Two days ago I ran in my first 50-mile endurance run. This experience proved to be one of the most difficult things (if not the hardest) I’ve ever done. The ultramarathon contained a total of four cutoff points: the first at mile 24 and the last at about mile 41. The race directors allowed runners who met all the cutoff times to finish.
I enjoyed the first half of the race immensely. The trails, streams, rivers, and wooden bridges were beautiful. At mile four, someone’s watch beeped. A voice rang out behind me, “Oh, I reached 10,000 steps.” Everyone laughed. Later in the race, I passed a gentleman probably 60 years of age. I told him this was my first 50 miler. He replied, “This is my first 50-miler since last Saturday.” Damn. The athletes astonished me.
I started to experience pain at mile 20. My mental game remained solid at this point, and I pushed through and kept my goal pace through mile 24. The 20-30 degree race day weather chilled me at times, and I decided to completely change out of my sweaty, wet attire at the midway point. I spent extra time, a total of 20 minutes, removing my clothes, changing shoes, and enjoying some Ramen noodles and tater tots. When I stopped, I was an hour ahead of the cutoff time.
I arrived at the next two checkpoints with 50 minutes to spare at each still keeping pace. When I reached the final cutoff at mile 41, my mental and physical states started breaking down. I sat in a chair and ate some soup. I was only 30 minutes ahead of the cutoff at this point but knew those in charge would allow me to finish.
Unfortunately, someone told me I was at mile 42 when really it was mile 41. This one-mile disparity impacted my psyche negatively later on. The next aid station was at mile 44ish, and a bottle of whiskey sat on the table. I applaud the racers who stayed in such good shape to retain the ability to down a drink.
I progressively slowed through the next miles though my perceived exertion remained the same. I kept thinking that I was farther along than I actually was. The setting sun shone beautifully, but the subsequent complete darkness was incredibly demoralizing.
I reached the last aid station at mile 46 thinking I only had two more miles. A volunteer offered cheerily, “Only four more miles to go!”
Only four more miles to go. But, I had nothing left. Zero.
Another volunteer asked me if I needed anything, and I said, “a hug.” I started to sob on her shoulder and told her that, “I can’t finish.” Someone else remarked that I would hate myself later if I didn’t finish the last 4 miles.
Honestly, I didn’t care. It wasn’t four miles. It was four MORE miles. I stood completely empty having already scraped the bottom of my reserves earlier.
Unfortunately or fortunately, I did not have my phone on me, and the race had no “sweeper vehicle” to bring people back to the finish. So, I had to walk to the end anyway even if I quit. Thus, I started into the dark woods again. Throughout the day, I gave thanks for the blessings in my life and played one song during each mile. In the darkness, I relinquished this strategy as I had to focus on the trail. I felt defeated struggling alone in the pitch black and silence.
The last 4 miles took 1 hour and 20 minutes. I didn’t see another light from a headlamp/ flashlight or another person for 40 minutes. Finally, with two miles to go, I came upon some athletes walking to the finish. I ambled behind them for 15 minutes to be around other people and shoo away the loneliness.
Eventually, I passed the walkers and ran/walked to the finish along with another guy I had met on the course. As soon as I saw the finish line, I made a beeline straight for it with a “woo-hoo” in my heart. Thankfully, someone directed me around the corner to some cones I had to run between so that I wasn’t disqualified in my last 50 yards.
I will forever be grateful to Emma and Mike who had been at the finish line for hours waiting for me. I hugged Emma when I finally finished, and said, “It was so hard.” She completed a 50-mile race a few years ago, and she knows. I hugged Mike, and he helped me get something to eat while Emma got my car. They had already retrieved my bags. Without Emma and Mike, I never would have made it to a hotel or to my home.
I felt so cold after the race that I shook like a leaf. I’m not exactly sure of my finishing time, but it was around 13 hours and 30 minutes in the chilly, winter weather. I will also be forever thankful for the multitude of volunteers who sat frozen outside all day enabling runners to finish their race.
Emma drove me home and carried my stuff up to my apartment. I climbed into my bed, turned my electric blanket on high, and fell asleep. I had trouble walking the next day, but my legs are slowly loosening up. I have not been that hungry though I anticipate I will be in the next few days.
I am no longer sure of the hundred mile race. I have a 100km race in January, and I will see how that goes. I’m not certain what lesson God has for me in all this, but I’m confident He’ll reveal it in due time.
Biggest take away: My dad said, “When you think about it, you basically ran from our house to downtown Detroit,” which is true. But, thinking that 50-miles is a long distance and running/ enduring that same 50-miles are two very different things.
Head knowledge isn’t the same as life knowledge (and I don’t just mean running).