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November 26, 2017

What It's Like to Run Your First 50 Miler

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BY: ALI SCHULTZ

Oh boy I’m sooo sore!! Like my first marathon all over again!

I'll be honest running my first 50 miler was really tough. I went from rolling along faster than I expected in the first 17 Miles to then trying to manage leg cramps from 20 on. Then at 26 I was coming down a really technical downhill section and rolled my ankle pretty bad. I honestly thought that was my end right of the race. Someone came along and offered my aspirin —never took anything during a race before. But it was that or DNF. I told myself going in that as long as I was able to move forward at a pace that the race allowed, I was doing this. I don’t purport to be the best mountain runner by a million years, but I did believe in myself to just keep digging.

I picked up Paulette at 27. She ran NYC 2 weeks earlier. It took us 6.5 hrs to cover the next 23 Miles. I went from 9:50’s in some spots to complete stops when cramping kept coming up. But probably the toughest section was maybe Mile 35. We had 6 miles with about 1500 ft climbing to cover in 1:20 or face getting pulled with a DNF. I did a ton of really emotional bargaining. “If I get pulled it’s fine. I ran my longest distance ever by 10 miles; longest time on Feet ever by 4 hrs. And I had a lot of time to catch up with my good friend that I don’t regularly see because distance.... but I’m still going to work.” 

She had a bunch of cards on her from Tara Caudle, Jess Graham, Lynn Carlson Emily Brain, Kim Pearlman, and Marilyn Keys (and Chopper) with a bunch of beautiful personal things to the effect of “I believe in you.” She gathered them weeks before, unbeknownst to me. We kept our phones largely off because it’s a long day and cell coverage is sketchy if nonexistent. This was like they were right there with me saying “Go. Go. Keep going forward.”

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Paulette knows the trails here quite well and knew that the 6 mi section had a 3 Mile stretch of mostly flat (by comparison) runnable terrain and honestly said “if you feel like you can give it, you need to run. You need to dig in right here.”

I was 8 min from the aid station and cramping hit the worst. Then someone happened to have salt pills. Again, not a magic fix and not something I tried before but why not. Things slowly started to release and I made it back to a run at maybe a 11 minute pace and came up to the aid station with “ONE MINUTE!!”. We planned on me just pushing through; you need to clear the AS to be considered to have made it and the next AS was 3 Miles away (really close by Trail standards). Paulette would grab what I need from my last drop bag and catch up. I cleared it with radios blaring “30 seconds” and everyone at the AS shouting “RUN!!” to everyone that was close. 

I was told we were through, and could relax but then there was a timing mat that once the woman there came into view she gave me the most serious “dig deep right now” look to get across. If you know of 70 year old Gunhild Swanson from Western States 2016 and saw the video of her finish, it was so very similar except a 33 year old making a race cutoff of a 50 mi vs a 70 year old finishing the WS 100. (So not similar! But it was the most dramatic “DIG DIG DIG!!” I think I’ve ever personally experienced.

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From there we were much more confident in officially finishing but had to cross the bridge and were told conflicting stories of “the Bridge closes at this time” and “yeah but the actual final time is...” Everyone was nervous about making it. But I really an attitude that I realized I had all day —take from your body what it gives you in the moment and be content that it’s enough. I think Paulette got me across the line with maybe 6 minutes to spare. And while I had no idea of where I’d finish exactly (most climbing in a race ever was 4,000ft; this was 10,000+ and I live in Flatlandia), I by no means thought I’d be second to DFL. But I also never thought I’d be happier to be in that spot. Officially finished. 13:53:45.

The most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done. Legs so sore. Having issues sleeping. But can I tell you how happy I am?

And maybe you saw. Outside from the cards, so many tweets. IG messages. Facebook messages. I mean part of the trail experience is that you DON’T have spectators, cowbells, or almost anyone besides every 5 Miles. It’s very isolating besides the shared suffering. And you find yourself rooting for your competitors and finding strength in “the guy that almost DNF’d because he cramped so bad ALSO made it through and just passed you!”. It was wonderful to finish, but also just unreal to see so much genuine care from the team about how I was doing. My friend in Bolingbrook, Heather Debelak: “I screamed when then text came across that you finished.”

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Allie Bigelow left a comment of “it takes a a village and you had a damn nice village” but it was ultimately me that did the work. But I’d contend that what I had was way more than a village. Definitely not anything that I planned on or called up. But just so many people that showed up however they could because they wanted to. Nothing I’ve ever done compares to this. And that’s probably the biggest thing that’s taking time to absorb. And that’s really quite incredible. 

I’m going back to, “sore ankle and legs; can’t sleep!”

Literally two years ago I was on crutches and pretty much lost all of 2016. And I know that’s not the last. But really just recognizing “peaks and valleys; and there will be more of both” kept me optimistic and knowing that my situation was temporary. You always have more peaks and different peaks ahead.

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