We headed to Hell, Michigan to pick up my bib. Hell Creek Ranch. Sounded suitable for ultra runners who would be pushing beyond their physical limits to a place that might feel like Hell.
BIB PICK UP:
We got to the ranch at dusk, the festivities were still on and popping. It looked like a Woodstock commune. My boys were curious and took off looking for a basketball court. The Ranch opened up to way more than a place to pick up your packets. It had a stage with a band playing some nostalgic tunes. The 100K and 100M race had been going since 4pm so some runners were coming through. Everywhere you looked people had tents set up for the full experience. Campfires, pets, kids, food stands, pavilions and even the "Head Gear" (Merchandise shop). It was like sensory overload.
For an extrovert like me, I was in hog Heaven even in Hell,Michigan. But for an Introvert like my husband he was literally in HELL!
As I came out of the port-a-john, I was telling Andy "try not to suck the fun out of this", I saw a familiar face. It was Mike K. He was volunteering. I introduced him to mom, dad and Andy but kept it short, which is hard for me. My family had sacrificed a lot already, they still hadn't eaten so I was really on their clock.
I knew I wouldn't be sleeping good, If at all. I was paranoid that a spider or a bug was going to crawl in my ear. You might be thinking "I thought you were not camping." We weren't! But our hotel must have been vacant for weeks. We found spiders that were so big you could see their eyeballs, cobwebs that wanted to engulf you and layers of dust that gave you the heabie jeabies.
Getting up at 4:45am really was no problem!
THE STARTING LINE:
I really was proud of myself, I didn't forget anything. I had my watch, my chews, my headlamp... . Andy dropped mom, dad and I off at the Ranch and he left to park. Waiting about 10 minutes for Andy I screeched "OH NO MOM, I FORGOT my water container in the car!"
I quickly called Andy, who was almost to us. It was 12 minutes until the start. But I wasn't nervous if I didn't cross the starting line right away.
Andy arrived with his superman cape on holding my water bottle 3 minutes to START. We had enough time to gather together in prayer. While we prayed the race director was going over the directions for the race. I was desperately trying to pray because I really needed God for this adventure but then I really needed to hear the instructions. I chose Prayer in faith God would direct me.
THE FIRST LOOP:
We crossed the starting mat in the dark at 6am. At the last second, I took this guys advice and removed my headlamp. He said that many people have headlamps and I would be fine.
We ran through the camp before we entered unto the trail. It was pitch black in the woods except for the lights, some bright, some blinking and some different colors. The trail was very narrow making running NOT an option with all of us. The first mile took me over 16 minutes and I walked most of it. The second mile wasn't much better. It was still so dark that people were still walking, you couldn't pass them due to the darkness. You heard "ROOT", "STUMP" nearly a hundred times. It was funny the guy behind me had a headlamp on and was running on my right to help me see. He must have tripped 2 or 3 times. We shared a laugh.
By mile 4, the sun was coming up and you could see the path. It was beautiful.
|walking the hills, sun coming up.|
I had to run 3 loops. They were about 16 miles each, give or take, it somehow ended up to 50.
There was so much excitement around me. We were like a big group. No one was individual. All of us chatted, laughed, encouraged and kept running.
I ran a long distance with this guy wearing a 50 mile running shirt. He was also the one with the headlamp. I stayed close behind him. He was running the 50K but we were on the same path.
GRACIE aid station was the first one we came to. I was looking forward to seeing KEN A. I have ran with Ken a couple times. As I came out of the path, I was staring at this multicolored HIPPIE wearing a black stringy wig. It was KEN!. I hit it at mile 12.
WATERMELON and OLIVES! Seriously, it was wonderful. Like I was pregnant again. I'm not!
You would run with the same people until you got to the aid stations. At this point everyone would eat,pee, poo, stretch or even pass it by.
I took 5/6 minutes at the aid stations.
MIKE THE PACER. I met him on this loop. He shared a story with me. I will share it with you at the end of this post. He was an encourager, a philosopher and I wanted to run with him, I thought this guy needed to be my pacer. The path was still pretty thick with runners. There was so much camaraderie you had no desire to listen to music.
THE SECOND LOOP:
Before I arrived here, Andy called me. I was running with my phone. Before you judge me, you have to remember, I am a daughter, a mother and a wife first. I ran with my phone in case something happened. 50 miles isn't a jog in the park. I am clumsy, horrible with direction and a airhead. Running with my phone is important!
My phone was ringing, it was Andy. "Anita, have you hit the first aid station?"
I couldn't figure out what he was asking. "Yeah, a while ago."
Andy replied "WOW, you are FAST!"
I didn't think that first lap was going fast at all. Awe, he was so sweet, such a great encourager. I thought.
I wasn't at the end of the first loop yet. This aid station was also the start and the finish. So I would pass it 3 times. It was the hub for all festivities, at Hell Creek Ranch. You could hear the music a half a mile away. I was so excited to see my family.
As I came through, I looked everywhere for my family. No where. I went through the aid station but I
don't think I ate anything because I just wanted to see my family. Disappointed and sad I headed into the trail. I called Andy, "Where are you?"
We were lost in translation. He forgot about the other stations. Us runners were going by loops and aid station names, Grace and Richies Haven.
Discovering that I had just now passed through the first loop AKA The first aid station Andy says "Oh, wow, why are you so slow?"
Back on the trail, I was able to see how bad the path was compared to when I was on it at 6am. It was full of roots. It was cool to see what I hadn't seem the first time.
Before I knew it I was hitting Grace Aid Station again. I was somewhere around 20 miles. My favorite hippie was still hanging loose. I walked around the table to see what new food I wanted to munch on.
|Swedish fish, pizza, pineapple, chips,olives,pickles, watermelon.....|
I sent Andy a text to let him know my choice of fuel. He replied with humor. I started breaking my run down into Aid stations.
Mike THE PACER. But even the brothers were struggling staying together. Off and on I was running with this tall older man who kept tripping. He even tripped in front of me once. He was getting tired and struggling to pick up his feet.
I came up to Richies Haven. As I came through, I could smell the POO from the outhouse at the base of the trail. Before I could wince I was overcome with JOY. MY FAMILY was there! I could feel myself just light up.
In NO hurry, I hugged them all. We chatted and they all said HOW GOOD I LOOK!" I warned them I was only half way there, on my next loop not to expect the same. Mom replied "I am so happy that you are taking it slower this time." I chuckled inside thinking I was going as fast as my legs could. But for me to show mom a big smile was very important, she worries so bad for me. I sat down to take off my socks and access my damaged toes. My blisters were ugly and my shoes were full of sand. They had been burning for a few miles. A couple pictures, cup of warm salty soup, duck tape for my toes and I was back on the saddle again.
Being alone didn't last too long. I could hear someone catching up to me. I wasn't listening to music. I had made the plan to save my music for the last loop when I needed it most. It would be my prize for making it over 32 miles.
|The last time I saw Andy...Not looking too well.|
Their steps and breathing made me turn around. This person sounded like they were dying, they needed to catch up or call for help. It was a younger guy. He asked me the time. I thought that was crazy, where was his watch. PAUL from PICKNEY. The more I talked to this guy the more interesting he was. Something was said about the beer at an aid station. I said I didn't drink. Very bold He questioned me. "Why, Why don't you drink?" Taken back by his straightforward question, I gave a very brief response, I have bad genetics, I needed to stop the cycle, drinking to me just isn't worth it. I have 2 boys, it has to stop."
Paul from PICKNEY then shared his testimony with me. 15 years sober. A beautiful family, 4 girls and a great career.
I was inspired, and awed. I LOVE hearing victories.
BUT he also shared something else..
"Paul, so who talked you into this?"
He laughed, a friend of mine, I wanted to do another Ironman but this was more affordable...."
With a childlike curiosity my questions continued. He mentioned that he had already ran farther than he had ever ran and we were only at mile 26,27...So I had to ask "So what was your longest training run PAUL from PICKNEY?
"16 miles" he said with a big smile.
I almost tripped over myself. "Wait, Wait! You have never ran an ultra, you got talked into a 50 mile ultra in the woods, only training 16 miles and show up not even wearing a watch?!"
To make it even more crazy he never trained on trails!
I looked down at my watch and we were holding a 9:45 pace. WOW!
I am the last one to give advice when it comes to ultras, so I passed on the tips that were given to me.
"Have you been fueling at the aid stations?"
It didn't seem like he was. I took the lead to the next Aid station. He was holding on strong both in conversation and foot work.
The Aid Stations broke the miles up perfectly. I let him take the lead and I held behind. He was hurting but still holding on strong. It was funny running in front of someone not knowing what they look like. When you finally see someone after chatting with them for so long it is really cool. They are not the back of a baseball cap or the writing on their shirt, they actually have a face!
"We just have to get to the end of this loop and we only have more loop to go, will your family be there?"
"Yes, and my girls."
I was so happy that his family were going to be there, PAUL from PICKNEY actually road his bike to the race!
I wanted so badly for PAUL to finish. I told him if we got separated at the last loop I would wait for him at the fence going into the trail head.
As we came out of the trail, I loved that campers were camped out at the mouth and they were all cheering you on. You took the path around the ranch were you could see everyone lined up waiting to cheer you on.
"Paul, do you see your family?"
He was smiling, "Yeah, they are right there...."
Our families were actually right next to one another.
|Paul From Pickney and I.Last time I saw him.|
The Third and Final Loop.
I loved seeing my family. They had been chasing me back and forth from Ritchies Haven to here. I ate a bite, some trail mix and filled my water bottle. I looked for PAUL, then headed towards the trail. I waited a few minutes for him but I needed to get going before my body wouldn't let me. I began to wonder if maybe he didn't want to run with me. Or maybe he was going to quit right here.
"Go ANITA, Go." I coaxed myself on.
My quads were starting to burn, I thought my plantar fasciitis was tearing apart but my duck taped toe was happy happy happy.
Every step I begged my legs to just go numb. So I didn't have to feel each step that landed. Energy was not the issue, it was my body that was beating me up. Small roots sticking out of the ground looked like death traps. Minor inclines looked like the Rocky mountains and even the declines looked like a pit fall.
I had already tripped 3 times but only fell once. I would have been better off just falling rather then trying to catch my fall, I wrenched my back pretty good.
It had rained softly off and on. It was refreshing. The weather couldn't have been anymore perfect. I tried to focus on all the positives in hopes I wouldn't feel the negatives that my body was screaming at me.
I was looking at a 10 hour run. I reminded myself I had ran farther than most people would ever dream. But then most people would never dream of wanting to run what I was running.
I listened to my music to encourage me. Runners were slowing down. I found myself passing several runners. The 100milers didn't look so good. Most of them were walking. I wanted to walk. I found myself on the rail trail. It was flat as a pancake. My legs were very familiar with this terrain. I just kept passing runners. The tall guy that kept tripping, he was a muddy mess. "Hey there, Are you still tripping out there?" I chuckled.
"OH man, I took a really bad fall and my hamstring is suffering."
He stood about 6'4, about 55 years old with a shoe that was every bit a size 13. I thought how bad it must be on him to fall like that.
I took advantage of the straight way. I picked up the pace knowing once I entered into the trails it was going to get ugly.
When you see those big smiles the emotions are catchy. You ride on the tail skirts of their energy. I wanted to bottle it up and nibble on it like an energy chew.
But then you find yourself back on the trails, alone, listening to your body cuss you out.
I came up on the girl about my age on the trail. I thought about passing her but I tagged behind her a few feet and tried to open a conversation. She was not reciprocating. She actually picked up the pace. "OK, you want to be like that, I will stick with it." Picking up the pace was something I need motivation to do. We came out unto the dirt road, I could see her looking at her watch. She slowly starting backing down and I looked in front of me for someone else to run with. I needed help. I needed the motivation. When I was alone I just didn't feel mentally strong enough to combat the voices.
As I came along side of this guy he says, "Your from Holly." I recognized his voice but that was it. We stuck together. We didn't chat a lot but I knew he liked me there and I needed him there too. He picked up the pace a bit. He hit the last aid station before the finish and like a little kid I followed his lead. He didn't hang out. He grabbed fuel and ate it walking into the trail.
We had four miles to go. I looked at my watch and was disappointed I would not be finishing in the 10 hours I hoped.
I didn't shed too many tears over my time, my body was hurting and capable of much greater misery.
4 miles might have been 10 miles. I couldn't figure out how my legs were going to hold up. I focused on the runner in front of me. The last 4 miles into the camp are the worst. Hills that go on for what feels like infinity, hills that make your heart want to tear out of your chest. The trail was only wide enough for one and rutted deep in the ground. Once a mountain biker came towards
me and I thought I would just fall over rather than make the leap out of the path.
With 2 miles left, my running partner was still maintaining a sub 10 minute pace. I slowly let distance come between us. I couldn't keep it up, I just wanted to walk. So I did. The problem was I didn't want to start back up, but then I knew if I didn't I wouldn't be able to move forward.
"You gotta get back up." I told myself.
I gave myself markers to run to, then I would add more distance trying to encourage myself to run more and walk less. I couldn't believe it, I caught back up to the guy I had been pacing with. We were bringing in the last half a mile together.
There was no doubt I was going to finish. I could practically hear them cheering. I just wanted to run it in. As we came out of the woods that final time he was gone. I honestly don't even remember where I lost him at in that quarter mile. My mind was a bit foggy and I just wanted to have my medal around my neck. I wanted to walk. I wanted to see my family. I wanted a CUP OF COFFEE!
The spectators cheered me on for the third and final time. I almost started crying to think that my body just ran 50 miles. Although I had ran 50 miles before I had never ran over 10 hours in my life. God provided me strength to go beyond anything I had ever done. My watch actually had me over 50 miles! My feet hit the gravel path towards the finish and I picked up my legs a little higher. I turned my feet over a little faster. And I grinned a little wider. I could see my families eyes meet mine. I couldn't feel anything but going faster and making a strong finish. This spunky ginger to my left caught my eye. It was Paula and Matt. Matt had been done for almost 2 hours. Paula's smile and enthusiasm was charismatic. As I finished over the mats, my body just floated. I had no pain, no fatigue just pure JOY.
I literally fell into Andys arms. I wrapped my arms around him and even tied my legs around his waist.
I am so blessed to have the greatest parents and family. I spoke to several runners who would be finishing alone. My family, even the ones that were not there were there for me in texts, calls, messages and prayers.
Plato's The Allegory of the Cave:
MIKE the PACER and I were talking about why we go beyond the limits. He gives me the story of Plato. After reading the interpretation, I was given a very brief summary of a intricate and detailed illustration.
The story was told like this. A man is chained in a cave with others. He believes along with all the others, that is the only world. He escapes his chains and discovers a world outside the cave. It is so magnificent he is almost blinded. He soon realizes that there is another world outside of what He thought to be his reality. A life outside of the dark in bondage in the cave. Not hardly a life at all. But a life he lived without complaint.
Why would you run 50 miles? Many like those in the cave, could not fathom the thought of something outside of their reality. To them it is hard to believe that running could bring you Joy, Passion, Love, Pleasure and Euphoria. As the light stings his eyes, the pain of running 50 miles pains my every fiber. I wince as He does . But it is far more pleasurable to endure the pain than to go back to my cave.
Pretty Deep. The reasons I run. I love the deep stuff!