A new community.
Now the only thing that stood between me and WR50 were three weeks and two preview runs of the course. The first 25 miles one week, the second half the next, and a week of rest. And by rest I mean at least 6-8 miles a day of moderate to high intensity and a 16 mile short run on the weekend. It never really occurred to me the ‘high level’ of running I’d reached in training for this race; everything just seemed like the next natural step in order to achieve my goal. The more I was asked about my running, the more I realized that I had crossed some insanity threshold along the way. It was about this time that the 2nd most popular question began to surface. (1st question) “50 miles?! Is that possible?” Oddly enough, I kept asking myself the same thing. I generally replied with “absolutely, it’s a growing underground sport, and I’m going to find out if it is possible for me.” Most people went from giving me a look of shock and “you’re insane” to one of concern when they found out not only was the race 50 miles, but in the mountains with 17,400 ft (~5,300 m) of elevation change. I was nothing but excited. I had no idea what I was in for either.
The first preview run was nerve-racking at best. I knew we would be completing a little over a marathon, gaining 5600 ft (1707 m) and only one water station at about mile 16. I showed up to the Fleet Feet store in Seattle and waited as the other runners arrived for a ride to the mountain. I ended up in a car with a guy who has now become one of my best friends and the absolute best running buddy ever, Paul. We were both new to the whole mountain running culture but completely enthralled by the idea of completing a 50 miler. As we arrived at the parking lot at the mountain, I noticed there were about 20-30 people present. Not everyone was training for the race, but just loved to run and wanted to support those of us who were taking on this daunting task. The average age was honestly a lot higher than I had imagined.
As we started the run, we were quickly surrounded by thick brush and a very rooty single track trail. I tripped twice within the first 2 miles and one time almost face planted. About the time I got the hang of running with higher steps, the incline hit. And did it ever. It began with a stair case, literally, and continued almost consistently for the next 10 miles. Paul caught up with me about 6 miles in and we ended up running together to the water station. We did not talk much as we were both struggling to keep a moderate pace at such a steep incline (i.e. speed hiking). The trip back should have been easier, but I had not been this dehydrated in a very long time. The sun was out in full force and quite a bit of the run was under high exposure. Having no idea how much further I had, I did not know how much water I needed to conserve. It reached a point where I had about 2 sips left in only one of my bottles and I thought about stopping. But just then, a couple came round a bend and were kind enough to fill up my bottles. I was revitalized and able to finish the first practice run in just over 5 hours. The camaraderie I experienced was unlike anything before.
That encouraging spirit was even more present during the second preview run. On the drive down, Paul and I ended up in the same car again with Scott the race director. Scott is a seasoned ultrarunner, having trained with Scott Jurek and completed a number of ultras. We picked his brain the whole way. He was full of great advice like micro-managing the trail. Instead of setting a distance to keep running before taking a short walk break, he said it was more efficient to let the trail tell you what to do; meaning run what you could and when the trail gets too steep, speed hike. He also suggested only eating on downhill sections. This way the blood that would be needed to digest the food could be available, since the legs require less. He instructed us to try Succeed S! caps, which are an electrolyte tablet. In order to keep electrolytes in balance, he suggested taking the first pill 30 minutes in, and then another every hour, with at least one bottle of water during that time. If you are not taking in electrolytes, your body begins to lose the ability to absorb water and stay hydrated. If you go too long without having any electrolyte intake, there is nothing that can help and you will eventually become severely dehydrated no matter how much water you drink. On the other hand, if you take the capsule and do not drink enough water, your kidneys will shut down. Talk about getting in to scary territory! This is real. Scott told us a story of how he crossed a finish line as his kidneys shut down and he was rushed to the hospital and it took a couple days there to recover.
The second run was great, but the whole time I kept trying to remember that I would be running it after having already completed 27 miles. It was not sinking in. I finished this section in about 4 hours and 45 minutes and went to go soak in the cold flowing waters of the White River. It was there that it hit me. I could do this, and in 2 weeks I would have my chance. We were rewarded with some burritos from a guy who had just completed the Hard Rock 100 in less than 31 hours. His stories were inspiring.
From these practice runs I learned about a new group of people. The ultra trail runners. The calm, joyful, energetic atmosphere was very welcoming and all were seen as equals. It was indeed a new community for me, a place birthing new friendships and hopes for my church community.