For any of you that have not been near my Facebook wall at all this week, I had a little race this weekend called Nanny Goat. I had no big expectations of what I would accomplish, because I know that my big goal is to complete the full EC 100. I did want to experience the good, the bad, and the ugly of a full 24 hours, but anything else beyond that was going to be icing on the cake. Because I wanted to do my first mileage over 26, my first goal for Nanny Goat was just to push through to 27 miles. I have only completed 26.2 miles twice in my running career--once when Coach Ed ran me to my first marathon finish at Carlsbad, and the second was my marathon leg at my full Ironman. Those miles took blood, sweat, and tears, so I was not taking doing even 27 miles for granted.
First, I must share that I have the most supportive family and friends ever, and when it comes to races, no one is more supportive than Stephanie Bradsher. She was my Team in Training mentor, and from that day forward she has been one of my biggest supporters. At 5:30 am yesterday morning, Stephanie picked me and my entire carload of supplies up at my house and drove me to Riverside for the event. She was not participating, just supporting me and my friend Jeremiah (who first convinced me to do an ultra), which makes her selfless support so much more wonderful.
Before the race it is important to set up an area where you can easily access your most important items--nutrition, hydration, etc. I had my table set up near Coach Ed so he could help me figure out what I was doing. I had no clue. This whole ultra marathon is so completely different than anything I have ever attempted before, so I was willing to take any advice sent my way. We also set up a little rest area under a group of orange trees with some chairs, a small tent for Jeremiah and his hubby James to sleep in if needed, and it also became a triage area of sorts when I was at my lowest points in the race. I was as prepared as I could be.
We all started in the goat pen for the National Anthem and some photos, and then it was time to start on my 24-hour adventure. The course is one-mile long. The terrain is as flat as can be, but the surface changes from dirt to uneven asphalt to trail then over gopher infested grass and finally onto a bit of concrete which leads to the barn where it all starts again. For the most part the course was a large loop around the farm, but there was one out and back u-turn around a skull topped cone that was a little desolate. From the beginning I was worried about this one-mile thing. How long could I stand doing the same thing over and over before I went crazy? This was honestly the part that I dreaded the most, but I was surprised at how much comfort this course brought me throughout the event. Mile after mile after mile, I knew what to expect. By the time night arrived, I knew what spots to avoid and what parts would be most challenging. I grew to strongly dislike the gopher-holed uneven grassy area by the end--pretty sure anyone that does this course would agree, but at least I knew to be careful there. This race was also comforting because you ran across the same people over and over and by the end complete strangers were cheering for each other mile after mile. The racer's support teams, sometimes including entire families, were scattered camping out around the course. Amazingly, many of these people cheered for all the runners, so it felt like I was being supported the entire 24 hours. I didn't expect that.
I was completely walking this race. Coach Andy's #1 rule is to stay healthy, and so I decided to practice my speed-walking throughout the 24 hours so I didn't injure myself. Because I wasn't running at all it seemed like forever before I hit the marathon distance--over seven hours. Once I finally reached the 27-mile mark, I made my next goal to get to 30 miles. The difficulty was that at this point I was already starting to get some pretty painful blisters on the bottom of my feet near my toes. I could feel them coming on, but wasn't sure what I could do. I NEVER get blisters, and I wasn't prepared for this obstacle at all. Stephanie made me bring blister pads, but by the end even that wasn't nearly enough. I decided to take it mile by mile. By this time, Jeremiah started walking with me which made things so much easier. I found that despite the discomfort of the blisters, walking with Jeremiah made the miles fly by, but the blisters were getting worse. Each step was pretty painful, but I really tried to walk with my usual gait so I didn't end up injuring something else because of poor mechanics. This is where Stephanie took support to new levels. Each time my blisters felt unmanageable, she washed my feet, dried them, put blister pads on, covered it with a light layer of powder to minimize the rub, and then protected it with a large bandage. This would last for about 6 miles before we had to go through the whole process again. Totally time consuming, but it made all the difference to me being able to continue on.
By this time I was so close to forty miles that I really wanted to hit that next milestone. My running buddy Mark drove up to support me during some of the night hours, but because of my blisters he had to wait a bit before I was ready to go out again. I had to regroup each six miles and get the courage to go back out knowing it was getting more painful with each step. In addition, Stephanie had to redress the blisters or it was too painful to even take a few steps. By the time I was ready to go out again, Mark and I needed a light and the flashlight I brought was not nearly enough. I learned that I need to find a much more powerful light source before the EC 100 if I want to make sure I am avoiding obstacles in the dark. Mark was able to get me to the forty mile level, and he provided me with a game plan to get me to fifty. He suggested that I go out and do another six miles with my other running buddy Gabby, and then regroup to do the final four which would give me an even 50 miles. This sounded like a great plan, so I went back to base to have Stephanie re-dress the blister for the next six-mile chunk.
Gabby was just what I needed at that point. She distracted me and made it easier to do those six miles in the dark. I think that every ultra runner would agree that those late night hours are the most difficult mentally, and it was key to have someone or something to distract me. She would not let me focus on the painful steps--she chatted away making the miles more manageable. After those six miles, I was done. I was at the 46-mile mark, but I had to re-evaluate and ask myself if it was smart to do four more miles. Coach Andy's voice was running through my head reminding me to stay healthy. The funny thing was that if it wasn't for the blisters, I honestly felt great. I wasn't exhausted, I wasn't feeling joint or muscles pain, but I worried that these blisters might cause me to walk funny and injure something else. I decided to try and take a short nap and see how I felt after that. I could not be disappointed with 46 miles...this was more than I ever dreamed I could do, so I decided to wait.
I went back to my base camp and tried to sleep. I rested in my camping chair and tried to snuggle under my sleeping bag, but no matter what I did I felt cold and I couldn't get comfortable. I decided to go over to the barn and hang out with Coach Ed's wife Martha. It was one of the best decisions I made that night. Besides having engaging conversations with Martha, I was able to watch the runners coming in mile after mile, and it was here that I had three different people inspire me to suck it up and keep going.
I am sure it will surprise no one that Coach Ed was one of the first ones to remind me to not give up on myself. And the cool thing is that he reminded me not with words but with his actions. Ed started this entire Nanny Goat event with a huge disadvantage. His back had been bothering him for days, and I noticed before the race that he was having great difficulty even bending a little as he attempted to organize his table before the race. I really worried about him, but I knew that he would not use that as an excuse unless his body just stopped working. For the first ten miles he kept it smart and speed walked until he felt a little better. At mile twelve he decided to start running and this is when I realized how truly fast that man is. He flew around each mile of the course and amazed me with his ability to push through lower back pain. How could I possibly complain about blisters when he was kicking butt with his back pain?
The second person that amazed me was a woman who started the race with a goat balloon sculpture on her head. Anyone with this sense of whimsy is okay in my book. I watched her push through mile after mile. She reminded me a lot of myself, because she was not super fast, but her steady push forward moved her through the miles. As the night went on she slowed down a little. She looked like she was in pain, and yet she pushed on. However, when she hit her 44th mile, the dark nighttime hour, the pain of putting that many miles in, and whatever gremlins hit us at our lowest points, all this allowed the negativity to set in for her. She sat down on a chair in the barn and I wasn't sure she was going to get up. At that point Coach Ed came in and noticed that she was hitting her low. Through her tears she told Ed that she was going to try sleeping because she was in too much pain to go on. He was very frank with her. He told her that in his experience he knew that if she tried sleeping she would not get up again. He'd seen it happen too many times at other races. She wasn't really ready to hear those words at that point, but Ed tried to reason with her. After a bit, Ed had to run on and her support team and others in the barn tried to get her to push on as well. Finally, she got up with huge tears in her eyes and walked slowly out of the barn. I wasn't sure how far she would get, but her support person reminded her to take one mile at a time.
After watching those two I knew what I needed to do. By this time it was about 4am and I realized that I had four hours to complete four miles. That meant that I could technically do one mile an hour and still get fifty miles total. That is when my final inspiration came into play. Martha has learned a thing or two being married to Ed for over thirty years. She told me that she would do the final four miles with me so that I wouldn't have to be alone. When I told her I wasn't sure I could do it with my massive blisters, she told me that she knew I could. I decided to have Stephanie clean up my blisters one last time, and Martha and I took off to complete those final miles. They weren't pretty miles, and I was honestly complaining a lot about the pain from my blisters. Martha just ignored me and kept distracting me by asking me questions about my family. Before I knew it, one mile was down...three more to go. The last miles passed in much the same way. I complained and Martha distracted. On that final mile I was amazed to find Coach Ed and his daughter running the last 0.2 mile stretch with us. Ed told me if I could push it a little he would run in with me to complete my fifty miles. That perked me right up and I pushed as hard as I could toward the barn finish. It was so amazing to run in with Coach Ed, and he even stopped long enough to take several photos with me so I could remember my first ultra marathon finish.
One day later I am still coming down from my ultra marathon high. My blisters are still pretty painful, but I am now trying to refer to them as my battle badges. I came away from this Nanny Goat event with so many lesson learned. First, I learned that I need to find a better way to take care of my fabulous feet to prevent blisters before they occur. Amazingly, the only thing that is really bothering me are those blisters. Before the EC 100 I need to research blister prevention methods, and I need to put together a blister dressing kit just in case. I also learned that I can push through difficulties when I am at my lowest point in the race. I saw Ed do it, I saw the woman that almost gave up on herself do it, and I experienced myself doing it as well. In fact, my family arrived to cheer me on for the last hour of the race when I had already completed my fifty miles. Martha convinced me to do one more mile with my family to show them the course. It was not easy, but I will never forget crossing that finish line one last time with my husband and children, and I hope they remember how I pushed through pain to do that. I also learned that I need to find a better light source before my big race, and that I can survive the darkest stretches of night and the early hours before the sun comes up. I am so glad I decided to follow through on taking part in the Nanny Goat event. I don't think I could have learned these lessons so thoroughly without participating in this event. I am so proud of myself and so thankful for all the support I received throughout this experience. I can't wait until the EC 100 when Coach Ed and the other Zero to 100 Mile Hero team members will be able to experience all these things together. Keep pushing forward to our 100-mile goal Debbie, Lecia, Marleen, Caressa, Crista, and my main ultra training partner Gabby...it is so worth it!