I’ve started and stopped writing this post so many times within the past week I’ve lost count. There really was no perfect way to articulate my thoughts so I’ll just dive right in to what would become initially a disappointing day, but end up something I’m grateful for.
How can that be?
How can something someone feels disappointed by, yet feel so grateful for?
Let me tell you.
The day started out perfectly cool and foggy. If you read my previous post about my heat training, I mentioned what happened the last time I trained for the Bulldog. Turns out on this day, the weather Gods were on our side again. Who knew I had that much weather power?
Before the race, I scooped up my friend Crystal from the side of the road who would be partaking in the 25K this time around. Now I know what you’re wondering…What? She was on the side of the road?! Yes, she parked down the street. I, on the other hand, wanted to park in the lot. I anticipated having a long day and didn’t feel like making it longer.
Crystal and I got our bibs, shirts, used the restroom, gathered to hear race director Nancy’s instructions, and before I knew it, I went to go say goodbye to my mom and sis who were standing nearby, the group was running away! And gone went Crystal with it. Byyyye Crystal. It was all good though. I’d see her later.
Later, as in, the next day at a party. But I digress.
Aside from feeling just a tad nervous, I felt physically and mentally good. My game plan was: 1) not die, and 2) make the first loop in under the cutoff time which was 10:30AM.
For the most part, I kept steadily chugging along up the climbs with the weather being absolutely spectacular! I hit the first aid station and didn’t stop. I didn’t need anything. I had plenty of water in my hydration pack and I just downed my first of four CarboPro bottles I made. I’d have one every hour for the first loop. During the second loop I’d pick up more CarboPro.
The section just before the first aid station and the second aid station is pretty intense. It’s the Bulldog Mountain with 4 miles of climbing 2,500+ feet of elevation. The bark is just as bad as the bite.
But, once you make that final left turn it’s all downhill into aid station 2. Although there are a few little climbs between aid station 2 and aid station 3, for the most part, the worst is over.
The weather was still cooperating splendidly. My pace was pretty steady and running the downhills helped to make up for some lost time. However, running the downhills is still something I’m very conservative with. A lot of people fly down them, but in my mind, I know the potential threat of rolling an ankle is there. It’s been a year and that hasn’t gone away. I’ve surrendered to the idea, it may never go away. That’s just how I am. So I relaxed, and went slow.
It was around this time I was beginning to think about the cutoff time. And then I began to stress out over it. Ugh. Seriously? I caught myself.
I do these things to relieve stress, NOT to add to it.
So I started to think — if I make the time cutoff, great!! If I don’t, then so what? I have nothing to prove to anyone. I relaxed again.
In fact, I was so relaxed, I hardly noticed the anxiety I built up over the water crossing, but I knew there was some there. These things always make me nervous. Of course, I thought of the pros and cons of falling in.
Pro: the sun was coming out and my shoes would dry in no time
Con: the sun was coming out and my shoes would dry in no time
Yes, the fog had burned off and the sun was in fact, out. And yes, so was the heat.
Once I reached the creek, I looked over to my left and notice a lengthy branch that was pulled off and hanging. I grabbed it, stuck it in the water, placed my first foot over the rocks, and used the branch as my balancing tool to maneuver my way across. This was something I learned during the San Diego 50. I’m not very badass when it comes to water crossings. At least not yet.
Making it into aid station 3, I did something that was very uncharacteristic of me, especially in recent years. I grabbed some Gatorade. I don’t even like Gatorade, but I took a few sips of it and it was so refreshing! I also drank some water and decided to wait until the next aid station to fill up my hydration pack because I knew it would be enough to get me through.
And, then I began to think of this cutoff time again. I was cutting it close.
Questions began to filter into my mind.
Did I want to just do 25K? Did I really want to do 50K today? What happens if I’m close? What do I decide? Do I proceed to the finish line and accept the 25K medal?
Making my way up the short, but steep climbs people affectionately call the Chihuahuas, I kept wondering if I was going to make it. Hmmm, I think I will. Hmmm, maybe not.
Running down the Chihuahuas felt good and easy. There aren’t many gravelly rocks on this section so I felt more comfortable. I could see aid station 4 and the time on my watch. I was close. Very close.
I reached the tent of people and quickly asked, “Did I make the cutoff?”
The guy responded, “you’re very close. Are you continuing?”
I thought to myself, am I?
“How much time do I have?”
“You have one minute to leave. If you’re continuing you have to go now!”
I heard voices coming from all over, including my head.
“Do you have a drop bag? What am I doing? Did you want something to eat? I said I was doing two loops. What can we get you? I signed up for two loops. YOU HAVE 30 SECONDS, YOU HAVE TO LEAVE NOW!!”
Just then, a man handed me a cup of ice water and before I knew what I was doing, I left the aid station and kept going on the trail. And then, I heard the claps and cheers from the volunteers followed by “you’re the last runner through!! Yay!!”
Oh shit!! If that doesn’t mess up anyone mentally, then I don’t know what does.
It’s not that I had to reach aid station 4 by 10:30AM, I had to LEAVE aid station 4 by 10:30AM.
I kept going and telling myself, ok I can do this. But, the sun was out in full force and I tried to reiterate to just keep moving.
Throughout the race, I played leap frog with Luisa from @latinainaction65 (Instagram name). She and I would see each other at local trail races and then found each other on Instagram. I came upon her shortly after leaving aid station 4 and told her we’re doing great and to just keep moving.
Unfortunately, some not so great news is, I didn’t get to refill my hydration pack and I only had one bottle of CarboPro remaining and didn’t get my replacement bottle. Okaaaay, just get to the next aid station before it’s cutoff time.
More not so great news is, it was really hot and I began to get nauseous and dizzy making my way up the climbs. I was struggling even though I felt like I hydrated enough.
At some point I saw a couple of people just ahead of me and I kept hearing a helicopter flying around. Finally, it zoomed around the mountain and passed me, reached the people I saw up ahead, and then made a U-turn and returned back to where ever it came from.
Did they send search and rescue for me?
Just then a Park Ranger truck came rolling up the mountain and just after it passed me, a man came walking down to meet me. He asked me how I was feeling and I asked him “Are you from the aid station? Did I meet the cutoff?” He said yes, but didn’t really give me a definitive answer on the cutoff question. At this point, I started to feel the tears well up. (Later, I’d find out the station had closed and I missed the cutoff time by 47 seconds.)
Who says there’s no crying in ultras?
So I knew I had to make a decision again. Do I continue on, knowing there are subsequent aid station cutoff times and the possibility of lack of further support? Or do I call it a day and make my way back?
I could have pressed on and forged ahead and I was indeed tempted to, but I also knew I still had a few miles of climbing 2,500 feet in this heat and knowing how I was already feeling, they didn’t sound all that comforting and intriguing.
I called it a day.
Luisa made it to the aid station and we decided to head back to base camp together. Our races were over.
Feelings of sadness and disappointment washed over me with tears coming up periodically. Thinking about the last few months of training and how much I wanted to finish didn’t help matters. My goal was to get this 50K done and I didn’t. I tried, and did my best, but my best just wasn’t good enough on this day. I can be pretty hard on myself.
Throughout the afternoon and evening, I received such wonderful encouraging and supportive messages from friends. And I was so very grateful and touched by all of them. They took the sting out of what I was feeling.
Even though I’d have short moments of feeling down, I knew I couldn’t stay in that place because there are so many more races, and so many more miles to run!
In the end, I was grateful for this race because I know what I need to do going forward. I know I have to train harder. This race doesn’t define me as a runner, nor as a person. I’m proud of my 22 miles and 22 happens to be my favorite number so I had that going for me.
This won’t be my last ultra, and it certainly may not be my last DNF. However, it definitely instilled in me the spark to make sure the next ultra I go after, I will finish.
Thanks for reading and Happy Trail Running!