First and foremost, always surround yourself with positive, inspiring souls who aggressively believe in you even when you forget to believe in yourself. Then take a deep breath, make the leap, and fly.
I have not done a stand-alone marathon since 2004 (I attempted SARnR 2013 but DNFed), and my last IM marathon was IMTX 2013. All pre-hip. Post-hip I have done several stand-alone half marathons, as well as those in my several half IMs I have done, but it’s been awhile since I’ve tackled the marathon distance. I was ready for the next big challenge post-hip, so instead of testing the waters with a marathon, I decided an ultra would be the way to go! Hahahaha! Go big or go home, amiright?
The Cactus to Cloud 50k in Alamogordo, NM, had initially caught my eye. One of the besties who had already tackled the ultra distance had sent the link to our crew as we were looking at races to do, and I felt inspired to tackle it. It was a point to point, starting in Alamogordo, and climbing to Cloudcroft, and running the majority of the race at altitude. My grandparents were from Alamogordo, my Mom grew up there, so I was familiar with the area and it held so many memories for me. However, it did seem quite ambitious for my first, seeing as I haven’t trained, nor competed in any distance over 13 miles since 2013. And logistics were going to be tricky as well, with hubs on the verge of a new job, and us getting ready for a significant transition. So I chewed on it awhile, but in the end decided against it (turns out it got canceled anyways, so it was the right call). But I still was itching for the challenge, and started to search locally, and found one in Bastrop State Park around the same time that Cactus to Cloud was supposed to be held. At this point one of the other besties was looking to tackle an ultra as well, so we signed up together! It was all set! Time to chase the ultra!!!!!!!
During this time I also decided I wanted to do Galveston 70.3 (which was four weeks before Wildflower 50k), so it was going to be a busy start to the 2018 season! Fitness wise, Galveston worked out great, although in order to get in my long rides, I had to sacrifice not being able to get in double long runs on the weekends leading up to that race. After Galveston 70.3, I ramped the run mileage up pretty quickly, had some great long trail, as well as road runs! And was super stoked to finally be able to train some with Orissa! Our training schedules just didn’t work out when I was getting in the long rides, so I was excited after my race when I could just focus on the double long runs on the weekends, and we could plan our training sessions out together! Before we knew it, it was go time!!!!!!!!
We stayed up in Bastrop the night before the race, since the 50k started at 6am, and we would need to take a shuttle to get into the park, and it was recommended to be there an hour early for that. So we planned on a 4 am wakeup, and getting to the shuttle area a little before 5am. We were right on schedule, and arrived at the start line a little before 530am. I was super stoked to see my friend Megan, who was volunteering at the race, and has been another inspiration on my ultra journey. Just fresh off her 100k and training for a 100 miler, she not only had great advice and words of wisdom leading up to the race, but on race day as well, and it helped immensely to see her several times at the aid stations. Soon the race director was giving final instructions, and it was almost time to chase this thing. I have to say the overall vibe at the start of this race was peaceful. The dynamic was so much different than other races I have competed in, and it was quite calming, especially when I was a bundle of nerves before the start of the race. Orissa and I wished each other good luck and to have a great race, and soon the countdown began. 5…4…3…2…1…GO!!!!!! And we were off!!!!!
|One of my favorite views, right at the top of the first climb!|
|Packet pickup the night before! Ready for the adventure that awaits!|
So Wildflower 50k is 5 loops of 6.2 miles on single track trails in Bastrop State Park. As we started our first loop it was still dark, so we all had headlamps, and it was the coolest thing as we climbed the trails, and you could see the line of headlamps in front of you, sometimes very far into the distance, like small stars lighting the way through the night. The sun was rising at about 645, so we could see the beginning of some daylight about 630ish. The temps were in the mid 60s, a bit humid but still a light breeze, so the first loop felt pretty refreshing. After only a couple of miles in, I took a couple of quick pics of the misty fog through the trees as dawn was breaking, it was eerily beautiful. Kept watching for the blue flags to make sure I was on the right track, and kept looking at the beautiful scenery all around me. Took a couple more pics, settled into a good rhythm, and stepped quickly out of the way for the runners who were flying! So there were two aid stations, one of course at the start/finish area (the 6.2 mile mark), and another one a couple miles before that (at the 4 mile mark). I’d say about a half a mile before the first aid station, I was cruising along, and just stepped wrong, and went down. The terrain at that point wasn’t even challenging, my foot just betrayed me, and I rolled my ankle, and fell. This was a little after mile 3. Yep, fairly early in the game for an injury. And yes, it was in fact the SAME ankle I had rolled right before Galveston 70.3. The same ankle that I didn’t rest after Galveston because I had some serious double long runs on the docket in order to be ready for the ultra. Ugggggg I was so frustrated!!! I hobbled along for the next mile to the aid station, and at this point Orissa had caught up to me (we had gotten separated earlier but were not really that far apart), and she walked with me to the aid station. The volunteers were so amazing at this race. As soon as I hobbled in, they were on it, trying to see what they could do to help me, do I need anything, etc. Unfortunately they did not have tape, so I would have to go to medical at the start/finish aid station and get it done there. Orissa asked if there was anything she could do but I told her she had a race to tackle so not to wait for me. She said to text her if I needed to, and she hoped my ankle felt better and then she headed off. I grabbed some oranges and watermelon at the aid station and started walking towards the next one. The ankle was not so good, and I was having a little pity party. So much so that I almost missed the right turn back onto the trails, until a fellow competitor was like “Hey! Hey you! The turn is right here!” I am so grateful she yelled at me because I don’t know how far I would have walked up that gravel trail before I realized I was no longer on the course. So I had a little pep talk with myself on the way back to the finish area, and I did a little shuffling on the trail, but it was fairly painful. Once I finally hit the finish area, I went through the shoot and headed for the aid station. Megan was there and asked about my ankle, and I was almost in tears, I was just so frustrated with myself. I grabbed some more oranges and watermelon, hit the port-o-potty, and headed to the medic tent. Eric sat me down, and I told him about my ankle, that it was pretty painful, and I had rolled it pretty good a month ago but kept training on it, and it never really healed. And I was certain that if I rolled it a second time on the course that I would be down for the count for good. He said he could tape it and stabilize it if I wanted to keep running on it. My body and my mind were like, “Um, is that a great idea?” But my heart and soul were like “Yassssss!!! Tape that shit up so we can get back out there and tackle this beast!!!” So he taped it up, and I headed out for loop 2.
|Eerily beautiful misty fog at daybreak on our first loop.|
Loop 2 was fairly uneventful. The weather was still pleasant, a cool breeze blowing, temps not too hot yet, just a nice run. I was very careful with the ankle as I started the loop, stopping to take a couple of pics, and enjoying the surrounding scenery. I wondered how far ahead Orissa was, and if I would see her again during the race. Runners were still flying by, some 50kers, but also 25kers, and 10kers, which were sharing the same loop but had gone off at different times. I was staying on top off my nutrition, a gel every 40 minutes or so, plenty of water, as well as my Infinit. I had also brought some extra treats in my hydration pack, a banana, orange slices, cucumber slices, and cherry tomatoes. There were plenty of bananas and oranges at the stations so I guess I really didn’t need my own but it was nice to have them just in case. But the cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes were life savers! There was this section a couple of miles in with a sandy track and zero shade. The trees were trying to grow back, but after the Bastrop fires in 2011, some of the vegetation still had a ways to go. But all of the new growth was beautiful! Anyways, after you run through this section, you climb a rocky hill before you cross the road and head into the next section of trails. On this hill I would break out the cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes and both were amazing and so satisfying!!! So I continued on, stabilized ankle was doing well, nutrition was on point thus far, and I was in great spirits. As I headed into the aid station at mile 4 there were lots of cheers from the volunteers because they weren’t sure they would see me again or not, and were excited they had! I was super stoked too to be back out there and not be hobbling along like the first time around. I took a couple more oranges and watermelons and was on my way. The back half of the loop went fast this time around, and as I was heading across the road and up the hill to the finish area, I moved over for a runner to pass, and he was wearing flip flops! And flying! And I overheard one of the volunteers tell the other, yeah there are quite a few out there racing in flip flops and sandals. I was amazed!!! I headed into the finish after loop 2, and said a quick hello to Megan and gave her a status report, and grabbed a couple of orange slices and more watermelon before I headed out for loop 3! Getting closer to the halfway point!!!!!!
|Loop 2 was still pretty pleasant, big red was not out in full force yet.|
So loop 3 is definitely where things start to get a little tougher. The sun is now out in full force, not many clouds in the sky, and a majority of the course is not shaded. There was still an occasional runner that passed, but mostly it was just me out there, pushing on through. I thought about the good training I had put in, the great trail runs leading up to the race, and a solid fitness base I had built up months prior as I was training for Galveston. I was ready and I knew I could complete this race, and I knew now was going to be the time for positive pep talks because the big red was beating down and there wasn’t a soul in sight. A few miles in, I felt my tape move around in my sock, signaling it was time for a redo when I got back to that aid station. I also had a serious blister happening in the right foot that was painful, so it was time to put something on that foot too. I kept taking my gels, and the cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes were definitely a boost to get me to that next aid station –it’s the little things!!! When I hit the aid station, they were so welcoming just like last time, and I loved that they knew who I was, and were just so positive, which was much needed when your mind goes to that not so positive place. They were out of watermelon (nooooo!) but I had some orange slices, and refilled my Infinit bottle with Gatorade, and was off. The last 2+ miles to the next aid station dragged on this time around, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. Forward progress was the name of the game!
After reaching the start/finish aid station as I wrapped up loop 3, I hit the aid station, grabbed some orange slices, and Megan was making watermelon slushies, which I grabbed one of those as well, and it was so amazing! I knew I’d be in the “transition” area for a while again this time since I needed my ankle taped again. I found Eric and he went to work taping the ankle again, and then tended to the huge blister on my right foot. Man it felt good to sit down. I almost didn’t want to get up from that chair, lol! At this time another runner had come into the medic area to get her feet worked on, and she was actually done. She had finished her 50k in five hours and was getting ready to drive back to Houston! So incredible!!! I congratulated her, and she wished me luck on my next two loops, and I was off! But first a quick stop at the aid station for another watermelon slushy! Megan wished me luck, and I was headed into loop 4! Just TWO more to go!!!!!!!!!!
I was definitely deep in the pain cave on loop 4. I walked. I ran. I shuffled. I’d pick a tree, or hill, and run to it. Most of the hills I walked up, or slowly shuffled. Mainly I was pushing myself to just keep moving forward. By this point I was baking in the sun, and was glad I reapplied sunscreen before heading out on this loop. I drank lots of water, I drank my Gatorade, ate my gels, and looked forward to my cucumber slice/cherry tomato refuel stop on the hill. I watched the lizards scurry across the sand, they were out in droves now, since there was no longer much movement out on the trails. I watched the beautiful butterflies flitter about, and took in all of the gorgeous wildflowers out on the trails. I tried to stay in the happy place as much as possible, so when the tough patches inevitably arose, I was able to keep persevering through them. When I hit the aid station it was a much needed reprieve, they were the absolute best cheerleaders, and kept my spirits high. I grabbed some orange slices again and headed out to complete the rest of loop 4. Just as I turned off of the gravel road back onto the trail, I felt something burning on my left calf, and looked down and there was a bee! I shooed him away but man, that sting burned! I started talking to myself to make sure nothing was swelling. I had never been stung by a bee or wasp EVER, so I didn’t know if I was allergic or not. At this point another runner passed me, and saw I was in a bit of distress, and I told her what happened, but I felt fine so far, and since I had no other allergies I didn’t think I was allergic. At least I hoped I wasn’t. She mentioned there was another runner coming up behind her so if I needed assistance there was someone right behind me. As I kept running another runner came up from the other direction, just as this other guy was passing me, and both asked how I was doing, feeling etc. I felt fine, and had about another mile to go until the aid station, so I kept moving forward. When I hit the aid station, the guy who passed me, Scott, had me sit down and had me checked and they got ice for it, but all agreed that if I was going to have a reaction, it would have been back a couple of miles ago, and since I kept running, all seemed good. I grabbed some more orange slices and watermelon, and I had sunscreen reapplied, and then it was time for loop 5. Just ONE more to go!!!!!!!!!
Oh man loop 5…just a love/hate relationship. I loved that it was the last loop, that I had almost tackled this beast, but also hated it, because there still stood 6.2 miles between me and my goal. And my body was toast. The ankle had gotten more painful, and my feet were on fire. I kept urging myself forward, just run to this tree, just run around the corner, just shuffle up this hill. I had the best time at the cucumber slice/cherry tomato refuel hill stop, they were the BEST cucumbers and cherry tomatoes that I have ever had! I watched all the lizards, trying to catch their patterns before they disappeared into their holes. I saw a turkey! Just sauntering across the trail…it was so cool! As I was getting closer to being halfway through the loop, I rounded a corner and I saw Orissa!!!!!!! Yasssssssssss!!!!!!!! I yelled out “Hey girl!” although it came out more choked up since I teared up when I saw her. We both were so happy to see the other! We recounted our adventures of the day, and found out we both had been stung by bees! Crazy! We knew the next stop would be the aid station so we tried to stay positive as we kept moving forward, venting about how long this one section seemed to go on, coupled with shouts of joy when we passed scenery we recognized and knew that we were getting close. When the aid station came into sight, we shouted with joy, and shuffled up to it, as the aid station was in full on cheerleading mode! They offered us chairs under the shade, asked what they could get us, congratulated us on getting this far, and encouraged us that we were almost there! While I probably shouldn’t have, I couldn’t resist the chair. I sat down and it felt soooooo good! And the oranges and coke I had while sitting there were the BEST EVER!!!!!!!!!!! Finally I made myself get up, and Orissa and I continued towards the finish. As we headed up the gravel road, a truck with horses in the trailer came down the road, and we joked that our rides were here! We shuffled up the road to the turn and headed down the last sections for the last time. This last section did drag on forever, and we knew once we got to the fork and headed up the other loop we were just a little over a mile away. This last section was brutal because it just would not end but we trekked on. I gave a shout when I saw the fork, we were finally getting ready to finish this sucker. A few hills to climb, then some downhill sections, then across the road, then one last uphill section to the finish line. There are not many people I would want with me while I am deep in the pain cave, but I was so grateful it was my ever positive, inspiring friend with me. As we crested the hill we shuffled across the finish line, tired smiles on our faces, high-fiving the race director. I was overjoyed to be able to tackle this goal, and finishing with one of my besties was the best way to top off this incredible day.
|We did it!!!!!|
My final time was 9:28:33, and ambitiously I would have liked to have been 7/730ish, but realistically figured it would be closer to between 8 and 9. I wasn’t disappointed with my final time because I had given all I had on that day, and this beast was by far one of the toughest things I have ever done. It was an incredible experience out there, and I certainly look forward to putting another 50k on the docket in the future (let’s go Cactus to Cloud!!!), but not sure if I will venture farther, but I guess you should never say never. So many goals and dreams still to chase, I look forward to getting out there and relentlessly pursuing all of them!
As always, thank you for reading, and for your cheers and support. And to my tribe, thank you for never ceasing to inspire, and for always encouraging me to fly.
|What an incredible day!|