Lookout Mountain 50 was not in my plan. I was supposed to run Surf the Murph 50 miler in October, but I sustained a stress fracture in my second metatarsal and screwed up my fall racing plans. I chose Lookout because it made sense with my recovery schedule, I had good friends down in Tennessee, and I wanted to try some non-Midwest trails. So, Lookout it was!
Ross and I left on Friday with a 12 hour (or was it 14?) ahead of us. My parents were already on their way down from South Dakota, taking advantage of recent retirement which means no schedule whatsoever. Got into Tennessee around 5:00, found hotel and parents, ate some dinner, and went to bed.
Ross and Dad accompanied me to the start. My mom’s back was acting up so she decided to stay at the hotel with the hopes of it feeling better by the time I hit the mile 22 aid station.
Started at 7:30 and after a mile of some roads, we hit single track and made the descent to the bottom of Lookout Mountain. Being from Iowa, the views were just so freakin’ gorgeous; I had to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on trail so I didn’t fall to my death of a constant cliff. Lots of switchbacks and single file lines. Not too much chatter going on around me and my fellow runners. At one point, I was leading a line of like 10 dudes and totally ate it. Popped back up (“like a poptart” my friends would say) and kept trucking. It was the first fall of many.
Around mile 8, there was a flat section on a gravel road. I picked up the pace a bit and started feeling a little tightness in my left heel. That soon became a lot of tightness. My gait altered and I started to worry. I started wondering if I would have to deal with this for 42 more miles, or if it would make me drop. Long story short – once I started climbing a bunch around mile 15 it went away. I’m assuming it was because my body wasn’t used to continuous downhill trail running and my calves weren’t warmed up enough. Whatever it was, it was gone. That was probably the lowest point of the race mentally.
Anyways, I settled with a group of 4 or 5 guys as we made our way back up to the start. It was long and slow. Lots of hiking. But the good company made it go by quickly (shoutout to Kyle from Georgia and (Ed)ward from Mississippi!).
The next aid station was at mile 22 (that start/finish area) and this would be the first time I’d see Ross and my parents. The best thing happened. The aid station appeared at mile 20.2!!! Actually, it was mile 22, but my watch got off track due to switchbacks and elevation change. As always, it was great to see them. Got a dry Buff, let them know I was doing fine, shoved some food in my face, and took off. I came in at 3:53; making good time and on track with my plan of breaking 10 hours.
Had a few miles of flat and downhill singletrack and a little bit more of gravel road before I hit single track again. I noticed my quads were starting to ache a bit. Normal in an ultra, sure, but I wasn’t liking how much they were already barking.
Anyways, caught up to some friendly faces again and ran through some very pretty areas, including the famous waterfall. Great aid station, beautiful views. More hills. My quads were really starting to hurt and had a really tough time keeping a decent pace. Arrived at mile 34 (Lula Lake AS) and saw my parents and Ross again. Let them know I was definitely slowing down, but still feeling ok and in good spirits.
Took off for the 4.5 mile loop around the lake, which I just didn’t like that much. Felt more like eight miles. This is also when I took my worst fall – which was probably my third or fourth at this point. I lost count.
That loop took me forever and had fantasies of getting back to the AS with Ross all set to run the last 12 miles with me. I knew the chances of this were slim to none. Lookout doesn’t allow pacers, but they do allow ‘safety runners,” which you could only use if you came in at mile 38 after 3:00. That was not in my plan, so we didn’t even plan on that happening. But it did. Woops.
Came into mile 38 AS and joked around with Ross and my parents, fully accepting it would very well take 2.5 hours to finish, if not more (which it did). I had some fun with trail mix, while Ross captured my graceful actions, and then I was on my way again.
I’ve only done one other 50, and Ross ran the last 15 with me. I had never run this far alone before. I didn’t know how it would go and was afraid I would start to struggle mentally. But I never hit that point. Don’t get me wrong, there were some mentally trying points, but nothing I couldn’t handle.
One point of struggle though, was peeing. The aid stations, except for mile 22, didn’t have port-a-potties, and I just kind of held it without much problem until I couldn’t anymore. Around mile 41, I snuck off the trail to pee and it was just awful. My quads were screaming, I could barely bend, and I peed on myself. Good times!
Kept shuffling along, ticking off miles, verrrry slowly. My quads were dead. Got passed by some dudes. But whatever, it didn’t sour my spirits. Just kept going. I hit the gravel area by the power lines again and knew I was close. Some guy had said once you hit the power lines you’re one to 1.5 miles to the finish. I could hear the announcer. I instantly had a giant shit eating grin on my face, so excited to see Ross, my parents, and my friends Brian and Haley who had made the trip from Nashville to see me finish. I felt like I was going faster – looked down at my watch – an 11:00 min/mile pace! Wow! Flying!! (that was sarcasm).
Then I came to a fork. Right or left? CRAP. I missed my turn. I didn’t see flags. There wasn’t anyone around me. I decided to wait instead of guess. So just kinda jogged back. I saw a few people off in the distance maybe .20 miles back. A girl and a guy. They turned off into some trails. ARRGGH.
I ran back and turned off into the woods, with no energy to chase after the girl. Whatever (lots of “whatever” moments in this race). Entered another section of single track but knew I was close. It was starting to get dark, and there were some muddy spots. Turned on my headlamp and kept going. At this point, Kyle from Georgia caught up to me and we ran a bit together, talking about how excited we were to finish.
The announcer was getting louder. Kyle got a bit ahead of me and I climbed up out of the trail section onto a gravel road. There were lights/candles lining the road. I could see people cheering folks in. I heard Ross yelling. I was so happy. He jogged next to me as we went through some trees. He gave me a big smooch. I said how happy I was. I came out of the trees and into the finish line chute. And then finished. In 10 hours and 44 minutes.
I saw my dad, my mom, Brian, Haley, and Ross. I was elated. My favorite faces at the end of the hardest race I’d ever run. It meant the world to me to have them there and I am forever thankful to have such supportive people in my life.
I actually placed first in my age group and ninth female, which I was super surprised about. Looking back, I should have done more hills and worked on downhills. I trashed my quads in the first ten miles, making the second of the race much slower than the first. My quads were just too tired to pick up the pace on the downhills and flat. But I did learn that even though I was hurting and I was going slow, I could still hang in there mentally and get shit done.
Also, coming off a stress fracture in August, I’m pretty damn happy with how my body was able to heal quickly and complete this distance on this difficulty of trails.
This was a huge confidence booster going into 2015. I’m signed up for my first 100 in July and this race let me know it wasn’t a completely idiotic move. That’s still to be determined, but I guess we’ll find out in July.