Black Mountain 50k
I found myself twiddling my thumbs and in an awkward state of disbelief following the excitement of qualifying for Boston at the Mountains to Beach marathon last month. I didn’t quite know how to proceed. I gave myself the opportunity to reflect and enjoy the accomplishment but in all honesty, I was in a FUNK. After nearly a year of structured training with specific running plans and pace targets here I was with NOTHING. I had no sense of urgency to squeeze in a run before Tommie went to work, or figure out how to get to the lake and do a couple laps with the stroller, or ask the girls to take a ride after school so I could get in more miles. I simply woke up and asked myself “so what are we going to do today?”
Sometimes that would result in a run. Sometimes it wouldn’t. One thing was for sure, I needed to figure out how to reignite my excitement for the love of running or I would end up losing my mind!
That’s when the idea of entering a new challenging race was conceived. In a hasty moment, I registered for the Black Mountain 50k. A race that ran through my backyard and up and around a mountain that is less than 3 miles from our house.
“Perfect!” I thought. I can learn more about our trails and do it with others around me without the fear of getting lost or worse, running into any coyotes or bobcats. The only problem, I would have to get off the waitlist first.
After realizing I was more than 50 spots removed from the top of the list, I wrote off the idea that I would be running this course and moved on.
Two weeks later and 5 days before the race I received a notification in my inbox:
“CONGRATULATIONS. YOU HAVE BEEN SELECTED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE 2019 BLACK MOUNTAIN 50K! WE NEED YOUR CONFIRMATION. PLEASE CLICK CONFIRM OR DECLINE.”
I never decline an opportunity to run yet here I was playing eeny, meeny, miny, moe with the cursor. Only I already knew the outcome.
YOU. ARE. IT.
I hit confirm.
So, with less than 5 days to prepare, I went out and committed the ultimate racing sin. I bought new trail socks and shoes. Gasp! The horror. I know. Of course, I would never recommend trying any new gear out the day of the race. My problem is I rarely take my own advice! To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend signing up for a trail 50k on the whim either. Yet here I was, about to embark on this “fun run” in my backyard to hopefully inject some new excitement into my training.
Luckily with a 6:30am start and a commute time of exactly 5 minutes, I was able to sleep in until 4:30am, enjoy my usual Kodiac Cake Flapjack Bowl (cinnamon maple is my favorite), relax a little on the couch and head out at 5:45am with plenty of time to check in and pick up my bib and swag bag. Which by the way, they gave us some pretty sweet AND USABLE gear!
Injinji socks (my go to ultra running socks), race branded tanktop, race branded Boco Gear hat, and an awesome no waste cup to use out on the course or in my case, to give to my children since I was wearing my Orange Mud Endurance 2.0 hydration vest.
After fiddling with my gear and making sure I had everything on me, I headed to the start line with about 200 other runners. Before I knew it, we were off and running!
I looked over the elevation chart online and knew the first 10 miles were likely the easiest and least difficult to navigate so I decided to roll with whatever the terrain was going to give me and whatever my legs were capable of running.
The initial climb set the tone. This was going to be hard and very challenging for this amateur trail runner but there was no turning back. I was in it and needed to come up with a game plan quickly!
The first 10 miles seemed to roll by pretty uneventfully.
MILES 1-10: 11:38, 12:34, 10:02, 10:13, 10:24, 10:46, 13:05 (first aid station), 10:32, 9:15, 11:41.
At this point I figured if I could keep an easy pace going, it wouldn’t be so bad. Sticking with an 11:00/mi mountainous trail pace felt like running a 8:00/mi flat road pace. It was challenging but didn’t feel like it would tank me. Until it did.
I called Tommie to meet me at the next aid station so I could regroup and get my head back in the game. Seeing my family always seems to give me the punch of energy I need to get through races! I came into the aid station at mile 12, grabbed what I needed, said hi to the girls and blew Ashton a few kisses. Tommie reloaded my Spring Energy packs and told me to take it easy. I think he could see the dispair on my face already!
“Walk if you have to!” he said.
I turned around and exclaimed, “I have been!“
After this point, all I could focus on was how HOT I was feeling. Not only from the actual sun but I could feel my core temperature rising and I was starting to get very uncomfortable. I knew I would have to adjust my paces as I started to succumb to heat exhaustion and questioned whether or not I could continue. The only thing helping me at this point was knowing I would see my family again around mile 16 and 18 so I focused on getting to them rather than the nausea that was quickly setting in.
MILES 11-18: 10:29, 13:09 (aid station), 13:47, 13:20, 12:43, 12:37 (aid station), 13:01 (turn-around checkpoint), 14:00 (aid station).
Since our house was just steps away from the trail, Tommie was able to bring out more sunscreen and a cold wrap for my neck. Temps were rising and my body was feeling it! I don’t typically grab much from the aid stations but at mile 18, I grabbed 2 things that my body was CRAVING, something cold & something salty:
Otter Pops and Potato Chips!
At this point, I was ready to move on but my body wanted nothing to do with that plan. This would be the start of the climb back up to Black Mountain and I knew that it was time to dig really freaking deep to get through this race. HOW DEEP would be the question and the next 4 miles brought me to my first “I QUIT” moment.
MILES 19-22: 14:12, 14:54, 16:49, 18:36
I called Tommie and let him know I would meet him at the next aid station. I needed to take a break and let my body cool down but was also considering calling it a day. I was trying my hardest to determine if this was just a rough patch or if I was truly becoming sick from the heat. My heart rate was significantly higher than normal, I was hot but at times would get chills, I was dizzy and tired but was also going up and down this mountain “like a million times“, or so I thought. Yet the entire time, my legs felt great! How could my legs feel like they have so much life yet I feel like I’m knocking on death’s door!? This was a question I would ask myself for the next 2.5 hours because after resting about 5 minutes, I declared I had enough energy to press forward. So I did.
MILES 23-26: 21:06 (aid station), 14:46, 23:35, 19:10
It was during this last segment that I truly felt I couldn’t go another step further. Again, it wasn’t my legs that were tired. I was more worried about passing out and being left stranded on the mountain. These weren’t drivable trails so if I were to get injured, somebody would have to come get me on foot and the way I looked at it was one way or the other, I was going to have to make it down the trail regardless of how I felt so I took my walk to a super slow shuffle!
I took the descent to Glider Point’s parking lot and called Tommie. I told him to come find me because I was DONE. I was at mile 26 of a 31/32 mile race and didn’t have an ounce to give anymore. I just couldn’t see finishing in this condition and kept asking myself:
Why do I do these again?!?!
The Final Stretch
As I sat slumped over on the aid station’s cooler, waiting for Tommie to pick me up, contemplating these final 5 miles and my ability to actually finish them, I kept asking myself “why do you do these Leslie?“
And the answer I kept returning to was because I CAN. We CAN. Our bodies CAN. Our minds CAN. We vastly underestimate our ability to do hard things, yet here I was, contemplating whether or not I could finish the final five miles and summit to the top of Black Mountain before heading to the finish line. After everything I had endured the entire day, I was mentally preparing to call it QUITS. Then the gentlemen volunteering overheard my conversation with Tommie and asked that I sit and rest for a few minutes before making the decision. So I did. And I asked myself, “can you finish this?”
Yes. You can Leslie. You 100% CAN. The real question is, WILL YOU?
So, I did what any reasonably sound runner would do. I stood up, high-fived the volunteers, and relentlessly pushed forward! Partly because I hate giving up but mostly because the volunteers assured me that the next 5 miles, while mostly uphill, were NOT like the previous miles. They were fireroads so I knew I wouldn’t have to contend with rocky terrain and multiple ruts along the way. To my surprise, I had more pep in my step than the last 10 miles because I was finally being shaded by some pretty dense clouds in the sky. I just kept chanting to myself I CAN DO THIS. I WILL DO THIS.
MILES 27 – 31.72: 22:53 (aid station), 17:55, 19:26, 14:47, 13:28, 7:31
I came into the park, rounded the track to see the finish line, and immediately thought to myself “Hell YES! You DID it!”
I crave moments like this. Moments where you put yourself on the start line, expose yourself to unknown territory, learn things about yourself that you never knew before, and when faced with adversity, you DON’T GIVE UP! So, the next time you are out there, doing your thing, but suddenly contemplating whether you can finish, just remember:
Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle you are facing and just keep pushing forward.