Time has a funny way of simultaneously moving fast and slow. Although I came across the finish line at the Cayuga 50mile nearly a week ago, it feels like the race just ended… and that writing this will somehow finally seal it in the past.
8 weeks before the race my coach and I decided to throw my name in the hat. Why not? I had just come off a great first 100km, and after the side effects of losing my appetite, having to navigate stairs sideways, and shivering uncontrollably had worn off I felt ready to tackle the next challenge. Hoorah for a gold fish memory!
I was told to win it I would have to have a phenomenal day. That maybe I could be in the lead mix… maybe. You see, I’m an understandable underdog. My first ever ultra was in March. My Strava feed is not impressive. My running resume is short compared to the women I would be lining up against… but the thing is, I don’t count anyone out… which is great because then by default I don’t count myself out either. I was a little fish, sure, but I was ready.
At this point I finally do a little research on the race and I discover two things.
1. There are reportedly lots of stairs… Coincidence we have a lot of those around here.
2. There is pie to be won. Coincidence, I love pie!
My faithful crew for this weekends excursion, AnnaJo, and I roll into Robert H. Treman State Park and fancy park the sprinter van. The cabins remind me of the summer camps I attended growing up in Wisconsin (overzealous mosquitos included). After getting set up for the evening I run into a motley crew of presumably runners in the parking lot who all turn out to be from the NY area. It’s a welcome distraction and my sarcastic jabs are rewarded with a Little Debbie’s zebra cake/cosmic brownie mashup. (clearly a great pre-race fueling strategy) I finally try to sleep, but my brain is in Pacific Standard Time and the people in the cabin next to me are having a party long past “quite hours”.
My alarm goes off and I swat at it. It can not be time to get up? I manage to shovel white rice into my face and get down a hard boiled egg. I listen to an episode of This American Life as I pack up my sleeping bag and head into the parking lot to find Anna at the sprinter with coffee. I guess we are going to do this thing after all.
Runners peacock around the parking lot and starting area nervously fiddling with hydration systems. It’s only 55F, but we know heat is on the way.
Ian, the RD, sounds the horn and we take off across the field. The start is calm, pedestrian. Everyone chitchats, I tuck in behind Sabrina with Kelsey and Laura. As we head up the hill we start to hit the first section of roots and rocks and Kelsey and I start to pick faster lines. I feel okay, but these races are long and I take it easy on a long fast down hill in an effort to protect my quads for later in the race. Things are clicking, I eat every 30 minutes, drink frequently, and I watch continuously for the pie tags I have been told will be scattered on course. At one point I get excited by what I think is a pie tag, but turns out to be a sign about pesticide application instead, false alarm. The group as thinned out and I’m running alone. Occasionally I catch glimpses of Laura behind me but the distance seems to be remaining constant.
On the way back towards the half way point I start to more fully utilize the creek crossings. Full on snow angel-ing my way through them. I eat a cucumber mint gu and think to myself “You are a gel machine!”. Somewhere around the 19mile mark I look up and realize the runner I’m closing in on is Kelsey. I’m surprised and all I can think is:
I hit the turn around point at 3:49:xx putting myself 3ish minutes under Amanda’s halfway time from the year before (and the course record). I’m terrified. Richard Bolt says something to the effect of, “Hey you’re winning!” and what I think is “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” and what I say is ,”I don’t know if that’s a good thing!” I am well aware this is a going to be a race of attrition and I have a long way to go to get back across the finish line.
As I run out I see all the girls coming in to the turn around. I cheer for each one of them, deliriously saying things like, “Go get them!” and “She’s right ahead of you!”
The great thing about looped courses is that you get to see everyone. I love cheering on other runners, and frequently will lose my voice from being so abrasively enthusiastic during races. The bad thing about looped courses is that everyone knows where you are and as I am my own worst fear monger-er this can often lead to me running panicky.
Quickly after the turn around I catch my new found buddy Ben Snodgrass. He agrees to run with me even after watching me yardsale hard over a root within minutes of joining me. It so nice to have a distraction. My left quad and foot have been cramping spastically since mile 21. The company is giving me a second wind and we power up the hills. Ben yo-yos with every descent but comes right back. Somewhere around the 36 mile mark he tells me to run on and let’s me know his crew will try to get a split for me at the Buttermilk aid station.
I slam into the Buttermilk AS double fisting watermelon and pickles as one does at mile 37.5 and thank the volunteers as I head up the Buttermilk stairs one last time. My watch is dying so I shut it off. It’s getting really hot and I’m desperately looking forward to the next creek crossing 5 miles up the trail. The heat is starting to cook me slowly from the inside out and I find places along the trail I can jump into the creek… desperately trying to keep my core body temperature down. I thank the state park gods for a conveniently placed water spicket and forge ahead.
I am overcome with joy to make it back to the Underpass AS, I know there are only 7 miles now between me and the finish line. A land of ice cubes and a more appropriate place to take a lie down. I get word that I had a 7minute lead to 2nd place at the Buttermilk AS and although that means my lead grew from the turn around point at mile 25 I’m terrified instead of relieved. I think to myself, “They’re coming!”
I leave the aid station on a mission, ginger ale in hand. The next several miles to the Old mill AS feel like they are taking too long. I’m alternating between power hiking and running and I feel like I’m moving in slow motion despite the fact that I’m steadily catching male runners. I curse each and every stone step out loud. I dash through Old Mill a flurry of thank you’s and I’m sorry’s as my paranoid race brain tells me, “She’s right there, she’s coming for you.” I head for home. All I want is to get to the final downhill to the road, all I need to do is get there. I’m careening down rock stairs, apologizing and doing my best to smile at families that are out enjoying their beautiful Saturday afternoon.
I dump whatever is in my larger soft flask on me, I think it’s mostly water and I don’t care. I am so close. I have carried this win for so long. Protected it for so many miles. I hit the road and try to move my legs as quickly as my quads will allow. Not safe, not home yet. Hitting the turn onto the grass a mom and her kids stop to cheer for me and I’m lifted an inch or two taller. I can see the road, and no one is there. I’m in the clear, I’m safe, I’m going to make it. I can see the finish line and the ribbon looming in the distance and I pump my arms harder. I’ve made it. I’m too tired to cry and I lay on the ground as Anna pours water on me.
The outpouring of love and support from my communities near and far has been overwhelming! Thank you all so much. After taking a few days in NYC to regroup, remaster those pesky stairs, and eat all the pastries in sight I’m back in the PNW planning the next adventure!