After my first DNF at Oil Creek in October, I had the thought that I should just not run another ultra for the rest of the year and run the Turkey Trot and be done. But I already had a coveted spot in Bill’s Bad Ass 50K and I didn’t want to give that up just because I was afraid of failing again. My knee still isn’t 100 percent and I was undertrained, but I decided I needed to run the race anyway.
An added motivation is that the race is free! But there are bib numbers and the results are in UltraRunning Magazine, so I consider it a real race. Throwing caution to the wind, I was in!
The race is six of the same five-mile loop in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park starting at the Everett Road covered bridge. After completing six loops, you run up a hill across the street (about a half mile up), grab a piece of candy in a box that serves as the turnaround point and then back down.
This year, I went into the race with the only goal to finish. The morning was cold, with the promise of sunshine and warmer temperatures later. I hated myself for wearing shorts. About a mile in, I was cursing myself for running the race and wondered why I had bothered doing it. I had already talked myself into giving up when I felt like I had enough. I can’t explain why that happened so early on.
The loops are really tough and involve a lot of up and down. There’s three stream crossings and one uphill that is particularly nasty. Thankfully, it didn’t rain at all during the week, but the one really tough uphill that was still a muddy mess from the weeks of rain prior.
Eventually on the first loop, I caught up to my friend Heather and ran the rest of the loop with her. I ran the next one with Fred, a local ultra runner who has been running a very, very long time and has a lot of wisdom to pass on. Close to the end of the first loop, my knee started to hurt. I was afraid that after three loops, it would be unbearable pain like at Oil Creek and I’d be forced to drop again.
This time, I was a little smarter about it and slowed down when I needed to and took Advil when I came into the aid station. Despite my thoughts about quitting a mile into the race, I needed to finish strong. I couldn’t end my season with another DNF, no matter how much it hurt or how long it took, I was going to finish the race. I ran the last four loops on my own, briefly chatting with others along the way. Each time I came into the aid station, my friends who were volunteering made comments about how strong I looked and that it seemed like I hadn’t been running at all. My knee hurt, but my spirit wasn’t crushed and I wanted to have the best experience I possibly could.
I got slower and slower every loop, but it didn’t matter. The miles clicked away and I eventually made it through six loops. I came through the bridge one last time, up to the aid station and passed my handheld off to my boyfriend. I crossed the street and made my way over to the hill. I didn’t have it in me to run up it, but as I crossed paths with other runners who were about to finish their first ultras, I knew I had to push up the hill as strong as I could. After I finally got my piece of candy, I turned around and went down the hill as fast as I could. I don’t know how fast my last mile was, but I’m pretty sure it was close to 10 minutes.
I crossed the finish line in seven hours and six minutes. My slowest 50K to date, but I couldn’t be prouder of my effort and all of the new ultra runners who ran their first 50K that day.
Have you ever jumped in a race for the heck of it? How’d it turn out for you?