Sunday, September 25, 2016

North Face Endurance Challenge 50K...I'm Pretty Sure I Won (Part 1)

Wow, I haven't written a race report in a long time. I guess that's what happens when you just start running marathon after marathon...they all begin to blend together. That is actually why I decided to sign up for my first ultra marathon. I needed a challenge. The last marathon I ran was in Austin last February. I had a hectic winter, moving out from George's, house sitting for a month, going to Tahoe a bunch to find a home, and then 2 weeks in Brazil and 2 weeks in Austin. Needless to say I didn't have time to train. I was kind of worried...I'd done over 12 marathons but I'd always trained for them. I didn't know what was going to happen since I hadn't trained for this one. But being the stubborn bastard that I am, and also not wanting to waste the money I had spent on the race entry I decided to try it.

I thought the best strategy would be to run 1 minute, walk 1 minute, and I actually finished the race surprisingly fast for not having trained at all. That's when I came to the conclusion that I needed to do something more than a marathon. I had just realized I could run (well run/walk) a marathon with no training, and I needed something to push myself, to challenge myself.

I would say probably at least 70% of my friends are crazy triathletes who after they finished doing as many Ironmans as they could (2 to 5) all decided to switch to ultra marathons. They have now all run 50 miles, 62  miles, or 100 mile races. I had never jumped on that band wagon as I had never finished a marathon and thought "hey, I feel like running more." But now I was faced with a dilemma. I am the type of person who has to have something that they are striving towards. When I started doing triathlons and marathons in 2010 I realized this joy that I had never experienced before. The joy was the ability to pour my heart and soul into something that I could completely dedicate to myself. I almost wrote that sentence as "something that I could completely dedicate myself to" but besides being worried that I am not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition, I realized the real reason I loved triathlons and marathons and physically pushing myself beyond what I ever thought possible was that I was dedicating that time to myself.

I am a people person, as anyone who is going to take the time to read this probably knows. I enjoy being around people, I feel more energized after spending an evening sharing stories with a group of close friends. I am pretty much 100% extroverted (at least that is what the tells me). But I found that even I, a quintessential ESFJ, can like alone time. Running has become the time when I get to hang out with myself. I contemplate life, worry about poor decisions I've made, contemplate the poor decisions I plan on making in the future, think about the things I am missing in my life, and pray a lot that God will help me accept the life I have been given, help me be content, but also give me the strength and fire to make positive changes in this world. I also spend A LOT of time giving myself complements, telling myself I can keep going, and reminding myself of all the times in my life when even when things got difficult, I did not give up. You can't keep your body moving forward for 9 (the amount of time it takes me to run 50K) to 16 (the amount of time it takes me to do an Ironman) hours without loving yourself and supporting yourself, and being your own cheerleader. Well maybe negative criticism works with others, but not with me. In the last 7 years since I signed up for my first Olympic distance triathlon with Team in Training, I have come to truly love myself, and I know a lot of it has to do with my running time where I tell myself all the good things about me to help me keep going.

Anyway, this post was supposed to be my race report for my first ultra marathon, which I did yesterday...but I haven't even started that! Since I know I have a short attention span, and I am sure in today's world of sound bites, and 140 character tweets hardly anyone is even going to get this far. I'm going to be nice and start a different blog post in order to tell you about how I think I won my first ultra marathon. Thank you for your patience! It is coming soon.

North Face Endurance Challenge 50K...I'm Pretty Sure I Won (Part 2)

OK. I am ready to tell you how I think I won my first ultra marathon.

So if you read Part 1  then you know that I was really looking to challenge myself when I signed up for the North Face Endurance Challenge in Park City, Utah. I moved to Tahoe last February (4 days after running the Austin marathon where I came to the realization that marathons were just not cutting it any more) and began to settle in. I love it here. The mountains are amazing, the lakes are gorgeous and people have been very welcoming. I've made some really good friends and Corina and I have discussed that people say we are "living the dream." (Corina is one of those said really good friends who has actually been the most amazing support system, sister, best friend, roommate, and sherpa...more on her awesomeness later). In many respects I have been living the dream. I have a beautiful home, one block from the beach. I live within one block of my favorite restaurant (Freshies), my favorite pub (MacDuff's), my favorite Brewery (Sidellis), a bowling alley, and Safeway. So many friends and family have come to visit me and I feel honored to be able to host them and share my home with them.

But since I've moved here I've also felt lonely. I guess anyone would after spending 4 years with a person they love and then moving to a new place and trying the whole dating thing again. That could be a whole different blog...probably one I am not going to write, but the point is I needed to do something for myself. I needed to dedicate something in my life just to me. As I mentioned in Part 1, taking on physical challenges that I never thought I could ever do, training for such an event, and then accomplishing it, has become one of the best ways I know how to actively love myself. So after 4 years of telling all my ultra friends I had never finished a marathon and wanted to run more, I decided that was just the thing I needed to do in order to give myself the love that I felt was missing from my life. I knew that taking on something as challenging as a 50K starting at 7,000 feet with 5,000 feet of elevation gain was exactly what I needed to help me reaffirm the love I had found for myself. If you have never taken on a task that you felt was impossible, but put your whole heart and soul into it, and then accomplished it, then you really should. It's the best way to give yourself the confidence to know you can do anything and I think it is the best way to build up my confidence and show myself how much I love myself.

So last May I signed up for my first 50K. Training started with a bang. the first week my long run was 18 miles. The runs proceeded to get longer and longer, until I was running marathons on the weekends for my training with over 4,300 feet of climbing. Tahoe was the perfect place to train for this event since I could easily get up to 7,000 to 9,000 feet. If I haven't mentioned it before, Tahoe is gorgeous, and I felt so lucky getting to use its majestic mountains as my training grounds.
Picture from the Tahoe Rim Trail on a 22 mile run
I probably missed more than a few weekday runs, but I never missed my long runs. Besides obviously needing them to feel confident about my ability to run 50K in Park City, these runs were also the me time I had been seeking when I signed up for the race. No matter how many things were getting me down before I started the run, by the end I always came to the conclusion that things were going to be alright, because I was alright, actually I was more than alright, I was awesome because I had the strength and courage and perseverance to run 20, 22, 24, or 26 miles. If I could do that then I realized by the end of the run I could deal with any other stress in my life as well.

So after 4 months of training, it was time to drive to Utah and run my race. I actually wasn't that anxious or worried about it. I remember when I was training for Ironman our coaches always told us that the event was actually our victory lap. We had already put in all the hard work and we were ready to go out there and celebrate all that hard work by completing the race. I was really excited for the race. 

I kept checking the weather. A week before it said it was going to rain, but then a few days later it said it would rain on Friday, but not on Saturday (the day of the race). When Corina and I drove to Park City on Thursday we went through storms, high winds, rain and even hail, but by the time we got to Salt Lake City the sun was shining. That night the weather app said it was going to snow on Friday, but just be cloudy on Saturday. I was glad I had brought a lot of warm clothes, but I really wasn't that worried. 

Friday it didn't actually snow, and that night the weather said it was going to snow Saturday morning but only for 2 hours. I was still really confident that the race was going to happen. Corina and I went over the water stops where she could meet me, and what times I could possibly be there. We packed up my bag for her to bring to me. She was ready to take on the difficult and sometimes stressful job of giving up her entire day just to be my sherpa and make sure I had everything I needed. We both went to bed excited about the next day.

My alarm went off at 5:30am. I'd like to say I hopped out of bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but I think I actually hit snooze a couple of times, but I finally woke up and made my coffee and ate my trusty race-day breakfast: leftover spaghetti and meatballs. We both got dressed and went downstairs to walk the 1/4 mile to the start. We walked out the door and it was storming. It was raining and dark and cold. Shit...even though the weather app had said it might snow a little, I didn't think it would be raining. We went back inside, put on coats, found and umbrella and went over to the start. 

At the start they announced they were delaying the race start by half an hour. Apparently it was pouring down freezing cold rain where we were, but our course went from our current 7,000 feet up to 10,000 feet, where there were white-out conditions. They told us all to wait in this lodge to keep warm. About 15 minutes later they came in to make another announcement. They were pushing back the start another half hour, so we would be starting an hour late, and they had to change the course. We couldn't get up to 10,000 feet because all the race markers were covered in snow, so we were going to have to stay lower and just do two loops of the half marathon course. Yep...just two loops. They told us our 50K was now just a marathon (26.2 miles instead of 31 miles). 

Corina turned to me and saw the tears begin to well up in my eyes. I couldn't believe that after all my training, taking my one allowable absence from the Fire Academy, and driving all the way to Utah in one day I was only going to be able to run a marathon. Corina hugged me and told me it was for my safety...which I really didn't care about at that point. I just wanted to be able to do my victory lap, and now it was canceled. I just wanted to cry, but I realized I wasn't the only one this was happening to...everyone in the room had come to run a 50K and were only going to get to run 26.2 miles. I decided I could either have a positive attitude about it or a negative, so I told Corina I wanted to be a Positive Polly and not a Negative Nancy (sorry to all my friends names Nancy). As soon as I decided to have a positive attitude I also realized that I could still do a 50K. Just because they were only going to support a marathon, didn't mean anyone was going to tackle me when I finished, rip off my running shoes, tie me to a chair and tell me I couldn't run anymore. I decided I didn't care that the official race was going to be 26.2 miles, I was going to run 31. 

I told Corina my plan, and being the wonderful friend and awesome sherpa she is, she planned to meet me at the half, then again when I finished so she could take my medal (I wasn't going to wear it until I had done a full 50K), and then wait for me while I ran 5 more miles. 

It was 8am, and time to start. It was still raining and I found a garbage bag to use as a poncho. 

At the start in my sexy plastic bag poncho
I had two loops of the half marathon course to do and then I had to go find 5 more miles. While I ran the regular thoughts ran through my head:

Mile 1: "Wow, I'm not too slow, I'm totally keeping up with a lot of people"
Mile 2: "Ok, well you know, I am not the only one walking up this hill, there are a few others"
Mile 3: "Where is the first damn water stop?"
Mile 4: "Ah, water stop!"
Mile 4.2: "Where is the next water stop?"
Mile 6: "Uphill in the snow? That's kind of cool and beautiful"
Sunglasses were pretty useless most of the day

Mile 7.5: "Finally some downhill!"
Mile 9: "WTF? More uphill?"
Mile 10: "OK, good downhill"
Mile 10.5: "Uphill again????? Seriously?"
Mile 13: "Ok...I just have to do this one more time."
Mile 13.1: "Oh I have to run 5 more miles when this is done...ok, well it's going to suck, but you are going to do it."
Mile 14: "Just 12 more miles, oops, I mean 17 more miles...ok I can do this, I can do this"
Mile 16: "You are awesome Emily, just keep going"
Mile 17: "I thought trail running wasn't supposed to hurt, my legs are killing me!!! Ok, just 9 more miles...oops I mean 14"
Mile 18-24: "Mindlessly singing to myself -let the sunshine, let the sunshine through, the sunshine through, the sunshine through" 
Mile 24: "Yay, 2 miles to the finish!"
Mile 26.2: "The finish line! Ugh now the hard part can do it Embo, no one keeps Embo from running a 50K.
Mile 27: "This kind of sucks, but no one is going to tell me I can't run a 50K"
Mile 28: "Ok just 3 more miles, you can do 3 more miles, Emily, 3 miles is so easy, you can do this."
Mile 30: "Just one foot in front of the other, one left"
Mile 31.03: "OMG! I did it!!!! I did it!!!! I DID IT!!!!!!! Corina...I need a beer"

I had run my first ultra marathon...and I did the math and made sure I did 31.03 miles since I think technically a 50K is 31.069 miles and I wanted to make sure I did it completely. When I finished Corina came to the finish line again and gave me my medal. We tried to drink my free beer, but neither of us liked it and it was still freezing cold outside, so we went to a Mexican restaurant and ate and drank in an enveloping warmth that my chilly bones thanked me for. 

While we ate I told Corina about the race and how I talked with people on the course and no one besides me sounded too disappointed that the 50K was changed to a marathon. I had told quite a few people I was going to run the extra 5 at the end, and they were all like "good for you, I'm going to drink a beer at the finish line." Corina told me she had spoken with a lot of people who had been signed up for the 50K when they finished their marathon (yes, I am sure probably 95-99% of the 50Kers finished the marathon before I did), and she said no one said they had done the extra 5 miles to complete the 50K. So since Corina and I didn't meet anyone who ran more than the marathon, and even though all those people probably beat me at the marathon, I was the only one who did a 50K. Since I was the only one, I won it, right? Well if you disagree with that, I don't really care. I did this for me, and loved it, and am super happy to have won! 

They let me go back through the finish once I had finished the 50K and take a picture with my medal

Yeah baby! 

Thank you Corina for all your help and love and support! I am so blessed to have you in my life!