For my 40th year of life, I wanted to choose one crazy race and in the spring, I set my sights on an October race. During the summer, I enjoyed training for my 3rd Erie Marathon with the Early Bird Dunkin’ Donuts crew and also joined new Wolfpack friends on the trails fairly often. In August, three weeks before I was going to attempt to qualify for a 3rd Boston, I suffered a significant ankle injury. Goodbye Erie. Goodbye Boston 2020. And Goodbye Epic 40th Race. Boo.
After some time off, I slowly creeped back through the For Lucas 10×10 Challenge, an adventure on the Appalachian with some friends and then decided to find a new race adventure. Two years ago, I considered Stone Mill 50 but chose JFK instead. Stone Mill is fairly local, cheap and mostly runnable trail. Jump onto RunSignUp, CLICK, I’m in. Uhhh, am I really going to run 50 miles again? Can my ankle handle this?
I guess crazy is contagious because fellow Early Bird Patrick quickly followed suit. And if you think that isn’t nuts, Jeremy jumped on board which would mean he would toe the line of a 50 miler just 6 days after the NYC Marathon. I really didn’t think he would follow through just due to possible soreness but I guess he found some superhero strength.
Although I completed JFK in 2017 (and had a great time with Sara!), the night before Stone Mill, thoughts like “What the hell were you thinking?” and “You aren’t ready for this” tumbled through my mind. That night I did not sleep well. Dylan and I woke up super early and soon, Patrick, Jeremy and Mario (our main crew chief!) were at the house and ready to hit the road. After a 1.5 hour drive, check in was easy and Patrick was pretty anxious to get the show on the road. My self talk included a conversation with Competitive Becky and I told her Stone Mill was not a race, but merely an adventure.
At dark o’thirty (well, 6 a.m. – which is actually later than when this team usually FINISHES our training runs), we joined the rest of the illuminated runners on the starting line. With little fanfare, we were running down the pavement in search of the trailhead. With no predetermined plan to run together, the three of us fell in stride next to one another and then in a caravan through the dark trails. At this point, I was glad we had run 2 days of trails in the dark the previous week. We meandered through the forest and by the time we reached the first aid station, the sky had lightened and we could hand off our lights to Mario and Dylan.
Early on, my stomach was off. For miles, I felt nauseous. At one point, I told Jeremy 50 miles seemed insurmountable. I knew I needed calories – and not the sweet sugar-y stuff I had in my pack – I needed real food. Unfortunately the next aid station had mostly liquids and then I remember trying to choke down PB&J as much as my stomach turned just to force some calories. Thankfully, the guys were still within striking distance and eventually we reconvened around mile 10. While we zigzagged through the forest with an upset stomach, I created plans to DNF. Mario and Dylan had told us they would see us at Mile 27, so I kept telling myself to make my way there, then make a final decision.
As we approached Mile 24 at the Pennyfield Lock of the C&O Canal, there was Dylan and Mario. In addition, there was a feast!
My eyes caught sight of pierogies and this Polish girl quickly grabbed a cup of these delicious potato dumplings and then washed them down with Coke. A handful of M&Ms and we were off for 3 miles on the towpath. We knocked out these miles pretty fast and I chatted with Serge, an 11 time finisher of JFK (his fastest was a 6:19!). After these miles, I felt great and was able to focus on the task ahead.
After the next Aid Station, we took a well deserved walk as we ate. Soon after, we were back on trail and heading into the 30s. The race seemed much more manageable to me at this point although we encountered more inclines than in the first part of the day. I fell for a 2nd time maybe around mile 33 and ouch. Got vertical again and walked it off before continuing to chip away. Jeremy joked “Can we just walk the rest of the 17 miles?” No. “Can we walk the rest of the 12 miles?” No. After a Sunday marathon, I knew he had to be definitely feeling the toll. One time when we walked up an incline, I could hear Patrick singing something about “I love walkiiiiing.” Oh boy. Or maybe I hallucinated all of this.
Mile 34. Then Mile 37 (BEER. Miso soup. YUM!). Mile 42. Maybe more pierogies? I don’t know – Pierogies definitely saved my day. It seemed to take us FOREVER to get to the Mile 46 Aid Station (I got to hug a unicorn before we did). Last time to indulge in calories – this time, potato chip paradise (I’m starting to see a potato theme here…). I was ready to get to that finish. Yes, the legs are sore. Yes, it’s hard to stay mobile. But you just want to get to that finish.
The three amigos pressed on. We chatted a bit and realized we had spent the majority of the day together and we were crossing that finish line together. Once we exited the trails, we did a little speedwalking. The pavement hurt.so.bad. and of course there was a good incline to tackle before the end. We powered through and woohoo! 10:04:30. Throughout the day, I paid no mind to my watch – didn’t care about pace, miles or overall time. Just wanted to prove to myself I still can run 50 miles. Sharing this adventure with friends made the day so much better. I love seeing smiles in our photos because you know the pic only shows the surface – we all were experiencing some level of discomfort underneath.
Big shout out to my little buddy D. Having him at each aid station was amazing. Dylan was excellent crew having water/Nuun ready if needed, giving a hug or some encouraging words. Later that night after the race, D told me he was hoping if I was going to drop out, I was going to do it at an aid station he was at. I said why would you want to witness that? He said, “Because if you were going to drop out, I was going to tell you some things to hopefully keep you going.” Saturday was one long day for crew and runners and Dylan was one heck of a trooper. He decided he will run his first 50 “maybe around 37”. I sure hope I can return the favor and crew him along the way.
Thank you to Mario for walking up super early and driving us to the start as well as navigating to each aid station. You are much appreciated. Thank you to Dylan for his crew help. Thank you to members of the Wolfpack who volunteered – seeing your familiar faces was a bright spot of my day. Huge thank you to the race directors and all other volunteers who spent hours in the chilly air to ensure our safety and provide aid. Now, what’s next??