Well, I did it. I made it to the finish line of a 50k race!
What a day – what a good day! The day started off on a high note when I got to meet Melissa – a friend on Twitter, who convinced me to sign up for this particular race. She was running the 50 mile race, which started an hour earlier than the 50k, and I got to the starting line just in time to for us to meet, hug and take a picture. She is an amazing runner and rocked the day with 3rd place female in her race.
An hour later, with hand on my heart and hat off my head, the National Anthem was preparing the 50k racers to start. I gave my hubby one last kiss and saw his eyes welled up with tears. He was proud of me and I hadn’t even crossed the starting line yet. I knew in that moment, that I had to cross the finish line that day.
5-4-3-2-1 and finally across the starting line, which is such a moment of relief. It was a nice easy start, which promptly bottle necked 1/4 mile down the road as the route turned onto the single track – definitely not like the start of a road race. I pulled over to let a lot of people pass as I figured most people would be running faster than me. Actually all this did was put me behind a lot of people. Lesson learned. The first lap was about 10k – over the river and thru the woods and then up a long steep hill – Mt. Carbon. I really felt like I wanted to be running, but on that single track, behind all those previously mentioned people – all I could do was get in line and play follow the leader. As I reached the top and came across the saddle, I was a little unsure on my feet heading down the backside of the hill. I let a few people pass, but soon I gained my confidence – watching the trail, trusting my feet as I let them bounce down the hill and take advantage of the downhill.
As planned, I ran by the aid stations on the first lap. My legs felt a bit tired and heavy, but I knew they just needed to warm up and relax. This first lap was mentally my weakest. I questioned if I could finish the distance, doubted my ability, wondered why I had decided to do this, and what the hell am I doing running my first ultra at the age of 46? Plus I was having challenges with the RunKeeper app on my phone. I had set it up a few days prior to give me time and distance updates every 5k figuring this would be a good way to break down the 50k into bite-sized pieces. When I did this, it changed everything to kilometers, so I simply changed my setting back to miles. Back to the race, I’m waiting for my first 5k update and it doesn’t come until I’m almost done with the first lap. I heard, “Time: 1 hour 7 minutes 26 seconds, Distance: 5 kilometers” and I thought, “Shit! It is going to take me 10 hours to finish this thing!” It should have occurred to me that I was almost done with the first lap, which is 10k, but it didn’t. After a brief moment of panic, I assumed that RunKeeper was tracking wrong and told myself not to worry about it. Remember, Angela, you are not worried about pace today. As my friend Christina told me, my A, B and C goals were to finish. Period.
Headed towards the start/finish line I see Wayne, grab a quick kiss and a word of encouragement, and I start on lap #2 – the first of two 12 1/2 mile laps. Down the trail without the congestion this time, although someone was always within eye-shot. I felt like I had started to warm up and relax as I started this lap – just keeping it easy, keeping some words in mind from my friend Rich. Be patient and let the trail come to you. I had it rolling it around in my head as I made my way up Mt. Carbon for round 2. There was no thought of running up the beast this time, but hiked my way up the long hill, across the saddle and as I came down this time, my confidence was at an all time high! I still let a few guys pass – there were some spectacular runners out there. But I found my stride and bounced down the hill, music cranking and feeling really good. I came off the hill, onto the flat at the bottom, where the road split into new territory. I had ‘Born to Run’ in my ears and as I headed into the trees I told myself out-loud, “I can do this thing! I can totally do this!” It was such a peak and I savored every minute of it.
Somewhere along the downhill I got an update from RunKeeper – 2 hours and some minutes, distance, 10 miles…I heard MILES. I realized I had changed my setting back to imperial in order to read my friend feed in miles. In the end, none of this mattered because this was the last update I got. Note to self: It might be time for a Garmin.
Feeling high and confident, I headed into the tall, thick trees – covered, cool and moist. This was by far my favorite part of the trail. This is also where the water crossings were – 3 of them, pretty much back to back. I dipped my hat in the water, rinsed off my arms, made my way through the water and back out into the thick. Just as I’m prancing through the woods, the trail abruptly ends at a fence line, a golf course, condos and the dreaded concrete, which brought me into my first aid station stop. I grabbed some watermelon, a dill pickle and filled up with ice and water, and headed back out onto the trail and into the great wide open. (Thanks Tom Petty!)
This next stretch is exposed and dry and had a couple of killer hills – short but steep. I kept reminding my glutes to do the work. It’s amazing what happens when you talk to your muscles. They listen and engage and do what they’re told. This section of trail was definitely challenging, and not just because of the trail, but also because I had no idea of where I was or how far I had to go. As I came into the next aid station, the man there quizzed me about my food and water intake. When was the last time you ate? How much water? How about electrolytes? “Stay ahead of it”, he said. “Get you something to eat”. I greatly appreciated his concern, because 3-ish hours had passed and I hadn’t really eaten very much. I found it much harder to remember that I needed to eat on the trail than I do on the road. I was grabbing a banana and a pb&j when I heard, “Is that Angela Murphy?!” It was my friend Melissa coming into the aid station. We had a quick squeeze, a how-are-you-doing and I sent her speedy little butt down the road. It was so cool to see the running talent that some people have – I have so much to learn about efficiency and form and strength.
Back out of the aid station, still exposed but a nicer section of trail with more variety and down a nice big hill into the next aid station. These guys were great! They would run up to the road to grab your water bottles, ask what you needed and kept you moving. As I grabbed some more watermelon, I told the lady that her melons were much better than the last aid stations. She giggled, grabbed her husband’s arm and said, “He tells me that all the time.” They had me smiling and laughing as I ran towards the next section back into the trees. It was pretty good running through here, and I allowed myself some walk breaks, knowing I had another lap ahead of me. As I came out of the trees, I saw Wayne and my sister, Jolie, waving and cheering. Then as I headed up a rise to the start/finish, Melissa’s husband Rob gave me a shout out, and I made a quick stop into the aid station. It was so nice to be able to keep ice in my bottles – cold beverages make such a difference. I had thought about dropping my Orange Mud hydration pack and grabbing my handheld because my upper back was starting to get achy, but I couldn’t find my drop bag so I decided to just keep it and move on. I kind of aimlessly meandered here for a minute, when I saw a bucket with ice water and sponges, so I rinsed off my arms and then made a rookie mistake of rinsing my face with the bucket water. As I tasted the salt on my lips, I realized I probably just rinsed other people’s sweat all over my face! Ew. Lesson learned. I headed to the trail, rinsed my face with my water bottle and said, Just keep moving, Angela. Relentless forward progress. Just one more lap. Let’s go.
I knew I had close to 3 hours ahead of me and something about that 20 mile mark does strange things to the mind – getting past it seems to be its own accomplishment. I grabbed some food for the run/walk through the woods and towards Mt. Carbon for the third and final time. Slowly up the hill I went, talking to my glutes again. “Let’s go ass!! This is all you! Work!!” I love the feeling of cresting a hill, feeling my glutes propel me over the top and then taking on the downhill. I felt a sense of relief that I made it to the top, but as I started running across the saddle and down the backside, my aching calves decided that a nice hard cramp was in order. OUCH and I was stopped dead in my tracks. Mentally I was okay – very clear-headed. Drink your electrolytes, get to the next aid station and get some salt in your body. Just let it ease up and keep on truckin’. Within a quarter-mile, I was running again, gingerly taking the downhill, ever aware of my calves. Into the woods towards the water crossings, and I realized that somewhere along the line I had lost my music, or at least any awareness of it. Slow and easy thru the water, filling up my hat with cool water each time. I know I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating. I loved this section of the trail and enjoyed it so much. My focus was still on getting to the aid station which required one last run across the bloody concrete. Wayne was there at the aid station to tell me I was crushing it. I drank some pickle juice, ate a pickle, some watermelon and grabbed a handful of potato chips for the road. Iced up the water bottle, filled up the electrolytes and out into the Serengeti for the heat of the day. I had already planned to walk through a large part of this section to conserve my energy because I knew I had a shaded area for the last 5-6 miles. My legs and hip flexors were tired and the water crossings had started to do a number on the bottom of my feet. I could feel a blister forming and was terrified to see how bad it was. I walked through most of this section, running only occasionally and I kept reminding myself to save my legs for the shaded section, plus there was no sense in over exerting in the heat. Maybe I play it too safe, but I’m not in this for kidney failure or heat stroke. Be smart and finish.
Soon, I started playing cat and mouse with a pig-tailed blonde girl in a running skirt. We had passed each other several times during the day, and since we were both walking we took up chatting with each other and discovered we were both doing our first 50k as we sauntered into the next aid station. From this point, it’s a 10k to the finish. I loaded up on salted watermelon, and a volunteer had sponges to soak us down with ice water. Both of these things were heavenly! I headed out of the station with my new friend, Stephanie – her with an angry IT band, me with tired legs and blistered feet. We talked about kids, running, races, how we started running, and we joined forces to help each other finish. Stephanie used her Garmin to announce when we were past the marathon mark, and we celebrated together. For a minute, part of me thought that maybe I should have pushed on alone, that maybe I could have run more during that last stretch, if I’d been on my own. But there was such a sense of camaraderie between us that I felt like the running gods had put us together for a reason – to help each other – and who am I to argue with that? So we pushed and helped each other – “Let’s run a bit, Angela”. “I think we have some run in us, Stephanie. Let’s go”. “We can make it to that tree”. “Okay, time to walk a stretch” – whatever we had in us, back and forth as we made the final miles. A quick stop at the last aid station and we knew we were going to finish. There was no ache or pain that stopping was going to help. We had agreed we were running the last stretch, no matter what hurt, so we came around the bend running the last half mile to the finish, getting more and more excited the closer we got. As we pushed over the last rise in the trail to the finish line, we pulled in side-by-side and crossed that 50k finish line together, arms in the air, feeling such a sense of accomplishment – that feeling that we both loved, that drove us to start running and to keep running and to reach goals that once seemed impossible. Then, as if we had known each other our whole lives, we turned and gave each other a big sole-sister hug.
My sisters rushed in to hug me and Wayne just stood back and let me have my moment. When I hugged him, I felt like I just collapsed in his arms. “I’m proud of you”, he said. I was so happy in that moment. It’s funny how you feel after you achieve your goal. I knew I would finish. I knew I could do it, even though the weeks leading up to the race had me anxious and doubting. But then I finished – I accomplished my goal and the fear and anxiety I had – all the worry and stress – all those thoughts of “Why am I doing this?”, “What if I fail?” all vanish away in an instant over the course of 31 miles.