31.1 miles on a steamy 90-something degree (I heard 104 with heat index?) day, does it get any better? I think not! Runner Friend Carrie and I have often commented that it’s the run on the super cold, rainy, or hot day that makes you feel extra badass at the end. Same with going hilly or attempting fast. Basically the run that brings you to your knees mentally always manages to leave you with the best sense of accomplishment. The run where conditions looked so cruddy that you didn’t even really want to start, much less keep trudging along, that ends up being the proudest finish. The Landsford Canal 50k was one of those runs.
I got up on Saturday morning at 4:30, ate some breakfast, body glided and sunscreened and loaded up my pile of gear.
The cooler had 3 bags of ice in it, bottles of Accelerade, cans of coke and a victory chocolate milk. The black and white bag had golden Oreos, tortilla chips, Shot Bloks, Gu, sunscreen, bug spray, bandaids and other assorted comfort items. The polka dot bag carried extra clothes, fuel belt, visor, sunglasses, iPod, headbands/ponytail holders and post race flip flops. The blue jug holds 2 gallons of ice water. That whole tower of crap for one person and one morning of running. I’m no good at packing light anytime going anywhere. Sure I don’t end up using half of it but I also never ask anyone else to carry my stuff. So there.
Met up with Runner Friend Amy on the road at 5:30am and formed a caravan to Landsford Canal State Park. We slid into parking spots by about 6:10, got checked in and set up our little tailgate aid stations. Then spent some time chatting up Runner Friends new and old until it was time to start the race at 7am.
Race director Claude Sinclair gave some quick instructions regarding the course, a quick out and back to even out the mileage overall followed by 7 loops of a 4.15 mile route. Then I think said “Go” but I didn’t hear him. I just followed the crowd. The course is nice. It starts out with road for about 2/3’s of the loop and finishes with a trail section. There was shade on the road for the first few laps and the trail is shaded all day. There’s steep hill right as you leave the start area and another couple milder hills after that.
I fell in alongside Runner Friend Karen right from the start. She’s faster than me but must have been hurting for company because she stuck around for the long haul. Thanks again, Karen! I’m pretty certain I would have claimed my first DNF if I’d been alone. The heat was hard enough for me mentally. I could not have taken loneliness or boredom along with it.
Claude had an aid station at the start/finish but the girls and I had packed all our own stuff so we made pit stops at our cars each lap. I took a 20 ounce handheld bottle of Accelerade out with me every other lap. I’d fill my fuel belt water bottles on the other laps. I also took a salt pill or two each lap and shove some ice into my shirt. Unexpectedly, some really awesome guys had driven all the way up from Charleston and set up an aid station at mile 2 entirely on their own dime and good will. After lap 2 or 3 we started making stops for refills of ice and water there as well. In the later hours this aid station was in just the right spot to provide sweet relief after about a 1.5 miles of totally sun exposed road. It was like a desert mirage come true. These two guys would greet us like we were celebrities, taking our bottles out of our belts and filling them up for us while offering us an array of snack options. I really can’t get over how genuinely nice it was for those guys to come out and do that. I am inspired to pay it forward as soon as I can.
The first couple laps felt good and we were managing a nice pace. It was warm but not nearly as uncomfortable as I had expected. Really I always think that once you are completely drenched in sweat it just doesn’t get any worse. You hit that rank saturation level and it is what it is after that. I had been thinking I might be able to complete the 50k in 6 hours but, even when we hit the halfway point right at 3 hours, I pretty much knew in the first few laps that it wasn’t going to happen today.
Photo Credit – Claude Sinclair
I started slowing in the 3rd or 4th lap. Spent a little more time stopped at the car. Walked not just each hill, as is my 2nd favorite ultra habit, but also more and more of a stretch at the top of each hill. You know, general lollygagging about. I felt pretty good but I had a really hard time getting calories in. I’ve done Gu or Shot Bloks in half marathons and marathons but snack food type food at the two ultras so far. This time around I could not get any solid food down. I managed water and Accelerade drinks just fine. But any time I tried to take a bite of a chip or a cookie or pretzel (usually my 1st favorite ultra habit!) my stomach would send out a, “Oh I don’t. Think. So.” vibe. Overall I managed to force down a package of shot bloks, one gu and a half of a banana. I had some stomach discomfort but nothing, umm, disastrous ever came of it. Lucky Karen got to listen to me obsess about the potential though! I started to worry about how I might feel if I didn’t get any decent calories in. So it could have been the lack of fuel or it could have been my preoccupation over the lack of fuel but either way my energy flagged a bit and I slowed.
Karen and I chugged along through laps 5 and 6. It was getting hotter so we bitched about that some. And gossiped and wondered aloud about trying to play cards or travel Connect Four while running. We got lapped. A few times. We caught up with first time ultra-ers Runner Friends Rebecca and Tim. They were having some pain but pushing through and looking good. My mom stopped by with the kids for a visit. Karen’s family stopped in to say hello. As we came in from lap 6, I was super surprised to see my usual cohort, Runner Friend Carrie! She had dragged her kids down to the park so she could run a lap with us! I love my runner friends. Carrie hopped in and we did our last lap proud. It was good she showed up. I think Karen and I had run out of things to say so we made Carrie tell us stories.
I was so relieved to hit the finish line. It was a tough day. I’m so glad I did it though. The tough days really are the best days. At the finish line.
Finish time: 6:46:57
And I got a rad shirt and another plaque for my bathroom wall of fame!