Sometimes people work their way up to a 50 mile race, I decided to jump in head first. I honestly had no idea if I’d be able to finish or not. My mind said I could, but my fears said I couldn’t. I had put in my training time and felt confident. I knew things would be tough, turns out the race was tougher than I had even feared it might be.
My alarm went off at 3am, although I’m not sure I was actually asleep to begin with. I slept terribly and had been waking up every couple hours. Forget pre-race jitters, I was experiencing pre-race anxiety. Fortunately, despite the rough night of sleep, I was feeling pretty good, ate a bowl of oatmeal and headed over to Wachusett Mountain for the start of the race.
128 people were signed up for the 50 mile race, split into 2 waves. It felt like a very small group of people compared to the thousands that typically run in the various shorter distance races I’ve run in. What’s crazy is that a little over 30% of those runners that I lined up with would not complete the race.
At 5 am in the morning the race began. I started off slow, keeping my heart rate in the aerobic zone and not being afraid to play it safe by walking to keep that aerobic zone. The first 10 miles up, around the mountain and back down was relatively wide and smooth, while steep I thought if the rest of the course was similar I’d be good. That’s where I was wrong.
When examining the elevation guide prior to the race I figured that most of the elevation would occur during the mountain phase, while the elevation for the forest area would be spread out across the ~40 miles. It turned out that there was more elevation in the forest area, and the elevation that occurred was more extreme, with greater elevation in very short distances.
Somewhere between 20 and 30 miles my body started to tank. My belly wasn’t feeling good and I had to use the toilet far too many times. At some point, the fuel I brought became extremely unappetizing. I was able to get down a couple gels, but after that nothing looked good to me and I started feeling nauseous.
I stopped trying to eat for awhile and made it to 30 miles without much slow down, but my muscles were starting to feel shot. I got to 35 miles and started to feel tightness on the outside of my right knee. I had experienced this before with my first marathon. Except at that race I had tried to push through, until the pain was so excruciating I could physically not run anymore. I knew my IT Band was in trouble and if I didn’t voluntarily stop running the pain would force the issue.
It was at this moment that I really, really wanted to quit. I felt horrible, my legs hurt, I couldn’t run and I had about 15 miles left to go. I calculated that I would have to endure between 3-4 hours of speed walking assuming that I would make the cutoffs in time. I thought of every reason to quit, but every reason I could think of were all lame. I knew deep down inside that if I was able to keep a pretty fast walking speed I could finish in time.
Walking was no easier than running. All my muscles were in rebellion and didn’t want to fire any more. The only thing I could eat were 🍊 slices and while they tasted like the most amazing thing in the world, I couldn’t eat enough of them to maintain my energy levels. Every steep hill I went up and down caused my IT Band to scream in pain. I thought for sure I was the last person who would finish.
I had made the cutoff around the 40 mile mark and knew that I would be able to finish. I just needed to keep walking and push through. I started to imagine everything I would do when I was done, but all I could think of was being able to stop moving, take a shower and go to sleep. I managed to cross the finish line running, was 77th place and had taken 13 hrs and 45 minutes to finish! Unlike all of my other races, I felt zero emotion. My body felt dead to me, it would take me a few days for it to really sink in what I had accomplished.
The reality is that out of 128 runners, only 88 finished. Of those 88 finishers I came in 77th and few people can say they’ve completed a 50 mile race, much less tried.