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The Story of my first 50k Race

How did my first trail race go? I finished, but I left plenty of room for improvement. As I was taught in the Riverview Elementary Chess Club, you either Win, Learn, or Draw. And I certainly did some learning.

I spent the summer of 2017 in the mountains. These are the rocky mountains full of vert, scrambling, and stunning ridge linkups. But, there wasn’t a lot of continuous running. For some reason, it didn’t strike me that to do well in a 50k, you had to run most of it. I was new to the trail running world and hadn’t raced anything of substance since a very hungover half-ironman in college. My last true long-running event was a marathon when I was 19.

Knowing I didn’t know anything, I signed up for the Devil on the Divide. It is one of the highest altitude 50ks in the USA, and it felt like the perfect way to launch a long and successful trail running career.

I have never really understood how drop bags work or what should be in them. And since this was my first attempt at them I really messed up. I packed everything I could ever need. I packed like I expected to catch a flight to Cancun in the middle of the race. Everything I have ever needed in my life was thrown into a bag for the 15-mile mark. When I say everything, I mean I packed an extra pair of shoes, socks, shorts, t-shirt, socks, toiletries, two ham sandwiches, trekking poles, and a spare trail running vest. If I managed to poop myself in the first half of the race, I would be able to do a full outfit change and cross the finish line looking fresh. And that is nearly exactly what happened.

My training involved mostly scrambling

My training involved mostly scrambling

The race

I showed up early to see what other runners were taking with them on the course. My trail vest was fairly new, and I was used to “running” in the mountains with very little. No one had poles, so I stowed them in my car before anyone noticed I considered bringing them. I threw two ham sandwiches in my pack and lugged a massive duffle bag over to the drop bag area. It was at least four times larger than any other bag. I immediately felt like an idiot, but the time was over to repack into something smaller. I got on the bus to the start line, and the nerves began.

The gun went off, and everyone took off running up a steep dirt road to the top of the continental divide. I was about mid-pack and felt like my pace would last forever… and then I got to the first aid station and decided to eat about 20 pieces of bacon. Why? Because I am the idiot. The course began its oscillating route following the divide, and I passed numerous runners and thought I had figured out trail running. It was mile 7.

Everything felt easy, as it often does at the beginning of a race, but then things took a turn around the midway point. I ran into the first aid station and sprinted to the bathroom. The bacon had come back to bite me. I don’t think the two ham sandwiches helped either. But my stomach had turned, and I collected myself in a port-a-potty. I was no longer feeling good and certainly didn’t need any more ham sandwiches.

The course was beautiful but my strategy was not

The course was beautiful, but my strategy was not.

But I am the idiot. So, thinking the craving for a warm slimy sandwich would return, I grabbed two more of them from my drop bag and continued. Less than a mile into the second half, I abruptly turned off the trail and dug a cathole in the woods. My stomach was failing. It happened again a few miles later and then I was out of toilet paper. I resorted to using semi-smooth rocks. My food strategy was not good.

Every few miles, I would turn around and see how far the person behind me was and then gauge if that was enough time to poop. All this action led to chaffing… for which I had no remedy. But my momma didn’t raise a quitter.

Five miles remained, and it was all downhill. By now, I had a side ache. Fortunately, I had found a new strategy of altering my breathing to suppress the pain in my stomach and the need to poop every 45 minutes. The hobbling toward the finish line continued.

In the millionth lesson of the day, I found that, for no reason, I felt better with three miles to go. Things abruptly turned around, and I put down some good miles, realizing my fitness was actually acceptable, especially when compared to my food and race strategy. The joy of racing finally hit when I picked up the pace, motivated to pass a couple of runners in the last two miles, and I was immediately hooked. The focus, and immersive experience of being ultra-present in a race setting took 28 miles, but when I finally found it, I started to have fun.

It had been years since I found a competitive outlet as an adult, and despite performing poorly, this 50k lit a fire. I sprinted through the finish line, and the fire immediately went out. I was exhausted from all the squatting in the woods and having no pacing strategy. But I had done it. I got a participation “finisher” medallion and mingled with fellow runners at the finish line. I knew no one but found a much more inclusive community than the numerous half marathons and triathlons I had done in my early 20s. I am an introvert but felt accepted. I left the race content knowing I had discovered a community and a sport that I enjoyed.

The race went poorly, but I managed to finish and find a sport and competitive outlet that lasts until this day.

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