Monday, June 7, 2010

North Face Endurace Challenge: The Musical

If it ain't rough it isn't fun, fun.

I sang this little Lady Gaga line, when my new bonded-for-life-best friend Dani fell into a stream at mile 5. And it all started there. I met Dani at 8:00 the night before the race (we were supposed to meet at 7-7:30, but I was late, as usual) and we made our way to our mutual friend Brian's friend Jeff's place to sleep there. Despite the four of us really not knowing each other, the camaraderie of all of us running a 50-mile course the next day had us talking until past 10:00. No one slept well, and it was at 11:30 when it really hit me how long 50 miles is. I was terrified.

After 3 hours of sleep, I got up to shower and shave my legs. I like to shave fresh race morning to minimize chafing, but I will never do this again for a trail run. After being covered in bug spray, dirt, sweat, dirty pieces of ice, submerged in streams, smacked with grass and weeds lining the course, covered in sunscreen, and for 11.5 hours, I have really bad razor burn/rash/infection and its stingy. I bought a giant tube of antibiotic soothing ointment for them Saturday.

Me & Jeff

Back to race morning, I love having friends at a race and this was the perfect course for it since its out, three 7ish mile laps, and then back toward the finish. I got to pass my friends a lot and gain/give encouragement. At 5am the race started and it was already in the low 70s with 80% humidity. I had several Hammer gels, my handheld waterbottle, and a light waist pack with salt tablets, tissues, and some extra food.

Dani and I started running together, and talked about everything we could think of. We kept a steady pace, walked uphills, and took it easy. We had a ton of fun. We both love Glee and so started talking Glee, leading to Lady Gaga (its amazing, you only have to talk about her to get your pace up! You don't even need Bad Romance blasting through earbuds to get energy).

I took my first (and only!) fall around mile 7.5.  So far, my average is a fall per 10 miles when trail running. So, I stood up and said "oh well, one down and four to go!" My stomach was funny feeling and I took my first ever poop in the woods. I was very glad I had tissues in my little pack. I was hydrating super well and eating a little at every aid station. I wanted to go out easy, since all that mattered was finishing in under 13 hours today.

The course was meticulously marked. There were two dead birds on the trail and I pointed out the "road kill" since "Wardian must have just blasted through here." (If you don't know who Mike Wardian is, google him. Right now.)

The first 14 miles flew by and all of a sudden we've been out for three hours. Dani and I were constantly laughing and singing, and throwing out awesome Glee quotes (did you know dolphins are just gay sharks?) and we got to the Great Falls aid station to find that Brian already lapped us. "Whatever" Dani says "he can worry about getting a good time. We're having so much more fun."

At Great Falls aid station

I ended up not using about 89.6% of the things in my drop bags, but I loved the dried fruit and the Imodium and crystallized ginger saved my life. Ultrarunners are truly amazing people. When you passed someone they'd tell you how great you looked instead of being pissed about getting chicked. On the loops, there were out and back sections, and Dani and I tried to cheer on everyone. We had started singing Disney songs, and totally forgot that this was not ok on busy sections. We were singing some I'll Make a Man Out of You on the swamp trail, and when we came up on more runners and stopped singing, they asked us to please continue. (A Girl Worth Fighting For was another fun one from Mulan, except I had the beef, pork, chicken... yum part in my head for another two hours).

Now, I can't sing. And when I'm running, its probably 10 times worse. But I'm used to running with an iPod, and I was having way too much fun to stop. We hit Mile 25 and started singing Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer.  We even took each other's hand at take my hand, and we'll make it I swear (oh yeah, there were dance moves involved too).  I figured these were all strangers until I got a comment on Daily Mile that Orla enjoyed this particular rendition.

The volunteers thought we were crazy. One group asked us if we were on drugs. "Shhh... don't tell anyone!" Something other than salt was definitely in those tablets I got from Jeff. We were outside the bathrooms and when Dani ran in to use one (yes, there was one part with actual toilets!), she asked me to hold her 1/2 eaten potato. I did so and waited diligently for her return: a sign of true love (slash some awesome teamwork). When I made fun of her for eating a potato while running, she decided she didn't want it anymore and threw it into the woods and instead, it hit a tree and broke into pieces--most of which came right back at us. I think we stood there holding our stomachs from laughing so hard for about 45 seconds while brushing off pieces of potato. That gets taken off my time, right?

Smiling at mile 27(ish) 

Mike Wardian passed us twice, and I never imagined I'd be singing showtunes while this happened. The second time we started a little "Mike! Mike! Mike!" chant and he waved back at us. We had way too much energy. There was nothing else I'd rather do all day than run trails at this point. I was putting forth minimal effort, and as it got hotter the humidity lowered and the sun was really hot in some places, but we were mostly in the blessed shade. I was putting ice in my hat at aid stations and it was pure heaven to have ice water dripping out of my hat instead of sweat. Around Mile 33, I stopped for a big toilet break and told Dani to go ahead. This was my last one for the day (thank goodness), and from there on out I was on my own.

I immediately missed the companionship and so I took out Lady Lola (my awesome new iPod) and threw on the quick playlist I made up while I finished my last lap. It was great to head back to the start after Great Falls, and I felt so great with a ton of energy. I was ready to kill the last 15 miles in just over 2 hours and finish in 10.


A couple miles in, my right foot started to ache. The bad ache, that mimicked the one that was bugging my left foot a month ago. I took it a little slower, and just enjoyed the hills at Riverbend. These are fun since they do down and then shoot right back up, so you gain some momentum to half run up them. There were a lot of people walking and limping at this point, and I tried to encourage them all. One guy was leaning up against a tree and when I asked if he was ok, his only response was "Its just these hills" and I said "Yeah, they're fun aren't they?!" They're rooty, and a little rocky, and steep. They started to bug my knees on the downhills and by the early 40s I was no longer running down them and so tried to start running up them.

At Mile 40(ish) my dull ache caused a sharp pain with one step and I stopped running immediately. Bad pain bad pain bad pain (why don't runners get safewords when the trail is beating our feet?). I decided to take a good half mile walk break and tried to determine if I could finish the race walking within 13 hours. After I started running again, it was fine for the rest of the race. Within a mile I had a really bad ankle roll-in. Since I was alone on the trail I just shouted a whole bunch of curse words and trekked on. I came upon a runner and his pacer within a minute and realized they could probably hear me. I told them I was ok. I was still walking and it meant I would start running again. After that break, I started running, and kept going till the finish. I was out of water, and had no idea where the next station was. When I finally came upon it, it was like heaven. I chugged water, sucked down gels, and knew I was so close to the finish.

I never thought I wouldn't finish, but I really had to dig deep. 11 hours on your feet is tough! At one point I stepped in mud so deep I had a good inch caked me to my foot. Luckily, there was a stream within a mile. The trails were pretty muddy! I just watched the miles build on my Garmin and when I hit that last aid station before the two mile loop, I saw that there was 4.1 to go. A lot of the loop was on asphalt (which sucked) but I saw Jeff and Dani on the way out and that lifted my spirits. A lot of this section was also in the open and it was about 90 degrees at this point. I sucked down water (with nuun tablets) like my life depended on it and just did not stop running. I would not let myself walk this close. I could finish before 11.5 hours if I kept running.

Coming through that last aid station and knowing there was 1.7 miles left before I was an ultrarunner was really emotional. I may have had to keep down tears.  I was appreciating the trail, the heat, the fatigue, and I didn't want to stop just yet (Why not a 100k today!? Kidding.)  I had a guy right next to me and U2's Beautiful Day was blasting through my right ear. Our little conversation went something like this:
"This trail is really beautiful."
"It was beautiful 10 hours ago."
"Ha! But really, when you're at that point where your body is totally spent, yet still moving along. There isn't any effort, just that easy cradle movement, and the sun is coming through the trees up ahead." I gestured ahead and gave a long, happy sigh. "I just love running."
Long pause and then he looks over with a smile.
"Me too."
"Well of course, what else would you be doing out here?!"
We came through to the finish together, and I pulled in front of him with my fastest mile split of the race. I had a ton of energy still and while that meant I should have ran harder (that, and I wasn't sore the day after... and I'm still not sore), my point was to have fun and finish. I wanted to revert back to that place where I went for distance instead of time and had fun with running and signing up for an ultra helped. That, and knowing I had more to give makes me more confident about tackling a 100.

My friend Jody finished the marathon right before me, and so I'm on his finish footage in the purple hat. I think the part with his kids running up to finish with him almost makes me cry!

Once again, the twitter support was overwhelming and a huge thanks to: all the volunteers, every runner who gave me encouraging words, Jeff for a room nearby and a drive to the start, Dani for keeping me laughing, Brian for making me sign up for the 50 mile instead of the 50k, Dani's friend Nick for driving me home, Rick for taking pictures, Tyler for the Espom salt bath and beer, and finally to my feet for not falling off after 11.5 hours.

  Dani & the best sign ever



  1. How fun to read about your first ULTRA! I TOTALLY got through the toughest section of Bull Run Run 50 miler with Lady Gaga! Singing is a great tool to get through some tough miles.

    So proud of you, and that you HAD FUN doing it!

  2. I'm so totally impressed by your accomplishment! Thanks for the thorough and detailed report, which kind of makes me understand why someone would want to do an ultra, anyway.

    And this made me laugh out loud: "Mike Wardian passed us twice, and I never imagined I'd be singing showtunes while this happened."

  3. Congratulations! You're amazing! I love the race report--it makes an ultra sound not that bad :)

  4. Congratulations, Brittany! Reading this explains why you guys looked so great every time I saw you ;) heh. Disney tunes never fail you. And neither does lady gaga. Just sayin'.

    I filled up Mike Wardians water bottle!!! That may have been the highlight of my day. ;)

  5. I'm finally catching up on blogs.....

    This is an awesome report. Congratulations on such a great run, I'm a little bit in awe - 50 miles!!! And singing your way through is hilarious. :)

  6. What a fun report! Singing must have been a blast:) Congrats on your first ultra - amazing!This made me all the more excited for my first "ultra" like experience in August...:) Congrats and can't wait to continue following your training!