I got a text message from my sister at 3:30 pm on Friday the 22nd, a day and a half before the Pineland Farms 50k trail race. It had four words, “Deidre. No, no 50k.”
To which I responded, “Yes, yes.”
I’d been going back and forth between signing up for the Pineland Farms 25k and 50k. At the last minute, sometime on Friday morning between my Optometry Clinic and Ocular Biochem class, I bit the bullet and committed to the 50k. Maybe I was delirious from the early morning lectures, or maybe I just hadn’t had the necessary amount of coffee required for my brain to make a rational decision. Either way, I feverishly handed over my credit card information to the cyber gods and that was that.
This would be my first 50k and the longest distance I’d ever run. I’d been training quite a bit, not for ultra marathons of course, but if you added up the amount of cycling, swimming and trail running I’ve done over the past few months a 50k seemed perfectly doable. On spring break alone I logged 23 hours of training, which consisted of 186 miles of biking, 34 miles of running and about 8000 yards in the pool. So, why not run a 50k?
“Because you’re doing Quassy (a half ironman) 2 weeks after and haven’t been doing any ultra marathon training.” That’s my sister again, the voice of reason.
“Oh yeah, good point. But I really wanna do iiiiit (insert my whiny voice here).”
After some deliberation I convinced her to back me up on this one. I really wanted to do this race and quite frankly, who cares if I’m tired for that half ironman in 2 weeks? I’m not trying to break any records at Quassy, and really I’m just counting on it to be another day of training. So, 50k get ready or not because I’m coming at you hard and fast (except in reality my plan was to take it slow and steady. Don’t want to pull a hammy.)
And so this past weekend a gang of us traveled up to Pineland Farms for a weekend of trail running fun. We rented a quaint little house near Lake Sabago as pictured below.
Gang Members from left to right:
Becky (Myles’ sister and my pacing buddy)
Here is a picture of Jonah, his wife Rhonda and their daughter Amber. Amber completed the 5k trail race on Saturday and did A-MAZING!
Race morning brought warm sunshine and a cool breeze. Becky and I, planning to pace one another, toed the starting line at 8 am. We stood there as the race director made his pre-race announcements about aid stations and course directions, “the course starts with rolling hills and the hills don’t stop until you stop running. So deal with it.” Everyone chuckled. Becky looked over at me and said, “This feels strange. It doesn’t feel like we’re about to run 30 miles.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. I feel really…relaxed,” I said. Looking around, everyone else seemed pretty relaxed too. Standing there in my favorite 10-dollar zip-up hoodie, I thought to myself, these races are totally chill.
Just as I was entering this zen-like state, I heard Myles’ dad’s booming voice over my shoulder, “Hey, Deidre. You wanna give me that zip-up? You’re gonna heat up real quick out there.”
“Oh yeah, I better get rid of this thing,” I said as I handed my hoodie over to Charlie. “Thanks.”
Seconds after ditching my hoodie the countdown began: 3, 2, 1….cowbells. That’s the “gun” of choice in the ultra industry. And we were off! Becky and I both wanted to maintain a really, really slow pace to start as to not burn ourselves out, so the first couple of hours actually flew by pretty comfortably. The course consisted of two 25k figure-eight loops, winding through hot, windy farmlands and snaking through beautiful New England woods. And for the record, the race director was not joking. Those hills never stopped rolling. As soon as you finished descending one, it was time to ascend another. Well played, Pinelands, well played.
The aid stations were dispersed throughout the course so you hit a total of 8 during each 25k loop. And they. Were. Awesome. Baked potatoes, chips, pretzels, Swedish fish, oranges, bananas, Gatorade, ice cold water, you name it, they had it. Along with the friendliest volunteers you ever met, willing to help with anything.
I rounded the corner of the first 25k and felt great. Unfortunately, my pacing buddy Becky was dealing with some stomach issues L “You should run ahead,” she urged me. I didn’t want to leave her behind, but I also wanted to try and push the pace a bit and didn’t want her feeling like she needed to keep up if she didn’t feel good. And so I went off on my second loop alone, 15.5 miles in and 15.5 miles to go. It felt really good to pick up the pace a little, stretch out the legs and just go. I passed a few aid stations, taking some potatoes and Swedish fish. I have to admit I felt pretty bouncy, my stride was lengthening and mentally I still felt strong. And then I felt the pebbles in my shoes. Hm, that’s weird, I must have pebbles in both of my shoes, in the same spot. So one by one, I took my shoes off and shook out any pebbles or debris that might be hanging around inside. A few miles passed, 20, 21, 22…, Hm, those pebbles are back. Weird. Again, I took my shoes off and shook them out one by one, I happened to glance down at the inside of the arch while putting my shoes back on and I noticed the culprit. Not pebbles, blisters, the size of dollar bills wrapping around my arches. The inner seam of my shoes was rubbing my feet raw. That’s ok I can deal with that later, I thought, the rest of me still feels pretty good. A few more miles ticked by, 26, 27, 28...And here is where things got really weird. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I’ve never ran more than 26.2 miles or the fact that I was so close (only a 5k!) to the finish line or the culmination of the ups and downs and ups and downs, but that last 5k was a struggle. It was as if every muscle in my body decided to start hurting at the exact same time. Hip flexors, calves, hamstrings, quads, arms?! How could my arms possible hurt, have I been running upside down like a monkey this whole time?! My brain got angry. I started getting annoyed at all the hills, and having over-dramatic thoughts like, why do we have to climb Everest every other freakin’ mile!? When a runner would pass me I would envision myself throwing rocks at them. Things got weird.
I plodded along, thinking to myself, every step is better than no steps at all. And before I knew it, I was at the last aid station. I stopped, took a cold drink of water and stared off into the distance for a few seconds as I drank. A mirage of something that looked like a wild baboon was excitedly flapping it’s arms up and down and screaming, “Goooo Deidre!!!!!!!” As I ran around the perimeter of the last field I noticed it was my sister, accompanying her were my two friends and my boyfriend Myles’ who had already completed the 50k. I was so glad to see all their friendly faces and more than anything, I was so glad to see that finish line behind them.
And there you have it! It wasn’t fast (clocking in just under 6 hours), it wasn’t pretty, maybe I didn’t put in the appropriate training, and let’s just say I could have been smarter about those blisters, but dammit I finished a 50k and it was awesome! Even with all the hurt, I can’t wait to get back there and do it again next year. Come join me!
Today’s positive thingy: During the race I came upon a man who must have been in his 70’s or even 80’s. He was slowly walking along, running whenever he could, head down, determined. As I passed him he smiled and said, “It’s starting to get tough.” I agreed and then thought to myself, does he mean at this point in his life or at this point during the race? Either way, that man was amazing; I hope I still have the gusto and good health to complete a 50k trail race when I have white hair. I’ll leave you with this quote,
“Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”
― Samuel Ullman