Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Day I Became An Ultramarathoner (Stone Cat 50-Miler Race Report, Part I)

Yikes, this has been hard to write. I want to capture the day *just right*, and be able to describe in print just what an amazing day yesterday happened to be.

This race was a long time in the making; I spent many months putting in a ridiculous amount of sweat, blood, and tears to ensure I finished this 50-miler upright and in good spirits. As they say, it takes an army. I have an incredible support system who motivates me every single day to get out there and be my best. Those people are the ones who were instrumental in getting me to that starting line.

I'm going to break this into pieces, instead of a 60,000 word essay which would bore you all to tears.

The Morning

I was woken up by my 3 alarms (yes, I'm OCD with alarms; I have an irrational fear of over-sleeping for important events).

Grabbed alllllllllllllll of my stuff (and there was a lot of it), and headed to Ipswich

I was a disaster; stomach in knots and complete butterflies everywhere. I had done a 30+ mile training run, but there was about a 19 mile gap from my longest training run, and the 50 mile race distance. That is a long freaking way of "unknown".

It was awesome to show up at the gym and see familiar faces; it helped distract me from my brain, which was on total overdrive. It was pitch black outside, and I knew we were running with headlamps until the sun rose. It was something I haven't done a lot of, and the trails are hard enough for a clutz like me to navigate in the broad daylight, nevermind the dark.

Headlamps are so sexy.. 
As we shuffled out to the start line, I felt for the notes that I had friends write; I knew I would need those during my low points in the race for the extra motivation to fight for the finish..

Moments before the gun went off (more like the person yelling GO GO GO, but either way..), I turned to Sara for some words of encouragement  I knew all I had to do was get through those first 2 loops solo, and then I would have her by my side for the final 25 miles. With 2 100 mile races, and many many 50 mile races under her belt, I knew she was the best person to be taking me home for my first 50 miler.

The First Two Loops

God that start was tough. It was so dark, and there were so many headlamps bobbing around a small trail. It was absolutely surreal..

As we were heading into the woods
My goal INSTANTLY turned to staying upright; it was slippery, the first part was narrow, and it was going to be a long day. There was no need for me to gain a few minutes, only to fall on my face and ruin momentum early in the game.

I found a veteran ultrarunnner within the first 5 minutes, and stayed on her hip. She carried me for the first 30ish minutes, and then we said our good-byes. She was shooting for a 12.5 hour finish, and while I would have been happy with ANY finish, I knew I had trained to be faster than that.

After I left her, it got really lonely; this was a HUGE deviation from road races that I wasn't expecting. I'm used to spectators along the course, and being surrounded by people throughout the miles. With only a couple hundred runners between the marathon and 50-miler, combined with being in the trails, I spent a LOT of time alone with my thoughts.

Plodding along through the first aid station (they were at miles 4.2 and 7.5ish), I realized I needed to come up with a solid plan, and implement it immediately. I was just kinda floating along, walking when I saw people walking, running when others were doing the same. No real game plan, and I knew I was setting myself up for a complete implosion if I continued this way. I needed direction.

During training, I've read no less than 48 different ways to execute a 50-miler; they all have some variation of a walk/run plan. I decided on a 4 minute run/2 minute walk plan, and would stick to it until I picked up Sara at mile 25. While I knew this might slow me down a bit, I need to preserve my emotional stability for as long as possible. Control what I could control.

I was using my little Timex to do the run/walk, and resetting it to zero after each hour. It made the time and miles seem so much more manageable than when I was just shuffling around the woods with no plan. My Garmin 405 was constantly running, but the numbers on that watch were way more scary, so I focused on each 6 minute "set" on my Timex. Before I knew it, I was coming up to the school to check-in, and to start loop 2.

why yes, I was using my headlamp as a tourniquet..
I pulled in, grabbed more nutrition, had some words with Sara, and headed back out to the woods.

This loop was much like the first; I stuck to my 4/2 plan, but this time would open up to 5-6 minutes of running if I happened to be on a flat/rolling area. I walked every steep hill, no matter whether or not the watch said to run or walk. My time running was definitely faster than the first loop, and I did a very fast walk for the 2-minute "walk breaks".

After I went through the 7.5 mile aid station, I knew these were the last miles of the entire day I would have to run alone. I also knew that JoJess, Scott, and Miguel would be there, cheering their faces off. This, in and of itself, powered me to get to that check-in station with a huge smile on my face. I saw Scott and Lisa on their way back out, shouted encouragement, and went to grab my running partner!!!

I found a groove this loop, ran happy, and my time was considerably faster than the first loop. I felt strong, and had growing confidence that I would ACTUALLY finish this race well under the time limit!

I've gotten a lot of questions about aid stations and nutrition, so here is what worked REALLY well for me.  I spent very little time at any aid stations, treating them like any other marathon aid station. I grabbed coke/water, drank it, and left. I never came to a complete stop, and not once during the entire race did I "stop" completely unless I was changing a shirt, re-filling my pack, etc. I also stuck to Clif Bloks and Healthy Bites ONLY. One block/bite every other mile, for the entire 50 miles (although I did have to switch to gummy bears the last 10 miles; more on that later). I took a salt tab on the hour, and also took 1 Ibuprofen every 8-10 miles. I drank Gatorade from my pack during every walk break, therefore never going more than 4 minutes without taking fluid. 

.... to be continued


  1. Ahhh!! Leaving me in suspense and I know how this thing ends ;-) I LOVE reading about the race from your perspective my friend. I only saw it in snippets so to 'see' it through your eyes is just awesome. SO SO proud of you friend, I can't say it enough. And SO SO SO glad I was there to witness that finish!! Ahhh it was incredible. Just like YOU! xoxo!

  2. Ahhhh! I was hoping for the whole report! :) Si excited to read more and so proud of you.

  3. Wow! Congrats on a huge accomplishment! Interested to hear the rest...

  4. You are such a tease ;-) I am so proud of you and so happy to have been there to watch almost the entire 50 miles unfold (from a distance!). You are truly the most humble, yet most accomplished runner, and I love that about you, your passion is contagious! Can't wait to read the rest and love love love to have spent the weekend together! XOXO

  5. Loving the sneak peek race report- can't wait for the rest!
    And I'm totally ordering some healthy bites based on this and a few other recent reports on them. Thanks for getting their name out there.

  6. OH MY GOSH.....this is so freaking exciting, I can't wait to read the rest!

  7. Nice job Meaghan! Besides the training and determination required, a 50 miler requires a steadfast patience that I don't think I possess. Can't wait to read the rest. :)