Marquette Trail 50, 2018: My 50-mile Race Report

Marquette Trail 50

August 18, 2018

Marquette, MI

Race consists of 3 loops: *one* 11-mile loop followed by *two* 20-mile loops (run in reverse order).

Well, no cliffhangers! I finished! I chased a tough cutoff around mile 41, but ended up coming in with about 40 minutes to spare on the 15-hour limit for the 50-mile race. It was a really tough one! And it’s not just me saying that – I had several racers who aren’t new to this sport tell me it’s tough, and some of the cutoffs are pretty aggressive – so I’m pretty happy I was able to just finish. So, the next 50-mile race I sign up for? Might be something a little less difficult – just because. Or maybe not. Because I am me.

Here’s a rough video I put together that will give you an hour-by-hour glimpse into what was going on in my head. Warning: there is some crying, some joy, and some cussing. Because that’s ultras. Enjoy!

Overall, here’s what went down: I started slow, but mostly because I got caught up in a huge line of runners hiking at the start. I’m new to these races and figured it was good for me to start slow, so I just rolled with it, basically hiking. It was dark and the terrain was pretty tough with rocks and roots and a few decent climbs and descents. But then another racer came up behind me asking if we were 50k or 50-milers, and most were 50k racers. She asked politely to pass explaining that the 50k racers have a much more lenient time cutoff than the 50-milers and that she was getting nervous. To be honest, I was getting nervous myself, but I didn’t want to just start running uphill passing people and burning myself out. But as she started to pass, I just kind of kept up with her, and before we knew it, we were out of the long line and going at a pretty decent pace. I felt much better, but realized that I’d already lost quite a bit of time, so I was hustling. I hoped that that start situation wouldn’t come back to bite me toward the end of the race. Whether or not it did, I honestly don’t know. Had I been able to run faster, would I have gone out too fast? Maybe.

At about mile 15 or 16 my feet started to hurt overall, kind of suddenly. I have a theory as to why, which I’ll cover a little later on here (when I talk about my sandal snafu), but I just kept going, constantly assessing my pain levels. I figured if it didn’t get any worse, I could push through. Thankfully it didn’t get worse. They did hurt the rest of the way, and after the toughest climb (Hogsback mountain), my left knee was feeling tweaky, so add that into tightening hamstrings (I need to stretch more or do yoga or something, because yeesh), it was a bit of a struggle. But it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle – and I expected to be pushing through some stuff. In hindsight, I’m glad I had the opportunity to work through a few tough spots and push on. This is something I crave during these longer runs.

My crew: I had a crew for this race. Adam was my crew chief and my mom and dad came along and ended up helping out a ton. Just seeing them at the aid stations was such a morale boost. They hugged me even though I was super-sweaty and cheered me in and out each time I saw them. But they did more than that. When I got to an aid station, I would take off my pack, and they’d be filing my water bladder with ice water, switching out my Tailwind bottle (electrolyte drink), and offering me options of things I brought to eat, and things I needed to carry with me. They took my empty Pickle Power bottles and handed me new ones, same with any other garbage I was carrying – at one point, even a ziploc with dirty toilet paper. Seriously. They’re the best! I didn’t even have to waste time looking for a garbage can. So, looking back, I wonder how was I so darn slow!? Well, I’ve never claimed to be a fast trail runner… I try to be consistent, but this had a few pretty slow spots and it was just a tough race! Glad I had Adam, my mom and dad there to support me!! It would have been so much tougher without them. And lonlier, since I don’t really know many people in the ultrarunning community yet. I feel a little bit like an outsider, still, but I think in time I’ll feel as though I fit in a little more. But for now, crew… I love you guys!

One of my favorite photos from the race (thanks, mom!). Adam is telling me I’ve got plenty of time and that I’m going to finish. That’s not the sun in my eyes… I’m nearly in tears of relief and pride.

These two – my dad and my mom. My biggest fans and always by my side helping make my crazy-ass dreams come true.

Pre-race: I didn’t feel as ready for this race as I did for my 50K. I think I was just nervous about the distance jump, and my training between the two races wasn’t as spot-on as it was leading up to my 50K. But I decided to go into it with the mindset that I know I can go 50 miles, so I’m just going to go 50 miles.

All four of us (me, Adam, mom and dad) camped for the weekend at the Marquette Tourist Park, which is a campground not too far from the start/finish line of the race. Adam and I arrived in the afternoon on Friday for early packet pick-up, and we met the race director because he was asking for someone to sing the National Anthem dark and early before the race started on Saturday morning. Well… Hello!? I know of a certain someone who is REALLY good at that! I was pretty excited to see him get to be such a big part of the event. What a cool opportunity to pop up! (He sounded great, too, by the way!!)

The morning of the race came to quickly. I had trouble sleeping, partially due to some loud girls in the campsite next to us, and partially because nerves. But morning came regardless, and I prepped the way I always do. I made a decaf coffee with heavy cream and tried to use the bathroom. My bathroom trip wasn’t nearly as successful as it was for my 50K, but it was going to have to do. Thankfully I didn’t have too much trouble during the race in this arena, but I DID have to poop in the woods one time. That was a bummer, but you do whatchya gotta do! And it still wasn’t as bad as some of my Frozen Otter training runs in 2016. {shudder}

Terrain: I thought the Northern Unit of Kettle Moraine was technical! Well, it is, but this run was a lot more technical. It was like Kettle Moraine on steroids! Just as many rocks and roots, but they were all BIGGER. The rocks were pointier, too. And the hills were a little bigger. I mean, Kettle Moraine is still amazing for training – especially for a race like this – but man, oh man… I fell one time, and as I started to go down in slow motion (like you always do) I spotted a very pointy, pyramid-shaped rock that my left knee was aiming right for. I was able to quickly put out my left hand and catch my fall with my knee JUST grazing the point of that rock. The guy behind me told me I looked totally graceful – maybe he was just being nice, but I’ll take it! I did end up with a little bruise and a scrape on that knee, but if I hadn’t caught myself, it would’ve been really ugly. I mean, a potential race-ender. I felt pretty lucky. Yeah, the terrain was no joke.

The climbs were insane. Sugarloaf is one of the famous climbs because you climb hundreds of stairs to the top. Then there’s Hogsback. This one is close to the 50K (31 mile) mark, when you go around the 20-mile loop the first time. Yup, you literally climb on all fours in places. There’s a really technical section of worn-down trail around tree roots and you basically crawl your way up crevices in rock until you reach the top. Once at the top you are rewarded with views of Lake Superior (and a breeze) that made it all seem worth it. Then you butt-scoot down smooth rock on the other side. And then you run that same 20-mile loop the opposite direction, so Hogsback comes up right away after leaving the first cutoff at 31 miles (which I made with only 30 minutes to spare, by the way! ).

The incredible view from the top of Sugarloaf.

There was a really nice, flatish section along Lake Superior in the middle of that 20-mile loop, though, which was a sweet little reprieve from the hills. It was sand and pine needles, with incredible views of the big lake – and an amazing breeze to go with it. Which brings me to…

Weather: It was in the mid- to upper-70’s, party cloudy and overcast at the start and sunny at times throughout the day. It felt cooler in the shade of the forest, and the breezes at the top of climbs and along the lake were amazing. I don’t think I could’ve asked for better weather to spend 14 hours in the woods!

Aid Stations: The aid stations and volunteers were awesome, as they always are! I had my crew, so I didn’t partake as much as would’ve been fun to, but when I did, everyone was so helpful, cheerful, and the snacks I did enjoy were life-savers – particularly watermelon at mile 41 just after beating the most aggressive cutoff. I felt like I was freakin’ starving and I knew I didn’t have a ton of time to spare, so one of the volunteers shoved a couple of granola bars in my hand, then sliced off a huge chunk of watermelon, chopped off the rine and handed it to me for on-the-go. I flew off down the trail, not even caring how sticky my hands were getting from that juicy, delicious sugar-bomb. That watermelon was the best thing on earth in that moment. Thank you, volunteers!!

At an aid station getting crewed. The pack was new to Adam so we struggled with it a bit when we were rushed, but it was a good choice to wear it. Ice water in the bladder kept my back nice and cool!

Post-race notes and the one (big) bummer: I set up 3 goals, which I don’t even want to bring up because I’m seriously embarrassed that my 3rd goal was even something that popped into my head – achievable or not. Goal one was to finish under the 15-hour cutoff and be an official finisher. I did that. My second goal was to have pretty even splits, which I didn’t do so well, but I felt like I was giving fairly consistent effort throughout, and my splits were more affected by getting caught in a slow line of racers at the start and the terrain throughout. I think I have a lot of room to work here for sure, though. I did power-hike a lot of the last 4 miles with a new running friend, Missy (thank you, Missy, for being awesome!). It ended up being four very memorable and fun miles. Running with people – so fun. My third goal? Yeah… Um, I set it to finish under 12 hours. Now, I know doing a sub-12-hour 50-mile race is a thing, but I pretty much knew this goal was out of my league since the women’s course record was 11:24. But my 50K goals felt almost too easy to reach, so I needed one in here that was tougher. 12 hours at the Marquette 50 was a little too tough. At least for me. I feel great about accomplishing goal #1, and feel like I made a good attempt at goal #2, but maybe my goal #3 should’ve been something that, even though I might not accomplish it, could at least be something that could motivate me to push harder. I mean, I threw that goal out before I even started. I’ll get this goal-setting thing nailed down one day. Maybe.

The bummer? I finished just before 8pm with about 40 minutes to spare before the final cutoff time, and all that was left standing for post-race celebration at the finish line was a table containing the finish buckles (thank goodness!) and an aid station. I don’t like to complain about stuff, and I don’t want to make a huge fuss about it, but I did just run for over 14 hours, and the big food venue (local Mexican restaurant burritos and bakery from a local bakery!) was packed up and gone, as was the live music, and the runners barn was all packed up. I apparently had a hoodie in there with my name printed on it that I didn’t know about, and it was packed away somewhere already. But really, the worst of it all was missing out on the post-race meal. I was HUNGRY. And yeah, there was an active aid station, but at that point, the last thing I wanted was another 1/4 banana and a handful of pretzels. But… Thankfully I have an awesome crew. They had ice cold, bubbly drinks waiting for me, at least. And then they whisked me away to a local burger joint where I was able to satiate my 50-mile hunger with a ginormous, messy, double burger and onion rings. So all’s well that ends well…

Duuuuuuuuuuude.

Recovery: I’m writing this a week after the race, and I’m still babying a sore left foot. I had all the typical sore muscles and puffy feet, but I had one spot on my left foot that concerned me. Of course I was being all dramatic thinking I had a stress fracture the day after, but I think it’s just inflammation or something because it’s getting better every day. And I must have sort of numbed the nerves on my feet from all the pounding, maybe? Because I’m currently having a strange sensation that I can only assume is those nerves coming back to life. My feet do NOT want to be in shoes right now, but truck driving kind of requires it. Bummer.

I know you were wondering what my 50-mile, sandal-wearing feet looked like afterward! Well, here ya’ go! DIRTY!! And happy to be done.

Fave from the day: Having my favorite people there, taking time out of their lives to support another one of my crazy adventures. I am such a lucky girl. And a thankful, one, too.

Oh, also the scenery. And the toughness. And that I have a new personal record for a 50-mile race (because it’s my first, haha!) and now I can go beat it! Yay!

Lake Superior from the top of Hogsback.

Sandal Snafu: So I did the stupidest thing you can do on race day. I started in new footwear. Doing anything new on race day is dumb, but new footwear? Come on! What was I thinking!? Well, I was thinking that it was better than the other new pair of sandals chewing my feet into hamburger (they need to be broken in). These new sandals were a new brand – Luna. They were lighter and felt softer, and I felt confident they wouldn’t create raw spots like my Bedrocks did after 20-ish miles. They didn’t create any raw spots – I was right about that. The thing I didn’t factor in (stupidly), was that they are structured differently than my Bedrocks – my feet are used to Bedrocks. Not Lunas. So around mile 15 or 16, it just hit hard. It wasn’t just a spot or a joint or a hot spot or anything – both of my feet – like the entire foot – just HURT. My foot was moving in a new way for 20 miles! So at one of the aid stations I switched back to my old Bedrocks (which are wearing thin, but my feet like them), and while the pain didn’t go away, it also didn’t get any worse. So I was able to push on just fine, and was happily surprised that at the end of the race, I had zero rub spots from either sandal! So I guess it all evens out. Now I just wait and hope that this pain in my left foot isn’t something serious and it goes away. Or I might literally kick myself in the butt somehow for committing what has to be THE race day cardinal sin. (I do really love the Luna sandals for different reasons that I love my Bedrocks, so I’ll be training in both of them from here on out. It was actually really nice to swap them mid-race, and I’ll probably do that again.)

Final thoughts: It was hard. It was fantastic. It was beautiful. I loved it all.

Looking back on the race, I was surprised to realize that there was no point during the day when I didn’t want to be there. I asked myself once how bad I wanted it (when I was really close to a cutoff), but I decided to put on my stubborn pants and just do what I came there to do. Finish. The struggles make it all so much sweeter, and so much more memorable.

Aid station, mile 47. My expression: “How am I still running!?”

Stats:

Finish time: 14:18:51

Overall: 69/132 (but I was really about 5th from the last finisher – ranks include those that did not finish, or DNF)

Age group: 13/23

Female: 19/37

Distance: 52.9 (from my GPS watch/Strava)

Avg pace: 16:14 minutes/mile

Elevation gain: 6,584

Calories burned: 5,030

Personal records: 50-miles (only because it was my first, and I think I can beat that time next time I run a 50!)

Tonight I love that I’m currently not wearing anything on my feet. My feet also love that they are naked. Happy feet.

Naked, happy, elevated feet.

Strava stuff.

Before the race I let my mom, dad and Adam write something on my arms with a Sharpie for when I struggled. Mom’s: “Because you can.” Dad’s: “Go girl, go” Adam’s: our fishies and heart symbol. It was pretty cool to see them throughout the race.

Using my finisher’s buckle to open my beer.

2-hour nap at our campsite on Sunday!

50 miles is a long way

I’m ready to get sweaty! The forecast for Saturday says 80° and sunny!

I suppose it’s time for my pre-race ramble. Yup, this time I’m going to [attempt to] run 50 miles! This Saturday! That’s like, what? Four days away? Yikes. I keep going back and forth between feeling excited, nervous, confident, not-so-confident, nervous, then always back to excited. I mean, even if I DNF (this ultrarunning term means “did not finish”) for some reason, I think I’ll feel glad that I got to give it a shot and play in the woods for a few hours.

A few hours. I’ve got 15 of them to finish. (That’s a long time to be running!) The terrain looks kind of technical, meaning there’s some roots and rocks I’ll be hopping over (which I enjoy – except when I trip on them), and it looks like there will be a few pretty tough climbs. But I hear the views of Lake Superior are pretty spectacular from up there. I’m really, really looking forward to the scenery!

The race I’m participating in this time is called the Marquette Trail 50 and takes place in Marquette, Michigan, which is located in the Upper Peninsula of the state and is situated along the Lake Superior shoreline. I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the past backpacking the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Trail near there, but that trail is really quite flat overall. In fact, I did a 50-mile training run up there once back in 2016 when I was training for the Frozen Otter.

2016 – after running a self-supported 50-mile training run on the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Trail. And yupper! I’m crying in this pic. Because I’m so happy to be DONE!

But yeah, anyway, it’s pretty flat. The trail I’ll be racing on on Saturday does NOT look flat. I mean, at all.

Elevation profile for the Marquette Trail 50.

At this very moment, as I write this (and this opinion might change by the time I’m done writing), I really think I can do this. My training has not been great this past month, but coming off of a successful and fun 50k race on July 14, I didn’t really want to push my training super hard, anyway. But I did skip my ONE planned long run of 20 miles because the only day I had an opportunity to run it also happened to land on a day that I REALLY needed to just take off and do nothing. And that’s just what I did that day. Nothing. And I don’t regret that. It was fantastic. I only wish I’d had one more week in between these two races so I could’ve gotten in that longer run, but I am where I am. And I’ll be okay. I keep telling myself that one missed run isn’t going to make or break me on race day.

In addition to missing my big run, I even went through a bout where I didn’t want to run. At all. That felt strange to me, but I just took it easy and tried to tell myself that it was something my body was asking for. Or I was just making an excuse to be lazy. I don’t know. But either way, my last 3 runs (10 miles, 4 miles and 4 miles respectively) all felt pretty good, so at least I’m going in feeling like I can still actually run – at least a little bit.

I still don’t know if I’ll wear my race vest or not, but I’m leaning towards wearing it because the new handheld bottles I planned to use came in a little too late and I know I shouldn’t use something new on race day. I mean, it’s just a stupid bottle, but what if at mile 5 it starts to make my hand go numb, or it leaks, or it’s too heavy, or I just hate it? I’ve done a few runs in my hydration vest, and while I prefer running without one, and I could easily get by without it due to there being aid stations every 4-6 miles, I know it’s comfortable. So I’ll probably just wear the darn thing.

There’s so many things like this that I go back and forth with in my head almost constantly. I also still don’t know which sandals to wear. This sounds crazy. But I had a sandal snafu since my last race. The sandals I wore for my 50k were looking a little thin, so I purchased a new pair, just like them only with a bit of a more rugged sole for more traction on mud (and snow come winter time). My first 6-mile run on them felt great. Then I jumped to a 12-mile run and they chewed up my feet in a really fierce way. I guess they needed some break-in time. The resulting rub spots took 2 weeks to heal enough to be able to wear sandals again. On a whim I purchased a different brand of sandal, and I’ve since worn them around casually and ran about a total of 8 miles in them, and I love them. I MIGHT start the race in them. That’s crazy. Didn’t I JUST say I shouldn’t try something new on race day? I mean, especially a SHOE choice!? Dumb. So, so dumb. But I might do it anyway. Yeah. Stay tuned for that!

Foot woes. Need more break-in time on these new sandals, so they sadly won’t be used on Saturday. My old Bedrocks and new Lunas with both probably make an appearance, though.

One more thing – I suppose I should throw out a few goals for myself. As always, #1 is to be an official 50-mile finisher in under the cutoff time of 15 hours. So, #2? I’d like to try to run a mostly steady-pace race, meaning my splits (how long it takes to run each mile) aren’t too different from one another for all 50 miles. I hope that I don’t go out too fast and end up having to walk most of the last 20 miles. And #3 – a long shot – finish in under 12 hours. I actually think this goal is laughable because I *think* the course record for ladies in my age group is just under 11:30. I’m not nearly fast enough to get close to that. But I underestimated myself on my 50k and it felt like my 3 goals came pretty easy, so I thought I’d throw in a truly tough one for fun. I won’t be disappointed if I don’t finish in under 12 hours. But I’ll be shocked if I do. Just finish. That’s really the biggie.

So there’s my pre-race rambling. As always, I don’t feel like I know what the hell I’m doing. I don’t know that I’ve put the miles in I need to run this far, I don’t have my gear nailed down, and to top it off, I went on a sugar-eating rampage last weekend and I am scrambling here last-minute to try to recover from that. Liiike, trying to keep my ankles from swelling while sitting in a damn truck for 11 hours/day (inflammation from all the sugar, me thinks). So, yup. There’s that wane in confidence coming back!

…Screw it. Ya’ know what? I got this.

You can bet whatever happens, I’ll be sharing the experience here when it’s over!

I can’t wait.

Tonight I love sleep. Because it’s all I want to do right now, but I have to wait for a roadside tire service guy to come change a tire on my trailer. Hurry up, tire guy!

A soft bulge in my trailer tire. The tire guy says, “the first thing I’m doing is letting air out of that thing.” Yeah. She was close to blowin’ out.