Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Run Woodstock Freak 50K Recap

I did it! I completed a 50k (31.06 miles for our non metric loving friends) this past Saturday in Hell, MI.  The race was called the Freak 50K and was put on by Running Fit as part of the Run Woodstock weekend.  Let's see if I can recap this without using the words "awesome" or "amazing" to many times.

Friday Night:

The races all start at Hells Creek Campground and all of the campsites are taken over by runners, volunteers, and their families.  Honestly I am not a fan of camping normally and the night before my first 50k I definitely did not want to risk not getting enough sleep.  Before checking into our hotel room in Brighton we (The Husband, the Oldest kid and I) swung by the campground, picked up my race packet, found a few friends, said hello and watched some 100 milers and 100k racers come through the aid station.  We did not stick around long since I was already getting tired, we stopped at Firehouse Subs on the way to the hotel, and relaxed while watching the Tigers before I called it a night at around 9 pm.

Race Day:

3:40 am - Up bright and early to take a quick shower, get last minute things together and get the Husband and Oldest on the road early enough that we had time for a Tim Hortons stop. (The 20 min drive was much better then the would be hour and a half drive from our home)

5:30 am - We made it to Hells Creek with enough time to park, use the port o johns one last time, snap a picture at the start and get lined up.  I was anxious, ready for it to start and looking around looking for the few other people I knew were running the 50k/50m. (This was a lost cause since it was dark and difficult to see anything)

At the start with the husband & oldest

6:00 am - After race director Randy said a few things we were off, I waved to the husband and oldest as I passed them, took a tour around the campsite before hitting the trail where I saw the friendly face of one of my running buddies from Red Eye and into the woods for 16ish miles I went.  The plan was to run the first loop solo, carry my own food and have enough water in my camelbak to last me between the aid stations. 
 Miles 0-4: It was dark, so it helped me go out slow because I was so worried about tripping. I was glad I had a head lamp since there were many runners who had nothing.  I chatted with two runners from Baltimore and enjoyed the beauty of the sunrise in the woods.  As we approached the first aid station we started to see 100m/100k runners on a return loop back to the creek.  It was inspiring to watch these men and women who had been up all night running these trails in the dark.  I stopped briefly at the aid station to put away my headlamp and to drink some water to wash down the Picky Bar I had eaten. I opened my Honey Stinger chews so I could easily eat a few between the next aid station.  I was trying really hard to eat early and often.

The sun starting to illuminate the trails

Miles 4-8.5: These were pretty uneventful miles.  I continued to put one foot in front of the other and enjoy the scenery.  Several times throughout the day I would find myself in a group with other runners.  This was nice because I was able to find a rhythm with them.  I ate about 1/2 a package of chews and an Island Boost during these 4.5 miles, then had a 1/4 of a Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich at the aid station.  As much as I was trying to eat, I was not hungry.

Miles 8.5 - 12: On our way back to the aid Station Grace the 50k was given a "short cut" (turns out I am not sure how much shorter this made our course but it is a trail so I figured it would have been a little off).  This stretch was mostly run on Kelly Rd. and the rolling hills of the gravel road.  Met another female runner from Michigan and ran a few miles with her as we had the basic "where ya from, first race, how ya feeling", chat.  I remember thinking "Wow the miles seem to be going by quickly", breaking the race down into aid stations was a good way for me to view it.  It became less overwhelming and broke everything down into 4 mile segments (and I can run 4 miles!).

The 50k "short cut"
Miles 12-16ish: Got a little "rough", I was trying to pace myself enough that I had energy but knew I was on the last stretch before I saw family and friends.  It did not help that at a few points we were sharing the same path with the half marathoners and the full marathoners and sharing the trail got tricky on the single track with many of them actually running while most of the Ultrarunners were walking hills & conserving energy.  About mile 14 I ran out of water/Nuun in my Camelbak, thankfully I had forgotten to eat the other 2 Island Boosts I packed earlier in the loop so I was able to drink those down (unlike most gels you do not need to wash it down with water) and make it to the end of loop 1.  From the time I started I never felt like I would not finish the race but as we got closer and closer to the end of the first loop I knew for sure I would.  I was feeling good, I felt like I had played it safe enough that I had enough energy to get me to the finish.  I did however start to worry about my stomach, I had not eaten everything in my pack (I had packed enough so that if I ate everything I would have taken in a sufficient amount of carbs/calories) and knew I had not eaten any "extras" at the aid stations, however I felt bloated & full.
Just a pretty view during the last 4

One of my favorite parts of Poto (notice the pink flag on the right-well marked course)
When I came through to finish the first loop I saw John right as I came out of the woods, then saw Rachel & Erz.  It took me a minute to realize the Husband and Oldest were with them too (they originally had said they were setting up camp near the registration tent so I was still "looking" for them ahead).  I was a bit overwhelmed, knowing that I was halfway done, that I still felt good, that people were there to cheer me on.  I changed my shirt, used the port o johns, refilled my camelbak bladder, ate a Honeystinger Waffle, chatted, hugged and off I went into the woods again.
Goofy face-but really so happy to be coming into the loop and seeing friends and family (Photo credit to John)
Look it's Erz and Rach! GP Runners who came out to cheer! (Photo credit to John)
Miles 16ish -20: I turned on my Iphone for these miles and listened to some music on speaker.  I was not down, but starting to feel tired and my hip was aching, so I figured I a little music would help.  I also met two other runners during this time, one who had dropped from the 100m to the 100k after a rough night and a police officer from Ohio who was running the 50m.  Meeting people on the trails was nice, especially during these last 4 solo miles.  

Miles 20-28: Picked up my friend/pacer John at the 20 mile aid station.  I exchanged the Camelbak for an Amphipod Hydraform Handheld and grabbed a package of chews out of my drop bag the Husband was carrying. (I used a Victory Sportdesign Bear II and can I just say this bag was AWESOME! Kept everything organized and easy to find at the aid stations)
Victory Sportdesign Bear II drop bag
Because I would see the Husband again at Mile 28, I did not carry much with me and refilled my handheld at the aid stations.  Having a friend with me was nice because there was always someone to talk to when I need to talk and also he brought his little camera so I had a personal photographer.

Why yes it is a photo op! (Selfie credit to John)
The part of this stretch that was on the Potawatomi Trail was rough, mostly due to the mountain bike club that hosted a ride on Saturday.  I am pretty understanding about sharing the trail but 90% off the riders were going extremely fast and refusing to move for runners.  Luckily I still had enough sense and control to move on the side, however this was pretty dangerous for those that had been out there longer, just moving forward was starting to get tough for some of the 100k/100m I was meeting out there.

Oh hey look a Mt Biker going about 30 mph with delusional 100m runner on the course! (Photo credit to John)
I felt like while I was in good spirits and having fun out there, I was struggling.  My left hip and hamstring were bothering me, my stomach was still very full feeling and I knew at this point had not eaten enough solid food, but of course had no desire to eat.  I ran when I could and walked when I needed to at this point.  I was slowly crossing aid stations off my list (not an actual list the one in my head), and I am so glad I broke the race down like that because it really became manageable for me.  I also remember thinking just keep moving forward, you will get there.  During this stretch I had stumbled a few times, never actually falling but that was a sign my legs were getting heavy.  Once getting to the "Grace" aid station for the last time I sat down and the Husband stretched out my hamstring while I forced down another Picky Bar.  My oldest was a trooper still cheering but had found some bugs and ants to keep him busy.  I refilled my handheld with some water and threw in a NUUN tablet and off John and I went for the last 4 miles.
At mile 28-I know beware of the chair but I needed to stretch my hamstring it was killing me! (Photo credit to John)
Miles 28ish - Finish: It was starting to get warm so when the sky opened up somewhere around mile 28/29 it was refreshing and I literally welcomed it with open arms! 
Me celebrating the rain mile 28-29  (Photo credit to John)
Yeah there were some "rolling hills" on the last 4.  Most of the last 4 was walking, I tried to run but it was hard and did not seem much faster then my walking pace.  A few times John ran in front of me so I had someone to "chase" as opposed to me leading and him just making sure I did not sit down.
Well that hill sucked (Photo credit to John)
Elevation Chart from the course
Since the rain had gotten the sticker I was wearing on my Garmin wet, it had fallen off and once I saw the milage read 31 I was getting both antsy and annoyed (because I wanted to be sitting down and enjoying my accomplishment)  There was one small aid station with water and Gatorade and John noticed a sign saying .8 miles to the finish.  Ok .8 miles, I can run that, the closer we got and the louder the music got the faster I would start running when the ground was "flat".  Once I hit the opening in the woods I started an all out sprint (average pace for that .10 of a mile was 7:29), I seriously felt like I was flying.  Tears started well before the finish line, and I was so happy/excited/proud/felt so strong it really was overwhelming.
Crossing the finish line (Photo credit to the Husband)
Hug from the husband (Photo credit to John)
This is me SO happy as I finished and got my medal (Photo credit to John)
I can honestly say that crossing that finish line was one of the best feelings I have ever had.  If you would have asked me a year ago if I had the heart, motivation, strength or even the mental toughness to complete a 50k, I would have laughed and responded with a "Hell No!" Honestly I had no interest up until last April to even run one and Ultra.  John had asked me while we were on the course if I would have ever done this if he had not done it first.  Honestly, no.  Not because I wanted to compete with him or do what he did, but when I joined him for those training runs and then for the Ultra back in April I fell in love with the trails.  I had run Stony Creek trails before but never ventured out much further, I was always intimidated by the trails, fearful of getting lost or getting injured.  However what I found was a place of peace and quiet, a place where I felt empowered and confident.  I fell in love with the beauty of the woods, with going out and running for hours like Katniss in the Hunger Games (except not being chased).  

Overall this was an awesome experience for me.  The race itself was well run, course was marked nicely and the medals are pretty sweet too.  Leading up to the race Running Fit had hosted two training runs at Hells Creek which was a great chance to preview the course and have a feel for it. (This helped me tremendously because I knew what was coming up for the most part, so I was able to run/walk etc). The aid stations seemed to be running out of certain things like coke and coffee by the second loop, but if you were not to picky they had plenty of other options.  My only complaint was the mountain bikers, but that was out of Running Fit's control.  Would I run this again?  Definitely! It was a great course for my first 50k, not sure I could handle the loop anymore though, when the time comes to do a 100 miler I will be looking for a bigger loop.  So that probably answers your next question of will I run another Ultra? Yes! I have the North Country 50 miler next August and will more then likely find a 50k sometime earlier in the year if I cannot make the Trail Marathon/50K Running Fit hosts in April.

2 first time 1/2 Marathoners, 1 full marathoner, 1 bad ass pacer and Me (Photo credit to the husband)

The 50K finish is my greatest running accomplishment to date.  What is one running accomplishment you are most proud of? Have you ever done a trail ultra? Do you want to?


  1. Wow you ran your first ultra strong. Nice! Great recap. Love the finishing photo of you getting a hug from your husband. The views look spectacular! Congrats.

    1. Thank you! The course was really nice as was the atmosphere, tons of fun.

  2. Congratulations! I know the feeling very well, as I just did my first 50k in March of this year. It's such a huge accomplishment and not a feeling you can describe! Way to go! Glad to hear you have more plans in the future! Keep it up!!

    1. Thank you! Congratulations to you as well!

  3. Wow! So awesome, Jess. I can't even imagine how hard that was & you finished in a sprint :)

    1. Thank you! The adrenaline of the finish line helped with the sprint, however b/c I came through so fast the husband almost missed snapping a finish line picture. Oops...

  4. Awesome job, Jess!
    And a great write-up. I know what you mean about falling in love with those trails. Pacing Anthony on the Poto, its all I could think about. I was so distracted by the beauty.
    I really shouldn't have read this. It just gets me all antsy.

    1. Thanks John! Get through Grad school then go for it!