This race had never been a goal… I had put it on my calendar as a means to an end.
Running in an Ultramarathon was nothing I’d ever really contemplated… but… In a moment of inspiration, or insanity (depending on my mood from day to day) I signed up to do RATS… In looking at that as an ultimate goal.. I decided that I might want to do a standalone ultra or two before the big test in the desert.
I was quite surprised to find a 50 miler in my back yard so to speak.
The race start was located in Florahome, FL… roughly an hour’s drive from my house. So I stuck the race on my calendar… put together a training plan… and registered.
A few weeks before the race a girl from the tri list, Iliana, decided to come down from NYC and run the race with me… I was happy to have some company and camaraderie to tackle a feat that until a few months ago I would have found ridiculous… running 50 miles on an abandoned rail bed.
I wanted to fix what I perceived to be my biggest mistake in my only previous ultra race… I’d taken but 3 gels for 35 miles… and only taken 50 or so ounces of water.
Well… with that in mind we loaded for bear… enough gels, honey, crackers, pretzels, PB&J… you name it… we were stocked.
I wanted to get to the race site an hour or so early… cuz I knew I’d have to tend to bizness… we left a bit late, however, and got to the site at around 0630 for an 0700 start. No sooner had we picked up our packets and pinned on numbers… the RD called for the pre-race meeting… since we had skipped the meeting and packet pick-up the night before I thought hanging around might be a good idea… we did and for the best no doubt… the race had 3 trestles that would need to be navigated 4x each for the double out and back that made up the 50 mile course. The RD gave some words of caution…
Well the meeting adjourned about 0659.. the race started on time at 0700… The RD had Colonel’s wings on his parka… so I never doubted the race would be precise… But we were not ready until 0710… so the race left without us.
At 0710 we sauntered up to the start line… which was a flag… stuck into a fence post. I knew we just headed West from there so off we went… on a dirt road… Soon we came to a curve… Which led us north… and another turn back to the west… I had noticed the lack of footprints… and we discussed this discovery… about that time we see a dude coming our way on a bike… when he caught us… we were informed that we had started the race by going directly off course… Great! I think… “10 minutes late and now .25 miles off course… we are off to a *flying* start”
Iliana’s coach had ordered her to do an 8/1 run walk mix… I’ve never done walk run in training or a race… but… oh… why not… 50 miles is far…
Around 0715 we get *back* to the start and start the race in earnest… the first out and back is only about 4 miles which is perfect timing for portaloo stop #2 (pun intended). We get back on the trail.. pretty much at the azs end of the race… Iliana and I have been chatting since we O-Dark-30… So I suggest that we listen to some music for a while… well… within a mile we have started catching folks… within 2 we’ve caught even more… Iliana has her music cranked up and is by (what I gather to be) ultra standards hauling asz… we are still walking 1 for 8… but when we are running the pace is like a 9 minute mile… We are passing people constantly… zigzagging through groups of 3 at times… Iliana is singing, loudly and slightly off key… and I’m chasing her like we’ve missed a bus or something.
Now I’m pretty easy going… and some would say that is an understatement… After a few miles I mention that our pace is a bit quick… a few more later I say I think we should slow down… a couple after that I get her to take off her headphones and tell her to go ahead… that I’m not going to run that fast anymore… She promises to slow down… and does so… when I settle into a 10:30ish running pace… Somewhere along the line I realized that I had inadvertently stopped my Garmin… I don’t look at it much so it had been about an hour since it had stopped… I didn’t really care either… I was just out to run 2 loops… and not think too much…
After the second turnaround and soon thereafter a visit to aid station 3 we decided to chat for a while and give the iPods a break… that resulted in probably the easiest and most consistently paced miles of the day. When we stopped by Aid station #2 again I sampled their PB&Js… In jest I asked if they would cut the crusts off for me next time… they said they would… but that they might use the “other jelly” and pointed to a big tub of Vaseline…
The next section was back to music… and per usual for me… the miles in the late teens and early 20s is where I get my endorphin fix. Even tho this is the rockiest section.. it passes pretty easily under our feet…
By the time we get back to my car we are halfway… another quick break of refill the pockets and change shirts (not necessarily in that order) and we tackle the short out and back again.. knowing that it’s our last time on that part of the course is a comfort. When we passed the car for the last time I decided to lose the tights in favor of shorts.. it was far from warm (for me) 50F is well above tights weather even for a deep southerner like me. I now had on a singlet with pockets and shorts…
An hour or so later we pull into aid station 2 again… and sure enough… they had cut the crusts off of a PB&J for me J… and the jelly flavor was grape… not petroleum.
During the next section the pain really begins… not pain really… not in a physical sense… more of a strain… Our pace is just a little too much for me…. Even tho we had slowed down a little bit more even… I found myself hanging off Iliana’s shoulder… I felt like a sidecar to her motorcycle… always trailing… never catching up… no motor.. just being drug along… this scenario had been foretold.. by Iliana’s coach… Her words written 6 weeks earlier “And you're going to be dragging Cowart behind you. You will put that poor
boy into an early grave.”
Lessons learned: Don’t Tug on Superman’s Cape… Don’t spit in the wind… Don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger… and don’t doubt Coach Debi
As we neared the final turnaround I hit a low point… I started seriously falling off the pace… keeping up hurt… I wanted Iliana to just go on… let me suffer in peace… I wanted to quit but knew I never would.. I just wanted to slow down a bit… But I plodded onward… time and again… after the 1 (sometimes now 2) minute walk breaks I started running.. not because I wanted to… but I was simply too tired to try and argue about whether or not she would go on without me. I did start hitting the gels on more of a regular basis… every 20-25 minutes.. that seemed to help… I had been looking for the blue tent… finally it appeared in the distance… soon thereafter… we were back at Aid station #2 again… it was here that I heard the sweetest words….
“Only 4 Miles to go”
I’m not sure who said it but… as those words sank in my spirits began to buoy… the voices in my head said… “I can make it..” “that’s not far” “that’s less than an hour”
We were now back to the iPods… mine is cranked… we were doing 7/3 now….but for the last 4 miles the run part was 9:30-10:00 pace… about a half mile out the (as far as I know) only store in Florahome came into view… I’d been looking for it for 15 minutes… it was a sight for sore eyes. We actually skipped our last walk break and ran it on in… Iliana asked if I wanted to sprint it out for the win… I said “heck no”… I might have used somewhat stronger language.
We got a burger… changed clothes… then headed back to Jax. I had no blisters… but my Achilles tendons on both feet were on fire for the last 20 miles. By the time I got home my legs were really hurting… Sunday morning I was as sore as I was after my 1st Marathon.
Sunday afternoon I ran (?) in the Winter Beaches Run with my friend Mark… Five 11s was all I could do… with the Achilles screaming all the way. By Wednesday, a few trainer sessions and one easy run later, I felt almost back to normal… but I have been mother tired…. And still am. I’ve probably slept 1-2 hrs a night more than usual since Saturday… and have had a few naps to boot.
Today it hit me… I ran 50 miles…