Kansas Rails to Trails 50 Mile Race Report!

I got to race again this year (!) and this time it was another big goal I have been wanting to pursue, a 50 mile race. It had been on my list for a few years, but the timing was just never right. However with all of my triathlons cancelled this year, I had nothing but time to focus on working towards some of those goals! So in early September I ran my first 50K (also on my list of goals) in preparation for this race, and my fingers were crossed the whole time that it would happen!

I won’t go into all of the details of training, but some weekends my coach had me running 36+ miles with back to back runs on Saturday (am and pm) followed by a long run Sunday. It was crazy, but even crazier was my body was up for it – all of the cross training from triathlon, PT exercises and strength training over the years had paid off! Also I was doing all of my long runs on the Katy trail, as it was similar to the race trail, which is a gentler than pavement which I think helped too. My left knee had been giving me a little trouble and after a visit to my chiropractor during race week, he confirmed it was most likely a weak inner quad muscle that help keeps my knee cap on track that was causing the issue. Not much to do to be ready for the race to strengthen it, but it was on my list during the off season to strengthen!

On to the race! Racing during during Covid is so different… we dove the 4 hours to Ottawa, KS, spent maybe 2 minutes at packet pickup (which was held outside) to get my bib, shirt and drop off my 2 drop bags. Then we headed to the hotel and ate the very boring dinner we brought with us in the room – Panera sandwich for JMR and chicken, rice and a few veggies for me. The rest of the evening consisted of sitting around, watching tv and I also did some rolling/stretching and then we went to bed. Not that I’m usually out partying the night before a race, but just being restricted to our room felt extra boring.

The next morning I was up at 4:30 to eat my GF toast with almond butter and a banana, drank my Nuun Preload, and went back to bed. I woke up again around 6a to start getting ready since my race time was 7a and they wanted everyone to stay in their cars until your race time, so no rush to get there early with the hotel 5 minutes away. It was in the 30’s so I opted for a tshirt, long sleeved shirt and my standard compression shorts with millions of pockets. I also used a race belt which I hate using because I don’t like running with things around my waist, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to pinning my bib to my long sleeved shirt in case I got warm (spoiler, I did NOT get warm), and my shorts didn’t have enough real estate to pin it to them.

We headed to race around 6:30a, I assembled my gels and Nuun packets in all of my shorts pockets, and headed to the start. It was dark and hardly anyone was around. very weird with no pre-race vibes going on. I got behind (six feet) a guy lining up to go under the ‘start’ banner and waited for him to go, then I walked up, hit start on my watch, and ran under it to start! This was it!

The first 5 miles (an out and back) are in the downtown of Ottawa on the roads. It was still a little dark when I started, but didn’t want to fuss with a headlamp for the 30 minutes when it would still be dark, but the streetlights were fine and gave enough light. After the out and back, we were on a little running path that passed by the start/finish, next went under a highway and then we were on the trail!

I had been focusing on my 9:45-10 min planned pace and was sticking closer to the 10’s, either out of fear of the big distance ahead of me, or my legs were just not having much pep. Other than the slow legs, I felt pretty good, but my hands were freezing. My $1 gloves were a terrible choice to wear, I thought I’d wear them for the start, warm up and ditch them. No way would I be ditching these with the wind chill, they would probably be on for the full race. Because of the cold I also wasn’t drinking much of my Nuun, but just a swig every mile seemed to keep my body feeling ok. Also at mile six I caved and put on my headphones. I was going to try to wait until at least mile 20, but running solo I really felt like I needed the boost. And once my usual training music was on, I did feel a little more pep in my step!

The first manned aid station was at mile 11.8 and boy was I glad to see people with not many runners on the trail with the race start so spread out! Since I hadn’t drank much of my handheld I didn’t need to refill, so I checked into the aid station, said hi to JMR and was on my way! The next several miles kind of flew by, I did have one jolt of knee pain that took my breath away but fortunately that was the only time. However at the time I was worried it would happen again, so during these miles I was either worrying a little about my knee and when that might happen again, and then also trying to take in the pretty fall leaves and just enjoying running.

Soon I was approaching the 18.3 aid station and my stomach seemed like it wasn’t happy, so my first task was to hit the porta potties, but there was a line 😦 There was just one lady waiting but that was going to take up much more time than I had planned at this stop. However I figured it was better to deal with this now with a real bathroom than on the trail. While in line JMR helped me fish out a Nuun packet from my shorts and empty it into my bottle since I couldn’t unzip/grab anything because my hands/fingers were so cold. It was so frustrating, each gel I took was a mini battle to get out of my shorts pocket, bite it open and somehow stuff it back in my shorts pocket. No cheap gloves next time! After it was finally my turn to use the bathroom, I headed to the aid station to add water to my bottle and head out. Ooof, this was going to be long stop, and sure enough, after I headed out my watch beeped with a 15 minute split so I knew I had stopped for about five minutes.

I picked up the pace a little out of frustration, but was feeling good, until after a few miles my stomach started to get angry again. I opened the zippered pouch on my handheld and fished out some tums, but I had wrapped them so well in plastic wrap I couldn’t get them open with my stupid cold hands…arggh. But then my stomach was really hollering and I knew tums weren’t going to fix this. I started to look off the trail to see if I could I find a good ‘hidden’ spot to go, but my stomach got louder and I had to quickly shuffle to the side of the trail (THANK GOODNESS NO ONE WAS AROUND) and drop trow there. I desperately wanted to be as fast as I could in case someone ran by, but my lovely saran wrapped toilet paper I brought (didn’t want it to get soggy from sweat) was a pain to open with non functioning hands. It felt like a nightmare in slow motion. In the end, I had to sacrifice my gloves as well (cue the sad music). Once I was back to running and reflecting on how wrong all of that went down, I saw my next split and my ‘stop’ had cost me an extra 3 minutes, which surprised me since it felt like eternity with everything seeming to be happening in slow motion with my stupid cold hands. At that point I also made the decision to take an Immodium to try to stop these stomach issues and just hoped it didn’t mess my stomach up more!

I think this is right after the 18.3 aid station, but clearly before the incident because I still am wearing gloves.

After that event, I seemed to have lost some pep in my step, my hands were cold from no gloves and was just feeling a little defeated. I wasn’t even halfway done and wasn’t sure if I was prepared for another half if more surprises like this were around the corner. But then after my mile 24 split popped up, I saw I was going to finish the first half around 4:15, woah! Just seeing that split helped lift my spirits and picked me up. I started running strong again and was back in the sub 10’s and right around this time I started seeing more people and it also energized me to see some friendly faces.

I was so happy when I reached the 27.5 aid station where we would turn around and head back to the finish. I had a drop bag with Nuun hydration packets, gels and a Skratch bar cut up in pieces if my stomach wasn’t wanting gels, however the problem was I couldn’t open the bag or grab anything. Thank goodness JMR was there, he had to re-stuff my shorts pockets and fill my handheld. I was trying to be fast since the 18.3 aid station was such a long stop, but with cold hands, there wasn’t much I could do and had to be patient and happy at least JMR was there was help! Once my nutrition for the rest of the race was stuffed in my many pockets, I had to hit the bathrooms again which had a short line, but fortunately went quickly and then I was off. That stop ended up being 6 minutes, and I had planned on 5 knowing I’d be restocking all of my hydration/nutrition, so not too terrible. I also took my second Immodium as I was tired of these bathroom breaks! I know it was risky as I have read it can mess with absorbing calories (since it slows everything down in you stomach) but thought it was worth the risk.

I was so happy to be more than half way done, and my legs were still feeling good! I had really hit the wall around mile 27 during the 50k, so I wasn’t sure how my legs would keep feeling, but I was running at a slower pace so I was hoping any wall I would hit might be later in the race. I had wished I had taken the Skratch bar with me since my stomach was angry and gels were probably not a great idea to keep taking, but the bar pieces I cut up were rock hard from the cold and I figured I might choke or break a tooth trying to eat them, so I stuck with gels. I happily approached mile 36.3 aid station, and my hands had warmed up a little so I was able to grab and add my Nuun hydration packet to my bottle while running to the station, had the volunteer refill it and was on my way! I even did an air high five to another runner at the aid station since we were both excited we were getting close to the finish. I waved to JMR, said I was feeling great, and said ‘Just a half marathon to go!’ And then thought to myself, wow, not sure I’ve ever thought ‘JUST a half marathon’ to go before.

As I headed out my FAVORITE song from one of my DJ sets came on (I run to techno, yes, it’s a dance party all the time when I’m running, lol) and everything just felt perfect. I had that body buzz going where I was feeling great, and even had a little bit of teary eyes realizing I was doing it – I was going to finish this race, and thought back to ALL of those tough long runs and training I did to get here. The buzz did eventually (sadly) wear off, and I was starting to get a little tired, but kept my pace strong and the miles ticked by. At mile 40 I was still feeling strong and confident that I might be able to keep up with my sub 10 pace until the end and finish around 8:30ish, which I was pretty excited about. I had some goals in mind but my big goal was to break 9 hours and it looked like I was going to do it!

I approached the 42.8 aid station and ran right for the port potty, no lines, yay! (Immodium, why are you not working?!) Then headed to the aid station to refill my handheld and was off, a total of 3 minutes, so not terrible and only SEVEN miles to go! I waved to JMR again and was ready to finish this race!

I was passing more people (50k I was guessing) which was nice to see some people again and we both encouraged each other while passing which was a nice boost. At mile 45 I knew I could handle 5 more miles, I wasn’t going to hit a wall, I was going to keep going! There was going to be NO walking during this race for me today! I kept going but I could feel my face starting to make the pain face (I’m sure I looked scary) as I just focused ahead and kept pushing. I counted the miles down and soon I was 1.5 miles away and decided to push the pace a little harder and my legs went with it. I knew I was so close, so I kept pushing (a 9:45 pace, ha, it felt faster than that at the time!), passing a few more people, going under the highway, getting back on the paved running path, I could see the turn! I could also see all of my bathroom stops added on some mileage and I was definitely going to make up for my 50k being .5 short, by running that extra today! I kept pushing though, knowing I still had it in me to go hard for that bonus half mile. I made the turn and ran up the little hill and under the finish line! I did it! I stopped my watch and was thrilled to see 8:36!!!

Hauling it to the finish line
Done! Love those double chin photos!

The finish area was very anti-climatic as there really wasn’t much of one, just the finish line and after finishing the racers needed to leave and not linger. Which I completely agree with because of the pandemic, but it makes finishing a tiny bit less celebratory, however I’ll take that over not racing any day. After getting my 50 Mile sticker and belt buckle, I headed to the car to quickly change clothes (I was FREEZING) checked the results and saw I was second place – first place beat me by 30 seconds!!! 30 seconds!! I thought of all of the times I wasted time fumbling at the aid stations with my darn cold hands, and of course all of the lovely bathroom stops. I remembered seeing a woman with a 50 mile bib running coming back when I was at mile 23, but figured since the soonest she could have started was an hour ahead of me that she must have had a really good lead and I didn’t think we would have had very close finish times (with her time much faster than mine). I was wrong! But in the end I didn’t care, my goal was the finish the race-which I did! And I even made my super secret goal of breaking sub 9.

50 Mile Finisher Buckle

I will say I have GOT to figure out what was up with my nutrition… Nuun hydration and Huma gels for my 50k worked just fine and I was running harder in that race, so I don’t know what the deal was since my stomach issues started only 15 miles into this race. But I have some time to get it figured out since this was my last race for the year 🙂

Now onto some much needed recovery before I gear up in a few months for all of the races that were cancelled this year, LOL. Next year is looking to be very busy if those races happen!!!

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