Alright, back when I was younger, about 7 months ago, I decided that this was going to be my first 50 miler attempt. I had done the half marathon for this race twice now and enjoyed the race a lot. Well as we all know, things went kind of haywire when the 50k to Zion went all sold out on me and I ended up doing the 100k instead! Plans demolished. Start from scratch. Now fast forward and I’m signed up for the Habanero Hundred 100 miler in August! The 50 miler didn’t make sense in training anymore. Now I have a coach to help with my crazies. Coach says 50k. Ok coach.
I now work with Scott Jones from Becoming Ultra Podcast, if you haven’t checked it out, check it out here: http://becomingultra.com/the-podcast/ . He kicks my butt, just what I need. I absolutely love working with Scott, and am glad we connected up at Zion. The podcast features people going for their first ultra distance, whether that is 50k or 100k, ect, and is basically live coaching recorded. Anyway, we devised a training plan and we’ll see how well it works out!
Every single one of my 50k’s have been training races. I actually have not ever went out to race one, maybe this is for the best. My first 50k was April of last year, 5000 feet of gain over two mountains, so a lot of the vertical gain were in two major places (mile 1 and mile 24 oof), with mile 24 having a 2 mile climb with almost 1000 feet per mile. I was pretty beat up after this one, and it was training for the Blue Ridge Marathon that would be 3 weeks later. It paid off big time for that. The second was earlier this year for my 31st birthday, trying to run the number of miles that I am old, cause I thought that was “cute”. The weather was not cute. I got frostnip and finished in about 9.5 hours, and hardly ran due to the ankle deep mud that ran the entire course, and the vertical gain (5000 again) was no joke and ended up using sticks I found on the ground to help me up and down hills because there was no traction…ever. But this was supposed to help train me for Zion, which I guess time on feet accounts for something. This pretty much ingrained in me my hatred for temperatures below 50°F.
MOVING ON. The DWD 50k. The night before. Oh the night before…
My last long distance was basically Zion 100k, I had not run more than 15-16 miles since, not including the Solstice Challenge which I ran 50 miles in 48 hours. So I was bit nervous. I prepared the best I could the day before, had all my goodies prepped and ready to launch at 3am (which was the time I needed to be awake to get to the race on time). I worked out and tried pushing myself, my body would not have it. I felt worried because if I couldn’t push in simple terms now, then how would I be able to the next day? I’d felt this way all week basically. But I needed to make myself tired. I drank milk before bed, had a nice hot shower, filled myself with my usual pre-race food, spicy Indian food and rice…but in bed at 8:30pm body will not accept. 10:30pm, nope. How about 12:45am? Nah. 1Am? OK! Cue in the thunderstorms. Yup, my bad luck is BACK BABY!
Thunderstorms arrived around 1:40am crashing and smashing into the house, and as a light sleeper this did not go over well. I knew the race site had been slammed with torrential rains and storms earlier, so whatever, but I did want some sleep. I think I may have gotten some sleep between 2:20am and 3:04am, when I turned over in bed and looked at my phone’s clock. Giant “ugh” came from deep within. I felt more tired than if I had tried to stay awake I think. Let’s go with zero sleep. OK. It was failure o’clock for me. I got up and did my usual morning routine. I woke Rich up not long after. I gathered all my prep things and headed out the door. Anxiety is a real monster, I swear.
It was a steady rain out. But after a quick look at the radar, it seemed that the rain was just moving west to east, in which the storm was not over the race site. It was pitch black. The race start time for 50k and 50 milers is at the break of dawn, or as the race site claimed, when the big orange ball comes up, which is actually 5:30am ironically. We arrived on site around 4:45am.
I got checked in and waited for the start of the race. Mosquitoes were out and about, never too early for these party go-ers. To be honest, I don’t even really remember how the race starts, whether it was a simple “GO” or gun shot, or what. All I knew is that no one wanted to be towards the front of the large group of ultra runners waiting to take off into the bluffs. I knew once past the start, there would be a bottle neck, since the 50k course took the same route as the half for at least the first 7 miles, picking the half course back up later after two out and backs. Well, very anticlimactic, but I was off! I positioned myself about midway in the crowd which was fine, but antsy runners will always jettison off right away with no attention to pace. Boo. It was hilarious, it was mildly dark and once we crossed the road, I saw the headrunners of the group head left, and I was thinking, what are they doing? When a loud booming voice yelled “OTHER WAY! GO RIGHT!” and the huge wave of people migrated quickly from left to right, it was a sight to see!
We headed up the first few hills. I was surprised how not wet the ground was. The course drained SUPER well. The plan was to run 3 miles and then power hike the next two, for the rest of the race. I came up with another plan on the spot, because I knew there were some mile length climbs on this course and heckin’ no way was I running up the bluffs and killing myself off. I didn’t know the exact miles where the bluff climbs were, but in general knew there were three…well that was also wrong come later to find out. I decided a few things:
– I would try and run those three miles, but I would keep an eye on my heart rate during those three miles and power hike when it rose above my magical heart rate number of 156.
– I would power hike any lengthy climbs, which I knew a lot of them and when to push through a hill instead.
– I would power hike the two miles, and try and time them with the bluffs.
– I would run downhill when the opportunity presented itself, even if I was supposed to be power hiking.
This plan worked out really well. Spoilers. Sorry.
The first three miles were really runnable. Very hilly, but all rolling for the most part. I was passed by a lot of people in the first half of the race. This was discouraging, but I knew I had to not be sore from this effort. I noticed my right foot which had been bothering me in the past week and somewhat during the Solstice Challenge, was nagging me a little, ugh, I don’t need this. First aid station I had some Sprite, I was SOLD. I had some sweet tea, but it was not good quality sweet tea, but I appreciate the effort. I had a gel and was off. The start was pretty dark under the trees, and it was hard to see footing, so it made the first few miles go by a little faster at least mentally.
Unfortunately (as far as plans go), after the third mile, the course kept going downhill, and was VERY good for making up time, so I kept running probably until mile 5. Then the major bluff hit. It was about 2 miles of just up with a very steep grade the last 0.6 miles. I power hiked it all. I managed to get below 15:00 mins/mi, which was the goal pace for power hiking, for miles 5-6, and then 7 came. I promise it wasn’t much uphill, but it was the top of the bluff, and there were a lot of pictures taken, and overall beauty taken in. In the past, the half course ended up here at mile 7 too, and those times, it had been perfect summer weather, crystal clear conditions, but this time it was very different. It was cloudy and humid, making for perfect fog conditions. I had never been up there when there was fog, it was stunning. On top of that, the second aid station was up there! I don’t remember if I had a gel, but I did willingly take some Sprite and Coke, and realized coke was too fizzy for my tastes. My water plan, I should state for my own future reference, was three scoops of tailwind and half a scoop of BCAAs mixed together, which tasted real good and kept me drinking (I used this combo during a long run prior to make sure it didn’t make me more thirsty). I drank some every half mile. I had some swelling in my hands, especially when I was power hiking and especially during the first half of the race.
Coming off of that aid station, there were rocks, but this time they were wet, and VERY slick. Everyone took their time coming down these suckers. Once I was down, the course continued downhill, and yay downhill running. I tried to make up some time, as my watch pointed out I had spent a good 16 minutes in this mile. Whoops. I managed to bring back two more 11 minute miles before the next aid station hit. Mile 8 was where the course split from the half for the first out and back. While meandering down the hill, I noticed that it didn’t stop going down for a very long time. Sigh. What goes down must go back up. While heading down into the meadows, I was behind two others on the single track (most of the trail was double track except for the out and backs which were a mix of single track and slim boardwalk at times, and what seemed like narrow slanty horse trails) that were conversing getting to know each other and I listened in. I ended up passing and getting passed by the girl in front of me several times before the end of the race. I think she was from Switzerland, talking about how she used to run in the Swiss mountains. OUCH. I was following a little too closely and didn’t see much what was in front of me…I completely rolled my right ankle. I have rubber ankles, but it still hurts when it happens. I shook it off the best I could still running downhill at the same pace. But wow what a snap to my foot. This pain stuck with me for the next 4-5 miles. But writing this, I nearly forgot it happened.
I took a short video in the meadow for social media during mile 9. It was beautiful down there, but so many leafy greens. I am allergic to poison ivy/oak/sumac, so I try to be aware of the concerning crop. I arrived at the meadow aid station (which was the major aid station? I never thought of any aid station being lesser than the others other than this one had my drop bag) at mile 10. I stopped for a “quick” restroom break and took some grapes and had two more Sprites. I would plan to refill my water pack on the way back (mile 13 is also this aid station). This part of the course was very flat, although lumpy because grass and green stuffs. I had to wait in line for quite a while at this aid station for the port-o, so I ended up with a sad 18 minute mile. Oh well.
Once I got to the road crossing, probably not 0.25 miles away, I noticed something bad. My back was hurting…it was chafed. Crap. Well at least I would be back pretty soon to the aid station. I had some antichafe with me, but I could not reach that part of my back and I didn’t want to ask anyone to stop their race to help me out. I’m not sure I would make a different decision even knowing how I feel today writing this with the bad chaffing on my back. This out and back annoyed me, and my mood was deteriorating. I don’t think I like prairie too much. The trail was mostly angled and my feet were wet from sweat (and ironically not because it had rained or I went through any puddles or streams), and I didn’t want to deal with being uncomfortable. I knew I was supposed to be power hiking some of this, so I ended up in a walk run that was un-monitored, knowing this was the flattest part of the course I didn’t want to miss out on sections that were runnable. But I was frustrated because I wasn’t doing anything I was supposed to be doing. Parts of this trail were super narrow, and some of it boardwalk, some of it made of real wood which was saturated from rain and made it almost impossible to have any footing to push off of. Sections of this out and back I had to step aside a lot because people were passing coming back from the “out”. Again, lots of leafy green things I did not trust through here. I got to the “out” and headed back to the aid station, still kind of in the same stale mood. I was greeting all the people I passed with a “good job”, or “you too” when they would say it before me, and it kept me going. I appreciated all the good vibes from the runners out there. This was the first time I met one runner, whose story I will tell from my knowledge (may be wrong, but it’s heartwarming the way I tell it at least!), he was in high spirits, mile 11.7 or something like that, and cheering everyone on. He was ahead of me by a bit. He wore a loose singlet and shorts, and was always wearing a smile. This was my first pass of him.
On the way back, I kept tightening my water pack trying to reduce the amount of bounce it had on my skin. I knew they had medical aid at that aid station. I made it back and quickly took off my pack and refilled it and asked a volunteer (God Bless every one and them not questioning doing something for a racer) to slather tons of Vaseline on my back. Volunteer lady says where? I said is it red? “Yes, very.” And she went to work. I put the pack back on, ouch. Not good. I tightened it more and drank up three more Sprites. I noticed I had barely gotten through half my 2L pack at mile 13, but I didn’t feel thirsty really…still not good. I felt kind of bad for not having more than I thought I was taking in.
Along I went…back uphill for the next two miles. Another 17 minute mile at the aid station, boo.
15 and 17 minute miles for the next two as I made my climb back up. I really did my best power hiking through here, not stopping. I took out my chews, which I have used since my first marathon, and knew I had to force them down, I was just not getting enough calories. I chewed them well because I was having a hard time swallowing them. I got to the last two, and just had to stop. A few minutes later, a nice burp from drinking all the soda forced some back up, and I just spit it out. It was awful. I just did not want to ingest gels or chews. I knew the last gel I had taken was making me gag, but I managed it down. I didn’t take another gel the rest of the race. When I got back up to where the course intersected the half course I remember, it went back downhill for a while.
At some point during this section of the race, I had one really bad experience! It was not harmful to my knowledge but it was awful. I swallowed something, I don’t know if it was alive, or what, but it tasted like how I would imagine rotten chlorine and formaldehyde to taste like, right down the throat, bulls eye. I knew it was too late. It was already down. I quickly drank so much water from my pack, now heavily diluted tailwind mix, and it was not going away. You know how a bug can get in your mouth or in your throat? It was like that but it was too far gone to try and spit up. I might have cried a little from how gnarly the taste was. I took another giant swig of my water and spit it out to rinse. It was over.
My foot was still nagging me, but never got any worse than when it started. I kept taking this as a sign that I should keep going. I also noticed that I was not standing up as straight as I think I should, especially on the climbs. I tried to pay more attention to my posture. I was still kind of in a low spot. I don’t have much memory of the miles between the meadow aid station right past the big climb back up and the second out and back. I reached the small aid station at the second out and back. I took in some sprite, and had three orange slices. I should have tried to get in more but knew I had been spending too much time at aid stations and needed to pack it out. I don’t remember much about this out and back, but it was mostly downhill, so I decided to run as much as I could here, easy pace.
I passed and was passed by the same girl from before here, and we talked a bit. It was nice to have someone around. This was about a 3.5 mile out and then back 3.5 miles to the aid station. It felt so long, all single track and in the deep woods. There was a very anticlimatic ending to it, just a small white sign that said turn around haha. I found it actually pretty funny. It’s like that point where in Forrest Gump the movie when Forrest is done running at some random point in the southwest desert on a road that keeps going on. The path in front of me kept going, but you just stopped and turned around. Go home!
Ok, back uphill again, serious power hiking here, and I wanted to hit the target times. I managed 16 minute miles, a little off from my target, so I still need work in these areas. All I could think about was the Sprite I was going to have at the aid station when I got back. Well, when I got back, they were out of ALL soda, and only had the cheap sweet tea. Now I am a huge fan of sweet tea no matter what temperature (and the temperature of the soda didn’t bother me either haha), because being from the south, it’s in my blood. But this was just not good lol. Regardless, I downed three full cups welcoming the easy sugar and calories. It went over fine, I just prefer the taste of different sweet teas! The aid station volunteers said they had called for more, but I understand that running out is a thing that happened and I never usually rely on aid station goodies in the first place, things just went way differently than I had planned. I still had five gels/chew packets on me that I had not touched. They would remain that way 😦
In the past times I have raced this course, I never really noticed what was on course before since I just used my own stuff, so wasn’t sure if soda and tea were a new addition. Regardless, I greatly appreciated all of it. I headed out and that mile was 14 minutes, which was great considering I did stop for the aid station, so I was much more happy with this one. I headed off, thanks to the volunteers telling me how far the next aid station was and which direction to head back. At some point during this section, I believe, if not it did happen at some point, I ran into rocks that were fine one way but coming back were not. These larger rocks were slick as glass and at this point in the race, I was not going to risk slipping this far into a race that wasn’t even supposed to be a race! The rocks were big enough that they could not be avoided, and spaced just close enough together that you couldn’t step between them. So I walked this section. No power hike, just safety first. I was a bit frustrated because on a dry day, this would be no problem. That day was not today. I arrived soon at the open prairie heading to Steinke Basin, the worse part of the course on a sunny day where you can feel your legs and eyelashes being roasted by the rising humidity…but not today! I cruised right into the second to last aid station hoping so much Rich would be there (which he has missed me for two years straight and missed me a the finish last year!). FINALLY! But I was on a mission, this is where things magically turned around. The magic might be called glucose…hah!
I downed what they had in Sprite and got Vaseline reapplied (it was “bad” according to the volunteer and Rich), refilled my water pack for the final 10k, which honestly didn’t hit me I only had 10k left until a mile later even though I was told this while leaving. Before I left, I asked for fruit, they had grapes, and the volunteer told me just take a bunch on the run, what a great idea!! I took the small bunch and munched as I ran off. 15 minutes for this mile, which including the refill and aid station technical bits, this was good! Wow, 10k left I thought. I got to the top of the hill behind the finish area, and to my right there was the finish! Uh, which way to do I go? I looked for a hot 10 seconds completely stopped, headed one direction thought it was wrong, but then headed back to the finish, nope that’s not right. So, I went away from the finish to the left hoping I would reach a volunteer to tell me I was doing the right thing here…
I did, and everything was better. Wait, where I am? This seems familiar. After hitting the marathon point, I knew where I was, again… ugh! Wait, wait, does this mean I’m heading toward the east bluff again, we already did that.
There’s too much distance going up the bluff a second time, but all this climbing means we’re heading up it again. Maybe the trail will just diverge in the wood…nope. This was my thought process in a mild panic. It was what it was. I put my head down and power hiked that stupid bluff, again! I was about a minute slower the second time around, and given I took pictures during one of those two miles, I think that’s a win in my book.
I was so mad at having to do it a second time, and this time the trail condition was a bit worse, having had the marathoners, the 10ks, and half marathons parade through already. The trail here was gravel, and it was wet, and uneven with the rain having carved out nice little gullies in the path. It was hard to get footing on the steepest portion this time. But I wasn’t tired. I made it to the top of the bluff aid station again and passed right by it after a quick check in (check in’s were required for all ultra runners). I hadn’t really drank anything since hitting the 25 mile aid station at Steinke Basin. Whatever, I was feeling good. I knew it was mostly downhill from there, at least for a while. I went over the slick large stair rocks again, being extra careful this time. I plowed through the trail at the top and met the downhill with vigor. All the pains I had? Gone.
It occurred to me that I had not had much hill training in the past few months other than Zion and a few runs back in April in Virginia, so I might end up being sore just from bombing the downhill sections of the course. Oh well, I can recover from that. It was too late, and there was too much vertical in this race that was unavoidable to save the muscles. THE PLAN though! I had 3 miles left, time to run. I had power hiked the last two going all uphill, it was time to release the beast. Most of the last three were rolling and some of it new! I passed so many others that had passed me before, including the Swiss girl I had a yo-yo run with. And there he was, the guy who had been so encouraging before in the singlet. I ran up to him and told him he had been so nice to others and to keep going and there was only less than a half mile left! What came out then was sometime of despair and disbelief. He said “I wish there was only that much left”. He was still moving forward, and I told him he was almost there, I promised. I looked down at my watch, I was at mile 30. I hit 7 hours. Darn. I had secretly wished I would have broken the 7 hour mark, but oh well, aid stations killed that dream, and I wasn’t here for time, I reminded myself. I then wondered if the course would be short like the half course, or if it would be long like my first 50k. It’s a trail, anything is possible! No wait, is that Ironman? Trails.
I power hiked my best hike up the steep short incline to the finish hill, I knew this from doing the race before, it gets steeper every year I swear. I then bolted down to the finish, which seemed also longer than it was before haha. I ended up with 7 hours and 5 minutes and some change. An average pace of 13:51, which was better than the 14:00 minute miles I had predicted for myself. I had a negative split by just a wee few minutes, but YAY! And the second half was harder than the first. The course was about 30.8 miles, but others who recorded got anywhere between 30.5 and 31.5 miles. Good enough for me!
I came across the finish and someone told me to head to age group awards, and I’m like “what?” in the most disbelief. Like I must have looked like a basic white girl right then, mouth agape, eyebrow raised. I gave up that a LONG time ago I thought. I headed over and they asked my age. I told them, and the girl said, “congrats, you got 2nd!” What? How the HECK did that happen. I had a glance at the first place finisher for my age group and she was only 8 minutes in front of me haha, whatever, I was NOT gunning for a place. I am still pretty much in disbelief, like what happened?!
I walked over to get a picture of my finisher stuff with the start/finish line, and here came the nice guy in the singlet.
He was running fine, and then all of a sudden started breaking out in tears. He was super emotional. The way I figured it, and this is my own perception based on how it seemed to went down, was that he had lost a LOT of weight, it looked like he had carried some in the past at least, and this was a huge HUGE step in that process, a goal he wanted and didn’t think possible. His wife was waiting for him at the finish and ran up to him and gave him the biggest hug, it was so touching. It was heartwarming. He was so positive, and to see him finish was an inspiration to me. I do not know if that was his story, but it’s something I remember from the race and had to write it down. Congrats to you man if you ever read this, let me know the story. ❤
I didn’t feel really beaten up at the end, I could walk normally, but I was SOAKED, I was drenched and wetter than a drowned rat, dipped in a bucket of oil over and over. It STUCK to me. I went over to the food table, handed away my beer ticket, and got Rich a burger and got me a nice helping of fruit salad. THANK YOU for having this at the race every year, I love it so much. The pink lemonade was a nice touch too. When I was in line though, I was getting bitten by SOMEthing, no idea what, maybe it was flies, maybe it was mosquitoes, but I guess it WAS the food line, and the bugs were hungry.
I heard one guy talk about how bad the horse flies were out there, but I don’t remember anything like that. I was pretty unscathed of bug bites despite not putting on any bug spray. I also did not bother with sunscreen, there was never any sun. In fact, as soon as we went to leave, it started raining! As we were heading to the car, there was a guy throwing up pretty badly. I felt like everyone was doing pretty good on course, but obviously there was a lot that went down! (or up, bad joke, I know)
Rich told me about the three spry young fellas that were out doing their first marathon, at the Steinke Basin aid station, and how one ate a banana, and three steps later, the banana revolted. I liked those boys, they were so happy when I saw them on the out and backs!
Now for the post race damage report. Up until about mile 12 or so, I was unaware of any chafing on my back, but then it got bad. I thought that was going to be the worst. But that was a far cry from what happened other places. I went the whole race unaware of the chafing to my legs.
I have giant slits, some of it still white, from chafing of my shorts. The way coach put it was that salt was draining to the bottom of my clothes and sitting there building up causing it, and this make a whole lotta sense. I got chafing in places that had never chafed! The waistband. My calf compression socks at the top! Mind you this is nothing against the things I wore, I don’t think what I wore caused the chafing, it was the fact I did not reapply anti-chafing agents and did not rinse off salt during the race. I had plenty of experience with the items I wore during the race, and the shorts I wore I wore during the 100k at Zion and didn’t get any chafing from that, nor the sock which I wore on the bike and run of Ironman Wisconsin! Goes to show how harsh saturated air can be. Quick dry clothes can’t dry if they are in water. I put my clothes out to dry outside when I got home, and 48 hours later, they are ALMOST dry, since the air was also pretty saturated yesterday too! Yuck! My feet, with the traditional baby powder before socks on, were almost flawless other than being prune like due to sitting in my own sweat pools in my shoes for hours on hours. I used my brand new Altra Lone Peak 3.5s for the whole race, which had probably 10 or less miles on them before the race. Altra really does create the best trail shoes! Thanks for keeping me going forward! I also got some chafing in the unmentionables…it happens, and it’s healing. I won’t go into further detail, but I always make sure that’s coated in anti-chafe stuff. Need to reapply next time! I still can’t believe I went the whole race not noticing until I took my clothes off afterwards. I’m feeling really good muscle wise, no DOMS to be found, which is a new and exciting experience! Just some mild soreness from not having done the distance with such elevation changes. But after a massage or two with some rolling thrown in, I have no complaints. I’ve been more sore after a hard 5k! The plan from here is a marathon this coming weekend (HEAL FAST LIL BRO!) and then another long attempt to be decided which distance the weekend after that.
It’s total madness, but I am enjoying it and the challenge. As for a brief rundown of the course, it’s what I expected, mainly because I had done the half twice before, and it’s a great place to have a trail race, and it reminds me of my home in the Virginia mountains. I love the geology there, and how unique a place it is. Devil’s Lake is basically where two glaciers collided! One of these days I’ll actually take a dip into the lake after the race. I swear if the course changes to include part of the lake, it’s going down. The course is very well marked, and although the flags changing from pink to white close to the end didn’t make much sense in writing, it made total sense in practice. I realized the second time around following the white flags made more sense (there were pink, white, and blue flags marking the course for the first part because that’s what everyone followed and only pink for the ultra runners and the white flags disappeared somewhere in the middle), then there were only white and blue flags at the end, and now it doesn’t make sense when I am typing this but oh well! The race shirts, I always hope they keep the saying on the back, and they still do! “Dances with Dirt 2018. … I realize that my participation in this event entails the risk of injury or even death…”
Volunteers were awesome as always and very helpful. Trust me, they don’t have to be helpful, it’s their time! It’s a tough little course, that is trails from Devil’s Lake State park and the Ice Age Trail (was marked in yellow blaze at some point, but my memory is fuzzy). I love it when the trail has mixed terrain! It’s a hard race. But every year it keeps me coming back. I hope to tackle the 50 miler next year and beat that cut off time. Again, thanks for the read everyone out there making it this far. I know my reports are long but I hope they are good bedtime reading or helpful in some way and entertaining.
Lastly I’d like to thank my new team, Team Becoming Ultra (Team BU) who have been so supportive even not knowing who I am. I love keeping up with you guys out there and welcoming me so warmly and then Scott throwing me out there to the wolves and accepting my crazy mentality and working with me. Couldn’t be doing this without all you! ❤
Here is a quick link to last years’ DWD Devil’s Lake Half: The pictures really do look different!
Dances with Dirt Devil’s Lake Half Marathon and Xterra Illinois Wilds Recap