I’ve had a pretty bad month as far as racing goes. It started with Rockin’ K 50 on April 1st (I didn’t write up anything formal). After days and days of rain, the course was either standing water, running water, or mud with the first two and a half hours run in the rain. Temps never got above the 40’s and we were wet all day. There was a course delay that sent us out a half an hour late due to lightning, but the cutoff times were not adjusted. I made it through the 1st loop, but wasn’t able to make up for that half an hour in those conditions. So I had to call it at a marathon (let’s be real though, a heavy marathon).
That race was challenging and run in pretty epic weather, so I took it for what it was, but left frustrated.
I was counting on a)enjoying that race a lot, and b)counting that mileage as training towards summer goals. So naturally I signed up for the Free State 100k on the 15th to make up for it.
I was looking for a confidence boost with this one. I just wanted to get past it in order to gain some mileage, and have some confidence heading into the summer.
Carol and I met early and drove the hour or so to Lake Perry. It was the first year this race had been put on there, and I hadn’t run out at Perry in years. I was really looking forward to it. We got there and wandered around chatting, getting drop bags ready, and preparing for our morning. The last couple of weeks had been in the 60’s, maybe low 70’s, and we were preparing for it to warm up, with a forecasted high of 77.
There were 5 women running and we all knew each other, so we sort of formed our own little race. We were getting ready to head towards the start and……a 30 minute delay.
You have got to be kidding me. How does that happen two races back to back. (Both times they were more than warranted). So immediately we all start rolling through the list of:
Should I pee again?
Should I eat more?
Should I sit down or keep walking around?
Will the course cutoffs be extended?????? (they were)
Oh, and it was starting to get warm….way warmer than I would have expected at this time in the morning.
We took off down the road and onto the trail. My legs felt fine, but I was completely thrown off. I started appropriately and never got caught in a conga line. People were well spaced out, but mentally I was all over the place. I kept feeling like I was on the verge of a panic attack, which doesn’t exactly make it easy to run. I decided I needed a distraction, so I popped a headphone in (powered by Harry Potter when necessary).
It took me about 6 miles to get warmed up and calmed down. I was running well, but the temperatures were creeping and I was getting crazy hot already. I got to the first aid station where I got as much ice on me as I could and headed back out. The course was an interesting layout in that you went from aid station A to B, and then did an out and back on a different trail to go back to A and then back to B again. With that out and back I was able to see where all of the other ladies were. Carol and Brandy were a bit ahead, looking strong, and Alissa and Melissa not far behind on our first of 3 loops. By the time I made it back to aid station B for the 2nd time I was really starting to feel the affects of the heat in a way that I didn’t expect. I’d been putting ice in my bra, under my headband, running water over my head, and anywhere else that I could, but none of it was helping much. I kept feeling like I needed to pee but couldn’t, and I had started to …..we’ll say dry heave, in my body’s attempt to throw up (not something I can do much, which was disappointing. I think I would have felt better.)
I made it through the first 20 mile loop and was really struggling. I couldn’t quite understand why I was having such a hard time with the heat, but kept being reassured by volunteers that I wasn’t imagining it. I wandered behind a tree to make some pretty horrific wretching sounds (still unable to get anything up). I sat down while my friend Dennis got me a bandana filled with ice around my neck, and another magical volunteer poured water over me several times. Times like that are hard because you feel like you are wasting time, but it’s unavoidable. I finally was able to head out for my second loop. I took off with as much ice as I could and ran with what felt like a brick in my stomach.
I started passing people through the first few miles of my second loop who were all really struggling with the heat, including someone sitting by the side of the trail who had just stopped to throw up. What was happening? I kept telling myself that this didn’t make any sense. I mean it was warmer than it had been, but it was only supposed to get to 77, right?
The first time I hit the Mud Babes aid station full of angels from heaven I went through a similar process that I had at the end of loop one. Ice, water over my head, anything to cool down. I still couldn’t throw up, but my body kept trying to. I left realizing that I was flirting with cutoff times with 13 miles to go. I kept telling myself that all I had to do was push through this loop and I could slow down at the start of loop three.
By the time that I made it back to the Mud Babes for the last time I was beyond a mess. On the way through that little out and back I passed someone sitting on the trail again. Brandy ran by again and I cannot emphasize enough how beyond proud I was to see her running so strong. That woman is a beast and I knew she had this. I saw Carol and got a hug. I try not to be negative around other runners, especially when we’re all struggling like that, but I said “I don’t think I can make cutoff.” She told me I could and took off. I knew she had it, but I was cutting it so close and slowing down.
I got back to where the Mud Babes aid station was and as soon as they were in sight tears started running down my face. I’ve never cried during a race. I was feeling so overwhelmed, defeated, sad, freaking hot, and sick. I grabbed a couple of hugs and got out of there quickly with a banana and still crying. I could now add completely embarrassed to that list of emotions. I passed Alissa on her way in. Based on where I was, and how Alissa said she was feeling, I now knew that of the 5 women, 2 were making cutoff and I was a maybe.
I hit the last aid station and got out of there as quickly as I could, trying to push to get back in time. It just wasn’t happening. I’d start walking, push it to a power hike, start to run, stop to dry heave, and repeat. I turned my Garmin on just so I could reassure myself I was actually moving forward, but time was slipping away and I couldn’t get moving fast enough. I just kept slowing down. I dragged in from my 2nd loop too late. Fortunately it was confirmed that Brandy and Carol were on their third loop, and I was so excited that we were going to see 2 female finishers on such a rough day.
Ben (the RD) informed me that it had hit 86 degrees (also holy freaking humidity). So that made things make more sense. Not bad temps for August running, but a nightmare for April.
I felt embarrassed and discouraged. This was supposed to be redemptive, but I had never felt so weak. It was one of those finishes that makes you feel like every running accomplishment up to that point had clearly been a fluke and that there was no way that I would hit my summer goals.
I walked out excited for our other girls, and getting an amazing pep talk from Rick. I made the requisite phone calls to my husband and coach, receiving the reassurance that I did indeed not suck, that I would acclimate to the heat, and that this summer was still going to be amazing.
I showered and and changed. I still hadn’t peed, and was avoiding much food/water because my stomach still felt like a brick was sitting in it.
I ran into Alissa who sounded like we had the exact same problems throughout the race. We watched as Melissa came through, pushing so hard to finish that 40. It was really good seeing Ben and Coco taking such good care of her at the end. I was able to sit around with friends at the finish and have a good time. The trail community really is a little family. We talked about Carol and Brandy and how excited we were for them. Then, as I headed to grab something from the car, I saw Carol walking in from the wrong direction. She was done. Carol is one of the strongest women I know and I was so sad to see her heading in. Apparently when she came in from her 2nd loop she was feeling so rough that she asked for a pacer. Our friend Matty headed out with her, but she started throwing up pretty early into the loop. She made it to out Mud Babes and was still throwing up and couldn’t keep anything down. Lightning was starting to come in pretty heavily and there was no safe way for her to finish. She dropped at 47 miles, wishing Brandy good luck.
There was one woman left, and we were all pulling for her like we were watching an elite finish at Western States. If any of us could see one woman finish, we were so excited it was her.
Carol and I headed back to KC, knowing how long she still had on the course. As we left a lightning storm was going nuts, and the rain was heading in. The weather went from everyone overheating, to Brandy caught in hypothermic conditions. She made it back to the Mud Babes for the second time, freezing and soaked. Ben called the race for safety, and Brandy was pulled back to the start.
….and then there were none.
6 men finished, out of 22 sign ups (though I’m not sure of the number who DNS)
It was one of the craziest races that I’ve experienced. As hard as it was, I can already look back and know that I will gain from this. I may not have made cutoff, but I also didn’t quit. I was able to band around amazing women in a way that I am more than grateful for. Somehow, I feel like I’d like to try this one again.
Thanks so much to Ben and Coco for putting on an incredibly well organized race and taking such obvious care of your runners. Thanks to Mile 90 photography for the beautiful documentation. Thanks to the sisters out there that I cannot believe I have in my life. Thanks to all of the volunteers and friends there that weren’t mentioned above. Thanks so much to Coleen, my coach and friend, who believes in me more than I often know how to. Mostly, thanks to my husband and son who gift me the time and love me through these adventures.