An innocent wave from some elderly gentlemen, a selfie with my crew and a reminder on my wrist to breathe gave me a brand new attitude.
What reminder on my wrist to breathe you may be asking. Well, a friend had given me a bracelet, and while according to the message that came with it, the exact meaning wasn’t exactly about breathing, I loosely translated it to mean just that. To me, it was a reminder to breathe – both literally and figuratively. I wore it on race day for that exact reason. I had looked down on that bracelet often in those first few miles, I rubbed its charm and I took a deep breath and reminded myself to breathe. Enjoy this. This is a once in a lifetime event because I sure as hell don’t want to do this again. So if I’m only going to do this once, I might as well enjoy it!So with this new attitude, I knew I was going to enjoy the Fall 50 for as long as I could and if I hit the wall, if my bathroom issues caused me to stop or if my shin splints made me walk, well I was damn well going to enjoy the run until those things happened.
The next few miles flew by in a whirl. And when I say “few miles”, I mean the next 20 to 25 miles! Here are random thoughts, observations and interesting tidbits from miles 1-30.
I couldn’t believe how hard it was raining. At times the rain could only be described as a “downpour”. I remember thinking how some of my friends would NOT have liked to run in these conditions. And I also thought about how many relay runners – some who fall into the “casual runner” group – must absolutely hate the weather. And yes, that made me smile and enjoy the rain that much more. The harder it rained, the more miserable the relay runners were and the happier I became. I’m nasty like that!
All of the small towns I ran through during the beginning half of the Fall 50 felt very familiar and “safe”. Because I had not gotten to the point where I could fully relax and just run and I was still very much on edge, the familiarity of running through the streets that I had so many times on training runs made me feel safe. It was a bit of familiarity that I had, that not many other runners would have, so I felt like I had a secret no one else had.
I had my initial crew with me from the start – Brian, Jolene, Jill, Ty, Stosh, Sarah, Ted and Jamie – but not long after the start did others start showing up. Carol, Jason and Heather, the Stenzels all showed up in the first 16 miles. I heard later that Jason and Heather had actually been with the group one of two stops before I noticed them. And the only reason I noticed them when I did, was because Jason finally called out to me. There was always so much stimulation at each stop plus I had things I needed to take care:replenishing my fuel, eating, putting on BioFreeze, reading the signs, trying to look pretty for the cameras, etc. I had a lot to do in a very little time!
Pretty early in the race the Rock the Route Theme surfaced and it was a stroll down memory lane and it would eventually play out to show the transition from my non-running days up to the Fall 50. It showed my past marathons with a “MASH” type pole and all! It was pretty impressive
I don’t remember exactly at what mile the first relay runner caught up to me but I do remember it being earlier than I had expected. Especially because the relay teams that started at 8am, one hour after the solo start time, were the slowest of the relay teams. But I told myself that just because collectively the relay team was considering among the slowest, it doesn’t mean that the first runner who caught me wasn’t the fastest one on the team.
After the first relay runner caught me, I knew the rest of the day would be different. I was pretty much on my own – just me and my crew – up to this point but with the addition of the relay runners now on the course and passing me, it was going to get more crowded and I’d have to “share” my experience with them, so to speak. I was a bit indifferent to them showing up. I knew they’d help distract me at times by having someone to focus on, but yet I wasn’t willing to share my course!
In the past when I was part of a relay team and I would pass a solo runner I ALWAYS congratulated them and offered them words of encouragement. And when I ran shotgun with my friends when they ran solo, I knew they got TONS of encouragement from relay runners. So even though I had to share the roads with the relay runners I was anxiously awaiting all the kudos about to come my way!
I did get encouragement from some relay runners, but I’m not going to lie, I didn’t get as many as I had expected. I was bummed. Well, actually depending on the circumstance or the person running past me, I was down right pissed. And yes, I absolutely did call them a pussy when they didn’t acknowledge me as a solo. And yes, I did say it out loud. But it was never loud enough to be heard. I’m bold and cranky when I run, but not that bold or cranky… yet! And while it may sound petty and childish, it made me feel better in the moment and anything to make myself feel better while running 50 miles is okay!
I had plenty of time to think about why some pussies, I mean relay runners, were running past without giving a shout out to a solo runner and I could only think it was because of the weather and how miserable they were. Or maybe it was because they were so self-fricken-absorbed in their piddly 10 miles they had to run that they couldn’t even fathom the balls it took to run 50 miles. And quite honestly they were all embarrassed that I had bigger balls than them! Pussies! And yes, you’d be correct in your assessment of the situation if you said I was still a bit upset by the lack of acknowledgement from relay runners.
While a lot of relay runners ran past without giving me props, the ones who did were awesome! I actually got two hugs. While running. That’s not easy. But yes, I had two different women run up to me, ask if I was solo and when I said yes, hugged me and gave me props for being solo. I had a few “wow, you’re amazing” shout outs and a lot of general “nice job, solo”. At one point I had a relay runner pass me, and acknowledge me and then she got some cheers from spectators on the side of the road and instead of taking their cheers she passed them on to me. She actually said to them, “forget about me, she’s (and she pointed back to me) running solo… cheer for her.” That was pretty cool.With almost 500 relay teams (most teams had 5 people per team) you can imagine how packed the relay exchange stations are, especially the ones during the first half of the race before everyone gets too spread out. If you don’t know what I mean when I say relay exchange, it’s a point on the course where relay team members – all of them – wait for their one teammate that is currently running. Then when that one runner shows up, they hand off the timing chip to the runner who is next up. Relay exchanges are chaotic and loud. There are often teams on both sides of the exchange point so if you are running through the exchange – like a solo runner would – and you do not stop, you run through a sea of people. I believe it was the 3rd exchange point that had just a crazy amount of people and it was loud, cramped and AWESOME. I literally felt like a rock star. I had people on both sides of me and they all realized I was a solo and when they did they cheered and they cheered loud. I got a lot of props and shout outs and I got a chill throughout my body that just didn’t seem real. This, I thought, I could get used to!
And I did actually experience it at a few more relay exchange points to various degrees. One exchange point was pretty crowded and loud and I was getting a few cheers but then suddenly I got… “oh my god, Marla” and then I few more feet and I heard, “Go Marla” and then shortly after that I heard… “yay Marla”. No, my crew wasn’t waiting for me at the exchange point, I just happened to know a few relay runners at that exchange point. And lucky for me, they all saw me coming and not only cheered for me but got their friends to cheer too. That was cool. Personalized shout outs are even better!
And speaking of personalized shout outs, some spectators who knew Brian must have recognized me from Brian’s FB posts because they too gave me personal shout outs when they’d see me on the course. Granted, I was confused at first about who these people were, but in reality, I didn’t care. It gave me something to think about and that’s not a bad thing. Plus, whether I knew them or I didn’t, I’ll never turn down a personal shout out!
I was doing a good job of staying hydrated and taking in fuel. I had started early and was mixing it up often. Because I was drinking so much I was also peeing a lot. A used porta potties, the RV and sometimes I just peed behind the RV because it was quicker. I was doing a good job eating too. I was eating a bit of everything that I had brought – the rice balls (which weren’t staying together because Brian made them the night before and not me…. apparently Brian’s rice ball making skills aren’t up to par with mine), the rice wraps, the turkey and pretzels as well as the Doritos. I even had a few animal crackers even though I didn’t ever like them during training. But I made sure to bring them along… just in case. And sure enough, for a reason I can’t explain, at one stop that’s what I wanted. That’s the only thing that appealed to me at that time. Brian was the person who knew my fuel needs inside and out. So it took me by surprise when other people were at-the-ready with my fuel. And not that it takes a rocket scientist to hold out a bag of Doritos for me, but it was kind of cool to see some other friends helping with my fuel needs.
I had anticipated needing salt tablets but because of the rain, I wasn’t really too concerned with losing too much salt in my sweat. But I did take them once just to be safe. I also took Imodium because I could finally feel my stomach start to rumble. And while I had carried some capsules along with me, I realized when I went to get them out of my pocket that the rain had dissolved them into a mushy white powder. I tried to scrape the remnants of the capsules out of my pocket to salvage what I could but when I realized I would be seeing my crew soon and that I had some more tablets in the RV, I decided to wait.
At one point the rain did stop and the sun came out. I even asked for my sunglasses. I didn’t actually get around to wearing the sunglasses because it once again started raining.
Besides the rain, it was a bit breezy too. Actually some people would call it down right windy. I noticed the wind at the beginning when I was running under trees because the wind coupled with the rain that was on the trees made for more mini downpours. If you’ve never been rained on by the rain that comes from trees, consider yourself lucky. It can actually be pretty hard rain, which on this day, it was.
The wind was also noticeable at points when I’d glance at the water and there were mini white caps on the Bay. That doesn’t happen too often. I knew it was supposed to be windy and it did have me concerned because I not only didn’t want to run into a headwind the entire day, but I also didn’t want the wind to make the rain that much colder. But thankfully I didn’t really have a problem with either of those factors. If you’re a football fan, you’ll know that some running backs that are good at running in sloppy conditions are called “mudders” – well I must be the equivalent of a mudder when it comes to running. I do not have a problem with crappy, rainy, windy conditions. Bring it on – I say!
I know I mention the rain often and that’s because it really was a huge part of the day. It affected so much of the day and it also rained more than it didn’t. At one point Brian told me that he looked at the radar and that all the rain should be out of the area and it should be done raining by 1 o’clock. At some point later than 1 o’clock, I asked Brian… “hey, I thought you said it was supposed to stop raining?”
During one heavy point in the rain, I looked off into the distance and I thought the sky looked particularly dark, the kind of dark that would show, not rain, but a storm. I was both horrified and numb to that fact. I remember my heart sinking a bit with the “what if” scenario of a storm rolling in. But I quickly pushed that out of my mind because that was the one scenario I wasn’t ready for and I couldn’t even comprehend what would happen if lightning struck in the area. Lightning is the one weather pattern that will cancel a race and I KNEW that even if the race got cancelled I was going to finish this damn race. Not finishing wasn’t an option. Side Note: Apparently I was right in my assessment of the possibility of a storm because I found out later from my crew that there was indeed a storm in the forecast. Thankfully it never materialized.
Up through the first half of the race I had done a pretty good job of sticking to my run/walk strategy: run 10 minutes, walk 1 minute and walk all hills. I was feeling pretty good. My run/walk strategy was going well and I was fueling properly. So far – so good.
I was now approaching Peninsula State Park and I knew I needed someone to bike with me through the park because cars and crew are discouraged from going through the park. And while I had a whole gang of people willing to bike alongside of me, I elected to have Brian bike with me. He biked with me through every training run so he knew exactly what I’d want and when. If I had a problem while in Pen Park, he’d know how to handle it. He’d know to leave me alone and not bother me. I didn’t want to have to chit-chat at this point and/or explain to anyone else what I wanted or needed, so it was best that Brian be my wingman through the park. Plus this gave the crew a bit of a break because it would be 8 miles before they’d see me again.
I had a friend who had a real problem mentally running through the park when he ran it solo. I had run the park enough during training that I wasn’t concerned with the mental fatigue that the park can cause. But what I didn’t expect was how a small change in the route actually could have a big effect on my mental psyche. At one part while running through the park, the route gets off of the road and takes us on a soft trail but I never ran the trail during my training runs because it was never marked and Brian and I didn’t know where it was, so I only ran the road. This messed with me a bit on race day because I didn’t know exactly where I was or how far into the park I was either. And then when I finally got back onto the road, I couldn’t get my bearings. I was so mad at myself for letting this happen.
Thankfully I saw some relay friends while I was in the park and that helped ease the mental anxiety that was starting to set in. I saw some at an exchange point and then some more caught me and chatted with me before running ahead. This helped keep the anxiety from really setting in and by the time I got back to a point where I knew where I was in the park, I was almost back to normal.
And just when I realized I knew where we were and I had figured that we had about another mile – give or take – until we were out of the park, I saw up ahead a big green “figure”. It was far enough away that I had no idea what it was. As I got a bit closer I could tell it was a person in a costume. And the minute I realized it was a person in a costume, I knew that costumed person was there for me and no one else! And I also knew that if a person, in what kind of looked like a big sumo/clown costume, was over a mile into the park – it could only be one person inside of that costume and that would be Sarah.
Yep, it was Sarah. As I got closer, I saw Sarah in this crazy green clown costume, even though she was claiming she was a leprechaun. Oh my. I had no words. I not only didn’t expect anyone a mile into the park, but I surely didn’t expect anyone waiting for me a mile into the park in a leprechaun/clown costume. Holding her big red shoes and all!
Sarah couldn’t just stay in the park in her costume all day, so to get out of the park she ran behind me and when Brian left to bike ahead and get more fuel – she ran alongside of me. Again, I say… oh my. What others must have thought when they saw her. What people must have thought when they saw us running together!As I was coming out of Peninsula State Park I was planning on changing my shoes, not because the rain-soaked them – which it did – but because I was running on old shoes and I knew it would not be good for my knees to run the entire 50 on old, worn out shoes. I had packed a lot of extra shoes but I told my crew that I had wanted to change my shoes to the fuchsia colored shoes. When I ran up to them, I saw a pair of running shoes waiting patiently for me under an umbrella. I remember thinking that keeping them dry under an umbrella was clever. I had been wet for so long that it didn’t even occur to me to keep things dry. I had lost hope of having anything dry, long ago, so the fact that they were keeping my shoes dry was a nice touch. However, it was the wrong pair of shoes. The shoes they had waiting for me were black. Hmmm… well that’s interesting I thought. But I will cut the crew some slack because there was a “bit” of fuchsia on the shoes, but for the most part…. they were black. Thankfully they were able to find the shoes I wanted and Sarah is a fast enough runner that even though I kept running she was able to catch up to me with my requested shoes and a new pair of socks. I found a bench on the sidewalk and sat down and changed my shoes. I tried to do this as quickly as possible because I wasn’t even at the half way point in the race and the last thing I wanted to do was get comfortable sitting down! As I was running out of Peninsula State Park I focused on what was next: changing my shoes, getting through Fish Creek, and getting through some upcoming miles that can be mentally challenging. I was focused. Well, that focus wavered when I saw Ty. Actually I saw Ty – Circa 1987. Ty was in a blond mullet wig, cut off jean shorts and an Ozzy Osbourne concert t-shirt. I knew Ty in 1987 and I actually remember that VERY t-shirt. Oh man, seeing Ty in all of his 1987 glory just cracked me up. And again, what did others around me think of what they were seeing. Because don’t forget when I spotted Ty I was still running with Sarah in her clown/leprechaun costume. It’s not too often you have a runner flanked by a leprechaun and an 80s rocker. Oh man. I’m smiling again just thinking about it. It was seriously a sight!
Running through Fish Creek took a lot of bobbing and weaving because the streets are very narrow and the route actually takes the runners up on to the sidewalk that we now have to share with the tourists. And Brian was following me on the bike. And Sarah was chasing after me with my shoes. — No wonder the sidewalks were so crowded… just me and my crew alone took up a lot of space.
After leaving Fish Creek there’s a bit of a climb and then the route flattens out at the top. It’s wooded and pretty. I made a special effort to look around and try to enjoy the scenery. I looked at the aging tennis court that I ran past many times during training and wonder when the last time anyone played on it. I looked at the stone ledge running along the front of a few of the properties and wondered how old it really was and couldn’t help but think it reminded me a bit of the stone fencing I had seen all over Ireland. I tried to peek through the trees that were losing their leaves to see if I could see any more of the homes hidden behind them. I knew I had to keep my mind focused on the good, because I was reaching the half way point and I knew it was only going to get harder from here. The longer I could keep the mental fatigue away, the better chance I had at not hitting the wall.
A few more miles and I was at the Half-Way Buffet, which don’t let the name mislead you, it’s actually at mile 28. Thankfully because of my training runs, I knew this going into the race. If I had not known it ahead of time, it would have fucked with my head. Something as simple as having an exchange point called “half-way” and not actually being “half-way” would have just wrecked me. I would have looked for it for 3 miles and in those 3 miles anxiety would have set in and it’s something I may not have recovered from. Seriously, that’s the kind of stuff that makes me LOSE it! Again, I’m so happy I trained on the course and knew the ins and the outs!
My friend Jody heads up the Half-Way Buffet and she was waiting for me as I ran in. Because this is a relay exchange point, it’s really chaotic and busy. Also, this is the largest exchange point from a fuel/support perspective. This stop offers soup and other goodies that the other exchange points do not. This made for an extra level of chaos. I knew I wanted to have a bit of the soup because I thought the warm broth would hit the spot, but I couldn’t find where to go. The solo runners had our own tent but I couldn’t spot it because of all the relay runners; thankfully Jody directed me where to go. I got some soup and took a few spoonfuls before ditching it because it was so freaking hot. And while I was warned it was hot, I couldn’t have waited there long enough for it to cool down to a reasonable temperature to consume. It actually burnt my mouth and I could feel the “burn” all day. Now that’s hot fricken soup. And it’s too bad because I was really looking forward to it too. I’m curious if any of the other solo runners had a similar incident? I hope not.
After a quick photo-op, I was back on my way. I knew my crew had gone up ahead to try to avoid the chaos at this stop so I was very surprised to see Carol driving away from the exchange point and going in – what I thought was the wrong direction. I even told her I thought she was going in the wrong direction only to have the volunteers shout at me… “no she’s not, they all have to go that way.” Ouch! That volunteer was obviously not having a good day. And based on the look on Carol’s face and the look on the volunteer’s face, this wasn’t the first time that the volunteer had to turn someone around and make them go the other direction. But considering Carol was now separated from the rest of the crew, I figured this was not a good sign for her because she didn’t know where she was going. I was wondering how she was going to find the rest of the crew. I felt badly, but then I realized there was nothing I could do about it and that I had to get back to running.
After the Half-Way Buffet (that’s not really half way) there’s a stretch of road that is out in the country and without any spectators or tourists and while normally that would have bothered me, it didn’t. I actually like the next few miles because I was familiar with it and it gave me a chance to reset, breathe and get ready for the hard part – the next 20 miles.
And as much as I liked the next few miles after the Half-Way Buffet, I don’t like the miles just after those. I know… hard to keep up with what I like and don’t like! I knew that after these few miles, miles 28-30 (the ones that I liked), I was going to be heading to the ones that always mess with me mentally. Instantly a bit of anxiety crept in and I knew it was only a matter of time before a full-blown anxiety attack hit me and I knew I could not let this happen.
The next time I met up with my crew, as the anxiety was creeping in, I decided I needed someone to run with me and I needed it now. This was a few miles before I had wanted anyone to run with me. But as my Coach said, “on race day I have the prerogative to change my mind”. And I did. Unfortunately I caught everyone off guard with my request and no one was ready to run with me yet, that is except for Sarah. Thankfully Sarah was still in her running clothes and she was willing and able to jump in immediately.
And just like that, I had now begun the part of the race where I was going to have my friends run with me. This was exciting and scary. I was just hoping that it would work. I was still very nervous about the last 20 miles and I so desperately wanted my plan to have my friends run a mile at a time with me to work.
Until Next time,