Saturday was the big day, the day we would run further than we ever had, 50km. The Sulphur Springs Trail 50km to be exact.
Friday night we packed up everything we could possible need and managed to sleep very well. Saturday we were up early as it was a 730am start and the locale was an hour away, it was foggy and threatening rain, but thankfully it did not. We had already heard through the grapevine that the trails we were going to be running on were water-logged and it would be a muddy day, but I really didn’t understand what that meant.
We picked up our bibs along with the other 50km runners and the 25km runners who would also start with us. An hour earlier the 50 & 100 mile runners had set off. We would be running 2 and a half loops of the course. The start was a very understated affair (a horn I think) and we were off, down a massive hill, I looked at Dan and pointed out that we would have to run up this hill 3 times – gulp!! That was the least of my worries, not even 2km into the race I lost my shoe, yes that’s right I stepped in some mud and it kept my shoe. We had started at the back of the pack to stop ourselves from going out too fast so thankfully no one ran over my shoe. I had to yank it with all my might to get the shoe out of the mud, my left sock now wet and also covered in mud, I tried to find somewhere dry to stand to put the shoe back on but that was not going to happen. As I stood there struggling to get my (double knotted, now mud covered) shoelace undone all I could do was laugh, what had we got ourselves into? Shoe back on and tied a little tighter we were back in the race or at least trying to catch up to the race.
Dan and I have been a little remiss about training on trails, we are too lazy to wake up drive for an hour, run for 4 hours, then drive back an hour, we were paying for it, dearly. This was a much hillier course than either of us expected, it made Albion Hills look like a walk in the park. We quickly decided that we would walk up all the major inclines (a strategy that many other people were using) and as we hiked up the massive hill at the end of our first 10km we felt pretty good, we ran around the finish/start area loop and headed back out for our first full loop of the course. It’s a neat set up as the course kind of loops and figure eights so that you pass the 2 aid stations twice (so four times over 20km, plus more aid at the finish/start) so if you were doing the longer distances you wouldn’t need a crew you could leave drop bags and coolers at each station with the stuff you need. We were wearing our packs because we need to carry a lot of stuff with us for the whole Death Race, we looked a little funny carrying so much stuff.
The first loop went pretty well, there was definitely some tough sections along the course not just the ups and downs but some very boggy sections, it was a great test for our trail runners, both our shoes drained quite well so neither of us were ever really uncomfortable with wet feet. And as an added bonus I kept mine on this time! As we finished our second loop we had been running for 3 hours and 45 minutes and I was beginning to feel it. My legs were tired, but I couldn’t complain with one lap to go, the runners in the 100 mile distance would have to complete this loop 8 times before they finished!
The sun made an appearance on the second loop but the damage was already done to the course. It was a mucky, slippery, wet, boggy mess and all we could do was put one foot in front of the other and hope for the best. It was weird to me how our bags were getting lighter as we ate and drank our food and water and yet mine just kept on weighing me down, so it was pretty funny when Dan actually ran out of water. I didn’t believe him and insisted on checking his bag, how could he not notice his bag getting that light? We checked how much water I had (not much either), what a strange sensation and something we will need to be aware on the Death Race. At 39km we were back at an aid station and filled our water, used the bathroom, and as we were going to set out again Dan needed to adjust his shoe, then the other, then he couldn’t decide if he wanted to change his shirt. I was getting antsy the starting and stopping was taking its toll on my legs and my patience, we’d been running for 5 and half hours. I was also getting frustrated because I couldn’t seem to rationalise in my head why it was taking us so long. We run marathons in 4 hours 20 minutes, how could be only at 39km after 5 and half hours? As we set off from the aid station (Dan in a new shirt) I started to lose it, I thought we were not going to make the final cut off, I tried to speed us up but Dan was having none of it. He calmly pointed out that we had 2 and a half hours to go 11km we were going to make the final cut off, I didn’t believe him. It took us 30 minutes to cover the 3.5km to the next aid station, but once I got there I started to feel better and calm down, I felt better for knowing that we were through the worst of the boggy bits of the course. And my math skills were working again, Dan was indeed right, even if we walked the rest we would make the cut off time.
Off we went, both of our spirits lifted. Of course 5 minutes later we were stopped again because of a stone in my shoe (seriously stones please enter my shoes before the aid stations, they have chairs there) but we just grinded on. We passed an injured 50 mile racer and offered what help we could, he was going to hobble to the finish because that’s all that he could really do. It made me realise how lucky we were to still be moving so well, tired but neither of us were in pain. It also made me appreciate having a running partner, it’s a long way to run by yourself, I have huge respect for all those runners on their own.
Last pass through the aid station and we were on the home stretch with the massive hill leading to the finish. Dan gave me his blessing to go ahead and give the hill hell, I tried but it was a brutal hill, we were so close to making it to the finish under 7 hours. I gave it my all to get myself across the finish line and ended up with a finishing time of 7:00:00 exactly. Dan ended up helping another runner muster up the hill and crossed at 7:01:24.
So did we feel like we could have done that 1 and half more times? The answer is yes! We felt pretty good all things considered, yes I had a little melt down, but I think everyone does when you run for that long. And never once did I consider quitting it was just a freak out, I got over it.
Post race, I had some tenderness and swelling around my left achilles, but that didn’t bother me until we got out of the car (sitting for an hour after running for 7 does not stave off any stiffness). So we took turns with the ice pack (I guess we really could invest in another one of those), the foam roller and the tiger balm and slept like the dead.