RunFest 49K race report

Okay, I’ve had a few weeks to reflect on the Anchorage RunFest 49k Ultra Race and I feel the same way I did when I crossed the finish line, like cheering and bawling at the same time (which is exactly what I did when I crossed the finish line. I raised my arm in cheer and then I immediately started crying).

But, let’s back up a bit. This race scared the hell out of me. It loomed over me all summer. In fact, even though I trained for it I didn’t actually sign up until two weeks before the race.

Because, failure people. Last year I trained all summer for the Resurrection Ultra 50-Mile Race and then didn’t start due to obligations between my second novel and the publisher’s deadline (and it turned out that the publisher rejected the rewrite, sigh, sigh). So then I ran the RunFest instead. I did this even though I had been sick the days before and couldn’t even choke down breakfast the day of the race. You can read the whole depressing story here.

So last year I failed at the 50-miler. I failed with my novel rewrite. And I failed the 49k ultra attempt. Those failures followed me all year, nagged at me, taunted me until I felt less confident. I hesitated before taking chances. I felt diminished, as if I were not quite whole.

This year I really, really just wanted to finish the damned race.

OK, that’s a lie. I had goals:

My A list goal: 5:15
B list: 5:40.
C list: Under 6 hours

Basically, though, I wanted to have fun. I wanted to enjoy the race. I wanted to finish strong.

This is how the race started. In the rain. In a rain so cold that I wore three layers and gloves.

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Brrrrr, do I really want to do this?

Miles1-5: I started off slow. I wore a watch but didn’t turn on my GPS. I ran most of the summer without GPS and loved how it forced me to stay attuned to my body instead of an arbitrary time on a watch. At mile 3 a guy said, “Only 27 more miles to go!” We all laughed nervously and then it hit me: 27 frickin’ miles (!!). I ate half of my first Clif bar at mile 5.

Miles 5-10: I ran the majority of these miles behind three runner dudes with runner dude bodies and runner dude gear. By the time we hit the long uphill slog to the Kincaid hill (the damned hill is a mile long), I was ready to increase the pace. Yet I hesitated: Did I really think I could run faster than these three yummy-looking and very-in-shape runner dudes? I didn’t, and yet I kind of, sort of did. Finally I passed them. I expected them to catch up but they never did. I ate the second half of my Clif bar plus a handful of almonds at mile 10.

Miles 10-15: Since this was a net downhill I increased the pace. I stopped once to pee in the bushes, hoping that I wouldn’t encounter a moose (I didn’t). I ran beside a guy for a while and later, a guy and a woman. We chatted a bit but mostly I ran alone, setting my own strange pace, running faster when I felt like it, slowing down when I felt like it. I ate half of a Lara bar and more almonds at mile 15.

Miles 15-20: Whee! Running up and down the rolling hills from Pt. Woronzof was so. much. fun. I also grabbed some orange slices at the Pt. Woronzof aid/relay exchange station and, damn, those oranges were the best thing ever. I started to bonk at mile 19, right when I hit Westchester Lagoon. I knew my partner and our dog Seriously were waiting at mile 20 but it seemed a looonnng way off. Then I saw this gal, whom I ran the race with last year (she finished last year; I didn’t). I swear that just seeing her face felt like a prayer or a gift (love you, Angel!).

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Running with Angel at last year’s race. This was around mile 7, when I was still flying high from cold medicine and about 15 miles before my big, fat, tremendous bonk.

Miles 20-25: I stopped briefly at mile 20 to visit with my partner and Seriously and also to eat half of a peanut butter and banana sandwich with chia seeds (so much fun to wiggle those chia seeds around my teeth for the next four miles!). I devoured half of an orange, gave them each a hug and took off. The next part of the course scared the hell out of me. It was the out-and-back where I bonked last year and ended up in the medical tent getting dosed with glucose. This year, I waited and waited to bonk. And I never did. I felt strong. I picked up the pace. I passed people. And I could not stop smiling. I was so damned happy.

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Seriously waiting for me along the side of the trail at mile 20.

Miles 26-30.5: I stopped once to get pretzels out of the back of my pack and ate a couple of them while I was running. Then I gave the rest to a guy who was bonking; he looked as if he needed them more than I did (and he finished too, bless his heart). I kept a steady pace. I felt strong. I saw my partner and Seriously on the way back at mile 28 and almost started bawling because I knew I was going to finish. I shrugged off my pack, handed it to my partner, gave him a kiss and took off. I had only 2.5 miles left and I couldn’t stop smiling. Or passing people, either. I ran the whole way, never stopped once for a walk break the entire race; I even ran the long and cruel hill at the end. And then I did what I always do at the end of a race: I stopped and kissed a cop. This one actually blushed when I kissed his cheek, hee, hee (I’m sure he didn’t appreciate my sweaty body pressed up against his oh-so-neat uniform). I sprinted toward the finish, cheered and immediately started crying.

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Heading to the finish line.

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Crying at the finish line. Because, you know, why not.

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Showing off the big-assed finisher medal I spent $100 and over 5 hours to earn.

I finished in 5:20, the 12th woman and met my B goal. But most importantly, I finished smiling (except, of course, when I was crying). I smiled for a good part of the race. I smiled so much that I swear that my mouth was about the only thing that was really sore the next day (a lie: everything was a little bit sore the next day).

And yeah, I realize that my time wasn’t fast enough for any awards; I’ll probably never be fast enough for any awards. But I showed up. Not only that, I smiled my way through last year’s failure. And the coolest thing about finishing this race is that, less than a week later, I sat down and tackled my second novel rewrites (the third time I’m rewriting this particular book) and I knew exactly what to do. It’s as if by conquering one fear, I realized I could conquer others, too.

P.S. One huge inspiration for this race was Sally McRae. I listened to her podcast a few days before the race (you can find it here) and she said something to the effect that when she raced the Western States (and one where she didn’t do as well as expected) she told herself that she would simply run each mile the best that she could at that moment. That was my motto for the race, and I must have repeated it to myself a hundred times: “I’m running this mile the best that I can at this moment.” It’s a fine and awesome motto, and please feel free to use it whenever you begin to doubt yourself.

P.S.S. Another inspiration was my sister, who came up to Philly for this race. She ran the half-marathon, without much training, and she dug in and finished strong. Way to totally go.

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