The long version...
It was about 49 degrees at 5:30am and weather.com predicted that the temps would fall into the lower 40s for the next few hours before finally starting to climb into the 50s. We got to the start area around 6am, checked in, and registered the U.S.S. Grassi (a.k.a. the Tahoe) as a support vehicle. Knowing that Steve would be on the course with all our gear and crap was definitely a plus. Although the race allowed for drop bags, it requires that you be able to predict at what mile you might need something. I can do a pretty good job of estimating when I'm going to need more gels, but I have a harder time knowing if and when I might want a change of socks, shirt, or something different to eat other than Gu.
Mandy and I filled up our hydration packs and loaded up on enough gels and Chomps to last us about 2-3 hours. The great thing about Tussey is that there are 11 transition zones where you can restock at the aid station, or visit your support vehicle. Since I wasn't sure if I wanted to carry the Nathan that I had trained with, or a single-bottle belt since the transition zones were at the most 6.2 miles apart, I filled up both. My plan was to start with the single-bottle and see how it went for the first leg.
At about 6:50 we made our way down to the start line where a bunch of other runners stood in the cold. We chatted with a few other runners including Erin, a woman whose brother talked her into running Tussey but then backed out. We also spoke to a young couple who said they had driven the course and that it was in fact hilly. There seemed to be at least 15 other runners who were running their first 50-miler so I took comfort in knowing that I wasn't alone.
According to the race's website, the first leg was 3.2 miles and "difficult." Mandy and I ran along curious to find out what they meant by "difficult" and were happy to find that the climb, while long, wasn't at all steep. By the time we got to the end of leg 1, I was sufficiently warm and decided to throw my jacket into the Tahoe when we saw Steve. Legs 2 and 3 flew by since they were mostly downhill. I found that having to pull my bottle out of my belt was causing me not to drink enough water, so I swapped out my belt for my Nathan. Sure it was extra weight that I've had carry, but the Nathan made it so much easier for me to take a drink.
After leg 1's difficulty rating of "difficult", I started leg 4 with the expectation that it too wouldn't be as bad as the Tussey folks had rated it to be. Boy was I wrong. This time "difficult" really was tough. We did some combo of running and walking up the mile-long hill. We were passed by a threesome of Ryan Hall-looking guys who I assume were running the relay. They flew by like gazelles but were kind enough to throw out a few encouraging words to the ultrarunners that they passed. It was on this climb that I was also passed by a guy who had to be in his late-60s/early-70s. The dude wasn't moving fast but he was moving faster than me. Yes, I am THAT slow, but kudos to anyone who's still running at his age.
Legs 5-8 were a blur. Mandy had some stomach issues during one of these legs so we walked a bit more. We also met a few of the other ultrarunners. It was easy to tell the ultrarunners from the relay folks because they were running much slower than the relay runners. I chatted with some guy named Scott who said he ran this last year for the first time and bonked at mile 15 because he started out too fast; needless to say, the next 35 miles were hell for him. We met a woman from Reston who was also doing her first 50-miler, and a guy who recognized us as the cat rescuers from the Skyline 50K. We joked that although we may never be known for our speed, we'll be remembered for our good deed.
Transition zone 9 was at around mile 36.5. I was thrilled to feel as good as I was feeling especially considering this was the furthest I had ever run in my life. We knew that the next two legs were supposed to be hard so we refilled our Nathans again since our pace was probably going to get slower.
|Transition Zone 9|
We got to TZ 10 and were disappointed to hear from Steve that there was yet another tough climb ahead of us. Bummer. Our friend Jimmy had warned us that there was a brutal hill around mile 41, but I was really hoping that the last hill was the one he was referring to. No such luck. The next section was an out and back so we did run into a few ultrarunners we had seen earlier in the day. Even though seeing them on our way out as they were coming back in meant they were ahead of us, I found it to be a nice distraction. We stopped at the top of the climb and took a few pictures before cruising downhill.
|View From the Top|
I was surprised not to see her there when I got out so I hung around the relay teams and volunteers. They were all looking at me funny since they had just cheered for me a few minutes earlier when I ran by. One of the volunteers finally asked me if I needed help and I let him know that I was waiting for a friend. I figured that Mandy had put up with me for months during training so I didn't want to abandon her now. By the time we got to this last leg, the sun was beginning to set. Mandy was having severe stomach pains and wasn't able to run. I walked ahead of her hoping to hear her behind me. She's a tough cookie and always manages to muster up the energy to catch up and pass me even when she's not feeling well. She was getting further and further behind me so I knew that she really had to be feeling bad. The temperature was dropping and I was starting to shiver. Sure wish I had listened to Steve and taken my arm warmers. A relay runner passing me was kind enough to offer me the jacket tied around her waist. I thanked her but declined. One of the things from this race that I really liked was how supportive the relay teams were to the ultrarunners. Many of them would yell supportive words as they drove by. Each time we got into a transition zone, someone would yell "ultra" and the relay runners would clap and cheer for the ultrarunners coming in. They really did make you feel like some kind of celebrity.
Some volunteers driving by pulled up beside me and yelled, "Great job Cherry!" I thought it was pretty cool they knew who I was but then realized it was probably because there weren't many people left on the course. Oh well - I'll take whatever encouragement I can get. We passed mile marker 49 and I yelled back to Mandy to let her know we only had about a mile left. My Garmin was about a quarter mile ahead (49.25ish) so I thought for sure we were almost done. I was really shivering now so I told Mandy that I was going to run for a bit to warm up. I jogged ahead but found that the downhills were making it hard for my legs fight gravity. My Garmin buzzed as it clicked over to 50 miles but nothing looked remotely familiar yet. Hmmm... I kept running along thinking that the finish line was just around the next bend. My eyes finally saw a sign that said "1/2 mile to next transition zone." What?! By now, I wanted to be done and wanted to b*tch slap the person who put the mile 49 marker up 2 miles from the finish. I finally caught sight of the finish and could see Steve in the distance. I crossed the finish line in about 11 hours 18 minutes. It was a long day, but it was the first time in a while that I've felt that "runner's high" so it was well worth it. Mandy came in about 10 minutes later still not feeling well, but she finished.
|Blurry Me at the Finish|
|Mandy's Nephew and Mom|