In case you slept through Monday, you should actually start reading this race report from the beginning, which is here – TNF100: The North Face 50K (2013): Race Report (Part 1). Read it first. I’ll wait.
OK. Now that we are all at the Aid Station at 31K (~19 mi), here’s the reasonably good photo captured by KMN’s excellent photography skills:
This is between my telling him, “Babe, my FEET are tired.” and “I still have a LONG way to go.”
He’s a great crew, though – he didn’t pay my complaints too much mind. He just patted me on the head (figuratively), gave me a kiss (literally), told me I could do this, and sent me back onto the trail. What a guy. He knows when to take my complaints seriously, and when to give a bemused smile and just shoo me back to work. And with that, I was off and rolling again.
I spent the next mile wondering how I was going to run 10 more miles on legs that were already feeling tired. I had a hot spot on the arch of one foot (this happens occasionally in my Salomon XA Comps, which are amazing in every other possible way). The other foot was tired. The area around my knees (up into my quads & down into my calves) was burning-tired. One of my knees was feeling suspiciously weird, in a “new to me” way that I didn’t particularly like. And did I mention I still had 10 miles to go? Then, out of nowhere, some words of wisdom came to me, courtesy of Green Girl Running – from the race report of her redemption marathon:
“During SR marathon I let my mind take over without even realizing it, and it took me on a downward spiral to negative town. This time I felt totally in control. I hit a few rough patches, but knew without a doubt they would pass… and they did!”
So although I didn’t actually assign her a mile, I just kept telling myself that the tough patches would pass. I just had to have faith. “You might feel bad now, but you won’t feel bad the whole rest of the way.”
[Spoiler: This was true, but at that moment, unbeknownst to me, I was going to sink a lot further down before things started looking up again. Still, it’s good advice.]
I tried to distract myself. As I now ran the “back” portion of the out-and-back, I cheered on the steady stream of oncoming “out” runners. Thankfully, the trail was wide enough to accommodate everyone. At this point, Sherri blew past me, and I realized that I had quite a significant lead on the next female. I had no idea if I had the pep to catch anyone in front of me, but figured that time would tell. I hung on for a mile, and was grateful that I’d assigned Mile 21 to Debbie.
Mile 21: Debbie (Rochester friend, speedster, and our first visitor from the US who came exclusive to see us and explore Singapore). This woman’s infectious smile, quick laugh, and positive attitude would jolt anyone out of a slump. Oh, and her feet are pretty speedy, too!
No, we’re actually not related. But I’d happily adopt Deb as my “running sister” pretty much any day.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t such a happy camper for Debbie. I told her I was tired. She told me funny stories from work. I told her my knee was feeling funny. She told me about the new cupcake shop in Rochester. I told her I was feeling blue. She told me that was better than green (both envy and nausea are bad). She also told me to eat some Sports Beans. She was, as usual, on point with all of her suggestions. Debbie, you were great company – I’m only sorry that I couldn’t reciprocate. [PS We saw zero – ZERO – monitor lizards.]
Together, we are smarter than this hydration pack, right Mark?
Mile 22: Mark (friend & teammate from Rochester). I first met Mark when I was accepted to run with the Fleet Feet Endurance Team in Rochester. I was a trail newbie, and Mark was one of the people who showed me the ropes. He’s also a scientist, and shares my
anal-retentive analytical thought processes. I guess you could say he’s my “Running Dad”.
Mark isn’t quite as smiley and rainbows as Debbie is – but he does tell it like it is. And he told me, “Yup. It’s hard. This is the hardest part. You’re far enough in to be really tired, but not close enough to the finish that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel yet. You just have to keep running.” I should note that I have no idea if this is Mark’s actual opinion. But it’s what he said in my head. And I knew he was correct. He led the way and I stuck to his shoulder.
Somewhere around here, we left the “back” section and headed out on some new trails. But these trails were quite similar: Broad enough for comfortable running, well-shaded by trees, and lightly rolling. And although I was feeling pretty crappy at this point, I was together enough to realize that this really was a great area to run – and I’ll be heading back in the future! The only annoyance was the cyclists – these are multi-use trails, and every so often I had to move out of the way of some cyclists. Mixed feelings on this, during a race, but thankfully the course wasn’t congested and we were all able to share the trail. I only yelled at them when they came flying around blind corners too quickly.
Anyway, Mark was – as usual – a rock. I was relieved for his company in this section, where I saw few of my fellow runners. Occasionally we overtook a 100K participant, but I didn’t see any other 50K runners in this section. I wasn’t much fun, and he didn’t try to talk me out of my funk, but instead told me more or less to OWN IT, then move on. The advice was good. My execution of it was mediocre. But when our mile was over, and Mark deposited my whiny, deflating self to Kathy, with an ominous, “Good luck.” [Note: He said that to her. Whoops.]
Mile 23: Kathy (my “Running Mom“) Kathy is gentle, but honest: “Look Holly, you’re going to get to the Finish Line. You can stop and whimper about how you feel, but it’s only delaying the inevitable. So while you whimper, let’s keep running.”
My mile with Kathy represented the lowest one in my race (absolutely NO fault of hers – and she’s the reason I made it through!), and it was a slog. I now had fewer than 10 miles left, but 8 miles still sounded like a lot. I was tired. My legs were sore. My knee was moving from “discomfort” toward “ouch”. [Somewhere between miles 20 and 23, I realized that I probably twisted/wrenched it when I sunk into the mud pit back on the Green Corridor.] I never doubted that I could finish the race…but at that moment, finishing just didn’t sound like much fun. This low point had some physical aspects, but it was mostly mental. I was tired, on unfamiliar trails, and with over an hour of running still ahead of me.
Outside of the situation – when I’m rested, fed, and have perspective – it’s almost impossible for me to describe how low these low points can feel. But I’ll give it a whirl. Come with me….a tiny part of my brain knows that perspective is necessary. But at the same time, all of my feelings (soreness, tiredness, discouragement, frustration) are narrowing into focus in this one moment, until they are all I can see, and they come perilously close to toppling me over and crushing me. The only weapon I have against them is faith – the faith that they won’t last – but there’s no proof that, either. Any waivers in this faith threaten to send me spiraling to the bottom, crushed by my own self-doubts. [Or something like this.]
But Kathy was great: She warned me not to actually CRY, because that would result in snot, a stuffed up nose, and a headache. She’s smart, so I listened. We ran. Not fast, but still – we were running. She told me about the lowest points during some of her ultras, and promised that things would get better before the finish. She reminded me to keep drinking. She assured me that, no matter what I felt now, I would feel great at the finish line. That single thought – of the finish line – kept me moving. Kathy, THANK YOU. I don’t know what I would have done without you.
By the time she left me, I felt ready to face Mile 24 on my own. At this point, the 50K route merged back with the 25K route. The 25K started one hour after the 50K, so the folks we were running into now were at the back of the 25K pack. Still, there was plenty of room for everyone, and any passing I wanted to do was not a problem.
I knew this mile would drop me out on Rifle Range Road, but I didn’t know what the trail looked like. Well, after plodding along for about half a mile, I exited the woods and saw this:
Oh, YAY! Remember the downhill I ran with Jeano in Mile 16? The first part of its revenge is up ahead, in the distance. [Photo Credit: Rosemary]
Upon cresting that hill, two more similar climbs appeared. The footing was good and there weren’t any mudpits, but when I got to the steepest parts, I totally walked. While this certainly slowed my progress, the walk breaks felt so good
. But, once I got to the top, I picked up the pace to a jog once again (the faster you go, the faster you finish!). Two or three climbs later, I emerged on Rifle Range Road. I was back in known territory, and Jenny was there waiting for me.
Splits for Mandai and Zhenghua PCN
Mile 20: 10:45 min/mi
Mile 21: 10:30
Mile 22: 10:50
Mile 23: 11:37 (the lowest point)
Mile 24: 11:33 (cliiiiiiiimbing)
Mile 25: Jenny (a friend from my undergrad days). Jenny is a pretty amazing woman. She’s just getting back into running, but more importantly, she has an indomitable spirit. We ran over fairly easy terrain: paved road with some gentle hills.
This mile with Jenny really snapped me out of my funk. She has been through some tough stuff this year, and finally, real perspective splashed me with a dose of cold, hard reality: I was doing this race “for fun”. And any low points I was feeling…were nothing, in the grand scheme of life. Jenny’s presence was a great reminder of that, even though she never breathed a word of it. But she did tell me softly, “Look, Holly. The most important thing I learned this year is, when the going gets tough, you just have to keep going.” True in running, true in life. Thank you, Jenny.
Mile 26: GCA. Since she and I had a Perth Marathon adventure together earlier this year, she was the obvious choice for the 26 (and 0.2) mile section. Honestly, this was pretty uneventful. I had recovered from my funk, was back in familiar territory, and ready to finish this. We finished up the Rifle Range Road section, and she reminded me not to trip on the chain (Hilary must have called her to tell her to remind me!). We stopped for a quick drink, but didn’t spend much time at the Aid Station.
I did a rapid knee assessment: My right knee was hurting a bit in the lower outside quadrant, and felt a bit puffy (although no swelling was visible). It had gotten slightly worse over the last 10K, but I wasn’t altering my gait, as far as I could tell. With just 10K to go, I decided to gamble on it: This was my peak race for the season, and I was 80% finished with it. I was quite sure I wasn’t doing irreparable damage (it simply didn’t hurt that much). And if, in the end, I had to take a few weeks off for knee-recovery, I would accept that as the price I paid for finishing.
We set off on the Rifle Range Link, which was now better lit (daylight), but still super slippery with clay. In fact, we watched one gentleman (25K? 50K? Not sure.) careen past us (yes, “careen” is the best word here) before totally wiping out in slippery mud just 20-30 meters ahead. Two other runners hauled him up by his hydration pack. We were careful with our footing, and managed to stay upright. This was easy for me, since running downhill seemed to be my knee’s least favorite activity.
We turned back toward the McRitchie Reservoir loop, and…introvert disaster struck. [Especially for an introvert who is 26 miles into a 31 mile trail race.] Our race merged with the 13K race route – somewhere in the mid/back of the 13K field. These folks were virtually all walking. The Rifle Range to McRitchie connector trail is actually very narrow, so I spent about half a mile walk/passing as politely as I could.
After so many miles with so few people around, I had gotten used to the solitude. The sudden appearance of so many other people was…jarring. I’ll admit that I was also frustrated. I don’t like to feel that way about other runners/walkers, who are doing their best to enjoy their own race, but there were a few moments when I wanted to scream, “I’ve been out here running since 5:30 AM. I am 5 miles from the finish. Please don’t get in my way or make me walk now…PLEASE!!!!”
Funny – for how wonderful walking felt on the hills earlier, suddenly ALL I wanted to do was run. The Finish Line was drawing closer, I could almost taste it. And here I was, dodging people like I’d started at the back of an over-crowded race. Frustration reigned, then eased a bit as we entered the McRitchie Reservoir loop, where the trail widened and I had some space to run. GCA traded places with my Mom. [PS: GCA, we hit the 26.2 mile mark in sub-5. :)]
Rifle Range Road/Link
Mile 25: 11:24 min/mi
Mile 26: 13:41 (people dodging)
Mile 27 + 0.5: Mom. When I first put up my request for company, my Mom wrote: “I’ll take mile 27. Figure it will be tough by then, so I want to be sure you feel my love.” Of course, no one knew how the race would turn out, or that my lowest point would be at Mile 23. But somehow, the stars aligned, because Mile 27 turned out to be a whole different kind of challenge.
Mile 27 was the start of a 1.5 mile out-and-back (¾ mile each way) off the main trail. I turned onto the section, and started to flat-out, hard-to-breath, close-my-eyes panic. I was part of a rush of people (mostly 13K walkers/slow runners and a few 25K walkers – not another 50/100K in sight) on the “out” half – but there was an even heavier stream of people coming “back”. Worse, the “out” section was uphill, so the returning runners seemed to be careening downhill towards us. These folks were not all well versed in trail running etiquette (or perhaps, general running etiquette), and they were crossing WELL over the imaginary mid-line of the trail. One runner hurtling irresponsible down ran directly into a woman in front of me, who was knocked backward almost into me.
I don’t love crowded conditions to begin with. Singapore has immunized me to some degree, but sometimes, when we’re out and about, I’ll still have a moment of panic, and just have to close my eyes, to escape from the crush of people for a moment. In this race, the shock of being thrown back into such chaos and crowds was too much for me to bear. ALL I wanted to do was get out, get away, be free, find quiet. I wanted to run off the side of the trail, curl up, and cry. I was having trouble catching my breath. If this is 1/10 of what a panic attack feels like….I have new sympathy for those who suffer panic attacks.
My Mom was the only thing that got me through. I heard her – in all honesty, more clearly than I heard anyone else (makes sense – I’ve been listening to her voice for over 31 years) on my whole run. “Holly, BREATHE. You have to keep running. Pretend your body isn’t here. Don’t pay attention to everyone else. BREATHE. No, no – deep breaths. BREATHE. Keep running. You can do this. I have no doubt you can do this.” [This is the same voice she uses to talk me out of these strange, wheezy, can’t-breathe-in coughing fits I have sometimes.]
She kept that monologue going the whole way up to the turn-around, where I whipped around, skipped the water table completely, and headed back down. I just wanted to get out of this section. Heading downhill helped a bit – I no longer felt like everyone was flying directly at me. I weaved, dodged, and passed as carefully as I could, Mom’s voice in my head the whole time. I had no one scheduled for Mile 28, so Mom brought me about halfway through, then handed off to the Mile 29 folks a bit early.
Miles 28.5 + 29: Sarah’s Clan (my roommate from college, aka Gummy Bear Mama, and her adorable family).
Sorry, folks – they take the “Cutest Cheerleaders” award, hands down.
I could go on and on about this amazing woman, but let’s start here: She used her “Mom-voice” on me to keep me calm for the rest of the two-way descent. She said most of the same things that my Mom said. All that I can say is: Thank goodness for Moms!
*whew* The crowded descent over, I headed into Mile 29 in earnest. I was back on the McRitchie loop, and I thought about the photo above. Sarah posted it after I started the race, but KMN showed it to me on his phone at the 31K mark – sneaky!
Sarah and her husband are two people who genuinely live to love. Sarah herself taught me so much during our college days – including the power of an encouraging note (see above!). I adore their kiddos, and thoughts of the whole family made me grin like a maniac, and kept me pleasantly distracted, as I ran the plank bridge and through the golf course section of Mile 29. My two brilliant conclusions during this time?
1. Sarah & her husband are raising up the kind of citizens I want to see in this world.
2. When can I buy a plane ticket to visit? Those baby cheeks require pinching!!!!
As my Garmin clicked to Mile 29, I realized that I had 3 more people to run “with” (Mile 30, Mile 31, and “Any Bonus Mileage”), but that the route would likely come in under 31 miles. So I did some approximate, late-race math (although my brain never got quite as race stupid as it did during the marathon), and divided the rest of the race up.
First half of Mile 30: Doug (another running friend from Rochester). I’ve been in the position to help Doug out several times when he’s gotten into trouble on the trails – and today, he got to return the favor (thankfully, I didn’t crack any ribs, though). We smoked through this section – there was one very technical climb (lots of rocks and roots) and descent. He pointed out any tricky obstacles, and forged the way around the walking 13K folks. I followed, and before long, he led me out onto the last section of trail (wide and pretty flat) before the finish.
Second half of Mile 30: Dad. My Dad is not a runner, but he is a mathematician, and so he loves to talk running with me: paces, splits, finishes, etc. He is interested in running because I run, but he loves the gory details because he’s a math geek. “If I want to cut X time off my finish, that means running every mile Y seconds faster, except there’s a big hill at Mile Z, so spreading those seconds out over the other miles means….” You get the idea.
He also never missed a single competition I was in (mostly swimming and Mock Trial!) when I was in high school. Unfortunately (for him), I didn’t really take to serious running until I’d already moved away. I know he’d love to be at every Finish Line, if he could – and even briefly discussed buying a ticket to Perth to come watch the marathon.
So I knew – knew – he was waiting at the Finish Line, rooting for me, counting how many 50K female finishers came in before me (not because he cared, but because he knew that I cared!), and just waiting to cheer. I envisioned popping out of the woods to his cheers, and coming around the corner to the Finish.
This kept me running, running, running. I tried to encourage anyone nearby who was managing anything close to a run: “Let’s go, come on, steady to the finish”, but lots of them were totally wiped. One 13K runner came past me, “Passing on your other left!” (my right). We had a friendly banter, and he kept me laughing. We ran together briefly, before he dropped back to wait for a friend.
Of course every part of me was tired, but the end was coming. Less than a mile to go…I could do this! One major treat was that the Finish Line was about half a mile before my usual long run finishing spot. So while I generally muscle my way through ¾ of mile of beating sun into the finish – the Finish Line was less than a quarter mile from the end of the trail.
The End: Dad & Logan (who blogs at Mountains and Miles). Logan ran her first 50K this spring, except hers had a few “bonus miles” at the end. She volunteered to join me for whatever bonus miles this race offered. But it was now clear to me that the race was going to come up shy of 31 miles, so I invited Logan to join Dad & I for the last bit into the finish. She’s a good sport, and was happy to join the party. She ran with me, while Dad cheered us in. Honestly, this part of the race was almost effortless – one advantage to running on your “home turf” is that you know where you are in relation to the Finish Line!
We emerged from the trail and into the sun. [Huh? It’s sunny? When did that happen?] We summoned a finishing kick, waved to (my) Dad, and plowed right through the Finish Line.
McRitchie Loop and Sime Track Out ‘n Back
Mile 27: 11:39 min/mi
Mile 28: 10:43
Mile 29: 12:15
Mile 30: 10:31
Last 0.16: 8:20 (YEAH FINISH LINE!)
Total Distance: 30.16 miles
Net Time: 5:23:03
There was little pomp and circumstance, as I actually finished among a sea of 13K runners. I was handed a medal, finally remembered to stop my Garmin, and exited the Finishing chute.
That was it. Over. Done. Finished.
I stood there, slightly dazed, for a few moments, while the chaos of the Finish Line and refreshment tables swirled around me…
And I’ll leave me there for now, feeling slightly dazed and amazed that it’s over. Come back tomorrow to rescue me, and to hear some post-run reflections and an overall TNF100 race review!
How do you describe the lowest low-point you reach during a race?
I showed you mine, now you show me yours: Tell me about YOUR Running Mom or Running Dad!