Trail Tales of my First Ultra

It was a December evening, that I came back home with UMM after a night out, delirious with wine. I had a moment where I realized I had no running goals lined up for the New Year and wanted redemption for my marathon DNF. Upon waking the next morning, I checked my email to discover I had registered both UMM and I for the Inside Trail Racing Folsom Lake 50k and wondered exactly what I had gotten myself into.

The training was tough it’s true, but nowhere near what I experienced race day. Leading up to the big day, I was nervous as I took a longer taper than I should have with travel . The forecast predicted highs in the 90’s, and I was certainly worried about the heat! And then, only two days prior to the event, I turned my ankle really bad while running at Jenkinson Lake. While I have turned my ankle many times before on the trails, I had never felt so much pain as I did that day. Of course I panicked. Wouldn’t you? I did everything I could to nurse my ankle and while the pain subsided, the swelling still remained. It was race morning that I wrapped my ankle and decided to at least try and run the course to its entirety and told myself that if I felt any major pain, I would simply just stop.
And thus began a running journey I will never forget.

Layla came out for the weekend and signed up for the Half Marathon. UMM dropped down from the 50k to the half. I had other friends running the half distance and 10k event, but none running the marathon or 50k. I had known that from the beginning though. Being the social runner I am, I prefer a running buddy. I mentally prepared myself to run 31.1 miles alone, and was ready. We all know though, that when it comes to running in a race, you never really are alone.

Photo courtesy of the Lovely layla - Me right before the start, feeling slightly queasy.
Another Pre race photo. Chilly morning = scorching afternoon. Not certain what Penny is looking at!
In a blur, the race started at Folsom Point. I chatted briefly w/ a very nice gal who was running along w/ me until she told me she was running the half. I quickly told her that the half had not started yet and wished her good luck as she stopped running, luckily.

I decided to wear my garmin only to tell me the time and not keep track of my miles and pace. Honestly, I kind of dug having the freedom of not looking at my garmin every couple of seconds. It also kept my mind distracted as every so often I would estimate my mileage and finishing time. For a mind like mine that is not very good with numbers, I welcomed the calculations as it helped keep my mind off of other things that I will mention later.

We crossed a dam that was exposed for a mile until hitting the single track that was not foreign to me. I had run this single track that led to the Marina with the Folsom Trail Runners every Tuesday at noon for the last couple of months. I knew every hill and was confident. In the first six miles, it was obvious that I was running, but it all felt effortless. Like I was just merely using my body as a vessel to carry me. It was almost like I was floating. It was strange, but I was happy as I felt no pain in my ankle. At the second aid station around mile 6 or so I was assisted by the awesome and super nice Karen who was apologetic that her AS was not complete due to a volunteer not showing up. She peeled me a tangerine and warned me to watch out for a tree that had fallen in the middle of the path. I thanked her for her kindness and warning and headed on my way. In my mind, I figured I would just have to jump over a log. In reality, I found myself lost in a tree tunnel. I used my superb (insert sarcasm here) navigating skills to get myself out of the jungle of branches and leaves. Please believe me when I say that I write of no exaggeration here. The tree was certainly an obstacle adventure. It was a fun addition to the race I think! Shortly after, I had come to my least favorite section of the trail which was an exposed meadow. I am not one for exposed meadows especially in the heat. I managed to pass through it as fast as I could. I later discovered there were a few more exposed areas I would face on the course.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I was worried about running in 90 degree weather. I had not trained in such and therefore felt unprepared. I tied a wet bandana around my neck. It was karen actually, who when I saw at the aid station again just a mere 10k from the finish,wrapped ice in the bandana for me. I had not thought of this and man, what a treat! It’s the little things right? While it did not take long for the ice to melt wrapped around my overly heated neck, it held cooling powers I just can’t explain!  I was also constantly drinking water. At the aid stations, I consumed double the electrolytes and refilled my hydration pack more times than I ever had before. Because Inside Trail Racing does a spectacular job of having an aid station every 3-5 miles on the course, I never had a fear of conserving. I drank to my hearts content and never once peed!

Around mile 13, I was giddy with the idea that soon I would be at the last aid station that would mark the 50k turn around point. I was enjoying the beautiful views of Lake Folsom and the lupin that surrounded it. Runners at this point were heading back on the single track and I was happily shouting words of encouragement to each and everyone of them that passed.  And then, it happened. I turned the very same ankle I had rolled just two days past, again! I screamed in pain and fell to the ground. The pain was so excruciating I thought I had truly snapped my ankle in half. I started to bawl. No one was around. Not behind or coming towards. Still bawling, I struggled to pick myself up and carry on. I was limping. I did not know what to do so, I walked on. I figured I would get to the next aid station and decide what to do there. The thought of DNFing pulled at my heart strings, but the thought of running in pain for the next 18 miles did not appeal to me. I bawled hard until I had no more tears. Runners came towards me again and not wanting them to know I was in pain, I continued to shout words of encouragement even though the dirt stained tears on my face made it obvious I had been crying.

I got to the last aid station where the pain was slowly subsiding. I had even started running again at a very slow pace. Despite the progress, to my surprise, I started bawling again. I literally had a meltdown telling the volunteers that I did not know what I was going to do. Both of them looked at me and simply said; “Can you make it 4.5 miles to the next aid station? If you can, just keep going and if by the next you are still in a lot of pain, stop.”
“Just keep moving forward!”
These words were all I needed to hear. It was exactly the push I needed to get me back on track. I am truly grateful for these two people as I might not have done it without them! And though I failed to get their names, I will never forget how so very encouraging they were! My heros of the day! I left that aid station with a new found energy. I would not let the rocks and sticks defeat me! I would carry on. I don’t know if the pain ever did go away completely or if I just felt numb to it, but on the return, I ran hard. I passed people. I made friends. I talked to caterpillars. The heat did not bother me as much as I thought it would, but then again, I did take extra precautions.

I also made sure to eat. It was with trial and error that I discovered besides drinking electrolytes, what I need most on my long runs is not sweets nor carbs, but protein and calcium. Not found at the overly stocked aid stations, I packed a hard boiled egg and two string cheeses. At the aid stations however, I would eat potatoes w/ salt, and oranges. While I don’t drink soda on a regular basis, Mountain Dew never tasted so good in the midst of running through the forest.

I had just under a 10k left when a guy came running towards me. “Are you the dehydrated one?” he asked. I recognized him immediately from social media channels.
“I think at this point it is safe to say we are all dehydrated.” I responded.
It was indeed Clint who not only was a Folsom Trail Runner like myself, but shared my love of beer as we were buddies on a beer app called UnTappd. Clint was volunteering at the first and last aid station. I missed him coming through so it was nice to run a few miles with him and talk about our favorite subjects running and beer! Very glad I got to meet him in person. He was also patient with me for it was around this time that I started to walk. I needed the walk break. I was ready to be done and though I kept telling myself the faster I run the quicker I will finish, I just couldn’t get my legs to work.

I left Clint back at his aid station and once again set off. I ran. I walked. I ran and finally I got back to that damn dam! Even though the dam was exposed, I had a new found energy in my legs. Always being one to get that kick in the end knowing the finish was not too far off, I started to sprint. A half mile later, still on the dam, I slowed to walk. My sprint picked up again as I ended the dam up the hill and onto the pavement for a nice downhill trot to the finish.Victory was finally mine! Upon crossing the finish line, UMM, Layla, Katie, and my parents quickly met me. I guess they spotted me running across the dam, but since it was so far away they couldn’t tell it was me. And,since I had such a great stride they figured it couldn’t be me. My dad actually thought I was a guy in the distance, but they were all wrong, it was me!!! I didn’t care that they weren’t right there at the finish though, I was just happy that they waited for me to finish! Such great support and love! Truly grateful for such wonderful friends and family!

Photo courtesy of Katie. See the arrows? I'm that speck! Ugg that damn dam!
My loves!
I discovered that UMM placed 2nd overall in the Half, and Layla got a kick in her legs at the half way point and finished strong! I also discovered, that despite my slow time of 7:19, I placed 3rd in my Age Group! Mind you, there were only 35 runners registered in the 50k, but so what! I will take my victory thank you very much!

In all honestly, I was hoping to finish in 6:45 and not a half an hour past that. I am however proud of myself for finishing at all and shocked at my determination to keep on going despite the ankle issues I was having. And to think, I almost gave up! It was a running journey I will never forget filled with lows and highs and everything in between.

Photo courtesy of Layla. My prize for running 31.1 miles!
My ultra cherry is officially popped now. I am still in disbelief that I did it and I am certainly glad I did. These next couple of days post 50k race, my body aches in spots I didn’t even know existed. If I am not itching at the bug bites all over my back and arms, then I am scratching at the poison oak on my legs. My ankle is in pretty bad shape and taking a wee break from running is mandatory. Despite all my woes, I can’t seem to stop smiling and thus an ultra marathoner was born!

Food and yummy beer post race at Fat Rabbit!
Victory is mine! Love the color of the shirt! They must have done that just for me!

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