When Dan registered for a Mendocino 50K Ultra Marathon trail race three months ago, I though he was crazy! We had started running together a few years ago and did very well in local races, but had never run further than 13 miles at a time. The Ultra Marathon is produced by a vegan friend of ours, and has been touted as an amazing vegan event here on the Mendocino coast. It takes place on the beautiful trails we love running, but 31 miles of hilly terrain? No way! I told Dan I would support him in any way I could, and even train with him, but I had no intention of entering the race. I know myself well enough to know that I would become obsessed with training and I felt that preparing for a 31-mile race would take far too much of my time. To be honest, I wasn't even sure I could do it! When we competed in a half marathon last year in 2 hours and 20 minutes, my first thought was, "No way could I turn around and run that again!" At that point competing in a full marathon was a long way off (if at all) - so the thought of running for 8 1/2 hours seemed extremely unlikely, to put it mildly.
We were able to run some of the trails (in sections) with the race director a couple of times and got to know the trails we would be running on, which gave me a lot more confidence that I could do it. I was already training for it with Dan and fitting the training into my schedule, so one day, after a 22-mile training run, I asked Dan whether he thought I could still register for the race IF I decided that I wanted to (no guarantee I would -- but what IF?) He looked at me rather sheepishly, and told me that two weeks prior he had asked the race director to save me a spot since he knew the race was filling up and registration was closing, but he didn't tell me at that time, because he didn't want to pressure me into doing it if I really didn't want to. OK then, the question was resolved -- I was running my first marathon -- but I was skipping the usual 26-mile distance and going for 31 miles. I'd read about elite athletes who run crazy long distances in the book Born To Run. It was an inspiring book, but I never put myself in their shoes! I still didn't consider myself in their league, but long distances were beginning to feel less elusive.
Three weeks ago, while on a 13-mile training run, my knee became inflamed and I had to take a break from running. I really needed a longer break, but with the race looming, I couldn't take it. The next couple of weeks were challenging because I needed to train for the race and taking a full three weeks off before a race would greatly hinder my conditioning. So I continued training, albeit, carefully. The race started slowly with a single track trail along the entire length of Mendocino. On a single track, you can't run any faster than the slowest person in the line ahead of you and there were dozens in front of us. (My mistake for telling Dan we should position ourselves near the end of the starting line so that we didn't hold up faster runners). Then, at the north end of the ocean trail, we had to descend a steep muddy gorge trail (it rained the day before and was misting all morning), cross a creek (wet shoes right from the start), and climb up a very steep vertical cliff using a rope to pull ourselves up. Only one person could do it at a time -- so more waiting. I was concerned about this part because I hadn't practiced it and haven't had any rope climbing experience, but I did it and was pretty proud of myself! The problem was that all of the waiting was eating into the amount of time we had to finish the race - we would have to increase our speed if we were to make it to the finish line in the allowable time!
That morning before we left the house at 5:30 am. I applied sports tape to my knee, which helped take the pressure off of it for the first 5 miles, but it started hurting badly on the downhills. This was to be a challenging trail run with over 4500 feet of vertical climb and most of that was in still front of me! Except for the pain in my knee, I felt great! My long distance training was paying off. The trails are beautiful, from ocean, to mountains and redwood forests with rhododendrons in bloom, to a majestic waterfall and rivers - it simply couldn't be more beautiful. But the pain was always present. I did a lot of self-talk to get through it. "NEVER give up!" "You CAN do this!" and the one that really did it for me through the finish line was, "The pain will go away, but the accomplishment will last forever!"
Dan and I finished the race together, holding hands as we passed through the finish line to cheers from the crowd, and we did it within the time allowed (our only goal). I even came in third in my age group (there were only 6 females over 60) and at age 68 (I'll be 69 in one month) I was the second oldest woman and the third oldest among the 130 registered runners.
Would I ever run an Ultra Marathon again? I can't answer that right now. It was fun training for it and the race was very well organized and supported. Iit was a vegan event, so all the aid stations offered organic vegan foods to fuel the racers. Such a welcome concept! I do know I'll keep running because I've grown to love it. It keeps me fit and it gives me an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the forest I would never see any other way. But 31-miles? I am glad I did it in spite of injuring my knee (I know that will heal). I love knowing that I can push my body to achieve greatness and not allow my age to become an excuse not to try to become better, stronger, faster. and YOUNGER! I do feel younger since I started running. I see a change in my body and my mind tells me I don't have to give in to aging, not that I ever did - being a mostly raw vegan, I expect to look and feel better than the average person my age (and even much younger than my age). Even so, in the recesses of my mind, I might have thought that aging might possibly prevent me from doing some things, but this race has shown me that it ain't necessarily so!
"NEVER give up!"
"You CAN do it!"
"The pain will go away, but the accomplishment will last FOREVER!"