WTF50K Recap: The Final Exam

Have you ever reached a point where you realized all along you had been subconsciously preparing for that moment? Granted my “moment” was nearly 8 hours long, but this was exactly what happened at WTF50K.

Unbeknownst to me, my WTF50K training began in April 2018 at the Boston Marathon. I survived the 26.2 miles of wind, rain and cold to finish. In May, I ran a portion of the Appalachian Trail on Mother’s Day with Sara. At times, the trail was a river. In June, I ran (swam?) 18 miles with a group at the SU Cool Spring campus which was extremely flooded. As far as hill climbs go, in October I felt the need to tackle a mile long road climb I hadn’t run since high school. In December, I tackled a decent climb at my in-law’s house. Wind? In the past few months, I’ve run several mornings with gusty winds with both the Stephens City DD crew and the Wednesday morning group. Creek crossings? I think I got my fair share at Fire on the Mountain 50K in November. Snow? The Monday before the 50K, I hiked/ran 6 miles of trails in at least 5 inches of snow with Ryan.

At the time, all of these were just individual crazy experiences I shared with running friends. At the WTF50K, I realized all of them were lesson plans for my final exam.

Everything you are learning is preparing you for something else.” ― Marjorie Pay Hinckley.

Pack and maps ready to go!

If you read my last post, you know the expected weather forecast. Thankfully, no precipitation was going to fall. Just cold and WINDY. We arrived a little early, Emily, Laura and I gathered our gear and got ready to start. You will not believe what was announced next. The WTF50K finisher stickers had been left behind! A humorous groan traveled through the small crowd of about 4 dozen. After a few more announcements, we started trudging forward through the mud. Not too far in, we started our first climb of Waterfall. Whoa. Very steep at times and just kept going higher and higher. After a few switchbacks, we reached the top and headed towards Crisman Hollow. A couple miles later, we were rewarded with a beautiful view.

Photo credit: Emily

At this point, I shed my jacket, gloves and earband due to being extremely warm. We continued along the ridgeline for a few miles – rocky and snowy. We reached Jawbone Gap and headed up to the top. Along our ascent, we saw Matt S. and Kevin W. headed down. After a quick glance at the view, we turned around and headed down towards mile 9 (first aid station). After a couple pizza rolls, we were off again. A couple miles later, as we headed down switchbacks, I heard a few familiar voices at the bottom – Matt and Kevin (thanks for sharing the Moon Pie with us Kevin!). Emily and I joined up with them, as well as other runners Levi and Eric. Through this section we alternated a lot of hiking and running until we hit a good decline leading us to….Waterfall Climb: Round 2.

At mile 16, we tackled this tough climb once again. At this point, Matt and Emily pulled away as Kevin and I fell a little behind. I reached Crisman Hollow the 2nd time alone; however there was a runner at the top trying to make sense of his turn sheet. I informed him we were to head left on the road and we trotted off together. Since the last snowstorm, this road had not been touched by a plow. The only bare spots were created by the sun/radiation and at times, the road seemed more like an ice skating rink. We traveled about 2 miles until we crossed over Rt 211 and tried to locate the Aid Station before Mile 20. I grabbed some calories, a swig of Coke, refilled my water and was offered hand warmers. The wind was definitely picking up and I felt the coldest around this time. I pulled the hood up on my Cotopaxi jacket and took off with my new running partner Keith towards the trail. I reluctantly became navigator for our new group of two (which is one of the components of the race I was most worried about!). Soon, we hit the Bird Knob Climb. This climb had much more snow and ice than the previous climbs (which I’d take over the ones with rivers flowing down upon us). After the climb, we were rewarded with a somewhat more runnable path. We turned onto the white trail and then onto purple, following our turn sheet.

Part of the easier trail we traveled. Photo credit: Kevin

Finally, we hit the pink trail. Keith said, “And that’s about all that’s left right?” I responded yes, 4.2 miles until our final turn back onto orange for the final stretch. Around this point, I actually was a little sad the adventure was almost over. As we traversed pink, we approached a fast-flowing creek with no great way to cross. I tried one route – trying to cross on a log like we had on several earlier in the day. A few steps on the slick log and SPLASH! I was in the frigid water up mid-calf. Keith tried another route and SPLASH! Ugh, we trudged on. Soon, I felt something hard flapping on my shoes every step and realized my shoelaces had turned into icicles.

About 1 mile before the turn onto orange, Keith pulled away. For the first time of the day, I was solo for a few miles. I quickly found the sharp turn onto orange and ran into a few downed trees. I couldn’t see a way around and did not see any footsteps in the snow. Crap, where did I go wrong? I retraced my steps and my eyes darted around the forest for the orange blaze. Aha! I missed the trail bearing left. Knowing I had less than 2 miles to go, I was on a mission. All of a sudden, I was flying forward; instinctively dropped a shoulder into a tuck and roll. Thank goodness I fell where I did and not where the trail was very rocky or muddy. I popped back up unscathed and continued on with a smile on my face. Soon, I could see the cars in the parking lot above. I climbed up the ledge and headed towards the fire and food. Complete!

7 hours and 42 minutes. Nearly 7,000 foot of elevation gain. Below freezing temps. Wind. Snow and ice. Mud. Did I mention sloppy? Following a turn sheet. So many obstacles to overcome. Prior to the run, I definitely had some fear. When I was out there, I was oddly calm. Mile by mile, climb by climb, I slowly chipped away at WTF50K. 

Prelim results just came in! 48 starters; 30 finishers and I made podium for females! Read more details about the weather, the run and the results here!

I’ll leave you with my final thoughts….

Remember that question I asked – “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

The reason I signed up for the Waterfall 50K is because I actually wanted to attempt something I knew I could fail doing. I didn’t want guaranteed success; I wanted to fear failure – buckle down and give it all I could give (and then some).

I’m encouraging you to find a goal, a little out of reach and maybe a lot of crazy and go after it. If you fail, try again. And if you succeed, you better start looking for the next crazy goal..

My First DNF: Seashore Nature Trail 50K Recap

One week ago when I wrote “Keepin’ It Real“, I had no idea what the upcoming weekend had in store for me. Before I dive into those details, let me back up a few weeks.

As I returned to the Runner In Training booth at the South Berkeley Christmas 5K expo on December 2, Dylan came running up to me. “Mom, you got picked off a waitlist for a race!”, he excitedly announced. Not remembering any race waitlist, I picked up my phone to see what he was talking about. Aha – the Seashore Nature Trail 50K Jeremy and Sara had run in 2016. From the email I saw I added myself to the waitlist in June and had completely forgot. The email informed me I had until Wednesday, December 5 to make a decision.

After a lot of hemming and hawing, talking to John and a couple friends, I decided I would go and run. I searched for a hotel close to First Landing State Park and got all my other ducks in a row to head to Virginia Beach on December 14. Since the local Shenandoah Valley Runners Winter Series race was on the same day, John decided to stay home with Dylan (unfortunately John’s paternal grandmother passed away on Wednesday as well).

Friday was soon here and I was excited to hit the road at lunchtime and arrive around 4 p.m. The drive should only take 3.5 hours, but my map app was already telling me 4 hours 22 minutes. Darn. Off I went. Packet pickup was at a local running store until 7 p.m. I found some tunes and started my trek south. My ETA kept getting later and later the further I went along. Somewhere around Newport News, it was suggested I take a detour to save 25 minutes. Sounds good.

Yeah, not so much… The detour guided me through a jam packed shopping area and through a residential area with bumper to bumper traffic. For 20 minutes, we crawled. Stop and go. Stop and go. Finally, I was on an overpass making the left hand turn back onto 64. The SUV in front of me began to move or so I thought. Boom. Dang it. Already running late, and now I’m in a fender bender. We pull over and do all the fun things you need to take care of in an accident. An hour later, I’m finally back on the road. 30 miles to go – GPS puts me at the running store at 7:02 p.m. Thankfully, I call and the race staff pulls my race bib as well as Jeremy’s (the Sanders were stuck behind me in all the traffic).

Finally, I arrive 3 hours later than expected, get race bibs, call and cancel dinner reservations. At this point, I just wanted to check in to hotel, find food and get some sleep. After a quick meal at the hotel, I prepared my race gear and was asleep rather quickly.

Jeremy and I at the start (Thanks Jen!)

Race morning: woke up and ate my usual pre-race meal. I opened the oceanfront balcony doors to see nothing but a wall of fog. Temperature was not bad at all – about 50. I headed over for the short drive to the park and check out the surroundings. After a little walk and a short warmup, it was almost time to start. I decided to aim for 8:30-8:45 pace and see how the trail conditions were. First few miles went by pretty easy. The course was pretty, albeit foggy, and the volunteers and others along the way were upbeat and encouraging. I knew I was the 2nd female and man, was the first female (Gina Slaby) moving!

After the 2nd aid station, we headed right into the woods. Along the way, the course crosses several wooden bridges. As I stepped onto the bridge, I lost my footing but caught myself. Took another step and woosh, my feet go out from underneath me, I slide and fall hard on my right side. Yeowch. Right arm is scratched and bloody but nothing seems absolutely serious. A guy running in a kilt in front of me asks if I’m okay and I respond yes. I get back on and trudge on through the back loop chatting with him, trying to keep my mind off the searing feeling in my right hip area. On the way back to the turn around point for the 2nd loop, I battled between the voice of reason and the competitive athlete in me. The pain was not lessening. Do I just keep on running? Should I simply run/walk just to be able to finish? Should I drop?

Spectators along the way were encouraging me – “Second overall female. Keep going, you look strong!” Ugh, I am not feeling strong. I saw Jeremy on his way onto the second loop and gave him an update. At the turn around point, I mentioned to the race support I was most likely finished. They encouraged me to continue, again reminding me I was second overall female. “You can do this! You can walk and still finish in the time limit.” I refilled my water bottle, added a Nuun tab and decided to try to continue. Starting back up from run to walk was tear-inducing. My kilt running friend said, “Keep it up! Only a half marathon left!” 13 miles?? The reality hit me like a ton of bricks. Running in true discomfort and possibly risking further injury was not worth continuing. What about Boston? Other 2019 races? I decided to surrender and wave the white flag.

Not too much further up the trail, I saw my friend Jamey headed towards the finish area. I turned around and gave him the details. We walked and ran back to the finish together and I grudgingly announced I was pulling out. I walked defeatedly to my car and headed back to the hotel. What a disaster.

Battle wounds!

Sunday morning, I woke up in my own bed and the stress of the weekend hit me all at once. I may seem like a strong, competitive beast, but guess what?

I’m human 🙂 I allowed myself to snuggle up under the blankets and have an ugly cry.After I let the sadness out, I could feel the spark returning. I started thinking about 2019 races.

Yes, the weekend was a complete disaster but, no one was seriously hurt and I live to run another day. You win some, you lose some and yes, you DNF some.

 

I do think I want to go back to Seashore and try again. This time, I think I’ll walk the bridges…