It started when I was training for the Alamo City Ultra, my first 50k. I often had running dreams, but mostly it was anxiety scenarios. I would bonk, forget my shoes, or trip on a rock and knee-jerk myself awake. This time I saw my self among friends, in the Palo Duro Canyon. I had visited PDC back in college, but it had been many years since my last visit. We were petting the longhorn cows near the entrance gate and I was talking about how excited I was about the race, another 50k, I had the next morning. When I woke I realized that I had never heard of such a race, but it would be really epic if there were. A quick google search with sleepy eyes revealed that there was such a race! Wow!! What a great marketing strategy! I've never heard of dream-advertisements before. In less than 2 weeks I signed up for the 50k. Follow your (literal) dreams!
Race week: Thursday, 2 days to Race Day.
Mike and I drove up to Amarillo to our AirBnB *cue George Strait's "Amarillo by Morning”* with Winnie, Lilly in tow and the car packed full of snacks and running clothes. It rained. the. whole. way. The entire state of Texas was under a fog cloud, flooded, and rainy. Great. I just hope I don't have to run in the cold AND the rain!
Friday, Day Before the Race.
The sun finally came out in Amarillo from the unseasonable rainy weather. It finally looks like we'll have good race weather. After checking my emails (should have done that before we left the house!) we confirmed that the race was still on. Hopefully the one sunny day will dry out some mud.
Packet pick up was in the canyon at Mack Dick Pavilion. We arrived to the canyon a bit early to sight see, walk around a bit, and let the girls sniff the wild canyon. We drove throughout the park but couldn't hike in due to the trails being closed thanks to all of the rain. I just hoped that the mud wasn’t too bad!
Saturday, race day.
I woke up at 4am to get my coffee in, eat a nutella banana sandwich before we headed over to the canyon for the 7am start. I checked the weather on my phone, no precipitation expected, but a crisp 40 degrees, and a high of 67. Peeerrrfect race weather!! We arrived to the pavilion a bit early, got a parking spot and hit the restrooms (no lines!!) to ease my pre-race nerves. On my trip to the restroom I noticed a few volunteers doing some last minute preparations to set up the start/finish line, and a sole bagpipe player playing a familiar military tune. "Just don't play Taps" I thought to myself. When I returned to the start/finish line a bit later to drop off my drop bag, the bagpipe player started playing Taps. Grumble grumble. "I'm not done yet!!" I thought. I just hoped it wasn’t a sign of what was to come during the race. 6:30am the 50 milers started. WOW. I can't imagine running 50 miles just yet. That's one long day.
A few minutes before we lined up for our 50k start I shed my jacket and long pants. I kept my gloves and one heated hand warmer, and a thin neck gaiter. Its gotta warm up sometime soon. 7am sharp we were off into the complete darkness with the glow of a waxing moon. The stars were absolutely beautiful, had I taken the time to look up every once in a while. The glow from my front bicycle light (My opinion, better than a headlamp) and the reflection from the shoes of the guy in front of me was the only thing i could see. Up down Up down Up down, dodge a rock, dodge a mud puddle, Up down, Up down until daylight. At dawn about mile 3 we were on the opposite side of the canyon from where we started. The soft glow of the pavilion was about all you could make out. About a mile later we came up to the first aid station where I shed my gloves, ditched my hand warmer, and took off my neck gaiter. I’m glad it warmed up a bit, although my back and legs were still cold. Oh well, it should warm up. Continue the agony of running a BMX trail, Up down Up down Up down, finally we got to some awesome switchbacks, but still the annoying baby hills persisted. It wasn't until maybe about mile 8 or 9 that it finally smoothed out. The cold had taken my legs and back to a pain level 7 out of 10. Yuck. Just keep moving. It'll warm up. About mile 10 I looked down at my watch. Never. Under any circumstances look down at your watch. I felt like i wasn’t moving forward. The pain in my back and my legs had risen to 9/10. I don’t remember hurting this much last race, and its still early! I knew the cold was to blame, it hadn’t been cold in SA much lately. The next aid station I stopped so I could take some BC powder that I had in my pack (not sponsored just yet!). Ok, time to mentally push out the pain, medicine is on its way! Just keep moving forward.
Mike met me at the second to the last aid station. It was such a blur from my state of mind but just his presence lifted my spirits. I told him i wasn’t feeling the greatest and my back was bothering me. I got too distracted by refueling I forgot to say I was thinking about quitting.
A quick kiss and I was off.
When I got back to the start/finish line I headed over to my drop bag for my second nutella and banana sandwich, and a quick change of clothes. I hurried before the thoughts of staying could creep up. One final loop to go.
Aid stations came and went, but I was mostly by myself. I saw a few mountain bikers whom we were equally impressed with each other's choice of activity. My knees finally warmed up but my back stayed horribly tense and cold. I couldn’t remember the last time my back felt that bad, and for sure I had never ran with my back in this much pain. I kept telling myself to not think of it, and to run lightly. Run on your toes, "the more your foot is on the ground, the slower you go" I remembered from somewhere. I gave in to listen to music somewhere around mile 21. I couldn’t bear to think I still had 10 miles to go. "Just Around the Riverbend" came on (yes, Disney's Pocahontas) right when I was trudging through the mud of a semi-dried river bank. Perfect timing. Remember when you were a kid and all you wanted to do was just run? Ok, now go.
Two miles to go and I'm getting emotional both from the pain and from the perseverance that I actually gutted it out today. I ran into Mike again and I damn near started to ugly cry. Just hold it together for a bit! He encouraged me, and I zipped off (not really, more like trudge). Up hill one last time and I'm in the finish line chute. I could no longer hold back the tears, and I could tell the folks waiting for their respective runners were wondering why I was bawling like an idiot. Super. Big. Ugly. Proud. Tears. Straight into Mike's arms I sobbed of achievement. One of the volunteers congratulated me and pointed me to a white tent to get my finisher's jacket. The most beautiful article of clothing that I am so proud to wear and never take off! Today was the single most mental toughness check to date.
Pain is a sign or a symptom, for me it was a symptom of my arthritis I live with. Normally I wouldn’t advise any athlete to continue with pain, but only you know your body best. It wasn’t an injury pain and I didn’t put myself into danger by causing further damage or injury. I do know that next time its cold I'll keep my jacket on, and I'll keep up with regular massage and practicing yoga for prevention ( I slacked the month leading into the race). Until the next race! Who's going to be joining me?!
P.S. If you're thinking about joining a group, San Antonio Running Company is a great place to start. They have all your running needs as well as training groups for road and trail races. Find more info on them at sarunningco.com