Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Frisco Railroad Run - 50 miles of dreams and disasters

Immediately after Brew to Brew, I began to look for a 50 miler.  I mean, I'd just gone 44 miles--  50 seemed totally within my reach.  A quick Google search resulted in the Frisco Railroad Run-- several concurrent races (8K, half marathon, marathon, 50K, 50 mile, and 50K relay) along the historic Frisco Highline Trail.  Although it was only 3 weeks after Brew, this 50-miler seemed perfect.  The trail was made of my number one preferred running surface: crushed gravel.  Plus, doing a 50 miler on the heels of Brew meant that I had already put in the training-- I could just coast through the remaining days and show up ready.  If I waited several months before trying a 50 miler, I'd have to start training all over again from scratch.

When I told Rob about Frisco, he thought I was crazy and that I risked injury by doing two long races with so little time in between them.  Then he looked at the race website and began thinking that the marathon would make a great training run for his upcoming effort at Berryman-- a grueling 50 mile trail race he will be doing in May.  We decided to go for it.

We talked to my parents and they agreed to come down to St. Louis and stay with Will while Rob and I went to Springfield, MO to run Frisco.  This was a huge deal.  Will is over 3.5 years old and I have never been away from him overnight.  I did not feel at all ready for this, and in fact, I have told him that if he wants me to, I will be his college roommate.

Although I was highly anxious about the situation, I knew how much fun Will would have with my parents and that he probably wouldn't even notice Rob and I were gone.  So I agreed, with reservation.

Then on the Thursday before the race, Rob tripped and fell while running (with Will in the jogging stroller) and injured his knee, hip, elbow, and probably everything else in his body.  He was in so much pain that wasn't sure if he was going to be able to do Frisco.  I assume he will write a post about this on his own blog, and you can read all about it there.

On Friday, Rob packed his race clothes and tried to keep an open mind about whether or not he would improve enough by Saturday morning to run.  When we went to bed at the motel that night, it was weird and terrifying to be without William.  

We woke up early on Saturday morning and headed to the race. It was cool and misty, and the forecast ominously called for rain throughout the entire day. Rob's plan was to start and see how he felt, dropping out if need be.  My plan was to take a Pepcid AC (as our friend Chris has recommended for stomach issues during long runs) and not feel nauseated or vomit during (or after) the race.

Frisco start

Frisco start2

See, there's Rob in his No Meat Athlete singlet, going off the front, despite his broken knee.
Photo credit: Fun Memories Photography


I ended up starting more towards the middle of the pack than the back, which broke the one rule I had set for myself: Start With The Mayor.  This is a phrase that has been popularized by the Trail Runner Nation podcast, in which they describe how starting at the waaaaay back of the pack (i.e., with the town mayor) is a good strategy for an ultra marathon.  Keeps you from going out too fast and burning off all your energy early on.

Meli Frisco1

This is not the mayor.
Photo credit: Fun Memories Photography

I don't wear a GPS or heart rate monitor when I run, I just run by how I feel.  And I felt good.  It wasn't really raining that hard.  The crushed gravel path felt amazing on my feet.  I was going too fast, but I had no idea.  There aren't typically markers at every mile in ultras like there are in marathons, so I wasn't judging my pace.  I knew roughly where the aid stations were (i.e., 2.5 miles, 5 miles, etc), but I didn't even look at my watch as I went through them.

I was more focused on the interesting things I was seeing, such as a Joggler:

Frisco joggler

Believe it or not, he ran 50 miles doing this.

Photo credit: Fun Memories Photography


And the beauty of the trail:

Frisco scene

Photo credit: Fun Memories Photography


It was so green and lush.  There was farmland on either side.  Lots of cows and horses.  There were bright red cardinals flying through the air and rabbits and squirrels scurrying in front of us.  If there were a dictionary definition of my idea of a perfect run, this would be it.

I started to feel a bit warm in my rain jacket and decided to take it off.  My plan had been to tie it around my waist, but when I did that, I found that the jacket wouldn't stay in place and the way it bounced around annoyed me terribly.  I stopped and folded up the jacket into its little pouch and then tried to stuff the pouch into the already overloaded pockets of my Race Ready shorts.  This proved to be even more annoying than when the jacket was tied around my waist.  I gave up and just held the jacket (wrapped up into its little pouch) in my hand.

The cool mist might have turned into a light rain at some point during the early miles of the run, or else the mist was enough to make me become completely soaking wet.  My shorts sagged dangerously low-- weighted down by all the supplies I was carrying with me (a couple bars and some Clif shot blocks in case the aid station food wasn't sufficient, and my phone in case I got in distress and needed music or to call for help).  I tightened the drawstring of the shorts so that they stopped sagging, and this was an improvement, however, I tied the knot really tight.  I realized that with my cold, wet fingers, I would not be able to untie the knot and that my shorts were now so tight that I would not be able to get them off or back on.  This would make going to the bathroom really difficult, and I expected that over the course of 50 miles, I would have to go at least once.

Just keep running, I told myself.  But I was frustrated for losing a significant chunk of time to these various wardrobe malfunctions, and I was not pleased at the thought of running the rest of the race uncomfortable (i.e., holding my jacket, while my shorts were somehow simultaneously sagging and too tight. 

I started to feel really hungry around 1 hour into the race.  I ate some of the food from my pocket (hoping that would make the shorts less saggy), but what I really wanted was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Those seem to work well for me in ultras, and so when I got to the mile 10 aid station and they had PBJ's, I was overjoyed.  

Frisco aid2

Photo credit: Fun Memories Photography


I looked at my watch, and it was somewhere between 1:20 and 1:30 into the race when I got to mile 10.  It did not occur to me that this was way too fast to have arrived at 10 miles (i.e., an 8:30 pace might work for me in a marathon or 50K, but definitely not for 50 miles).  What did occur to me was that Rob would soon be reaching the halfway point for the marathon and turning around to come back.  Despite his injuries, I had a very strong suspicion that he was going to win this race, in a time of close to 3 hours. When I left the aid station, I kept my eyes peeled for any sign of Rob approaching.

Sure enough, I soon saw the lead pack of marathon runners way off in the distance, and Rob was in the front.  I cheered for him and snapped a picture as we met.

Frisco Rob

Frisco Rob2


By this point, I was running generally on my own, but there were other runners within sight both ahead of and behind me.  Solitary running had been one of my major concerns with Frisco.  Long races like this generally have few participants and can get very spread out.  At Brew, I have no doubt in my mind that I would have dropped around mile 20 if I hadn't been running with Jen.  Frisco was much different though.  The course was beautiful and interesting, and I relaxed a bit-- feeling confident that even if I ended up running in complete solitude for several hours, I would be okay.

I began to see more marathon and 50K runners heading back towards me on the path, and it was fun to cheer them on as we met.  Everything was going well for me at the marathon turn around point (13.1) and at the next aid station (15.5), which was near the 50K turn around.  I knew that the course as likely to get much more sparse from here on out because only the 50 milers were left.

Right around the time that I got to the 50K turn-around, the rain began in earnest.  Pouring, really.  It was okay.  I was fine.  Except that around mile 18, I thought I might have felt a little weird.  I decided to deal with it by stopping for a couple seconds to take a picture of an interesting bridge:

Frisco Bridge

 Like a bridge over troubled water.


Frisco Highline

Shortly after the bridge, all hell broke loose.  I don't even know how it happened.  I went from feeling slightly weird to getting (metaphorically) knocked off of my feet by full-blown, all-out, thinking-you-might-lose-your-mind nausea.  I tried to take a drink of water but just gagged it up.  My throat would not let me swallow.  I tried to take an electrolyte capsule, but the same thing happened and the pill ended up half-disintegrated in a puddle of stomach acid along the trail.

It took forever to make it to the mile 20 aid station, and when I finally did, the volunteer stationed there seemed downright angelic.  She asked me if I was okay and I said I'd been better.  Once I stopped running, I actually didn't feel quite as bad.  I ate 2 potato chips, sipped about 1/2 a dixie cup of Coke.  I decided to leave my jacket at the aid station-- I was tired of having carried it for almost 15 miles, and I knew I would pass back this same place and could pick it up again at mile 30.  

The volunteer at the aid station cheered me on and told me I was the first woman on the 50 mile course.  I had wondered about that.  Of course, I also wondered if I was the only woman on the 50 mile course.  It was hard to say, really.

When I left the 20-mile aid station, I felt better, more energized.  Less crazy.  It was a bit thrilling to think that I was the first woman on the course, and so I decided to run in a manner that befit such a title.  Which is to say, fast.  I figured that Rob had probably won the marathon.  What if I won the 50 mile??  We'd be a double threat.  It would be amazing.  Maybe it was the 2 potato chips and 4 sips of Coke I'd taken, but I felt giddy.  

Then it hit me.  I had 30 miles left to go.



In the pouring rain.

That was a long way.  And suddenly I felt terrible again.  So much nausea.  My stomach churned and I doubled over, dry heaving off the side of the trail.  

I couldn't run 30 miles like this, unable to eat or drink.  Gagging if I even took a sip of water.

And thus began my long descent into insanity.  

I realized that this was going to be my first DNF.  It has to happen sometime to everybody, doesn't it?  I didn't want it to be happening to me here and now, but I had to face the facts.  This wasn't just some little toe twinge or feeling too tired to continue.  This was my body refusing to cooperate, rebelling against me.  Even though I'd taken the Pepcid AC (to avoid this very thing) and done a good job eating and drinking early on in the race.  That wasn't going to carry me through another 30 miles.

DNF-ing would be okay.  Rob had probably won his race, and so that would make it worth the trip down here, worth the angst and anxiety of having slept away from Will for the first time in his life.  There would be other 50 milers, so long as I didn't mix up courage with stupidity and die trying to finish this one.  It wasn't worth it.  It wasn't like I was running for my life or to save my child or for any other real thing.  This was just a small-town race that didn't count for anything.  It was a fabricated event.  At some point you have to cut your losses.  You have to be realistic about the costs and benefits of either dropping or continuing.  Not that continuing this was even an option anymore.  It would be far better to live to fight another day.

I decided I would make it to the 25 mile aid station, the turn around point.  I would stop for as long as I needed, until I could at least take a drink of water, and then run back to the 30-mile aid station so I could pick up my jacket.  Then I would drop.

It took almost an hour and 20 minutes to cover the 5 miles between aid stations, but I had been going so fast at the beginning that it was still only around 4 hours into the race.  Rob was at the mile 25 aid station when I arrived, but he wasn't expecting me yet (I was supposed to be running 10-minute pace).

He said he got second place in the marathon, and he was limping a lot.  I swear that I told him I was dying of nausea and I would be dropping the race at mile 30.  Later he told me that what I said was something along the lines of, "I don't feel so great."

I lost about 10 minutes trying to get my sopping wet shorts with the the malfunctioning drawstring off and on so that I could use the porta john.  That was miserable.

I was able to eat an orange slice and take a few sips of water.  I was now freezing cold, and Rob produced a dry, long sleeve shirt for me to put on.  He told me to keep moving.  Walk for 10 minutes, he said, don't even try to run.  That would give my stomach time to settle and maybe I would be able to eat and drink something more substantial.  Just keep moving.

I moved.  I had to get back to the 30-mile aid station so that I could pick up my jacket and then drop the race.  I met everybody on the course who was behind me, as they headed to the turn around point.  Then they began to pass me.  There couldn't have been more than 20 people doing this race.  I went from being the first female to the third.  It didn't matter anymore.

Rob was at the mile 30 aid station when I finally made it there.  Still freezing, I put my jacket back on.  I sat down and took off my soaking wet shoes, shaking out little pieces of rocks and gravel (I wish I'd worn gaiters).  I tried unsuccessfully to eat.  I gagged up another electrolyte pill.  I still felt terrible, but maybe not as terrible as before.  I felt like I could make it to the next aid station, at mile 34.  Then I would drop.

Rob was at mile 34, too.  I felt so bad because he was cold and wet and limping.  He and the volunteers tried to offer me everything, anything, to keep me going, but running another 16 miles just seemed too far.  I missed William, I wanted to go home.

Everyone told me that the next aid station was only 3 miles away.    

Meli 37mi 2

Meli 37mi

Mile 37, I don't feel so great. 

Photo credit: Fun Memories Photography


It took me forever to get there.  I was exhausted from fighting The Nausea for almost 20 miles.  My quads hurt, the top of my left foot hurt, I was soaking wet and cold.  My phone was almost out of battery, so Rob took it to charge, and he gave me his iPod (a little thing that clips to the back of your hat).  I managed to eat an orange slice and drink a few sips of Coke.  Three miles to the next aid station.  And once I made it there, it would only be 10 miles to the end.

It was so hard to get started again.  The first mile out of the 37-mile aid station was excruciating-- I stopped half a dozen times to stretch out my quads.  But then something completely unexpected happened.  It was like the dark cloud that had been strangling me for the last 20 miles suddenly began to evaporate and I could breathe again.  My quads didn't hurt so bad.  The nausea even dissipated.  I ate a few Fritos, sipped some water, and didn't gag.  I have no idea how or why it happened.  I just kept listening to Owl City (the only thing on Rob's playlist I could tolerate), and I ran.

This is what I always hear people say happens in ultras.  You experience these troughs, these low points.  But you make it through them and come out feeling strong again.  That's exactly what I had done.  I had ridden the wave.


Mile 42.5

Mile 42

Rob was not expecting me quite so soon at the mile 40 aid station.  I ate another orange slice and sipped some Coke.  I was out of there within 2 minutes.  

I went through a few more lows and highs during the last 10 miles of the race, but each step brought me closer to the finish line.  Rob continued to put his own pain aside and meet me at every aid station.  The volunteers continued to stand out in the rain and offer unconditional support and encouragement.  I sped up over the last 10 miles, but it wasn't until I got to the last aid station (2.5 miles to go) that I knew I was going to make it.

I crossed the finish line 10 hours 15 minutes and 55 seconds after I had begun.  I absolutely could not believe I had made it.

Mile 50


#handsoverhearts for Boston


A small but enthusiastic crowd cheered for me.  A guy (maybe the race director?) gave me a trophy and told me I was the second place female.  Apparently one of the women in front of me was a "masters" (over 40) and in a separate category.  Even though there were only 6 women who managed to finish this race, Rob and I had still come through as a double threat:

Team Ragfield

I got cleaned up a bit, and then we headed for home.  As the finish line euphoria waned, I lost count of how many times I threw up in the car.  Luckily, my experience at Brew had forewarned me of this possibility, and I had brought a bucket.  It was a long trip back to St. Louis.

We finally pulled into our driveway about 10pm.  My parents were happy to report that Will had been a perfect little angel and was asleep in his room.  I went and checked on him, then I threw up again while I was taking a shower.  I knew I needed to eat something, but I couldn't.  I drank small sips of water with lemon in it and fell into an exhausted sleep.  It was about 6 the next morning (a little more than 12 hours after I finished the race) that I finally felt like eating.

Despite the trouble I had, I am very glad I did Frisco.  I also realize that I would not have finished this race without Rob.  You should all take a minute or two and appreciate the tremendous effort it required of him to get me through this.  After he ran a 3:02 marathon (2nd place finish and a PR), he spent the next 7 hours crewing for me-- all the while in a great deal of pain.

I'd like to do this race again, in fact, I'd really like to do it again, but hopefully without the rookie mistakes of starting out too fast (you'd think that after 19 years of long distance running I would have learned this lesson), and hopefully, hopefully without the nausea.  Pepcid AC didn't work for me; any other tips would be highly recommended.

A huge thanks to the race organizers and all the volunteers who made this event possible. And for anyone who managed to get through this long post, thanks for reading!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

CONGRATULATIONS~~~ UNBELIEVABLE !!!, still do NOT know how you do it 'or why'?.!!! and don't even spose it would do me any good to see if there is a CHANCE you might NOT attempt such a thing again!!:( could you maybe take up knitting! again, or painting ??? take care of your body dearie. it's the ONLY one you are gonna get....... when it breaks down, where you gonna live/??? I worry!! luv you , your exhausted mama!