Wow. I want to always remember everything about this run. Who knows when I'll have an experience like this again? This is going to be a long report. There, I've warned you. I'm not even sure where to start. Friday afternoon, I guess...
For dinner, my mom was insistent on eating at the "Evergreen Supper Club." She vouched for its great food and great service and had been there many times with her parents. In typical Monica (my mom) fashion, she had the name wrong--it was actually called the Greenwood Supper Club. After hearing this, I was really hoping to hear some "Proud to Be an American" as we walked in, but no such luck.
Me, Ellie, Doug, Curt, Gretchen (aka "Human Debris")
"...its so demoralizing to think that he's going to run faster than my team...I
mean, there are four of us...three of us are younger, two of us are much better
looking, and I even shaved my legs...does that not count for anything!"
The past week had been spent reading as much as I could about strategy in a 50 miler. I was all over the world wide web (to quote Ellie, "thanks Al Gore") like crazy. One particular post on http://www.runningandrambling.com/ really resonated with me. It talked about the differences between an Ironman and a 100-mile Ultramarathon. The analogy the author uses considers Iroman events much like rock concerts--adrenaline-laced, jam-packed, lots of people in close confines--and thinks of Ultras as, in his words, a "reggae festival." Ultras last a lot longer, everyone is really relaxed, and you become one with nature (occasionally in the form of marijuana).
I slept terribly on Friday night. My mind was racing through subjects from the politics (that'll keep you awake at night) to what song Ellie, Doug, Josh (a friend of mine), and I should perform at an upcoming Lip-Synching Fundraiser for a local charity (I'm really hoping we perform a number by 2ge+her, but we'll see). Fortunately my alarm FINALLY went off at exactly 4:51 AM. I hopped out of bed and hit the shower, then had my normal Breakfast of Champions, Chicken & Stars. I also had some protein dissolved in water and a banana, and topped it off with some coffee. The Fall 50 uses a "wave start," where the solo runners start at 7:00 AM, and the teams follow, based on expected finish times, on the hour from 8:00 to 10:00. Our hotel was near the finish line, so my parents (who were picking me up) and I had about an hour-long drive to get to the start line. My mom and dad are, to say the least, dependable. I had given them a schedule of when I wanted to be at the start line, when I hoped to be at each aid station, and anything at all I may want, from a gel, to some ice cubes, to perhaps some weed (JOKE) at any particular time throughout the day. I wasn't asking all that much, right?
In a word, Mom and Dad are AWESOME.
I walked out of our cottage at 5:30, into the darkness, and was welcomed by two small bucks who were hanging out in the lawn. They took off, and I took that as another sign it was going to be a good day. My parents werewere staying at a different hotel, so a quick call to them to make sure they were on their way to pick me up (I was freaking out about not being at the start!) assured me they were minutes away, but they had to stop for several deer to cross the highway. Five minutes later, my stuff (3 backpacks full!) was in the car and we were on our way to the start line...Gill's Rock.
"50 miles...50 miles...Think Reggae..."
[Map and Elevation can be seen here.] It was dark and cold when we arrived at the top of Door County, and I was a nervous wreck. Whether it was the cold or my nerves, I was shaking like crazy. My mom gave me a blanket and my dad broke the ice by pointing out that he wanted to get a picture of the phone booth. "Don't see that every day any more," he said. I couldn't help but laugh. Of all the places for a phone booth to stand, Gills Rock, at the tip of Door County?
Shortly before the start, Ross from RunAway Shoes said hello. He was staying at a hotel at the start line and wanted to wish me luck before I started this journey. He's been a great help for me in my 1month100miles journey. I was wearing shoes and a shirt from his store and had a stockpile of Gels and ClifShots for the journey. Thanks again, Ross!
Minutes before the start. I'm the two little reflections on the left.
Sean Ryan (the race director extraordinaire) quoted Hebrews (I think, or was it Ephesians? I was so emotional and nervous at this point my mind wasn't working at optimal levels) and told us to "beware of left turns" because if we end up at Lake Michigan, it's "gonna be a long day." With that, I was on my way. I'm not sure what to say about Leg 1, besides the fact my pace was right around 9:00/mile and my heartrate was in Zone 17. I did whatever I could to stay as calm as possible, and I even walked some of the uphills.
Leg 2 (map and elevation here) is where it starts to get interesting. It starts with a big climb outside of Ellison Bay, which at 7:45 AM was still sleeping and fogged over. So sleepy, in fact, that several runners completely missed the first aid station, and consequently their drop bags. One such runner asked me where the first aid station was after we had already climbed the first hill out of Ellison Bay. I broke the news to her and promised that my parents would give her water and gels and anything she needed. Despite that, she wasn't happy. I apologized and continued. The route then follows Hwy 42, the main highway through Door County. It's pretty plain, especially at that time of the morning, but the best part is the passing of the relay teams on their way to the start line. Horns, cowbells, and painted cars keep the solo runners moving!
Finally, a big downhill welcomes you to Sister Bay and after making your way through the downtown (which includes Al Johnson's Grass-roofed restaurant), leg 2 ends with a climb up and up and up. I chose to walk it. I commented to Kurt, a fellow solo runner, that I ran this thing last year when Ellie and I were on a Pairs Team, and it was a bad idea then. There's no way I'm running a single step this year! Finally, at the top of the hill is the next aid station. My dad was waiting to write down my split time, and my mom was scrambling to get the next gel and bottle of nuun ready. She told me later she felt terrible for not having things ready for me when I arrived. I was speechless--I hope I never gave her the impression I was disappointed. My crew was amazing! I hope they'll come back next year!
My dad writing down my split for Leg 2
Leg 3 - Sister Bay to Peninsula State Park (10.4-15.4)
[Map and Elevation HERE] Along Hwy 42 the relay teams continued to honk and cheer and hang out the windows ringing cowbells. I can't explain how fun this race is! I did a lot of "yo-yo-ing" with Kurt through this part, where I'd catch him, we'd talk, the conversation would dry up, I'd run ahead, then he'd catch me, and so on. Every time I ran away from him, a single thought crossed my mind. Kurt finished third in this event--behind Stu Kolb and Roy Pirrung--in its first year. What in the hell am I doing passing him?!
This leg features some hills and also makes its way through downtown Ephraim, which provides beautiful views of the harbor.
After an uneventful, keep-the-pace-steady leg, I made a right turn into Peninsula State Park and completed leg three.
[Map and Elevation HERE] This is, hands down, the prettiest leg of the event. It takes place over 7 miles entirely in Peninsula State Park, right on the coastline, on a narrow road that has a canopy of trees over you. While the colors were about a week past peak at this point, it was still gorgeous. Throughout the park I traded in my yo-yo-ing with Kurt for yo-yo-ing with Mike, another 2-time Fall 50 veteran who I should NOT be passing. I continued to tell myself, "Think Reggae," and keep things loose. I really concentrated on making my stride as much as a shuffle as possible. I also wanted to take in the scenery...it doesn't get much better than Peninsula State Park in October. Last year, I gave Ellie this leg because I had an idea it was going to be stunning, and I think I was right, especially considering last year's weather was blue skies and sunshine, and this year it was overcast and about a week past autumn's peak colors.
Kurt and I yo-yo-ing through Peninsula State Park.
As you can see by the elevation profile and map found here, Leg 5 is a doozy. Despite the hill (complete with switchbacks..see the top left photo on this page), Leg 5 also produces 3 inspiring points. Mile 25 is in Leg 5. The Marathon Distance is in Leg 5. And Leg 5 ends at the "Half Way Buffet" Aid station! I was starting to feel the aches of 20+ miles, and reaching these points really helped! I stopped, took a couple pictures, and then emailed them out to my family to let them know where I was. This also gave me a great reason to walk "the hill."
Feeling good! See that left-turn sign behind me? That's "the hill."
Marathon Split: 3:52
Leg 6 - Juddville to Egg Harbor (27.6-31.5)
[Map and Elevation HERE] As I descended the hill out of the aid station, I was starting to pick people off. I knew I had started too fast, but there were obviously people who had started way too fast, and it was now their time to work through a rough patch. I continued on and enjoyed running past some of the most massive houses and contemporary architecture Door County has to offer. If you like looking at trendy houses right on the lakefront, Leg 6 is for you.
About a mile from the next aid station, I could hear something. It was the sound of a xylophone ("klink klink klink" with every step) and I had no idea where it was coming from. My water bottle? I emptied it and stuffed it into the back of my shirt. But I still heard the sound. Then I realized it was my gut. Uh oh.
The last time I heard that noise I was puking at Mile 25.5 of the Madison Marathon. I immediately slowed down and assessed the situation. I was really putting down the water. I wasn't really sweating at all. I had already determined my pace was too fast. That, ladies and gents, is what you call a bad combination and a good way to delay gastric emptying.
For the remainder (about a mile) of Leg 6 I jogged slowly and walked. I did NOT want to puke. Humans almost always make decisions in life for one of two reasons: (1) To move towards pleasure or (2) To move away from Pain. In this case, moving towards "pleasure" (finish line) was severely hindered by moving away from pain (throwing up).
When I got to the next aid station in Egg Harbor, my dad was way ahead of me. As I walked up to him, I knelt down and began to explain my current situation. Before I got a word out, however, he looked at me, raised his eyebrows, and said, "You need to slow down."
The look on our faces says it all--I've been running too fast.He knew I was in trouble because I was about 1/2 hour ahead of my "optimal goal" of 8:10, and blowing the doors off of my "realistic goal" of 8:30. The sound of his voice and the look in his eye reminded me of so many times growing up...I looked at him like I'm sure I've looked at him a hundred (okay, a thousand) times before: I'm in trouble. :)
I asked my mom for some her homemade chicken broth (secret weapon!) and I started to walk out of aid station. I remember explaining to my parents that if I didn't get some salt in, I was going to puke. I remember looking at a young woman in the aid station and saying to her, "too much information?" She laughed and told me its part of running an ultra. She was apparently waiting for her boyfriend, another ultra veteran that I was running wayyy too far in front of. Great.
Leg 7 - Into the Wind (31.5-35.5)
[Map and Elevation HERE] As I walked out of the aid station, my dad came running up behind me to walk with me. Have I mentioned how awesome my crew was?! We talked a bit and I sipped on my secret weapon broth and my stomach started to come around. I can remember telling my dad about S Caps and Salt Tablets and how I never really was interested in them. At this particular moment, however, I would have drop-kicked a puppy for them. The broth was good, but it was simply more liquid into an already-full-of-liquid stomach, and its effect on emptying was minimized a bit. Still, I was feeling better after the walk with my pops and the broth, and it was time to get moving.
Earlier in the week, the forecast for the event was rainy. Fortunately, that passed through earlier than expected. Unfortunately, the forecast then included a 25-30 mph WSW wind. For those of you not following, that means a HEADWIND. Hello, Leg 7.
On a bad stomach and into a relatively boring and flat portion of the run, I hit the wind. I was in my first low spot of the run, and it was getting ugly. At one point Mike, who was still yo-yo-ing with me, said to his wife, "F*&%ing Wind." My sentiments exactly. What I needed now was some good news, and it came when Ellie called to find out how I was doing. She had already texted me that she was a little worried and really didn't like being removed from my progress. When I saw her calling, I knew it was time to act.
"Hey, Ellie! How are things going!?" I gave it my best effort, and she bought it. Her team was doing great and she was hoping to be able to drive down and see me finish at some point later in the afternoon. I told her I felt amazing and things were going wayyyy better than expected and that I was having a blast (all said with a big dumb grin on my face for effect). I said goodbye and dry heaved a couple times. It was literally that close. But I pulled it together and continued along the road...the straight, flat, boring road...
...finally, Aid Station 7.
All I wanted was an S Cap. Or a Salt Tablet. Okay, I'd settle for some pretzels. Unfortunately, this aid station was 0 for 3. I left with a bottle of only ice cubes and some saltines. That seemed to hit the spot in the beginning, but Leg 8 is over 6 miles long and a bit boring. "Think Reggae," I decided. Along this leg I had some real low points, but they were lifted by a red van full of relay team members. One member, her name I never actually caught, got out of the van and ran with me. "You're famous, aren't you?" She asked. I responded with a chuckle and a "No."
Leg 8 - Unfortunately, More of the Same, Only Longer (35.5-41.6)
"Yes you are. You're running for your friend, right?"
Wow. Talk about a boost to the spirits! I shared the story of why I was running this ultra, and why I run for the NF Endurance Team, and I talked about my best friend, Brock. Soon enough I was clipping off sub 9-minute miles again. What a lift! If only I knew her name...
Soon enough I arrived at Aid Station 9. The stomach was still in pretty rough shape, but the goal was so close!
I squatted down (painfully) thinking I was about to throw up.
Leg 9 - The Quarry (41.6-44.6)[Map and Elevation HERE] After a long and less-than-exciting leg, I could feel the anticipation building. Leg 9 is less than 3 miles in length, and although it travels along the same (boring) road as the previous leg, I was feeling better and moving a lot faster. I really can't say I remember much about this leg, outside of a BMW driving towards me near the end of the leg. I recognized this car, and was overjoyed when Ellie hopped out and came running towards me. She had made a special sign, just for me...
Wow. How inspiring. (Ellie thanks Nitmos for the idea)
[Map and Elevation HERE] Again, I was in a rough spot not long after getting to the aid station. In fact, I even bent over, thinking I was going to puke (again). Getting into a squatted position was torture enough. Fortunately, I pulled it together and began a power walk/run combo. The wind had really chilled me and I was almost shivering at times, so I got my jacket from my mom and put it back on. I can remember noticing that my brow was tense, and my steps were purposeful. As cheesy as it sounds, I remember thinking "F*ck Reggae, lets get this thing over with."
At mile 46 I was greeted, once again, by the relay team girl, who started running with me again and told me I wasn't looking so good. I told her I could use a beer and a running partner, and she shuffled along with me for about a mile. At mile 47 (ish) we caught up to her relay team car and she told me good luck, as she was going to wait for their anchor to come past. I once again thanked her and once again forgot to get her name. I do remember that their team name was "Going for the Gold(baba)."
At 48.5 I was moving decent again. I was at the point that my stomach issues didn't matter anymore, and I was more pissed at this damn headwind. Ellie joined me and we ran to the final stretch together...past the enormous ship-building crane, into downtown Sturgeon Bay, and finally down the finishing chute. At this point Ellie pulled off the course, knowing this was my big moment. I came down the cute in typical Nic fashion...with a sprint. I came across the line to big cheers and...
What a feeling!
...it was AMAZING.
I crossed the line (7:59:13, for 13th place overall), received my "bling bling" medal, and walked through to an area all by myself. I took a deep breath and my eyes welled up a little. (Okay, more than a little.) 50 miles.
There really isn't a feeling like entering an area you've never been before. Maybe that's why we all crave vacations and new places. On this Saturday I went someplace that I was honestly a little afraid to go. I hadn't felt the nerves of a race since my first marathon. It really was amazing.
You can tell by the stupid grin on my face I was experiencing the "running high."
Time for beer.
When "Going for the Gold" came through the finishing chute, I was right there to congratulate them (I'm talking to my "pacer" in the picture) and thank them for getting me through the rough spots.Into party tent I entered, and I grabbed my drop bag and hit the shower. I was incredibly sore but loved every painful moment of changing clothes. I returned to the party tent and immediately requested a beer. Soon enough, I had a beer in my hand and was watching a relay team pour each other beer bongs--no kidding! What an event!
When "Human Debris" finished, I once again was waiting for them at the finish line, with beers in hand. After handing a beer to Curt and Doug, I said, "Welcome to the Mile 51 Aid Station! Drink up!"
The party continued until about 6:30, when we finally headed back to our hotel to enjoy some of Ellie's mom's Lasagna and, of course, some Spotted Cow (my personal request). I can't say I slept all that well on Saturday night, but it was mostly because I was re-living what may be the peak of my running career.
I can't say enough about this event. To my family and everyone else reading this, you've got to join us next year. It really is an event built for every level of runner, and it's so much fun! I honestly feel it's a greater accomplishment for the relay team members who haven't run very much to complete this event, than it is for a marathon runner to jump to the 50 mile distance and finish. I think the accomplishment that comes with this event is what makes it so special, at least to me. From the course, to the comraderie that develops between fellow participants, to the after-party, it's an A+ event all the way!
I'm already thinking about how I can improve my time next year...although I'm not sure I can improve the experience.