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50 miles of fun, pain, and running

November 9, 2012

I went ahead and did it, the unthinkable, the absolutely crazy step from running a marathon to running an ultra marathon. I didn’t do it in the little step of going from 26.2 to 30 miles. No, no. That would be too simple. I went from running my first marathon on May 1st to running the Cactus Rose 50, a hilly 50 mile trail race (my first long distance trail run) in the Texas Hill Country. I did it to support a friend I met while an intern at Disney who is even crazier than myself.
The last 10 months leading up to this race have been crazy. I decided to run my first marathon in January and signed up to run the Eugene Marathon with my cousin Melissa. Then I figured since I was doing all that training I might as well make it official and become a Marathon Maniac so I started researching Marathon’s and signed up for the Olympia Marathon to hit my 2 marathons in 14 day qualifier, and became a Marathon Maniac. In May Laz called me up and asked me to run Tejas Trails Cactus Rose race and I, for some crazy reason, said YES. Then on a whim I registered for the final round of drawings for the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Fran two weeks before Cactus Rose and amazingly I won the lottery for one of the final slots, so I had my goal of running a 50 with my final long run of the Nike Women’s Marathon as my last long run before the big show.
Christi & Laz at the Start of the Cactus Rose 50
I flew out to San Antonio the day before the race and met Laz to take the hour and a half drive out to Bandera, Texas. It finally sunk in that I was actually going to do this when we arrived at the base camp in Bandera and set-up our tent. Even if it wasn’t fast I was going to run a marathon stop and wait for Laz to run another 50 miles and then join him on the last lap for another 25 miles and have my first ultra marathon under my belt. Holy moly, this just got real!
The night before the race we set-up a tent about 200 yards from the start line. In some fluke of nature the temps dropped into the 30’s and you could hear the chattering of teeth from tents across the field. 5 AM could not come fast enough for us to start the race. I laid in my very thin sleeping bag, freezing, until around 2 am where I put my head lamp on and changed into all of my running gear and as many layers as were humanly possible. I was expecting the temps to be between 50 – 80 degree’s during the race so I hadn’t planned on needing as many layers. The minutes ticked by like hours and finally someone yelled across the camp that it was 45 minutes to the start and everyone hustled to get ready.
Everyone was bundled up in warm running gear and at 5 am a crowd of 100+ runners took off at a slow pace at 5am to start the 100 and 50 mile races. The nice slow jog was a great way to warm up and around mile 2 I heated up enough to feel my hands and toes. The first 5 miles were a tangle of all of the runners grouped together into pace groups. It was great to hear everyone encouraging each other and chatting as we started our journey. It wasn’t until the first aid station around mile 5 that the groups started to break apart. We did a quick change of clothes and refueling and took off with another local runner, Melinda A. The first 10 miles went by fairly quickly with everyone chatting and keeping together on the flattest part of the course. We were keeping roughly to our target pace of hitting an aid station every 75-80 minutes, which would put us finishing our first 25 mile lap in around 6 hours. Between miles 10 -15 we started to slow it down as we got to experience the beginning of the slow rolling hills with lots of big rocks. We slowed it down as we went up the rocky inclines and were lucky enough to find a cell phone signal for Laz to call his wife and update her on our status.

Texas Hill Country - Cactus Rose 50
Slowly up the hill… carefully down the hills watching your step on the rocks and keeping your ankles guarded. Slowly back up another hill and then down the other side. The temperatures started to rise and by the time we got to the aid station at mile 15 we changed clothes to cool down, raided our drop bags to get some solid food into our stomaches and took for the most grueling 10 miles of the course. The next 10 miles involved going up and back down 3 separate mountains and then back to the start line. We slowed it way down as we went up and down the hills. It became very apparent to me around mile 16 that my Kinvara’s were definately the wrong choice of shoe for the second half of this course. As we started going up and down the hills the small fist sized rocks turned into rocks the size of a plate. I hadn’t expected to be running on such a rocky surface and the Kinvara’s had me feeling every edge of each and every rock on the course. By the time we hit mile 20 my feet were aching and I couldn’t wait to get to my shoes off!
10 miles and over 2 and a half hours later we came down the last hill and into the barn as we crossed the 25 mile turn around point and the first loop. Laz stopped and grabbed some food as I crashed into a chair and took my shoes off for my 50 mile break.

Mile 15 of the Cactus Rose 50
Holy crap. I just finished my first lap… I was dead tired, hot, sweaty, hungry, with sore feet (but luckily no blisters) and I still had another lap to go. I sat near the start line for about an hour watching as the lead runner for the 50 miles came across the finish line and picked up his prize. dead tired, i plugged my ipod into the one and only power outlet I could find, start to recharge my garmin and then promptly passed out on my sleeping bag in the tent. I couldn’t move my legs and I was completely and utterly exhausted.
The 3 hours of sleep that I got was heavenly…. a god send. The best thing that had happened all day. I couldn’t believe how tired I was from not really getting sleep the night before. I changed my clothes borrowed Laz’s flip flops and headed to the aid station at mile 10 to check in on Laz. I started asking around, and no one had seen him. We got word out to the folks at the mile 30 check point and he had been there 2 hours prior and he should have been coming in at any moment. another 20 minutes passed and still no Laz. Finally Melinda ran through mile 35 and mentioned that he was dead tired and having a tough time. When he finally came through mile 35 he was struggling and wanted to quit. Olga and I wouldn’t let him quit. We forced him to lay down and take a nap and I ran on the main road 1 mile back to the start line, changed clothes and shoes and hopped back on course to met him and keep him going.
By the time I got back on the course it was close to 6 pm and the sun would be going down soon. I took off like a flash. The adrenaline kept me going as I dashed up the hills– I’m not sure how, but I had a second wind. Despite the sore feet and muscles, I had a goal. Make it to Laz in under 2 hours to get him back on the course so he still had a chance to finish the 100 mile race before they would pull him off of the course for hitting the time limit. I flew through the hilliest portion of the course, hitting mile 5 within 45 minutes of taking off from the start of the second loop. I had barely seen another runner on course as I left the first aid station and into the sunset. Heading up to traverse the mountain I started to get nervous. The sun had set, and I had no idea where I was. I was running faster than I should and trying to make it from glow stick to glow stick. Unaware if I was on course or off course. watching the ground to make sure that I wouldn’t twist and ankle and watching the hillside in front of me to figure out where to go next. I about pooped my pants around mile 8 when a large boar/pig thing came out from the bushes about 25 feet ahead of me. I was completely freaked out … and was wondering what the heck was I doing. I was out in the middle of the woods, in Texas hill country, all by myself. I slowed the pace down when I heard voices behind me — they were still a ways away, but it would give me a chance to play follow the leader. It was the leader of the 100 mile race in the fourth and final lap. By the time they caught up to me I was ready to have some company. I had roughly a mile and a half until the aid station meet up with Laz, and I was not even sure if I was still on course. Every now and then I would see headlights on a hill adjacent from me so I knew the direction that I should be going or where I would eventually need to head to. They caught up to me and I struggled to keep their pace of 9 minute miles. How was it even physically possible? They were going so fast and already had 80 miles of running under their belts.
I came through the mile 35 check point right at 2 hours. Perfectly on pace to where I would need to be and sent for others to grab Laz and get him up and running.we still had 5 miles of hills before we would hit the final 10 miles of flat open plains. Laz was fast asleep and it took us almost an hour from the point I made it into the aid station to get prepped to head back out on the course. He was tired (as he should have been from his crazy week in Hostage Negotiator training) but ready to see me through the finish line. We got some hot coco, banana’s and a hug from Olga as we set off for the last 15 miles. I had made the ultimate mistake of sitting down and cooling down while waiting for Laz to get ready and now I was starting to feel that I ran 8 miles further than I had ever run in my life.
The way to fast pace of the previous 10 was starting to creep up on me and by mile 40 I was dying. Laz was having to drag me along to keep me at a slog pace. The next 5 miles in between aid stations took an hour and fourty five minutes. The hills were kicking my butt and the pain was starting to kick in. I stopped and grabbed some warm coco at mile 40 and Laz dragged me out of the aid station and back on the course. I was really struggling to put one foot in front of the other as we continued out to the flat portion of the course. The miles seemed to get longer and longer, but finally around 11:30 pm we made it into the mile 45 check point. Olga was waiting for me with Top Ramen and a Grilled Cheese sandwich. It was the BEST sandwich I have ever eaten in my life. I sat down and took a quick 20 minutes off of my feet while eating before Olga grabbed Laz and myself and made us get back out on the course. Those last 5 miles were horrendous. Laz was a saint for keeping me going. One foot in front of the other. He was so encouraging and uplifting during the entire race, but he really pulled me along for the last 5 miles and kept me going. I was almost in tears and wanted to cry from exhaustion and sore feet. Thank God that the end did finally come at long last. Laz, cheered me on by my side as I crossed the finish line almost 23 hours after we started the race. It was grueling, but around 2:40 am we crossed the finish line. Joe the amazing race director handed me my finishers medal and another runner handed me liquid gold in a cup. A shot of whiskey to commemorate my first 50. Laz helped me make it back to the tent and I collapsed in the sleeping bag. I was zapped. I had no strength left. I finished the race and it took every ounce of strength I had left. I didn’t even take off my shoes. Cold and tired, I huddled into the sleeping bag, closed my eyes and didn’t wake up for 6 hours.

2:38 AM -- We made it to the finish line of the Cactus Rose 50!!!

Thank GOD! I finished. I did it. I slogged through the course, but I had done it. 50 miles. 24 miles further than I had ever run. It wasn’t fast. It was pretty. I was very grumpy and tired by the time I crossed that finish line, but I did something I never thought I could do. AMEN!

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