The 2015 Bel Monte 50K was my second ultramarathon, and I went into it with a fair amount of confidence. Even though I hadn’t gotten as many miles in as I would have liked, my long runs were strong, I had been working on balance and mobility, and I already had one 50K under my belt. That being said, it didn’t go as well as I had hoped, as evidenced by my results (these are according to my Garmin):
Total distance – 34.86 miles
Time – 10:00 hours (pretty close anyway – my Garmin died about 7 minutes before I crossed the finish line)
Total elevation gain – 4,894 feet (plus whatever I climbed in the last 7 minutes)
Average pace – 16:56 min/mi including stops at aid stations
Let me preface this report with two points: one, I hurt my IT band and had to walk the last 12 miles, causing me to miss the cut off time, so you’re not getting an elite perspective here. Two, I’m terrified of heights, so my opinion of these races is strongly influenced by how many times I was incapacitated by fear. In this case it was only twice, so already a fan.
Anyway, our adventure started on Friday. Tom, Joe, and I got on the road at about 1:00 pm. Tom was using the race as a training run for an upcoming 100-miler and Joe was attempting his first ultra, although he has an impressive marathon resume. My amazing husband Tim was flying in from a business trip Friday afternoon and drove out by himself to meet up with us later that evening. In a stroke of genius, they held the packet pick-up at Devil’s Backbone Brewery, so we stopped there to pick up our packets and do a little carb loading before we headed down the road to Wintergreen, where we stayed for the night. Once Tim made it to the condo, we went for some dinner, did some last minute prepping for the next day, and tried to get some sleep.
We made it to the start at Royal Oaks Lodge with no problems the next morning. I had my usual pre-race jitters and was grateful I had people there to distract me.
We started pretty close to on time and started down the Blue Ridge Parkway as the sun started to come up. We were on the road for about 2.5 miles, downhill most of the way. It was quiet and peaceful once everyone settled in to their pace, with only the sounds of water sloshing in hydration packs and grumbling about having to run back up the road at the end of the race breaking the silence.
I think we were all grateful when we turned on to the trail off of the concrete, and were greeted by a soft trail and more downhill running. After hopping over a small stream at the bottom of the hill, we started to climb. And then kept climbing. It was a decent switchback and I was afraid the fear of heights was going to kick in before I had even made it four miles, but with the exception of some tense muscles and exaggerated leans into the hill I did okay. I cruised along pretty well for a while until we got to Torry Ridge Trail. That had some no-joke steep sections and it felt like it went on forever. This section was complicated by the fist-sized rocks that littered the trial. After a while I started to view them as little hands reaching out of the ground trying to grab my ankles and face plant me into the trail. Once we finally made it to the top, we were rewarded with a short, easy section of a Jeep road and an aid station manned by Marty Roddy.
Marty was awesome – apparently he volunteers to go out and man an aid station every year, and he was there all day. It was hot. And buggy. He is a saint.
Once you leave Camp Marty, you immediately start down a mile and a half switchback, and it was steep. I was able to run the entire thing and had the benefit of having people in front of me and behind me, making it easier to ignore the sharp drop off to my right. The pucker factor did go up a few times when the 25K runners were coming back up and we were sharing the trail. It wasn’t really designed to be two wide. At the bottom of the switchback was Mill Creek Trail, which was mercifully flat for 6 miles. Or so I thought, until we turned around and came back. Turns out it was a very gradual downhill…who knew? As I came to the end of the trail and approached the third aid station, I was feeling really good and was super excited to see Tim at the halfway point…but as I came up on the aid station, there he was! I was so excited to see him. It had been seven miles since the Camp Marty, so I was also so excited to see peanut M&Ms. I chatted with him for a few minutes while I refilled by hydration pack and it gave me a great energy boost. This is also where I found out that Joe decided he felt great, and was going to do the 50 miler instead of the 50K. I just shook my head. Anyway, Tim drove the 3.5 miles up the gravel road to the halfway point and I took off behind him. It was uphill most of the way, but knowing the turnaround was at the end made it easier.
I was still feeling great at the turnaround and chatted for a few more minutes while I refueled. I decided not to change any of my clothing out, and because of that Tim decided to go back to the previous aid station in case I changed my mind. I didn’t change my mind about the clothes, but…I felt my IT band tweak as I made my way back down the road. Dang it. My IT bands have been the bane of my running existence from the start. Once I got to the aid station, I grabbed my lacrosse ball out of my bag and tormented myself for a few minutes trying to loosen up the TFL. Tim had been planning on heading back to the finish, but decided to meet me at Camp Marty in case I had too much trouble. I took off and thought I was going to be fine – the lacrosse ball had helped, and my IT band flared up around the same time in the first 50K I had done. I had to walk the last three miles of that race because it was all downhill but was fine for the rest, and I figured this would be more of the same. Wrong. It started to hurt again at about mile 21, and by 22 I couldn’t run anymore. My walking pace was a full minute per mile faster than my running pace…so I walked. Forever. I only bumped into one other person the entire stretch, and in addition to feeling low because I couldn’t run, boredom set in. I was so happy to see the bottom of the switchback because I knew Camp Marty was at the top. There was one part on the way back up that I panicked due to the heights and I froze for a few minutes. I was starting to hyperventilate, couldn’t seem to move, and didn’t know what to do. Then I came to the same conclusion I always come to in those situations. Just keep moving – there really isn’t an option B. That thing was steep. I couldn’t even walk it without stopping to catch my breath three times along the way. By the time I got to the top and made it to Camp Marty, I was completely demoralized. I looked around for Tim and didn’t see him, so I asked if crew was allowed at the station. Sure enough, the answer was no. Looked like I was doing some more walking. I was not a happy camper.
By the time I made it to the next aid station, which was just a lookout point along the Blue Ridge Parkway with some water stationed there, I was ready to throw in the towel so I called Tim. Or tried to, anyway. I had no cell service. Tried texting him…message failed. I tried to call Tom, since I knew he would have finished by then. Nope, couldn’t get him either. I almost cried thinking of walking for several more hours, but took off. Once again, there wasn’t an option B. I was walking along, alternately feeling sorry for myself and being mad at myself for pouting, and then…Tim was there. Standing on the trail in the middle of the woods. He figured I would be struggling, so when he found out he couldn’t get to Camp Marty, he hiked 2 miles into the trail and waited for two hours (because I wasn’t really setting speed records) so he could walk out with me and keep me company. I rewarded his amazing effort by immediately bursting into tears. I was so happy to see him and so amazed by what he had done. His plan worked, and I walked happily along with him for the next two miles, talking the whole way. We made it out to the Blue Ridge Parkway where Tim had parked the truck. I said goodbye and started the trek up the road with a smile on my face. I tried to run for a minute, laughed at myself, and resigned myself to walking. I didn’t want to walk across the finish line, so as I made the left turn into the Royal Oaks campground I started to “run.” I crossed at almost exactly 10 hours with Tim and Tom waiting for me. I felt a crazy mix of emotions because even though I was really disappointed I hadn’t been able to run like I wanted to, what Tim had done made it impossible to be too upset. Plus, after being back for a while, I found out Tom had placed third among the men! He’s ridiculously good. The three of us spent the next couple of hours waiting for Joe, alternately worrying about him and discussing how crazy he is. He made it back in one piece, able to cross finishing a 50 mile race off his bucket list!
We all have a part of us that we aren’t too proud of, and that part of me was frustrated that I had fallen short of my goal while my two friends blew theirs out of the water. Luckily, it’s a small part of me and the larger part of me squashed that very quickly and was overcome with pride for Tom and Joe, who worked so hard for their accomplishments.
Everyone needs that voice that comes out of nowhere, and seems to appear exactly when you need it. It knows exactly what to say to make you laugh through the tears, feel strong when seconds ago you were feeling weak, and determined and capable when all you want to do is quit. I am working on developing that voice within myself, but until I am able to do so, I will simply remain unspeakably grateful that Tim is in my life to provide that voice for me. I will also change up my training strategy, keep lacing up my shoes, and try again next year!