Going into the race I had a naive goal of finishing under 10 hours and I knew I could make top 10 women if I could get down to around 9:30. About 22 miles in I realized how unrealistic that was, and actually pretty disrespectful to the amazing women that do run those times.
The day began at 3:45am and we loaded the buses at 4:45am. It is a point to point race so you get bused to the mountains (about an hour trip) and then get a bus ride back to the host hotel (another hour trip after the race). I felt really nervous but ready. It felt really cold at the start, probably around 30 degrees. I opted to wear all my warm weather gear, and I actually kept it on the whole day due to so many microclimates on the mountain. I started the race with my toes completely numb and it took 3 miles to get feeling back.
Miles 0-6: The race began promptly at 6:30am, on the Blue Ridge parkway and then SR 501. Tried to keep it really slow, because I knew I would need every ounce of muscle later in the race. Hovered around 9 min miles, which given the upcoming terrain was probably a bit fast. Ran with a guy for the first 6 miles who had been accepted into Badwater (if you don't know about this race look it up) which is pretty much the ultimate ultra marathon. He was a badass. The time flew as we chatted.
Miles 6-16: We entered the old Appalachian Trail at mile 6, and from here on our we would be on trails, until the last mile of the race. Met a great girl Jen around mile 7 and we ended up staying together till around mile 32 or so. This amazing chic had just run Marine Corps 6 days prior and qualified for Boston! The time FLEW by during this section. We walked the steep uphills and kept a great pace on the flats. There were several creek crossings so by mile 10 our feet were completely soaked. We were feeling really great and happy to have found each other.
Miles 14-22: Most of the time during the stretch we were running sub 8:30s, there were a lot of gradual downhills and flats, with a few climbs mixed in. Jen's initial goal was also to run sub 10 hours with the hope of top 10, so our little egos were feeling really good during these miles, we were passing men left and right and were feeling really strong. We even passed Andy Thompson who held the fastest completion of the Appalachian Trail until this past summer, with a record of 47 days. We should have realized that passing him meant we were running a wee bit fast!
Miles 22-27: The reality of the race set in. There is a 3,000 foot climb that starts around mile 21 and lasts till about mile 30. It was a beast. We walked a lot, everyone was doing the same. We tried running the climbs that weren't too challenging but we were afraid to tax the legs too hard because we had no idea what lie ahead, and we weren't even halfway. Around mile 25 I knew our goal was ridiculous and at that point I was worried that we would be able to finish within the 12 hour cutoff.
SIDENOTE, AID STATIONS: There were aid stations every 2-5 miles and were always a welcomed site. They were stocked with the standard ultra fare, pb&j, chips, pretzels, cookies, m&ms, soda, water, nuun, etc. and my menu choice of the day baked potato pieces that you could dip in salt. When you are running all day you must continually eat. You can't eat a lot at once so every aid station I stopped and got a few things, filling up on fluids when I needed them. I opted for carrying my 4 10z bottle Nathan belt which I had stocked with Heed and Perpetuum, both Hammer products. Best decision I made, it kept my stomach happy and the caffeine in the Perpetuum that I had on the second half gave me the occasional burst. Jade, wife of my Daily Mile friend Jim who ran MMTR, was at a few stations and cheered me on, this was so so helpful!
Miles 27-32: The halfway point was where the buses stopped and had our drop bags that we could access to get restocked for the 2nd half of the race. By this point I was really struggling mentally, the idea of having to do that distance again over the same terrain was daunting. Little did I know that the 2nd half was MUCH harder than the first. Had I know what lie ahead I might have dropped. My sciatic was hurting since mile 4 but I tried not to think about it and by this time everything hurt so bad that I didn't even focus on that pain. As I was collecting my things for the second half I saw Tyler taking pictures of me out of the corner of my eye. I think I said "What the hell are you doing here". He had dropped out of the race at the 1/2 way point. He was experiencing severe leg and back cramps and decided it wasn't worth it to try and walk the whole second half, given that he was unable to run at this point. Seeing him made me so tempted to quit and take the bus back with him to the finish, it would have been so easy. But, I didn't travel 14 hours to quit just cause I was tired. I wasn't injured, there was no option, I had to press on. I came to the 1/2 way point around 5:15, if you would have told me that I would run an exact even split for the second half I would have laughed in your face. Jen and I left the aid station together and continued up the 3,000 ft climb. It was brutal. I got a surge around the 50k mark and took it, you never know when they will come. It lasted a mile or so but it felt good run run somewhat normal again.
Mile 32-38: This was the hell that is called The Loop. I lost Jen as we exited the aid station entering the loop, she stopped for a bit and talked with her fiance but I had to keep moving. I knew at that point my body needed to keep moving. The climb heading into the loop was a beast. It was about a mile long and SO steep. I wish I had hiking poles at this point. After the first climb it was just an up and down battle. There was a bit of snow in the loop, just a bit, but it made me chuckle. This was nuts! The second half of the loop was pretty technical, I realized what our bus driver meant when he said "beware of the leaves". A lot of fallen leaves on the rocky ground makes it really hard to find stable footing, because they create a false ground. There was so much walking in the loop I began to get really worried that I would not make the cutoff.
Mile 38-47: Leaving The Loop was a great feeling, it's a mental beating. Coming out of the loop there was a very runnable section of gravel road. My legs were so tired all I could do was the old lady shuffle but it was good enough to pass a good number of folks. One of things that worked for me in this race was forcing myself to run when it was runnable. I know that sounds obvious but you get so depleted all you want to do is walk to give yourself a break. I knew I would have plenty of inclines that I would have to walk, so I forced myself to pick it up when I could. Some of these miles were a blur. One guy who I came upon said we were just picking away at the distance at this point and that it all would blur together. He was so right. During this stretch I passed a lot of men. There was one section where we were on single track and I had to use tree trunks to help me up, it was so steep and the leaf litter made it so slippery. During this section, which was around 43, I just wanted to sit down and cry it was so tough. We got to the top of that climb and I stopped for a second to enjoy the view through the trees. It was truly a beautiful, clear day and some of the scenery, if you could get out of your misery and raise your head, what breathtaking. There was one spot early in the race where it looked fake it was so beautiful, you could see a panoramic view of the mountains which were painted in fall colors.
Mile 47-54: I was doing pretty well by this point. Everything hurt but knowing you are within single digits of a 50+ race puts some pep in your step for sure. I got to the last aid station and was told that there was 3.8 miles left. I didn't believe them because there is a fake race distance of 50 miles and a real race distance of 54. The man promised me that it was a real 3.8 miles. By that time my Garmin had lost all credibility because of the woods (tradeoff you get with a 5 year old Garmin, battery lasts forever, but the accuracy not so great!) so I wouldn't have been able to tell was 3.8 miles was anyway. This aid station had hot tomato soup so I took a cup and moved on. I came to the last station at 9:59 and finished in 10:36, 37 minutes to do 3.8 miles at the end of this journey felt fantastic. I felt like, while it was hard, I was actually running. Normally that would have been a crawling pace in training, but at this point I felt like a gazelle! The last section was pretty much flat or downhill but very rocky with lots of leaves, but the downhill was so nice for me. The road came just after the 1 mile mark and hitting the road made me realized how much my feet hurt.
FINISH: Seeing the finish line was so amazing I'm surprised I didn't cry. It felt so good to run it in and get a handshake from the race director. Tyler was there and was cheering very loudly. I was so proud of myself in that moment, it was unbelievable that I "ran" (more like shuffled and hiked) an even 1st and second half! I pushed myself to places I have never been and it was the most challenging day of my life. I knew I didn't have the option of quitting, if I didn't make the cutoff I had to go out trying. I made the cutoff by 1:24 and finished 18th woman. I believe now that unless you train in the mountains you cannot expect sub-10 hour finish, there is no way. Given that, a 10:36 was very respectable. I ran with some amazing men towards the end, one guy who was doing MMTR for the first time and had run a 50 miler two weeks before (does this stuff all the time apparently) and finished in just over 7 hours! He was shocked how difficult this race was, I ended up leaving him way behind me, which lifted my sprits :)
Albert and Mary finished as well, and I am so proud of them. Mary had bad plantar going into the race but still rocked it. Albert came through and then headed right to the bench press where he won the Ironhorse award, he cranked out 31 reps of 135 lbs after 54 miles!!
Things I learned:
1) Nutrition is half the battle, without proper nutrition, hydration, and supplementation you will have no chance. Hammer products are a gift from heaven.
2) Don't stop moving, I never stopped for more than 30 seconds at an aid station.
3) Talk to others, companionship is priceless.
4) Run when you can and walk with purpose. The sections that were super steep I pumped my arms like I was running the damn thing.
5) Look around. It was so easy to get into your own personal hell that you miss the beauty around you, I was very guilty of this.