How I got a personal best at my fourth 50K

by lachicaruns on

As I wrap up my year, I can say that it’s been one of my absolute best.

While I was recuperating from my fourth shoulder surgery just over a year before, I got several very-long runs and races in this calendar year, including my fourth 50K ultramarathon in September that had me PR by 37 minutes from my previous fastest 50K in 2017It's me, immediately after I finished the 50K. I'm smiling. Wearing my water vest and a pair of dorky glasses

Looking back, there were some key things that helped me get such a big personal best:

  • I set a SMART goal. That’s one that is specific, meaningful, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Not only did I decide that I would sign up for — and run — Woodstock again, but I decided that this was the year when I would get a personal record.
  • I cross-trained, even when I didn’t want to. I’m not a big biking fan, but I rode our Peloton stationary bike at least once a week, often for 45 minutes or an hour. I also did yoga at home once a week, took at least one rest day every week, and got between seven and eight hours of sleep most nights.
  • I followed Dr. Awesome’s orders. I see a manipulative-medicine doc about every other month. He’s awesome. And he’s given me excellent advice through the years. He fully supports my running, but he’s pushed me to really take care of myself, including the aforementioned cross training and resting. He also only cleared me to get back on the trails if I do my run/walk intervals. Just a good mix for my piriformis/butt/knee pain. It works for me.

As for the actual race, my friends and I arrived late afternoon on Friday, set up my motorhome at the nearby state campground and went to packet pickup for Run Woodstock at Hell Creek Campground.

the Hell Creek Campground map, showing the important spots for the race

Packet pickup was super easy and, thankfully, very close to the entrance. We could have just left, but we were hoping to see friends there, including two who had started their 100K race at 4 p.m. (We can’t math, so we were too early to see them.)

We still lingered for a while, checking out the pre-race festivities, and cheering the faster runners who were already coming through from their first loop.

The evening was uneventful (unlike the buckets of rain and the storms the night before my first ultra) and we made it to the race with enough time to take care of our drop bags and make a pit stop.

Picture of most of the members of our group, in the dark, but wearing headlamps. We're all smiling.

Because we’re the Mullet Crew (we’re the party in the back!), the going was very slow for the first half hour or so. The first bit is hilly, the trail is narrow, and there are literally dozens and dozens of people in front of you, plus you’re in the dark and not quite sure where you’re going.

The person in front of me; can only see them because I'm wearing a headlamp.

I was particularly grateful for my nice headlamp, which I wore for the first hour, until we got to a section that has fewer trees, the trail widens and the sun is starting to come up.

As with previous years, we brought fuel and hydration vests, but relied on the amazing aid stations, conveniently spaced about 4 miles apart. The food — and the volunteers — were as awesome as always. I followed my running coaches’ advice and made sure to eat and drink more than in previous years — especially after last year’s blood-in-the-urine fiasco.

Because I run with amazing people, my friends fully supported my goal of beating my best previous time. A couple of us stuck together for the first loop and, later, I ended up with my friend Walisa, who was running strong and made for great company — even during some miserable hills.

A selfie with Walisa in the background, with her hands up in the air, smiling.

About a quarter of the way into our second of two loops, Walisa was slowing down and I kept getting ahead of her. I went back a few times to make sure she was feeling well and she encouraged me to keep going, knowing of my year-long goal.

After a significant internal struggle, I trusted her judgment and ran ahead, alone.

The rest of the trail was particularly challenging because there are at least a gazillion (OK, more like five) very steep and looooong hills at a time when you’re just spent.

a photo of a particularly steep hill

Because I was by myself for quite a while, I dug deep and used self talk, including my mantra of “trust the plan,” to power through. As with other trail races, I encountered dozens of 100K and 100-mile runners who took the time to encourage *me.* It’s just an amazing feeling to know how far they’ve gone and that they’re thinking of others, despite what I’m sure is a ridiculously tough time.

I did stop to check on a few 100 milers who looked pretty rough, just to make sure they had enough fuel and to share words of encouragement. One told me he planned to quit as soon as he got to the next aid station. He was leaning heavily to the side (a tell-tale sign of exhaustion), but kept shuffling because that’s just what you do. He declined any help, but I made sure I told the volunteers about him so they could send someone out.

Another time, I stopped a few men for a moment to give a 100-miler a few seconds of privacy as she finished peeing while leaning on a tree, right on the side of the trail. They were incredibly understanding and went along, taking advantage of the very short break to fuel and check their gear.

It was these experiences, coupled with a strong training season and my Hamilton soundtrack, that gave me the second wind I needed to keep up with my run/walk intervals.

In the end, I was pretty sure I had made good time, but didn’t realize just how much faster until later that evening, while I sat, eating yummy Spanish food while waiting for our friend Shannon to finish her first 100K race. Watching her run in was one of the most-satisfying memories in my seven years of running.

As always, I am forever grateful to running for bringing these — and many other — people into my life. Because runners make the best friends ever.

A bunch of our ultramarathon-running friends, sporting our medals

Have you PR’d a race before? What did you do to get that personal best? Have you run an ultra? Do you want to? What’s your favorite thing about running? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

Written by: lachicaruns

My name is Gisgie. It's pronounced geese (like the birds) and gee (like the letter). Now that we've met, I'm glad you're here. I'm an injury-prone runner who manages to find reasons to keep coming back to the road despite ongoing challenges. Most recently, I've struggled with piriformis syndrome. I'm currently winning. Most days.

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