The time has to come to recap this amazing experience. It's hard to put into words, but I'm going to do my best.
The race was held on November 8, 2014 at Rosaryville State Park, which is more than an hour's drive from where I live. We only have 1 car and if Sidney and Jack had come with me, they would've been sitting around all day with not much to do. I really wanted to go on my own in the morning and have them come for my last lap and see me finish. But with only 1 car that wasn't an option. I was prepared to just go on my own, but my dad stepped in and he gave me a ride to the start. I assumed he'd stay for a bit but leave shortly after the start of the race. On the drive there he informed me he was planning on staying the whole day and driving me home! I have the best dad!
I took him up on that offer and told Sidney and Jack to stay at home. It was very windy and they would've just been waiting in the car so why make the hour drive just to sit in the car for 8 hours?
The course consisted of 3 loops around a 9.8 mile perimeter trail. There was an 8 hour time limit to finish. There were 2 aid stations- 1 at the halfway point on the trail and one at the end, before getting back on the trail for your next loop.
I started out feeling great. I wanted my first lap to consist of me getting used to the trail. I should remind you that I don't run on trails usually. I didn't have the proper shoes and I wasn't used to having to watch where I was running the whole time. There wasn't a clear path to run on. It was covered in branches, leaves, rocks, etc.
During the first lap I actually passed a few people and felt pretty good. I turned a corner and who did I see in the woods? My dad! He had found a shortcut to the trail from the parking lot and was taking pictures.
When I made it to the aid station half way through the first lap, I was so happy. The volunteers there mentioned that by the next time we came by, there would be soup and potatoes. Thinking about this helped get me through the second lap! :)
I did enjoy a couple twizzlers and pretzels the first go around.
I slowed down after this, realizing that I had started out too quickly. I was aiming to run each lap in about 2.5 hours. On the second lap, I started getting passed by runners who were on their 3rd lap. Everyone was very nice. It was a very narrow trail with only enough room for one person at a time. Whenever I heard someone coming behind me, I found a good place to step aside and let them pass. I heard things like, "Keep it up", "You're doing great" and other words of encouragement. Watching these faster, more experienced runners motivated me a lot.
I also saw my dad again on the second lap, but I wasn't smiling as much! After this I didn't see him again until the finish.
I slowed down after this and walked some on the 2nd lap. I fell at least twice, but nothing terrible. When I got to the aid station at the end of the 2nd lap, I asked them what would happen if I didn't finish in under 8 hours. They told me to just do what I could. The only problem would be that the aid station might be closed when I came back around and I should make sure I would have enough water. And of course, you don't want to be out on the trail in the dark.
I was pretty sure I wouldn't make the cut off, but no matter what I was going to finish. I was told that there were 2 women behind me. One came through saying that she had fallen and broken her finger. But it wasn't bad and she was going to keep going. Wow!
That last lap was the toughest thing I've ever faced. It's hard enough to run 31 miles. It's also mentally challenging to run 3 laps around the same 10 mile trail. By the 3rd lap I felt I knew the trail pretty well. I was very wrong!
Because so much of the time is spent looking down, I ended up seeing things I hadn't seen before. My phone died at the start of the 3rd lap, so I had no idea what time it was or what mile I was on. The trail seemed to go on forever. I think I started to hallucinate and at one point I actually started to cry a little because it seemed like I would never get to the aid station. Running long distances can really mess with your head! It didn't help that there wasn't anyone else out there. No one I could see, anyway.
I finally made it to the aid station and the salted potatoes and chicken noodle soup tasted amazing! The volunteers were so great and I definitely want to pay it forward and volunteer for a race in this way.
The woman with the broken finger, Erica, caught up to me at the aid station and another woman, Angela, was also there. We were the last 3 runners. Erica took off and I was right behind her. I talked with her a bit and learned that she had run both the Marine Corps Marathon 2 weeks prior and the NYC marathon just 1 week prior and now she was running her first 50K. Amazing!
Somehow she found some extra steam in her and took off. I never saw her again. Angela was right behind me and we got to talking. It was great to have the distraction. Next thing we knew 2 guys came up behind us, asking if we had seen a woman in a skirt. Apparently these were the sweepers. Going around the entire length of the trail to pick up any trash they found and to recover all the ribbons which marked we were on the right path. And to pick up any runners who were still out there. Joy.
They said the main thing is that we finish before it gets dark. I already knew we wouldn't make the official 8 hour cutoff but I was determined to do the best I could. Having Angela there and the sweepers behind us really helped push us. I ran at a pace I didn't think possible that late into a 50K. They were really nice and assured us that if we wanted to finish, then we would finish.
Again, the trail seemed to go on forever but having other humans nearby helped tremendously. No more breakdowns!
Then out of nowhere, we turned and ran off the trail and onto the road! It was glorious! I was so happy to be off the trail! My feet were happy to be on the road and I felt like I could've run another 5 miles on the road if necessary. Thankfully it was less than 1 mile to the finish. Also amazing was the fact that there was still a table set up with snacks. I grabbed a handful of peanut m&m's and they were just what I needed for the final push!
Angela had gotten a little ahead of me and I picked up my pace to catch her. One of the sweepers was on his bicycle next to her, to bring us in. She heard me coming and asked if I wanted us to finish together. Of course I did!
We turned a corner and saw the field where the finish was. There wasn't an official finish line. Apparently there had been but it had been taken down. I didn't care. There was a woman and a girl standing in the field, each holding a medal. They were waiting for us. Angela and I finished together, hand in hand and arms in the air, in about 8.5 hours! It was so amazing. The photographer even rushed over to take our photo. My dad said he had put his equipment away and when he saw us coming, he ran back to his vehicle to get his camera. Seriously, the people who put this race together and came out to help were amazing. They even had a few plates left of rice and beans for us to choose from. It was cold but it tasted so good!!
I'm so grateful Angela and I met on the trail that day and we were able to finish our first 50K together! It's awesome how running brings people together!
A funny side story- My dad and I made the drive back to our town and went to Five Guys for dinner. I ordered the double and he got the little burger. I went to the bathroom and when I came out a gentleman commented that I was limping, which I was. Apparently he had seen the burgers and told my dad he needed to switch them. My dad should be eating the large one and me the small. No thanks! But my dad told them that I could eat the double because I had just run 31 miles. And then they saw me limping. That put him in his place. ;)
This was the most unbelievable experience and one I will never forget. The Annapolis Striders really put on a tremendous race. It's low-key but a lot of work goes into it and they treated us really well. Despite not making the official cut off time, I still finished!
It turns out that most of the runners I passed during the 1st lap dropped out. It was a difficult race and one I wasn't prepared for. But I persevered and finished! I'm so proud of myself for not giving up. I'm even thinking of doing another. Yikes! :)
And for the record, I wouldn't recommend doing a trail race without having prior trail experience. ;)