Ten, nine, eight, seven… that was race director Jeff’s countdown to the start of the Ice Age 50k on Saturday. Two, one…go! And we were off into the woods. I wasn’t originally planning on racing Ice Age this year, but when registration opened in December and looked like it was going to fill in less than a day I made a last minute decision to sign up. There were lots of reasons why I shouldn’t. This is an Ironman year, I should be focused on biking, yada yada. Truth is, I needed to focus on a run first. After sitting out much of 2012 due to injury, I wanted some good time on my feet before I had to start focusing on the bike. I’ve made it no secret that I have a rocky relationship with being on two wheels, pedaling and pedaling all.day.long. I would rather be on two feet any day of the week. I figured the race would be good motivation to get my butt in gear over the winter.
Only it didn’t work that way. I struggled to find the motivation I needed. I am going to blame it on the longest and crappiest winter in the history of ever. Between snow and ice and bitter cold, I had a hard time getting out there. Last year I ran the trails all winter in preparation for my 50 miler at Ice Age. Every weekend I looked forward to hitting the trails for hours and hours. This year it was not to be. I was also struggling with how much I should be running. Every time my foot would get a little sore I used it as an excuse to take a day off. I knew I also needed to be swimming and biking, but wasn’t sure how to balance it all. After all, Ironman is the big race this year, I could run 50k in my sleep if I had to…Right?
But the truth is, when you lose all of your running fitness due to injury, you cannot expect to start running again and pick up where you left off. Last spring, I would think nothing of running 70 miles a week. A 25 mile trail run seemed like no big deal, same with running twice a day several times a week. Cue the frustration when a “mere” 10-12 miles felt hard and I looked back at what I was doing last year thinking I should be able to do this, with a little bit of shit, I was crazy back then! mixed in. It’s funny how endurance sports can skew your perspective on things. Sometimes I am shocked when I look back on my training logs for Ironman and see how much I was doing. It all seems so normal when you are actually doing it, but looking back at it from the outside it is easy to see why people think you have lost your damn mind. Needless to say, my confidence was waning. If I couldn’t find the motivation to train for a 50k, how in the heck was I going to train for Ironman?
I came to the decision that the best thing for me to do was to work with a coach. Best decision ever. Though I create training plans for other people all of the time, I lost the trust and ability to do it for myself. I needed someone with an outside perspective to tell me exactly what to do and when to do it. I needed to get out of my own head and not have to think about any of it. Not to mention the accountability factor. If I am paying someone to tell me what to do I am damn well going to do what she says.
Wasn’t this supposed to be a race report? Ok, back to the race. In the 8 weeks leading up to Ice Age, I did a mix of running, biking and swimming. Definitely less running and more biking and swimming than I would have done if left to my own devices, but quite a bit of overall volume (compared to what I was doing at the beginning of the year). I had some good long runs under my belt, but certainly not as many trail miles as I would have liked. The weather just didn’t cooperate for it. I felt prepared going in, and when the first few miles felt effortless, I thought I was going to have a great day out there.
Coming up to the first turnaround at mile 6.5, I counted that I was in 5th place for women. I concentrated on running easy and keeping the effort low. The first out and back section is tough, with lots of hills and uneven single track. I just focused on my nutrition plan and walking the big hills to save energy. By the time the first out and back section was over, I had passed two more women and was running in 3rd place.
The latter part of the race is made up of two identical 9 mile loops where the trails are much wider and easier to run on. I got a little boost when I passed through the start/finish area and saw some of my friends cheering me on. I was able to pick up some speed on the flat miles that followed, and I was feeling good. That good feeling lasted until I reached the back side of the loop and it’s relentless hills. By the time I hit mile 16, my quads were hurting. By mile 18 they were toast. I started to break things into small sections. The next aid station. The start/finish area. The flat miles. I tried not to think about the fact that I still had to do this entire loop again. I didn’t know if my legs would hold up. I did know that it was going to hurt.
Coming through the start/finish again, I stripped off my arm warmers and left them at the aid station. I saw some more friends cheering for me which gave me a little boost, but in my head I was struggling. My quads were absolutely killing me. I was grateful for the next couple of flat miles before I got into the hills again. I broke the rest of the race into 30 and 40 minute increments. When I would take my next salt cap and when I would eat my next gel. Then to the final aid station, then to the finish. Somewhere in there I thought I passed another women from the 50k. It was hard to tell because now we were mixed in with the half marathon runners. Turns out I did pass one woman, but another woman (whom I had passed early in the race) passed me as well, as I would find out later.
The hills were killing me. The downhills were almost worse than the uphills because of my trashed quads. It was time to think about putting one foot in front of the other, of doing nothing besides moving forward. One thing I have learned over the years is that no matter how much it hurts during a race, no matter how slowly the miles tick by, and no matter how much your body is telling you to stop, there is always an end. And when that end comes and you are finished, no matter how good or bad the race was, it always seems that the day has flown by. I always think about this when the going gets tough, that there is indeed an end, and it will come soon enough. I will not hurt forever, so I might as well keep moving.
So that is exactly what I did for the rest of the race. And sure enough, the end came.
It is always sort of surreal when you train hard, race hard, and it is over.
I have no idea why I am smiling in this picture. I think I was so relieved that it was over, and in a bit of disbelief over how much my legs actually hurt. Mostly I was just so happy to be done. I can’t remember a race where my quads hurt that bad, except for perhaps my first or second marathon ever. Certainly not during the 50 miler last year or during any Ironman. But that’s how it goes. All you can do in any given race is give it all that you have on that particular day. You can follow your race plan and take in your fuel and do everything right, and sometimes your legs just freaking hurt. I did everything I could, I gave it all that I had, and this time it was good for 3rd place overall, 2nd in AG.
I would find out later that 2nd place was a mere 34 seconds ahead of me. My mind immediately went to thinking about all of the places in the course of 31 miles where I could have shaved off 34 seconds. A few less seconds walking on some of the hills, a little speedier on the flats. But the truth is, I gave it my best effort, and if I could have shaved off those seconds I would have. I am proud that I was able to push through the pain in my legs and finish strong.
Special thanks to my friend Cindy for bringing a cold water foot soak to the finish line. You are the best!
Ice Age 50k Official Result:
2nd female 30-39