P.S. - Iowa is not flat.
Staring at yet another hill, we glance at one another.
"Do you hear that?"
"He sounds like he's in a garage."
"Uh yeah, I don't think so..."
We reach the top of the hill and look down at a scruffy, brown dog, barking in a "you don't belong here" kind of way. With no choice but to carry on, we move quickly and cautiously down the hill, keeping our eyes on Fido. My new friend had just grabbed an energy bar from her running vest.
"You're gonna need to sacrifice that if Fido decides we aren't allowed to pass," I suggested, only half joking.
"I was already planning on it," she said with a chuckle.
Immersed in the hills of Madison County, Iowa, my new running mate and I made it past the dog (without the need of a sacrificial energy bar) and turned up another hill, glancing back to ensure we weren't being followed. I checked my watch. 16 miles in. All was well, but wait, how the hell did I get here?
If you've read some of our previous blogs, you know Jules and I both love being outside, hiking, running, and soaking up nature. Well, somewhere along the way, one of us (ahem me...) got the wild idea to start running longer distances. I signed up for a 50K in 2020, which ultimately was canceled/turned virtual and never happened. Determined to meet my goal, I signed up for the Booneville Backyards Ultra 50K. Race day was Labor Day weekend and I had about five months to get myself prepared(ish)...
To sum up training? Lots of running.
Below is gear used, nutrition packed, and race day prep...
Salomon Hydration Vest (I bought mine through REI here). There are also lots of options on Amazon here -- hydration vests are very person-specific. There is a different feel from having the two water bottles in front versus having a bladder in back. I would definitely suggest going in person and trying on a few before deciding which fit and style work best for you. In this vest, there are two water bottles; I filled one with water and the other Tailwind.
Nathan collapsible water bottle (you can buy on Amazon here). The reason I grabbed a single water bottle was to have it in the back on my vest, empty, so at the first aid station I could fill it with either water or whatever drink they were providing - without carrying the weight with me for the first 10+ miles. At the first aid station, I filled this water bottle with half water/half Gatorade and was able to tuck it into the vest.
Waist lights -- a last minute and essential purchase for any nighttime running. These were perfect and clipped right to my shorts. Once the sun came up, I put them in my vest and carried on. These were also rechargeable so no worries about batteries which I thought was pretty cool.
Rabbit hat -- all summer it was super hot out during my runs, but I prefer to wear a hat and not get so much sun on my face. I bought this hat to keep my head cool and it really worked. Although the day of the race it was not hot at all, this hat kept the sun out of my face and definitely helped keep me cool as the morning heated up. (no longer available on the website)
Hoka trail shoes -- I could write a love letter to Hoka for the shoes I wore. These were trail running shoes I bought over a year (maybe two...) ago and they are my go to, hands down, favorite running shoe ever. I knew my feet would be okay in these for all of the upcoming miles.
Hoka Trail Shoes
Ear phones - I didn't end up using any music/podcasts, but these are the pair I use when I do want to listen to something on a run. I found them on Amazon and they charge through your computer. Also easy to tuck one side into your shirt so you can have an ear out.
Laminated course directions with a much appreciated Rich Roll quote I scribbled on the back...
It's always about the process. -Rich Roll
Salt Stick -- I bought this directly from the website here. They have lots of options for flavors and quantity.
Apple sauce squeeze packs -- if you ask my kiddos, they believe I am stealing these from their lunches... but they are seriously the perfect snack during a run. A decent calorie boost and they taste good with no stomach side effects. I buy these in bulk at Costco, but they are just about everywhere, including Amazon.
Huma energy gel -- I carried two of these with me and the blueberry was by far the star of the show. These are advertised as being easy on your stomach and I didn't seem to have any rumblings. Similar to the hydration vest, there are different flavors and brands -- it's far better to test a few kinds out first rather than fill your vest with something you later realize you don't like and made you feel crummy.
Giggles (candy) -- these are pure preference for me and I always carry a small pouch on any runs longer than an hour. Just a quick sugar burst and they definitely don't make my stomach upset. Here is a link - you can get a pretty decent sized bag with smaller bags for easy packing.
Picky Bar - while I was training, I would eat these during really long runs. On race day, I ended up not eating any; they just weren't feeling like what I wanted. But, they are good to have packed away in case you're craving a bar, and they're small/lightweight. The brand also carries oatmeal and pancake mixes (both vegan!).
Salt stick comes in a variety of flavors; my go to is watermelon.
The night before the race, I made garlicky noodles, asparagus, drank a glass of wine, and took a hot shower. I was in bed by 8 and probably asleep by 8:30. I knew I was nervous and needed to get to bed. My alarm was set for 3:45... and my wonderful sister was picking me up at 5:00. I had my clothes set out, race bib, hat, and gear all by the door. I was ready...
Garlicky noodles (recipe from our very own cookbook), steamed asparagus,
+ a glass of wine for dinner.
1/2 cup of coffee
I made a waffle with almond butter/jelly, but couldn't eat it. I just had too many butterflies in my stomach. I peed about 14 times, paced around my kitchen, did some stretches, and ultimately stood out on my driveway waiting for my ride. Sara picked me up and we headed to the starting line. Something important: when you're doing something that makes you nervous, bring with you the people who understand you. Sara knew I was nervous and patiently walked me back and forth while I worked it out and talked through all the random things I was thinking. When it was time, we lined up and I told her, with a nervous laugh,
"I'll see you in the afternoon...!"
As in most races, runners spread out and you sort of naturally fall into a pack of a few people. For a race this length, people spread out much more and eventually it was just me and my soon-to be-friend for the next 6+hours. We chatted about our kids, work, the beautiful views, previous races, etc. She was training for an upcoming 100 mile race and this was going to be one of her long runs before the big event. I had never run more than 15 miles, so this was going to be my longest race ever. As we ran, walked up steep hills, and jogged down the other sides, the miles kept ticking by. This seems too good. Why do I feel so good? I was just waiting for something to go wrong or for my energy to burn out. 19 miles became 23, then all of a sudden...
"Hey, I just ran my first marathon," I grinned, the realization hitting me.
My new running mate and I exchanged high fives and kept on going.
The miles from there became a blur and I was beginning to feel some sore spots in my left hip and bottom of my feet. Stopping once to get a rock out of my shoe, it felt like time stood still. I hunched over, trying not to pull any muscles in a weird direction.
Along the way, I kept on top of nutrition and never felt hungry or that I was running low on fuel. I had read awhile ago that ultra races are really just eating contests with some running and that sort of stuck with me while I was out on the gravel. Even if I didn't feel hungry, I would eat along the way, knowing if I felt hungry it was probably too late and I would be playing catch up. There were a total of three aid stations and I grabbed a banana at two, an orange at the third, and kept my water bottles full.
As we made it up our final hill, I was in disbelief. There is no way we're almost done! But, we were. As I rounded the corner and passed the port-a-potties, the sounds of my family and other runners could be heard. My husband had the camera ready (no surprise) and my kiddos and nieces were ready to run in with me. I was elated. A burst of energy carried me to the end and I remember touching that finish line with purpose.
I did it.
The most important, post-run refuel: steamed edamame, cashew dill cheez, dried fruit + crackers... 100% vegan running.