Each race I signed up for, I go into it with the knowledge that it's going to hurt and I will suffer. Every race there is anxiety about whether I trained enough, whether I ate the right foods and if I would be able to go the distance. To me, that's the exciting part of a race, not knowing what is going to happen.
Last weekend I embarked on my first ultra marathon. I signed up because I have completed marathons and that challenge didn't scare me like it did in the beginning. This race, terrified me. I read the race information, I printed off a training plan and I started training at the beginning of the year. I stuck with my plan hoping it would be enough to get me through the 55 kilometers. I was wrong.
The race started at 5:00 AM with a long bus ride to the base camp where the start line was located. Over 400 people lined up for the race with start times beginning at 9 in the morning. The beginning of the race started with a short ascent up a mountain with a single track path which meant there was a line of runners trudging together in a single file. Once you made it up that incline the view of the course started coming into view, my legs suddenly weighed a ton.
The first 10K of the race was excruciating, continuous climb. I don't mean like a, "oh wow this is hilly", I mean I had to use my hands to climb the course in some places. The highest ascent reaching over 3,000 feet above sea level. The views were unbelievable but impossible to completely take in with a 4 hour cut off looming. I snapped pictures when I could and would pull myself out of my misery on a few occasions to admire the unbelievable sights.
Now, I kept telling myself once I reached the peak that would be the reprieve. Wrong again. At the top we were hit with rain, sleet and snow and had to run in miles of snow which made my already exhausted legs scream for relief.
Every up has a down and as much as I looked forward to the descent this is where my trouble began. I ended up twisting my ankle several times going down the hill which led to a serious imbalance. The imbalance I felt in my right knee, which has battled several rounds of Patellofemoral pain syndrome, and from that point further I had a little hitch in my gettyup.
At that point I was limping but made it to the first cutoff, stopped to use the first facilities I had seen, and got back on the trail. I saw flat ahead so I was relieved but quickly realized the flat was long spans of black sand/
ash and winds that made the sand turn airborne. At this point, I was rotating between running and walking because the pain in my knee and ankle kept reminding me I was no where close to the end. I struggled for the next 10k. I knew I wasn't going to make it to the cutoff in time. I pushed myself and spent miles almost in tears and other miles so angry I pushed through the pain.
The end result was as I feared, I made it to the 6 hour cut off 27 minutes too late, limping and completely defeated. I was borderline on hypothermia, completely soaked and fighting back tears.
I had never not finished a race. I know everyone finds comfort in different ways and most people have said making it to that point is an accomplishment but it's hard for anyone to understand the sacrifice and training that goes into a race. Not finishing is something in the back of ever runners mind but it's always worst case scenario. It's hard to deal and hard to bounce back after that. But, I will.
I have another try at my first Ultra finish in October. The race is local and will be 40 miles on terrain I typically use for training. I am going to pity myself for the rest of this week then get back at training and try it again. I come away from my first DNF having learned things about myself and hopefully stronger because of it. I know I gave that race everything I had and eventually I will go back and try it again. I had an amazing experience in a gorgeous country and challenged myself more than I ever have before. Defeat is a scary and painful pill to swallow but it makes the successes that much sweeter!