I am a 46-yr old cyclist who runs. In my youth I was an athlete – I played softball, basketball, volleyball, and ran track. My freshman year in high school, my track coach gave me the option to be a miler or learn to hurdle. I saw what the distance runners had to do for workouts and opted for the knee-cracking hurdles.
Until I took up cycling in my late 30s, I never envisioned myself as an endurance athlete and when I took up trail running, I considered myself a cyclist who runs sometimes.
After a couple of 23K trail runs, followed by two 60K ultras in the last two years, I decide to attempt my first 50-mile ultra at the well-organized and supported Land Between the Lakes trail run in western Kentucky.
The day starts out well and once the crowds thin out, I find my groove in the second loop when a blonde streak flies past me and another nearby runner. I recognize Scott and yell out a cheer to him to which he surprises me with a “Thanks, Momi!” and then disappears as quickly as he arrived. The woman running near me incredulously asks, “Who WAS that?!” And with chest-pumping Bloomington pride I respond, “THAT is Scott Breeden. THAT is the man who is destroying the 60K record today!” Suddenly, my feet feel lighter and I continue down the path channeling Scott’s mana.
I am by no means fast, but I thought I’d easily arrive well ahead of the cutoff with plenty of time to finish under the 11hr limit. About halfway through the second loop though, I start having stomach problems which slows me to a walk a number of times for the rest of the loop and a good portion of my third. In addition, I misstep and take three minor spills in my first three loops which adds to my intestinal distress. I remember reading an article about Ellie Greenwood getting ill in some of her 100-mile races and that she would just sip water for a while until things settled. I decide to take her advice and start feeling better with about 3 miles to go in the third loop. I begin doing the math in my head and realize I am cutting it close. My right hamstring starts to cramp so I grab an electrolyte tablet from my back pocket and swallow it dry and keep pushing on. Finally, I arrive at the end of the third loop with 3 minutes to spare.
Tracy is waiting for me at the aid station and sees the panic in my eyes. She quickly calms me and asks if I want to continue and reminds me I can cut it down to the 60K. I tell her I’m going and she tells me that I can slow down and relax now in the last loop and then yells out words of encouragement as I disappear back into the woods.
I’m alone on the trail now, going easy, getting my heart rate back down when I start doing the math. I calculate again and come to the realization that I not only have the 11.3 miles on the trail loop, but also another 3 miles on the road to the finish and I need to keep my pace up in order to make it under 11hrs.
I turn my legs over faster, knowing that the next six miles are fairly flat and I need to gain some time before I hit the hills again. I start psyching myself up and my brain starts talking to me…
I am a cyclist who runs. I’m a runner! I’m a TRAIL runner! I am Scott Breeden! I am Chris Vargo! I am Ellie f****** Greenwood! I AM A M***** F****** TRAIL RUNNER!!!
I stumble over a root and almost do a face plant.
Little steps, little steps, little steps… get up the hill.
Careful, careful, careful, foot up, foot up, foot up! Downhill… C’mon, Ford! Go, go, go!!! Okay, keep going, keep going, c’mon get up here, okay, walk, walk, walk faster. Get through the stop fast. Grab water, take a gel. Damn, shoulda taken a gel! Too late, keep going!
I catch up to a fellow runner at the next stop and ask if he knows how long the out and back is. He says 0.6mi each way and then an additional 1.8 home – so 3 miles on the road. I head back out for the last couple miles on the trail.
With about a mile left on the last loop, my right hamstring begins to cramp. Damn, no gel! I remember I have an electrolyte tablet with me so I down it dry. Keep going, keep going, you’re okay, c’mon you can do this. I look at my watch and do the math. I pick up the pace trying to get on the road with some padding. Damn, not gonna get to the road fast enough. C’mon, spin the wheels, keep going. Okay, walk just a little more…
Then I hear my friend Linda call my name and get a glimpse of her through the trees, I start to move again and wind out of the woods with about 37 minutes to do the three miles.
I come out of the greenery to Tracy, Linda, and Alan all cheering me on. Tracy asks if I want her to run beside me and I nod yes because speaking takes too much energy. Like a person going into hypothermia whose body functions turn inward for survival, what little energy I have is focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Tracy tells me to keep going and she will catch up. I’m already heading up the road in automatic drive. I hear Linda and Alan and others cheering me on and one of the LBL staff directing me up the road for the out and back telling me it’s 0.8 miles to the turn around. My brain is screaming at him.
0.8 miles?! What do you mean 0.8?! It was supposed to be 0.6!!!
I do the math. Shit, I need to go almost another half mile more! He tells me what I already have calculated – when I get back it’s another 1.8 to the finish so 3.4 total. I scream some more in my head to the deaf running gods.
3.4?! It was only supposed to be 3 more!!!
I do more math and any padding I had coming out of the woods is quickly diminishing. I head up the road.
I hear Tracy’s familiar patter coming up behind me and she settles in providing me with words of encouragement and telling me that it’s just up the road a little bit more. And then starts to tell me that I need to keep pushing to make it and that I will hate her but that she’s going to make sure I keep going. I tell her that I don’t hate her and that no matter what I say in the next 3 miles back to her, that I love her more than anything. I then tell her to stop running ahead of me and get next to me. She asks me questions and I reply with “You talk! I don’t want to talk! Too much energy to talk!” She keeps pushing me to keep going.
A runner returning from the turnaround catches my eyes and offers more positive words and notes that the downhill will be sweet. I look ahead and see the slight incline that looks like a mountain to me at this point. I utter out to Tracy, “How much further?” She responds with certainty that it is just around the corner a bit, up a little, then flattens, then up a little more and then we’re home free. Little did I know that she couldn’t remember at all what it was like and made all of that up. I then see a sign ahead and ask if that is the turnaround and she confirms it (and is correct). I get a little more energy and get to the turnaround and start heading back. I pick up a little bit of speed on the downhill and start heading back toward the forest exit. Tracy runs ahead to the aid station to get water and a gel ready for me.
After a few sips of water and a dollop of gel, I head back out toward the highway, down a wonderful hill and then start going up over the first of two bridges. Linda has now joined us and Tracy continues to push me on. I start to lose it, feeling like I can barely keep going. I utter out, “Stop talking!” She reminds me that I will hate her but she is going to keep pushing me on. I tell her I don’t hate her followed by ordering her to my left side rather than the right where cars are coming. I know I’m about 1.25 to 1.5 miles out still and look at my watch that shows about 17 minutes to get there. I start to walk just wanting to slow for a couple seconds. Tracy pushes me to keep going and I snap at her and tell her I have 17 minutes to get there. She says according to her watch I have 14. My brain screams, Oh shit! My watch might be off!!! Crap! Alan drives past us taking pictures and cheering followed by one of the LBL volunteers driving by cheering. I start to go again. A stranger drives by honking and cheering. I see an LBL volunteer down the road who comes out to stop traffic on the highway for me to cross. I know I’m near. I cross and head down the hill to the finish, stretching out my strides and summoning any fast twitch muscles still awake. My middle-aged eyes can’t focus on the clock ahead so I push on. About 100 feet from the finish I see a 10:5x:xx and I know I’m going to make it.
I cross at 10:53:37 with my friends Beth, Jill, and Jean cheering me in.
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. When I’ve run LBL in the past, I might try to up my pace a bit, but in general don’t race. I usually enjoy the run and the people around me, but on this day, in order to make it under 11 hours, I truly raced the clock and pushed myself unlike anything I’ve ever done. The last six hours of that run took every ounce of physical and mental effort I could muster to make the time.
Last night, two days post-race, I look over the finishing times thinking I was the Lanterne Rouge of LBL only to find several runners who came in over the 11-hour time limit, the last ones arriving at the 11:41 mark. It was then that I re-read the rules that were clearly stated online:
NOTE: Due to time limits, NO COMPETITOR WILL BE ALLOWED TO START A FOURTH LAP UNLESS THEY ARE ON PACE TO FINISH IN 11 HOURS. This means that 60k runners must start their 3rd loop by 1:45, and 50 milers their 4th loop by 2:15 p.m.
Nowhere does it say you have to FINISH in 11 hours, you just have to be on PACE to do so at the end of the 3rd loop!!!
I shake my head realizing that reading comprehension was never my strong suit. My brain yells out,
I am 46 years old and I am a trail runner!