I should title this post ‘from 0 to 50K in 8 weeks’ instead of Chippewa 50K! That is exactly how this one went down.
As I posted earlier I hadn’t run in a very long time – 7 miles in the previous 12 months and each of those miles hurt and again confirmed to me that I needed more time off, perhaps a lifetime of no running. I made peace with that outcome. I could no longer fight it.
After a beautiful snowstorm on February 21 I decided to pull on my snowshoes and head out to the woods. It was an amazing morning and before I realized what I was doing my body was running. I realized that I have never hiked in snowshoes before but I have always run in them. Without thinking about it, that is exactly what my body wanted to do. After a while I realized I wasn’t in pain, I wasn’t out of breath…I dared believe this snowshoe running thing might be ok. I went again the next day, and the next. I felt great.
I decided to try out my treadmill. A few minutes of walking, a few minutes of running, more walking, a bit of running, repeat. Over the course of the next month I built up to a 10 mile run on my treadmill. I decided I’d run the Chippewa 10K. I had run the 50K a few times, I’ve volunteered at the race a few times and knew I was good for the 10K. It’s a beautiful course with many lakes, bridges, hills, a blue heron rookery, all sorts of good stuff. I missed being at a race, out in the woods with others, I missed my friends.
Of course the treadmill is not a trail. The trails were still a mess-ice, snow, mud, dangerous. I hiked a few miles each day with screw shoes and more running on the treadmill. I wanted to see if I could run 4 hours on the treadmill. I did, I didn’t hurt. I was tired, but I didn’t ache. I had blisters as usual but that was it. I was beginning to have a sliver of hope that I might be able to run again.
I began to put recovery first. Ice baths, rest, anti inflammatory foods, yoga, etc. Recovery was foremost in my training plan.
Once I ran the 4 hours on the treadmill I decided I’d go for it and see I could try 50K. I contacted Jeff, the RD, to see if I could move up from 10K to 50K and of course he said I could. I was afraid and anxious and excited and so relieved. I promised myself I wouldn’t continue if I hurt myself. Promise.
With one week left for a long run out doors I decided to try Lake Maria with a 5 hour goal. I was only able to get 16 miles in the 5 hours. The trails were a blend of ice, snow, mud, water…they were a disaster; but my body, my body was not broken! My body was strong and felt good. I had hope and fear. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make it 16 miles in the 4 hours allowed before the turn around at the race. I had 4 hours on the out and 5 hours on the back. I’d give it my best, yet safe, shot.
I didn’t post my entry to facebook, didn’t tell any of my running friends that I’d be at Chippewa. Perhaps I wasn’t so sure. Jeff (RD) and a few people from work were all that knew my plan.
By Friday I was having second thoughts. I had so much anxiety. Did I always have this much anxiety? I looked at the roster of runners ..was I was concerned that they would judge my capability. Would they see me as unfit? As slow? As a has been? It was really strange. Would I think these things of others? No. Never. I was anxious about waking at 330, driving to the race, feeling the anxiety. Maybe I’d just sleep in. Maybe I’d already moved out of this ultra running world and I should just let it be. Maybe I didn’t want back in. Why did I want back in? Why did I want to run 50K again?
I wanted to run 50K again because I wanted to spend a day in the woods, working toward a goal. I wanted to run longer than the 10K that I had entered previously before I thought I could do 50K. 50K wasn’t even a thought a few weeks ago. I wanted to reconnect with friends of mine that I only see at races . I wanted to see if I could. I wanted to see if I could stop if the pain of injury came, could I stay on this side of the line? I was willing to bet that I could. I wasn’t going to let anxiety win. I’d be sitting at home wishing I had decided to go to the race instead. Ugh.
I went home Friday after work and decided I wouldn’t set my alarm. If I were to awake at 330 (right) I’d go. If I didn’t I’d let sleeping dogs lie. What an avoidance technique! Sheesh. I decided to put together my pack, look at the map, aid stations and just do this. Oh the anxiety. It was overwhelming.
I wonder if I’ve always been so riddled with anxiety and depression. I believe so. I countered it with drugs and alcohol. I suppressed it for many years. Running takes the edge off.
Morning came and some of the anxiety had somewhat diminished. I went through the motions, packed my stuff and the headed for New Auburn WI. I picked up my bib and shirt, said hello to many of my friends and headed back to my car to get ready. I felt like I was going to be able to do this, I felt that it was going to be a beautiful day on the trail.
Deep breathing, calming breathes. The anxiety left the party.
Well, the story here is more of the leading up to the race than the race itself.
I lined up near the back of the pack, listened to Jeff give a description of the course and before I knew it we were running.
I was testing out a few things. I have a Garmin XT from 2008 that I was still wearing as well as an Apple 3 watch I purchased this winter. I wasn’t sure how long the battery on the Apple would last. I’d find out. I put my phone into airplane mode and stopped all notifications to the watch. I never listened to any music. Happily I still had 40% battery life when I was finished. The splits were identical to the Garmin and the Apple is SO much smaller and lighter, it will be good for up to 50K.
(Greg Leciejewski took this photo at the start)
The course was beautiful. It smelled like spring. It was 33F when we started and 53F when I finished. The lakes were mostly frozen, there was some ice and snow on the trail, some mud, mostly beautiful grass and dirt. It really was great. I wore my Nathan Firefly pack, which I’ve only worn for 100 mile races. I normally only carry water bottles. I was concerned with the time it would take me between aid stations, I may need more water than usual. I filled up my pack on the way out at 10 miles, the way back 20 miles. That was plenty. I didn’t eat anything off of the aid station tables. I had gels, honey stinger waffles and picky bars with me. I had plenty of energy.
(Greg Leciejewski took this photo at 2 mile mark)
I made it into the turnaround under 4 hours. I knew it wouldn’t take me 5 hours to get back. I was being conservative on pace to err on the side of caution. So far so good.
My knees were becoming a bit sore on the downhill. As long as I was on the flat or going uphill I could move well. I had mincy short steps on the downs, trying to sink into my quads, giving my knees a rest. I fell twice. Keep trudging.
The last 3 miles were very muddy. The trail had warmed up, it was soft wet mud. It was slow picking. My blisters were starting to scream at me so I just trudged on. I knew I was almost at the finish. It finally hit me that I was actually going to finish, that I was again a 50K finisher! I climbed up the final hill and into the finish chute. What an amazing day. I am quite amazed that the endurance came back in 8 short weeks. I have much work do to on the speed but that is a challenge I am excited to embark upon. I am just so darn grateful to have been able to complete a 50K race, without injury or pain.
I visited with friends, hung out for a while, changed clothes and drove home, with a smile on my face the whole way.