All right, I guess it is time to get to the details.
Friday – Feb 6. I left work early so that I could get to Huntsville early enough to avoid rush hour traffic. I had to take my daughter to run a few errands, so I did not get to leave home as early as I had planned. I put my bags into the car, packed the cooler with essentials (sweetened espresso and skim milk), and left Sealy at 2pm. The drive to Huntsville is a nice one when you take the back way, which I did. There is no driving anywhere fast if you go near Houston on a Friday afternoon. As I got to the last stretch of road, saw the remaining distance to Huntsville, and looked at my odometer, I realized Huntsville is almost exactly 100 miles from Sealy. Then I started to think hmm, maybe I could have walked. All right, I am just kidding.
Packet pick up at Huntsville State Park was well organized. The race shirt is a nice, heavy-duty embroidered sweatshirt. They were using a chip system I have not seen previously. The chip was attached to an ankle strap, so that you did not have to fool with reattaching it to a second pair of shoes if you had the need to change during the race. The race director, volunteer coordinator and the person in charge of race timing had a pre-race briefing at 5pm. They gave out a lot of good information and answered questions from the race participants. The pasta dinner started at 6pm. The food was great, spaghetti, tortellini, salad and garlic bread with a choice of lemon pound cake or chocolate cake for dessert. I ate dinner with a couple of first time 50 milers and a veteran of the 100 and his wife. After dinner, it was time to get to the hotel, shower quickly, dress in my race clothes (that is for you, Beth) and try to get some sleep. Motel 6 is cheap, yes, but it was not a quiet, peaceful place to sleep.
Saturday – Feb 7. The alarm went off at 4:30 am and I was ready to go. All I had to do was fill my fuel belt bottles and go. Starbucks was not open yet, so I had to resort to an old standby for breakfast – McDonalds. When I got to the park, it was organized chaos and the 100 milers were checking in prior to the race start. I set up my gear in a spot near the finish line and checked in after the 100 started at 6 am. I had to wait for the 50 to start at 7 am, so I sat in my chair and acquainted myself with my neighbors who had set up their gear near me. There was a woman who was crewing for her father-in-law (50 miles), her husband (100 miles) and her two teenage sons (50 miles); a man who had done a number of marathons but this was his first 50 miler; and a group from Fort Bend Fit who were doing their first 50 miler.
One minute to the start, so I make my way to the back, and we are off. This race starts and finishes all on trail. The only time you have to walk on pavement is to cross the road a few times. My plan was to take it easy, so I watched my HR pretty close the first lap. My goal was to keep it under 70% so that I could finish. I just wanted to have fun, and I did. I dilly dallied at every aid station, thanking the volunteers and eating what turned out to be the right combination of junk foot to get me through 50 miles. I was somewhat tired after the first 16.67 mile loop, which I finished in 4:34:??. I realized I was not drinking enough electrolytes, so I forced myself to empty the fuel belt totally in each of the last two loops. I knew the Garmin battery would not last for the whole day, so I took it off; to save it for the last loop when I knew I would really need to watch the hr, as I would be getting tired. I was reasonably sure of my pace on the trails by now. I took a restroom break, drank some of my espresso and skim milk, (the break lasted about 30 minutes) and then headed out for the second loop. I felt better a lot better after the latte!
The thing I love the most about ultra distance races is the atmosphere among all of the participants. Everyone is so supportive of each other. Every time you meet someone on the trails, you say, good going, good job, looking good, etc. You get the same back from everyone else. As a walker, I feel more a part of what is going on than in any road marathon, half-marathon, 10k or 5k I have ever participated. Of course, smaller races are different, like the one I walked in Arizona last weekend; that one was one of the best, although one of my more difficult marathons.
Loop number two was just as much fun as loop number one. The course had been changed from previous years runs, and there were no out and backs. The course looped back on itself in a couple of places, but that was great as you got to meet up with a lot of other racers on the trails. The only difference between the 50 mile course and the 100 mile course was one place where the 100 milers had 10k between aid stations, while the 50 milers had 5k. The rest of the aid stations were anywhere from 5k to 4.5 miles apart. At one point in the second loop, I guess I looked like I was having a little too much fun at an aid station, and someone asked me if I needed a little help leaving. He politely took my arm and escorted me out, all for my own good. I finished the second loop in about 5 hours… remember I took a 30 minute break after I crossed the timing mat at the end of the first loop. My pace was holding up pretty well. The total distance at the end of loop number two was 33.34 miles. I was now walking into the unknown, every step I took. I had never walked past 50k before. I made sure to drink the second dose of iced non-fat latte, and then went to the restroom. It was going to be getting dark soon, so I readied my headlamp and was preparing to drop my skirt and put on my leggings, to keep the calf muscles from cramping up from the cold air. It was only going to be in the 50’s, but the course passes by the lake a few times, and it was windy. The nice woman who was crewing for her family offered to help me. She held a jacket in front of me so I would not have to change in front of everyone, but I was prepared to do so if I had to. I do wear underwear, so there would not be reason to be embarrassed. I wish I could remember her name or had gotten her email address so I could thank her again. She helped me with my shoes and socks, then her older son came sprinting to the finish at the end of his first 50 mile race. Wow, that was a sight, and I still had another loop to go.
I put my Garmin back on to monitor my HR, and off I go, out onto the trail for the third loop. Remember, I am still just having fun. As I progressed, a couple of the 100 milers passed me, and then one decided to hang with me for a while. I was still walking at a consistent 16 mpm or so, and he told me he just needed to average 18 mpm to finish his first 100 mile race in less than 24 hours. He was planning to celebrate his birthday at midnight on the trails. I was happy to help him. I never dreamed I would pace someone at this race, even if only for a few miles. We made it to the first aid station, and again I stuck around for about 5 minutes before I headed out. So, the birthday guy headed out before I did. I did not see him again. Walking in the woods after dark was a very new experience for me. Thank goodness, the moon was full. I know I was getting tired because I began to trip on the tree roots more often. I ate a chocolate GU and got a little help from it. The rustling noises in the woods were also very interesting. I was hoping the noises were just armadillos, not the alligators that are supposed to be in the park. Then a runner met me on the trail and told me to watch out for armadillos on the trail ahead. That was a relief. The rest is kind of a blur, because it was getting late, and I was getting tired, but yet, still keeping up my pace. The last time I tripped, I was on the last 4.4 leg of the race. I thought I had broken my great toe, or jammed it up pretty badly. I limped along for a few paces, and then the pain subsided. I started to chant, PICK UP YOUR FEET, to myself and avoided the tree roots for the rest of the race.
Funny thing, I expected to be emotional at the finish of my first 50 mile race. I must have been dazed and confused, because I calmly accepted my medal, had my picture taken in front of the race banner and just went to sit down in my chair, clean my feet and put on dry socks and clean shoes. After a little while, I ate some hot chicken noodle soup and drank a cup of hot coffee. I really wanted to hang out and encourage the rest of the runners, but I just did not have it in me. I started to feel chilled through, so I walked to my car and turned on the seat warmer and heater and fell asleep. I slept until about 4:30 am. I really wanted to stick around for the breakfast and the 100 mile award ceremony, but I decided to go home. I had to walk back to the start, pick up my gear and carry it to the car. Not too difficult, considering I just walk 50 miles.
I stopped at IHOP and ate pancakes, eggs and bacon, drank some coffee and headed for home at about 6am. It was difficult going, and I had to stop about half way home and sleep in the car for about 30 minutes.
I would like to give this race 5 out of 5 stars. I would highly recommend it to anyone for a first attempt at 50 miles. The aid stations are fantastic, staffed by ultra runners and their families. They take very good care of the race participants.
Once I was at home, I thought about all the encouragement and inspiration I get from all my online friends. I would not be where I am today if I had not found you all. Thank you so much!!!