It was around mile 18 (I think?) when I came upon an “unofficial” aid station of the Vermont 50k that was blasting music, handing out beers, fruit and pickle juice. I seriously considered the beer but opted for the pickle juice instead and carried on down the trail.
Within a half mile I suddenly felt an intense burning pain in my left ankle. I looked down and saw a swarm of bees on my ankle, happily stinging me through my socks.
First thought: GET OFF ME!!!
Second thought: Why is it ALWAYS my left ankle!
Third thought: Were those wasps or bees?!?! I’m fucked.
Fourth thought: I should have had a beer.
Before we get into all that drama, let’s go back to the beginning of my very first 50k.
I woke up Sunday to a gorgeous early fall day. The trees were just starting to turn colors. The temps were in the upper 50s for the start and wouldn’t get much higher than the low 60s. The skies were blue and things were feeling good.
I was nervous when we gathered at Mount Ascutney at 7:30 for the racer meeting. I kept trying to tell myself that this was no different than going out for a long run in training. Soon enough, it was time to head down to the starting line. I was so busy chatting it up with Ron and the kids that I didn’t even realize that we had started until Ron said, “You are going now.”
Another reason why I love trail races more than road. So chill and no pomp and circumstance. Just go!
The first few miles are a short stretch of paved roads and mostly gravel that take you past the picturesque Vermont things – lots of green, brown cows, rolling hills and sunlight filtering in through the trees. I made a point of power hiking up the steep hills and then trying my best to let gravity do the work on the downhills.
The first aid station was at mile 3.8. I was carrying everything I needed (water, a bottle of Tailwind, I didn’t need anything so I took the sharp left turn onto our first stretch of trails. It was mostly ATV/Snowmobile type trails that were wide and easy to run. I must say that I am SO impressed with the trails that we ran. They were absolutely dreamy with little to no rocks/roots (at least for the first half of the race).
The next aid station appeared at mile 7ish and I made the decision to bypass that one too. I had plenty of water, a bottle of Tailwind, Clif Cubes, and Honey Stinger Chews. We popped out of the trails and hit gravel roads for till the next aid station at mile 11ish. It was there that I decided to partake in the buffet of my first aid station.
I’m so impressed with aid station volunteers. The food spread is ridiculous. Quartered sandwiches of PB & J, turkey, cheese, cookies, gummy bears, pickles, pickle juice, boiled potatoes and salt, chips, pretzels and an assortment of drinks.
It was at the Margaritaville aid station that I found the deliciousness of boiled potatoes and salt with a glass of Coke to wash it down. The salt from the potatoes was AMAZING. It powered me through for miles afterwards just having the taste of it in my mouth. SO GOOD. I would look forward to my next dose at every aid station from the duration of the race.
At this point is also when we started to see the 50 mile mountain bikers. It was interesting sharing the trails with them. I’m not going to lie, it started to annoy me later in the race during the single track technical portion. On the steep inclines, we’d pass the bikers but then they’d catch up with us and blow past us on the downhills. I became quite aware of the squeaking sound of bike brakes and making sure I remembered which way was right or left when a biker said which way they were going around you. Everyone was super nice so it was all good.
Side note: Did you know that there is such a thing as tandem mountain bikes? I had no idea! They were flying. I have so many questions – how do they handle the technical spots and the corners that are so narrow?!?!?
Anyway, I finally got to see my crew at the next aid station, Greenall’s at mile 13ish. As we popped out of the trails and ran down a grassy field of switchbacks, I started to get teary eyed. I was excited to see my family and just overwhelmed with the sense of “OH MY GOD, I’M DOING THIS!”
I spotted Ron and the kids right away, grabbed some potatoes and Coke, and promptly sat down to remove the KT Tape off my left foot. I had put it on for extra stability but it was irritating my arch. I quickly put myself back together, emptied out my wrappers, and restocked my supply while Ron refilled my Tailwind.
Kisses all around and I was off again. It would be another 15 miles before I could see my crew again.
The next 5 miles was a mix of steep trails and roads. I was feeling pretty good. Hiking the climbs and kind of cursing the super winding switchback single track. It made me feel dizzy with all of the back and forth. We looked like ants marching although some ants were on bikes.
And then the bee stinging incident happened. We popped off the trails onto a gravel road that had a super long climb. I should mention that I have only been stung by wasps before. Never bees. However, when I was stung by wasps, probably 14 years ago, I had an allergic reaction complete with tongue and facial swelling. And no, I didn’t have an Epi-pen with me.
When I swatted the bees off of me, I realized that it was bees not wasps. However, since I had never been stung by a bee before, was I going to have the same reaction? My ankle/lower leg throbbed and burned. I saw at least 4-5 bees so I know I had at least that many bites. As I continued up the hill, I pulled the Benadryl out of my pack, took a dose and prayed it didn’t make me too sleepy that I was stumbling all over place. I didn’t have any signs of an allergic reaction so I knew I’d be ok.
The next 10 miles were kind of a blur of one foot in front of the other. The trails got more technical which meant more leap frogging with bikers, more power hiking the ups and being conservative on the downs. My quads were feeling it but I was shocked that my ankles (well, minus the burning, throbbing part in my left ankle) and knees were achy. I had a steady stream of positive mantras going through those miles – I am strong. I will not fall. I will not roll my ankle. I forced myself to not think of the bee stings. If I did, it would have sent me down a rabbit hole of negativity.
After what seemed like forever, I could hear people cheering and came upon lots of cars. Johnson’s aid station was a welcome sight (although the super steep driveway was just a cruel joke). Ron and the kids were there to give me kisses and hugs to power through to the last 2.5 miles.
Now 2.5 miles doesn’t seem like that much distance. That’s not the case when it’s the last 2.5 miles of a 50k and there’s at least 1 mile (or at least it felt that long) of tight switchbacks up a wide open grassy field that was steep. Eventually, I made it to the trees and into the trails up and over Ascutney. The trails in there were beautiful. I’m sure I would have appreciated it more if I just wanted to be DONE. There were signs that counted down the miles and soon enough I could hear the finish line sounds as I popped out of the woods onto the grassy ski slope switchbacks down to the finish line.
I crossed the finish line, grabbed my medal and promptly laid down in the grass.
I freakin’ did this thing that I’ve wanted to do for years!!! YES!
My #1 goal was to finish with a smile on my face and not hating everything about running.
Going into the race, I told a few people that I didn’t think I’d want to do another 50k. Maybe I’d be a one and done or at least done for a few years. My training plan was very doable but the long runs near the end were very time consuming. I love running but I’d love to do more than just run on one weekend day.
But…never say never until you’ve run at least one. 😉
This post is long enough but there is so much to more to say. Like how I ended up at Urgent Care on Monday evening because of the bee stings. Or how running a 50k felt easier than a marathon. I’ll save that for another post.
And congrats to anyone who is still reading this ultramarathon of a blog post. Phew!!!
Linking up with Coaches Corner.