You must do the thing you think you cannot do. ~Eleanor RooseveltI successfully completed my 1st ultra marathon on December 3rd: the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K. It was an incredible experience, and something that I would do again. When I blogged prior to the race, I had doubt that I would be able to finish which seems odd to me now because it was always within our reach: we were prepared. Yet even during the race, when my legs were fresh and I was feeling good, I wondered if I would be able to keep it up and finish, because I knew we were running into uncharted territory, pushing our bodies beyond what we had ever experienced.
We woke up at 5am and attacked our respective piles of running-related stuff that had been laid out the night before, and started getting ready. Mom called to wish me luck, as she always does, and read me my horoscope: You and a friend -- or maybe a colleague -- are on the same path, even though it might not seem that way at first. See if the two of you can brainstorm ways to work together toward common goals. Neither one of us believe in horoscopes, but had to admit, this one was spot on! We were definitely about to set out on the same path! A path we would remain on, together, for 9 hours and 48 minutes.
Tim picked us up at our hotel and already had Jeff and Gabby in the car. We drove to a school, where we left his car and hopped on the school-bus shuttle. It was cold, and it was dark. We used the bathroom when we were dropped off, at the Marin Headlands in Golden Gate Recreational Park and walked to the start. There was a lot of activity. We had an official race photo taken with the North Face Endurance Challenge logo in the background, dropped off our bag of stuff to have at the finish, and spotted Dean Karnazes, a celebrity in the running world. I snapped a picture of Delia with him in between trying to get my Garmin to work. We lined up at the start, which would also be our finish, just as the sun was rising and were off!
After about a mile of running, we hit a steep uphill that went on for about two miles. We walked, along with everyone else in front of and behind us. I've made the mistake of going out too fast in plenty of marathons, and have paid the price and regretted it around mile 18. We were determined not to make that same mistake, though it did remain a temptation as we looked back and realized there weren't too many people behind us.
The first aid station was 4 miles from the start, near some horse stables. I was so excited to see the snacks because they had quite the spread: boiled potatoes in salt, M&Ms, pb&j sandwich squares and chips. I made some kind of comment about how awesome it was while shoving a boiled, salted red-skinned potato into my mouth. "This isn't our first rodeo" said one of the aid-station workers. I smiled and looked at her, responding with an exuberant "It's my first rodeo!" before ducking into a port-a-potty. Good sign, I'm hydrated, keep it up I thought.
|What goes down, must go back up again!|
From this point, we had a lot of dramatic, sweeping views of this coast and steep downhills. The view of Muir Beach took our breath away, and we stopped for even more photos. It was around this time that I noticed were were definitely in the back - with only a few people behind us. We decided to take less pictures, and spend less time at the aid stations.
After we passed Stinson Beach and more climbing, we arrived at aid station #4 - just outside of the Muir woods, which we entered with a winding difficult descent before getting on the famous Dipsea Trail. I had taken two cups of coke at the aid station and it was like jet fuel for me! I'm actually surprised that I didn't fall during this part of the course because the trail had soft wood chips and bark covering uneven ground and tree roots and I almost rolled my ankle several times. I called my Mom, and had her on speaker phone as I let her know that we would 'definitely finish!' Again, just like the mobile upload/update, my next thought was one of lingering doubt: but you're not even half way there! You still have a lot of the race to run! From mile 15-20 ish I was on the closest thing to a runner's high that I have ever experienced. I remember actually feeling like I could run forever. I put on JAY_Z and Kanye's Watch the Throne and the miles flew by. Normally friendly to other active people when I come across them, I remember passing casual runners or walkers out there on that trail and being so focused - so into the moment - that I didn't even acknowledge them. I also remember feeling that we were pretty bad-ass.
|Looking back on what we've already ran and thinking about all we still have to run.|
That floaty feeling of euphoria only lasted so long. Before we knew it, we found ourselves back on the familiar trail that we had taken out and my I-can-run-forever feeling dissipated. We stopped at an aid station by Stinson beach to use the bathrooms, and I laid on my back on a bench. A passerby asked me "How far did you run?" My response followed a long pause: "Ummm...we've gone 23 I think but we still have about 10 more." I wish I had a picture of the expression on her face to post here. I'm not sure if she believed me.
|Golden Gate peaking out between the hills.|
|I took this as we neared the finish line.|
When we were finally on the bus, I remember that I had never felt that exhausted. Or, that proud.
We had completed something that we weren't sure we would be able to do. My Dad has always told me that I can do anything that I set my mind to. It's one thing to be told that; to think or believe that, and another to actually test it by setting out to accomplish something you really aren't sure you can complete! Months of training had gone into preparing for that day...we had been in training since August, with all of our weekends since then taken up with a long run on every Saturday, and a shorter, but still long, run every Sunday. It was the most difficult thing I had ever done...and it had taken so much out of us for months prior and on the day of. But for that reason, completing it meant so much to both of us. This ultra gave back so much more than it took, beyond the sense of accomplishment, solidifying what was already an amazing friendship with Delia through this shared experience, and making me believe that I really can do anything that I want, with enough preparation, determination and hard work. It's a day that I will remember as long as I live.