Two days ago I ran my first 50 mile race – the North Face Endurance Challenge 50. The day brought humidity, a beautiful full moon at the start, great company, some significant slumps, beautiful trails, and even me laughing so hard I shot Coke out of my nose at an aid station.
Now that I’ve had a few days to process the event and catch up on some rest, here are the 4 biggest things I learned from running 50 miles.
1 – Falling down is often the best way for me to loosen up and start having more fun. I started hitting my first slump around mile 18. I had been up in my head a lot, being pretty serious, and analyzing just about everything. David and I were running down an easy downhill when I caught a toe on a tree root and fell, and then rolled to the side of the trail. I was laughing instantly and as soon as he knew I was okay, he was laughing right along with me. I got up, brushed myself off, and only three steps later I caught the same toe on a different tree root and had another identical fall. This time I was laughing even harder!
The beautiful thing about falling not just once, but twice, was that it gave me an immediate shift in mood. How could I not laugh at myself and loosen up after that? It was just what I needed to remind myself that I was out there because I think trail running is fun. It’s a chance to connect with nature, myself, and the other crazy people around me. It’s even better when you’re covered in dirt.
2 – I need a better system to remember things. I have always noticed that the further I am into a long run, the more forgetful I become. I’ll forget where to turn, I’ll forget how to get somewhere in an efficient way, I’ll even forget to eat. I have never used a drop bag in a race but decided to use one here so I didn’t have to carry quite so much with me. When I was 5 miles out from my drop bag I kept thinking ‘Don’t forget your drop bag. Don’t forget your drop bag.’ And what did I do? I forgot to get what I needed out of my drop bag. I was so excited to see my pacer and my boyfriend at that same aid station that I didn’t even think about the food I needed for the remaining 15 miles. That is a mistake I paid for starting about 5 miles later.
3 – The last two miles are magical. When my Garmin buzzed and I looked down to see that I had just completed my 48th mile, everything changed. The hurt in my legs went away. The mental fatigue went away. My desire to stop and sit on the ground with a jar of pickles and an espresso went away. (I literally craved that for a solid 20 miles.) Instead I was filled with awe that I had just run 48 flippin miles, and in only two more miles, it would be over.
I was filled with excitement of seeing the people I knew would be at the finish line. I was filled with dread because I wasn’t ready for this whole experience to be done – I wanted to savor more time on the trail, in solitude, finding grit I didn’t even know I had. I was elated that I was actually doing something that just a year ago I said I would never ever do.
I fought back tears of elation and sadness the whole last two miles, all while my legs somehow ran my fastest mile of the day. Mile 50 was an 8:04 for me. It was divine.
4 – Accomplishments are most satisfying when they are shared with other people. I am astounded by all the texts, emails, phone calls and Facebook messages I received from people both leading up to the event and after. I was, and still am, floored. I’m just little old me, running a race. Not curing cancer. Not helping end world hunger. Just me running a hell of a long way, and for some reason it resonated with some people.
And it wasn’t just the people messaging me – my parents painted their car windows with my race number and words of encouragement. My cross country team surprised me with a cake on Friday to wish me luck. My boyfriend looked elated when I crossed the line and was so incredibly accommodating in helping me recover. A friend of mine told me that I inspired her to push herself during her own 4 mile run that day.
Every time I picked up my phone this weekend I was flooded with appreciation of all the people I am surrounded with, and how encouraging they all are. It’s easy to forget when you are 30 miles deep into the woods that there’s a whole other world out there- a world with people tracking your progress on line, people waiting at the finish line with fingers crossed that you’re okay, people thinking about what you’re doing while they decide to lace up their running shoes for the first time in 5 years and finally feel brave enough to take that first step out the door. What we all do is so beautifully interconnected, which I was reminded of over and over again this weekend.
I most often run to get away from everything and feel separate from the rest of the world. I am amazed that the most powerful aspect of this race was how the connection to the people in my world made it incredible. Thanks to each and every person that reached out over the last few days. It made my first 50 more memorable that I ever could have imagined.