I hardly know where to start with this one. Yesterday was one of the most emotional days of my life. I can honestly say that was the most nervous I’ve ever been for a race.
After going back and forth with the idea of staying in Brooksville we decided it would be easiest to stay at home and drive to Croom on race morning. That mean’t getting up at 3:30am and being out the door by 4:45am.
After that 3:30 alarm went off I made my traditional pre-race breakfast of peanut butter and banana on toast. We packed a cooler for me of Gatorade, bananas, a peanut butter sandwich, cliff bars and Swedish Fish for my support along the course. That pretty much encompasses every random craving I’ve ever had. I had no idea what I would want during the race but I sure as heck wanted to make sure I had it.
We got to the race site about an hour before the 7am start time. Since I hadn’t picked up my chip and number ahead of time I wanted to make sure we had enough time when I got there. When I got to the table the woman asked the athlete in front of me if he was doing the 50 or the 15. She quickly replied “well I guess you’re all doing the 15 now, 50 has already started”. I think my heart stopped and I’m pretty sure I started to cry. As soon as I could get the words out to double check on the start time of the 50k one of the other volunteers corrected her mistake. The Croom Fools Run has three distances, a 50 mile, 50k and 16 mile. The 50 mile started an hour early to get the extra miles in. I still had plenty of time to my 50k start.
It was a pretty chilly morning in Brooksville which made for perfect race weather. As it got closer to 7am all of the athletes gathered around the start/finish area. The entire race was capped at 250 registrations. Compared to most road races that is an incredibly small field. There was no start line, just a cone. That’s one of the things I love about trail running. It’s totally no frills. Just a bunch of people who love the sport getting out there and doing it.
The race director gave a quick course talk and told us to follow the orange blazes on the trail. The course would be the 15 mile loop around the park. You would come through the finish and if you were continuing on for the 50k you would just do it again. The first loop also included a little under a mile on the road and a detour to the main trail to get the extra distance (50k = 31 miles).
After the course talk he counted down from 10 seconds and said “ready, set, go”. With that, I was off, and onto my very first ultra marathon.
I settled into a 11-ish minute per mile pace. I had absolutely no time expectations for this race. My goal was to finish, that was all I needed. Based on my normal trail pace and my previous marathon time, I did figure that my expected time would be somewhere in the 7-hour range. That however, was purely a guess and there was a lot that could happen between me and the finish line.
One of my favorite parts of the day was just enjoying the beauty of this trail. The sunrise was gorgeous over the trees and everything looked so green. I was able to check out and just enjoy the experience.
I met a lot of really nice people on the trail. Everyone seemed to have a story. I guess often there’s a reason you run that many miles. I met someone who was checking the 50-miler off her bucket list before a milestone birthday, then following it up with skydiving next weekend. Another woman was running 50k for her 50th Birthday. I always find it interesting to learn why people run. I also feel somewhat strange for not having more of an answer than “because I love it” as my reason for running an insane amount of miles.
Aid stations on the course were several miles apart. I carried a camel back for hydration and filled it with nutrition. I had Gu at mile 6 and 10 and a mini-Cliff bar at mile 14. Before I knew it the first loop was over. I had finished 16 miles in 3 hours and 30 minutes.
Patrick was waiting at the Start/Finish area with a cooler full of race essentials. I was still feeling pretty good at that point so I slammed a gatorade and head back out on the trail.
I felt really well until about mile 21. I not only hit the wall at that point… I slammed into it. I had a Gu but that didn’t seem to help much. I had another Cliff bar and that still wasn’t cutting it. On top of it, my Garmin GPS watch had died. I literally outran my Garmin.
I hadn’t seen another person for at least 3 or 4 miles but I knew there was an aid station around mile 22. I was needing something more substantial than what I had on me to get me through the next 9 miles of the run.
Aid stations at this race were stocked with everything you could think of. They had candy, cookies, fruit, mountain dew, and… peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When I finally reached the aid station I had half peanut butter and jelly and talked to the volunteers for a few minutes. It was as if someone re-charged my batteries. That was exactly what I needed.
The next 9 miles were certainly not easy. They were the 9 hardest miles of my life. Everything in me wanted to stop. Looking back, not having a GPS for that last leg of the race was probably the best possible thing that could have happened. I had no idea how much further I had or how fast (or slow) I was getting there. I just knew I needed to put one foot in front of the other and get there.
After a few miles I reached the last aid station. A volunteer filled my camelback with water and told me that I was at the 26.2 mile mark. The words “you’re only 5 miles from the finish” were music to my ears.
As I came around the corner to the finish line I couldn’t help but break into tears. I felt all kinds of emotions seeing that banner that said “Finish”. I had done it, I was crossing the finish line of an ultra-marathon.
I crossed the finish line at 7:31:49. The second loop took me 30 minutes longer than the first. Considering the total melt down I had mid-way through I was happy with that. But, like I said, I had no time goals. I had one goal, and I accomplished it.
There were no medals for this race. One of the volunteers handed me a mug as a finisher amenity after I crossed the finish line. After finishing I sat on top of a cooler, drank a gatorade, had a peanut butter sandwich and recap’d what I could for Patrick. I was still pretty delirious and I was covered in dirt but none of that mattered, I was an ultra-runner.
The day after is not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. My muscles are tight but not in pain. My knees feel surprisingly well. Aside from a few blisters and some chaffing from my camelback I’m in pretty good shape.
I also have to give a huge thanks to Patrick who was my race-day support. Thank you for spending more than 7-hours out there and helping me accomplish this goal. I couldn’t have done it without you.