Sunday morning at 3:30 am my daughter and I were packing our bags and hydration packs so I could dutifully cross out the “50-mile training run” scribbled on my makeshift training plan. My longest run prior to this one was 42 miles 2 weeks ago, and it was a tough run. My daughter didn’t join me on her bike for that one, and I ran it on sections of very boring railtrail for the only reason that it gave me the opportunity to use my car as an aid station at 21 miles. Needless to say, the difficulty I had that day made me somewhat nervous about doing all 50 miles. For about a week, I contemplated shortening the 50, but as it came closer I was burning inside to do it.
My husband dropped us off at the trailhead about 5:30 am, and we began to make our way down the trail into the darkness. It was pretty cool during the predawn hours, but it wasn’t long before the humidity set in. The trail meanders alongside the river, and as the sun rose behind the clouds, pockets of fog settled along the jetting edges of the mountains where they meet the water’s edge. We both were feeling good, goofing off, taking photos, and doing what a silly mother and daughter do.
We passed the first dam at about 6.5 miles, and it was light enough that we didn’t need the headlamp anymore. We continued on down the trail with its very boring, long and straight sections that seemed relentless. For the first 20 miles, I only took 2 GU’s since I knew we’d be eating real food soon. It stayed pretty cloudy and seemed to threaten rain at any moment but never lived up to it. Things were pretty uneventful. We passed a couple of ladies out doing a run/walk routine which we ended up playing leap frog with for several miles.
As we got closer to the city, the early bird runners started etching out the closer miles from the trailheads. Just as we hit the paved section of trail into the city, the sun decided to make its grand appearance through the clouds. We stopped at Subway right off the trail and ordered subs, half for now, half to take with us, and of course some cookies for the trip! We refilled our hydration packs and brought along an extra liter of water. Mallory had to have ice cream which she couldn’t even finish, and after I drank a Red Bull, we headed back out for the longest section of our trip, the 15-mile out and back.
After covering the 3-mile section of paved trail, we were back onto the crushed limestone trail and its slow, long grade up Decker’s Creek. Mallory was having a hard time biking the grade. It had been a good while since she’d been out on a long bike ride and was not very conditioned for it. To top it off, she was getting increasingly nauseated from eating too much which I had forewarned her about. She was going slower and slower and eventually was stopping from time to time to dry heave. We were making very little progress. Eventually, everything came up, and she took the whole experience amazingly well for a 16-year-old girl!
Even though she felt much better after throwing up, she was still having a lot of difficulty climbing for so long and progress was slow. I, on the other hand, felt very good, but I did my best to wait for her to catch up and give her walk breaks. The canopied trail provided nice shade from the afternoon sun, and the creek was beautiful and alive with is gushing rapids. It was a rather gorgeous day for a long run.
About 29-30 miles in, I became increasingly worried about having enough water. Mallory ran out of water in her pack as she had drunk a lot early on during her “episode” which I didn’t realize. I refilled her with half of the 1-liter bottle, but we still had a long way to go and it was only getting hotter. I checked my pack and realized I had only consumed about half a liter of my 2.5-liter reservoir, but with 20 miles to go in the heat and humidity and only half a liter to spare, it would be cutting it very close. I had just located a stream and very precariously climbed my way up to it to fill our bottle when a really nice older gentleman cycling by stopped and took notice. He kindly refilled our bottle. He had passed us coming up the trail earlier and noticed Mallory was having a hard time. He gave her some seasoned cycling tips that ended up making her ride a lot more enjoyable. We were very grateful. Both of us were feeling somewhat rejuvenated afterwards, and the trail was beginning to flatten out. Mallory was feeling a good bit better for a time, but by the time we came to our 15-mile turnaround, she was questioning the return trip.
The sky was beginning to fill with chunky, thick blue clouds, and rain almost seemed inevitable which would have been a welcome event. We crossed over a little trail bridge and sat on the ground to eat the rest of our subs. Mallory asked me if it was possible to DNF this one. I reminded her we only had 15 miles or about 3 hours left, and I told her she had to make an honest decision: Was she quitting because of physical pain, the type of pain where injury is at stake? Or was it because of mental anguish, boredom, fatigue? If it’s mental, I said to suck it up. I told her that if she chose to bail, I would understand because I would know that she couldn’t make it. She elected to finish and probably in large part because she was worried about letting me down more than any other reason.
We started the 15-mile trip back, and I was feeling great. My legs were alive and full of energy, by belly was happy with its cheesesteak sub, and we were cruising along the first few miles without missing a beat. There were only a few miles to go before it was almost all downhill grade and easy sailing. I told Mallory to go ahead of me for half a mile and I’d catch up. We maintained this pattern for the rest of the trip home, and she was having a blast. I put my headphones on for the first time and started knocking out half-miles with speedplay. I’d catch up to Mallory who sometimes provided entertainment with a song and dance, walk for a short time, and then cruise along almost effortlessly downhill. Coming uphill, I did have some minor right hip twinges/pains that were totally new to me, but for the most part they had seemed to subside and hadn’t gotten worse. We ticked off miles quickly and ate one of our Subway cookies every 5 miles. At mile 45, I called my husband and gave him our ETA for our pickup.
As we got closer to the city, around mile 46, we were passed by some runners doing speedwork while I was taking a short walk break. Mallory said, “Go get ‘em momma!” I laughed, and said I’d see what I could do. She rode ahead and I slowly started to reel in the slower runners one by one until I caught up with Mallory again. Without stopping, I pointed at the two faster guys still up ahead, and she beamed back at me and took off in front of me. I quickly realized these guys were really cruising, and it was going to take a hell of an effort to not only catch up but to pass them. Initially, I thought there wasn’t enough left in these 47-mile legs to push hard enough, but before I had time to think about it, the beast kicked in! I finally caught up and “chicked” the last guy running about a 6:12 pace, and it took me a half-mile to do it. I caught up to Mallory, and stopped to catch my breath. Only 3 miles were left, and I was ready to bring it in. Legs still feeling good albeit a little fatigued from all the speedplay during the return trip, we knocked out the last 30 minutes in no time.
Coming around the bend to the trailhead and my 50-mile endpoint, I could make out my husband standing at the trailhead waiting for us! It was the perfect end to what turned out to be a great day for a spectacular run. I think my daughter learned her share of lessons on this one and was also a great bonding experience for both of us. I recognize that it’s not so much the racing aspect of running that I love, but all the good and bad times that lead up to the races that I truly run for.
Now it’s time to recover and heal some post-run lingering twinges before resuming training for a couple weeks. Then it will be time for taper and race day!