The Dunes 50 Miler - My First

I'm calling this Part 2 of my 3 part Dunes 50 experience. Read Part 1-- Ultra Planning

Things that are a great mystery to me:
1. That God loves ME enough to trade places with me (He took the cross, I get heaven).
2. That I WON a 50 mile race.

I cruised into the 12.5 mile aid station of the Dunes 50 mile race, faster than I expected. I ran right through it, completely missing my drop bag. The race director, Ludi ran beside me for a minute or so, asking how I was feeling, giving me directions for the next part of the course, "The Dunes of Hell." I believe she told me then that I was the first female. It was too early for me to have runner brain, but somehow I did and had to confirm what mile we were at-- everything else she said was about as clear as Charlie Brown's teacher. (My fault, not hers.)

At the next aid station, around mile 17.5, I was told that I was the lead female with a "considerable lead." I thought I was hallucinating. But this was good because it gave me something to ponder for the next 20 miles.

You see, my goal going into this race was to finish and to do so in 12 hours.

But as I began running, I felt really good. Really good. Due to the giant section of sand dunes that we would be running through, I had thought I would be walking for nearly half the race. Happily and fairly easily, I was able to run nearly the entire first 25 miles. I was quite surprised. I kept one thought at the front of my mind: hurry up. I had no idea where the other women were and at what point they would overtake me. So, I just kept going as fast as I could, hoping and praying that I wouldn't blow up. What follows is what I believe helped me thrive through my first 50 miler...

50 miles is a big deal. I knew I needed to have a solid training plan in place. But I didn't really know what "a solid training plan" looks like. Enter my BFF, Google. I found only a few 50 mile plans out there. Turns out most coaches (aka people who know what they're doing) who write training plans for ultras believe strongly that the plan should be dependent on the runner-- their goals, their ability to follow through with training, etc.-- and should be flexible. I choose a plan from Runners World that included back to back long runs on the weekends, with 3 medium distance runs through the week. It didn't include hill work, so I was left to improvise that. (Or not really, as it turned out.)

I believe the back to back long runs were key. I kept meaning to go run on the beach or the big hill. But life kept getting in the way. So, most of my training was on the road. Not ideal for a race that would be in sugar sand and over dunes. But I believe it helped that all of my runs were done running. I know that may sound odd, but hill or sand running would've had me walking quite a bit. And my legs were able to toughen up from all the pounding from the road.

Along with running, I continued strength training. Pushing and pulling heavy sleds was another important component, as was running 9 miles home after my leg workouts.

In Part 1, I laid out my plan:
1. Don't stop at Aid Stations for longer than 2 minutes. ✔
2. Drink water. ✔
3. Keep eating. ✔
4. Smile. ✔
5. Drink more water. ✔

In the first 12.5 miles, I stopped just once to quickly top off my water. At mile 17.5, I stopped for a bag of ice, potato chips and a few pickle slices. At the halfway mark, I got more ice, water, more UCan, and more pickles and chips. 
Sand. Dunes.

At the halfway, it became clear to me that nausea was setting in when my body temperature began to rise. The first thing I asked for at aid stations was ice to eat, stuff down my top and in my running vest. I also began to realize that I was very successful in drinking plenty of water, so electrolytes became a concern, as were calories. Pickles and potato chips became THE THING. I started adding a few sips of Coke, ginger ale, and Gatorade. 

I still was unclear how much of a lead I had. By the time I was heading to the halfway point, I passed a guy who informed me that I was now in 4th place overall. But who really knew? I thought I was far enough out that no one would catch me, but I still felt the urgency to hurry up. It wasn't until after the halfway point that I passed the women going into the aid station-- I was 20 minutes ahead, not counting their aid station stop. 

I allowed myself more walking the second time through the "Dunes of Heaven." Took the luxury of a porta-potty stop at the mile 37.5 aid station (the only time I sat down). But Mr. 5th Place kept catching up to me at the aid stations, and I just didn't like that (if he could catch me, who else could?). 

Hurry up drove me through the Dunes of Hell. Which, by the way, had doubled in size and distance my second time through. I don't know how they added more sand and hills while I was gone, but somehow they did. I was forced to walk. And my feet were killing me. The uneven footing was wreaking havoc on my Achilles and feet. 

One thing that I hadn't officially planned was whether I would change shoes and socks. Originally, I was going to leave a pair of shoes at the turn around (mile 12.5/37.5), but I forgot the shoes. I opted not to change socks. This is something I learned in all the Gorucks-- fresh socks helps for about 30 seconds when you're in sand. As soon as you start walking, everything is sandy again. Plus the effort to remove compression socks, the act of sitting down... too much to throw off the mental game. I was feeling good, and "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." 

Let me first say, I'm not really sure what is in me that so thrives in long "beatdowns." Why I enjoy the struggle. I just do.  I just have to do it and do it well.

I guess my family is my why-- both my flesh and blood family, but all my "adopted" kids, too. Being a teacher and a coach, God has brought a lot of kids into my life. Not that any of them would ever expect or require me to achieve, but I'm very aware that they will be asking how my race went.

And then there was this-- the night before the race, my dad sent me a text, telling me that my Granny (88 years young) had tripped and fallen. He found her lying on the floor because she couldn't get up. And I couldn't help but think of my sister, who was also found. They shared a birthday, so they are always very connected for me. For 37 miles, I ran with thoughts of my Granny. How is she? Is she in the hospital? Is she going to be ok? Will I ever see her again? My dad called at mile 37. I couldn't get my phone in time, so I listened to his voicemail with fear: "Well... Granny went to see..." I was waiting for "Granny went to see Jesus" and my heart sank. Until he finished the sentence with "her boyfriend." My Granny. She's one tough lady!  

I could continue this post for a very long time. There are so many thoughts. I'll highlight the 2 biggest details that drove me to success-- the months of back to back long runs in training. And my son's Spotify playlist "The Greats." 

I didn't run with music until about mile 26. Well, except the music in my head-- 2 songs were on repeat, Metallica's "Unforgiven" and Sugar Ray's "Someday." Not sure why those 2, but they were there, and they worked. After the halfway mark, my feet were hurting, the sand was super annoying, and I could feel my brain trying to go to the Darkside. The first thing I listened to was the latest from The East Coast Trail and Ultra Podcast. They're slightly irreverent, usually offensive, but funny and mostly on topic. That was a quick hour. Then I switched to Justin's playlist. Who can't have a great run, jamming to Pink Floyd, Queen, The Beatles, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, and Elton John? It was an epic finish. 

I passed a guy with about 6 miles to go. I thought that might put me in 3rd place overall. It did. At the finish line, I tried to throw my hands up in victory, but the emotions of the previous 10 hours and 20 weeks overwhelmed me. I cried. 


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