As far as the day itself goes, it was far from perfect. The DC Metro area had suffered from a relatively cool spring. Prior to June 1, the thermometer had not hit 90 degrees once and probably only hit 80 two or three times (very unusual for this area), but for June 1, they were predicting over 90 degrees and humid. NOT ideal running conditions, especially when you plan to run 50 miles and have not trained in the heat at all. However I did the best I could to prepare and not focus on the predicted heat. This was a factor I could not control but rather had to accept.
I bought lightweight running shorts and shirt (from my favorite running store, Potomac River Running), a camel pack to carry water and hoped for the best! I knew the race organizers would do a great job with the aid stations, but to be on the safe side I packed a cooler full of ice, water, Gatorade and Coke for my support crew to take to Great Falls. I made sure I had plenty of Gu, Power Blasts, and snacks (even Swedish Fish!) for refueling. I did everything I could to prepare and then just let the day unfold.
There were five of us who had planned and trained together since the start of the year. We were ready, we were excited and we had a plan. We had spent the last several long training runs trying to prepare our bodies for the challenge that laid ahead. We planned to eat every 30 minutes though out the day and to drink as much as we could. This strategy had worked well in training, so we felt confident it would work on race day.
We started out in Algonquian Park at 5:00 am and headed down the Potomac Heritage Trail towards Great Falls. This stretch from Algonquian to Great Falls was about 15 miles, then we had three 7 miles loops to do in Great Falls before heading back to the finish line. Starting out we just wanted to find our pace, settle in and stick to our plan. Jodi and I agreed to stick together on our way out. For the most part is was an uneventful 15 miles. The scenery was beautiful! I always finding myself thinking about the amazing history in the DC area and wonder what this area was like in the early years of this great city. We chatted, we laughed and we genuinely had fun. At one point we had a very pleasant surprise when Jodi's mother-in-law, Roz, appear along the trail to cheer us on! It was the first time (of many to come) when I was over come with emotions and felt the love and support of so many others.
About 8:15 am we entered Great Falls, where we were eagerly greeted by family and friends, who proved to be the best support/pit crew in the world. We refilled our water packs, grabbed a quick bite, had cold water poured over our head, hugged, high fived and took off for our first loop. The best part was that we knew in 7 miles we would be back to see the smiling faces, cheers, ice, drinks and food!
Great Fall is a tough place to run, even under normal circumstance, but add the fact that we had already run 15 miles, it was even more difficult. Each loop consisted of two steep out and backs and one loop across the rocks overlooking the Potomac River! In order to conserve energy we walked up most of the hills and then ran down the other side. This was a great plan, except that I am a big chicken on the down hills! But I did the best I could by trying to relax on the down hills. This plan seemed to work well, so we stuck with it.
We looped around, came back into Great Falls and were again greeted with cheers! It was such a happy feeling to see so many wonderful friends and family. It also felt like a NASCAR pit stop. Jodi and I each had 3-4 people fussing over us all at once and before we knew it we were off again. Each time we left our support I had to take a few deep breaths and relax again. It was such a rush and I felt so good as I headed out on the next loop, but I knew I needed to relax and just stick to my plan. To me if felt as if each loop got shorter and went by faster. I am sure this is simply because I knew what to expect, but I was thrilled as I crossed the rocks for the last time and came back into the park, hand in hand with my 8 year old Tarynn (both my girls met me on the final set of rocks and ushered me through the check point)!
With 35 miles done we were ready to head back to Algonquian. We did our final checks, made sure we had enough water and food for our final stretch and picked up our pacers. We hugged and thanked everyone and started on our way. Because we had no idea how we would be feeling, both Jodi and I had planned to have pacers join us for the final 15 miles. My friend, Brian, had offered to be my pacer and to run me into the finish. I was feeling so good at this point and so excited to be heading back I could hardly contain myself.
Almost immediately after leaving Great Falls, we had to climb (yes I mean climb) up a huge hill! And the first negative thoughts popped into my head. I quickly shook them off, reminding myself that this was just one hill, that there were downhills after this and I could do it. These were my only negative thoughts for the day. Once I got up the hill and caught my breath, I felt great and continued to feel good the rest of the way. There were several other big hills, all of which we had gone over earlier in the day and I was as prepared as I could be for each one. At the bottom of one, I came around the corner and realized that it was the final hill of the course! I couldn't believe it, I was thinking I had one more hill to go! I was so excited I starting jumping up and down with a huge smile on my face and look at Brian in utter disbelief, "This was the last hill?!" I said, still not quite believing it myself. Brian laughing at me, said "yep" and we are almost back! Only about 5 miles to go!!! Wow, I thought! This was the first time I realized that I was going to finish 50 mile! I was so excited and proud, I just wanted to keep running towards the finish.
We plodded along, mostly jogging but with short walk breaks. As we approached the final aid station I was feeling really good, but I was ready to be done. I was ready to see my family and friends and to express my gratitude to them all for being there for me. From the aid station, we had a 2 mile out and back before we followed the path the final 1.6 mile. I knew I needed a plan to get through these final 4 miles. So I planned to run the first mile, then walk a mile and run the rest of the way in. "I am running across that finish line!" I exclaimed! This proved to be a great plan!
As I made the final turn from the gravel path to the golf path leading to the finish line, I saw Simon and Ellie (Jodi's husband and daughter). They were such a welcome site! They gave me that little extra boost to keep on running towards the finish line. As we continued a man walking along the path congratulated me and I began to tear up, but smiled the best I could and kept on running. Approaching the final 100 meters, I passes a large group of spectators who cheered so loudly for me (and they didn't even know me!) I really started to cry. For the first time I looked at Brian and said, "Oh my, I am going to do this. I am going to finish 50 miles! I can't believe it!" Brian smiled back, equally as proud and said "of course you are, you are awesome!" (what great support).
The next thing I saw blew my mind! I saw all of my friends and family just outside the finish line, literally jumping up and down screaming and yelling for me!! I couldn't believe it and that feeling of love and support still brings me to tears! Once again Tarynn ran out to meet me and together we crossed the finish line hand in hand!! It was so amazing to be able to share this with her and the rest of my family!
Needless to say, the hour that followed was filled with lots of hugs, high fives, laughter, tears, recaps of the run, food and drink and amazement of what we accomplished! Jodi, Jess, Michiel and Chris all crossed the finish line with smiles! Together we did it and are thankful for each other and astonished at the accomplishment we achieved. I am eternally thankful to my husband Bill, my girls Ashlynn and Tarynn, my brother Kevin and friends; Dora, Brooke, Maddie, Kira, Little Brian and of course Brian for being the best pacer ever.