Ow. Hot. Painful. Nauseating. Stomach-clutching. Sunny. Even a bit repetitive. Beautiful. New friends. Old friends. Enormous fields. Ticks. Chafed. No underwear, ma. Sun.
But I finished.
The Pineland Farms 50 Miler is located just outside Portland in Maine, and consists one baby 3.5 mile loop, and 3 25-kilometer loops. The aid stations are very frequent, staffed by over-enthusiastic volunteers and cute themes, and with a fairly good selection (Popsicles! But no ginger ale!), and kilometer signs every mile. The race has been accurately been described as a “relentless rollercoaster,” and it truly is that – ups and downs, constantly, mostly mild, rolling hills, some rocks and roots, but not that technical, and these enormous, completely open fields that ran on these poorly mowed sections with divets and holes and banks and you were completely exposed in the sun. It was beautiful, it was hot (It must’ve gotten into the 80s), it was humid, it was foggy first and then sunny. It could be a PR course, but it wasn’t, by far, for me.
I took it easy last week in preparation of the race. I did everything right ahead of time. Still, it wasn’t my day. I seriously considering DNFing, but decided ultimately to persevere and finish.
Yes, I struggled, and yes, it hurt, but I am so proud of myself for setting out the ultimate goal for any ultramarathon: FINISHING.
The first mini-loop was fine. Tony and I went out a little fast, chatting a lot. My socks felt like they were bunching up, and I complained about something being in my shoes. Tony was teasing me, “You’re wearing gaiters and you still got stuff in there?” Our splits were a little crazy – we were running some sub-9 minute miles.
The first full loop started out fast as well. We calmed down our pace, and I felt myself struggling a little – my shoe was really bothering me, and my stomach started hurting me. Stabbing stomach pains. I consoled myself that it would go away, I had taken an Immodium as a prevention measure (since I have a history of having horrible stomach problems during ultras) and was sucking mints like there was no tomorrow. Still, I was happy that the pace was on, I was running strong, felt good, was pushing on.
Right when we went for the final out-and-back lollypop section, my shoe started to really bother me. I decided I’d change into my old sneakers (Rookie Mistake by Experienced Idiot: Wear brand new trail sneakers for a race) at the aid station. We passed another aid station, into the woods, and then to another large meadow section. I groaned. They could be pretty, but they were massive, with terrible footing, and completely exposed.
I lost Tony after I stopped to adjust my sock. I tried to catch up to him but couldn’t. My stomach hurt more. I worried that perhaps there wasn’t something in my shoes, perhaps it was blisters…
The loop began to suck. I got stabbing stomach pains so badly at one point, I found myself stopping to clutch my stomach and moan. I moved again.
At the start/finish area, I saw Jinnette (Tony’s wife) and their two girls. They asked me a million questions (well, the girls) as I changed my shoes. I stuffed all my mints in my bag, realizing I had a problem. The new shoes felt better but I had been right: there wasn’t anything in my shoes, except two painful red blisters on the arches of my feet – along with other various hotspots and a pinky toe blister. I slugged down a small container of my beloved Passion Fruit Zico Coconut Water. I tried to push on.
But it got worse. Shortly into my loop, my stomach let me know that Immodium was not working. I ran for some tall grass and squatted. Ugh.
And felt worse. My stomach alternated between those horrible pains and nausea. I felt on the verge of throwing up. Despite changing my shoes, my feet still hurt. A lot. And then I was having this ridiculous chafing on my inner thighs that made me want to rip off my running skirt and underwear and just finish the race bottomless.
It was, in fact, a full-on whine-fest.
People passed me. People I was normally faster than passed. Everyone was awesome. I had a few people mention they knew me from the Ultra List, others mentioned they read my blog, which was nice. I got to see Bekkie and Joe, and this awesome guy I met at my first ultra and a few others. Strangers inquired if I was okay, stopping to give me electrolyte pills, sharing their running snacks that wouldn’t bother my tummy (Hello, waffle honey comb thingy, I love you!), advice, and most of all, kind words.
The 50k runners and 25k runners were now in the mixed, and I was getting passed all the time. I tried to hold my tears back and ignore the pain but that was impossible.
On the second lollypop loop, the kilometers dragged on. My stomach forced me to go to the bathroom two more times off the trail. Stupid ineffective Immodium! I seriously thought about DNFing, as I was doing a ton of walking, and even that was painful to do. A stranger doing the 25k stopped running upon hearing of my difficulties, and walked with me for a while. She gave me an inspirational pep talk, asked me if I really wanted to DNF, helped me think about what it is that I wanted. I don’t know her name, but all I know is that I am so grateful for her accompaniment and helpfulness during this struggle. Shortly after, the guy I met at Jay Challenge, along with another Team Odwalla runner, came up on me and we began chatting. They took my mind off my pain, offered advice, help, sympathy. My tears were swallowed.
I decided I’d give it a go. I’d finish. I would. I could.
At the main aid station, I told Jinnette I was going out. She was really encouraging, and I left feeling better. I hadn’t been eating much (The entire race, I ate: three packages of Powergel Blasts, a couple sports Jellybeans, one gel. And some random aid station snacks, like the occasional orange or watermelon or Popsicle, but mostly I didn’t eat the aid station food. This is not enough, especially for me.) I drank half of a coconut water, and slogged on.
And I started to feel much better on this third loop. I ran more, walked less on the third loop than I had on the first. I even ran a bunch of the uphills.
The field sections were hot – completely sunny and exposed. I noticed I was getting tan, despite sunblock, which I probably sweat off. I was dripping sweat. I ate a popsicle. I felt happy. I went to the bathroom again. I clutched my stomach.
My chafing was out of control. I borrowed a scissor at an aid station, and cut out my inside underwear of my running skirt, which was causing a lot of the chafing problems. The volunteers were a little startled, but it did help some. However, that wasn’t enough, so a few miles later, this hilarious interaction occurred on the trail.
Me: (Standing there, trying to play casual, waiting for this guy to pass me so I can take off my pain-causing underwear) Hi.
Him: (Slowing down and looking at me) Are you okay? Do you have a cramp?
Me: (Now pulling off my underwear b/c he was stopping) Yeah, I’m just taking off my underwear. I’m pretty chafed.
Him: (Acting as if it is a totally normal thing to do in the middle of a trail during an ultra) Oh, okay.
And then I totally ran better than I had been. The underwear had really been bothering the chafing, and though I still was in pain, it was nothing like before.
I was so happy to run the final lollypop loop. I ran most of it, unlike a lot of the runners who were walking everything, including the downhills. My stomach hurt from time-to-time, and my chafing was really painful, and my blisters, oh my god, my blisters…But I kept moving.
Some musicians were playing in the middle-of-the-woods aid station – the way the course worked, you are constantly running on little paths and you can often see your friends/competitors through the bushes, running in the other direction – a lot of switchbacks, if you will. So because of how the course was, you could hear the music at various times, including when I wasn’t anywhere near that aid station.
I pushed. I ran through that final evil meadow. And up that hill. And past my cheering friends, into the finish line, to receive my cowbell, hat, and pint glass.
DNF would’ve been easy, but mentally, could I do it? I’m not sure. I suspect I would’ve sat there, teary-eyed, watching the other runners, until I felt a little better – and then would probably have gone out there again. It’s what I do. I run far. I run past what I think I’m capable of doing, past what people think is possible. I’ll be there again. I had a bad day, yes, but I’ll have a good day again soon. And until then, even if I didn’t get my PR, I still have the finishing victory, and the satisfaction of knowing I gave it my all, and even more, including when I didn’t want to – and I succeeded with a finish.