Mt. Hood 50
I have wanted to run an Ultra Marathon for almost two years and I have finally done it. I began training for my first ultra in November of 2011. I bought the book Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell and dug right into the training plan as outlined in his book. I love Bryon’s blueprint of training because he has a flexible way of approaching a weekly training plan. The plan involved 50 to 70 mile running weeks with as much trail running as I could accomplish. The high mileage was no problem, and I got used to the long back to back runs on weekends. It was the trail running that was new to me. I discovered the Wildwood trails in Portland’s Forest Park and drove out to Mt Hood for some Pacific Crest Trail runs. It felt good to change up my focus from fast urban running, to slow and technical trail running. Ultra training was exactly what I needed to keep my training fresh and fun.
One morning I set out to meet some people from the Portland Running Company for a group run on Leif Erickson trail. That’s where I met my new friend Annie and after speaking to her for a few minutes, I learned she had run the Mt. Hood 50 three times already. That made her an expert and a great resource for information. The best part is that we carpooled on race day and ran many miles together before I pulled away. Having Annie with me at the start of the race relived me of pre-race anxiety.
Annie and I opted for the early start. The sun was just rising at 5:30 in the morning. The air was cool and crisp, perfect for race day. We got there just in time to hit the porta potties and put on our racing bibs. No time for pre-race nervousness. At 5:30 on the nose the countdown began from 10, and off we went with a small group of early starters. Annie pushed through to the front and I followed right behind. I felt like we were going a little too fast and worried about having enough energy for the end, but I stayed close and pushed on. The first aid station was just over 5 miles from the start. I popped some Advil, ate a small piece of peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drank some electrolytes. We continued on to the next station which was just another 9 miles. Things were going well and my body was feeling strong, but I had a little apprehension about being able to finish. The longest distance I had ever run on trail was 16 miles. The longest training run I had ever run was only 5 ½ hours. It was hard to imagine that I could run for over 10 hours without a break!
The next time I looked at my Garmin I was into mile 18 and running alone. When I hit that mark, I knew I was going to finish the race. I hoped to finish within 10 to 12 hours, and by my calculations I was going to come in at 10 hours. The next important mark was the halfway point, mile 25. I knew that Ricky and Gary would be there to cheer me on and re-fill my hydration pack. When I saw the small crowd and scanned the faces for my husband, I was filled with excitement and couldn’t believe that I already completed half of the race. Gary and Ricky greeted me with huge smiles and asked me how I felt, and what I needed. They filled my hydration pack and off I went, alone again.
The second half of the race was more difficult than the first half. The inclines and descents were steeper and there were fewer aid stations. I ran the second half completely alone and only saw the leaders as the passed me on the way back to the start which was also the finish.
People always ask me, “What do you think about?” I remember trying to think about t cake design and flavors but my mind wouldn’t stay focused. I just kept my eyes on the trail and checked in with my body to make sure I was ok. I drank over 100 ounces of water and nibbled on my Lara Bars over the duration of the race. My mind stayed fairly quiet most of the time. The majority of my head chatter was related to the race itself. My thoughts related to recalculating my projected finish time, pacing the inclines, and powering down the descents. I remember feeling intense waves of joy and pride when I thought about completing the race and was shocked to feel so strong through most of the run. Fatigue didn’t really hit until around mile 40. At that point my Garmin died and the extreme hills and heat were beginning to take a toll on my mind. The final aid station was just over 5 miles from the finish and I spent a few moments talking to the people at that station before heading off for the final miles of the race. I was totally alone and completely exhausted. My legs were heavy and my mind was drained. All I could think about was the end. I wanted to finish so bad and every step felt so small. The last 5 miles were the toughest of the race but just kept putting one foot in front of the other until I finally came toward a man standing on the trail. He said in a quiet and gentle voice, “It’s just 100 yards away, across the road.” I couldn’t believe it. I asked, “The finish?” and he replied, “Yes.” As soon as I hit the road I could hear people at the finish. I became totally overwhelmed with emotion. I felt my eyes tear up and I began laughing and crying all at the same time. The feeling I was experiencing I had never felt before. I knew people were watching and I had to look kind of crazy but I let it all come out, I didn’t care. I was in the middle of the most incredible finish of my life. I saw the finish and just kept pushing on. I heard someone cheer out my name and then I was done. I had finished. The time on the clock was 9 hours and 36 minutes. I finished my first 50 mile race 24 minutes faster than my goal of 10 hours. I was the first finisher in my age/gender. I was the sixth female to finish and I was 49th overall.
I hope I never forget the emotion I felt during the last few yards of that race. I know my future ultra marathons will never match the raw intensity I felt at the end. I can’t wait to sign up for my second Mt. Hood 50 race, and I plan on finishing a little faster the second time. See you on the trails!