Just back from Greenbush, Wisconsin and my very first Ultra-Marathon race, the Glacier 50K. I can honestly say I had no idea what to expect. Although I've run trails and competed in lots of races, I just didn't know how my body and mind would do Sunday. It's been a few years since I've "raced" an event and I was beginning to think I didn't have the "fire" inside me.
Well, I had enough fire to start a small forest fire Sunday. From start to finish it was a magical day and those don't happen very often. The drive up to Greenbush, Wisconsin was beautiful as the leaves are at their peak and fall is my favorite season. The weather was cool and rainy and the temps never rose above 50 degrees all day. A true gift after the 80-90 heat all month.
The race was an intimate experience and reminded me of the first few adventure races I did. About 100 runners towed the line at the start and I positioned myself cautiously at the back of the bubble. We hung out in the Greenbush Fire Dept until a few minutes before the start and then walked out a few hundred yards to the start. Another gift...We had about a half mile down the road and then hit the Ice Age Trail. A rugged single track trail with rocks and roots all under the cover of the leaves.
I took it out really slowly to make sure I finished and did so with a smile on my face rather than cramps in my quads. I was surprised at how "friendly" the runners were and listened to them chat for the first few miles. I met a runner with a picture on his back [pictured here] and asked him who she was.
"My running partner of 12 years," he said. He went on to tell me all they had done together and how she was in her fourth round of chemo for breast cancer. For me, it really put perspective on the day. I thought of my dad, who we lost last year from a brain tumor and his journey. It was the first time I could talk about him without falling into sadness. The miles went by as we discussed her spirit and the hope to some day find a cure for all cancers. My dad was with me every step...
As I reached 15.5 miles and the half-way turn around point many of the lead runners were coming back on the trail. The course is set up as an out-and-back. The competitor inside me [that fire I was referring to] starting tapping on my shoulder. "I know you are out here to finish, but if you push a little harder you can pass some of these nice runners." The first half of the race was all about conservation in the hopes of finishing and as I passed the half-way mark, the race became all about picking off runners [nicely] along the trail.
As the course rolled up and down [and up and down], the rocks seemed to multiply and the hills grew steeper [this is the elevation chart for the race].
I didn't remember that many rocks on the way out! It started raining and it quickly became more difficult to navigate over the slippery roots and rocks. My mind was growing tired of looking for the next spot to place my foot. One false step on a rock or root and you're down on your face. In fact, falling is a big part of ultra-running, especially as you fatigue.
Surprisingly, I was able to pass a few runners as I counted down the miles and then something [the fire] kicked in. The song "The Fire Inside" from Bob Seger came on my ipod and all hell broke loose. It is one of those songs that motivates me to leap tall buildings [or rocks in this case] in a single bound. My arms started moving faster and my legs followed. I passed a hiker with a cute dog and he yelled out, hey, you have about 7 runners just ahead if you push you can catch them. That is like telling me, hey, there is a sale going on at my favorite store and if you get there early enough you'll hit all the good stuff! I kept hitting the repeat button on my ipod and kept passing runners. What a high! As I finished up running my fastest mile of the race, I saw three men and a truck [the finish] and couldn't believe it was over already. Don't get me wrong, I was ready for it to be over at about mile 25.
It was a great race and a breaking moment in my life.
I've been stuck in a fog the past few years dealing with the loss of my father, grandmother and dog. Running this race cleared the fog and unveiled the trail ahead.
Getting off the beaten path unleashed the fire inside and for that, I am grateful.