“I Still Function”: Snowdrop Ultra 55 Hour 2016

I instantly latched on to the idea of this race when I heard about it. Raising money for a childhood cancer charity,  3/4 mile track, as many laps as you can manage in 55 hours, which means aide station with access to drop bags every 3/4 mile. The short loop format (at least in theory) would eliminate most of the problems that have kept me from reaching the 100 mile mark thus far.

The physical exertion and lack of sleep caused my memories from this event to be a bit random and scattered, but I will do my best to convey the experience

My drop bag/ rest area was a tent along the edge of the running loop, close enough that I could jump off whenever needed to take care of my feet, rest a few minutes, change clothes, whatever I needed. Speaking of clothes, the two outfits I spent most of the race in got rave reviews from my fellow racers:

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The first unusual thing that I noted about this race format is the lack of separation by ability level. On a point-to-point or even a 10-mile loop course, the people string out over the course and the only people you see are the ones at roughly your level. Here, everyone is seeing everyone constantly, which helps develop the one-big-family feel of it. It also amazed me to see the variety of athletes that showed up, from national record holders to people who had never run more than a 5K. Some people had a plan for miles to cover each day and then went back to the hotel, some did all 55 hours in one go.

In addition to the snacks constantly available at the aide station, we were called in for full meals three times each day (and pizza tended to show up in the hours between dinner and breakfast). I can honestly say that eating enough and keeping my energy levels up was not a problem. The foot medic that was on site was awesome, and I learned a few new tricks from watching her patch up my feet.

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We were told early that rain was expected in the wee hours of the second day, and that it would behoove us to get as many laps in as possible before then. I managed to make it to 63 laps (47-ish miles) before lying down for a power nap, and much of the rain passed while I was sleeping.

Alarm goes off, prep feet, back at it. I was almost completely walking by this point, legs just didn’t want to run, but I kept moving and was keeping a solid pace. The trails had been changed by the rain and the passage of many feet, becoming something like lumpy concrete that was very tough on my feet. They were taped well enough to prevent serious blisters, but over time the pounding took its toll, and they just started to ache.

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Keep going. Silly jokes and sharing encouragements with fellow racers and volunteers.

At one point the volunteers were having an impromptu dace party as I came by, and I stopped to join in. Another racer yelled out, “If you can do that, you need to be running faster!” I replied, “But I can only do this about 40 seconds before my body says no…”

The signs posted around the loop were great motivation, ranging from the joking “You could have chosen chess as your sport” and “Chuck Norris never ran an ultra” to photos of the cancer patients that we were running to help. Also reminding us of the greater purpose of the race were the crosses, being erected every hour to represent the number of children who lose their fight with cancer within that hour. This photo represents the 55 hours we were out there:15825776_1205454899562607_3942594064538766006_n.jpg

During the second night, I had a realization that I found quite empowering. I was thinking that I would need to stop, and was not sure that I could get enough laps in the next day to come home with a buckle (minimum is 100 miles or 134 laps). Then I analyzed exactly what I was feeling: It was not blisters that would get worse with more miles. It was not the stress of a tendon that could tear if pushed too far. It was simple pain, nothing more. Just what feet feel like when you have been on them for 40 out of the past 44 hours.

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Push the pain to the back of my mind, and keep going. The base level of pain sort of faded into the background and I could forget about it if I didn’t think too hard.

A few hours later, pushing through the dark, I hit a serious low point. I have a high pain tolerance, and this was beyond it. Everything hurt, and everything seemed to make it hurt worse. Some people passing asked how I was feeling, and while I really wanted to say something more positive, all I could come up with was, “I still function.”

I leaned into the pain and force-marched it, march two laps, eat, march two more. Breaking down sobbing then muttering profanities, but keeping moving. I wanted to stop, but knew that it carried a risk of either not starting again or falling asleep and not having enough time to finish, so I kept pushing. I have no words to describe how hard this was, or how badly I wanted to quit in that moment.

At lap 123, I finally couldn’t push any more and decided to take 20 minutes to lie down, take some pain meds, and put my feet up. As feared, I fell asleep and missed my alarm. Luck smiled on me though, as I woke 15 minutes later to rain pattering on the tent.

Get through the sudden panic, realize I still have time to grunt out 11 more laps. I won’t say my legs felt brand new after the rest, but they felt much better. Not new, but still under warranty?

Pain levels increased with each lap, but that was balanced by the knowledge that the distance to go was short and I was going to make it. The way this race handled each runner hitting 100 miles was awesome. When you come in on the next-to-last lap, they will confirm that this is your “bell lap”.

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You then ring a bell and head off on your last lap.

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I can’t say I ran that whole last lap, but I force-marched it hard, then pushed into the fastest run I could manage for the last 100 yards. When they saw me coming in, the MC announced my name over the loudspeakers and told everyone I was coming in for my first 100 mile finish. Two volunteers held a finish-line ribbon for me to run through.

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And the photographer caught the exact moment where the pain caught up with me:

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Lots of hugs, lots of congratulations, receiving my buckle, and learning that the finish ribbon is also a memento that each finisher gets to keep (a really nice touch).

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I am writing this about a week after the event, and my emotions have still not quite settled down. This is a goal I have been chasing for a long time. Without a doubt, this is the most I have ever wanted to quit (including events where I did) but I pushed through.

 

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