Le Grizz 50 mile! What a great event! I should start by recommending this race to everyone, beginners looking to finish their first 50 to die-hards looking for a big PR. This event is a great time for all, with gorgeous scenery and a comedy show to boot!
After the SOB debacle of my first and only DNF, I still needed to get my Western States 100 qualifier. With the whirlwind of getting married and going on a honeymoon camping trip, (yeah, yeah, these things get in the way!! Jk!), I couldn’t just turn around and run another 50 right afterwards like I wanted. Le Grizz ended up being the best option – enough time to train a bit, good time of year, beautiful country we hadn’t been to (hello, Glacier National Park!), and somehow the flights were pretty cheap.
All of this said, I don’t think I had the best training leading up to the race. Joe and I put in a great weekend of a 30 mile run followed by a successful 1/2 marathon trail race, but since then I have felt a bit off. I’ve hit low points in long runs, haven’t held consistent weekly mileage, and we’ve traveled a LOT. We went to Utah, Virginia, DC, and NYC in the weeks leading up to the race, which we had to travel to Montana for too. In fact, I was home for only two days between NYC and flying to MT. This left me decently worn out before the race started.
Worse- Thursday morning, when we ha to fly out, I woke up with my throat swollen closed. Tonsillitis! WTH! New York subways, be damned! I got some meds in Kalispell before leaving society to ease my symptoms. I was afraid of a doctor giving me something that would make me drowsy or antibiotics to mess up my digestion before the race, so decongestants would have to do.
We made the journey – 3 separate flights to get there – and tried to enjoy our time in Montana before the race. The event was supposed to be out of Hungry Horse, a point to point course running along the west side of Hungry Horse Reservoir. Due to the government shut down, however, the kind folks of Le Grizz moved the course to Polebridge, a tiny town in the NW of the state, basically in the middle of nowhere bordering Glacier NP. So- we couldn’t go in the park, but we could bask in its glory while running next to it.
Luckily, bless our lack-of-pre-planning hearts, we never made hotel reservations in HH like everyone else, and we got to stay at the North Fork Hostel near the starting line! [we had an incredible experience at the hostel, I highly recommend it, if you like cabins and good conversations. And if you don’t mind outhouses.]
The pre-race meeting at the starting line was a comedy show from the race director. The Le Grizz 50 miler turned into the Polebridge Run For The Border 50 mile. My favorite one-liner from the RD, when describing the turn around at the Canadian border, “please resist the urge to run into a country with a functioning government!”
The race began and I tried my damnedest to run my goal pace of 9:00-9:30s to start. In the world of a recovering middle long distance runner, it was more like 8:30-8:45s to start. The first 8 miles ticked by with good conversation and with me hovering in 4th place for women. The half marathon came and went at about 2 hours. There was a big group of boisterous runners (including the third place woman) within sight the whole time, where I would catch up to them then stop to pee, then catch up again, then stop to fill my water etc. Somewhere after 20 miles (3 hours) I passed this group when they stopped at an aid station and started guzzling Rock Star energy drinks and belching loudly.(!)
I found myself alone for a while in a section with gorgeous views of Glacier NP and lots of gravel on the road. My feet were aching with the rocks and I wondered about a shoe change. Eventually, I met Joe to run the middle 10 with me- the fun part! To Canada and back! Unfortunately, I hit an overall low point of energy, where the legs felt lactic-y after only 25 mi (where usually it happens after 35+). I wasn’t too worried, as this just meant that the legs would come back earlier! I had a sufferfest while Joe was running with me, but hit the marathon in 4:03 regardless. My poor husband got to run the worst of the race with me!
The turn around was fun- there were a couple of buildings and a sign indicating that Canada was across the ditch, and not to go there. This part of the run had rolling hills, unexpectedly! More than I thought! The boisterous energy drinkers passed me back somewhere in there, and another woman passed me during a pee break. She was hauling, so she would’ve passed me anyway. Joe left at 33 mi and I changed my shoes to try and alleviate the blister that formed on my left foot (the first one ever!!!). I got a bunch of things to eat in my pockets and went on my way.
By 35 my legs were back, but I was midway through a mental lull. What is wrong with me?! In the future, I need to figure out a way to snap out of a bad mental state. I was still walking hills (“hills”) even though I didn’t need to, and focusing on things like how long it was going to take to get to the finish. I figure out that even if I ran 15 min miles (walking) then I would still come in around 9 hrs. This made me happy, and probably brought me out of my funk eventually. My blister took thirty minutes to pop on its own and another 15 to stop feeling like I was being stabbed in the toe. I was happy to have switched shoes, the extra cushioning of the Cascadia was much better than my old minimalist NB101s.
Joe joined me again with 8 to go, during my mental poop-fest. This is where he gets the Husband of the Year award. I asked him to tell me stories so I wouldn’t start crying and he obliged. The tears stayed back. With 5 miles to go, I realized there were two women a couple hundred feet back, and felt bad about the impending doom of them passing me. ‘I’m about to be 7th place,’ I said to Joe. We hit a hill, and I realized I didn’t have to walk, so I ran. The two ladies were running too, and gaining on me. Towards the top of the hill, one of the girls caught me, but ran alongside until we reached the top, where she turned around and waited for her friend (!) who had started walking the hill and was far back again. This was interesting…!
Somehow, being challenged (and having the challenge stop) lent me a new lease on life and I snapped out of my funk. I told Joe my PR at the 5 mi distance, then at the 4 mi distance with 4 miles to go… And so on, but somehow this made me pick up the pace. To 8 min miles for the last 4 miles and even a sub-8 in there. !!! The two women never caught me, and I’m not sure if they could at that point, because I felt like I was flying in. I finished in 8:39 (apparently 8:40 with their time, but it doesn’t matter). A two hour PR!
Joe and I sat by the bonfire and ate fried JoJos and chicken while chatting with the other crazy people who ran the race. Everyone was so awesome and a lot of people knew each other from previous races. Some groups use the race as a chance for old friends to reunite again every year. It made me miss my old college running friends and think about how we are all scattered around the country. It was great to meet new folks and talk about running plans and goals in the future.
I got a post race massage and then we headed back to the hostel, where we had more great conversations with the hostel owner and other guests. I miss that! My hip flexors were achy and I had a fitful night of sleep, but happy to be laying down.
The next day, we left Polebridge, vowing to come back to visit someday, and my virus had turned baaaad. Joe thought it was a great idea to to on a 5 mile hike in the snowy mountains while I snuffled and coughed and huffed and puffed my way up the trail, hobbling like a grandma and cursing at my hubby. (jk- I willingly obliged to the hike and changed my mind once I couldn’t breathe or walk). When we got to Whitefish, I could no longer function and Joe left me in the hotel to cough and pass out while he got dinner for us. Somehow, somehow, I got my sick-bum back to Klamath and in to a doctor the next day, where I found out I have bronchitis! Antibiotics and codeine-laced cough meds for this gal! And, the best part, the doctor that saw me at the urgent care clinic also ran the 50 in Polebridge!!! She was moving like a champ! And what are the odds, being a small race and this being a small town? Amazing. Normally I hide the fact that I run ultras from doctors, but she could understand!
Some quick notes:
Hydration- I drank when I wanted and didn’t stick to a schedule. It was in the upper 30s and overcast, so I didn’t feel that I had to drain my water bottle. I made an effort to drink more while eating and before every aid station, where I filled the bottle every time. I used a single 24oz Nathan hand held and my only complaint was how my shoulders were sore the next day from carrying a full water bottle that long.
Nutrition- I have had big issues with nutrition this year (nausea) and this was finally a success. I set my watch to chime every 30 mins to remind myself to eat, which I did. I stuck to semi-solids… Chews of all brands and flavors. After mile 20, I had a serving of Clif Shot Blocks Black Cherry, where I felt like I gagged it down. It reminded me of cough syrup. This set me off to feel like I was full for a few hours, so during this time I only ate every hour, to try and digest. This definitely seemed to work and was not an issue later in the race. I only took salt once, when I was full, to see if that would help alleviate the feeling. The jury is still out, as it eventually went away. At 33, I took some vitamin B to try and curb my bad mood. Not sure if it worked or not, but it did seem to clear up with 5 mi to go. I also took ibuprofen at around 35, but my legs were already starting to feel better at that point.
Shoes- I started in my New Balance 101s, 5 year old minimal shoes with a rock plate, my tried and true preferred shoes for everything. They are holey, beat to shreds, with the tread shaved down flat, but still my favorite. I’ve run several ultras in them with no problem (I’ve also run in my NB trail minimus, and once, a pair of Nike Free shoes with the soft heel pushed down like a slipper, when I had a heel bursa injury). I never get blisters. ever. However, I got one during the gravelly section of the race, likely due to a skin condition on my left foot. I switched to a newer pair of Brooks Cascadia and loved running with the extra cushion for the last 16 mi. Especially after my blister popped and relieved itself. In the future, I will consider these shoes and also my new favorite of the Pearl Izumi trail N1s. My Pearls haven’t been tested past 20 miles, so I was nervous to use them in this case, and I may new to buy them a half size bigger to accommodate the longer distances.
Clothing- I ran the whole race in my long North Face loose track pants with spandex Brooks shorts underneath. Definitely not attractive, but so so comfortable! I also wore my Team Sole Mountain Hardware singlet and hoodie top with an old puffy Brooks down vest over top. I stored all my food goodies in the pockets and looked like a total mess, but it worked. I had my Brooks headband and Wanganui Cabrio mittens (favs), so I was totally warm. I did notice I was the warmest dressed person around my finishing time, everyone else wearing shorts and long sleeves or spandex pants and a thin top. Whatever! Better to be warm and puffy than freezing my bum off in the gorgeous scenery 🙂
On being sick- This did not seem to affect me. I was medicated on a decongestant, but I didn’t notice any lag in energy or any extra runniness of the nose (it was going to happen anyway, being below 40 degrees). After the race is a different story! The night of, I felt normal, but my illness definitely took a turn for the worse in the days afterward, developing into full blown bronchitis. Now, I do believe running 50 miles aided in my illness, however, it may have happened anyway. I usually never get sick and go years without a cough, but I have had bronchitis before, and usually if I get a minor cold it develops into bronchitis anyway. Did the chicken lay the egg or was the egg going to come out anyway? Whatever, you get the point! Blame the codeine cough medicine!