Yesterday I ran my first 50K. It was…brutal.
I originally signed up for the 50K at the very end of April this year. I had recently started running with the GOATZ trail running group in Omaha, and all their talk of long runs kind of inspired me. (I only occasionally run with the group these days, but that is mostly because the trails they run on are on the opposite side of Omaha from Bellevue.) While running some spring trail runs with the GOATZ on a 5-mile trail in Bellevue, I met Amber and Adama. Amber recently moved here from California, and she mentioned that she was thinking about running the Omaha Marathon in September. I looked at dates and decided that the Omaha Marathon would be a perfect “training” run for the 50K, which was three weeks after Omaha.
Amber and I began doing long runs together. Meeting her was a blessing, because Ashley (my other running partner) was getting pregnant enough that running long was a definite challenge. Summer came, and the Dutchman and I flew to Europe for three weeks. Little running happened there, and I started to freak out about not getting a good running base. Two weeks after returning from Europe, I took a 5,000 mile solo (well, except for the Canada bit) road trip to Boise, Montana, and Calgary. I was able to get some running in on that trip, but the summer continued to fly by.
This summer, the summer of 2012, was disgusting. Hot. Humid. Hot. Humid. Gross. Hot. Did I mention the humidity? Running was work. Our training runs got hard. 18 miles, 21 miles, 23 miles. The 23-mile run beat me down. It made me think I wasn’t going to finish the marathon.
However, the Omaha Marathon went very well. I struggled with the mental running demons around mile 21, bent over and cried, and then stood up, got my breathing under control, and kept running. My second marathon ended with a time of 4 hours, 33 minutes (15 minutes slower than marathon #1 in Missoula in 2010). Amber rocked the race and finished way ahead of me, but I was blessed with a random race day friend for the last 3 miles, and she and I pushed each other until the end. The weather was also fantastic — crisp, clear, dry, and breezy.
After the Omaha Marathon I wasn’t sure if I wanted to run the 50K. I was tired. I was burnt out from running. Running was more work than pleasure these days, I was slow, and I just needed a break. I’ve had some growing knee/IT band problems surfacing, and part of me wondered if it was worth it to run the 50K at the risk of further injuring myself. But all year long I’ve been saying that once I finish the 50K, I’ll allow myself to take a break. All year long (well, since April), this has been the plan. Being the person that I am, I knew I would feel like I earned that sense of completion unless I actually finished the 50K.
The Dutchman has been super encouraging and supportive all summer. When I’d return home from a run completely discouraged and frustrated, he was always there telling me how awesome I am and that I did more in the early hours of that morning than most other people did.
And so I decided to run the 50K.
The weather the last three weeks has, for the most part, been beautiful fall weather. Of course it had to change for the race yesterday. Storms moved in on Friday evening, which caused high humidity and temperatures in the mid-70s. The skies were overcast for most of the day, and the wind was God sent. The majority of the 50K took place on the MoPac Trail, which is a converted rail trail between Lincoln and Omaha that connects several tiny farm towns. The trail was beautiful and peaceful with the changing colors, but it was also very remote and lonely.
The Dutchman drove Adama and me to the outlet malls in Gretna where our friend Jody and her husband picked us up and drove us the rest of the way to Lincoln. We finally got on the buses around 9:45AM, and we were bused to the starting line about 30 miles away. Our race wave didn’t start until 11AM, because the 50K was a race in conjunction with the Market to Market Relay, a running relay from Omaha to Lincoln. The late start was proposed so that all runners would finish around the same time in the evening.
We started running at 11AM sharp, and the first 5 miles were rough. (That’s never a good sign.) I am a die hard early morning runner, and starting a run of this magnitude at 11AM just seemed totally wrong. I felt off, like my body just wouldn’t wake up. I tried to enjoy running through the leaves and not focus on the miles ahead of me.
Fairly early on in the race, I encountered some kids marking the route. 50K this way and relay runners that way. They were so cute and encouraging, cheering loudly and spiritedly for every runner. I got a little emotional.
I quickly found myself alone. There were a few groups in front of me and a few groups behind me. I eventually fell into pace in front of a few guys running/walking. Around mile 12 I stopped at an aid station to get my phone, and the older gentleman thought he lost me. When he saw me a few minutes later, he said, “Oh there you are! Don’t take this the wrong way, but we’ve gotten used to seeing your rear end in front of us for a while.” Haha. Whatever keeps you going, man.
The miles passed. It seemed like there were so many looooong and gradual hills. My left leg began to bother me. I’ve been having some knee problems for a while now, and at the end of the Omaha Marathon, my left quad was killing me. (I think it’s all IT band related, but I might head to the doctor this week to get some confirmation.) It started to feel really weird in the back part of my knee (really hard to explain), so I started taking some occasional walking breaks from my shuffle run. Then my stomach started to get crampy and bothersome. Great. I felt nauseous for a while, and I had that constant urge to find a port-a-potty, even though I didn’t think I’d really need it. I snacked on some pretzels and banana pieces at an aid station, and thankfully the stomach issues dissipated after a while.
Jeff, an old Air Force friend, passed me at one point, and it took everything in my power to not crumble into a pile of tears. We were both struggling by then. ”How’s it going?” *cry*
I kept running. And running. And finally mile 18.6 arrived! Ashley volunteered to join me at mile 18.6 and run with me to the finish. I saw her and her family (her kids were holding up “Go Heidi!” signs), and I veered off the trail, bent over, and cried. So emotional. We started our run together, and it made all the difference in the world to have a friend run with me. I honestly don’t know if I would have finished without her. I imagine I would have quit when I saw Mike around mile 22 or 23. Ashley talked me through my knee pain, stomach issues, and walking phases.
At mile 21 we had access to our gear check bags, so I grabbed some new fuel bottles, snacked, rested and stretched, and then we continued on. 10 miles left.
We saw Mike a few miles later, and we ran up to him and walked for a bit. He told me how great I was doing, even though I think he could see the “WHAT AM I DOING?!” in my eyes. And he told me I was almost there. I told him he was lying. It was wonderful to see him and know how much he supported me and my crazy adventures.
Eventually we passed from gravel trail to concrete around the edge of Lincoln, but we still hadn’t even hit the marathon mark yet. The last concrete chunk of the run was probably the hardest. I knew we were close, but we weren’t THAT close. My knee started to bother me even more. We finally hit the last aid station, and the Dutchman joined us again. I saw him and openly bawled my eyes out. (I was getting tired of the emotions at this point.) He told me I was almost there, and this time I believed him. But 4 miles still seemed like a long way. But we kept running, and I tried to avoid walking. The more I walked, the longer it would take us to get there.
I think mile 29-30 was the longest of the whole run. We were running around the edges of the whole University of Nebraska campus, and I KNEW the finish was near. Finally we saw the 30 miles sign. We ran up a viaduct. And down. We ran down a street and then down another street. And I finally saw the pedestrian bridge, and I ran the whole way up and down. Ashley stopped running with me at the bottom of the bridge, and I limped/shuffled/ran the last bit to the finish.
I crossed the line and was almost immediately overcome with emotion. I was bawling my eyes out as they put the finisher’s medal around my neck and they took the timing strap off my ankle. A guy helped me walk around the finisher’s chute and gave me water and Gatorade and helped me find Mike. He came back a few minutes later with an emergency blanket and made sure I was fine. The support at the finish line was really amazing. I saw some of my friends across the fence at the finish, and after reuniting with Mike and Ashley, I found them again. There weren’t really words to express how thankful we all were to be done.
My official race time is 6:52:37 with an average pace of 13:17.
The Dutchman waited patiently while I got a post-race massage. It was great, but I feel like I could use another one every day for a week.
When I finally got myself together enough to leave, I limped around the area, and Mike got me a few pieces of pizza. I picked up my gear bag on the way out, and we made our way to the car. Once settled the car, I devoured the pizza. It was the best ever. Pizza is my go-to food. Really. But my stomach is often very picky after running, so that’s all I ate until breakfast today.
So now I’m done. I’m so relieved. I won’t say that I’ll NEVER run a 50K again, but I don’t think I will. Even the marathon just doesn’t do it for me. I wish it would, but I really want to enjoy running again. I’m planning on sticking to half-marathons for the next few years, and then we’ll see. Half-marathons are fun. They’re an easy travel race. I don’t stress out with a half-marathon, and my body does better with the training load.
I really want to say thank you first and foremost to my husband. Thank you for always supporting me and encouraging me. When I didn’t think I could do it, you were always there telling me I could. Thanks for being my chauffeur, race day photographer, and post-race “can you hold this” coat rack. I love you! I also want to say thank you to Amber and Ashley. You two have been wonderful running partners this year, and I don’t think I would have made it through marathon/50K training without Amber and our long summer runs. And Ashley, you running with me yesterday helped me more than you know. And thanks to all my family and friends!!! You guys have been so encouraging and awesome this year! Hopefully I’ve inspired a few people out the door to run. It is motivating for me when I hear that my running (however slow it might be) has motivated someone else.