Less than 24 hours before this race, I was completely calm. It was almost like I wasn’t even racing a 50k. Not a care in the world, but was definitely “carbo loading”. I took some time to swim and loosen up, took a day off of work so I’d be off of my feet, but mentally, I wasn’t really anxious.
I don’t ever try to go to bed early the night before a race anymore; I’m a terrible sleeper as it is. I try to get my best rest 2 nights before a race instead. I’ve been known to have my best races on 4 hours of sleep, and I’m fine with that.
I had never done this course before. I had run a little section of it at a race in March, but that was it. I had done many (too many to count) triathlons at this venue, but wasn’t familiar with the trails. I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but my husband assured me it was easier than our last 50k at Mohican. I figured he had to be right, since it was almost 5000 feet of elevation and 18 degrees out last November. I took his word, since he had done Possum last year.
However, Mother Nature got the last laugh.
Leading up to the race, the weather was less than consistent (but that’s Ohio for you). Mostly, we had been in the 40’s and 50’s. It had been a little cooler than usual for this time of year…but you never know what’s around the corner.
And, of course, we had rain. Lots of rain. But, that wasn’t all….race day was hot; it was the hottest day EVER.
So, there’s mud, right? But, then there’s Ohio mud. This is in a class all by itself. There are categories of mud here in Ohio, but I will get into that later….
Anyway, we showed up on the morning of the race, and were greeted by lots of smiling faces, as per usual. I am constantly amazed at how wonderful our trail running community is around here. I had enough time to play catch up with some runners I hadn’t seen in a while, which was nice. Everyone was eager to get started. I found my running buddy, Jen, and we talked a little about our plans for the day: pacing, eating, etc.
We look so clean!
Our “before” pictures are so funny looking back…we were so clean, dry, and happy. But, I digress.
We started out in the middle of the pack and dove into the woods. WOW. Beautiful, just beautiful. I remember my awe at the green-ness and how the trees went on and on forever in the distance. I wanted to take a quick picture, but knew that a) I couldn’t get to my phone very easily, as it was stashed for emergencies only and b) a picture just wouldn’t do it justice.
At one point, I told Jen I thought it looked just like a Bob Ross painting, because it really did! I told her, and the friendly runner in front of us, that I should have worn my “happy little trees” socks with Bob Ross’s head on them. Though I’m glad I didn’t; they would have been trashed.
We hit our first mud patch. Ok, it’s mud. You go through it, and move on, right? Well, not really. This was the mud that Jen and I decided was like brownie batter. Lots of sideways motion and slipping. You can run in it, but beware.
We got a few strides on dry trail later, then we hit another patch. This one was a bit longer, but again, doable. This pattern continued for some time. Then, it got real.
We moved on to chocolate pudding mud. This was mud with an attitude. (Enter sucking noises). More sloshing, slower progress. This wound up being the majority of the race that day; the pudding. Jen and I estimated at the finish that probably about 1/3 of the time, we were plodding through the pudding.
There was a fun stretch of mud that lasted about .7 miles. It seemed longer, but we’re pretty sure that was the true length. We were still in good spirits, so we joked about how we would go through it a total of 4 times throughout the race. Little did we know….
We hit the first aid station, and I lost the top to my straw somewhere in the grass. Are you kidding me? Needless to say, we took a little longer at that stop. A friendly runner found it while me, Jen, and several volunteers scanned the area. She was my hero.
I popped it back on, and off we went.
The temperature was already climbing that morning, as well as the humidity. Jen and I were hopeful that by being in the woods we would be spared for a little while longer. But that mud, though.
Eventually we exited the woods and headed up to the dam wall. They had not mowed so there was tall grass which made it tough to read the terrain underneath and slowed our progress a bit. The sun was beating down on us, and it was easily already in the 80s. We continued to move forward, no shade in sight. We noticed an ambulance at the end of the wall but, thankfully, we were informed that it was not for a fellow runner. I was a bit relieved, since Dan had been ahead of us quite a way and I hadn’t seen him.
We headed down into the forest again. Much cooler this time, and a lot less mud in this section. It was actually very pleasant. We hit another aid station, with some lovely, magical people that were giving us Popsicles. A small glimpse of heaven.
We headed back into the sun. At this point, Jen began to feel the heat getting to her. We slowed our pace a bit, trying to get a handle on nutrition and lose the queasiness. A little while later, after slowing our pace for a little while, Jen began to feel better.
We picked it up again as we turned back, but then we had to deal with a gravel road. The rocks were just plain evil. It made it tough to get through, especially with the sun beating down on us. We picked our way through it, and were grateful to once again be in the shade briefly. Another aid station, more ice on board, moving forward again.
At this point, Jen was feeling a lot better than previously, so we kept moving. We had been making very good progress so far today, despite the heat. We headed back out into the sun for a stretch, but this time with the ice on board, it was doable.
We eventually made it back to the dam wall and continued to fight that blazing sun. Luckily, we had a little wind this time which helped. We decided to keep our pace at a good steady clip, but not push it too hard. Now it was my turn to go south.
I could feel the heat getting to me, despite my best efforts to stay hydrated and be careful with my electrolytes. You know that feeling… when you start feeling a bit chilled and you notice that you’re not sweating as much as you should. I was beginning to feel it now.
We headed back into the woods and I voiced my feelings. Jen and I decided to walk for a bit and let me regroup. I was feeling a bit frustrated, since I was trying so hard to watch my heart rate, and like I had mentioned, I was watching my hydration and my food intake. It took me a good long time to come back around from that, and I seriously started having doubts that I was going to be able to keep going. The nausea was getting to me, but I hung in there knowing that we were in this together and Jen was encouraging me to keep moving forward.
As with any endurance event, things can change with the drop of a hat. If you keep moving and focus on taking care of yourself, you can come back around. I tried to change my perspective at this point of the race. Yes, I was feeling miserable. But, it was so beautiful in the woods. Honestly, where else would I rather be on a Saturday morning?
I imagined that I was just out for a training run with Jen, that there were no goals or limits, just running. I took time to look around and find the beauty in the trees. I filled my thoughts with gratefulness and peace. And, I finally started to feel better, but that’s when we began to get into the mud bowl again.
It was quite comical trying to get through the mud, as it had been well traversed at this point and had gotten worse. We were still remarking at how beautiful it was on the trail; the sun was out and shining through the trees and it was just breathtaking. I remember saying it out loud, and I remember hearing it from Jen, too. It was absolutely amazing.
But that mud; it just began to take its toll. Our pace continued to slow as it was impossible to run in the muck. It was difficult to even walk. There was a steep incline at one point, but there was nothing to hold onto and no traction on our shoes. The mud was caked on so thick on our shoes, the lugs were completely covered. I looked around for something to grasp onto, but there was nothing. No, roots, twigs, rocks – nothing. So up we went, on all fours. It was the only way to do it.
As we continued on, there were bright little spots where we actually could see firm ground underneath our feet. It was here that we picked up the pace to try to make up some time. We were getting closer now.
A good friend of ours was at the race cheering. He is ever present in our community – whether racing or cheering – for trail running and triathlon. We got to see him three times during the race, which was fantastic. His energy was contagious, as per usual, and it lifted us up right when we needed it. He knew when things were going to get tough; and he picked those spots on the course to show up.
The last time we saw him, I was barely moving. We came up the hill, and there he was. Hand in the air, waiting for a high five. I could barely get my hand up, so he grabbed me and gave me a fierce hug. “You’re almost done! Now get moving!”
It was exactly what I needed to hear. With a new purpose in my step, I followed Jen into the grass. We were so close, but I felt like we were never going to get there. I told Jen that this felt like the last of week of pregnancy! We got a good laugh out of the one.
Finally, the finish line was in sight. Jen was running. I was, well, moving….I don’t know if I’d call it running…maybe jogging? It’s all a blur. But, I could hear Jen telling me to pick it up and Dan yelling “YOU DID IT” from the finish line.
It was done. We finished. I was spent.
I have told Jen many times already that I couldn’t have finished without her. She helped me rise to the challenge when I was ready to give up, and I am forever grateful.
Will I be back? Yes. Heck yes. This community brings you into the family, and we show up for each other. I am a Possum now, and that’s a great feeling.
Next up – triathlons for a couple of months. Then, Dan and I get back to the trails. One Hot Momma 50k in August and a night time trail series August – October. Let the good times roll!
Run happy. Run long.
Amy is an ultramarathoner and triathlete, a coach, a mother of four, an Exercise Physiologist and a Physical Therapist. She lives with her husband, Dan (also an ultramarathoner and triathlete), and kids in Ohio.