It’s been a few weeks since Gnaw Bone, and I’ve started working toward my next goal run, and I want to talk about that – so maybe I need to talk about Gnaw Bone too.
So there’s really no way to sugar coat it. I did not run 50 miles at Gnaw Bone like I had planned.
That statement comes a mix of pride and disappointment. Yeah, it’s a little confusing. Not only that, but any time someone asks me how that run went, it’s not as easy as “It went great!” or “It didn’t go so great.”
Here’s what happened:
At 6:15 on race day, the director yelled “GO!”, and 50 milers and 50kers took off into the twilight. For most runners, the beginning of an ultra is not an all out rush toward the finish line because we all know we’re going to be on the trail for many hours. In my case, I was aiming for a 12-hour finish.
The Gnaw Bone course is like a crazy lollipop. The 50K and 50M run essentially the same course: both start and finish on the stick of the lollipop and run clockwise around the sucker part. The 50K runs once around the sucker, and the 50M runs twice around the sucker. At mile 27, where the stick meets the sucker, there’s an aid station. I had to reach that aid station before 1:30 pm if I wanted to go back out for a second loop around the sucker.
There’s not a ton that happened in the first few hours, except for settling into an all-day routine of run, sweat, eat, drink, repeat. I started off pushing my mind into positive space pretty early, so I would have a habit in place when the going got tough. I focused on the miles and hours I was crossing off my “to do” list. I kept saying “You’re doing great. Keep going.” I thanked the volunteers, told the other runners they were doing great. All the good stuff. I really felt wonderful.
At around mile 20, the course goes from flowy singletrack to rough off-trail bushwhacking, which is very difficult. We go straight up the steep hills instead of running up switchbacks, and instead of clear, smooth trails, the path is strewn with deadfall and bramble. But I kept going. Crossing the miles off. Even when giant horseflies started circling my head, I fought them off with my Buff and powered through.
Focused on that 50-mile finish.
When I stopped at mile 23 to meet Ashley at the aid station, my legs started cramping.
My quads seized up first, which is an unfortunately familiar feeling. But then my calves and feet cramped up. I sat still and tried to get them to relax, drinking water and taking salt pills.
This was probably the worst I felt all day. I was nearly halfway through the race, and things were really tough already. These cramps really threatened my positivity. “Why does it have to be so hard?” I asked Ashley as I sat at a picnic table, waiting for my legs to release.
A few minutes passed and my cramps eased.
I changed my shoes and headed back onto the trail.
Through more off-trail, over more ridges and through ravines, I found a new routine. Run until the cramps come, take more salt and drink more water, keep running. It was painful, and I wasn’t going as fast as I would have liked through the tougher sections, but I was moving – determined as ever.
Focused on that 50-mile finish.
I allowed my average pace to fall, but I had a plan. After the mile 27 aid station, the course goes level for a little while as we head back toward Ogle Lake. Level, and even down hill for about 4 miles. I knew I could make up some time when I got to that point, so I kept pushing. Pulling precious seconds back so I could lower my average pace and stay on target.
Finally the course came out of the woods and onto the road for a little while. I ran as well as I could, still nursing cramping calves, as I headed toward a major point in the race: the mile 27 aid station that I needed to reach by 1:30. It’s there that I could also choose whether to continue the 50-mile run or drop down and finish the 50k. Of course I was going to finish the 50-mile run.
As I approached the decision point, though, the volunteer at the aid station said, “I have some bad news for you.”
I missed the cutoff by 4 minutes.
I looked down the road and let out a sigh. I had worked hard all day with an unwavering focus on a 50-mile finish, and I was so ready to head back out on my second loop. I knew I was going to finish.
But, the rules said I would not get that chance. My 50-mile finish faded away.
I ate some food, drank some some soda, and got back on the stick part of the course and headed to the finish line 3.5 miles away.
When I crossed the finish line, I got a medal and a nice cold IPA. Then I sat on the porch of Mike’s Dance Barn with my friends.
It’s always a great feeling to finish an ultramarathon, and I’ve tried to hold onto that these last few weeks. I’m proud of what I did. Not only did I run 31.63 miles, but more importantly: I didn’t let fear and past failures dictate what I can and cannot do.
Even if I didn’t reach my ultimate goal, I ran a smart race and gave it everything I had. Sometimes it just takes a few tries to reach that goal.
I will always be proud of giving it everything I’ve got.