I thought, “This is masochism.”
Dodge that rock. To the left, don’t trip on that stump.
I thought, “Why am I proud that I have massive blisters forming?”
Hike up that incline. You have more where that’s coming from.
I laughed. “Imagine their faces when I actually cross the finish line.”
Slow it down woman, you got this.
I cried. “I think I’m actually gonna cross that finish line.”
Rock/Creek’s StumpJump 50K. One hell of a race. Let’s backtrack maybe 9 months ago. I had just finished my first half-marathon, and was feeling confident. Not that I should have, it was miserable. But finishing that race lead me to believe that ANYTHING was possible. That my body would go when I told it to, and my mind could overpower whatever I needed it to. I reverted back to a 15 year old… that mystical and long lost memory of invincibility. Sure, why not. Let’s do an ultra-marathon. Sure, why not. Let’s do one of the toughest 50K’s in the southeast. I got this.
You guys should know a few things about me. I am a procrastinator. And no, not one of those “Oh haha, silly me… is that due? Oh, I just finished it last night. I’m SUCH a procrastinator!” No. Enter Lunden. “Oh, was that due 4 weeks ago? Yeah, sure I’ll work on it this week.” It is safe to say, that is exactly how my training went. However, cool as a cucumber, I didn’t start getting nervous until about three weeks out before the race. I did my last
big training run, a whopping 13 miles! (Also, that was THE BIGGEST training run.) And it wasn’t just any 13 miles, complete with a giddy two step to my front door. No, this was a miserable trudge around the downtown peninsula of Charleston, SC that concluded with a fire in my lower back so painful, I sat in the fetal position for the remainder of that night. That was the end of my training, and I told myself “Well, guess we will just have to see what happens.”
Then came the day to leave Charleston, and put my fate into the loving hands of the Tennessee Mountains. Those trusty old gals, who give no facade of who they are. Of course, as every runner knows. It is imperative to have a perfect last few days of eating, chilling, thinking before a big race. As the last of the Half-Moon Outfitters Endurance team trickled into Chattanooga, we ate a hearty dinner of cheese and beer and promptly fell asleep.
The next morning was cold. The 38 degree weather was a change for us low-land folk, used to sweating until (at least) January. We stepped out of the car at the race start with our down jackets and pants on, hardly believing the world could even get this far down in temperature. The Endurance team boys seemed excited. For Brian Jolly, Seth Cantley, and Josh Holloway, this was not their first time at StumpJump. However, last year Seth was taken away in an ambulance due to dehydration from flu medicine, and this year Jolly was running on a rolled ankle. Josh, as we all knew it, was out for the win. A prolific runner, he wanted one of those top spots. The other guys on the team with me, Austin Dukes, Jamie Lynch, and Tom Oxnard were novices to this race like myself. Tom started the 11 mile race, determined for a great outcome, and the rest of us huddled around waiting for the 50K to start. At last, it was time to begin.
“Just think of it as a long day in the woods.” – Jolly
“Lunden’s going to crush it.” – Matt Sims, our Patagonia Rep.
“I’m so proud of you babe.” – My fella, Dorian.
These things flashed through my mind as we heard the gun go off to start the race at 8 a.m. It was on. We ran on the pavement for perhaps .4 miles before we turned into the welcoming woods. “Come to us,” they seemed to beckon. “we will test you and take care of you. Tread lightly.”
The first hour was a blur. The boys were way ahead of me, and I remember passing one aid station and continuing on. I needed to focus. What I mainly worried about for the first 17 miles of the race is that I had to make it to the aid station at mile 19.5 in around 5 hours. That was the cutoff, and I found it to be a hard test. The trail itself was challenging as I thought there would be a smooth dirt trail with a few hikes here and there. But no. This trail was in constant motion, like a rolling ocean of brown earth. Roots and rocks scattered the trail with no apparent sense, waiting to snag your shoes and pull you closer. There was no rhyme or reason to this trail. There was no pattern. It was a constant mind game of where your foot was safe, and how far you could allow your ankle to roll before you could pick your leg up again. Exhilarated, I pulled into the aid station at mile 16 or so and assessed my mind and body. Could I make it to 19.5 in time? I think so. Was my mind clear? Surprisingly so. Did my body hurt? I enjoyed the slow burn of my quads and the steady pinch of the blisters forming. This is what it means to be a trail runner.
I decided to go on, and try to make the 19.5 aid station cut off time. This stretch of trail was tough. I had met my teammate Jamie at the last aid station, where he told me someone fell on him and tweaked his knee. He was going to be done at 19.5, and it tempted me to say the same. I was resistant, and then I hit the “rock garden” around mile 18. It is a stretch of trail that is not dirt at all, but rocks that you step to and from, making your way up the steep incline. It was a killer stretch of the race. When I finally got to the aid station, under the cutoff time, I sat down for the first time in 5 hours. A race volunteer came up to me, “Do you need a ride? Are you done?”
Nah, I think I got this.
Popped a Gu, and I was heading back in to the canopy of trees. Down the gentle slope of the woods, and into the last 11 miles of the race. This part of the race was a back-track of the first 11 miles of the race. At this point, I was pretty much alone. I had made the cut-off time by only half an hour, so there were only a few runners left behind me trying to finish. The solitary woods spooked me. I often double glanced at rock, thinking it was a stalking animal. I constantly looked behind me, checking for anyone sneaking up. From the mile 19.5 aid station it was a five mile stretch to the next aid station, and about 2 miles into it, I ran out of water. This slowed my roll down a bit, on an otherwise flat stretch of trail. I came up on the next aid station at mile 24 (ish) and felt pretty good. Gobbled up a few boiled potatoes, had a Hammer Endurolyte pill and a bit of PB&J, and was ready to continue on.
The next 2 miles were the hardest miles of the race, physically. It is a straight climb uphill. For two miles. It sucked the life right out of me, and by the time I reached the VERY LAST AID STATION at around mile 26, I considered quitting for the first time. For the whole race, I had felt totally mentally solid. My body ached, but it did not hurt. I was having fun, and the trail was being kind to me. And then I hit a wall. As I left the last aid station, with only about 4 miles to go, I was mentally checked out. I started to feel nauseous due to a switch up in nutrition (stick with what you know!!!!) and bouncing up and down while running was the last thing I wanted to do. But then I heard cheering… And speakers…. and HUMANITY!!!!! THERE ARE PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO ARE NOT RUNNING THIS CRAZY RACE! So I put on my big girl panties and toughed it out for the last few miles, crying about how proud Dorian would be of me. And how shocked my teammates would be for me finishing. And so. damn. proud. of myself for running 31 miles with 5,000 feet of elevation change.
I crossed the finish line with a huge smile. The announcer said “And here is the Lovely Lunden Herron from Charleston, South Carolina!” I wasn’t lovely after running 8.5 hours, but I was proud. Austin gave me a big hug at the finish line, giddy that I had crossed it. Seth, the most intense runner I know, told me how awesome I was about a million times. Oh, the Half-Moon family, it doesn’t get any better.
I didn’t finish in a good time. I didn’t run the uphills. I could have done better with a little more training. But it is amazing what the mind and body can do, once you let them. I don’t recommend that anyone only run a 13 mile distance on flat pavement before doing an ultra-marathon in the mountains. But I do reccommend experiencing the quiet solitude of the woods, with nothing but your steady breath to be your companion. Trail running is such a marvelous, masochistic experience.
For the race results visit here. Josh on the Half-Moon Endurance team finished 9th overall. Like a gazelle, that one. Austin, a first time ultra-marathoner, finished in the top 100. Jolly and Seth both finished around 7 hours, Seth with just as much training as I had, and Jolly with an injury. Tom Oxnard finished 11th in the 11-miler. He ran 11 miles in the time it took me to run about 6 miles. These guys are crazy, and I’m just happy to be grouped with them.
As for the gear I used, if interested:
GU.Wow. This stuff works. I used the coffee and lime flavors, and as I reached mile 19.5 all I could think about was my coffee GU. I took one every hour except for at the last aid station, where I switched to Hammer Gels. (Those didn’t go so well for me, I don’t think. Nausea set in.)
I have never used them before, so it was a risk, but I took the Hammer Endurolyte pills the aid stations offered. These were AWESOME, and I will use them in the future. I have tried other electrolye things before like Nuun, but it really makes me nauseous. I’ll stick with Hammer.
I used a Camelbak Mini-M.U.L.E. It served me well. I had also never run with hydration before the race, so this was a risk for me. The race requires you to carry hydration though. This little back was awesome for me. Light, it stayed put for the most part, and easy storage pouches, it served my purpose well.
Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2‘s. I will be honest, after the last training run I did in my Pearl Izumi EM Road N2’s, with my knees hurting so bad, I was nervous about these shoes….. as I had also never run in them before the race. But, besides the blisters, I had NO feet or knee problems. I have had a bit of ankle pain for the last few days but nothing serious, and I account that to just running on the trail. These shoes worked for me, and I was actually surprised how well they suited me for this race.
The North Face Better Than Naked Short-Sleeve Tee. Wow. I love this shirt. It felt like i literally had nothing on, and that (in my opinion) is the best way to run… ahem BOYS, you lucky rascals! No chafing, no complaints. Love love loved it.
SmartWool phD Run Light Micro socks. Sorry SmartWool, I’m going Fits next time. I had massive blisters, and I think there was just too much sock in the toe-box. They don’t fit like the Fits do, hence the name. I DO however like how far the SmartWool socks came up to my ankle, and at Half-Moon, we didn’t carry a Fits sock that came up far enough. In town, I run in the Fits Ultra Light Runner No Show, but it will chafe the front of my ankle if I’m putting in more than 5 miles. No bueno, Fits!
Patagonia Houdini Jacket. Whenever I have an adventure outside, I take along this jacket. It is just a light shell that allows you just the right amount of wind protection. It also stuffs into the size of your fist. Can’t really beat that. For the race, I only wore this for about 30 minutes, but it easily stuffed right into the front of my Camelbak. Problem solved.
Salomon Running Shorts. I’ve had these for so long, I don’t even know what they are anymore. I’m still searching for the perfect running short, as these are not it. I had to cut the sides of the short, so my thighs would fit. One guy on the trail asked me if I was running so fast my shorts ripped. Har, har buddy…
Well, that’s that. Oh, anyone want to do a 50-miler with me in the spring?!!