I haven’t blogged since the fall of 2018, when I was VERY tired of running after finishing the Cloudsplitter 100k, JFK 50 Mile, and Rehoboth Marathon all in the span of 8 weeks. I actually never even blogged about Rehoboth, I was so over everything by the time that was race was over.
Shortly thereafter I got pregnant. I had a baby in December of 2019 and just a few months after that, we had a little global pandemic you may have heard about. So, I was out of the racing scene until the Rehoboth Marathon in 2021. I didn’t write up a true race report for that one, but now I’m back (maybe), at least long enough to write up a race report about the PHUNT 50 Mile.
I’ve done PHUNT twice before, but shorter distances. In 2016, I ran a very muddy 25k single loop, and in 2017, the 2-loop 50k version of the race. This year, I knew I would be logging a lot of trail miles leading up to running the entire 68-mile Backbone Trail in California in November, so when PHUNT’s Race Director, Carl, emailed saying he’d be offering a 3-loop 50 mile version of PHUNT this year, I decided to take the plunge.
The 50 mile version would be 3 loops plus a “mini loop,” and would have a 13-hour cutoff.
In the days leading up to the race it was pretty clear that it was going to be a cold one and sure enough when my alarm went off at 3:20 a.m. on race morning, the “feels like” temperature was 7 degrees.
Thankfully, the Race Director thought ahead and had neatly folded mylar blankets available at packet pick-up the day before the race. I tucked mine into my hydration vest and appreciated having that as a literal security blanket for the day ahead.
I drove from my hotel to the race start (only ten minutes away, which was nice) and the walk from my car to the activity hall made me start fretting yet again about what to wear. I had planned on wearing a long sleeve and vest but the guy getting ready next to me in the activity hall before the start was in a jacket and I decided to put a shell on, too. Because of the cold, I decided to leave my drop bag (extra clothes and food) inside of the activity hall, instead of outside, as I had done when I ran the 50k. I didn’t want to risk my fluids freezing or having to put on cold clothes. Things moved very quickly and the next thing I knew, we were off.
The 50 mile start was at 5:00 a.m. so it was going to be dark for the first two-ish hours of the race. I decided that I was going to do everything in my power to stay with people for those first couple of hours and I was glad that I did, as we did question once or twice whether we were going the right way (the course is very well-marked but it was dark). We ran one “mini loop” before starting on our first full loop of the course.
Photo: Moving well on the first loop. Photo by RunningMadPhoto.
Once the sun was up, I was more comfortable running by myself, but by that point my hydration vest had frozen and I didn’t have anything to drink. This was obviously a problem.
On our first full loop of the course, aid station #2 was the only aid station that was open and I had a friend volunteering there, Emily, who I was very excited to see! I told her about my hydration situation and she said that everyone was in the same boat. I took a small cup of Tailwind at that aid station and then kept moving. I had actually hoped not to stop at all on the first loop to conserve time, but I knew I needed to drink something.
After I left the aid station, I was weighing my next move. I thought I had two options – one would be to just keep moving until I could get back to the activity hall (that would be around mile 19) and defrost my pack somehow, and the other would be to stop and try to figure it out sooner than that, but potentially wasting time I didn’t have.
I decided to stop and try to put my hydration vest under my jacket and vest so that it would be closer to my body, however my hands were so cold that I had a hard time with my zippers. Ultimately I did get everything changed around, but it took what felt like an eternity. I wasn’t sure if it was the right move or not, but I couldn’t imagine running with basically no fluids until mile 19.
About ten minutes later I tried sipping from my straw and thankfully it had worked. I was glad I had taken the gamble and stopped. I started drinking about every ten minutes to try to catch up and to prevent the pack from freezing again.
I got back to the activity hall at 19.8 miles according to my Garmin. I went into the activity hall, ditched the shell, got more gels (I found gels the easiest thing to eat in the cold) and re-filled my hydration vest.
Lap two was more pleasant because it was daylight and warmer, but I did have to make another mid-race strategy decision. I started running with an older guy who was also doing the 50 mile race. It was nice to have “company” (even though we weren’t really talking) because the woods can be quite lonely. At the same time, however, I did think I would be running faster if I was on my own and that 13-hour cut-off was looming in the back of my mind. So after the first aid station (very cute MASH theme), I ran ahead.
Photo: Heading into aid station #2 on loop #2. Photo by Alissa Norman.
I felt good for a good portion of the second loop but definitely started slowing down toward the end. I got lapped by a few 50k runners on their second loops, but it was kind of nice to see people. I had been running so much by myself. The volunteers were all amazing (aid station #3 was a Braveheart theme) and I started dreaming about pounding an entire can of Coke and some Fritos that I had stashed in my bag at the activity hall.
I’m generally a nice person, but I’ve never hated anyone more in my life than the poor spectator who enthusiastically yelled “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!” as I was coming in from lap two, not realizing I had an entire lap to go. I wasn’t my best self in that moment thinking mean thoughts about that poor woman. Sorry.
This time, the activity hall was full of life – people were drinking beers and eating and celebrating being done with their races as I was prepping to head out again. I *may* have been a little bitter. I did pound that can of Coke and took a zip loc baggie of Fritos for the road. I also switched into dry gloves and put my shell in my pack, figuring it would get cold again.
Shit got real on loop number 3. I was very worried about time, it was getting colder and darker and I felt even more alone than on lap 2.
I’ve worked with my coach, Alyssa Godesky, for a VERY long time and at this point, I feel like I know what she would tell me in any given situation. In this case, it was to “just keep moving.” And, of course, fueling!
At the MASH aid station, I told them I was worried about time and they gave me a pep talk and an uncrustable. One of the funniest parts of my day was that one of the volunteers there was trying to convince me to do an ultra race happening in the summer and I just looked at him and said “now might not be the best time.”
Off I went and immediately started counting down the miles until I would see my friend at aid station #2 again.
When I got there she gave me some partially frozen Coke and helped me put my shell back on, since temps were starting to drop. I think she told me I had about 8 miles to go and 2.5 ish hours to do it. That sounded doable.
After that, it was really just mind games to get myself to the finish. I wasn’t sure if aid station 3 would be open on the final lap (it turned out that it was), so I prepared myself to not see anyone until the finish.
Since the course was long (trail races are never exact and Garmins are always off in the woods), I wasn’t ever sure exactly how much farther I had to go at any given point, which added to the mental challenge.
At one point, I noticed a cyclist behind me in the woods. I anticipated that person would be passing me so I kept looking back and finally yelled “do you want to pass me?” thinking the person might be lost, since they weren’t going very fast. She replied “I’m the sweeper.”
I panicked. I asked if I was being pulled off the course. She said that I wasn’t being pulled – she was there just to get me “back safe” and that I should pretend she wasn’t there.
It was a HUGE relief to not only NOT be getting pulled off the course, but also to know that someone was out there with me as it was getting darker and colder and I would otherwise have been totally alone.
Again, I had no idea how much farther I had to go and in the dark, I couldn’t really place where I was on the course, even though this was my third time through. I just kept trying to hustle.
I got to a sign (the course is very well marked, if I haven’t mentioned that already) and tried to shine my waist light at it to make sure I was going the correct way (I wasn’t sure if the sweeper was even allowed to tell me if I went off course, so I wanted to make sure).
The arrow on the sign was pointing left on a road. The sweeper said “get it girl!” I paused a second and then said “Is this the end??” She said yes and I took off (as much as you can take off after running for over 12 hours) toward the finish line!
I ended up finishing in 12:40. I only had 20 minutes to spare.
It turns out that out of the 32 competitions who started the 50 mile, only 19 finished and of those 19, only 5 were women.
Photo: An epic race medal for an epic race.
It turns out that the awesome sweeper, who I now know is named Maria, had taken video of me leading to the finish and she shared it in the PHUNT Facebook group a couple of days after the race. She wrote this caption with the video:
“This is what motivates me… A Badass female ULTRA Runner completing her first Ultra since 2019, after giving birth then the pandemic held her back for a while but she still came back strong.. the last of the few who conquered a cold and brutal course where many could not. I was impressed when I finally caught up to her the last 3.5 mile of the 25k loop.. she had plenty of time to spare before the 6pm cut off to finish.”
I actually cried reading this.
I’ve never finished last in a race before. Guys, I was dead last. But I am still so freaking proud of my race and that I finished my first ultra since becoming a mom. It might seem silly, but to me that was such a huge deal. I needed to know that even though I’m a mom now, and my life is different in so many ways (SO MANY), I am still ME. I can still do hard things to challenge myself that have nothing to do with being a mom. I’m still my own person and I didn’t lose that when I had Gracie.
As always, the folks behind PHUNT put on a spectacular race and I highly recommend it (although, I believe it’s already sold out for 2023!). They truly care about their runners and while it’s definitely too soon for me to ever imagine running on a trail ever again, I have a feeling that this won’t be my last PHUNT adventure.
Now, I’m switching gears and heading back (begrudging) to the pool, as I’m registered for Ironman Lake Placid this summer!