It all started in summer, directly in the middle of my Ironman training. One day while running something in my head just started talking. It asked, what’s next? After all, I came from having no triathlon background to having completed three full Ironman and five half Ironman plus multiple other distance races all in three years. A big change to say the least!
What made me set out to complete this goal? Why did I do it? What changed my mind to make me do it? All valid questions that until recently I hadn’t thought about since I first choose to give triathlon a shot. I know why I wanted to do a full 140.6 miles, simply because I didn’t think it was possible for me. After all, how could a person who’d sat on their ass for the better part of seven years train to push through 140.6 miles in under a year?
It hit me! The reason was because I didn’t think it was possible. Now that I’ve done some of the craziest things you can do in triathlon I wanted another challenge. I wanted that feeling of not knowing if I could finish a race or not. Unfortunately it was a little late to get a 50-miler in during 2016. Dang those races fill up fast!
I looked and looked and looked. I wanted something more, something I felt was close to impossible. A 50K didn’t seem impossible enough to be honest. I can run a marathon in a Boston qualifying time so what’s an extra five or so miles? Finally I found it! It was a trail run. Something I’d never done before. Something that takes muscles that triathlon doesn’t use as much. Yes in triathlon you are running but it’s on a road. You don’t get those massive elevation changes and you don’t have logs, sticks, or trees to look out for and uneven terrain to navigate. The transition from road to trail is a tough one, so why not start with 50K?
The week after Ironman I immediately got back into the groove. I started out by simply trying to run, three miles was the first run which happened to be about three days after the race. I was using a 50K plan that was recommended by a teammate. I started off exactly where the plan was and decided to follow it to the “T”.
About three weeks out from the race I had my last long run. I hit 24 miles that day keeping my pace steady. I could tell I still wasn’t recovered from Ironman. It all hurt, my everything hurt. The last six miles was tough! I could barely make it. If it wasn’t for a teammate of mine who was riding alongside me I would have walked it. The thing is, I made it! I knew if I could make that run while only a few short weeks out from Ironman but I’d be set.
So there I was race morning. I wasn’t nervous and I got amazing sleep the night before. I was just ready. I had it in my mind that I would like a goal time but knowing it wasn’t my “A” race and that it was my first ever 50K and first trail run I should simply go out and have fun.
I got to the race and checked in. I finally had my bib number! I went back to the car and got my gear in order. I also packed a grab bag in case I needed anything. Extra socks, extra shoes, extra nutrition. Who knew what exactly I’d need. Instead of guessing I just packed it all. Unlike Ironman Special Needs bags I could count on getting this bag back.
Finally, after dropping off the bag I made my way to the starting line. I positioned myself towards the middle. I knew being the fastest out there was a long shot and I was hoping I wouldn’t be the slowest either. The air horn went off and we were on our way!
The course immediately went into single track mode and started curving downhill. A muddy downhill track, zigging and zagging through the woods. The single track went around and back up and crossed just in front of the finish line after 3.5 miles. I looked down at my watch and saw 40 minutes. HOLY COW! A distance that normally would take me 25 minutes. Ahhhh, who cares I said, remember this is for fun! I let go of the time and didn’t think much of it the rest of the race.
The next 3.5 miles to the second aid station was a messy run just like the first 3.5. By the time I reached the second aid station I was having even more fun! I saw my buddy Steven who was there to drag my broken ass back home at the end of the day, a real trooper! We chatted for a minute or two while I was refilling and I went back on my way. I did let him know that the race was going to take a lot longer than I previously hoped for but that wasn’t a big deal.
The next 3.5 miles went by superfast! The “Rim Around the City” trail was beautiful! Overlooking La Crosse and the Mississippi River valley down below. The next aid station had the best view in the house. Placed at the edge of an overlook these people could see it all! I took in the scenery for a minute and went back to it. Snaking around to the next station. The final station before the last big climb, for loop one at least.
The next 2.5-3 miles were all uphill. You snaked your way up the hill leaving 600 total feet in elevation climb for the last one mile. It was brutal! I’d never really tried to run up such crazy terrain before. At times I found myself pulling at trees just to keep a footing in the mud. But again, I made it!
I made my way to the area that had the finish line and access to the drop bag and second loop. I chatted with my parents and Steven about how it was going. I was already sore! Holy cow! My legs, hips, feet. You name it, they were sore. I wanted to give up but couldn’t. I had something to prove to myself. I continue on to loop two.
On loop two I found that things were drying out a bit. The trails while still muddy were getting less so and in some areas it was almost dirt to run on. But I was sore, my knees were killing me. Going downhill was now as tough as going uphill. I took it slow and easy running when I could but walking the uphill battles.
As I made my way up the last big hill I was in walk mode. I knew I couldn’t run it safely so I just kept going as quickly as I could without stopping. This climb was better this time, there was no mud. But the massive amount of rocks and tree limbs climbing out of the earth paired with a goat trail at the edge of the cliff made me take my time. I was going to finish without the need of medical help thank you very much!
As I reached the top it flattened out I came to the edge of the woods and headed toward the road. Up and over the road I went and headed towards the finish. It was a great feeling despite my lower body feeling like a small child kicked me all day. I noticed the time on the clock and couldn’t believe it. I knew I was out there a long time but it really didn’t feel like it.
It’s four days later and I’m still sore. My body still aches. It doesn’t matter, I want more! Trail running is a massive challenge. It’s so much more difficult than I was ever expecting. I feel pretty comfortable saying I’m a good runner. I also feel comfortable saying I’m a bad trail runner. It doesn’t matter though. I’ll work at it. I’ll get better. Those muscles will build up. I’ll grow and take on tougher trail challenges.
– Thanks for your support