After having a few weeks to fully reflect upon finishing my first 50 mile I figured it was time to write about my experience. Here is a link to the Strava activity https://www.strava.com/activities/1970598587
Pre-Race- This summer I decided to fully commit to ultra running, after a 12 year career in swimming with top 7 performances at the Virginia State championships and TYR Junior National Cup (while battling major burnout for 3+ years) I decided my time in the sport was over and it was time to move on. This summer I ran my first ultra as the Night Train 50k and finished in 6:12. After battling temps in the 100’s and humidity in the 90%+ I was hooked on the sport and in love with the challenge and amazing community. In August I ran a PR half in 1:40 as a test to see how I could do running faster. I felt strong and was feeling like with 3 months more of training I could be in serious contention for a sub 8 hour 50 mile debut. Unfortunately with 1.5 months to go to race I started to develop overuse issues in my left hip flexor, and combined with being swamped with homework, many training runs had to be scraped to make way for applying to college and 5 AP classes of work. After a college trip to Vermont that included a 10 mile “easy” jog at 7:50 pace and a run in the mountains with over 1800 feet of climbing while maintaining sub 11:30 pace j was feeling strong with 2 weeks left. My final big run was going to be a 24 mile multi looped road run around my house. This went terribly. From the first mile my legs were dead and after 3 hours of freezing rain and nausea I finally called it quits at mile 18. I was worried starting to become worried about how the race was going to go.
Race night/pre race
Going into the race I drove up to Hagerstown where I picked up my bib at the Race Expo. While I was there I got to meet Kaci Lickteig, who would go onto finish second the following day. After the expo I got pizza and pasta at a local Italian dinner where I meet up with a couple other runners and talked shop about ultras and the looming day. After getting back to the hotel room, I readied my race gear and triple checked all my nutrition and backup gear. Around 9:15 I turned off the light and tried to fall asleep. After tossing and turning for the next 4 hours I finally managed to fall asleep for a measly 2.5 hours. Awaking at 3:30 I decided it was time to just get up and go. I had never had issues sleeping before races before, and although certainly sleep deprived; I felt awake at the moment and ready to go. I had a decent breakfast of coffee and a beagle with peanut butter. My parents drove me over to the middle school where I got to have a quick conversation with Billy Yang, one of the filmmakers who inspired me to run, and Zach Miller, the to be 2nd place finisher. As I walked the mile to the starting line I could feel the buzz before a race begin to build, my legs start to shake a little, and a fire start to brew. I had been chopping wood for 5 months and it was finally start to set myself ablaze.
Lining up for the race I pushed myself up towards the top 50 or so (out of 1200 runners). With the firing of a shotgun the sound of a thousand watches being started at once drowned out the cheers, if only for a moment. Through the first quarter mile we were out in 6:30 pace, which the leaders would hold up for another 5 and a half hours. After checking my watch and some string of common sense going around the front group, we all decided to slow down and take it easy through the next 5 miles. As we climbed the nearly 2,000 feet of the early road climb we all began to slow down. Gels and water bottles were pulled out on the final climb up the road onto the AT. As the next 10 miles rolled by we battled conditions that could only be described as dreadful. Post holing in snow, ice, mud mixes that went up above the calf in some areas took a toll on everyone. Spirits finally lifted as we descended the 1000 feet onto the first major aid station at Weaverly cliffs. I was about 25 minutes back of sub 8 pace, but still feeling strong and ready to push hard. I was scared I had been passed by others in my age group and that i would need to push much harder than I really needed to to win the 19&under award. A quick shoe and sock change later, I was ready to go. I came tearing out of the aid station at 7:30 pace and was ready to put on the jets for the next 26 miles until I would hit the road at the last aid station. I ended up rolling with a pack from mile 15-21 where we cruised at 8:20 pace and had a nice chat. Going into the mile 22 checkpoint I began to feel some tightness behind my knees. This would be the start of an agonizing 6 1-2 hours of battling against the fatigue of pushing so hard for the first 20 miles, sleep deprivation, and the cold to find the finish. As the miles and hour dragged on, the cramps behind my knees continued to worsen. I got to the halfway point still on sub 9:15 pace. With 25 miles still to go I tried to walk as little as I could and focus on moving my feet as quickly as possible. From seeing my crew for the last time at mile 35 to the end of the Canal at 42 was where the race really fell apart. I had my slowest mile of 21:44 at mile 41 and not much improvement was found thereafter. I made it all to the way to the final aid station at mile 42 and ate as much as my stomach could handle, and tried to move quickly up the last big climb. The final 8 miles were agonizing. The setting sun and rolling hills brought my already slow pace to an utter crawl. As a rounded through the final checkpoint at mile 48.5 I decided to just run as hard as I could to try and finish before the sun set. Climbing the final hill at mile 49.5 I could see the lights of the finish and the roar of a crowd. Running down the downhill my leg speed started to pick up and I could feel the finish line pulling me in, and the crowd willing me to the end. Coming down the chute I checked my watch for the last time and gave it everything I had left. Crossing the line felt like knocking out a home run. 10 hours of fighting myself and the elements culminated in 2 minutes of euphoria over conquering the distance. After receiving my finishers medal I was reunited with my family and announced as the youngest finisher. It was an amazing moment and certainly was worth the effort.
A person who never took a chance never had a chance. When quitting swimming I knew I was taking the chance of a lifetime. I was turning down D1 scholarships and shot at swimming in the Olympic trials, a dream I had fantasized about since the 2008 Olympics. But, I decided to follow my heart, and not the marks on the wall. I took a chance, gambled my future, and decided to push myself into a new frontier, and I haven’t looked back for even a second.