4:30am the alarm goes off and I push snooze. I lay there calm and in deep thought about the day to follow. I was about to run a 50k later that morning. 50k...31.2 miles...what is considered an ultra marathon. Normally running a marathons scares people, I was about to run more then a marathon, and on tough trails which means it would take a lot longer then your usual road marathon. But surprisingly running 31.2 miles doesn't scare me anymore. I have come a long way running over the past few years. Just 4 months ago I ran my first 50 mile race. 50 miles which at one point seemed impossible, and I did it. Today I was about to run my 3rd 50k. I had trained really hard this season. I had been weight training 6 days a week along with logging all my miles. Tired legs was an everyday thing, but I had high hopes of it all paying off. I noticed big changes during my training and I felt ready to race. I didn't want to just finish this race, I wanted more then anything to podium.
Music City Trail Ultra. Last year I ran the 25k at this race and placed 3rd. It was a tough race! The ground was already wet from all the snow we had just currently melting, then on top of that it had been raining for days leading up to the race. The course was a sloppy slippery mud pit. Slipping, sliding down hills, crossing though creeks, running the biggest hill I had ever see. I gave it everything I had even though I felt like my lungs would explode at any moment. I had been trailing 2nd place female for quite sometime into the race but towards the end when we hit jeep roads she was able to pick up the pace and after turning a few corners I lost her. I continued pushing in hopes to catch her. I pushed my body to its limit. I felt a pain down my left leg towards the end of the race that I had never felt before but I just told myself it was normal for pushing the pace and I was almost finished anyways. My leg felt like it wanted to give out but I figured it was just tired and I kept going the best I could. While I didn't know it at the time I later found out that I had torn my hamstring. That injury put me out for months and out 3 races, one being the 50k I was in training for.
This year I was about to tackle the 50k. Steep uphills and downhills. But I felt prepared.
My whole family came along for my race this time, my husband Russ, my two kids Jayson(9) and Ella(7), and our dog Klondike.
We pull up to the race and are directed to park in the open field. This year the ground is a lot more dry as the snow was gone a long time ago, and we have hit record highs of 80" in March. Last year they were pulling out cars stuck in the mudd from the field at the end of the race. It was suppose to be a high of 58" today. There were light sprinkles in Nashville as we headed to the race but as we pull up it was now just cloudy. It felt chillier then last year but I knew we would warm up a few miles in, and it would be perfect race weather.
I picked up my race packet and went back to the truck to get my hydration vest packed and ready only to realize I had forgotten all my solid food in the fridge at home; my salted potatos, my bullet burrito, my beef jerky. But I still had my Tailwind electrolytes and my Huma gels, and I remembered I had an extra pack of beef jerky stick in my backpack. I would now have to rely on aid station food which I had no idea what it would be. Normally this would freak me out having something go wrong, I am a planner. But if there is anything I have learned trail running it is to be more relaxed, to adapt, and that things are not predictable on the trails. Race number pinned on and ready to go as I will ever be we walk over to the campfire and try to stay warm while waiting for the race to start. There was just a small group of people now as the 50k's were to start at 8am and the 12k's and 25k's started at 9am.
Shortly after the race director makes the announcements and has us raise our right hands to say the runners oath, which is a tradition for all of his races;
"I promise to push myself,
to protect my fellow runners,
to respect the earth that I run on,
and to always be humble".
And then is was time!
It was a very small race so I stood more to the back of the pack heading out. The race starts in an open field but then you quickly go into the woods to start your first climb. My plan was to keep my heart rate low for the first few miles and warm up easily. I had no idea who went out first since I stood toward the back so I didn't know my place, or what females were ahead. I run calmly slowly making my way past runners but not running hard to where my heart-rate would climb high yet. I pass one or two females calmly when we get to a flat. We make our way to the first ginormous hill, "THE HILL" as we call it. I have clear memories from last years race calves burning on fire and sliding downhill on my butt a few times in the mud before making it back out to the top, calves still cramping as I tried to run the flat before starting to climb again.
It looked just as big in person seeing it for the second time but this time it seemed so much easier working my way to the top. Well that part was done, "huh", I think, "Easier then I thought". I have turned on my ipod to my motivational audio with my earbud in one ear, low enough sound so I could continue to hear my breathing, and everything around me. I was still running easy, and feeling amazing as I clipped off the first few miles. I felt full of energy, like I was bursting at the seams, and I wanted to run so hard but I knew better, "Hold back!", I remind myself many times. I make my way across a creek, about ankle high water, as I slip and almost fall on mossy rocks but quickly catch myself and see the first aid station, about mile 4.5, on the other side. "Good going Kara, fall the only moment when people are starring at you", I think. I ask how many females are ahead of me and they say none, your in first and just a few guys are ahead. That was good to hear but then I thought, I hope I didn't go out too fast! Oh well! I was there to take risks today because without a few risks there is no reward! My friend Josh runs up and crosses the creek, slipping on the slippery rocks also but also not falling, refills at the aid station, and we head out together. We trained together this whole season and ran almost all of our long runs together so it was good to see him. We run for a little while together both saying how great we were feeling and talking about food...don't all runners talk about food at some point running?! He trained hard this season, and I knew he was going to race amazing today! We roll into the next aid station around 11 miles in, and see our friends David and Shannon, and David's daughter holding down the station. David and Shannon; two more badass ultra runners right there! They were recovering from their race the week before so they opted to volunteer instead today. It's always good to see familiar faces.
What a great race photo this one is of me! HA HA HA
We quickly grab some goodies and are off. We go a little further chatting then I stopped to eat on an uphill and Josh pulled ahead quite a bit, once we got to flat he picked up the pace and was off, eventuality I see him turn a corner and he was gone. I was happy seeing him go because I knew he was going to have a great race. I passed though more creeks, there were to be 35 water crossings today according to the race director. So with wet feet I continue on. I look down at my legs to see blood dripping down my cuts, earlier I ran though the briars(thorns) like they weren't even in existence. I had made a decision earlier that day that pain like that wasn't even going to phase me, I was going in full force. I was here to win. With each race I have learned to be mentally tougher. It has come to a point now where I know there is going to be pain, its inevitable...but there are certain pains you just have to accept and push aside. I made it to mile 11 aid station, quickly grabbed some sweet potatoes and chips and continued on.
I was on top of my nutrition from the start. I ate a gel every 30-40 minutes followed by a solid food 30-40 minutes after that, and sipped my Tailwind mixed with water often. I mainly ate sweet potatoes and bananas from the aid stations. 15 miles in I was still feeling super fresh. I was running with 2 more men at that point. I made my way up a few more massive hills and more creeks still wondering how close the other females were behind me. I pull into mile 19 aid station where more of my friends Phil and Dillon were manning the aid station and I was feeling great still. It was time to fill my hydration pack, but I hated stopping for so long as I didn't know how far the females were behind me. I kept looking back, they must have guessed what I was thinking and they informed me that the 2nd place female was quite away behind, at least 5 minutes. I threw my pack back on, grabbed some food, and hustled out of there, eating while running. 5 minutes wasn't that much time considering what can happen in an ultra. At 5 hours in I was still feeling great, like the best I have ever felt running for that long! I couldn't believe how good I felt! I was certainly on a runner's high! I remember even on a few tired long climbing moments seeing beautiful trees that had purple flowers blossomed on them, and just feeling thankful for their beauty, and what I was feeling. It was like they were in just the right places when I needed encouragement.
I was running on the biggest "runners high" I had ever felt! Maybe it was the adrenaline of being in first place, maybe it was the empowerment of running such a tough course and knowing how far I have come with my running over the past few years, but I truly felt the strongest I have EVER felt during a race, esp this distance of a race. Don't get me wrong there was pain, there was pain all over, but for the first time I was also able to run outside of the pain I was feeling and go into a different place in my mind. I was able to dig into a part of me I knew existed but potentially hadn't felt like I had tapped into before. I passed by my friends aid station for the 2nd pass though and they said our friend Josh was still looking good and doing amazing, and that made me super happy.
A few more miles I cross over yet ANOTHER creek back to the last aid station where they tell me I am first female still and less then 5 miles to go. Another tough climb heading out from there. At that point I reminded myself of this quote that I had used as my mantra from the beginning of the race:
I kept thinking about how my friends and family had told me they knew I could do this. My kids believed in me and were waiting at the finish and I needed to show them I could do this. I thought about some of the athletes that inspired me. I thought about how hard I worked to get to this point that there was no way I would slow down now and give that up. Towards the end I kept telling myself run with the same energy and excitement as you started the race with. The last downhill hurt so bad I was grunting and having to stop every few steps down, but all I could think about is my family and friends at the finish. I came out of the wood to the open field where all my friends and family were screaming my name and cheering me to the finish, I ran harder. Crazy enough at that point even though I was in lots of pain I believe I could have kept running and running, I felt like I had reached a whole new level in my running in which pain was just there but on the back burner. My legs were still completely turning over and I was fine. I see my son and daughter smiling and I wave them to run with me to the finish, my son follows but my daughter was confused and stayed back. I run with my son by my side and I cross to the finish tent BEAMING.
1st Place Female
7th Place Overall
4,642 Feet Elevation Gain
4,631 Feet Elevation Loss
And oh what joy your feet go through with 35 water crossings....This was a few hours after...
At least two weeks prior to the race, when I was eating healthy, all I could think about was this Jalapeño cream cheese burger, tots, and Reese's spiked shake I was told myself I was going to get if I placed. It was so worth it! Now I will go back to eating healthy to earn my next one!