50 Miles or bust – by Arland Blanton
I had the Frisco Railroad run in Willard, MO on my radar for almost a year. Several people I knew had run it last year and it sounded like the perfect shot at going further than I had ever ran. I knew 50 miles was a lofty goal but as the time approached and I worked through my marathon schedule, I knew this was probably the only shot I might have till Fall, if I wanted to even attempt it.
Leading up to Frisco my training seemed sub par to me, but my base was pretty much there. I had run three marathons in the four weeks prior with two being back to back weekends. So running 26.2 was not going to be a problem, or at least it shouldn't be. It was the second half that I was worried about. Luckily for me, running a very hot and sunny Andrew Jackson Marathon on March 31st prepared me for walking more if I needed to. I have done 32 miles, so I figured I could at least get to 35-40 and then walk the rest if I had to.
I never really committed 100% to the 50 miler until the week before the race. After finding out that my friends Jonathan Young and Leah Thorvilson were doing their first 50, I figured why not join in. I solicited all the advice I could get in preparation for the distance. Most of which I knew already from running seven 50k's in two years but there are always tips to be had from those that have been there. So I pulled the trigger and registered.
We drove up late Friday evening for the Saturday morning race, with some of the Arkansas crew picking up our race packet that afternoon. We arrived at our hotel in Springfield about 8:30pm just in time to get our gear laid out for Saturday & try to get some sleep. I was a little apprehensive about the weather as we had pretty heavy winds Friday evening and they were calling for a 30-40% chance of rain/thunderstorms on Saturday. Temps didn't seem that bad, 60-72.
Saturday morning we departed our hotel and drove about 15 miles to the race site at the Willard, MO. School gym parking lot. I had put together a drop bag for the 25 mile turn around, dropped it off in the gym and went on for the usual maniac pre-race photos and chatting with friends. Jonathan Young and I had decided Friday night that we would try to stick together some and try to keep the pace between 11-12 minute miles, at least for the first 25 miles.
The race started and we hung towards the back. There were some in our group doing the marathon, 50k & 50 mile distances. As usual, the first mile was a little fast hitting it in 10:38. Tried to slow it down but it felt like we were in last place so it was hard to do. A rock in my shoe toned things down real quick as I stopped immediately to get it out. Mile 2 11:03. The miles went on with our pacing much better, staying between 11-12 minutes. We threw a quick walk in every now and then if we got too fast. The first few aid stations were 2.5 miles apart so we took advantage of those too, grabbing a drink & sometimes some chips or pretzels. The selection consisted of water, poweraide, sometimes chips, pretzels & sometimes gummie bears. It appeared that some of the early aid stations had PB&J sandwiches but they were gone when we got there. The aid stations were a major disappointment so I was glad I had brought extra food.
I noticed early on that the humidity was really high. I was sweating like it was 80 degrees when early on it was probably 65 or so. I was glad to know I had worn my camelbak for extra water, especially since after 15.5, the next 4 aid stations would be 5 miles apart. I started to feel the heat before the marathon turn around but kept after it. By mile 17 I told Jonathan that I was going to have to start walking more & he should go on. The heat was getting my heart rate up higher than I wanted for 50 miles. After that I resorted to a run/walk, eventually using a 1/1 ratio. I felt like there was no way I could do 50 miles when I could barely complete the marathon. It was probably some of the lowest spots in the race for me. I started considering turning around at the 20 mile aid station. That would make me get 40 miles at least. It would have been an epic fail to me so after battling with those thoughts for a few miles, I decided to keep going. Again, I considered turning around at 22. That would give me 44 miles. That's a lot. More than I have ever done and I'd still get 50k credit. Or maybe not. I got to thinking that if I turned now, I wouldn't make the 50k cutoff and I'd be DNFed. Well, if I'm getting a DNF I'm going to go till I can't go anymore. So there, at mile 22 I committed all in to the 50 miles. It was only 3 more miles and then I could turn around and come home. Less than a marathon after that. I used all the positive ways of breaking down the distance that I could. I've ran double marathons before but never on the same day.
The 25 mile aid station was almost like a mini finish line. Half way done, half way home, less than a marathon to go. I got there at 5:28 in to the race. I had 6:32 to make the cut off time. It was a disappointing aid station to say the least. There was not enough water left to even top off my camelbak so I got a little and left the rest for the other runners behind me. Little did I know that there were only three. Also, my drop bag never made it to 25. Luckily I still had some gu's & a powerbar so maybe I'd survive with those. I came out of the aid station before the others and went back to my run/walk. The run part was fading fast though. I was wet from head to toe from sweating so I knew this was an issue that was slowing me down. An older man passed me less than a mile after the aid station. He power walked right past me as we talked. He said he learned to power walk & it helped him get through many ultras. He mentioned that he made it through a 100 miler by power walking the last 40 miles. So I started thinking, why not try it some now. Maybe it would work for me since I was struggling some. So my 1/1 run/walk became pretty much a steady fast walk. Lisa V. caught up to me shortly there after & she was kind of like me, not much run left. So we power walked. Then Andi caught us and joined in with our walk. They were happy just to have others to be with especially since we were the back of the pack. We really worked hard on that power walk & got it down to 14-15 minute miles pretty much. This continued for miles, sometimes we would try to run then realize the extra effort didn't really help our time that much. As the miles went on discussion went to figuring out if we would make the 12 hour cutoff time or not. We had been told that they would be timing for an extra 30 minutes so we did have a little buffer I thought. Also one of my maniac friends was working some of the aid stations and he told me that we would get a time no matter what.
This was an out and back course and the aid stations coming back didn't seem much better than going. At the mile 30 station, the volunteer asked if we needed anything & I mentioned we would love a coke, but there was none. As we ran on down the trail, we saw his truck stop at a small country store so we thought maybe he was going to get us some. Well, it was true. A couple miles down the trail there was a road crossing and sitting by one of the cones marking the course was 3 small bottles of coke. The volunteer became our hero! Its nice when someone goes the extra mile for others and that's exactly what he did. The race was advertised as having “ultra' food with cokes, food, etc at the aid stations but I have seen marathon aid stations with more. Water, poweraide, chips, pretzels and gummy bears was it. I'd eat what I could at each one along with my gu, powerbar's & cliff shot blocks. I figured eating something was crucial as was proper hydration. We carried those coke bottles with us for miles!
With about 13 to go, Lisa decided to try running again and slowly she pulled away from me and Andi. I figured out then that there was some friendly “girl” competition going on, to not be the last place female. There was also the fact that hitting the cut off time didn't seem feasible doing the power walk. It was nice having company for many miles & helped to pass the time. This was a very boring course to say the least. Not much to see other than trees and the light gravel trail where the train tracks used to be. At least it was shaded 95% of the way. Temps had to be in the 80's. Too hot for a good race for me. Later I learned that the high was about 86.
Coke did start appearing at the aid stations, probably thanks to Chris Revoir who was driving from one to the next to take care of us. At the mile 40 station I refilled my camelbak & Andi said she was going to ease on ahead. I figured I'd run a little to catch back up to her but she too had decided to run again. I'd run as far as I could then I'd walk 30 seconds and run again. This went on for maybe half a mile but I wasn't gaining on her or my pace. I went back to my power walk/run every now and then pace. This was comfortable & I knew I could finish doing this, but soon started hitting a low point in the race. My feet were hurting from blisters forming on the balls of my feet & all I had were negative thoughts going through my head. I sucked as an ultra runner & runner in general. Blah blah blah. Then the good part of the brain would kick in and remind me that I was going to finish a 50 miler, if it took all night and that was something to be proud of no matter what.
With 7.5 to go, Chris was again at the aid station waiting with anything he had. He told me that Annette was going to meet me at mile 5. Talk about a lifting of spirits! I think my paced picked up knowing this. Somewhere during this next 2.5 miles I had some of those hallucinations that ultra runners sometimes have. First I thought I saw a runner coming towards me only to find it was just the trail. Then I thought I saw a vehicle on the trail, only to find it was the trees. The tricks the mind plays on us after 40 something miles! And then the next thing I knew, I was seeing people up ahead. It was Annette, Leah, Lia M, Josh, Chris & Tina. They were at the aid station waiting for me. This was the most welcome sight ever! They took very good care of me in a short minute or so that I was there, even giving me a small drink of beer which was like heaven. To make it even better, Lia Mayfield decided to go with me to the finish line. She had completed her first ever 50k and was wearing flip flops. But at the speed I was going it was not hard since I was basically at a speed walk pace.
Just before the 2.5 mile aid station we caught and passed Lisa, she was struggling and said she felt like she was about to pass out. I looked up and saw the aid station at 2.5 miles to go so I knew she was in good hands. Of course our Arkansas crew was at the aid station again. This time they gave me coke with ice. Oh my god, I was in heaven! That was the only ice on the course all day & it being cold with the sugar content of the coke gave me a big boost. Think I carried that cup for almost a mile sipping on it.
As we got closer to the finish we were next to the road, and our Arkansas crazies were all in Chris’s van whooping and hollering at me as they drove by. This was one of the most fun parts of the race for me. The last 1.5 miles, I knew I was going to finish and I felt great. With less than a mile to go Lisa caught back up to us but I let her go on. I really didn’t mind being DFL, in fact it’s almost an honor to finish last at least once & I knew she would feel better by at least getting to beat me. I could actually run again at this point but it was only for 25 yards at a time but that was ok. As we started into the parking lot I went to a full run, I was not walking across this finish line! With the finish line in sight Leah & Annette came out to run me in, and several of the others were holding a big tape across the finish line. I finished with almost a sprint across that line. Was one of the best and most memorable finishes ever! Best of all, I really did feel good.
Mark Cato had went out and bought all the 50 mile finishers chocolate milk so that was a special treat. I think I drank about half of that then asked for beer. Someone brought me a chair & some pizza. I was in heaven. To sit down after being on my feet moving non-stop for 12 hours and 11 minutes was the best feeling. It was also pretty awesome to know that some of these guys had been out here on and off waiting for me for over 6 hours past their finish. That is true running friends! After all, it’s really not so much about the finish time but more about the journey & the people that you share it with. The race director did come over & inform me that they were out of medals, which was a disappointment but he said I placed 3rd in my age group & presented me with a 3rd place medal and finishers glass. Not too many races where you can finish dead last & still place 3rd in your age group!
After heading back to the hotel and getting a quick shower, we all headed out for dinner & a little post race hydration. It was here that I learned I had earned a new running nickname. “Crazy Eyes”. I guess everyone was a little worried about me when they saw me at the first aid station because my eyes looked so crazy. The reality was I was fine, my eyes were tired from looking at that same road/trail for 12 hours, throw in some minor dehydration & you have crazy eyes!
Overall this was a very fun race, only because of the great friends that were there from beginning till end. The course was very forgiving on the body, but the race organization could have been much better & the aid stations need to take some tips from the Arkansas Ultra Running Association on how to do an aid station right.
Would I recommend this race? Only if you know up front that there is not much support & it's a boring course after a while. It is easy on the body & under cooler conditions would make for a good place to PR. Leah Thorvilson did set the 4th fastest female 50 mile time here so it can be a fast course. I am glad that I did it and very happy that I finished.