It all started with this crazy idea. Run 50 miles. That simple yet insane statement brought me to Door County. To the Fall 50. Door County in the fall was guaranteed to be pretty. The Fall 50 completely lived up to that statement but it would also live up to the word WINDY.
I had been following the weather over the last week. The only thing I was crossing my fingers for was the lack of the R word, rain. As long as there was no rain, I’d be set. The rain forecast looked good as the days got closer but the wind was starting to be a concern. I knew as each day passed, the accuracy would increase. A day before the race I knew the forecast would genuinely hold true. We could expect winds of 15-25 MPH and gusting even higher.
Fast forward to race night. I planned to give myself an hour and a half to prepare for the race before having to leave. I set my alarm for 4:30am, laid out my clothes, and relaxed watching some TV. Around 9:00 PM I called it a night. The hotel bed was comfy and I knew I’d sleep well as I never have trouble sleeping the night before a race. Before I knew it, morning hit.
Race morning always starts the same for me. A bagel with peanut butter and some coffee. That’s it That is what it’s always been. No matter the distance, my bagel and coffee get me through the day. Finally it was ready to get dressed and pack the truck up. The big plus side to running events compared to triathlon is that amount of equipment it takes to get you through the race. Although, it does require extra equipment at this distance it still doesn’t involve equipment that could fail, like a bike with a flat tire.
We checked out and began the 22 minute drive to the race start. Parking was easy but likely due to the smaller number of people set to go off in the 7:00 am wave. Solo runners would start at 7:00 am with the remaining waves consisting of team/relay runners. Overall the total number of solo runners who started the race was around 100. The temperature was cool but mostly because of the wind. It was 6:45 am and the wind was already steady. The hope was that the trees would lessen the wind throughout the day.
We started with the Anthem and a pre race poem on distance running. Finally the starting song (I can’t remember the name of it) played and it was officially go time. We started down a twisting road, the wind wasn’t terrible as the first few miles ticked by. I knew that aids stations were on average every 5 miles. Some being a few tenths of a mile shorter and one or two longer legs of the race. The plan was to try and drink a bottle of tailwind between each aid station. I’d swap out tailwind bottles at each stop as to always start the next leg with a completely full bottle of tailwind and water. It hardly felt like any time had passed before the first stop came into sight.
My support crew was there and they brought a fresh bottle of tailwind while I took a bathroom break. That first 5 miles left me well hydrated. I quickly refilled my items and set out. I knew that the cutoff would be tight and I couldn’t be sitting around at every single aid station.
The next leg was one of the longest at just over 6 miles. As I started towards Sister Bay, everything was feeling great. My heart rate was steady and even after a hill, would easily recover back to an acceptable rate. I also knew I’d start to see the first and fastest relay racers start to come through. As I approached Sister Bay I was feeling fine and knew that the next stop was on my way outside of town up a hill. Reaching the stop felt great. My heart rate was still under control and my legs were feeling fine.
I grabbed another bottle of tailwind, refilled my water, took a bathroom break, and grabbed a few additional snacks. I wasn’t stopped for long before I was on my way again. The next stop would be Peninsula State Park and this was the longest leg coming in at over 7 miles. As I passed Ephraim the wind was a huge factor not just physically but mentally. The run was beautiful with the first noticeable amount of people out and about. They were mainly out walking to and from breakfast but everyone seemed to cheer as you came by. Heading out of town and towards the park was mainly an uphill battle, especially once you turned the corner past the golf course and into the park.
As we climbed into the park I kept it slow and steady to keep my heart rate down. The climb went pretty fast as it wasn’t steep enough to have to walk. The next aid station came up and I grabbed more tailwind, water, and due to the long line, I didn’t use the bathroom. I knew the next stop was around 5 miles so holding it was an option.
Heading along the south shore of the park was beautiful. The leaves seemed to be in full color inside the park and at one point I swear that it was raining these colorful leaves. Just about picture perfect. The last good thing about the park was that all the trees blocked the wind. There was very little wind throughout the entire park. As we exited the park I knew to expect the next aid station. This marked a pretty special place in the course. The almost halfway milage point. As I came to the stop I was feeling great. Hydration was on and so were my energy levels and spirit.
This stop I was able to use the bathroom, grabbed more tailwind, water, and Fig Newtons. I knew the next stop was the “halfway buffet” (not to be confused with the halfway distance) with the leg coming in at just over 4 miles. I was excited and ready to get running again.
I started on the route towards the south. Running through Fish Creek was beautiful but the wind was starting to play a mental and physical factor yet again. I can’t remember a whole lot from this leg. I just remember pushing forward knowing that some tasty soup was up ahead.
As I approached the fifth aid station I was in good spirits, had no blisters, and no chafing of any kind. I came into the aid station and for the second or third stop in a row, saw tons of spectators. The relay teams were all starting to bunch up so the stops were an awesome place to get a much needed lift. It seemed as if everyone would call out “great job solo” or something along those lines. I started to embrace the fact that I was “solo”. At this point in the race everyone you saw, everyone that past you, everyone…. Was there to cheer you on. It was such an amazing feeling and helped keep a smile on your face.
At aid station 5, I grabbed a new bottle of tailwind, stocked up on snacks, and took a load off for a few minutes. I ate a massive cup of soup…. AWWWWW that soup was awesome. I actually sat on a chair to eat the soup and downed nearly a full bottle of Poweraid. A change of socks also came at this stop. Not that they were in bad shape, I really wasn’t sweating much meaning my socks had stayed fairly dry up to this point. Either way, it felt great and gave my feet a new happy start for the remaining 22 miles.
As I started out towards Egg Harbour I was feeling alive but fresh with my body continuing to feel great and my spirits in great terms. This stretch would be a little under 4 miles and I was excited to be getting into some familiar turf. See, I’ve been to Egg Harbour many times. This was the location of the beloved Door County Triathlon, a July half iron distance race that had been the site of my second ever triathlon finish. It has held a special place in my heart and I’ve come up every year since to either race or spectate. As I got closer the roads became familiar. I knew I was close and soon approached the 6th aid station along the route.
As I came in I could hear the people. This stop had tons of runners waiting for their turn to take a handoff from their fellow relay team partner. Again, the cheer of “awesome job solo” came full swing. People would cheer and scream and clap. It lifted your spirits incredibly high. I grabbed yet another refill of my tailwind and snacks and took off towards the next stop.
Immediately I hit a hill that I walked up to the main road in Egg Harbour. Familiar turf would fill the rest of my route all the way to the finish line. It was still a long road ahead. At this point in the run everything had been perfect. That was about to change a mile down the road. I got near the golf course which was under two miles from the next aid station my face starting feeling numb, as did my fingertips. I FREAKED out. I knew something was up and it felt eerily similar to something that happened only 4 weeks back. It felt like dehydration. As my stomach soured it felt like I was going to be sick. I started to walk and I continued to walk. Sometimes I’d try to jog. Each time I felt closer and closer to getting sick. Fear came over me as I feared the finish line was no longer in sight. I at down on the side of the road. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drink. I just sat there as disbelief came over me. Just 20 minutes ago I was feeling 100%.
Eat! I was told to eat and drink and drink and eat. Although I didn’t want to, I tried a few bites. As my heart rate settled, I was able to keep taking small nibbles of food and small sips of tailwind, water, and Poweraid. Finally I stood and walked a few hundred feet. It wasn’t going to be pretty and I honestly still can’t tell you how, but something made me put one foot in front of the other and walk forward. As I walked I continued to eat and drink. With each step I felt better and better. Now, almost two miles down the road and with the next aid station in sight, I tried running. It was a slow run but a “run” is a run. I hit the aid station feeling like I was on the upswing. I took a new bottle of tailwind, water, and an extra bottle containing Poweraid this time. I wanted extra fluid and snacks to try to recover.
I hit the bathroom on my way out of Frank E. Murphy Park and kept heading towards the finish line. I knew the next leg was around 5 miles away and that my focus needed to be taking down fuel. I honestly figured I’d walk most of this next leg but something told me to run and run I did. Just barely out of the park I was in fact running again. I was feeling good. No aches, no pains, no stomach trouble, no blister, no chafing, no problems. I was back!
As I headed towards the 8th aid station I could visualize what needed to be done. I had around a half marathon to go and knew that the task at hand was to bring the total remaining miles into the single digits. In every race, hitting those single digits is that last push you really need. I kept moving forward. The wind during the last few stretches and again on this one was soul sucking. It was straight on and after having run directly into it all day, it had long outstayed its welcome. Still you must continue on. This leg seemed to be the leg that one of the relay waves caught up. As people passed me looking fresh I kept getting insane amounts of cheers. The words “awesome job solo” and any combination of the those words were echoed from every person. It was an amazing feeling and really helped by keeping my mind off the remaining task.
As I neared aid station 8, I knew I needed to grab my nutrition and hydration quickly and continue to move forward. This was easily one of my quickest stops. I restocked and continued on. One last aid station to go I told myself.
Breaking up the race into manageable distances is the easiest way to tackle something that seems impossible. That means there were two sections left. Making it to aid station 9 would leave me with it all being “downhill”. On this second to the last leg, I’d continue to be passed by a number of relay teams. Again, every person would start cheering and say some uplifting comment. I again took note of my body and mental conditions. Brain was in check. My body was also doing good. No chafing, no blisters, no aches, no pains. With under 8 miles to go, I was doing fine.
I continue to trek to the last aid station. I knew that once I passed aid station 9, I’d turn west and be out of the headwind. This made it easier on my mind and I continued to push forward like I’d done all day. Finally I saw it. The final aid station. Holy smokes! I quickly refueled knowing the time cutoff would be approaching. This was probably the first time all day I knew I would finish. For some reason it felt out of reach up until that point.
As I left, I moved forward and forward. With each step, I would be closer to the finish line. As I reached mile 48 I knew the finish line was “just around the corner”. This overwhelming sense of “I did it” came over me. One foot in front the other all day and here it was fast approaching. Finally I heard it. I could hear the announcer at the finish line announcing teams as they came in. I came around the last corner that would lead me into the park and could see the party tent set up. As I progressed I saw volunteers with flags directing me in the correct direction. Finally a race time clock with a timing chip mat to alert everyone who was coming in. I rounded that final corner and saw the finish line a hundred or so feet ahead. Joy and emotion and the absolute astonishment that I was about to cross the line hit. It was like crossing my first ever finish line. It was almost impossible to comprehend. I took my final step. It was official. I was a 50 mile finisher! Despite hitting the wall at mile 34, despite the wind, despite sitting in the ER just a month ago. It all seemed to be stacked against me, yet I overcame it.
Now it’s recovery time and it has started well. It’s Wednesday and things are progressing well. I had/have no chafing, blisters, or toenail issues. My legs are a bit sore but mainly in my quads. My legs were feeling a bit weak regarding stability earlier in the week. They seem to give out easier while standing and the overall ability to pivot didn’t seem like the greatest idea.
This whole experience is a reminder and a great life lesson. It’s a reminder that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. It’s a great life lesson in that you can do anything if are you willing to try. That’s the thing about goals and dreams. At the end of the day it’s about your willingness to not give up. Never give up!