No one runs an ultra alone.
This is what I kept thinking to myself, despite being what felt very much like “alone” a majority of the time on Saturday. I had attended the training run 6 days before, I knew the course and it took maybe 20 minutes to drive there. Of course I ran late anyway, which lead to me running to the start, throwing my bag of homemade aid station goodies down and jumping into the crowd as I was hearing “15 seconds” and the starting sound.
Girl in yellow going the wrong way as the event started? Yep, that’s me. I found Gale and the rest of the crew and we ran and chatted along the sidewalk until it was time to enter the trail. I proudly told Wild Bill to be expecting a check from me for sponsoring BBA and I regretted not arriving sooner, not because I was rushed, but because all my friends were bonding and having fun without me. Darn you time management skills, darn you to heck.
From the start I knew something was off with my leg. I have been dealing with IT band issues since the spring, but this felt different. I realized a few miles into it, my leg was numb. Weird. I tried stretching, but it stayed heavy and felt like it was asleep. The entire first 10K loop I ran on a heavy leg. Loop #1 I finished in about 1:40:xx . I was pleased and decided “hey numb isn’t pain, so whatever”. Although when I entered the main aid station and started to stock up everyone began asking me if everything was OK. While moving things around in my pack Frank caught me with my camera. He made me leave it behind and said I did not need worry about taking pictures, I needed to be running. (haha) I told him my leg was sleeping. Another worker said it sounded like sciatica, which upset me because I’ve had that MANY times. It isn’t pretty and it takes too long to heal. I convinced myself it was nothing and with a feed bag of m&ms and potato chips in hand, off I went for loop #2.
On the second loop the asleep feeling went away, but was replaced by tightness and pain. I found if I walked it did not hurt as much. I did not want to walk, but I did not want to hurt. I was starting to feel really down on myself too. Within the first 1/2 mile of the race I had fallen so far behind everyone, I could no longer see or hear them in the distance. Pain + loneliness = wanting to quit. For whatever reason though as I walked and thought, Garmin kept chirping higher and higher mileage. I reminded myself lonely wasn’t the end of the world and kept a forward moving pace. There is a secondary aid station at the 1/2 way mark. During my first trip I was so determined to keep “time” I blew through it. This time around I was near 9 miles and I was in pain. I stopped and told Brooke I thought something was wrong. I said everything was tight and I couldn’t run. She had me prop my left leg on the back of the SUV and bend over the right stretching both hands toward each ankle respectively. She said if something was out of place it would help. With my left leg in the air nothing was happening. Next I put the right leg in the air and bent over my left. Before I even knew what was happening there was a “pop”. I felt nothing but everyone looked at me. I asked “Did you hear that?” And they responded “Loud and clear” we assumed whatever it was went back into place since there was no pain, and I was clear for travel.
Leaving I was able to run more and the rightness was gone! Along this section were some very funny “bear sighting” signs. The following images were taken before the race and posted in the Facebook group.
I was a very happy camper and even imagined making up some time. About a mile later my leg refused to let me bend my knee or lift on hills. It didn’t hurt at all, but I had no range of motion either. Again I returned to walking and being worried. When I finally finished my second lap we were about 4 hours into the race. I had cleared 12 miles in 4 hours. This was bad. The guy who won? Finished in 3 hours and 20 minutes or something! Yikes.
I limped to a bench, sat down and sobbed into my bandana. I did not want my day to be over! Several wonderful people came over to make sure I was OK. I cried and cried and cried. They told me I should drop. I didn’t want to drop! I wanted to feel better! Knowing there was not a time limit and knowing I was not “hurting” and being stubborn…I wanted to keep going. The guy who won? Overheard my story and offered advice. He said he had training for PT and offered to tape my leg. He said it sounded like an issue with my hamstrings/quad and basically they were weak and taking out my IT band and other areas. He said I need to strengthen my core (of course I do). Another wonderful lady offered up her new KT tape and they went to work on me. I have never been more thankful I took the time to shave before a race.
With tape and the mental comfort from others it might not be “too bad” and my personal promise I would not run, I would only walk, to prevent further stress, I entered my third loop. Along the way I tried to remind myself this was a beautiful experience. I took a photo with a Blue Heron. 1) because I love them 2) my clients often pronounce heroin more like “here-on” and I think they’re saying “heron”. Now when I see the bird I hear the phrase “Stay away from heron it will mess you up”
Just after my photo op, Katrina came up behind me. We chatted for about 10 minutes, she was on the way to completing her 1st 50k! Then it was time for her to keep moving. Knowing I wasn’t the only one “alone”, helped keep me centered and grounded. I finally pulled out my IPOD and started walking and listening and trying to stay positive. I was well into the double digits, I had great energy and hydration and every once in a while friends were passing me. To a degree this bothered me, but seeing a friend if only for a moment, reminded me of all the love we have for each other. No one made fun of me for being slow, no one said I had no business being out there. They all wished me the best.
This time at the aid station I was now 15-16 miles into it. I told Brooke and Tim I was newly taped up, very discouraged, but had promised I would walk if they would let me keep going. Brooke pulled out a knee brace from her car of wonders and strapped me in! Thank god for Brooke and Tim and their encouragement and knee brace. Although I wasn’t going to run anymore, the brace helped keep me from moving my leg around excessively.
Finishing loop 3 I was once again a cranky mess. We were well into the day, I was hot and tired and noticed my hands were swollen. I asked the RD and a random guy if I should be worried. They asked if I felt OK, I said yes, and they didn’t say much more. Thinking nothing of it, I went to restock my pack. After going to the bathroom I realized my hands were so swollen I couldn’t move my fingers at all, I could barely wipe (TMI?) and using hand sanitizer was a joke. I had NO mobility of my fingers. Suddenly I remember I was overheated my last 2 miles and I felt like I might puke. I told the RD and asked where the other nice guy went. He laughed and told me the other guy was a doctor and I needed to talk to him right away.
The Doc came over and asked what was going on. I told him I changed my mind about feeling OK. He made me sit down and eat salt. He took away my water and said I was drinking too much and had too much “free water” in my system. I was told to eat salty foods and drink a sports drink ONLY if I was thirsty. I sat down on the bench with some chips and pouted. He covered me in ice and told me to stay in the shade. I was going to be mad if I powered through my leg only to let the heat get me!
While sitting there I chatted with Pam and a few others, before finally knowing if I was going to finish I had to get up. No one thought I should finish. In that time Gale came in and went off for her final loop. I wish I had left with her, but I was still sick when she took off. In my annoyance with the world I forgot to ask the RD what I found on the trail. I snapped a picture because after all “Taking only pictures, leave only footprints”
I left for my fourth loop and was told if I felt sick AT ALL, I had to stop…they wouldn’t let me have my water back. Away I went with my IPOD and fear I may be doing something dangerous. Although I said to myself “what’s the worst that could happen? I faint? Go to the ER for fluids?”
A few miles into the loop I felt sick and called my Mom. She told me I needed to drop. I stated feeling better and got off the phone. I started feeling sick again and called another friend. He tried to tell me to drop. I made it to the aid station. Drank a Dixie cup of Pepsi and dirty ice. Refilled the ice in my bra and bandana held a few pieces in my hands and powered on. I remembered reading something about putting ice on your main pressure points to cool down. So I walked and placed ice on my throat. That wasn’t working. I switched to ice on my wrists which immediately changed my world. I tucked a few pieces under my Garmin strap and found a renewed sense of purpose!
With about 2 miles remaining for this loop I saw a figure moving toward me “Are you Julie?”
“They sent me to find you”
“Oh, are you here to pull me?” I asked with tears in my eyes.
“No! I’m here to pace you”.
This mystery guy? I actually know him! Turns out we work out at the same gym. In fact we live about 2 streets apart. He told me about his life, I barely remember as I was 8-9 hours into this thing and sick (Sorry Matt). I do recall he ran Mohican 50 miler this year, and made it 85 miles into Burning River 100 and has only been running since the spring. He listened or at least pretended to listen to my constant babble. He helped me safely finish the fourth loop. Along the way I pointed to the thing I took a picture of on my previous loop. Matt picked it up! Gasp! It was the turtle! Well, a figurine anyway. We carried it back with us for bragging rights. I still have NO clue how I managed to notice it. Near the end of the loop Brooke ran into us and assured me I was doing fine and no one was mocking me.
Sitting at the bench for the last time. Gale was there, Heidi was there, Freddie was there. Everyone told me I was doing great. I was tough and I was brave. They all told me it would be OK to drop if I was in pain. I wasn’t in pain! It simply felt like someone turned my leg off and I had zero range of motion. I bragged about my turtle finding and showed it off to those who would look. I also returned it to the RD to be placed on course next year for someone else to find.
Mom called and I told her I was about to take on on the final loop. She told me she was proud. And she meant it. With a few finals “byes” and “Good Lucks” Matt, Sue and I took off. I had two pacers. Two people to call 911. And they were sweeping the trail for signs and flags and trash.
Again they dealt with any and all of my issues along the way. Sue and I talked shop about aid stations, running and food allergies. I don’t know how, but with each mile I kept moving. Garmin cheered me on and approximately every 20 minutes I called out “27 miles” “28 miles” “29 miles” until I finally was able to say “30 miles! I’m going to finish!!” Yes, along the way it was touch and go. Where there was sun I felt weak and sick, where there were hills I could not use my left leg at all. For the last two loops (12+ miles) I took zero water with me, and never felt thirsty. Slowly my hands began to stop swelling. All I did was walk and want to pee. My body was fixing itself. I wore ice on my head, around my neck, down my shirts and rubbed it on my wrists whenever possible.
Walking along the path, nearing the end I became emotional. I wanted to cry, but without any witnesses to my finish it seemed silly. Matt and Sue had me “run” across the “finish line”. After 11 hours and 39 minutes, I finally completed my journey. Once we sat down and I knew I was safe all I wanted to do was go home. Reality of the damage I had probably done to my leg was setting in and I was scared. The RD came over to present me with my award, a homemade “medal” with a hand-drawn design. I also won a random door prize…a chair. Which is awesome because I need more portable chairs! We snapped a picture together. I said deeeeeeply heart felt thank yous. Thank you to my pacers. Thank you to all my friends who went home to recover, but kept me in their thoughts. Thank you to the RD for not shutting down the course. Thank you to the people who asked questions and moved me safely along the way. Thank you to everyone who smiled and said a kind word, I may not have mentioned you specifically, but my heart goes out to you. Thank you!!
No one runs an ultra alone. Not even if you find yourself solo on the trail.