50 miles: the gateway drug to ultracrazy

  • This was printed in November of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 79th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

Fifty-milers are magical. For one, it’s almost supernatural to be able to keep moving forward continually for that distance — whether running or hiking — and two, I woke up the morning after running the San Joaquin River Trail 50 Miler and I miraculously had six-pack abs, no joke.

What isn’t magical is recovering from an ultramarathon. My body is still sore despite resting, taking an ice bath and getting a massage. And my short-lived six-pack is gone, thanks to plenty of post-race noshing to replenish my calorie deficit.

My first 50-mile race was Saturday, just shy of my 2-year running anniversary. On Nov. 18, 2012, less than two months after having my second child, I ran 1.59 slow miles in hopes of training for a 5K race.

It’s hard to fathom that I went ultracrazy in just two short years. I couldn’t believe I was lining up that morning to run an ultramarathon with my best friend and several talented athletes from all over the world.

Ten hours and 21 minutes later I crossed the line feeling like a rock star. A medal (actually, a cowbell) was placed around my neck by race director Nate Moore, then I was handed a beer, a plaque that said “50 Mile Run Women’s Division Third Place” and a bag full of runners’ swag (shirt, socks, coupons, water bottles and more).

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I chatted with dozens of friends and supporters while waiting for my bestie to come barreling down the finish chute. Soon we saw a small headlamp bobbing toward us in the darkness and Madera’s Audrey Crow ran across the chalk line with a huge smile on her face, blood on her knee from two falls, and 11 hours and 55 minutes on the clock.

The great thing about ultramarathons is that it doesn’t matter when you finish, the point is just to finish. Fifty miles is 50 miles, no matter how fast or slow you conquer them.

The best thing about running ultramarathons is the incredible people you meet. From fellow runners to sports photographers to those who graciously volunteer at the aid stations, there are so many people with inspiring stories and positive attitudes surrounding you throughout the race.

I had the honor of running a couple of miles and chatting with Shane James, an ultrarunner from Australia who literally runs to survive. He has Stiff Persons Syndrome, a rare, life-threatening disease of the nervous system that affects one in a million, destroying muscle tissue and causing painful episodic muscle spasms. He fights back against the disease by working his muscles to the max. Read his story and watch a short documentary at www.run-to-live.com.

I was beyond stoked to get a message from him later, saying how impressed he was that I pushed so hard at my first ultramarathon. “I’ve seen thousands of people run. That run of yours was special, girl,” he told me. “That is the guttiest run I’ve ever seen!”

It truly was. The San Joaquin River Trail 50 mile course boasted more than 9,700+ feet of elevation gain and loss, which I analogized to climbing and descending Half Dome in Yosemite — twice. And this wasn’t a smooth trail. The sections of cleared dirt and grass were rare; a lot of the course was gravelly, rocky, muddy, or slick with wet autumn leaves. But all of it was stunning.

Regardless of the drought, Millerton Lake, the San Joaquin River, the trail, the foothills, and the beautiful California sunrise and sunset are all breathtaking sights to see while stomping over the terrain.

“Gor-geous!” said my new trail buddy, Ashlee Mickelberry, in a high, singsong voice. The 32-year-old first grade teacher from Boulder City, Nevada, was several yards ahead of me when I first saw her. We were about two miles into the race and I noticed that she kept glancing at her watch. ‘I like this girl,’ I thought. ‘She worries about her pace, like me.’

So I caught up to her and made a comment about how these downhills were going to be a pain when we had to run them backwards (uphill) at Mile 48 or so.

From there our conversation lasted 12 miles and covered every topic under the sun, from running to careers to family life to husbands. Turns out, she was the first woman finisher at the Black Hills (South Dakota) 100-miler in June. She had to brave dozens of miles in mud, a torrential downpour and several river crossings with water raging waist-high on her tiny frame. There were only 32 finishers, 10 of them women — 37 runners dropped out.

This chick is tough as nails and I was right behind her, following her rhythm and matching her footwork over the loose rocks and cow pies. After I took off quickly from an aid station at Mile 14.5, I spent a long time alone until Ashlee caught up to me at Mile 31 and we had another eight-mile-long conversation. Ashlee ultimately finished six minutes ahead of me after she bypassed an aid station where I stopped to drink my weight in water and ginger ale.

The first woman finisher was Tracy Bowling, known in the Valley as Sole 2 Soul Sports manager Trace Bee, with a time of 8 hours and 26 minutes (a third place overall finish). Madera’s Oswaldo Lopez won the race in 7 hours and 36 minutes, followed by Ben Johnson, of Folsom, (7:52).

 Audrey and I said this would probably be our first and last ultramarathon — but Monday night we were already Googling 100-mile races. Yup, we’re ultracrazy!

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