5 loops. That’s all you have to do to finish Tatur Racing’s Midnight Madness 50 Mile Road Race. Now, these are 10.3 miles loops, in alternating directions, in the middle of the night….In Oklahoma. In July. Are you crazy?!
Now, my primary goal for this race was to treat it as a 50 mile training run for the Arkansas Traveller 100: get about 14 hours on my feet, snag a medal while I’m at it, have a good time…..but it was hard to forget my ignominous DNF from last year. Smarter, wiser and better trained, I was determined to get a finish here….and maybe kick a little ass. Because this trail runner thinks 51.5 miles of pavement really deserves an ass-kicking.
This year, several runners from Arkansas joined me in toeing the line and the encouragement as we alternated loops was a huge bonus. After some discussion, three of us agreed that we’d actually start out at a walk – you know you always say you’re going to do that to avoid the starting line madness? Well we did. For one mile we walked a 13-14 minute pace, then couldn’t do it anymore and started running. The pace kept dropping, and dropping, and finally we were just like – it’s starting line madness all over again! We can’t escape! Lesson learned – just roll with it. You can’t escape the euphoria of attempting something so audacious; might as well feel good for a mile or two then settle down.
People began drifting into groups of two and I found myself running with a gentleman whom I had met during my first 25k. We had touched base earlier at the start line and happily, I was managing to hang onto his 12:46 pace. Yes, not 12:45, or 12:50, we were gonna do 12:46. Using a loose run 3 min/walk 1 min strategy, we were nailing it too. Our first loop was a solid 2:11:5, and our second loop was even better: 2:11:47. This was a comfortable push for me; we were well set up for the next 30 miles knowing we had time in the bank if things went south when it heated up.
Things didn’t wait for sunrise to go south. I had commented on our way to Turkey Mountain (mile 36) that I just felt so sleepy; but my nutrition intake was going well, I was well hydrated, salt tabs and rock salt were on schedule, and I was chugging away on the bottle of chilled espresso I had (I manage a coffee shop. A caffeine drip is necessary.) I lost Patrick coming out of the start/finish aid station (note to self – backpacks really do add a lot of time) and promptly fell off our pace. I just felt so tired and my feet were so painful, I thought I had aggravated some stone bruising from the Monday before. I began looking for the nearest park bench. When I finally made it to one, I instantly began taking one of those nodding naps but woke up to people on the trail asking if I was alright. I didn’t feel alright, but got up and started making progress towards Turkey Mountain again…only to feel another nap coming on. I frantically searched for the next park bench and passed out again!
Those were a very long three miles. It was exactly what had happened last year, and there were tendrils of doubt that they would cause a DNF this year as well. On the other hand, I had about 10 hours to finish and I thought I could make it, even traveling at this rate. About halfway up 71st Street, I just got angry. I need to apologize to anyone behind me during this section, because there was lots of crazy hand gestures, muttering, exclamations, you name it. Maybe some f-bombs. It might have been funny to watch, actually.
I rode this anger into the Turkey Mountain AS, where I decided I was going to cut my water and salt intake until my levels equalized. I knew I had overhydrated again, but wasn’t sure of my electrolytes. I went from consuming approximately 1.5 liters of water every hour to less than one and within the next four miles, I was resurrected. Well, moving solidly again. Friends that looked concerned on loop 3 were happy to see a smile on loop 4! Although my loop time had slowed to 2:44, I was pretty happy to see sub-10 on the clock when I came into the start/finish. I knew if I could I keep my next 10 miles under 3 hours, I’d still be right at 13 hours for a finish….which was faster than intended, even with my hydration issues. Sweet!
When I headed out, I saw my friend Mark passed out after a really strong finish. Turned out to be good for 12th place! I hollered that he should get off his lazy bum and come pace me anyway…he had an emphatic “No.” for an answer. Ah, well. I headed out alone, determined to run strong, and forgetting to switch over to my long sleeve UPF 50 shirt. I paid for that mistake later that day with a nice lobster burn on my shoulders and arms, but didn’t really feel it at the moment. The next 6 miles to Turkey Mountain went by quickly, and I opted to drop my backpack and just run with a handheld for the last 4 miles. Imagine my surprise when I turned the corner for my last 5k and found Mark waiting to pace me in – definite morale boost!
Somehow though, I got confused on my time, thinking I was going to come in just over 13 hours. I was really pushing to come in just under that, and kept pushing the pace. I was having a great finish; smooth form and feeling great, when Mark asked me what the hell I was doing.
“I want sub 13!”
“Well, you’re right at 12:15 right now!!”
Oh. Well. That was good news! But finishing at that pace is addictive, and I wasn’t going to slow it down. I came in strong for a 12:09 finish, which was good for a 2:26 PR. Bam! I hobbled over to the ice tub, which is the world’s greatest post-race invention, and soothed some swollen tendons in my ankle, then headed out to pace a friend of mine to *her* redemptive MM finish. We swore we’d never touch this race again. After all, this heat and humidity? On pavement?
Yep. I learn something new every time I try this race. See you next year!