When registering for the Bear Brook Marathon on May 6th, it seemed like a brilliant idea. I would get a taste of a long trail run and I would complete Marathon #11.
What could go wrong?
Well my mind starting working against me as the date of the race - July 9 - neared.
I think I uttered "What the FUCK was I thinking?" more times than I care to admit.
I was freaking out. I didn't feel prepared. I wished it was a road marathon where I was comfortable. Where I knew there would be a crowd and support to push me through when things got dark inside my head.
I thought about not showing up. I could easily eat the $68 race entry fee.
Then the "now" me took over for the "then" me that was trying to win!
I was going to kick that race's ass no matter what. To calm my nerves I refocused on my outfit. Focusing on which skirt and socks to wear always eases my anxiety.
The best accessory I had would be my Momentum Jewelry bracelet. This is what I would draw on for inspiration when the inevitable low would hit during the race.
Once the outfit was picked and we confirmed the directions, we went to bed. The alarms were set for 2:45am with a 3am GET UP NOW back-up. :P We had to be on the road by 3:30am. Dear lord that was early. But the marathon started at 6am with a 5:45am team meeting beforehand.
The wife was a tad worried I would end up hurting myself and being stranded in New Hampshire so she traveled with me. I felt bad having her wake up so early and then sit in the car for hours while I labor through the woods. ;) But she is the best cheerleader around and did it anyway!
Luckily we arrived easily. It took us just over an hour to arrive and when we thought it would get dicey we had plenty of participant cars to follow. Thanks for having your running magnets/stickers which made it easier to know we were following the right people. Also it was like 4:30am. :P Haha
I quickly picked up my bib (shocker there was no line) and we retreated to the car. The nerves were working over-time. I tried to focus on eating my wheat bagel with peanut butter and not freak out over what I was about to do.
I looked at the map one more time - not that it meant anything since I had no idea where we were.
Just before the safety meeting, we made our way over to the port-o-potties and a tent where the other marathon participants were waiting. I chatted with some of the guys wearing Rock n Roll marathon jackets. A few of them were doing this race then traveling to Vermont to complete another marathon the following day. Oh boy! That definitely wasn't me.
We circled around race director, Kristina, for the safety meeting. She shared she would be passing the race on to a new person after 5 years of serving as race director. She turned it over to a man who was DFL (Dead Fucking Last) in one of the previous year's marathons.
It was a sweet moment that took my mind off of what was about to go down... for a brief second! I tried to look around at the people in the circle trying to see if there was anyone I could piggy bank on and use as a guide for me. :P I didn't really find anyone off the bat, but I hoped a pace would work out and I could shadow someone for at least the start.
Kristina said we would be starting in one minute and the wife snapped one last photo of me. Can you tell how hard I was freaking out inside?
Let's just say thank goodness i grabbed a jacket at the last minute because I didn't realize it was set to downpour during my run. AND thank you wife for having a hat in your bag because I didn't bring one of those either and I needed one to attach my deer fly patch to.
Also wearing a bib under a jacket is not flattering. ;)
The handheld I am holding was a purchase at 8pm the night before the race when I realized with the help of Greg (my coach) that the aid stations wouldn't have cups and would be at least 4-5 miles apart. Nothing like purchasing stuff last minute. Well that is totally my style anyway.
Additionally I was the only one in a Sparkle Athletic skirt. Are we surprised?
With nothing else left to do, it was time to start the damn thing. Oh dear lord help me!
She counted down from 10 and we were off... well speedy people and people comfortable with what we were doing sped off while I gingerly followed the crowd and tried to find someone I could follow.
Within the first mile I was speed walking up a freakin' mountain. What did I get myself into?
I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other and trying to live in the moment as much as possible. Well living in the moment is pretty easy when you are focusing on not falling on your ass. I "almost" bit it more times than I care to admit within the first mile. I found a spot behind a woman, Mindy, who had participated in the race every year and fell in behind her. She chatted about the area and her experiences with the race. She was coming off injury so she was focused on finishing after not running more than 14 miles since her injury.
She let me tag along as we hit the first aid station at Mile 3.6.
Oh hey aid station. What a spread. I could get behind THIS part of ultra/trail running.
Aaannddd they had a photo-op. Of course I had to take part. Like I would pass up on this.
Well the lady I was following went off for a potty break and I felt awkward waiting on her so I started on my way solo. Oh boy! I didn't think I would only be at Mile 4 when I would find myself solo.
But I tried to enjoy each step.
It really was beautiful. I sent this photo to the wife so she would know I was alive.
I was wicked happy to find out there was pretty good service on the trail because I would need to reach out to the wife if something happened. The race director said unless you were seriously hurt and couldn't move you had to keep moving forward otherwise it would take them 3-4 hours to bring help to you. So yeah that was in the back of my mind the entire time.
Mile 1: 15:09
Mile 2: 16:38
Mile 3: 15:32
Mile 4: 14:27
I actually had no idea what my pace really was since I wasn't paying attention to my watch at all. And on the trail there weren't any mile markers or time clocks. Now THAT I could get behind. It was nice to not worry about how long I had been out there. That being said I knew there was a 9-hour course limit and that was in the back of my mind at all times.
Especially as the trail got more difficult (for me). I am sure other more experienced trail runners thought it was nothing, but for me it was a whole new world.
I quickly learned I would be referred to as a "roadie" for the entire day. A roadie is someone that enjoys road races. Yup that's me!
When I hit the first aid station, they said the second one would be about 3.5 miles later. Well I got to Mile 7+ and there was nothing there.
My knee was starting to feel a little off due to all the uneven terrain and I was hoping to score some advil or aspirin at the next aid station.
So it was around this time where I had my first breakdown. I was sobbing uncontrollably and unsure I would finish. I wasn't having fun as I spent all of my time worrying about falling. I hadn't eaten anything because all of my focus was on the course and praying that I wasn't lost. I was solo in the woods and had no idea where I was going outside of following the little flags along the course. I had never felt so alone. I just wanted a familiar face. Since I knew no one at the race I instead texted the wife and Greg for moral support. Thankfully they both helped me refocus and I pushed on.
Just after Mile 8 the second aid station was finally in sight! YAY! I hadn't been so happy to see people before. I was able to grab some advil (I should've taken extra!) They had some great tunes. I took some gatorade, refilled my handheld and pushed on. Boy it was tough to restart. I just wanted to stand there and hang with them for the rest of the day. haha.
Mile 5: 12:52
Mile 6: 12:02
Mile 7: 12:23
Mile 8: 14:22
Mile 9: 15:35
I did really like being able to stop, refuel and rest at the aid station without any pressure to leave. It was super supportive. Especially when I shared with them that this was my first trail marathon and I was doing it solo.
When leaving the second aid station, there were very specific directions to follow, you would be taking two rights on to two different rails. I just kept repeating this to myself. The last thing I wanted to do was get lost when I already had no idea where I was going.
Greg told me to get off my phone and just soak up being in the trails, but for me the phone kept me sane. I needed to be able to reach out to the wife because at that point she was my only connection in the area. She was giving me the pep talk I needed when I burst into tears for yet another time.
This was quickly becoming the biggest mental challenge of my life. Trying to keep myself positive and motivated was a continuous job.
It really did help when I got to see such beautiful sights and that is what I tried to focus on.
I definitely didn't expect to come across a cemetery during the race. But I was ready for anything at this point. :)
I experienced rocky trails, leaf covered trails and then single lane trails. Luckily no one was trying to pass me around this time so I was actually able to get into a nice run groove when it was flat and not full of rocks and branches.
And once I was done climbing I made sure to stop and take in the scene.
It was crazy to be in the middle of the woods, alone and seeing such gorgeous views. I actually stopped to take it in. I needed this refocus as my mental drive derailed.
Mile 10: 16:33
Mile 11: 14:51
Mile 12: 12:18
Just after Mile 12, the thing I wanted to happen least happened... I got lost! That's right folks. It was just after saying HI to the aid station at Mile 12 that I somehow took a right when I needed to take a left and I ended up going the wrong way. I got to a road and was like Ummm I think I've been here before. I waited until I saw someone and asked what mile they were at. The woman said 10 and I immediately knew I needed to turn around.
Thankfully I hadn't wandered too far before I arrived back at my mistake and kept on my way. The folks at the aid station said this would be a 4 mile loop and I would see them again at Mile 16.
After fixing my error, I ended up bumping into some other folks on the trail... FINALLY!
There was a gentleman Bart who I struck up a conversation with. Okay I talked at him and thankfully he kindly reciprocated. We started chatting about his trail and ultra running history. His farthest distance was a 50-miler and he was training for his first 100-miler. In-freakin-sane my friends.
I was so happy to stumble on to him so I had someone to converse with. I am NOT good with running solo and having no one to talk to expect myself. Haha. I like people a little too much for that.
Mile 13: 18:43
Mile 14: 17:30
MIle 15: 13:22
Mile 16: 13:24
Mile 17: 17:25
It was awesome to see the aid station again. I actually met Shannon, a friend of a friend I had connected with on Facebook. She had done the race before so race morning she was answering my absurd questions at 3am and was a nice familiar face to see on the course. I love meeting social media friends in real life - especially during a race.
Let me tell you up to this point I ate very little which is NOT good. I wasn't at all focusing on my nutrition, but instead was worried about my mental state instead. If I had to redo the race to that point, I would've focused on better fueling from the beginning.
Mile 18: 17:11
Mile 19: 15:08
Mile 20: 14:51
Once we hit Mile 20, I felt a sense of relief. I had tackled 20 hard-fought miles in all sort of terrain including a downpour. Oh yes there was a downpour where I was thanking 3am Dani for grabbing a jacket since it was chilly. That jacket got me through that stretch of a downpour.
After hitting Mile 20, we were headed for a brief stint in a campground before returning to the path. Well Bart, Adam (a guy from Tampa we picked up along the way) and myself ran through the campground and enjoyed some cheers from the campers (families, kids and puppies).
Prior to the race, the race director mentioned a slide in the campground so I made sure to slide down it when I saw it. It was the fastest I moved throughout the race. I wish I had asked Bart or Adam to snap a pic/vidoe for me. But I knoe I did it. :)
We continued straight past the park to a cul de sac in the campground. It was at that point when we realized we went the wrong way as we ended back at the playground. I then spotted pink and orange flags directing us to the correct path. ;)
What was extra mileage at that point, right? :P
I had a great time chatting with Bart and Adam. Adam was on a quest to run a marathon in all 50 states so Bart and I had a great time listening to which states he had tackled and which he had left.
I enjoyed the miles when I had people to chat with more than any of the other miles. What can I say? I am not built for solo mileage.
I almost cried when I heard the horn and realized an aid station was ahead at Mile 23.
Mile 21: 13:36
Mile 22: 13:16
Mile 23: 14:28
I took my time at this aid station. I drank extra Gatorade. I pounded a handful of Starbursts. While at the aid station, the family working the station said there were 2 more aid stations plus 9 more miles to go.
Excuse me - what? Can you repeat that? I was NOT set on running 32 freakin miles on this day.
The folks around me were unfazed while I immediately freaked the fuck out. I thought I had 3.2 more miles, but that was not the fact.
See that was something the race director mentioned in the morning briefing. They weren't really sure how long hte course was due to trail changes because of permits when marking the course.
Well there was no sense in complaining. I had to keep moving forward to get back to the wife. So I grabbed one more Starburst and headed out behind Bart. He had grabbed Coca Cola at the aid station so I asked him more about his fueling during ultras because I obviously needed to learn from others.
I had 3 Luna bars on my person and only ate 1/2 of one during the entire race. That my friends is BAD fueling.
So we headed out, back in conversation and I reserved to the fact I would be out thee for a couple of more hours. I finally looked at my watch to see i had passed the 6 hour mark. Wow. I couldn't believe how much time had passed and it didn't feel like it/I had no concept of time.
The family said our next aid station would be 3 miles away.
Mile 24: 20:18 (I milked that aid station for sure)
Mile 25: 13:24
Mile 26: 17:13
We quickly stumbled up on the next aid station and I almost kissed the folks working there. Why? Because she said they were actually the final aid station and we only had 4 more miles to go! That would put the race at about 30 miles instead of 32. Either way it would be the longest distance I had ever run.
The final aid station was hands down my favorite.
Not only because they had a band and m&m cookies, but because we had a sing-a-long with the band while standing there.
After a handful of Sour Patch kids for good measure, this new foursome headed out. Bart and I had picked up Elizabeth and Dawn at that final aid station.
We chatted about how Elizabeth and Dawn were training for an Ironman and a 100-miler, respectively. Bart was training for his 100-miler. And I was just hitting my longest distance ever run. Hello "one of these things doesn't belong!" Haha. It is all I could think of during that time.
But once I looked at my watch and saw Mile 27 I was freakin giddy. It was in fact the farthest distance I had run!!!
I shared how I had done a few Disney races. They were also Disney fans so they asked to hear more stories. I think it was helping to distract them from the race. :) I was happy to oblige since I could talk about Disney and racing at Disney all day long. It was a happy distraction for me as well.
It was around this time that we stated connecting back with the first few miles of the race. Some trees were starting to look familiar.
Mile 27: 14:28
Mile 28: 18:54
Then I felt something in my knee that caused me great concern. As I climbed down one of the final declines before the last uphill, I felt a SHARP pain in my right knee! Ohhhhh boy it caused me to stop, take a deep breath and talk out loud to myself. The two ladies had fallen back and Bart gained ground on me as I struggled to go down this decline. Every step seemed to cause pain to my knee. So I was focusing on different ways to step down to lessen the pain. It wasn't really working, but I just had to keep trying. I still had 1.5 miles to go and there was no stopping me now.
I finally hit the point where we would start climbing again and the pain subsided.
Mile 29: 20:41
Okay I saw a rapping bunny and she told me I had a mile to go. I could do that. I can run a mile in my sleep. So I just focused on seeing the wife and being DONE.
I came across another runner and said to her: "I think they are lying to us. This race will never end."
Then like a beacon I heard cowbells and saw someone. I forgot that we would be ending up a little hill - thank guys! ;)
I powered up that thing having never been so happy to spot the wife!!!
I came up the little hill, saw the Finish and promptly broke down. I didn't even look at my watch when I finished.
OFFICIAL FINISH TIME: 7:38:28
* 51 out of 72 overall, 14 out of 25 females and 5 out of 6 in my division (30-39)
And in retrospect, I wish I had. My watch ended at 29.89. FUCK YOU! Hahah. I needed to just run .11 more to get a nice round 30 on the watch. I mean I am calling it 30, but still. OUCH! :P
So marathon #11/unofficial ultra #1 was in the books.
I hugged the wife after the Finish and Bart came over. I cannot thank him enough for what he did for me that day. He would have no idea how much he carried me through a couple of low low points.
The race offered a post-race BBQ but none of it looked appealing for me in that moment. What did look good was a Treehouse Brewing beer that another runner was drinking? And you know what - his friend gave me one. Oh sir you made my freakin' day! A beer had never tasted so sweet...
The biggest thanks I owe on this day is to my wife who sat in the car for 7+ hours while I ran. Not many people would do that for someone else.
The race crew handed me my prize which was a jar of local coffee beans. Not receiving a race shirt or medal or pint glass was a tiny bit deflating. I had nothing to commemorate this race besides my memories and my race bib.
After seeing the two ladies finish (getting a "congrats Disney' from one of them), telling the race director I went down the slide mid-race, it was time to get lunch! FEED ME!
And apparently catch Pokemon.
But my body was revolting against the weather changes, I was shivering so poor Tori had to be in the car with me asking to turn the heat up and sitting in the passenger seat under a blanket.
Once home, I knew an ice bath was necessary if I was going to have to run 6.11 miles the next day (to round out my mileage).
After everything was said and done, the wife and I laid in bed and I could finally compute what happened that day.
I had run the longest distance ever. I had completed the longest trail run I have ever done. I had highs. I had lows. I smiled. I laughed. I cried. I connected with nature. I feared I wouldn't finish. I swore off trail races. I swore off the first official ultra in August. I wanted to do better. I wanted to KICK freakin' ass at that first official ultra in August.
Overall, the race changed my life. Do I think I see a lot of trail/ultra running in my future? No. I like the road races. I like the crowds. I like the interaction with more people. But I am happy I tried this. Would I like to add a little more trail running into my life? Sure. But I wasn't transformed that day into someone that wants to spend every living moment on the trail.
And I am okay with that. Not everyone is going to do that. And that is okay. This journey is about finding what makes YOU happy. And that will be different for each person.
After retrospective, I am going to stay on the course to do the ultra in August and then retreat back to my happy place.
But if you are looking for a well-supported trail half or marathon(plus) with awesome volunteers and some pretty sweet views, I highly recommend the Bear Brook race. I would totally do it again... as a half! ;)