toughness. Mental toughness comes from within and I do not believe it can be taught.
    You either have it or you do not, but it must be dug out, willed out and forced out of your being. Watching you come in to the finish was amazing.

    I bow to you and I love you Renee.

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    1. Thank you Jeff. Having your support through all of this has been so important to me. Thank you for being there to help me cross the finish! I love you too!

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    2. Jeff, where were you when Rob finished his Ironman? All I could come up with was, "good job."

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    3. Shall I have Jeff write you a speech for his next Ironman?

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  3. You are AMAZING!! Plus you make me both want to try an ultra AND stay far far away from them.

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    1. Thank you Meghan! Thanks for being such a wonderful training partner! I'll rope you into an ultra one day...

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  4. congrats. . .sounds like an amazing experience and YOU DID IT!!

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    1. thanks friend! I guess I'll have to do it again so you can come next time ;)

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  5. What an AWESOME accomplishment, Renee! I love reading about how you got through your despair. Seems like there are life lessons in there as well as running lessons.

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    1. Thanks! Actually, I keep replaying that lowest time over I'm my head. It was the most powerful time. It was then that I found out what I'm made of.

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