Sometime soon, I will get around to writing my Kona race report. I think enough time has passed for me to have processed everything that surrounded that race and I have a much better perspective on it than I did right afterwards. But before the details get fuzzy, I wanted to write about the little adventure I had yesterday – my somewhat impromptu, largely last-minute plan to run 40 miles on my 40th birthday.
Boston Marathon director, Dave McGillivray, gets credit for this plan. He’s been “running his age” every year since he was 12. It’s quite the streak since he is now 57. Not to long ago, shetrisall3 asked on Twitter what she should do to celebrate her birthday. I responded, “Run 40 miles!” She liked the idea, but celebrated with a party with friends (a normal birthday celebration). So the notion of running my age had been percolating in the back of my mind as an appropriate way to commemorate a big milestone birthday like the big 4-0.
I really felt like my birthday celebration took place in Kona because I had decided last year that I had wanted to celebrate my 40th with a trip to Hawaii. As if that wasn’t enough of a reason to go to Hawaii, I decided that it would be an even better celebration to do the Ironman World Championships while there. Assuming I wouldn’t be able to qualify at Ironman Canada, I entered the lottery for a Kona slot. Not only that, but I joined the “Passport Club”, which gives you not one, but two chances for a lottery slot for twice the money. And a DVD. April rolled around and all I got was the DVD. I figured that was the end of my “celebrate my birthday in Hawaii” dream. Life is funny, and I ended up nabbing a rolldown slot at Canada, so it all worked out pretty much the way I had wanted. We even went out for a “birthday dinner” while in Hawaii, which included a free “birthday” dessert.
Lying in bed last Tuesday night, I decided that I wanted to run 40 miles on my birthday. I should back up a bit and describe my prior forays into ultrarunning. It’s a short aside. The only time I have ever run over 26 miles was with my running buddy Steve G, who likes to run the length of the Highline Canal a few days before Christmas. A few years ago, he ran 50 miles. I joined late that day and only ran 36. It wasn’t overly difficult though. In fact, I remember thinking that it was pretty easy. The main reason I haven’t tried ultras is that they are usually conducted on trails, and I try to avoid trails. Yes, it’s crazy that I live in Colorado, which has awesome trails, and I don’t like to run them. Maybe some day that will change, but for now, I prefer the roads. Or the Highline Canal, which is flat and dirt. It’s as close to a trail as I like.
A few days later, when Mark and I were discussing the plans for Sunday, he asked if I was planning to invite other people. I wasn’t. For a few reasons. First, I really didn’t know if I could run 40 miles, seeing as how I hadn’t specifically trained for it and didn’t have any proven track record there. I wasn’t sure if I wanted an audience for what could possibly be a failed attempt. Second, I admitted that I was afraid to ask people to come, because I was afraid they would say no, and then I was afraid that I would get my feelings hurt. Mark wasn’t having any of that, so he offered to invite some people for me. Predictably, since we only gave them three days notice, most people couldn’t join in as they were busy, or out of town, or it didn’t fit with their training. I was very excited to get one taker for the first half – my friend Audra. And Mark offered to run the second half. As an added bonus, my coach Sonja, said she would run 6 miles in the middle with us. The plan was all set.
Audra met me in Genesee on Sunday morning, and we drove to Highlands Ranch together. As the defacto run coordinator, Mark had picked the start location, and had calculated the distances to Goodsen Rec Center and Colorado Boulevard, and the times we should arrive at those locations based on an estimated pace of 8:30 per mile for the first 20 miles and 9 minutes per mile after that. I was a little unsure of those goal paces – 8:30s seemed fast for a 40-mile run – but I went along with it. Audra and I arrived at a park in Highlands Ranch right on schedule, and went about our race preparation, which for me consisted of stuffing a gel into my handheld water carrier and cramming a package of Honey Stinger chews into my running skirt. I don’t eat much when I run long (usually only a gel – if that – for a 20 mile run), so I was a bit unsure how to fuel for a 40-mile run. I figured I would eat a little more than my usual plan. Thus, the package of chews. The bottle had EFS.
The only navigational glitch of the day was right at the start. Audra and I got out of the car and we didn’t know which way to go to pick up the Highline Canal. We walked over to a nearby trail, but it wasn’t the Highline. Audra suggested that rather than take the risk of adding on mileage running the wrong way, we should head back to the car to figure it out. So after messing around with the map on my iPhone for a while, we were off and running in the right direction. I hadn’t seen Audra since Kona, and she’s done Kona before, so we had a lot to talk about. I told her all about my race and the trip, and she told me all about 70.3 worlds in Vegas and we talked about our race plans for next year and our training. We were joined for a little while near Goodsen by another running friend, Steve F, who had been expecting us much earlier, and had run the wrong direction for a while looking for us, and then turned around, figuring he had missed us. The problem was, instead of Goodsen being 10 miles from the start like Mark had thought, it was more like 12. So the times and distances were a little messed up, but I honestly didn’t notice or care. I was only watching my heartrate on my Garmin and my pace for every mile. I wasn’t looking at the distance because that seemed too daunting. I had planned to be out there a good, long time, so it seemed easier to focus on one mile at a time rather than how far we had come or how far we had to go,
The night before, I had talked to Sonja about the logistics and she had talked me into letting her put a jug of water for us at Orchard Blvd, which turned out to be a super-good idea as it was an unseasonably warm and sunny day.
The time and the miles flew by (for me), and really, before I even knew it, we were close to Colorado Boulevard, where we were scheduled to meet Mark and Sonja. I felt badly at this point, because Audra’s knee had been acting up, and she was definitely in some amount of pain, so I had been chatting up a storm, trying to take her mind off of it. We got to Colorado, and Sonja and Mark were there waiting for us. I grabbed a new bottle of EFS, changed into a short-sleeved shirt, and grabbed another gel and packet of chews. We said goodbye to Audra, who drove our car back down to the start/finish, and I set off with Mark and Sonja. Sonja and I both like to chat a lot, so we talked away while Mark mostly just listened. I had suspected that it was going to get awfully quiet when it was just Mark and I – he doesn’t talk much when he runs – so I had also stashed my iPod in my skirt pocket in case I needed it during the second half.
Around mile 24 or 25, my left lower leg started to hurt. Badly. At first, I didn’t want to say anything about it because I was trying to ignore it, but finally, I told Mark and Sonja, and they suggested walking for a bit. We took a little walk break and my leg felt ok while I was walking, which I took to be a good sign. It wasn’t like every step hurt. Just the running steps.
Sonja had planned to run 6 miles with us, so we said goodbye to her at Orchard. Now it was just Mark and I, and it was quiet. These miles were a little less easy. My leg hurt, and I didn’t really feel like making much conversation anymore. We took some intermittent walk breaks when I needed a little break from the leg pain, but other than that, we carried on at a pretty good clip. We got back to Goodsen and filled our bottles again. I decided at that point to treat myself to my iPod, with 10 miles left to go. Miles 30-37 were the hardest. I asked Mark a few times if I was going to make it, and he reassured me that I was. When I was running, I was running well, but every 2 miles or so, I stopped to walk for a bit because of my leg. Actually, I think by that time, both legs may have hurt. I kept saying, “if my leg didn’t hurt this would feel easy.”
In the last 5 miles, I had to dig. I was waiting for my watch to beep each mile and I realized that I was getting more and more impatient to hear that sound. Mark was being really supportive at this point, quietly saying things like, “most people can’t run 40 miles under a 9-minute pace. That’s pretty special.” And telling me I was doing really well. It was just the right encouragement at the right times.
Around mile 37, a switch flipped. I turned up my music and decided to crank up my pace. Surprisingly, my leg seemed to hurt less when I ran faster, and I was pretty eager at that point to get to the finish, which was added motivation to run fast. Then it hit me. Why I was out there. It wasn’t really so much about my birthday or the significance of running 40 miles for my 40th, but it was about Kona and my run at Canada and about proving to myself that I still had it. I was still a runner, first and foremost, and I could still dig deep and run hard when it mattered. I was having the run on the Highline Canal that I wanted, but wasn’t able to deliver in Penticton or Kona. I pretended I was on the Queen K, and then Ali’i Drive. I actually said out loud, “I am leaving it all behind.” And I was. I knew after the run was over that I was done feeling bad about Kona and wallowing in disappointment. It was over and I was leaving it behind. I was doing something that felt hard and meaningful, and I was doing it well. I still had, as Mark calls it, “the gift.”
With tears in my eyes, not from pain, but from emotion, I ran that last mile in 7:50 and it felt just as good, if not better, than running down Ali’i Drive.
Total run time: 5:47:17 (not including water or bathroom stops)
Total blisters = 0