Heartland 50 Miler 2009

I knew it was going to be a good race venue when we got to the packet pick-up/pre-race meal. The Mennonites had set everything up in the kitchen of the Cassoday (pop. 99) Community Building and we waited in line with runners, crew, volunteers, family, and friends. The topic of conversation was the aid stations. A brief argument ensued between the Lapland and Ridgeline volunteers and ended with "Them's fightin' words!" I was disappointed we didn't make it to Ridgeline during the 50.

We started in the dark, the 50 milers lined up behind a line of white flour in the road, the 100 milers about 50 yards back. It was cold. Temps at the start were 36. The weather had said low of 36, high of 45. Sunny most of the day with winds less than 10 mph, so I wore light-weight capri length tights, my favorite thermal shirt and a hat.

It started out cold and it stayed that way. Right after the sun came up, the afternoon front moved in and the temps never got above 40. I was hoping my PF was hold off most of the day, but like the weather man, I was sorely mistaken. It started in about mile 3 and never improved. I started popping Vitamin I at mile 5. By mile ten, my legs were numb and I was wearing my water bottle around my wrist so I could pull my frozen fingers inside my shirt. I was now focused on covering as much ground as fast as possible, since I knew my foot would be hurting.

We ran with the course, walking some uphills, coasting on the downhills, and flying through the flats. I had a random mix of songs float through my head over the course of the day. First song: The Who "I can see for miles". I wonder where that one came from...

For some unknown reason, our friends Shelly offered to come and crew for us over the last half of the race. All I can say is that having a crew is like having an angel. They give you what you need, before you can ask. They lift your spirits. They believe in you, even when you're hurting and you want to quit. Thank you Shelly.

There were 5 brutal miles heading into the turn around, mostly uphill and completely into the now 20 mph winds. When we finally got there, it was such a huge pick-up. Shelly met us with food, salt, and more ibuprofen. She refilled our bottles and gave me my extra sock to wear on my hands as gloves. I never like to stay long at aid stations, so we were quickly off again. We left and my watch said about 4:20, which was well on track for a sub-9:30 finish, which was my top goal. I would have been happy with sub-10.

Up ahead, I noticed a woman running. Hmm, I know we have about 5 miles mostly downhill and with the wind at our backs, maybe I can reel her in. I slowly accelerated to 9:30 min/mi but she was still pulling away. Holy crap! At least I know when not to give chase. I settled in and kept on. She was clearly a better runner than me.

The cold was taking it's toll. Now it was the Killers "cuz heaven ain't close in a place like this..."

My hip flexors were tight and it hurt to stand up straight. My hamstrings were to tight and it hurt to bend over. My quads were screaming, my calves in knots, and each step on my left foot was agony. A blister had started to form under my right pinkie toe, which compared to the rest of my legs, barely warrants being mentioned. I was walking more, and trying to start running again after each walking break had me in tears. John had pulled away, so it was just me and the beef cows. I asked one if she'd give me a ride, but she just started at me blankly. I decided beef cows were ill-mannered compared to dairy cattle. A Holstein surely would have given me a ride, and if not she would have at least had the manners to give me an answer.

I had mixed feelings coming into the last manned aid station. There were "only" 8 miles left. There were 8 miles left. 8 friggin' miles. I tried doing the math in my head if I was walking at a 15 min pace and "running" at a 10:30 pace, and there were three big hills until the last downhill section, how many penguins did I have left?

I trudged on. Now, the song "Just put one foot in front of the other" from 'Santa Clause is Coming to Town' was scrolling through my head. If the Winter Warlock could do it, I could too. I started bargaining with myself. Just get to that light pole, then you can walk. Just get to that fence, then take a break. Just get to that piece of horse crap in the middle of the road and then try to stretch.

Where were the turtles? I like talking to the turtles on my runs. There were no turtles. They were probably smart enough not to be out in this weather. I pretended I was running with KT. I pretended I was running with MO. I pretended I was running with Meeka. I was having long conversations in my head that made no sense. Barefoot Josh would hate all this gravel. I hate all this gravel. Will that pick-up truck give me a ride? I kept hearing footsteps and it freaked me out when no one was there. Then I heard footsteps and it freaked me out that some guys WAS there. Where in the heck did you come from? Last time I turned around, there was no one within sight, which typically meant 3 miles or more.

Finally, I saw it. The Cassoday water tower, which was where the finish line was located. I estimated I was less than 3 miles out. I thought about cutting through the fields, but that required climbing a fence, which required me to pick my leg up more than 2 inches off the ground. Nuts. Gravel road it is.

The last 3 miles were into the wind and some of the coldest miles of my life. Cold as a witch's tit. The Wicked Witch of the West. The Wicked Witch had flying monkeys. I wish I had flying monkeys. Then they could carry me to the finish and do my bidding! Or at least get me a beer! Oh, what I would give to have flying monkeys as minions.

Somehow, somewhere, I found the energy to run the last stretch of pavement in, to the tune of honking horns, cowbell, shouts from volunteers, and more cowbell. The cowbell is a wonderful thing. By the time I crossed the finish line, I was shuddering and my lips were blue. I was crying. Not from joy or relief, but of cold and pain.

The put us in a tent with blankets and a heater. Even with socks on my hands, the last windy section had robbed me of all dexterity and Shelly had to help get the socks off my hands. 9:20 or so, second place female and 8th overall. I didn't really care, I was focusing my attention on the chili in front of me. Every fiber of my body was exhausted and cold. Then I scarfed down a cheeseburger. A wonderful, warm, greasy cheeseburger.

Afterwards, I found out the woman that beat me is a serious ultra runner from AL. She's on Fleet Feet's Ultra Racing team, won a 100 mile race 2 weeks ago, was 3rd female at Badwater this year and 3rd female at Western States. She has won multiple ultras and has some PR times I can only dream about. Pretty cool, my first race against a serious runner. She was in sight for at least 30 miles of the race.

We stopped a few times on the way home and I had to use the handicapped stall so I had the grab-bars to pull myself up. Back at home, a couple ice packs, a bag of popcorn and a few pain killers later, I was ready for bed. Too bad every time I moved, I still woke up in pain. I was in tears trying to get out of bed on Sunday. At least I have gained back the use of my legs since then, although my foot still hurts to put weight on it.
Now that I have put a few days between me and the race, I'm really happy about my time. I still think it probably would have been in my body's best interest to have dropped out, but I know I would have regretted that, too.
I'll be taking some time off from running to let my foot heal and then slowly getting back into it. I won't commit to any more ultras right now, but I won't say never, either. Time to heal. Time to rest. Time to relax.


Erica said...

I was just thinking this a.m. how I was going to ask you for a race report. I've decided I want to do an ultra (a 50K THEN MAYBE a 50 miler!) in 2010. I love how you are so judgemental of the bovines and I must say I am the hugest turtle lover ever. I don't care how it sounds. Hopefully I'll see you on the trails when you come out again (I'm going to start up again after the marathon this weekend). GREAT JOB -- YOU ABSOLUTELY ROCK!!

Cynical Dirt Doll said...

awesome job Sam!!! Congrats on finishing a bitch of a race and I had to laugh at your report since a lot it sounded like what was going on in my head last year!! (minus the cold) Congrats from last year's 2nd place female to this years! We need to make sure we have someone else from the KC area continue the 2nd place streak next year!

Darin said...

Great report Sam, I really enjoyed reading it. Awsome finish through all adversity. 2nd place female, you ROCK!!

Christi said...

Great race report and congrats on the second place finish!!!

Rest up and recover!

sophianchor said...

So the part about the dairy cows.. Hilarious!

I love the perspective and personality you put in your report. God I sound like a High School English teacher.

Shelley is an angel!

Way to Represent the Trail Nerds!!!!

Barefoot Josh said...

HAHA, I loved the inner dialogue! With that many hours out on the road, I bet I would become unbearably grouchy.