I signed up for the stone cat 50 miler way back in July… but the idea of running Stone Cat has been festering for well over a year after my first 50 miler DNF at TARC 50 that ended up being a 25 mile swim. Unfortunately the 2013 Stone Cat was the same day as the NYC marathon… So I waited again and tried another TARC 50 miler on a different course… with the same DNF result… In July, I signed up for the lottery to get into Stone Cat and got in! I wasn’t sure what to expect for a fall race since historically Fall is busy time of year for my job where I end up working most Saturdays until 10/15… However, I ended up switching jobs and for the first time in a while, I had weekends opened up to get some of the long runs I would need to get myself ready for this adventure… I can go into more about my training, but I think it warrants a post of its own since it wasn’t the most traditional of plans.
The Stone Cat 50 Miler was held on Saturday, November 8th 2013 at 6:15. The cost of the race is $85 plus fees so essentially $90. The cost to the lottery is Free and while I’m pretty sure the getting picked rate is probably around 100%, the lottery is there to relieve some of the registration stress that seems to happen with races nowadays and servers going boom on the opening hour of registration.
The week of the race I wasn’t traveling for work and unfortunately didn’t get the best rest that I would have liked… It was also that week that I started to feel pain on the side of my leg. Basically the part where my foot connects to my leg in the front. I ignored it for the most part, thinking it was maybe the hotel treadmills and me not getting enough sleep… I got home and ran on Wednesday night and felt okay. Thursday, I went for a 10K on my home treadmill and when I was done, my leg was killing me. At this point, I still thought my pain was muscular and would be gone with a good day of rest. So Friday I worked from home, icing, elevating and the whole RICE treatment hoping that my leg would be good to go by 6:15 AM Saturday.
But first there was the headlamp fiasco… I couldn’t find my old headlamp I used.. and the Fenix flashlight I usually use has had an unfortunate death with Duracell batteries refusing to remove themselves… so I did what any ordinary girl would do… I ordered 1 day delivery from Amazon… only to be disappointed…. Yes, as a prime member, I paid extra to get my delivery in 24 hours only to be disappointed that my headlamp was still in Indiana… so Friday night after packing everything else… we tore the house down looking for the old headlamps because I doubt REI is going to be open at 5AM… luckily we found them.
Initially if everything went to plan, I wouldn’t have needed the headlamp… but as I learned two weeks ago in Ghost Train.. it’s always good to have.
So finally.. I am fully packed with 20 pairs of socks, a few extra layers ready from 100 degrees to negative 100 degrees and more pairs of shoes than most people own in 5 years… yes, when I pack for an ultra.. I pack more than I would for a 3 week trip to Asia. But yes, finally I am packed and ready for bed.
And BAM! the 5AM alarm goes off… I can wake up early… but I really hate it and this wake up with the stress of traveling during the week really felt like a punch in the face. Luckily, the race is only 30 minutes from my house in Ipswich. Tony graciously dropped me off at the race start as we got there around 6:05 AM… Yea probably a little bit late. As I grab my number and shirt from the awesome volunteers, I start to set up my drop back area. My leg feels better, but I can still feel a minor dull ache that I continue on ignoring.
The weather is somewhere in the 30s and I feel groggy and a little cranky as I try to evaluate what layers I need. I finally decide to go with a tshirt and my 2012 Boston Marathon Jacket for some comfort and warmth…Plus it’s bright and orange and makes me happy and reminds me of one of the most difficult runs I ever had. 2012 Boston Marathon was no joke and I’m proud that I stuck through it. I also kept a hat on which I probably didn’t need but I was just not in the mood to be cold. For the bottom I am wearing a pair of old black Capris I got a few years ago from Express… Yes.. not exactly ideal tights for 50 miles of running… Unfortunately with all the commuting, travel and working from home, I forgot that I pretty much horde a whole closet of workout clothes at work in Boston which is where my three pairs of favorite running capris were currently residing at. Whatever, it’s not the gear that makes the runner… it’s the runner that well fuck it gotta do what she gotta do because a 3AM drive to Boston was not in the cards.
So I am dressed… or undressed from my warm layers… hearing the trail briefing and ready to start when I decide maybe it would be a great idea to take a bathroom visit before I start running. Unfortunately, unlike road races, trail races for some tragic reason (for the almost late Liana) seem to always start on time… so as the rest of the runners start their 50 mile journey, I scurry over to look for the bathroom… which of course is proceeded by a line. So aside from being a 50 miler, stone cat trail races also has a marathon that starts 15 minutes later at 6:30 so all of those runners are being timely. In my head I scream a few expletives about being such a morning wreck and debate the merits of peeing on myself instead of this line… but eventually decide that running with a full bladder or wet pants for 50 miles will probably not be fun.
About 5 minutes later, I am off, joining the first of the pack into the woods. Stone Cat 50 miler consists of FOUR 12.5 mile loops. The aid stations are at mile 4 mile 7.5 and then back at 12.5. I’m used to running 20 miles with no food and water and I decide that at least for the first loop or two, I’m going to leave my handheld in my drop bag. I liked being hands free.
The first mile or so of the first loop is a bit lonely as everyone has had a 5 minute head start and I kinda enjoy the peace and quiet of it all… then I start to catch up and see a bunch of runners but none of whom look familiar and I kind of get a little more cranky.
To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of rolling single track at the start of races… I don’t run on trails often and sometimes it takes me a bit to get into them. Also, I’m not a fast runner but I’m also not a slow runner until the downhill part. So for the majority of it, I am trying to get around runners on the uphill and flat part and having panic attacks as others run around me on the downhill. And while I’m usually relatively social, I found myself in a mood. Maybe, it was subtle stress of my leg, maybe it was exhaustion, maybe it was everyone looking so at ease and me feeling the struggle of mile 1 like it was mile 31, but I was in a mood. The hard part about being in a mood is that I can’t fake being happy but I also don’t want to be a debbie downer. I am so grateful for having these trails so close by but at that point in time, I was cursing every bump, rock and root. I was just not in the mood for trails or people… or maybe anything. Maybe it was my lack of caffeine?
Around mile 2, I saw my friend Anj and I instantly felt better. Maybe, I just needed some familiarly to comfort myself as I felt so out of place on the single track terrain. I decided to stop looking at my watch, or time, or miles and just take it step by step. So what if I had to walk every downhill, if that’s the break I needed, then I’ll take it and just run a little faster on the flat part. Many ultrarunners take walk breaks and while most don’t do them on downhills, it’s okay, I don’t have to be like all the other children… As I was working on letting go of my insecurities, I hit the first aid station at mile 4 that was playing music and full of perky, happy volunteers. I immediately downed two cups of coke, not because I was thirsty, but because I’m pretty sure I was feeling caffeine and sugar withdrawal. I didn’t really eat a breakfast even though I probably should have. In the next 3.3 miles I started to pass by more familiar faces from TARC and was finally feeling a little bit more comfortable. I wasn’t an outsider trying to keep up. These are my people and while most of them I only see at trail races, I am constantly in awe of all their accomplishments, just like sometimes they are of mine. Our accomplishments and skills and background might be different, but we’re all here to challenge ourselves and achieve our individual goals. Maybe it was the caffeine kicking in, but in simple terms, I was finally chilling the bleep out.
The 7.5 aid station came by quickly as I decided to pass it and hold out for the end of the loop at 12.5. Somewhere in those 5 miles there was a volunteer dressed as a clown… clowns and woods… not cool people.. not cool… I prefer the Yeti ;). It was also around this time that the faster marathons started catch up and lapping me. It’s always though on the ego when you get passed and it messed with my pacing a bit. I wanted to run faster, and keep up with them.. but I kept trying to remind myself that I got double the distance and should focus more on finishing the course versus racing others.
Before I knew it, I hit the first 12.5 miles in about 2:27 (minus my 5 lateness minutes)… a little smarter, a little slower than stone cat. I immediately changes out of my jacket and hat into a thin long sleeve. Had a few bits of pumpkin pie, some salted potatoes and moved on. My second loop was meditative… for the most part I was running alone and I liked it. I love the support and volunteers of races, but when I’m running, I like being in my own head and gazing around. Suddenly, a large portion of the terrifying single track seemed pleasant and beautiful. I went from not just chilling out, but really enjoying myself and remembering why I love trail running and ultra running. The second loop went by quickly, and I even started to pass some of those marathoners that flew past me… pacing is a skill that takes practice physically and mentally.
As I finished my second loop at 4:53 (less 5), I saw a few more of my favorite familiar faces who were waiting to pace their friends. Then I realized, I kind of forgot to get myself a pacer… in TARC races, the 50 milers weren’t allowed to have them and in Ghost Train since you’re running 7.5 miles pack and forth, you don’t really need one on the rail trail… so it sort of slipped my mind that I might want one on my final 12.5 miles.
As I started my third loop, I started thinking whether I wanted a pacer. I was still feeling great. In fact, I was surprised by how much energy I had as I was going into the middle of my third loop. At mile 30 at ghost train, I was fading fast,, versus here, with a slower and more consistent pace, I was keeping relatively steady with my energy level. Maybe this whole pace yourself theory does have some logic. As I continued, I would sync up and chat with a few runners. I loved hearing where people run, how far, and other details. I love that you can run alone for a bit, have a nice little chat and then go back into your personal zone. When people ask if I ever get lonely running for 10 hours in the woods. The answer is no. In a world where I’m so connected via social media, and close coworker cube office environment. I cherish those moments when I’m unplugged and with nature. Plus, I know if I slow down or speed up, I can eventually find another like minded person I can chat with for a bit.
The great and happy selfie…
On my third loop, around mile 36 just as I was thinking of how great I felt with energy, my left knee gave out. It just wouldn’t take any more running. When I got near the clown, I had to get over my fear and borrow his chair for a stretch. For the first time in a rice, I felt great, my back wasn’t hurting, my energy was on cue and only thing that was stopping me was a sharp pain in my left knee with each step. I tried to do a jog, a run walk and eventually just gave up to walking the final 2 miles of the loop. Before my sudden sharp pains, I was on cue to hitting 37.5 miles in under 7:30. Right on plan with my 10 hour goal. My actual time at loop three was 7:45 minus 5.
As I was in the zone of debating between what to do with my life… because I’m so dramatic… I mean race between loop 3 and final loop 4, I decided to sit down and grab some food. I drank a little noodle, had some hot coco and take a few steps into a warm school bathroom because even though I was running with no hydration, I was definitely downing more liquids than I needed to.
My mind was racing and I was going back and forth about whether to DNF or not. I always said I would never run on an injury. However, I figured what’s the worse that could happen. I heal fast. At this point, I still thought my injury was soft tissue. Plus at this point, I had more than 4 hours to walk my final 12.5 miles of the course. Should I really DNF because I didn’t want a slower time than my goal? That seemed silly. I was tired of DNFing for all the wrong reasons and while for the first time, I probably have a legit reason, I felt like a disappointment if I didn’t finish this one. I wanted an official 50 miler and ghost train because the loops were 15 miles, didn’t really count as one. I’m also, not sure when I’ll have the time and energy to train as hard again. This had to be it. I grabbed my Jacket and my head lamp. I wasn’t cold. but I knew I had some serious hours and miles ahead of me if I was going to get through the final loop. I also decided to change my shoes from trail to road because they had a bit more cushion and I wanted comfort for walking vs. the protection and feed back of my Innov-8.
I was definitely not making the sunset cut-off. After chatting a little bit with my friend Mike and walking a half mile. I felt a bit less shaken and determination took over. I can finish in the time I had left and at this point, all my pride wanted was an official finish.
My final loop was a haze. Well that’s a lie. The first 8 miles of the 4.5 was a haze as I was right foot, left foot. My knee stopped hurting but the pain in my leg by the shin returned. Any down step felt like what I always imagined a kick in the balls would feel like. I started to get passed by runners I passed before and there was nothing I could do about it. I was running my own race and they had theirs. It wasn’t about others anymore, it was just me and my battle.
At one point I saw my friend Anj on her final loop and was really excited by how great and strong she looked! She asked me to run with her, but I just couldn’t get my foot to match my energy and wish her luck on her final miles. It was also at some point that I hit my right toe straight into a rock as I was texting on my phone… and for a bit, the pain in my toe, made me forget about the pain in my left foot and I rain for a few minutes.
I made it to the final aid station with 5 miles left to the course and Tony wasn’t there. I convinced him to walk the final 5 miles with me but he couldn’t find the trailhead and said the road was too rough for our Prius. I continued and only made it half a mile before darkness took over.
The funny thing about sunset in the woods in the November… it sort of happens in a flash. One moment you’re running and you’re fine, the next you’re dependent on a headlamp that you realize has a lot less light depth than you thought before. You’re looking for the trail marks and ribbons, but none seem to be visible. Instead, as you enter single track again, you rely on your footing.. if the footing feels consistent you’re on trail, if things get a little bit more soft, less trimmed, you’re bushwhacking off trail. Amazing how much you start relying on the feel of your footing when you’re visibility is limited to a step or two in front..
For a mile or so, I felt okay… I was slowing down to make sure I was following the trail but I was okay. However, after about 20 minutes alone in darkness, I started to freak out. Out of nowhere, I heard coyotes all around me howling. Now logically, I know coyotes don’t eat people… but my brain is fried from running for 10 hours and it’s dark and I’m in the woods and I just lose it. I start freaking out that I’m lost since I haven’t seen anyone in a really long time and shouldn’t have somebody passed me by now? I try to go on, step by step and finally hit double track again. I know I still had about 2 more miles to go which at my current pace was at least 35 minutes at best.. but at least I could see where the trail was more clearly.
Suddenly, I hear women behind me. There’s two runners and two of their pacers, reminding me that I really should have picked a pacer but I just felt so guilty asking someone to walk 12.5 miles with me. It’s one thing to ask a friend to run with you, but walking? I don’t know. Anyone’s other humans! Inside, I screamed from joy, but the city road runner in me was starting to get really terrified of being alone in the woods in the dark. I couldn’t run but I was walking uphill at a much greater speed than most at this point. I used all the energy and strength to block out my pain and keep up with this pack. Two more miles, at this point, the damage to my foot was done, I just needed to get to the finish line. Being in the company of other runners for the last few miles, made them go by a lot faster than the single mile I did alone. And when I saw the field, I was in pain, but the joy of being done made me break out into a jog. I just wanted to be back in civilization and lights!
I crossed the finish line 11:42 gun time with probably 11:37 or so net time based on my Garmin.
I found Tony right away and started to pack up all my gear as I grabbed two slices of pizza. I didn’t really eat much the whole day and got most of my energy from soda so finally chewing some food was a really treat!
The volunteers lined the finish area with light sabers and sparklers adding to the excitement of crossing the finish line.
Instead of finishing medals, we got these awesome gym bags as our finishing prize. Not going to lie, because part of why I wanted an official finish as this bag! And also…
and the shirts are super cute and when someone asks me about the race, i was to tell them about a finish and not a DNF.
I don’t know if I will have another 50 miler any time soon, but I know eventually I want to return to the course and run uninjured. I also don’t quite know what is happening to my leg. Based on research, I think I have a stress fracture. It’s been a week and still feel pain when I bend it. Going to the doctor this Thursday to find out the damage done before I resume my 2015 marathon goals.