The Fall 50 is a 50 mile adventure that begins at the northernmost tip of Wisconsin’s peninsula and travels through scenic back roads and little towns on the Western shoreline and finishes up in Sturgeon Bay. Runners have the option to run all 50 miles solo, in pairs, or as a 5 person relay. I signed up last year after the big chain medals caught my eye. Oddly enough, last year the race director went with a normal cloth medal instead. This year, the chain medal was back by popular demand and the medal was blinged out more than ever to celebrate the 10 year running! As with last year, this race was also a USA Track and Field Road Championship race! Some of the best ultra marathoners would complete again on this course for a the some of the $12,000 price purse.
The trip to Door County was a beacon of hope. I needed a break from working 45-50 hour weeks. The crazy thing is, running 50 miles was my break. Adulting is hard.
Last year I wasn’t able to enjoy much of Door County. This year, would be different. Andrew and headed up on Thursday afternoon after I cooked a delicious brunch. The 3.5 hour drive flew by and was filled with laughter and music. We arrived just before the sun started to set. The leaves were on fire with oranges, yellows and reds. There was something about the sunlight there. It was absolutely amazing! There were so many moments and so many views, I could not believe that I missed so much last year. There were so many sights that took my breath away and I WAS ONLY IN THE CAR! We watched the sun set over Egg Harbor as we drove through and I realized that THIS PLACE WITH THIS PERSON…. is exactly where I’m supposed to be.
Everything about this simple car ride was magical. The car ride, the music, the conversation, the sunlight kissing the dancing leaves in the trees. As we drove through Egg Harbor as the sun was going down, hues of blues and pinks coated the horizon, it was the most beautiful sunset I’d ever seen.
We found our way to dinner at an outdoor pizza place before heading back to the hotel. I was starting to worry about the weather. It felt much colder than I’d been running in. I wondered if I brought the right clothing.
It was exciting to see ‘Door County Fall 50 Official Course Route’ signs as we drove around Door county. It was even more exciting to see one right in front of our hotel. Our hotel was a cute little place with a gorgeous room that still had real keys and locks for doors. I’m not sure how I managed to find a cute little place, but it was absolutely perfect.
Friday morning, I woke up with a scratchy throat, something I’ve been dealing with for the past week. Usually, it would just be scratchy in the morning and would fade away by afternoon. This time it didn’t fade away but it wasn’t terrible. I would manage, I would have to!
We spent Friday enjoying Door County exploring, sipping wine, eating good eats and drinking beer. I may have been too careless for someone who was planning to run 50 miles in one day, but, we were on vacation and we were determined to do it right!
Usually the night before a race I ready my gear. I had to plan for some weather shifts. Door County was expecting some rain, maybe some sun, and wind, my favorite (totally not my favorite guys!). I struggled a bit, Wisconsin weather has been like a tilt-o-whirl. One day hot, another day cold. I wasn’t sure if I wanted capris, pants or shorts. Finally, I settled on shorts, compression, my hammer tshirt, and sleeves. I packed a second outfit and a second pair of shoes for Andrew to have with him just in case.
Nutrition-wise I planned to run on all liquid calories thanks to Hammer Nutrition. I would alternate between Hammer Heed and Hammer Perpeteum. In the past I’ve used Hmmer Gel. Sometimes during races it’s hard to get into the gel packets and even remember when to take them. I was so excited to give Hammer Heed and Perpetuem a try. However, I’ll admit at first I was extremely nervous. As an ultra runner, the thought of all liquid calories seemed impossible. After a lot practice with nutrition on long runs and at a few races I realized that this is the way to go. I found I didn’t even have to think about nutrition on race day as long as I laid out my plan before hand.
I decided to run with my camelbak and alternate between Hammer Heed and Hammer Perpetuem. I also stuck 4 additional Hammer Gels in my handheld just in case.
11.5 miles – Hammer Perpetuem
23.7 miles – Hammer Heed
35.8 miles – Hammer Perpetuem
45.5 miles – Hammer Heed
I wrote down each exchange for Andrew so that he knew what I needed and when I needed it. It’s hard to believe that I ran this race last year on very minimal support.
On race day, I woke up a little later than I normally would. I was completely relaxed after two days of enjoying Door County, maybe too relaxed. Andrew got up a little earlier than I did to take a shower. I lounged around a bit before getting ready and having breakfast.
We headed to the starting line a little later than we planned thankfully the drive was only 20 minutes. At this point, there wasn’t much rain and the temperatures seemed about perfect. We got to the starting line around 6:35 A.M. We needed to meet up with Kamil, a co worker who planned to photograph the event and Jason, my running buddy. After we parked and headed to the starting line, the light rain turned into a steady rain. The four of us stumbled through the dark rainy morning. Jason and I both struggled with our back bibs. Pretty silly, we were acting like N00Bs here. I even ended up pinning my back bib to my tshirt, under my camelbak, which had to be corrected quickly before the race.
Jason and I fumbled to the starting line with only minutes to spare. I’m sure we both looked like this was our first race. I felt stressed and he looked stressed, it just wasn’t the best way to start a 50 mile race.
Whether we were ready or not we took off. As usual, runners hit the first mile pretty hard. Jason reminded me when we were going to fast. He was my voice of reason for the day. 8:30 pace was our magical number.
Last year I remember the first 5 miles with bright orange leaves, sunshine and gorgeous houses. This year was dark, gloomy and wet. The sky seemed to lighten slowly and the steady rain soon became a downpour. the downpour lasted for miles, and then soon an hour. I didn’t see the gorgeous houses or the beautiful leaves. I watched the rain create puddles and drip from the brim of my hat. Within minutes of the rain starting, I was completely soaked.
Jason and I chatted along as the miles ticked by. The rain was relentless and at times I had difficulty hearing Jason. And while most people would be bothered by this rain, I didn’t mind it much. Knowing today that every ounce of energy counted, wasting energy worrying about rain just seemed silly.
Even though every inch of my clothing and body was soaking wet, there was still plenty of work to be done out there on those roads.
I’ve gotten confident running long distances solo. Last year I had a bit more practice. This year, because I was using Heed and Perpetuem I needed to meet Andrew every 12-15 miles to switch out bottles depending on aid station locations.
As we approached Sister Bay near mile 10, I noticed Jason began to struggle. Rain and puddles were getting to him. Due to some crazy construction, (the race director joked that Canada had bombed Sister Bay at the start of the race) runners’ were splashed as cars drove through giant puddles. Jason fell back for a bit as I powered up a hill. At this point, there was still a good amount of people around. Most times, that’s bad for me because it makes me want to run faster.
As we approached exchange 2 at 11.5 miles I asked Jason if he planned to stop. He was only hoping to get some pain meds and be off. My plan was to swap bottles. Andrew was there, waiting with a bottle of Hammer Perpetuem.
For some reason this exchange lit a fire in me. I was excited and ready to run it up. Even though Andrew has only been in my ultra running life for just short of a year. He completely gets it. He gave me a mixed bottle of Hammer perpetuem, a smile, and some energy. Everything happened so smooth, so easily, without even missing a step. Before I knew it, the aid station was behind me and a hill was in front of me. I remember this hill from last year. I remember hiking with Jason. Not this year. this year, I pushed this hill, It pushed back, but I made it, and I felt strong at the top.
Like I said, something came over me. I found myself running harder and much faster than my plan. I kept telling myself to slow down. I kept hoping Jason would catch me and tell me to slow down.
I knew the section through Peninsula Park was hillier, maybe that might slow me down. But it didn’t much. I remember how difficult this section felt last year. I remember running the entire entrance to the park, which seemed to go on forever. I remember how hard it felt before realizing I was on a gradual climb the whole time.
This year i did my best to focus on the sights around me. Peninsula Park was absolutely beautiful. I ran through an orange and red wonderland. The air was crisp with fall. I love this season. Even though I was surrounded by falls’ greatness, I was facing my first low of the day. This was the point that people were starting to spread out. Jason was somewhere behind me, I didn’t know how far and I was still running sub 8:30 pace consistently. I didn’t see anyone close ahead of me and I didn’t hear anyone close behind. I was completely alone.
Finally, about halfway through Peninsula Park, I heard footsteps behind me, and they were coming up fast. A man caught up with me. We chatted about pace for a bit. He was aiming for an 8:30:00 finish time. I was a little confused. He was running way too fast for that. He seemed to not even know what pace he was running. That always leaves me completely floored. How can people take on such a huge endeavor without really knowing what’s happening? We settled back and chatted a little until another man caught us. The sun had finally come out and it started to heat up a bit. It was also beginning to be more and more difficult to control my pace now that I was running with two other people. I knew how lonely this course would get, I needed that interaction.
As we approached exchange 4 at 23.7 miles, I was excited to see Andrew and people again. Peninsula Park is beautiful and all, but I needed to soak up some energy. A was ready with a bottle of heed. Right when I stopped I started to feel empty, like my stomach was caving in.
“Almost half way, but not even half way” I thought to myself. “I have another marathon to run, more than a marathon, HOW?” Maybe I forgot how difficult this distance is.
I removed my sleeves and gave them to Andrew. I took a moment to go to the bathroom and worried about how much time I was taking, but I knew I couldn’t run another marathon without stopping. In the porta john, I started to feel really anxious. I had to pull myself together. I finished up and headed back to the course. It was time to focus. I grabbed the bottle of Heed and some Hammer Gel and headed back out.
Running through Fish Creek was a little annoying. People were everywhere. It was hard to navigate through the busy streets and sidewalks. I wasn’t sure where the official course signs were and I was starting to feel weak and a little stressed. As I headed out of town, I took a moment to refocus. The hard part was here, I was facing more than 26 lonely miles on country roads. The test of the mind had come.
As I approached exchange 5 at 28 miles, the ‘Halfway Buffet” I found Andrew hanging out with a smile. I walked through the aid station with Andrew and we chatted for a bit. He told me Jason had dropped and he had picked him up and brought him here to meet his wife. I was disappointed to hear this but knew he had struggled with hip issues. I was still hoping he would catch me, but now I was officially on my own and there was work to be done. Jason wasn’t going to get me to the finish line, it was all on me.
I noticed that my bottle of Heed was halfway gone and I still had 7 miles. “I can get through 7 miles on this” I reassured myself, but in reality I was worried that I didn’t have enough with me.
The next 7 miles dragged on. Nothing crazy happened, just lots of lonely country roads. I was definitely slowing down. My paces fell to the upper 8’s and into the 9’s depending on hills. Every once in awhile I would hit 8:30 again but I mostly bounced around near the 9’s. I just couldn’t be consistent anymore.
Around mile 40 I played leap-frog with an older man. We finally decided to run together. We ran as much as we could and walked when we needed to. I was at a bit of a low so the company was great. This man had quite a story and was willing to tell me every bit of it and I loved it. At age 58 he ran marathons just as fast as me, and he ran ultras faster! His plan for the day was to be around 7 hours but the weather wore him down. The weather wore everyone down.
The rain started up again. At first, it was only a light mist buteventually turned into rain. Shortly the wind picked up and temperatures fell. I ran out of Hammer Heed before the next exchange. I’ll admit that after the marathon mark I would have probably felt better with Hammer perpetuem for the rest of the race.
I was really starting to get cold and struggle with my hands. My fingers felt stiff and I couldn’t easily move my camelbak tubes and mouth piece to drink. I started worrying about getting too cold. Luckily, Kamil was still following me around photographing. I’m sure I looked pretty miserable at this point. I asked him to text Andrew to tell him I needed a jacket.
Shortly after that we came upon another runner on the other side of the road. As we started to pass he yelled, “Number 2 is about 2 minutes ahead!” It was time to run again.
When I finally got to the last exchange at mile 45 I was so thankful to see Andrew with my jacket and a new bottle of Hammer Heed. It was time to work. The 2nd lady was in sight and in fact, she was just leaving as I got into the last aid station. The last 6 miles I was able to stay under a 9 minute mile, but that was all that I had. There were 2 miles at an 8:30 but it just wasn’t enough. The day was brutal and I gave it everything I had.
The ONE thing this race seems to lack is a proper finish line. There is an official finish line and a “ceremonial” finish line. Andrew and Kamil watched me cross the official finish line from a distance.
“Can I stop running now?” I asked the volunteers, “Is this the official finish line?” Amused they said “yes” and I headed back to the second finish line to pick up my medal. I was so done… and you could see it on my face.
I finished officially with a time of 7:24:24 as the 3rd lady and 1st Wisconsin Woman. I wasn’t where I wanted to be and almost blew my race by running too fast again! Somehow I was able to refocus and finish. I was just under 2 minutes faster than last years’ time. Part of me was disappointed, but today was a battle, it was brutal, I fought to survive. I tested my limits… and I’d say I passed that test.