I headed out through the forest in the general direction of Twisp in the middle of a pack of runners. We trotted along the moderate single track gradually clumping into about 3 groups. Most of my friends vanished with the lead pack, and a few more were a few strides ahead. About 2.5 miles into the 50 mile race I knew something wasn't right. I stopped and took off my jacket. I'd already faded to the back of the pack and the only other runners behind me passed by. I kept going, but everything was just off. I soon realized why as I began to cramp. My period had started.
Now, not only does running 50 miles normally sound hard, but for someone like me who also has the unfortunate menstrual side effect of severely incapacitating cramps and nausea therefrom (making it nearly impossible to eat), running 50 miles suddenly seemed impossible. I had been anticipating this problem, but hoping it would wait just 10 hours. No such luck. I kept jogging along slowly as the course wound out into cattle country. The forest gave way to sagebrush and golden blooms of balsam root. Cows dotted the landscape. I put on my music early and plucked a balsam root flower for my hair. I distracted myself with the beauty of the land around me and the snowcapped mountains that played peek-a-boo with the early morning sun and clouds. I was DFL (dead fucking last) and it wasn't going to get better. I wanted to cry.
Somewhere around mile 20 I caught and passed 2 people, most likely early starters cause I hadn't seen them at the regular start. Shortly thereafter I passed 2 regular starts at an aid station and then melded into the traffic of the just started 50k race. I'd run the next 28 miles with them.
As predicted nothing did get better. I was nauseous. I was hurting. I was at the back of the pack. I managed to force some food down at each aid station, but lethargy was taking over. I came to a junction that said "50 mile second time (Mile 30) turn left" and something clicked. I'd run 50k in extreme physical discomfort. Sure, I could quit now and call it good. Or I could suffer through the rest of the miles and finish in a poor time.
Or I could fight back.
I have never taken a painkiller during a race. I rarely take them when I'm not racing. In fact, the only time I take them is for cramping. I had one in my pocket. I said a mental apology to my kidneys, liver, and endocrine system and I took it. By the aid station at mile 36 the cramps were mostly gone...and with them the nausea. I was so far behind in my calories by this point that I filled my pockets with food, drank 2 cups of Coke and headed out.
My head was clearer and I remembered from last year's 50k what lie ahead. A climb up Sun Mountain...a run down it followed by a climb up Patterson Mountain and back down. I started taking in fuel every 15 minutes including my homemade energy chunks that are loaded with caffeine. I picked up the pace and forgot about everything but running. I hiked up Sun Mountain, passing people I'd been playing leap frog with all day. I passed more people coming down. I focused on maintaining a strong pace and trying to get in the calories, water and electrolytes I needed as the sun warmed the day.
As I came into the final aid station at mile 44 I saw 2 women ahead leaving the station that I knew were fairly comparable runners to me. I was shocked to see them. I had certainly made up a lot of time in the last 10 miles. I ditched one water bottle, filled the other, grabbed food and headed up Patterson Mt. I was tired and there was a strand of runners winding all the way up the mountain. Some were at mile 45+ some were at mile 26+, but we were all tired. Some were doing the hands on hips stumble. Others where hiking steadily. Everyone else was doing something in between. I started out moving slow. I was in the place I should be in the race. I'd finish about when I should and I was certainly no longer DFL. I could relax a bit and just finish up the last 5 miles and be done.
Or I could keep fighting like I had been for the last few hours.
If you're reading this blog you know me...and you know what I decided. I had gained significantly on the 3 women I could see ahead of me as well as some of the men in the 50mile race by the time I reached the turn around at the top. I didn't pause there except in my mind. It only took a second for me to take in the view and decide to play to my strength and go for broke on the descent. At the bottom it would only be 1 mile to the finish.
I took off.
It hurt to breathe.
I zipped down the mountain to the road. I threw my empty water bottle into the sagebrush and passed two guys as the course turned and headed uphill. It was gradual, but my instincts are always to walk the hills. Especially at mile 49. I slowed and started walking. I was nauseous again. I wanted to be done. I wanted to cry.
But more than that, I didn't want to let anyone I'd just passed catch me in the last mile.
I started running again. I pushed myself up the hill with the repetitive thought, "You are almost there. You've fought too hard to give up now. You are not walking".
I finally turned onto Chickadee trail and knew I was literally almost there. Soon people and finish line flagging was in sight. So was the clock: 8:48.
I crossed the line with a new PR (by over an hour!) for the 50 mile distance and sat down saying, "I'm not sure whether I want to cry or throw up."
Within a few minutes I was on my feet. I was ecstatic about my new PR. I was even more ecstatic when I discovered that I was the 3rd woman overall. There's nothing like going from last to 18th OA and 3rd FOA. There's nothing like running a beautiful course through the mountains and pushing yourself and your limits.
There's nothing like discovering that you are tougher than you think.
Race Results: http://sunmountaintrailraces.blogspot.com/p/results.html