In the days leading up to the race, I was definitely unusually calm. My normal nerves were missing and I felt at peace, genuinely excited for what was to come! I took to the taper quite well and was MUCH more organized regarding all my gear, fuel, etc. Friday I took off from work and relaxed, had some quality dad time and slowly went through last minute preparations.
I rode up to Lynchburg with a fellow VT ultra member, my dad, and two freshmen girls who were crewing. It was so nice to sit back and even sleep in the car! We arrived for the pre-race dinner, picked up packets (including some awesome swag) and enjoyed the standard pre-race pasta dinner. There must've been 15 of us VT ultra folks crammed around one table, which was pretty fun. Everyone was happy and buzzing with excitement.
Race morning, after a 4am wake-up, we stopped at Sheetz for some obligatory pre-race coffee. The clerk caught us off guard by giving it to us on the house! He said, "If you're running 50 miles, you deserve free coffee." Geeez, how nice!
Just prior to the start was a bit surreal. It still hadn't hit me what I was about to endure. Again, I felt very much at peace, taking in the flurry of activity around me as well as the picturesque night sky. It was crystal clear with stars abound! Just before 6:30am, the hubby came running up wondering why I was not on the starting line. He said "you've been preparing all week and you're still going to be late!" Lol. So true of me. Of course my response was, "Let's take a picture!" No worries... We made it to the start with two minutes to spare and with the sound of the horn, we were off!
The race itself was quite a blur! I remember feeling pretty 'meh' the first 20 miles. I wasn't awake yet and my left leg was aching from my foot to my hip (residual injury type flare ups). I kept backing off the pace to keep from going out too fast, which was hard for me, because I was being passed by a lot of people. It was the smart thing to do though. I could have easily blasted through the first 20 much faster, and I'm glad I didn't. Instead, I took in the scenery, chatted with a few familiar faces, kept my pace in check and took one mile at a time. The sunrise reflecting over the mountains, as I had hoped, was breathtaking to watch through the trees.
About 11 miles in was the 2nd aid station. As I approached I heard Horton yell "first asian lady!" (much to the confusion of the crowd I might add). He said I was looking good, which is always very encouraging. I grabbed some salted potatoes and kept moving. I first met up with my crew team, Dad and Kelly, 15 miles into the race and by that point was more than ready to see them! Having a crew team was such a blessing: it broke up the race by giving me something to look forward to along the way and they took such great care of me by offering encouragement, making me eat, and giving me race updates on the hubby.
After mile 20 was a wonderful 3-4 mile downhill which I loved! I know it sounds crazy, but it took until then for me to really feel "warmed up" and awake. By that point, I was having a ball! I took the descent cautiously, making sure I didn't waste too much energy, because next up I knew was that dreadful looking 10 mile climb (yikes!)
The climb ended up not being so bad. I mean, it was difficult, but I really feel like I took it in stride, alternating running and quick hiking. I was passing people along the way too. I reached the approximate halfway mark, Long Mtn Wayside, in good shape, a little ahead of goal pace which I expected. The 2nd half is definitely the more difficult of the two and I knew that I would slow some. Again, I met up with my wonderful crew, switched out fuel and with a slap on the tush was on my way up the mountain for the remainder of the climb!
After leaving Long Mtn Wayside, I started to have periods of high's and lows, which is not uncommon in such a long event. However, even the rougher periods weren't that bad and I stayed pretty optimistic throughout. While I may not have been feeling great, I was still doing what I love, and by this point I knew I was going to finish. From there on out, it was about staying positive and making steady forward progress.
At mile 33 I arrived at the infamous "loop," which ascends to a beautiful overlook at the peak of Mt. Pleasant. I was feeling less than stellar due to my stomach being in knots for various reasons. But, once again, my stellar crew whipped me into shape and sent me off with a smile. As I entered the loop, fellow racer Megan passed by and with a wave of optimism said "let's run this together!" I picked up the pace but she was just a little too strong for me and I quickly lost her. Regardless though, I really appreciated the camaraderie and encouragement!
Looking back at the data, the loop was really my downfall in the race where I lost the most time to competitors. It's a little more technical on the uphills and combined with my stomach issues, my pace really slowed. Halfway through is a mile long out and back to the summit, during which time I realized there were 6 girls within my reach. That meant if I could pull off a strong finish I would still be in top 10 contention. With a wave off excitement, my spirit rebounded (though my legs did not) and took off in an effort to run the last portion of the loop strong. Nonetheless, they were all looking very solid and had already put a considerable lead on me by the time I reached the next aid station.
Not a worry, with some more uplifting words from my crew, I was feeling much better than the hour prior and my happy self set off for the final leg of the race. My legs were definitely fatigued, yet still had plenty of miles left in them, if that makes any sense. In fact, I remember thinking "I can't believe there's only 10 miles left of this!" I made the conscious decision to not stress about placement, run my own race and make the most of the remaining miles. As I stated previously, above all things my goal was to enjoy this first 50 miler.
As I approached the final aid station (3 miles to go) I was quite surprised to see a familiar face... it was my husband! My natural thought was that he had finished and ran back up the mountain for me. But then he said he had not finished yet, which left me confused, asking him, "Is something wrong?!" Nope, he was just fine. Basically, his race wasn't turning out to be anything stellar and "his priority was to make sure I finished," so he waited about an hour at that final aid station for me so that we could run the final miles together (seriously, he's a keeper!) What an amazing feeling it was to see him. And really, it was the only appropriate conclusion to this race... It had been our initial plan last year to run this together but we more recently opted not to for various reasons. Furthermore, he's the only reason I would consider running a 50 miler in the first place.
We flew down the hill, smiling and chatting about the race, reminiscing about what a fun season it had been. Finally, we approached the finish with plenty of cheers from spectators and the VT ultra crew! We crossed in just over 9 hrs 51 minutes. I am elated just to have finished strong and under 10 hours for my first 50 mile race!!
Just across the finish line awaited a bench press set for those athletes wishing to take part in the "Ironman" or "Iron Horse" competition (whatever it is called). I had been looking forward to this aspect of the race for months, and soon after finishing I found myself on the bench ready to see how many times I could press 65 lbs (female weight). 22 reps later, I can truly say I left everything out there at the finish line in Montebello! This too was the highlight of my day (there were many great moments, can you tell?!)
Post - Race
Later than evening was the post-race dinner and awards ceremony. I will say I really enjoyed this because the work of the day was over... it was all about sharing stories of the trail and runner camaraderie, with smiles and delicious food abound! My final race placement was lucky number #13, so I missed out on a top 10 female award, but that's A-ok! I did walk away with a sweet Patagonia sweater jacket for completing the Lynchburg Ultra Series, something I never really thought I would do! Additionally, I ended up winning the Ironman competition, winning a pretty sweet, legit and heavy sword!
WHAT. A. DAY! I truly am amazed at the fact that I ran 50 miles, and felt great, AND had fun in the process. The race seemingly flew by and never once was I bored or ready to be done. More so, it just felt like an entire day doing what I love, surrounded by nature and the priceless companionship of other runners. There are many positives about this race and few negatives: energy was great, legs held up nicely, I rolled with the challenges of fueling for the distance and stayed optimistic throughout. I am a happy camper.
I am so blessed and thankful for the support I've received along the way. Thanks to my husband first an foremost, for always believing in me to do great things and seeing me through the ups and downs. To my awesome crew team, dad and Kelly for dedicating their entire Saturday to support my endeavor, to all the friends out there sending me positive race vibes, and to Coach Jim, for both his coaching expertise and perspective in making this a very positive, successful experience. And of course, thanks to race director Clark Zealand for putting on such a quality event, and the oh so huggable David Horton, whom it is always a pleasure to see!
I'll leave you with the following verse from my sword:
"If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?"
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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