I got her done – my first ultramarathon, the Skyline 50K! I wouldn’t call it a lifelong dream. In fact, I scoffed at athletic endeavors until well into my twenties. Just ask my college roommates about my Cheeto-Nutella-sloth days. But for the last couple of years I’ve been dreaming about giving ultras a try. And while a 50K is the Olympic distance of ultras or really the sprint, I’m pretty content to have laid down those miles :)
I’m not gonna to lie – I was freaking nervous. I trained with Team-in-Training and while the team, training and cause were phenomenal, I didn’t have the most consistent program due to injury. I was seriously worried about making the cutoff times and getting yanked from the course.
Just three weeks before the race a close family friend – Sheila Amos – passed away from AML and I decided to do the race in her honor in addition to Craig. Her friends and my family rallied around my race, buying Team Sheila shirts. Paul Reiser of Mad About You fame even sent a donation in her honor and a note wishing me luck on my “walk”. I’m hoping that was his humor at play.
All of a sudden the stakes became pretty high – I had a huge remote support team. Race morning came along and I was a bit of a wreck. After a fitful night of sleep, I had some stomach issues to put it lightly and couldn’t figure out if my chills + shaking were from nerves or the fog at Lake Chabot. Coach Mama Lisa (who I love, love, love!) talked some sense into me at the start line. In a nutshell: Mary, I’m not worried about your nerves. In fact, it’s great. You’ll channel it and not go overboard out the gate. You’ll be consistent and get the job done. Just what I needed to hear. The hugs from the whole team didn’t hurt either ;-)
And with a kiss from Craig, I was off. The first 20 miles were not my finest hours, but gorgeous scenery and camaraderie on the trails kept me going. I never went to what I call the “dark place” mentally and just accepted I felt like cra*p and planted one foot in front of the other and focused on making it to various visual points.
At last I was at mile 14.5 at the Skyline gate and this meant my “drop” bag – hello, goodies! The team was also there en force and I had a chance to change my socks. This was my poor attempt at a Jedi mind trick to convince my very tired and already blistered feet that we were starting out fresh. Note to self: Don’t rock brand new shoes 5 days before the race!
From there I headed out with Mama Lisa and my teammates Shaleni and Glenda. I fell back into pace with a new friend named Ramesh. Ramesh, also an ultra rookie, had chosen an unusual mantra that he grunted out-loud for hours on end: “Oh f*ck! Oh f*ck! Oh f*ck! Oh f*ck! I remembered Mama Lisa’s words cautioning about picking up other people’s vibes and did my best to keep him at a distance. Unfortunately, we literally had the same pace so I just decided to engage him and try to change the “topic” if you will. Luckily, he opted to belt out Hindi pop songs from mile 18 and on.
At the 20 mile mark Craig joined me on his bike and we started a steep climb. My race turned around dramatically at this point. The Tums, Imodium and his encouragement really kicked in and I just got into the zone. I went from trudging to running. These miles were really a blur – I was so focused. The best part was getting back to where the lake was in view at the last water stop – just 3 miles from the end. The water stop crew there congratulated me on how close I was to graduating from my rookie status.
With some hoots and hollers I started down the last decent (have I mentioned how not fun downhills become at this point?!) to the relatively flat path that ran around the lake. Things were going grand until I reached the pavement. Asphalt is just not enjoyable after running 28 miles. After a moment of self-pity I collected myself and enjoyed all the random stares I was getting (families out walking, dudes out fishing and drinking, etc.). About an 1/8 of a mile from the finish Coach Mark appeared and radio’d into his daughter that I was coming in.
All I could think at that point was “HOLY F*CK – this is actually happening!” (Sorry for the language, just being transparent here) And, next thing you know I’m across the line and met by Craig, TNT and the rest of Team Sheila. It was awesome – there is nothing like tackling a “first” like that. I’ve never been athletically inclined so knocking something out like this is truly sweet.
Now my mind is racing about the next ultra and this isn’t helped by Mama Lisa’s email on “recovery” and gearing up for a 50 miler :) We’ll see about that…but I do want to thank all my friends, family and colleagues, as well as Sheila’s circle for also the amazing support. I ended up raising over $4,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and proud we’re all doing a part to help the Sheilas and Craigs of the world.