There is a CONDENSED VERSION at the bottom if you want to skip to that!
I got up early on Saturday and planned to drive to Paducah, KY, check into the hotel, take a two-hour nap, and then meet some people for a pre-race dinner. I arrived in Paducah around 2:00 p.m. I took my drop bag and cooler to the track then drove to the hotel. When I got there, I discovered a big hotel snafu (totally my fault), and had to find another hotel. It took almost an hour and a half to get that sorted out, so rather than a nap, I got lots of stress. I tried to put it behind me and move forward with the race. I missed dinner and headed to the track about 6:15 p.m. Here's a pre-race pic (when you stay alone, a mirror pic will have to do):
I was really excited about the race. I so hoped it would go better than last year. Turns out, it was amazing from start to finish.
When I first arrived, I started introducing myself to people from my running club Run It Fast. It's a group I joined from the website www.runitfast.com, and I'd met 10 or so runners from the club. I've talked regularly to 20 or 30 on Facebook, and it was nice to finally meet in person. This is how many club members showed up to the race:
Having this many people there to be friendly with made a huge difference!
There were also about 10 runners from my hometown, many of whom ran it with me last year, plus a few new recruits.
The start was a bit unusual. We started, and at the end of my first loop, the race staff ran out right as I was crossing the timing area and yelled, "Stop!" The people who were ahead of me kept rounding the track, but I stopped, as did those behind me. Apparently, the timing system wasn't picking up our chips. A couple of minutes later, we had a 2nd start. This time, I ran 4 laps (2 miles) before the race director stopped us again. The system just wasn't working. It was around 8:40 p.m., and they told us they were setting up a different timing system and that we would resume at 9:00. Well, it was about 9:18 p.m. before the 3rd (and final!) start. The timer was only set for 9 hours, so RUTS was only about 9 hours, 26 minutes this year. My running time was 9 hours and 21 minutes.
I started running at a conservative pace, taking walk breaks occasionally, and having great chats with new friends and total strangers. Everyone was so encouraging and friendly. I was determined to stay on the track the entire time, no rest breaks, and that's what I did. I only sat down to change socks and shoes 3 times and to empty rocks out of my shoes twice. I ate and drank on the move. I occasionally grabbed my mp3 player and listened to music for an hour at a time (just one ear bud), then I'd put it back down. I didn't want to miss the opportunity to talk to people!
Throughout the night, I just ran slow and steady and determined. We were all in this together and the running community was constantly encouraging one another. "How are you feeling?" "You look strong." "You are doing great!" One older gentleman, in his 70's or older, said to me, "It's just so nice to see you young women out here." I said, "Not that young." He said, "Wait until you're my age!" Then he sped off. The whole night was a testament to the spirit of the running community. We are a family. I felt very grateful to be a part of that.
One funny thing happened. I was running along kind of in a zone, and I hear the runners behind me yelling, "Stop! Watch out!!" I looked and thought, "Aw, the kitty from last year is back." Then, "That's NOT a kitty!" There was a skunk crossing the track right in front of me. (I just had a similar close call with a copperhead snake on a trail three weeks ago!) I came to a dead stop and retreated. I have never been that close to a skunk. He ran into a drainage pipe in the ditch beside the track. Throughout the night, I made sure to run on the OTHER side of the track in that area. Occasionally, he'd poke his head out of the drain and spook us into an immediate sprint. Apparently, he actually chased one runner about 20 yards. I guess that's how you do speedwork in an ultra.
At some point around midnight, I developed a "system" and used it until mile 38. Around midnight, the lights on one side of the track had been turned off, and only a few tiki torches lit our way. It was very dark, but it was also very cool. There was a line of tents on the dark side of the track. I called that area "tent city" (reference to my favorite play RENT) in my mind, and as soon as I got to the first tent, I'd power walk until the last one. It was maybe .1. Sometimes I'd walk all the way to the Santa Claus pole (that's how I thought of the red/white striped pole just a few steps past the last tent) or the restroom area. My favorite part of the track was just beyond the restroom where we began to run in the light again. I'd get as close to the inside as possible and run where the grass meets the gravel. The grass helped greatly. After I discovered running on the edge of the grass, I looked forward to that spot in every loop! Then I'd run until I passed the timing table, walk a few seconds past my chair and drop bag to get any needed food/drink, and run again until tent city. Over and over. It worked for me. 38.5 miles. In those last few miles at dawn, it seemed like there were only 25 or so people left on the track. I was happy to be one of them.
I had a secret goal I had only shared with one person. I set a high goal of placing in the top 10 women. Turned out, I was 8th woman overall. If I'd had the missing 30 minutes, I think I would have completed 40 miles. (At the end, I was thinking, "Thank God, it was short!")
Relentless forward progress. Determination. Ignoring the blister I had by mile 3. Trying to ignore the half-dollar sized one on the bottom of my left foot by mile 13 that made every step painful. Changing shoes, changing socks. Grateful for all the encouragement from other runners. 26.2 in 6 hours. 30 miles by 4:00 a.m. Fueling with Mountain Dew and Extra-Strength Tylenol. Still running. Making my goal of more than 31.5. New mileage territory. Going through some low periods of time where I was sure I could not run anymore, but running anyway. Birds started singing by 4:45 a.m., a new day. Daylight started coming around 5:00. Realizing that I could probably get in four more miles. Renewed determination and energy. Running at a 12-13 minute mile pace because that was all I could do. Watching the sun rise. Beating my goal of 37.5 miles (60K). Hitting 38 miles. There's still time on the clock. Walking one last lap to stretch out my legs. 38.5 miles. Relieved to see only 5 minutes on the clock left and knowing I didn't have a 10-minute pace in me for one more lap. Permission to stop. 8th woman overall. Joy.
This was taken in mile 37 or 38. My joy is evident.