Wendy, one of our all-star training program mentors and regular at our runs, added a new distinction this past year to her belt. Wendy is now a trail runner, and one of our Hillbillies. She finished her first 50k at Sun Mountain and shared her story with us.
I’m trying to recall when I thought it’d be a good idea to run a 50k. I remember WHY I thought it’d be a good idea, or at least a reasonable idea – as a way to celebrate turning 50 in July.
Up to this point, I had run quite a few street races. But I’d only run a few trail races. My first “real” trail run was the Deception Pass 25k. I was horribly undertrained and under prepared. Near the end of that race, I had to climb over a log that was across the trail, and before I continued on my way, I simply sat on the log and started to cry. I thought to myself how foolish it was that I would even attempt a trail run. I’m not cut out for it, I need to stick to road, I’m not fast enough, my vision is such that I don’t judge distances that well, there’s that age thing, etc., etc., etc. But I finished the 25k, tried my best not to cramp up while driving home with Rich and Sean and that was that. Done. Finished with this foolishness. Until I was wide awake at 5:30 the next morning, buzzing with excitement over my accomplishment - wound up and annoying my husband “Look at these pictures! Let me tell you how awful it was!” So here I was, getting ready to push myself again.
I did get some more trail experience before attempting Sun Mountain and in the meantime I’ve grown to love trail running. I prepared myself by running a few shorter races, attending Fleet Feet’s Hillbillies Trail Camp and working more trail work into my training runs. I also regularly attended CrossFit to build up my leg and core strength.
My husband, Bill, and I drove to Winthrop the day before the race. He had been trying to convince me for years to travel to the Methow Valley with him and we were finally going. It was a beautiful drive.
Once we arrived in Winthrop, we found our cabin at the Chewuch Inn and were happily surprised to discover there was a welcoming committee right out the back door.
We got settled in and eventually met up with Sean, Ilona, Dennis, Marti, Heather and Dave for dinner at their cabin and returned to the Chewuch to try and get sleep. The next morning, we all gathered at the start line and met up with fellow Fleet Feet Hillbillies.
I got a last hug from husband Bill (I believe my last words to him were “Don’t make me go with these people”) and started out on the trail. Bill later admitted that he got a bit teary-eyed when we took off into the unknown …
The race was very intense. No single step was easy and I worked hard for each one. I felt like I was very prepared physically and nutritionally, but it was HOT. Even people who had done it last year said it was much harder this year. It was already warm because we started at 10:00 and and we started out climbing, climbing, climbing.
When we evened out a bit around mile 4 I thought "I can do this. It's less awful now." Then BOOM!! Tripped and fell. It was the first time of many that I stubbed the big toe on my right foot (that toenail is now gone). I dusted myself off, spit out some dirt and kept going. We made it to the first aid station, had time to refill water, etc., and set out again. This race had cut off times, meaning we had to exit the aid stations by a certain time.
I was diligent about drinking water and eating, but was getting dizzy and shaky nonetheless. It was scary running along the mountain sides -- I could see myself just tumbling down. Sole sister Heather and I were the last ones in the 50k, so the sweep ran with us (when he didn't get bored and ran extra miles on his own just to stretch his legs). He was in his young 20's and very sweet and positive. He kept pointing out the scenery and was our best cheerleader. We made it to the 2nd aid station and had gained about 30 minutes to spare. But before we got there, Heather was pretty far ahead of me, and I cramped up so badly I couldn't even put weight on my leg. I thought this was it and didn’t know if I could continue. But I took some salt, drank water and was finally able to run again. I also knew I was getting a blister. When we were at the aid station, I had to have help from Ian (one of the Fleet Feet distance training coaches who happened to be at the aid station) who took off my compression and running socks and shoes and put them back on so I could apply moleskin. Every time I tried to bend my leg, it would cramp up. Thanks again Ian!!
We left that aid station feeling pretty confident, then it was more climbing, climbing, climbing ... Anthony, our sweep, was keeping a good eye on the time and let us know we were cutting it close getting to the next aid station. He said "I don't want your hard work to be for nothing." But I had told Heather that even if they cut us off, I was going to finish. I was still hot, threw up, but really dug deep. Just when I thought there was no way I was going to make the cutoff, I turned a corner and there was the aid station! Heather had already been there a couple minutes. We looked at each other in amazement and said “WE DID IT!!” Making it to the last aid station and not getting disqualified meant EVERYthing!! Sean, Ilona and Dave (go Patterson Family!) were at the third aid station and kept telling us "just 5.7 miles to go ... you've got this ..." We thought we were home free.
Take a look at that elevation chart again around mile 24-25. Yeah. We had a lllooonnnnngggg ssssllllllooooowwww ascent up that mountain. By this time, Heather was shuffling, as she had a huge blister on the bottom of her foot, but we weren't in a hurry. We shuffled, Anthony kept cheering us on, and we plodded along.
Finally, we conquered Mt. Patterson
… and headed towards the finish line. About a mile out, Anthony said "I don't want to ruin it for you, but finishing is going to be so awesome! Do you hear the people cheering?!" He was GREAT!! About 3/4 of a mile from the finish, we see Dave who is (Heather's fiancé) running out to meet us. I had told Anthony I wanted him to finish with us, but he simply disappeared. We were hot, sweaty, tired, shaky, loopy, and the mosquitos were eating us for dinner. We went a bit further and saw a beautiful finishers’ arch made by members of our Fleet Feet tribe.
I thought for sure I was going to cry, but I didn't. After receiving our high fives from James, the race director, we were welcomed with cold champagne (thanks DeeDee), hot pizza and cold beer (thanks Rainshadow!).
It was so incredibly hard, but we did it. I still can't believe it! Over eight and a half hours of continual struggle and we finished. It sounds very dramatic, but I can’t recall a single part of the race that was easy. One of the best parts was receiving a rare post-race hug from my husband. He’s usually wise enough to keep his distance. It’s not a pretty sight. Or smell.
And I look forward to another hug at the finish of my next 50k in September.