So this is a wee bit late. Ok like two weeks but who’s counting. Mostly I spent my time recovering as quickly as possible and resuming training for Georgia Death Race which is now 3 weeks away. Deeeeep breath.
Rocks & Roots is one of my favorite local ultras. There’s a real sense of community amongst runners, directors and volunteers and there’s so much positive energy flowing throughout the course. Jeff Henderson and Barrak Green along with the trail builders from Rocks & Roots really did a hell of a job this year putting everything together. I was thrilled when this year they added a 50 mile option instead of only having the 50K. It would fit pretty seamlessly into Georgia Death Race training.
About a week before the race they finished a 10.5 mile loop (so really it was a little more than 50 miles YAY) which I was all for since that meant we wouldn’t be running around the 10K loop 8-9 times. This 10K loop was what we ran the 50K on in January so PJ andI are both familiar with this loop and we’ve spent many weekends running 12+ miles at Alum Creek so that part I was pretty mentally prepared for.
It was going to be a little warmer throughout the race so for a 10 or 20K..sweet! But I knew that meant the snow + ice on the trail would start to melt, especially after so much foot traffic that we would be in for some mud.
The first 2 laps around the 10 mile loop weren’t so bad, although it was still pretty icy in some spots. Laps 1 and 2 were almost completely different too since we started at 6a.m. it was dark, so being able to take in the views during lap 2 made those go by pretty quickly.
We were taking the race pretty conservatively as our goal was to use this as a training race and shoot for about 15 minute miles, nothing too fast and gave us a lot of wiggle room to finish under the 14-hour cutoff at 8p.m.
Then at mile 17 everything changed for me. I slipped climbing up a muddy hill and severely pulled my groin. I didn’t say anything and just kept my distance behind PJ trying to tell myself it would go away. It didn’t and it felt like someone was digging into my muscle which left me basically dragging my right leg behind me and not being able to get any sort of reasonable stride in. Walking hurt just as much as running so I figured I might as well run.
When we finished the second lap, we filled up our bottles, got some great encouragement from the RD Jeff Henderson, and went out for lap 3. I started out determined, I wanted that sweet 50 mile finisher plaque SO SO SO bad and I knew I was going to finish and get one. But from here on out, each mile became a struggle.
10K and 50K/50Mile split at 6 miles when the trail turned into a big mud pit. I couldn’t find my footing and any deviation from a normal stride sent sharp pains up my groin area. I started to have doubts if I could and if it was even smart for me to finish and possibly do further damage to my leg with Georgia Death Race only being a little over a month away.
After talking with PJ near the end of the loop we both decided that we couldn’t continue on as we were and that I should take an ibuprofen if there was even a chance for me to finish. The idea of taking one of these during such a long run makes me really uneasy but I agreed I would and just be very cautious, make sure I’m drinking more than enough fluids and monitor urine color. Nikhil, a new Columbus runner friend who will also be running Georgia Death Race (so cool!), passed us just as we were finishing this lap and he was finishing his 50K, which he started an hour after us. This gave me a good boost of energy as we headed into the aid station. He was sticking around to man some hot food for the 50 milers so I felt this sense that I couldn’t let him or others down by not using it. While he probably didn’t care, imagining that he did and that there’s people like that out there supporting you was enough for me.
PJ and I both knew neither of us would finish under cutoff at the pace I was going so I sent him on his way and we both pretty much decided I would call it quits and take care of myself. He pitted and headed out rather for his 4th loop quickly while my mom rushed to the car to get me some meds and I sat around chatting with a couple others runners I knew. They were telling me about their 20K race and then they asked me “Are you doing the 50K?” and to that I responded “No, 50 mile. I’m going to have to have a fast lap to finish under cutoff to go out for my last lap.” Wait…what? I thought I was stopping? Where did those words come from and how did they just fall out of my mouth? I quickly realized that getting out there was what I truly wanted to do and I wasn’t going to quit. It might not have been smart but that’s what I wanted in my heart and I would run with that instead of my head the rest of the race.
Off I went, alone, for my 4th lap. I felt this renewed energy, probably my 2nd wind of the day, and was giving it everything I had on that lap. I started the lap 15 minutes behind PJ and the chase game kept me going that lap. There was still one daunting thought hanging over my head each mile marker I passed. “When is cutoff time and am I going to make it?”
It was at this point that I made the decision that I was going to make it but then…oh s#*!. I don’t have my headlamp, it’s in PJ’s pack and they won’t even let me go out for my last lap without it. ROOKIE MOVE THAILYR. Alllllways keep your own gear on you at all times just in case. Lesson learned. Luckily, one of the aid station workers at mile 2.5 said he had one I could borrow and in my mind I hugged the hell out of him but in real-time I grabbed it and ran away as quickly as I could.
I kept asking anyone I passed at this point if they knew about cut-off and no one did. So I ran as fast as I could, only slowing down when the mud made the running impossible.
At 5:25. I came into the AS, still light out. The first person I saw was Barrak, one of the other race directors.
“Did I make it in time? When’s the cutoff.”
“It was 5:15. I’m sorry, you just missed it. PJ came through about 15 minutes ago.”
“Damn. Well, at least I tried right?”
Barrak took me over to the AS here and hooked me up with some warm food, a chair by the fire and all sorts of other goodies, as did Nikhil. I appreciated all they were doing for me but at the time I was just angry about it. My eyes were swelling with tears and it was taking everything in me not to let them fall. I just wanted everyone to stop giving me so many things, like I was being praised, when I didn’t even finish what I set out to do. I began focusing on the fire and the sparks, trying to take my mind off of being stopped after 42 miles, not 53.
Then a few short minute later Barrak starts walking toward me.
“Can you do 10 more?” What? He was going to let me go back out even after missing the cutoff? I told him without a doubt that I could but kept reminding him it would probably take me at least 3 hours. I’d do everything I could to get it done as quickly as possible, but I couldn’t promise too much faster than 3.
He assured me it was fine. Nikhil gave me the genius idea to shove the warm grilled cheese in my pocket and off I went. I inhaled some warm potato bites and took off.
The first 3 miles were great. I had gotten use to running on the ice and the snow was mostly packed down at this point. The first 3 miles didn’t have a lot of mud so my times here were good. However, around mile 4 it started to get dark and it seemed to get darker faster than usual. Along with a rain/drizzle, taking the temperature at least 10 degrees cooler than the ~25 it had been all day. This created a good amount of fog and I found it difficult to even see where I was going. I basically just kept my head forward and trusted in my foot placement with each step.
It didn’t seem too long before I got to the 10K loop/50Mile split and I descended down the muddy slope which was pretty much impossible without using the tree rope to navigate down. A little farther ahead is a creek crossing. During the day it was possible to use a downed bridge to crawl to the other side but the creek was super high at this point, well above my ankles so I cursed and just walked right through it. Since this didn’t give me a cold sensation I figured my feet were pretty cold/frozen at this point. No time to care about that though.
Mile 6 to 7.5 was such a slog. The course was so muddy that I wasn’t moving very fast but I was to the best of my ability. I heard so many cheers once the aid station at 7.5 came into view even though I was still 0.25 mile away. This raised my spirits and I ran up toward it as fast as I could. My watch had died a little before this so I had no idea how much farther I had to certain points. Not really sure if that would have helped me or made it more frustrating. I’ll go with the latter because that’s what I told myself after I got mad it died.
All I could hear as I approached was “Is it the girl?!” And then shrieks. Apparently I was the only girl who ended up sticking out the 50 mile. I can’t remember what the other girl working the aid station’s name was but she and the guy working there made me feel so great about myself and my capabilities that I couldn’t help but smile and feel proud to be out there finishing.
That high lasted for about 0.25 miles and things got tough again. The course really was worse than any Tough Mudder I had ever done (dare I say worse than Rocks & Roots 1 last year?) and I was just ready to be back and let everyone who stuck around to let me finish go home, which made the lack of being able to run through this mud trail even more frustrating.
Most of this time was spent staring at the ground trying to keep my footing as best I could but I kept seeing something off in the distance. The closer I got I was pretty sure it was a headlamp. “Shit.” I thought. “I’m taking too long and they’re going to pull me off the course as soon as I get to the road clearing before you cross the street for the last 1.25 miles.”
Then, about 0.25 mile later I saw it was PJ! I was so thrilled to see him and knew I would have him there with me as I finished the rest of the race but I quickly came too and knew that meant he had already finished and reverse ran the course to find me. Crazy, caring guy he is. He filled me in on the rest of his race and the status of everyone at the finish which helped me to think of anything other than how much I was hurting at this point.
Another runner met us about 0.25 away from the finish, right before another big water crossing, about to my knees on this one, and helped guide us to the finish. I didn’t realize how out of it I was until he had to direct me to go left once I got out of the water. Another person I do not know their name but it meant so much to me that he, too, ran part of the course backward to help.
I just wanted to cry when I finally finished. I couldn’t believe Barrak, Jeff and quite a few others had stayed well past when they should have so that I could finish. Then Jeff handed me a backpack and told me I was the first place female finisher. I mean, obviously I was the only one, but that was one of the coolest things that ever happened to me! It kind of lit a big competitive fire inside of me that was hoping this might one day happen more often.
Special thanks to PJ who gave me the confidence going into this race, the courage to keep on during and who got me to that finish line in every way he could. He also smashed his last two laps. He probably did a 60 mile race at this point. BALLER. Somehow we came home from this with a 2-liter of Coke. PJ asked me where the heck I stole that from, I told him they handed it to me, he said no I don’t think I saw anyone do that. Mystery.
It’s pretty crazy that a year ago I was just finishing my second 50K and actually felt good doing that after a rough first 50K. Now I was using a 50miler, which I so underrated, as a training run for Georgia Death Race, which has 68 miles and 40,000ft. elevation change. The capabilities we have that we hide within ourselves are so incredible to me. I only hope to push the limits more the rest of this year and see what else is hiding.