Hot Hilly Hairy 50k – Kenosha, Wi
The last three weeks have been a whirlwind, and I wasn’t sure I would make it out the other side. It all started with the Devil’s Lake DWD 50k, which I felt pretty good for, it chewed me up, and the weather wasn’t the best, AND the chafing was unbelievable. Then I moved on to the Lunatic Mad Dog Marathon, which humbled me. The trails were difficult, and I was tired; I had a bad day. But I finished. And now I was going to try and do another 50k for a third weekend, things looked grim. I was fatigued for sure. But I knew this race was important to try and test out how doing smaller loops for an ultra would work, as the course was only 5k and nontechnical (come to find out later), albeit hilly. I was not looking forward to it to say the least, and was scared.
A lot of emotions ran through my head. I had never ran two marathons on back to back weekends, not to mention doing three greater than or equal to marathon length runs on three consecutive weekends. I remember how hard it was when I ran my first two half marathons on back to back weekends, I was just not recovered for the second. I had earlier this year ran a marathon the same month as a 50k, but they were three weeks apart. I had also ran my first 50k three weeks before I PR’d the Blue Ridge Marathon course last year. I knew I had been taking things slower and easier, but my body was tired.
Fast forward to the day before race day. I gave up looking up forecasts. I had such rotten luck lately, and this year in general. I finally looked it up. Looked like mid 70s at best, chilly morning, but mostly clear skies for the morning. I looked up the race location, which I thought was outside of Milwaukee, but I was so so wrong. It was a little over 2 hours away, and with a 6am race start time, we would have to be leaving our house at 3am, since I was still not registered to race and needed to set things up at the start/finish area for my aid station. So I hit up some good friends about 20 minutes out from the race site (After looking at the map), and they said it was cool, and would stay the night with them and hang out the following day. Rich got off work, and we headed out to Illinois! The ride was really uneventful, yay! We arrived, ate dinner with them getting Chipotle to go (hey if it has rice, that’s all I need prerace), and we spent the night relaxing and laughing with some short video series. Then I headed off to bed, and tried to sleep.
WRONG. You may never sleep the night before a race! I think I maybe got about 2 hours of sleep. I really hate these restless nights. Anxiety was running high again. I woke at 4:15am. Giant sighs just emanating from my soul. I hate the time right before dawn so very much. I gathered myself and Rich, trying to let him sleep as much as I could. We sneaked out the door, not bothering the little puppers which was a surprise! We navigated north to the race. WRONG. Ugh, so following the address on the facebook event site was not a good idea. We ended up in a private drive. Andrea was already at the race site, as she was hanging out, crewing <3, and handling the kids’ race later on, and even getting in her own run. I messaged her in a slight panic. She calmed me. Went to the event website and gathered up that address and with the confirmation from Andrea, we made it to the race site, just two miles from where we got lost.
Didn’t lose much time. The race start/finish line area was impressive. It was at the UW Parkside cross country course. Tents were starting to pop up. I headed to the main tent and signed up for the race where I received a tiara (had the choice of either red or purple, I chose red) and was told when I finished I would get a sticker to go on the back, a long sleeve shirt, and sticker sheet to keep up with my laps on my bib. I have to say, it did cross my mind briefly that I could just sign up for the 85k (which was debated which distance I would do until just a few days before), but I stuck with the plan. The plan being that I could run this race, but not race it, Andrea given the instructions from Mr. Coach to trip me if I tried to go too fast. We (Rich and I) went back to the car and gathered all my items I needed for the race. We then headed to the 50k corral. So every distance had their own space/corral taped off on the left side of this giant runway in this field. The opposite side had several tents where I came to find out were for the cross country high school teams and relay teams doing the Hil100py 100 miler. It really was like a giant and organized tailgate party as the website said. I wasn’t sure what to expect really because the race website was pretty vague. I knew beforehand that the RD (race director) was a low key guy and just wanted to provide for a good time. All I knew was that I could set up in an area of my own at the start/finish and there was an aid station 1.7 miles into the 3.1 mile course and the course was hilly.
I had set this up pretty well. I had my Zion “drop bag” (just a plastic colored box) with all my nutrition. Today’s plan was to take ONE item from the box every loop. Items consisted of peach fruit cups (full sugar juice!), honey stinger chews, honey stinger gels and other brand gels I had left over from other events. I had one bottle of cherry sprite, my tailwind bag, and my BCAA container and my bottle to put it all in and carry with me. I was unable to get water before the race, but had about half a clif bar before arriving to the race, and I was unable to find water before taking off in the race! I knew this wasn’t a big deal because it was just a 5k loop, and I could survive that long without water and knew the aid station about half way would have water. But it was come to find out later that this race really didn’t provide anything but liquid on course…no gels or anything special. Anyway, I was putting on my antichafe, and as I was applying, the whole thing feel out. Oh no, I was out. I had some squirrel nut butter, but I hadn’t really tried it during a race or long run yet. I applied the tiny container I had the best I could out in public to boot…not the best idea. I felt like a triathlete who didn’t care how saw what out there in the middle of the open field. Nothing got exposed, but it sure did look like the Old Bay Guy situation.
Andrea had some chair and a small cooler she brought, along with ALL the first aid goodies in her giant sack of goodness. I traveled over to the start area, which wasn’t a line, but just the other side of some truck. It was COLD, I could see my breath! IT. IS. LATE. JULY. What madness is going on?! But it was clear and I wasn’t going to complain about seeing the sun in a race for the first time in a long time. So the race started a little late. I went off with the 85k/100k’ers at 6:07am I guess? They were supposed to have the national anthem play, but something went wrong, so the whole of everyone there started singing it instead! It was rather quiet, but it was nifty. The deal was, at the end of the anthem, we would “go”. And I believe it took a second or two, but after a few laughs from the crowd, some people took off! I started my watch, and started off, UP, and UP the first and biggest hill.
This report is going to move differently than others I’ve typed up in the past, because I’ve never really done a small looped course before, I had no idea if this was going to be a good thing, or something I would tire of. I thought it was going to be mentally more difficult. So I’m going to describe the course and then most of what is to come are just my experiences while traversing said course.
The first hill was pretty significant, as it didn’t have a very high grade, but it was long (0.52 miles according to the garmin) with one little reprieve about 2/3 the way up. It was all open field, no real marked trail, so it was interesting to see which path everyone took, it was reallllly wide! Trees lined both sides of the field. The field was mowed down for the most part. I didn’t start out that fast, not like the crazy people busting up the hillside, which I thought was insane for ultra runners! But I did start out relatively fast for me, which I didn’t catch onto until later when my watch beeped. Scaling the hill was hard, the grass was very wet with dew and it got my feet wet. My legs didn’t feel tight, but I could tell they were protesting having to go uphill at the start. I didn’t walk this the first time. When I got to the top, I noticed most people were heading to the right (where they had been on the left). We reached an opening in the trees on the right and in the field there was this incredibly squat blue spruce pine tree, probably about 9 feet tall, but a lot wider than it was tall! I regret forgetting to take a picture of this odd tree. It flattened out a little bit here, still on the up, but very low grade at this point and a trail reveled itself! This was probably the most narrow part of the course, if you could call any part of this course narrow. You could fit one or two runners on the trail, but everything was mowed pretty low here and as it got more and more trampled down, this became less an issue. The ground here was not uneven like typical grassy fields that I’ve had experience with. The course moved into the woods here where I met my nemesis, the slanty trail. This was the only part of the trail I hated, but it was short lived! A little rocky and uneven here. This moved into an area where I would walk most laps just due to heart rate. Oh yeah, I decided to base my run on heart rate so as to not overdo it. My number today was 160bpm, so trying to stay in zone 3 and nothing above it. For whatever reason, this section of the course would raise my heart rate, and it wasn’t hilly or harder, but whatever! The course took a left turn into a field with trees on the left and went uphill some more turning back into the woods, a little more gravel here. This was a steeper climb but it was short. I would run the first half, and then walk the second more steep half. This was met with a steep downhill which I pounded out. This overall felt good until the last two laps! This met with a really nice long flat and nontechnical packed dirt section, mild tree coverage so light shone through the leaves, slightly downhill. I loved this section. This was the section right before the aid station which I found out was actually just the start/finish area! The course pinched in the middle of the loop, allowing you to have access to restrooms here. I kept this in mind when I wanted Rich to bring me things about half way through the loop. Right after this aid station, 1.7 miles in, there was the second steep more prolonged hill on course. I walked this every time. It was steep, and gravel-y and then sandy at the top! I didn’t mind this. The course had a few more mini hills but was mostly net downhill from there to back to the start/finish, and I made good time here every time. I picked two hills that were my “battle” to take on every loop, each time I knew I would run these even if I was slow. I eventually picked a third later on earlier in the loop. The last half of the loop was fantastic, it was very even ground, and I could pick up speed easily on it. The course crossed a small “bridge” at some point, I hated this bridge, it was soft and reminded me of AstroTurf, green, and without the turf. It felt so awkward to cross and it was at the bottom of a steep decline, so I always ended up hitting it hard. There was one part of the course near the end that reminded me of double track, where there were kind of two paths and the middle was harder to run on, and every loop say for a few near the end, I was always being passed by a faster runner so I was on the right side of it. I remember thinking how privileged I was getting to be on the left near the end! The very end was pretty rocky and smoothed out going slightly uphill to the finish. I remember there was a black plastic drain pipe that was slightly exposed to the world above that I used as a marker to signal I was almost back and there was no excuse to walk here. I found out after a few loops, I kept adding in other course markers, like two taped off areas after the drain pipe to keep me on pace.
So I finished the first loop! Just 34 minutes. I had stopped to take a few pictures, but I needed to improve my plan for the next loop. It was a little on the fast side. As I headed out from the first loop at the finish line, I ran down the aisle of tents! Right to my mini aid station. This was so useful, you didn’t have to add any extra distance to your race. The 50k section was near the end, so I would keep running until I reached it knowing I would stop and grab things. Here I grabbed a gel and my water bottle now filled with tailwind. And I was off again! Up that darn hill. This time I had a plan. I would run up to right past this sign that was smack in the middle of the field as the incline got steeper, and then walk until I hit this tree that was aligned with another large tree across the field from it, kind of making a fake line. This is where I would run this flat section, until the hill rose again. At this point I was staying to the left, in later loops, I would move to the right side. The sun was rising and starting to burn off the morning dew, but it was still soaking my shoes. I loved the sun. It felt so good.
Second lap, third lap, I don’t remember much, it went by SO fast. My second lap was almost as fast as my first. It was SUCH a good course! I didn’t feel like I was pushing anything, and tried to slow down. The only part about running a 5k loop is that the loop mile times get more and more off each time you go around. So what was mile 2 on course, after the first loop, was mile 2.1-3.1, and third lap was shifted to 2.2-3.2, so you couldn’t judge your actual mile times every loop with how you were doing. Eventually it shifted enough that one of my mile was really slow despite keeping the same plan and effort just because it involved more hills. So every time, the aid station shifted, so 1.7 miles to 1.8 miles, to 1.9 miles, like it kept getting further away haha! The second lap I did decide I didn’t want to carry my water bottle. It wasn’t hot enough for me that I needed water during a loop, and the aid station was enough half way for me. I ditched it after only using it one loop. The first three loops were the fastest 9.3 miles I’d ever had mentally, it was like I had only run one loop! I couldn’t believe I was almost half way done.
I had picked up some chews, and started taking in soda at the start/finish. I decided that since this was enough sugar for now, I would take my one item that I was required to take from my box each lap right before the halfway aid station. The chews, again, did not go over well. I fought with myself to consume them. The chews I had used and trained with for years… note taken. I stuck with the gels that held their own and were easy to just carry along for 1.7 miles. Having specifically marked locations where I would take in my nutrition worked for me really well, and I never missed a beat. Fourth loop I think it was, the one that would bring me about half way, I got to run with Andrea for a while! It was nice chatting with someone, as the course was mainly empty, everyone going their own paces. I was amazed to find out that Andrea got in some 10 miles that day, and I never missed her at the start/finish! Way to go!! By the fifth loop, I think I needed to apply some sunblock. I stopped for a bit here to have Rich coat me. Victory was had that day, as I sustained no burns. Rich was not so lucky. I would say about half the course was in the direct sunlight.
I was half way done!! What the heck! I hit half way right under the pace I would need to break 6 hours, I think it was 2 hours and 50 minutes or thereabouts. I tried to get that idea out of my head quickly, because the real race had yet to start. I did not want to form expectations that I could break 6. I was supposed to come out of this, as Andrea yelled at me that I had to be fresh by Wednesday! I had not heard this, but it came as a threat (I do not use this word negatively mind you)! I dialed it in. By mile 18 I started to struggle a bit, but I think this was because I needed to stop at a restroom, but resisted because I didn’t want to lose time. But by putting this off, I lost time because it was more uncomfortable to run. I didn’t take the break until a loop later. Everything sat fine in my stomach though. I had no GI issues. But I had been putting a lot of liquid down, a cup of water every aid station, and some sort of electrolyte they had on site…I have no idea if it had calories or not.
Along one of these last few loops, I was running along the right side tree line on the first hill, and spotted the wing of a butterfly, it was so pretty. After about ten steps, I decided to go back and take a picture of it because I didn’t think I would see it again. I took this as a sign that I was ok, and I could do this. Butterflies mean a lot to me in running. I saw a few monarchs on course, as well as a few light lilac tiny butterflies near the end, like they were trying to carry me along. Lo and behold, I would see this butterfly wing two more times!
Overall I felt fine after the potty break, which almost immediately set me free from the discomfort I was having. It was my slowest mile at 14:11, second to 13:12 (mile 29, mostly uphill), not shabby at all. Just the previous week, these were my best mile times. I hit the marathon point at about 5 hours and change, even better than my Ironman pace, which I am still proud of since I managed to run the whole thing. I knew at this point, my sub 6 dream was buried until a later date. I thought about a lot of math on course, as that keeps me occupied. I slowed down a bunch in the last few miles going from 11:20s to 12:20s, I probably needed more calories. I remember I texted Rich, “MUST DRINK SPRITE NEXT STOP” because I kept forgetting to drink it. I would get past the starting hill and fondly think about how good the Sprite would be and looked forward to it. I lost this somewhere during the loop and would forget for 3 loops! I eventually drank the whole thing, taking in more and more each loop. Rich had to run off and buy me more, but made it back in time to have it! I had him meet me also on the 2nd to last loop at the half way aid station with the sprite. It was amazing.
I remember being passed constantly later in the race by school guys going at least a 6:00 min/mi pace. Sometimes I would picture them as zombies chasing me from behind, as I could hear them from quite a bit aways. Sometimes I would race them down the hills. Overall it was fun having them around. I knew they were only in it for one lap, so why not go all out?
I thought a lot about my form during the race. I tried to focus on it. I saw the video of me finishing the Devil’s Lake course, and I just look wobbly and unbalanced. I don’t feel that way, but it definitely doesn’t make me look like an elite runner. I am considering having someone analyze it after this 100 miler passes me by. No point changing form now! That might end in disaster. I got around to starting the final loop, and was talking to Rich, and Rich said Andrea told him it was 11 laps. This didn’t make sense to me since 5k x 10 loops is 50k right? I was a math major. Panic was instilled in my bones. I headed off nervously. This is where I forgot to take a picture of the squat pine tree, too mentally occupied with the thought of doing another lap for what reason? I had even made a deal with myself on the 2nd to last loop that I would take picture the last loop. I dwelled on this for so long. I texted and facebook messaged Rich for updates (as I had sent him to investigate the actual lap count), and kept checking my phone every minute to see if he had sent an update if I didn’t manage to feel the phone vibrate for. Finally got word back that is was 10 loops. The elephant got off of me immediately. I reached the half way aid station. I had Rich take my phone at this point because my left side of my quad was feeling bad. I concluded later it was from too much pressure on my thigh and it still feels rather bruised, but I don’t think any muscle damage was done. Rich offered to run the last part with me, but I needed to do this alone. I had 1.5 miles to go. It was over! I took the last chunk of Sprite.
I tried to give the last bit everything I had, but I had nothing left, and my pace went down a bit. I did my best, and came up to the finish area where Rich and Andrea were waiting, I didn’t need anyone else at the finish, and seeing them lit me up. I smiled and sped up a bit. I crossed in 6 hours and 7 minutes, a full hour off of the time at Devil’s Lake which was also a new PR for me for 50k. But cutting an hour off? The course was not flat. In total it was 1850 vertical, much less than Devil’s Lake, but not insignificant. Each mile had about the same loss/gain. But it was like this course was made for my legs. I was able to manage the ups and downs very well, unlike the previous weekend. The sun helped a lot. Temperatures topped out at 79°F, 50% humidity. Perfect conditions. I maintained an average heart rate in zone 3 the whole time, and never went truly anaerobic. Today was a good day.
I went off and just wanted to sit. I had not sit this entire time. It felt so good and gave my legs the relief they wanted. My right foot is still bugging me, and I’m not sure what’s really going on there.
I went over and got a free stretch session with a booth that was there, and they told me I had good range of motion for what I had just done. Then I went over to get the sticker on my tiara, and headed to the results table. I did not expect to get third overall female and 1st age group. I was not the only one in my age group. I was in shock. I went and got food a bit later after saying goodbye to Andrea and getting a few selfies. At the time, I felt like I would be sore. The pads on my feet hurt to touch, they were certainly tender like that filet you pay $50 for. As we finally left, we ran into the race director who was in great spirits. There was no awards except for top finishers overall. But that’s ok, I wasn’t expecting it, but it never hurts to ask before embarking on your long journey home. Guy was great, and ran a great race on a quality course.
I probably should be back next year!! I remember at one point after hitting 10 miles that I was cruising so hard that I wasn’t sure I was getting my money’s worth out of the race, I still laugh about this cause I knew the RD would allow people to jump distances if they wanted. Again, very low key and easy going. The 50k has the most participants! Glad to have also come in top 10 overall finishers too. I might work on my speed next year. It’s pretty motivating.
Afterward, we headed back to our friend’s house and played dance games, taking showers, and to our surprise another friend had showed up who was local to Chicago! We all went out to a final dinner and just hung out. We decided this needed to happen again soon, which I am grateful for. I want to thank Ryan and Christal again for their hospitality, let’s do it again soon! Thank you Andrea for being there for me, and with all your goodies. You are so caring! I hope I can be there for you too.
And now, I have the Fort 14, a 14 miler I am pacing at an easygoing pace next weekend, but I don’t know the outcome of this training. If I don’t make it through the 100 miler in Texas, I have a backup plan, but I know I want to push as much as I can and learn as much as I can, and this has been one heck of a journey and I don’t regret any of it, good times and bad time. I’m fairly recovered now and focusing on post race nutrition and active recovery. So far so good. Keep following for more exciting updates, and don’t forget to check out Becoming Ultra’s podcasts, I have another coming up soon!