52km because 20 miles is just a weird distance

The info you might be here for: I completed a race with not enough mileage training in 6:59:29. I was 10th in my gender group out of 29 and placed 27th overall, all time rank 114 out of 1935 finishers in the past 7 years. For this race there were 73 Starters, 67 Finishers which meant there was a Finish Rate of 91.8%.

I’m really proud of this. However, it’s never about the race itself. It’s always about the journey to get there.

Some background:

It took me awhile before I realized why I ran long distances. I akin it to when girls cut their hair. It’s a transformation. The stages that my body goes through every mile tells a story by chapters. It starts with a simple prologue, sets up an exposition, creates a rising action, enters a climax, tidies it’s lose ends in the falling action and concludes. The durations differ but there’s a beginning and there’s an end. Each race is unpredictable. You could train for months and still not feel your best on the day of. This ultramarathon was my 7th distance above 26.2 miles and one that I was able to complete. 

I had always made my best decisions when I was training and whenever I ran a very big race. I was constantly challenging myself. I challenged each decision, each thought—I basically left most of it on the table each step of the way. I approach every route with reckless abandon. 

This time around, the country challenged me. Last year I became so consumed in politics that I realized the inevitable months prior and my health started to deteriorate. It must’ve been the side effects of being so consumed with so much disrespect and inabilities for others to be civil with one another. In spite of this, there was hope: in form of an invite from a fellow runner. One that I’ll be forever indebted for.

Stalina was doing her 100miler in a few months. We spoke about it on Facebook. I looked up the Coldwater Rumble and saw the varying distances. I didn’t even post too much about it. I thought I would have been able to get ready for 20 miles so I accepted the invite. 

Babe I’m thinking about going to Arizona with Stalina for her 100-miler.” I texted and a minute later I texted, “I booked the flight I’m going to run it.” Then I realized what I did.

I quickly called Mike (my bf) to apologize for not chatting about it beforehand. I hate leaving him out of my plans. After I reread the text I realized that I hadn’t even extended the invite. I felt bad but although he sounded disappointed initially he agreed that I needed the trip. I hadn’t ran a long distance race all throughout 2016 and it had been slowly making me moody. I realized it and I think he also did. I also felt like I didn’t need him for this trip. I ran ultras prior to him and it’s a part of me I won’t be giving up.

A few weeks later, Stalina and I met for lunch and we kept discussing the distances. “Jerlyn do the 52km. 20 miles is not even a marathon. It’s a weird distance.

I think internally I was debating the distance also. One doubt came from not having ran more than 23 miles throughout the year. My calendar already had me just getting prepared for the 20, not over 30 miles. Fine, YOLO.

I prepared for 20 miles anyway mixing it with cross training like I normally did last year. I’d keep my fitness up with cycling and since I was headed home in December, I’d really take on some hills. Either way, I’d be prepared for 20 and hike over 10 or however long my body allowed. The good thing was: the cut off time was the same as the 100 miler. Over 30 hours.

I landed in Phoenix a few hours before Stalina did. I loved that I missed the inauguration during the flight. When I landed, it gave me some time to catch up on social media and although she had convinced me that we’d only need cabs to go everywhere I made up my mind to rent a car. We took the shuttle to the Phoenix Sky Harbor Car Rental Center (every rental agency is there) as soon as she landed. Not knowing which place to go to, I just selected Hertz since they were listed under my Amex.

I realized later that the car ended up being a saving grace, despite Stalina’s concern of the cost I was adamant, as we drove 30 miles from the airport to the Super 8 that would be our host for the next few days. I figured the least I could do was make sure that we were comfortable she was going to run 100 miles after all. 

Unfortunately it started to pour heavily. I was abit concerned because I had to pull over to make sure I had the wipers going well so that I didn’t get into an accident. I also hoped that the rain wasn’t going to affect the race. It did, in a positive way. This race is usually hot and has sand. The sand was compact the next day.

We made our way to race central to get our bibs after chatting with some fellow runners we retired for the night after feasting on IHOP (hey we both love that place).

The next morning we were up early to see Stalina out at the start. I quickly made some acquaintances like Jerry who was out there to watch his son Kevin compete (he ended up being the 2nd place podium winner of the 100 miler) and a few others like Art who we met the night before.

Everyone was so nice. Arthur’s gf took a photo of me as I watched the sunrise and waited for my turn, an hour after I saw Stalina off.

As we started a runner started a conversation with me and we ended up running together for quite awhile. Her name was Jen. I didn’t even know how people would have responded to me being there and I was happy that she was a friendly runner. We spoke along the way and that helped me get distracted. We kept up but I told her to feel free to continue on without me since I didn’t want to ruin her race. I hadn’t trained well after all. It just so happens that she was preparing for a 100k. Her husband was unable to run the 100miler so she had to downgrade (Aravaipa doesn’t usually do that but he was completely injured).

She had recently moved to the area and completely sold it to me.

I quickly thought of ways to entice my bf to move to The West.

I mean who can give this up?
At one of the stations, I ran into another runner named Otis. He had been the only Black runner on the 52Km that I met. He asked where I was from and I said NYC. When I relayed the question to him, he said. “Surprise!” Huh? He repeated it. “Wait, there’s a Surprise, Az?” I asked as soon as I realized what he meant. I learned something new.

After the race, Otis and I took a photo because he had to show his wife that Black people do these races to. It’s true, there have been only a few of us.

Otis joined Jen and I for awhile and Jen took off because we had slowed down. I followed the path for abit and ran into familiar runners who I greeted here and there. Some of the 50 milers had begun the “washing machine” route back so they were running towards us. When I got tired, I slowed down and sped up when I felt good. Eventually I had lost Otis but he was running with another lady so that was ok. I kept reminding myself that these runs are my goals. I wasn’t meant to wait for anyone or hold anyone back. I had wanted to see what my body could do. Nonetheless, I stopped at every breathtaking moment and snapped a photo (so this means I have to go back and race this course!). I also paid attention to my Garmin freaking out at the ascents and I jokingly told a runner, “Hey, who put that hill there?” as I passed him when I speed-walked. My hand had also started swelling. I was wondering where I had consumed salt.

I ran into Stalina finally when I got near the 20 mile mark. I had begun to worry that I wouldn’t have seen her. She looked great however she was very concerned about how I was feeling. I assured her not to worry because I had over 30 hours to get this race done. I could walk that! However, I was concerned that I had started to feel a little sore under my right foot.

She seemed in good spirits starting off the start of her 40 miler and I kept on running toward the aid station to begin my 2nd loop.

I’ll be honest, as soon as I clocked in at the station, I debated how long I should wait until I started up again. All the runners who met me there remembered me from the trail. I think it might’ve been the makeup but they thought I had good spirits. They kept calling me NYC! I waved at everyone and I decided to just head out before I thought about it too long. I had ran that 20-miler for 4:02:39.

On the way back, I tried to hang a little far from the edge—I hate heights. I kept the same strategy: Run the flats and downhills and speedwalk the hills. On the way back, I encountered the downhills in reverse, so that meant I had to climb them—What goes up must come down…

Thankfully I only had to do 12 more miles. I came back to a particular aid station where I had told them that my friend talked me into this. I had mentioned to them that I would strangle her once she had recovered from her 100-miler. They remembered me of course and asked me whether I still felt the same. I said, yes but ask me again when I came back to them. I had to run 4 miles, come back and run a little over 3 to the finish.

The guy there told me to make sure that I don’t miss the sign that I would be on my left.

Great! Now that I had verbal instructions it really distracted me. I spent the next couple miles obsessing over whether my mind would let me miss the sign. Also I was concerned because I had officially ran further than I had in over a year. I still kept paying attention to my foot to make sure that I wasn’t compensating on something that might be developing. I decided that it might be because of the terrain and nothing being overused.

I finally came across the sign and stopped immediately. I felt like I wasn’t reading it correctly. Eventually two runners came up and they were running the 52 mile route. They told me that I had the correct one for the 52km. Confirmed that I wasn’t confused, I took a honey gel anyway just in case I had been running out of nutrition and begun getting incoherent.

At that point I was completely alone. I came across one guy again headed opposite of my direction. He said I was going the right way. He had done the 20 miler but was just adding some more distance. After we passed each other I saw no one for miles. I started singing to myself.

Yes, singing. I even started believing that I could do a bit of songwriting. In any case, it was about the terrain and clever words for distance.

Clearly I might’ve been going crazy… I think. However, not long after, I started thinking of ways that I could volunteer my time and change the fear that has been going around from the current government. I had been missing the Women’s March.

I checked my Garmin often to see if I had gone 4 miles. It’s like it wasn’t coming. When I finally made it, I couldn’t see the aid station anywhere in sight. Well, if I had gotten lost, the worse that could happen would be me running more miles than I would have had to I guess.

Finally a little over 4 miles and I was back at the aid station. Relief.

I gobbled a few more bites of food and kept going. I honestly don’t think I had been eating enough when I thought I was… but who knows? In total I had one pack of honey stinger, a honey stinger gel, small peanut butter sandwich, a ginger snap cookie, a ginger sweet, a small sip of coke, 3 small sips of gatorade. My hand must’ve started swelling from the sodium in the gatorade… well that’s my guess.

The last 3 miles were quite fun. I took selfies with cactuses and sped up abit. I looked down at my Garmin and figured: Hey maybe I can do sub 7 hours. I decided to attempt it because my first 2 difficult 50ks had been over 7 1/2 hours (Watchung and Bear Mountain). I just had to keep relatively around 10-14 minute miles allowing myself to walk-run. I mean, having a time goal is fine but remaining uninjured is the main focus. I reminded myself to not overdo. I finally saw someone in the distance. I tried to catch up a bit. If I used him as pace, I’ll keep going, I just needed him to remain visible.

I was so excited when I realized the last part that was coming: downhill.

That’s my thing! Well—it had a ledge… I had to be careful not to slide down the sides.

I allowed myself to fall into the run for the last quartermile to make under 7. I reached the finish in with a few seconds to spare. I did it!

I ran into Jen when I went to the car to text Mike, do a live stream on Facebook and change my clothes. I thanked her for pacing me when I got back. After chatting and exchanging Facebook info, they went on their way. I got my free pizza and updated others on Stalina. One of our mutual friends, Luis, assured me that I had enough time to drive to the Super 8, shower, and come back. I decided to do that because I wanted to be warm and comfortable while I waited for her just in case she needed me to pace her when she got back.

I texted her to tell her my plans and checked in. Her response wasn’t positive but she had started her 3rd loop. I joined some others at the fire to keep warm and cheer on the others doing futher distances. I was in awe of the people doing the 100 miles. It had gotten super dark and I hoped Stalina was ok. I knew she had a headlamp. By 9pm she had told me she had 8 miles to go and I remained alert so I wouldn’t miss her.

By midnight I was really concerned. She should have had been there by now. When she finally arrived it was almost 1am. This wasn’t good. Something was up. I saw it immediately in her face. She had to get her feet checked because she thought was experiencing the beginning of a stress fracture. Oh no!

I could see the devastation in her face. I felt helpless. She questioned what I would do. I left the ball in her court: This is your body, I can’t tell you what to do. You’ve trained in it and probably the question is whether you’d be able to run another race if you attempt this or make cutoff if you try. She decided to stop. It was already 1am. There was no way she was going to complete 40 miles in 14 hours. She chose her health. She didn’t want to end up wearing a boot either and also not make cut off. I respected her choice immediately. I would’ve done the same.

The thing is, ultras teach us so much. One of the lessons is that anything can happen. You could train for months, be super healthy throughout and then on race day you can fail. I had been sick for the weeks leading up to 21st. I had only been able to run 3 miles. Somehow I was healthy enough to run the 52Km but I was scared as hell. After that 3 miles, I was so sore. Immediately after the race, I got sick again: fever and cough.  Two years ago, I had trained for my 50 miler and got injured from overusing without strengthening my hips. At mile 33, I had chosen to hike/run something I almost ended up regretting.

With Stalina’s race: She completed 60 miles and prepared herself for this race’s climbs. 60 miles is incredible. However, 60 miles wasn’t the goal. We discussed it thoroughly for the remaining of the trip. She accepted it. I thought she made the right choice, and she did too.

Then of course, we created more strategies for future races. C’mon what’d you think the next plan was? Thank you Stalina for talking me into this. We crazy people need to be in this together no matter the outcome.

P. S. I lost my really awesome adidas sportwear glasses somewhere in Arizona 🙁 might’ve been in the car.

More about jerlyn

My name is Jerlyn Thomas. I own this blog and you can read more about me here. The views expressed on this site are by me and do not reflect those of my employer or my clients. The content here belongs to me and my guest contributors. Views and opinions expressed by all contributors belong to them and not me, the blog owner. All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. I make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis. If you want to use content on your own site, you must ask permission first before you do so under these restrictions.

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