That’s really the long and the short of it. But it doesn’t really give you the full picture.
Thankfully, my long-time friend Melissa is a native Wacoan and a runner who not only generously put my dad and I up for the night at her home but treated us to a lovely pre-race dinner and a drivealong of the course. This, my dear readers, was top-notch service.
The course drive was incredibly helpful, because I knew that the Miracle Match Marathon bills itself as “The Toughest in Texas. No Bull.” In a state that is prone to exaggeration in all matters, I wanted to see if the hills I’d been reading about were really all that significant. After all, I live in Austin and train on some beastly hills quite regularly.There is still truth in advertising, my friends.
We got to the start of the race in time for a quick potty stop, a few pics, and then we lined up ready to go.
The race started downtown, with temps around 60 degrees and a 15 mph wind that made it feel a bit cool waiting for the start. Yes, I am a weenie Texan who wore arm sleeves for the first mile. The first 10K was pretty easy, taking runners through the Baylor campus and around the football stadium and lagoon. It was flat, scenic, and there were even a few college kids out early on a Sunday morning to cheer us on. Other than a lady sitting on the riverwalk and knitting as the runners went by who shouted (encouragingly), “You’re almost there!” it was a delightful start to the race.
The real course started with a long, steady climb from miles 6-9. This section would have been more tolerable if I hadn’t been running into a 15mph wind. I was thankful for the sherriffs posted at each intersection so I could smile and thank them and give myself a little break.
Miles 9-14 were fairly friendly, with a few gentle rollers to break up flat stretches. So far, so good, right? I could feel the day heating up at this point, but I went through the half-marathon feeling fantastic. I even got honked at as Melissa drove by at one point, and the runner in front of me turned around to witness my celebrity. Woo hoo!
Miles 16-19 included some lovely long downhill stretches balanced by some not-so-lovely very long uphills. I would describe this stretch as the perfect training run terrain. It’s right by Lake Waco, so it’s scenic, and in a training run it would provide a decent challenge, but the hills are all runnable (in.a.training.run.). Oh, there was no shade. I tried running in the shadow of the guard rail by the road for a while, but it didn’t help. The sun was starting to beat down relentlessly. I was happy to see Melissa around Mile 18, and I was still feeling decently strong at this point. You can see that this was a fairly small race, as there are no other runners (marathoners or 50Kers in this photo).
I loved the Mile from 19-20. It was the only flat mile since the first 10K. I was able to forget about being hot for a few minutes even though there was still no shade. Melissa drove by and shouted to me that the woman in front of me was also in the ultra, and that gave me a pep to get in front of her. (And I stayed in front of her!)
At Mile 20, three miles of torturous hills began.
Let me stop here a second. I don’t think you have to have run a marathon before to realize that three miles of torturous hills STARTING at Mile 20 is tough. I’ve run the Boston Marathon four times, and three of the four Newton Hills come before this point. And there are a lot more flat stretches between the hills on the Boston course than in sweet little Waco, Texas.
The torturous hills were made more challenging by the fact that the Gu I ate at Mile 20 didn’t sit well in my stomach. The grueling climbing with the sugar in my stomach was a bad combination. I was able to still run well on the flat and downhills, but I wasn’t able to run any of the uphills. Every time I tried to push, my stomach got sour.
And then there was my little pit stop in the bushes of someone’s front yard after going down the first of the “magic carpet ride” hills. Super steep. Both down and up. And several in a row. There was no way my bladder was going to make it through all of them. I also realized why Melissa, in a previous year’s run, cried at the top of the first magic carpet hill. Seeing the hard work laid out before you was incredibly demoralizing.
Thankfully, what goes up must come down, and I had a lovely long stretch where I ran for more than a mile on flat and then downhill road through lovely Cameron Park. I tried to find a little bit of shade through this section, as the air and roads were really heating up. I grabbed a piece of banana around Mile 23, and it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten in my whole life.
At about 23.5 miles, I foolishly followed Melissa’s advice to take the Jacob’s Ladder Challenge.
Because why not climb up 88 uneven steps (and add a tenth of a mile to the overall distance) at this point in a 50K? How was I to know that the rise of some of the steps would require me to bring my knee up to the level of my ear?
OMG. Big Mistake. Big. Huge.
I was able to run the downhill after Jacob’s Ladder into Mile 24. And then I promptly walked up the ramp to the Herring Ave. Bridge. Thank God this was the last real climb of the race (until the ramp up to the finish) because
I. Was. Gassed.
I ran to the end of the bridge, at which point the lucky ducky marathoners made a right turn for the finish.
We crazy ultramarathoners had to head left into Brazos East Park. I knew from my basic math skills that I had to run about 5 miles in the park, and we’d heard rumors at the packet pick up that it would be two loops. Not knowing exactly where I was going at this point was not good for my mental state. There was a little shade for about a half-mile stretch (which I passed through four times on the double-loop route). Otherwise, it was full sun beating down on the concrete trail.
Thankfully, Melissa was on the course about a half-mile later, and she ran the next four miles with me.
And by “ran” I mean “listened to me whine while running very little and walking a lot and wishing I knew where I was going and just really in the middle of bonking.”
Seriously. We ran a few stretches of 4 minutes at a time. And there was one 7 minute walking stretch.
But I mentioned she’s a good friend, right?
She kept me moving forward and coached me through the rough spots. I never questioned finishing. It was only a matter of how slow I was going to be!
When she left me with about 2.5 miles to go, I was over.it.
When I ran, I felt fine mechanically. Nothing in my muscles hurt at all. I just had so little energy it was hard to make myself run for any stretch of time. It was really frustrating to feel so zapped.
I got back to the point where I rejoined the marathon course and took some diluted Gatorade. I knew I needed energy, but nothing sounded good other than another glorious banana. But neither the aid station on the 5 mile loop nor this aid station (nor the next one on the way to the finish) had bananas.
I was a sad, struggling monkey.
I spent the last not-quite-two miles willing myself to run: Just one more light post. Run to the white sign. Keep going to the aid station.
And there were plenty of walk breaks. The sun was relentless, and I was running on fizzled out fumes.
Finally, I heard Melissa cheering for me from up on the suspension bridge at the finish line. I was running down along the lake, so I knew I had one more ramp-climb to get up onto the bridge.
I walked up it, oh yes I did.
And then I ran the last two-tenths of a mile over the wooden planks of the suspension bridge, finishing in 5.29.27. It was far slower than what I’d hoped for, but it was finished.
A kind volunteer at the finish hung the hand-forged-by-a-local-fireman finisher’s medal around my neck, and it was so heavy it darn near made me fall over. Within two minutes of finishing, Melissa fetched me a coke– my God, what glorious nectar that is!– and I immediately had more energy. I proudly received my Jacob’s Ladder bling to clip onto my medal and walked around for a few more minutes to calm down.
Melissa suggested we hop in the car and try to find my dad on the course. Even with all of the awesome on-course support she gave me, Melissa had been following my dad all morning and supporting him, too.
We found him on the riverside trail, about a mile and a half from the finish. I wanted to let him know about an unmarked part of the path just before the final bridge that, if you didn’t see the six inch drop in pavement levels, could be really jarring. My dad has a shaky hip, and it would have really rocked him.
Like everyone else, he was struggling to get in to the finish. We were able to drive back to the finish, park, and get back onto the bridge in time to cheer him from above and as he crossed the line in 6.07, less than 10 minutes from his goal time.
Air temps were over 80 degrees, but temps on the asphalt roads and concrete trails were registering over 90 in the sun. No wonder it was such hard work. What a brutal day!
I’m pleased to report that I feel great post-race. All of my hill training is certainly making me stronger, and I had no issues with my quads hurting on the downhills (or afterwards). I was no more sore after this 50K than after the 30K training run I did 10 days prior on a much, much easier day and course. That is a real victory.
I need to turn my attention now to getting my fueling strategy sorted so I can feel strong past the 3.5 hour mark. I think I’ve learned that I can stomach three Gu packets a day, but not more. I’m going to turn to real food options (bananas, PB&J sandwiches) and see how my stomach likes those.
In the end, the race was exactly what we needed: a long day of hard work and suffering and getting through to the finish. The Miracle Match 50K was a tough course on a tough day, but it was well worth it to move me forward on my road to Comrades.