My racing season so far this year can be characterized by one word: sluggish. I haven’t exactly filled up the calendar, but out of the few races I’ve run, including the Chuckanut 50k and the Gorge 100k, I barely managed to keep my pride during one race and DNF’d in the other. Not a great start to the season. Not that I really have much of a season, but I still care about every race I sign up for. I want to try my best and yield respectable results based on my abilities and fitness level. So far that wasn’t panning out. Until the R2R.
The Rainier to Ruston 50 (ehem, 51.9, to be exact) was more of a “supportive” ultra. Matt’s dad, John, signed up for the race to celebrate turning 60 in late May, so myself and Matt’s brother, Jeff, both signed up to give moral support to John, so he could know two other Urbanskis were also out there plugging away for 8+ hours on the course. Matt was taking the Level II exam for the CFA (a whole different story there) so he couldn’t run the race. Because it was more of a support effort, I didn’t really train for it in the sense that I did specific training. I made sure to get in some long runs, including a few weekends where I did back-to-back 20-25+ mile runs, along with several workouts sprinkled in, all amounting to about 40-60 miles per week.
Come race day, I was nervous. I know what the death march of an ultra feels like and I didn’t want to reach it. I’ve had trouble with nutrition on all my past races, and I hoped I could keep the nausea at bay for as long as possible. Most of all, I wanted the feeling of racing again, not just surviving.
The race started with a 3am wakeup call at our apartment here in Seattle, followed by a 45 minute drive to Tacoma, then a 75 minute bus ride (with a desperate need for a bathroom break the entire time), and finally a 7am start at the base of Mt. Rainier. Once the race began, I felt the worries melt away. It was finally time to run the race and let the miles unfold. Jeff and I started out slow together, and I was surprised to see we made it to the 4.9 mile aid station in under 44 minutes. I thought we’d been downright trotting, but I was happy to take sub 9 minute miles to start out.
Then the trails began. The next 13ish miles were a mix of single-track trails, muddy, rutted ATV tracks, rocky stints, and grassy stretches barely meriting “trail”, but the common denominator was that it wasn’t on roads. I tried to keep a “cruise control” feeling; never pushing it but staying aware of the speed. Jeff and I stayed within about 100 yards of each other, each of us filling up on water at different aid stations in between, and when we finally popped out onto roads and hit a major aid station at 20 miles, our watches were at 3 hours and 20 minutes. We were both surprised by the slow time – we felt like we’d run a strong pace on the trails and yet we were running slower than 10 minute miles. Time to pick it up a bit!
Jeff and I stuck together for the next 11 miles, keeping each other company on a flat, exposed bike path as we baked in the sun together and battled nausea in the heat. It was the company each of us needed in such a tough mental section, and we each reminded each other to eat and drink while on the run and at each aid station. Once we left the aid station at 31 miles (could have been 34 miles; we were never quite sure where we were and were too scared to ask, for fear we hadn’t covered as many miles as we’d hoped!), I felt my energy pick up. My stride clicked into place, I felt myself distancing from Jeff, and I put on my mp3 player.
From that point on, it finally felt like a race for me. I started catching people, though I was never sure if I was catching relay runners or individuals, I started eating energy gels more often, and it started to be downright fun. I even laughed off a 4-5 mile section of pain-in-the-butt sandy trail, which did some damage to my quads, but at the time I didn’t care. I hauled ass (granted, it was probably 9 minute miles for all I know) for the rest of the race, pushing the pace as best I could over varying terrain in the hot afternoon sun. Around 7 hours into the race, I started getting confused because I couldn’t remember how many aid stations there were. I had gone through 10 so far and I thought 2 still remained, yet the more I ran, the closer I felt to downtown Tacoma, near the end of the race. I started seeing familiar sights from afar and couldn’t imagine how I’d possibly have that many miles left.
When I reached the 11th aid station, they informed me that not only was I at the last aid station, but that I also only had 4.3 miles left. Relief! My watch was at 7:40; I knew I wouldn’t break 8 but I could still PR and break 8:33, my previous 50 mile best. I left the aid station with renewed energy once again. The only hiccups in those last few miles were waiting at a crosswalk for over a minute to cross a busy street, and the large amount of people on the sidewalks, enjoying the beautiful Saturday afternoon. With just a couple minutes left I spotted the finish line from afar and enjoyed those final blissful seconds of pain with the knowledge that the end of the pain was in sight. My feet ached the most from the many miles of concrete and asphalt, while my quads burned from the miles in the sand.
Crossing the finish line, my watch read 8:16 and I couldn’t have been happier with how the race unfolded. It started off slow, the temps rose and it got uncomfortably warm and mentally challenging, and then got fun as I physically felt better and really started to race. After I crossed the line they announced I was the 3rd overall finisher and the 1st woman, two rankings that would soon change as later starters ran faster times, finally knocking me into the 5th overall place and 2nd female finisher. The rest of the afternoon and evening were spent lying on the grass as I awaited Jeff’s finish (8:59) and John’s (14:26). Matt finished his financial exam in time to come to the race and run the last 10 miles of the race with his dad. It was a long, hard day for all of us, but rewarding to have all accomplished such a feat. And for me, given the earlier, less successful races, it was about time I had a good one!