But, you can never, ever train for the variables. You can only get your body ready to spend hours upright and moving. You cannot control the weather, the temperature, or the cold or flu that takes away from your training.
With all of that said, we were ready for this race. Todd created a stringent schedule that gave us just what we needed as far as weekly mileage, time on our feet, hills, and speed. I had been doing cross-training throughout the whole thing, making sure that not only my legs would be there on race day, but my core, too. I got a couple of colds during the training, but I got over them quickly and was able to continue with my training like nothing really even happened. Todd, on the other hand, got a cold two weeks before race day. And it just never really went away. It took his training from him. We kept joking that we were tapering anyway, and it was okay that he wasn't able to run, he needed the rest. But, two weeks is a long time to only be able to get a few miles in.
I still felt like a sub-six was possible. So did Todd. I mean, realistically, Deception Pass is not a "hard" 50k (it's all relative, right?.. 31.07 miles is never really going to be easy), the elevation isn't crazy and the second half has potential to be fast.
I had kept an eye on the weather when we got close enough to race day and could see the forecast. Rain and some wind. I didn't think much of it. We didn't think much of it. Hell, we train in wind, and what's a little rain to a couple of Willamette Valley kids? Liquid sunshine.
We sure weren't going to let weather get in our way of running this race. I was excited to run a race with Todd again; our last race was Oregon Coast and, well, I was miserable by the end and I wanted a new experience with him.
Unlike our last trip to run a 50k together, everything went smoothly; we left the house at a reasonable hour and there was no crazy weather to hold us up, traffic in Seattle was only kind of bad, and we actually got to our hotel room while there was still light in the sky. After settling in, we met our friends, William and Deanna, for dinner in Anacortes. My friends, Shelly and Amber had driven down from Bellingham to have dinner and a beer with us and it was so nice to see them outside of our time together during our annual relay.
So, race day...
The day started off windy and cold and we knew rain was on its way. During the pre-race briefing, we were informed that there was a very good chance we would not get to finish this race; the race director was fully prepared to pull the plug if the winds got any worse than they were. It had been raining for days and the ground was saturated, increasing the risk of falling trees.
|Us before the race.|
It all started really good. Todd and I were keeping a great pace, we put ourselves right where we needed to be for the start so that we weren't needing to pass a bunch of people and people weren't passing us. It started in Deception Pass's parking lot and the turned onto a single-track trail and we didn't want to get caught in the bottleneck.
We had two, quick, easy miles of about a 9:30 pace and then we hit the gnarly stuff that slowed us down. Right around mile 3 we had to run across the bridge and that's when we finally felt the wind full-force. It was whipping through pretty strong.
|A hastily snapped picture of the view from the bridge.|
After crossing the bridge, we climbed over a guardrail and got back onto the single-track. There wasn't much that was too challenging during this part aside from the fact that it was a lollipop, so we eventually had the front of the pack coming back towards us during small sections. We finished the lollipop and got back onto the bridge... by this time the rain had started. Crossing that bridge the other way was a completely different kind of beast than it was the first. Todd was struggling to get his gloves back on and the wind was coming from the front, making it a real challenge to keep a good pace. It was a relief to get across and pick up the single track again.
There were a couple small climbs that took us from just about sea level to a little over 100ft above. But then we hit the big climb of the run; it took us from 10 ft to 472 in 4/10 of a mile. It was brutal and the view from the top left much to be desired. I hit a low point during this part and I started snapping at Todd because every time I tried to talk to him, he would say, "what?" and I'd have to repeat myself. I snapped at him and then quickly apologized because I knew it was me being grumpy and he wasn't doing anything wrong. It was during this part of the race that Todd first mentioned his cramping. But, he's cramped early in a run before and had been able to overcome it, so neither of us thought it was a big deal.
We were coming up on what was supposed to be the "fast" part of this race; the second half is made up of two loops of the same section followed by 3 miles to finish. There is an aid station at the start of the loop, so we would be hitting it 3 times. By the time we got there for the first time (around mile 14) Todd was hurting pretty bad. We each grabbed some salt tabs, some food and water and then continued on. About a mile and half into the loop, Todd was hurting even more. He was getting frustrated with himself and his body and I was really working to not be frustrated with him. I knew he needed me to keep pace and be there for him. And I was. But, when I started seeing how far ahead of him I was getting, I pulled over to the side and let him catch up, let others pass, and then asked him if he wanted to just stop for a minute. He said yes. Then, to my surprise, he sat down. I knew right then that he was getting closer and closer to needing to make a decision that I knew he didn't want to make, and one I certainly wasn't going to bring up. After a couple minutes of sitting, he got back up and we started to go again. But, he just couldn't run. He could barely walk. He told me to go on without him. I argued; we went into this together and I wasn't going to leave him, that's not how we do things. He finally convinced me to. I was crying because I felt horrible leaving him. We kissed and said goodbye and then I went. It was honestly the hardest thing I have had to do in any race.
I got back to the aid station and Deanna was there (William was also running and he was a good hour ahead of me). She was great, like my own personal crew. She asked me where Todd was and I had to fight tears and told her that he was hurting pretty bad and had made me leave him. I asked her to wait for him and that I was pretty sure he'd be dropping, in fact, I told her that I would be pissed if he didn't. She told me she would and that she'd grab my drop bag and take it back to the finish for me.
I got out of the station as fast as I could and made my way back to the second loop. I had really hoped that RD was going to pull the runners by this point; the wind had really picked up, as had the rain. I was also hoping he'd call it so that Todd could save face a little. (I found out later that he WAS going to call it, but had been unable to get cell service, therefore couldn't contact his volunteers to get it in action).
I knew going into the second loop that there was a pretty good chance that I was going to see Todd finishing his first. I did, less than a mile from the station. I came around the corner and there he was, walking slowly and painfully. He saw me and started crying. I ran up to him and hugged him, asked if he was going to drop and he just nodded into my shoulder. Seeing him this weak hurt me! This guy ran 50 miles and still had the energy to propose to me. This is the guy that no matter how tough I think I am in a run/race, I always think he's tougher. To know that he was going to drop a race meant that he was in a kind of pain that I couldn't even fathom.
He told me to get out of there, kissed me and sent me on my way. And I went. By that time I was over 22 miles in, into single digits left and damn was I feeling it. The rain, the wind and the MUD had taken its toll on me. My feet were hurting, my legs would cramp up every now and then and I was just ready to be done. I ran/walked up hills and did my best to run down them without slipping and falling on my ass (I didn't, not once!). I tried like hell to avoid mud, but by this time it was so deep and so many people had gone through it (twice) that there just wasn't any way to really avoid it. And, I kept stopping to pull up my sock because in the middle of my foot it felt like it had bunched up and it was driving me crazy, but, I knew if I stopped to take my shoe off and fix it, there was a really good chance that shoe wasn't going to go back on.
|The shoe-sucking muddy trail that we had to run through.|
There were downed trees, some which I couldn't remember if they were there my first time around. No way to get around them, so they had to be climbed over, or in the case of one, climbed under (this HURT so bad on dead legs!!). The final hill of the loop had become a muddy slip and slide; how I managed to stay upright is beyond me, but I did and I'm thankful for that.
|The slip and slide trail. Picture does not do it justice.|
Hitting the top of that last hill should have been euphoric, knowing that it was literally all downhill from there, but it wasn't; I just hurt so so so bad. My hands were frozen and I could no longer feel my feet. My lips had gone numb and my face was heading that way. Then the sleepiness hit. A tired like I have never felt on a run before. I just wanted to lay down. Right there, in the mud. My eyes started closing on their own as I hobbled along and I had to fight to just keep going. I realized later that these are signs of hypothermia.
I finally got to the aid station, and there was Todd waiting for me. He had dropped and our friend had taken him back to the finish where he got in our Jeep and then came back to the aid station. I was so happy to see him. I actually didn't expect him to be there, as I didn't even think about the fact that he'd be able to get the car to come back and see me; I thought that he would be stuck at the finish line (muddled mind, couldn't think straight, another sign of hypothermia). I had to fight to hold back tears and I wasn't entirely successful in that. Especially when he and the aid station workers asked me what I needed. He told me that he had my drop bag and I was elated... gloves!! I could get warm, dry gloves. I asked him to get those for me and an aid worker asked if I wanted a pair of hand warmers. Once I heard that those were an option, I knew I was going to finish the race. Seems a silly thing to make the decision, but my hands had become painfully cold and I was just ready to be done with it all. It was at this time that I also got incredibly emotional over pickles; when I was asked if I needed something to eat, I saw the pickles and started crying a little and said, "I just really need a pickle". My mind was weird and my emotions were wacky.
After I got my dry gloves, hand warmers, ate my pickle, and pocketed some candy cane Kisses, Todd walked with me for a bit to get me on my way. I spent way too much time at the aid station, but I had known since mile 12 that our sub-six hour 50k simply wasn't happening. Todd and I kissed and went separate ways. I hit the bathroom and then went out for my last three miles.
The last three were mostly uneventful; the first mile was road, uphill, and it sucked, but I just powered through, walking when I needed to. I had also become the person I hate during a race like this... I had turned some music on on my phone to keep me going. I had it low, but I still really hate it when other people do that and there I was, doing it. Somehow during this time, I was managing to pass people. I don't know how, but it was happening. Especially on the uphills. I made a friend for a little bit, we talked and kept leap-frogging each other until he finally quit cramping and took off. I went from being so cold that I could barely function to being so hot that I thought I was going to need to shed my jacket. Instead, I took the hand warmers out of my gloves and crammed them in my pockets. My temperature got to where I felt good(ish) and I was able to keep going with nothing more than the pain and tiredness.
After stumbling over roots and slipping in mud, I finally hit the pavement of the parking lot that led to the final stretch. I could see the finish! And then I saw Todd's bright orange jacket and heard our friend screaming my name. Coming around that final corner was like turning into a wind tunnel; it nearly put a stop to my running. But, I gave it my all, which wasn't much, and finished with a smile on my face and a high-five to the race director. Then tears. Always the tears. I don't know if I will ever finish a race like that and not cry.
I was given a cup of hot ginger something and led into the building where the after party was going on. Todd led me to a seat where our friends were sitting, along with a lady that is well-known around these parts for a 200-mile race she puts on. I was tired, hungry, and cold, but I was right where I wanted to be. For the moment. We were all sitting around sharing stories from our day. I thanked Deanna over and over again for being there for me. And I cuddled into Todd. My rock. I know he had a bad day, but there he was, taking care of me.
|Deanna. She was there when I needed her!|
|Muddy, so muddy!!|
Eventually I got cold again. Even after putting on a dry jacket, I became crazy cold. I couldn't control my shivering and it was so bad that food was shaking off of the plate I was holding. I was done. I was ready to go back to the hotel room and take the longest, hottest shower in the history of showers and be done with this damn race. We walked to the parking lot, which took forever because I couldn't quit shivering and walking was painful. I asked Todd to go get the car while I hid in this little place that gave decent cover of the wind.
He drove the car over to me, I got in and we went back to the hotel room where I quickly did exactly what I was wanting to; stand in the scalding hot water of the most glorious shower ever.
That run took forty-four minutes longer than I had planned on it taking. The conditions were terrible; the race director told Deanna that he'd place it in the top five of bad conditions for races he's put on. I hurt something fierce during the run, and today I'm exhausted and my feet feel like every little bone is broken.
And to think... I'm signed up for another one of these in April. Happy trails!