It’s been six days, but it feels like the race was weeks ago.
I was pretty nervous and anxious going into the race. Bryce was also racing the Chuckanut 50K so he was there to keep me cool, calm and (sort of) collected. I was overwhelmed by support and words of encouragement from family and friends who texted and tweeted me the night before race day — and even up until when I was literally standing at the start line. Since I was running with my hydration pack, I was able to see those up-to-the minute well wishes.
I felt the love. I felt ready for my first ultra marathon.
This race, which starts in Bellingham, draws about 300 runners. Bryce and I settled in the back since we didn’t want to get tripped up in the front and we didn’t care to start out fast. The course really funnels into a narrow trail at the beginning so we were going slower than I would have liked (10 minute pace) but I knew that the 6 miles of pretty-much-flat into the “Chuckanut mountain area” was my time to just take it easy before the steep climbs ahead.
I ran into another Oiselle teammate, Elisa, about two miles into the race. We didn’t know each other prior to the race but it was nice to meet another teammate who was also doing her first 50K race! We continued along at an easy conversational pace and passed the first aid station at mile 6.3 without stopping.
The beginning switchbacks weren’t too bad for me since Bryce and I had practiced (most of) the course. I separated from Elisa and up and up I went. (She would later find me at the halfway point looking very energetic and strong and continuing on!) By the second aid station at mile 10.5, I stopped and took some electrolyte drink (I only carry water with me because I like plain water with my gels) and some pretzels. I knew that up next was the gradual, and very long climb up the forest service road. While this section of the course seemed to take “forever” when I practiced it, it wasn’t so bad race day. Since it was still early on in the race, there were a ton of other runners around me. Several seasoned ultra runners started chatting with me. We, of course, talked about running. We walked when it would get super steep and run when it leveled out a bit. I was happy to know I was among other motivated, fun and friendly people!
By the third aid station at mile 13.4, I knew that the ridge run was next. The Chuckanut Ridge was the hardest part for me when practicing because it’s pretty technical terrain with lots of rocks, roots, etc. A few times throughout this part, I voluntarily let runners behind me pass by. I wanted to go at my own pace without feeling rushed. I didn’t want to trip and fall. It was good to see Elisa again, looking strong. I, on the other hand, was feeling, uh, uncomfortable — because I had to pee.
I just felt like there was no good non-open area to pop a squat on this part of the course. I carefully continued on the trail. The ridge was also easier than I remembered from before. I think it had to do with the good trail conditions. It hadn’t rained the several days before, so there was hardly any mud and the rocks were also dry. I was able to traverse this part quicker than when I practiced!
Finally around mile 16 I was not only uncomfortably running because I had to pee, I also started getting a very painful sideache. I hardly ever get sideaches so I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew I would probably feel better after relieving myself. I was off the ridge now and another runner caught up to me. I asked him if anyone else was nearby. “In front of us or behind us?” he asked me, looking confused. “Oh, behind us. I have to pee but this is kind of an open area.”
“I’m not sure,” he responded. We continued running on, with me right behind him.
After running for less than five minutes together he says, “That looks like a good spot,” while pointing to a log with a lot of brush surrounding it.
“Ah, yes, good call,” I replied. “Thank you!”
The silly thing of it all is that if this man hadn’t suggested a location for me to pee, I’m not sure I would have gone. I mean, I would’ve had to have gone eventually on the trail, but I probably would have waited it out until I found a completely “secure” place. None the less, I took care of business and no one saw me.
Onward I went. I felt like a new person! No side cramp! I was ready to rock and roll!
I only felt this way for a short while. I was faced with another steep climb and began walking. Even when I walked, I made sure to always go at a steady pace and that no one else passed me while walking. (They didn’t).
I really would like to give the play-by-play for the rest of the race but it’s all starting to blur together. Plus, I’m probably boring you by now. Here’s the rest that I recall.
I was very thankful for the supporters who created their own aid station for us around/just before mile 20. It was at the bottom of the last “big climb.” A volunteer asked me if I needed anything and when I said I wasn’t sure, he helped me take off my pack and checked the bladder of my hydration pack. “I’ll give you a little more so you make it up the hill!” he said. He poured in more water and helped me put my pack back on. I took a shot of cola and continued into the unknown.
You see, this was the only part of the entire 31 miles that Bryce and I didn’t practice. We didn’t do it on purpose. We couldn’t find the trail to this part because it’s one of those side trails that is pretty hidden. When we realized we had missed the turn, it was too late to go back because it would have gotten dark on us. (We started the practice run in the afternoon in February). Anyway, once I started climbing up — walking the entire way — I sort of laughed because we had skipped the hardest part of the race. Welcome to Chinscraper! I guess it got its name from people, uh, scrapping their chins from falling? It took me about 15-20 minutes to make it the whole way up. It was only about a mile, but also about 700 feet up. After the race, Bryce told me that as soon as he started this part, he thought: Kristin is not going to be happy with this. (He was correct).
When I arrived at the second-to-last aid station at mile 20.5, I wanted to just stop and hang out with the volunteers. I took more time than I had at any of the other stations. My main reason was because I didn’t want to continue along the course alone and the other runners who were stopping were not in any rush. It wasn’t that I was afraid I would get lost. We were on the downhill of the course now, basically going back part of the way we came! But, my body was hurting. Every step I took, I could feel a blister forming on each foot. Any company, even if it was just for a little while, I needed.
I was hurting but my spirits weren’t too low. When I returned to the switch-backs, now going down, I “let my body fall” and flew down the mountain. I passed several runners going down. Hikers stood to the side to let me go by, cheering all the while. I felt good. I had a nice endorphin kick, maybe. My splits were faster.
However, that on-top-of-the-world feeling ended once I returned to the Interurban Trail, you know, for that last six miles back into town. Being on a flat concrete trail was doing nothing positive for my mind or body. When you can’t see the end, and the trail looks like it goes on and on, you don’t feel very good. This is where I felt like every runner passed me. Also, my Garmin died so that made matters even worse. I knew going into this race that there was a good possibility that my battery wouldn’t last because I have the most basic of GPS watches. I didn’t want to invest in a brand new expensive one since I wasn’t sure if the ultra distance is something I will continue with in the future.
With about five miles left of the race, I had no sense of time. This was the lowest point for me. I brought my iPod shuffle along and decided to listen to some music. Taking off and on my pack to get my iPod was a struggle in itself. When I swung my left arm, I tweaked it and had an excruciating pain in my upper arm. Thankfully, the pain only lasted for about 10 minutes and disappeared.
If anything could help me now, maybe Beyonce or Taylor Swift would.
I trudged along. I knew I would finish. But, I was hurting — a ton. I started to question my reasoning behind wanting to do this race.
But, I thought about Natalie, my main motivator for running marathons. I thought about my friends and family. I thought about my teammates.
As other runners passed me, it wasn’t the same friendly atmosphere like it was at the beginning of the race. No one said anything to me now. No one wanted to chat. Any onlooker probably thought we looked like zombies heading south for the spring. (Although, we were heading north, I’m pretty sure).
Finally with about two miles to go, we got a few nice little hills. I jogged up them and went by a few racers who decided to walk up. I knew that if I started walking this close to the finish, I would want to walk the rest of the way back. Among the folks I passed were a few young guys.
“Nice job!” one of them yelled as I continued on.
I caught up to another woman who looked to be about my age. We approached the last hill of the race together and started to walk. (This was one of those ones that was too long to jog up at this point).
“Did that volunteer say we have three miles to go?” I asked her.
She replied that it was two miles.
I was relieved. Two miles I can do, I told myself.
Once we got to the top of that little hill, this woman and I continued to run together, side by side. We slowly started passing a few other people. I don’t think we were going that fast, but we had definitely picked up the pace from the speed I was doing by myself the few miles prior.
We chatted a little bit; where we are from, our next races, that sort of thing.
“Thank you so much for running with me,” she said while we were not more than a mile out from the finish.
“Oh, thank you for running with me!” I replied. “If we weren’t together right now. I would be wayyy back there.”
With about 400-600 meters from the finish line, I kicked in everything I had left. Back when I was a zombie when my Garmin died, I didn’t expect to be able to have a kick at the end. But, somehow there’s always a little left in the tank, right?
Once I came out of the trail, there were spectators along the road cheering. I saw Bryce and smiled and sprinted to the finish. (Thank you, race organizers for that slight downhill finish. It was a Godsend!) I heard my name announced as I crossed the line.
I did it. I was done. I finished in one piece without any falls, cuts or major breakdowns.
I thought I would cry when I finished, but I didn’t. I was in too much pain. Walking was just as painful now that I was done.
Photo courtesy of Elisa, on right
I found Elisa and congratulated her, we snapped a photo together, and then Bryce and I headed back to our hotel. I was too tired to stick around. My entire face was covered in salt. I needed a shower ASAP! When I took off my shoes and socks, not only did a lot of dirt and pine needles fall out, even a few small rocks!
That night I still was kind of in shock that I did it.
But, if you set your mind to something, you can do anything.
I texted my mom and told her I didn’t die and that I completed my first 50K! The week prior, she had lovingly told me I was going to die. If that’s not tough love, I don’t know what is.
2016 racing has officially begun. Ultra marathon: check!