If you read my last blog about signing up for this race, you would know that I had a different goal in mind when hitting “REGISTER”. I was 14 weeks out with a very low level of fitness. I hadn’t run more than 6 miles in ages, and my body was broken. However, my thinking was that by signing up for this race I would force myself to start focusing on recovery, diet, and increasing my fitness level. My simple goal of this race was to just get out of my current funk and just finish it.
As the weeks went on and I stayed committed to my training plan, I started to feel stronger and my goals started to shift. I was back in my zone, loving the trails, and asking myself, “why not you?” So, with about 6 weeks left to race weekend I started to voice my stretch goal. “On a dream day I could win this race.”
The funny thing is, I had not worn a Garmin since last October. I simply did all of my training based on time (hours) and I had no clue what my pace was. My only measure was a 5k I ran as part of a duathlon that had me at a 6:45 overall pace. So, I’m not sure what made me think I could win this race. I guess just believing in my training and knowing I was not only doing the work, but pushing hard. However, with about 3 weeks until race day things started to shift. After 2 long training weekends (4.5 hrs on Sat and 5 hrs Sun) my body started to scream at me. I have some major hip and back (psoas) issues and just standing for more than 30 minutes was becoming unbearable. Mix that with just stresses of life, I started to wonder where this race would go.
Erik and I left Saturday morning, went to race check in, then headed to the house we would be staying at. I have to mention and thank a few people here. When Kyle, my amazing childhood friend, found out I signed up for this race she immediately text me and told me she may have a perfect place to stay. Her friends parents live a few miles from the start and they would probably love for us to stay. I told her I didn’t want to put anyone out, and was fine sleeping in the car at the race location (a common ultra running practice) She called me nuts and said she talked to Mr. Klene and he would love to have us. I cannot thank Kyle and Mr Klene (Roger/Home Owner) enough for this generous offer. The Klenes property was literally one of the most picturesque settings I have ever seen! 60 acres with showcase views of Ascutney Mt. Combine that with being surrounded by truly amazing company, this was an experience that really added to my race weekend.
We got to the race start around 530am for a mandatory pre race meeting. It was freezing cold (35 degrees) and dark. Race start was 630am. My brother and Dad arrived, we found Justin who was also running the 50, and before I knew it we were off.
We started on the road, and I decided to stay with the lead pack. The pace felt very aggressive for a 50 miler, but I was with 3 other females and I decided I was either going to race this for the win, or just to finish. I made a game time decision in those first few miles that I was going for it.
During this time I ran with Liz, her and I chatting while settling into 2nd and 3rd female. I knew she was strong because her time at Cayuga 50 was 8:45ish, while mine was 9:13. I said to her at that point, “OK Liz, lets vision us 1st and 2nd female” She probably thought I was a nut, but this is a huge part of my training. You will hear about it more later, but I visualize a ton for every race. I think it is so important.
A cruised into mile 12 aid station, feeling good. This was the first one I was able to see my crew at. **A side note here for all of you aspiring ultra runners: do not mess around at the aid stations! Think about it, if you spend 1 extra minute at every aid station that could add as much as 10 minutes to your time. I have 2 water bottles filled with my nutrition and I literally pass the old one off and take the new one. I am so thankful for all I learned from Amy Rusiecki when I ran my last 50 with her, and this is one big thing she taught me.** My crew told me I was in 2nd and I corrected them, I was 3rd. I knew there were 2 girls ahead of me. I wouldn’t see my crew again until mile 30. That was tough to swallow. I can’t tell you what it did to me mentally to see their faces. Erik, Matt, my Dad, Kyle, Drew, Roger…all giving up a day and weekend to support me. I am so freaking lucky to have such amazing support in my life!!
The next 18 miles (as well as the majority of the rest of the race) is kind of a blur. It was A LOT of UPS and DOWNS. It was mentally just tough all around. The terrain. The elevation. Being solo almost the whole race. Fearing that my hip/back/hamstring would go out at any minute. Just tough. I finally got to mile 30 and again my crew says, “2nd female” …”NO!” I say, “3rd!” but I find out the girl I thought was in 1st was a relay!! 2nd female it is!
I started hurting bad after mile 30 and I started to let the head take over. “You still have 20 miles left. 2nd place vs. 3rd doesn’t mean that much. Walk if you need to.” My stomach started to turn a little and my body just kept hurting more & more. It was a low point for me, but that’s endurance racing. Highs and lows. You just try to actively ride out the low to hit the high again. I definitely walked a lot of sections in the next few miles. Some because I should have, others because I wanted to. The only things keeping my spirits high was the fact that we had joined the 50kers at this point and I was passing a lot of runners.
I stopped feeling sorry for myself, however, when I ran upon 2 guides who were leading a blind runner. “Rock to the left. Slight turn to the right.” I waited for a large gap in the trail and passed them, choking out an “incredible job” as I held back tears. Who the hell am I to feel sorry for myself at all right now?
At about mile 42 I looked behind me and see a female runner looking strong. I look at her bib….green. I look at mine…green. Shit! How does she look so good?!? As she runs by me I ask, “are you relay?” (Ha!) She says no, I ask her name (Jordan) cheer her on, and settle into 3rd as she opens up her stride on the road we just hit. I accept 3rd easily …I thought I was in 3rd for 30 miles and was okay with it.
The last (and 3rd) station I could see my crew at was mile 45.9. As I run past them they yell out, “2nd female.” Again I correct them, “THIRD!” (Man, looking back maybe they chatted with Meg and were pulling some Sports Psychology shit on me!) Just ahead was the aid station, which I ran right by, but not before seeing Jordan walking away from it. As I pass her, “you got this Jordan!” “Thanks Darcy. Nice job.” I love this sport!
This was ultimately where the race started. 4 miles to go and I had heard rumblings of it being some of the toughest miles of the race. It was at this point that I had to ask myself: “What are you made of? This couldn’t be scripted any better. It’s all about mental toughness and grit right now. Are you able to step up and practice what you preach and tap into all of those motivation videos you listen to and get it done? Or are you going to let this girl out-tough you?”
It is in these next 4 miles that I learned things that no video or book could teach me. It was my own journey, my own self discovery, and in those 4 miles I gained so much more than a podium finish. I learned that when I feel I have NOTHING left to give, that there is always more. That I am capable of so much more than I even know, and the mind is truly everything. So many people don’t understand why us endurance athletes do these “crazy” things. However, until you get to that point of ultimate exhaustion and you push past it…you will never understand. It has nothing to do with running, it’s about life.
The last two miles I ran with everything I had. I had so many people comment on how I was killing it and I was passing people like crazy. I was in a zone and I had a clear vision of high fiving my Dad on my way to the finish and the hug I would get from my brother. With one mile to go, I look behind me and I see Jordan Running HARD. She seemed to be gaining on me and I somehow ran even faster. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I would guess my last mile was maybe a sub 7. It was a sprint. With only 50 yards to go I hit my crew, the moment I visioned for so long. I made sure Jordan wasn’t right behind me, and I start to take it all in. 2nd Female. 9th Overall. 7:48 finish.
This may be the hardest race I’ve ever done. The elevation was 9,000ft vs Cayuga’s 12,000ft. It took me 7:48 hours vs 9:15 hours at Cayuga. On paper you would think Cayuga was tougher, but this race just destroyed me….In. The. Best. Way. Those last 4 miles will stay with me a long time. The thoughts I had, the feelings I felt…they are mine and I am better today because of them.
Thank you to everyone who supported me. The texts, the phone calls, the hugs, the support is everything to me. All my mission FITNESS peeps..YOU inspire ME! To those who joined me on runs and bike rides during the training. To my best friend Meg who is ALWAYS there for me and lucky for me she is a mindset specialist and sports psychologist! To Bill who not only told me to sign up for this race but shared so many runs with me & listened to way too much complaining. (I told you Sayulita would podium) To Mr.Klene for being the most amazing host and just an incredible guy. Kyle and Drew, I could never thank you enough for making last weekend so special. Kyle, every girl needs a friend like you. To Erik who is my biggest supporter in life and on the race course. To my Dad and Brother who left CT at 3am to be there for me (and my Mom for babysitting so they could) That high five from my Dad and hug from my brother was what kept me going. Thank you for being the two men that made me the athlete I am today.