Updated: Jun 9, 2020
Race morning, 5am. Two hours of sleep and my alarm goes off. My eyes feel swollen but the cool air is refreshing as I make my way over to the compost Porta potty‘s. I cross my fingers as I enter the lovely potty box, not because of smells or worry of cleanliness (of which both are magnificently taken care of) but because if I don’t do the “doo” my entire race could be a flush . Yesssssss!!!! ✔️ #1 off my list . My morning is off to a great start.
Next is breakfast by camping stove- oatmeal, Nutella, and peanut butter (my “go to” pre-race meal for the last 11 years. As I eat, I watch the other race goers set off on their adventures for the day. 100 milers started at 5 AM, 50 milers at six, 60K at seven, and 50K at 8 AM. Some runners start as soon as the announcer says “go”, others trickle out throughout the hour. Energies are high, people are talking to each other and being very considerate to giving space. I love this️ I love watching the excitement, people checking and rechecking their gear, runners clumsily jogging their way to the starting line. (I should mention the campsite and starting line is in a cow pasture- to say the least, it is bumpy! ) I put away breakfast and begin collecting my race gear. I grab two extra Gu’s (10 in total), 72 ounces of fluids, 4 Nuun tablets, and 1 pk of Stinger Gels. This is almost double the fluids I normally take on a distance like this, but the altitude has had me dehydrated the past few days. I listen to my pre-race ”pump you up” speech. Then I head towards the starting line 20 minutes before race start. The heat is beating down and I feel the back of my neck reddening. I have a choice- find some shade and wait, or get my warmup in. I decide on the latter because I feel the need for my legs to feel loose and ready to fly. I discover within the first 10 minutes that my shirt is annoying the bejeezus out of me. The shirt has got to go, and it does!
I stay close to the start line now, only about three minutes until go time. Runners that plan on placing top three are timed off of gun time, everyone else is going off of chip time. I say friendly hello’s and take notice of my competition (Though happy and smiling) they look fierce. I can tell they are a strong and energetic bunch.
They call us to the line. Everyone is naturally keeping a couple arm’s-lengths from others. My mind goes quiet.........”GO!” 20 steps from the start we cross over a cattle rail, I slow down to a tip toe hop across speed. Then quickly speed back up. I check my watch for my pace. The first aid station is supposed to be at 2.1 miles I know that we have 5.3 miles of climbing before any kind of descent. I’m holding an eight minute mile pace for the time being. A few steps solid ground then sand, a few steps solid ground then sand.... ” this is magnificent” I think, as we head into the mountains. Currently we are running on a service road. I am with the lead pack which makes me feel like I’m pacing well. It’s getting close to the first aid station ...is what I think, but corner after corner I’m proven wrong.
I finally see the tent ahead 3/4 of a mile further away then expected. I don’t have a cup so I squat underneath the water jug as one of the volunteers push the valve. The water flows in my mouth and down my neck. I have already drank a quarter of the fluids on my back... i’m beginning to understand that I will need to drink at every aid station. I’m running again. Now the terrain is steeper, I feel lightheaded from the altitude. The only way I know how to fix this is to drink more, so I do. Soon I turn off on a trail that looks as though it was created for recreational Sand dune vehicles. This is fun! I pass a few runners saying “howdy do’s” and “good jobs”. Now it’s steep!!! The sand is deep! I’m on a single track trail. This section is switchbacks for a little over a mile up the mountain side. I had planned to hike the section at a fast 15 to 16 minute mile pace. I noticed at some points I’m barely hitting a 20 minute mile pace. I take a small step forward then my foot sinks in the sand up to my ankle- repeat. I hear voices, I don’t know whether it’s from below or above, but it sends an impulse to push forward.
The second aid station is supposed to be at mile 3.7. I don’t see the tent in my site until closer to 4.5 miles. When I do see it I’m relieved because I only have about 20 ounces of fluid left in my pack. Nearing the tables I take a quick overview of what is laid out. I smile at the volunteer and say “ I think I will just have a quick drink of water”. This time I use a footpedal to release the water in my mouth as I squat very awkwardly and cautiously underneath the water bucket. Instead of filling up my water bladder I push forward to not lose any more time. I chomp on a Nuun tablet hoping it will keep my fluid needs at the low end.
I’m back on a service road. The footing is now less sand and more rocks and boulders. The trees smell fantastic️.. I smell pine, I smell warmth... how long is this climb?! Now there’s no need to hike. The terrain is less steep. I look at my watch, I’m holding a 10 minute pace. “Good job girls” (I say this aloud. “Girls” is reference to my legs, and yes I often thank them). It looks like the ground is leveling. I think I’m at the top of the climb. Wait, no......wait, yes... YES! I see the top a couple hundred meters in front of me. I’m dancing along the trail jumping from running surface to running surface watching out for the marble and softball sized loose rocks. A smile spreads across my face I’m out of fluids now but that’s OK, I only have 3 miles of downhill before the next aid station. I have to hold back speed because the path is covered with “roll your ankle” rocks. I zigzag down the trail finding safe foot holds. Some sand blows up in my eyes and now they are watering. I snicker to myself... this is soooo fun🤸♀️.
From my calculations station number three should be within a half mile now. The road is twisting underneath a forest of trees. The shade is welcoming. I hear people, I see another runner ahead, then a tent. While running I remove my pack and open the bladder. As I fill my pack I thank all the volunteers for being out there for us in this brutal heat. I struggle to get the bladder sealed back up, my hands are shaking, I giggle again. As I start to run I finish putting my pack together and throw it on my back. Holy Crap! I feel like my legs have turned to lead weights ...and I’m just now getting close to the halfway point.
Oh look There’s that other runner. He’s walking. I tell myself I can catch him. This is no easy feat though- the last water station was at the end of our decline and now we will travel back up the mountain for about 3 1/2 miles. The sun is almost straight overhead making shade hard to find on the road. As I make my way closer to the other runner I begin to feel almost excited to have another body near me. I’m not big on talking while I run, but I appreciate the sounds of feet shuffling and the heavy breath of others. Plus, I’m a great listener! “Come on! It’s not too steep here, jog with me”, I say as I come up beside him. He begins to jog. He asks if I know how many others are up ahead. My reply is “8 or so...I believe only one of them is female.” We take turns- one jogging and taking lead while the other walks to find some recovery. Every time I play catch-up I urge him to run with me. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t. He never does speak to me again except to say he’s trying to catch his brother. I don’t mind his quietness, I know it’s nothing personal. A course like this can really make a person search deep within themselves.
About a half mile to the top of the climb I realize that I have dropped my running buddy. I start to think of how great it would be if I could catch up to his brother. This makes me feel almost refreshed.
Looking ahead I can see what I believe is the last climb of the race. I pop a Nuun tablet in my mouth and chew it up. The fizzy reaction and a misplaced inhale makes me go into a coughing fit. Immediately I hope that no one is afraid that I might have covid 19. I laugh aloud, funny the impact that stupid virus has on us.
Yes! I’m starting my descent and I’m finding shade now. The next aid station (a self-serving one) should be less than 2 miles from this point. I keep looking at my watch to make sure I keep my pace at an 8:30 minute mile or faster, I have to make up for lost time. I also find myself eager to reach the single track section. I’m not sure at what mile nor for how long it will be, but for right now the thought of the paradise of “what is single track” is what’s keeping my spirits elevated. Nearing a mile after starting my descent I am lured off the road onto a path leading into the woods. I hear birds, I hear what I am hoping is squirrels scrambling... surely the other runners would have scared away the mountain lions and bears “Yep, that’s why I decided not to run with the lead group”, I think to myself as I giggle at my own joke. I don’t worry about mountain lions or bears in Missouri. I do worry about snakes and spiders. As I’m running I start a long debate about which is worse- a copperhead or a mountain lion. Conclusion= the snake is worse. “Come on CAT! I dare you to mess with me “, I think but don’t say aloud. Right now my logic is a bit crazy, I realize this. I don’t need others believing Im a loon bird too!
I see giant blue water jugs along the trail - the 3rd aid station. I’m 2/3rds of the way through this race!
I only have 20 ounces of fluids left in my pack, but from this point on I should be trotting downhill to the finish. I decide against taking the time to stop for a drink. There IS one more aid station. I’ll be looping back to the first aid station which will leave me with just under 3 miles to the finish line. That means I’m at mile?....I am at mile?... my watch! ...almost 14 miles. Uh oh! With all my math calculating I think I may be on the wrong trail. Did I miss a turn? Really Aly?! Come on! Where is a pink ribbon (markers being used for the race)? I don’t slow my pace but I do twist and turn my head in search of this stupid pink ribbon. I finally notice one up ahead. I am on the correct trail! Hey wait! That ribbon is at the top of an uphill...there’s not suppose to be any more climbs 🤬What the stupid suck is this?!!!grrrrrrr ..... I feel completely pissed. At the moment everything is stupid- stupid Gu, I have two more of them and I know I will need to ingest both; stupid sun, it only touches me about 50% of the time now (but it’s still stupid); stupid freaking hill!!! My mind shuts off. My face is set in a stone cold grimace.
About 100 meters after the very short climb I follow a pink ribbon onto a superb single track. There’s logs to jump, roots to fly over, sharp corners to swing around, branches to duck under... it doesn’t take long for a huge smile to creep across my face.
Ahead is a limb that I don’t bend low enough for and it smacks me in the face, right across the brows. I chuckle. I’m back There’s a creek ahead. If I time it just right and use enough power I’ll be able to leap right over it. I don’t time it right and begin my jump about a foot too soon. I must be stronger than what I think because I clear the water easily! I’m ready to push at a higher gear now ⚙️
There’s several more hills and I attack each one. My last Gu slips down my throat with my last gulp of water. I’m now planning my end game. Soon I’ll see the final aid station. From there it definitely is a gradual downhill to the finish line. It’s a road.... a road that I’ve already ran and know what to expect. I decide to run the last few miles at an eight minute mile or faster pace. For the next 16 minutes thoughts disappear. I listen to my breathing. My legs turn over, landing and pushing brilliantly from one step to the next. I vaguely remember passing by the last aid station. I remember waiving, but I don’t know at who or what.
I’m pulled back into reality while passing a runner who has stopped to take pictures. He asks me “Are you running the 60k?” I think I answer “no”, but I may have just shook my head. He finds my rhythm and is stride for stride right next to me. I enjoy this company (though I know on-lookers would think otherwise from the look on my face). The reality- I’m worn out!!!
Gusts of wind have been kicking up mini Sand Tornadoes for the last 30 minutes or so. As I run through another I notice this one is different- it takes my breath away! I reach for the back of my new running friend, who has now pulled ahead by a few feet. I’m able to lightly tap his shoulder. “I...I...breath!!!” I sputter out. He tells me to stop running and put my hands over my head. As I struggle to do this he gets behind me and grabs my elbows and does it for me. For, what seems like, 3 very long minutes he walks me through breathing exercises. I start to notice my chest rise and fall at a somewhat normal rhythm. I begin to jog. Tears are flowing down my cheeks now. How flipping awesome are people♀️🏾 My newfound forever friend is sticking by my side making sure that I’m OK. All I want to do is thank him and hug him and tell him “let’s sprint to the end”. At the moment the only emotions I convey are with two words- “Let’s Go!”
The last mile we break the eight minute mile pace (he could have gone much faster). Crossing the finish line he pats me on my back and walks off towards the parked cars before I can say “thank you” or “you’re amazing” or “what is your name?” I stare at him as I’m bent over catching my breath. I’m sure that the volunteers that were standing at the finish cheered for me, but I don’t remember. Now everyone is just kind of staring at me. I stand straight up, smile, and say “That was hard!”
10 minutes later if you would’ve asked if I would run that course again, I might have said maybe. If you were to ask me that same question now, I’d reply “Absolutely, but this time I think I’ll run the 50 miler!"