I started to panic around the 18K mark of last weekend’s Blackfoot 50K.
Seven kilometres were remaining in this first loop. And here I was shuffling and limping along.
I had a whole other 25K loop on top of those seven kilometres. I could walk. Sure, I could walk for another 32K, but chasing cutoffs was not part of my race strategy.
Over the past year or so, I have struggled/whined about my right leg. My biggest challenge has been navigating the downhills. Something always goes wrong.
Last year, I tripped on a pebble during the Lost Soul 50K, and I was out.
So in the ensuing months, I have concentrated on strengthening my leg, glutes and core muscles. I feel stronger, and I knew this race would be a good test.
I felt pretty awesome for most of the first 10k — save for the irritation of putting my hydration bladder inside my running vest incorrectly.
(Note to self: Always check your hydration bladder before you start running. If you put the bladder in backwards, the part that connects the hose to the bladder will dig into your back and create painful welts.)
I had driven to the race from my pal Carleigh’s place in St. Albert. It was about an hour drive, which allowed me the time to calm my pre-race jitters. As a matter of fact, I was more worried about finding the race than actually running it.
The race — in Cooking Lake Blackfoot Provincial Park Recreational Area — isn’t exactly GPS-friendly so if you are like me and put all your trust in the friendly voice behind GPS, you might get lost.
Race morning was cool with a slight breeze. The sun was still hiding behind the clouds so we didn’t have to battle the heat for the first bit. Other runners — the 100K and 50-milers — had already been running for a couple of hours.
I was happy to see some Central Alberta runners among the racers in all distances — Mark Johnson, Brian McArthur, Anna Duda, and Slade McCormick. My friend Joanna Dykstra from Slave Lake was also among the competitors.
The first few kilometres of a race are always the best because everyone is so cheery and excited to get moving. I was running at a good pace and making runner talk. You know the … Have you run this race before? What races are you running this year? I’m not really racing. I am using this for training … blah blah blah.
My plan was to run, run some more, hike up the big hills, and smash the downhills. I had to pace myself because being on your feet for 50K, especially at my pace, is not a short feat. I expected to be done around the six-hour mark. (For comparison purposes, the female winner of last year’s 50K took four hours and 34 minutes. The male winner finished in three hours and 49 minutes. The last place finisher was nine hours and 43 minutes. This year’s results have not been posted yet.)
All was going according to plan until around the 18K mark. I felt something wonky in my right leg and I knew I had to slow down on the downhills. All these thoughts kept going through my mind — what the fudge am I going to do? Should I pull out after one loop? That would be incredibly embarrassing. Man, I don’t want to be slower than my time five years ago (6:49). That too would be embarrassing and humbling.
Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
I walked it out and ran/walked to the finish of the first loop. I went over to where Mark’s wife Karin was hanging out and stretched out my hip. (The pigeon stretch is the best stretch ever.) It seemed to do the trick. I felt better, and I went off for the second loop.
By now, I had lost all the people I had been running with earlier on the first loop.
My plan was to keep running and to stretch my legs at each aid station. I purposely did not allow myself the option to listen to music or a podcast. I wanted to work through my stuff because I knew it would be a mental game until the end.
Surprisingly, the second loop went by relatively quickly. I didn’t see too many runners, and, when I did, they were not in the mood for chatting.
I was determined to finish strong. I amused myself by singing All By Myself by Celine Dion at the top of my lungs and counting the horse turd on the trail.
Without hesitation, I said ‘yes’ when a volunteer asked “Do you want me to pour a bucket of water over your head?”
It was just want I needed to run those final five kilometres into the finish. My time was six hours and 11 minutes.
I will take it.
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