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Race Report: Envision Run for Water Ultra Marathon (Part 2)

Posted Jun 02 2013 12:51pm

So I left off yesterday just as we left McDonald Park and headed back out into the flats.  In my mind this is what I think of as "the dark period" of my first ultra.  Short and simple, 28km to 38km were not good for me.

I left the park knowing that I had to focus and try to find some kind of rhythm if I wanted to finish this race.  I was just plain tired and felt like I was fighting against every step.  My tummy didn't feel very good after leaving the last rest stop and every sip of my electrolyte drink just felt sloshy and gross.  It kind of felt like everything was falling apart.  What if I wouldn't be able to finish?  What if I had to get picked up by the van?

Just when I needed it most Ray fell into step with me and I told him I was feeling kind of crappy.  It was so hard to admit to someone I respect so much that I was struggling but I couldn't hide it.  I was feeling grumpy and untalkative but Ray was great for encouragement.  When I told him I was scared of getting picked up by the van he promised he wouldn't let that happen.  He said we were in this together and we would finish together, no matter what.  Phew.

Despite the pep talk, all of my concerns were obviously weighing on my mind and stressing me out.  I didn't realize it at the time but the stress was having a big impact on how I was feeling and making it even worse.  My chest felt really tight and I was having trouble taking each breath - not good.  We found Solana and Dianna somewhere past 30km and Solana jumped out of the car to see how I was doing.

I was honest with her.  Not good.  She asked if I wanted to her to run along for a bit but in my stress-induced grumpiness I told her I didn't know.  Thankfully she took that as a yes and ran along with us for awhile...

Having someone else along to chat about everything except what was going on at the moment was just what I needed.  I thought that maybe if I got distracted enough I'd forget that I was struggling and be able to relax a bit.  Solana did a wonderful job talking about everything under the sun from what adventures they had at the dollar store, to hunting for a Starbucks to all kinds of random things I can't even remember.

I managed to carry on for awhile but then that suffocating feeling came back and I was struggling for breaths again.  Crap.  The distraction technique wasn't working.  I decided to fall back a bit and let Solana run in front of me with some of the other runners.  Now I was just feeling overwhelmed and thought maybe a bit of quiet would help.

That's me in the blue running behind Solana in the yellow...
After awhile that didn't feel like it was working either.  Solana fell back in step with me again and we kind of separated from the group a bit.  I couldn't help it.  I started to cry.  I worked so hard for this day, battled injuries and trained like I never have before and now it was all going out the window.  By getting upset I knew I was making it worse for myself but I was just so scared of maybe not being able to finish.

Solana had me figured out though.  She told me the stress was probably the biggest factor and that I needed to find a way to relax.  So much easier said than done.  She was right, I knew I was capable of doing this run I just had to put myself back together somehow and get moving.
A pep talk from Solana (good thing you can't see my face because
I was probably crying at this point)
I can't remember exactly when these pictures were taken but clearly things weren't as dire as I might be making them seem because I managed to smile for the camera.  The reality is, I'm a huge believer in positive thinking so even when I'm totally discouraged I always try my hardest to stay positive.  Maybe these pictures are proof of me doing just that...

As Solana and I were talking I took a few extra walk breaks because it was the only thing I felt I could do to catch my breath.  It felt like the next rest stop was never going to come but thankfully we saw people turning in not too far ahead on the horizon.  Ray greeted us as we arrived at the picnic area and feeling totally defeated I hardly talked to anyone as I headed for the support van to grab a drink and snack.

As I guzzled some Gatorade (which I swore I would never drink again but tasted like liquid gold in that moment) I knew I had to find a way to relax and turn this around.  I'd worked through so many far-tougher challenges in my life, I couldn't let a bit of fatigue and stress ruin something I'd been looking forward to for so long.

The answer was simple, I needed to put on my headphones, crank up some kick-butt songs and run my 10:1 intervals until I was feeling better.  I didn't want to shut everyone out by listening to my iPod but music is incredibly motivating to me and since I was running slower I was on my own a bit behind the pack anyway.

I faked a smile to Solana, Dianna and my family as I left the rest stop, put in my headphones and hoped for the best.  A few good songs played through and already I was starting to feel more relaxed.  Right after leaving the rest stop we headed back out onto some dykes and I put my head down and let my body find a rhythm.

I ran this section completely on my own and even though I was still a bit tired, slowly I was feeling like myself again.  I had kept up until now but my body was clearly finding the less frequent breaks tough and so I had to just listen to my body and do my 10:1's.  It was working and I found I was pretty much keeping pace with the group, just a bit behind.

There I am, back of the pack!
I could see ahead to where we'd exit the dyke and saw there was a fairly large group of family and friends waiting for us.  I could hear them cheering as our first group approached and it was so great.  I was so thankful that over the last 3km I had managed to pull myself together and was kind of overcome with emotion when I saw my family, my friends and Ray cheering me in.

That huge hug from Ray couldn't have come at a better time and followed by a hug from my sister was exactly what I needed to keep my chin up and keep running.  I ran away from that quick stop feeling on top of the world, I'd found the magic and my confidence again.
I felt like I left that spot with a whole new outlook...
Not long after we had an official rest stop where we quickly refuelled and I changed my shirt and put on my visor since it was starting to rain.  We had totally lucked out on the weather and while it had drizzled a tiny bit in places this was the first real rain that we hit and it wasn't even that bad.  I was feeling so much better at this stop, I had the smile back on my face, I was chatting and laughing and finally dipping into some of that delicious liquorice and candy I'd brought along.

Thankfully the next kms passed and I was still feeling great.  I wasn't breaking any speed records but I'd found a few songs that were really putting the pep in my step and I just plugged along.  Feeling strong and happy and so thankful to be so far along in this adventure.

Around 46km we had our last rest stop and I couldn't help but smile as I sailed in to where our friends and family were waiting.  I could see the relief on my parents' faces when I ran up smiling, I'm sure they'd been worried about me when I was struggling earlier on.

Probably my favorite signs of the day...
We had a few moments to chat with family and I ditched my visor before heading off for the final stretch...

I obviously seized the moment for a
shot with Ray...
Sadly, not long after this pic was when we hit the only big hills of the whole route.  An undulating set of about 3 humps that looked like mountains as I set off.  Solana jumped out for a minute to see how I was doing and I told her I was understandably tired but feeling great.  She jumped back in the car and I started trudging up the hills.  I wanted to run them all but settled for running the hills and catching my breath by walking the flat spots in between.  They flew by pretty quick and it was nice that some of the others' family members were stationed part way up the hill.

There was one last stretch where our support driver Janet jumped out and ran with me for a minute.  I couldn't believe it when she said there was just one more turn and we were done.  We chatted briefly and she ran back to check in with the last couple of runners.

I was a bit behind but caught up with the main pack of runners who were waiting for us to catch up so we could all finish together.  It was such a great moment to celebrate being so close to the finish.

Once we'd all regrouped we gave a little cheer and set off toward the University.

This was such a positive, fun group of runners...
As we ran the final bit we could the finish line...
The high-5's from the kids as we approached were awesome...
Here we come up the sidewalk to the finish!
And since I was feeling emotional before, I definitely cried when I saw my parents standing there with another of my sister's signs.  My husband was at the finish with our boys and my oldest son Marcus was ringing that Run for Water cowbell like nobody's business!

Nothing brings the tears out like a good motivational sign!
I just had to have my hand on my heart because I was feeling
so many things as I ran up that sidewalk... 

I don't think I'll ever forget how great it felt to cross under that arch.  With so many people cheering, friends and family around and all of the emotions, challenges and successes of the past 56km in my mind it was pretty momentous for me.

Once I'd crossed the finish I just had to stop and collect myself...

I was so full of emotion I didn't really know whether I wanted to laugh or to cry, to cheer or collapse.  This is where it gets hard to describe exactly how I was feeling.  It was part relief, part pride, a bit of surprise I actually did it and a whole lot of joy.  It was pretty amazing.

Immediately everyone was hugging and congratulating each other.  They were trying to get our medals around our necks but everyone was so busy clinging to each other it was probably quite the job!

The finish line hugs were the best!
This was one finish line party I won't soon forget.  Our team was spoiled with an awesome spread, custom ultra team jackets and we were given commemorative plaques (check out Marcus' face in that pic)...

I was further spoiled by my friends and family with beautiful cupcakes, chocolate milk and of course, finish line fries!

Nothing says "ultra" like fries at the finish!
After things died down a little we all sat and relaxed in the grass.  I was still on a super high from finishing this incredible race and it was so nice to have close friends and family with me to celebrate.  As everyone sat around me and chatted my mind was still racing with everything that had happened that day.

Accepting this challenge and joining the Run for Water ultra marathon team has become one of the most defining decisions of my running journey.  In a final pre-race email to the team they told us that this experience would change each of us and they were right.  Its hard to put into words exactly what I mean by that but I feel like the whole thing was a testament to the power of believing in yourself.  While 46km were better than I could have hoped, that 10km "dark period" was a big obstacle and ended up showing me just how strong you can be when you need it.

And now that it's done, it is made even more meaningful knowing that by challenging ourselves to train harder, run further and raise more we were able to give an entire village clean water just from our ultra team efforts alone.  Our team raised more than $34,000 and the entire Run for Water event raised nearly $360,000 to bring their total efforts to over $1 million dollars since Run for Water began.

Finishing your first ultra marathon is a pretty fantastic feeling but knowing that you changed someone else's life while doing it feels pretty darn amazing too.  Thank you Run for Water for giving me this incredible opportunity.
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