Last year, readers met my friend Sarah who completed her first 50-mile endurance challenge at Rock The Ridge in New York. Well she recently was at it again, completing the race a second time! I know that I’m inspired after reading about her experience. May it encourage you to reach for your goals! Congratulations Sarah!
Guest Blogger: Sarah Topping
On May 3, 2014 I got to run my favorite race once again. Since I didn’t do too well last year and didn’t get to see any of the Hudson Valley while I was there, I decided to take the week after the race off and spend it getting to know a little more of the area. I drove to High Falls on Thursday, May 1st. It was great having my car this time as I was able to pack everything I could possibly need for the race (and after). I was lucky enough to stay at Clove Cottages again. The Blue Cottage was all ready for me when I finally arrived, including a hammock, since they remembered how much I loved that the year before!
I was asked to participate in a video telling the story of Rock The Ridge and I actually agreed to do it. I met with the folks on Friday morning. It was really strange talking about my path to Rock The Ridge and my experiences last year. I left the interview feeling like a complete idiot. That was when I started wondering how much I had really improved over the year. Before the interview I was not nervous about the race. After, well, I started to wonder just how smart I really am. But since I knew that after everything that happened last year I still made the time cut off and finished the race, I had no worries about finishing this year. So I wrote off the nerves as just normal pre-race jitters and continued on with my plans.
One of the things I learned from last year was that I don’t eat well when I run, so on Friday I made raspberry mint rice cakes to take with me. I packed up all the food I was taking (rice cakes, roasted peanuts, coffee caramels made for me by a dear friend, and freeze-dried strawberries), took stock of my blister kits, and picked the clothes I would wear. Then I packed up my drop bag. YES! I had a drop bag this year and in it were two bean and cheese burritos!!! I also packed a fleece shirt, headlamp, extra socks, more rice cakes, strawberries, peanuts, and string cheese, and another pair of shoes just in case I felt like changing them for the last leg. And ibuprofen. Forget the nerves, I was ready.
Friday evening I went to packet pick up and the pre-race dinner, just like I did last year. This year Lisa Smith-Batchen was giving a talk before the dinner and I made sure to be there for that. I was introduced to her before her talk and it was like meeting royalty! What really struck me was being a novice runner talking with someone of her caliber and having her be truly interested in me. I can run in races with 30,000 runners and speak with maybe two of them. At the much smaller Rock The Ridge, I meet so many more. I think that’s one of the main reasons I love ultras. I decided then to join the group Lisa was leading to a projected 15-hour finish.
This year I was actually able to sleep before the race. I was so excited to get started that I was one of the first runners to get to the start. I double checked all my gear, checked my bags, had some coffee and great conversations with other runners, and watched the sun rise.
Then we were off. I started out running on Lenape Lane and kept up the running until it started climbing. That’s when I kind of merged into Lisa’s pace group. I managed to keep up with them until we were just about to Spring Farm when my brilliant blister regimen started to go south on me. I stopped, redressed my foot, and started out again. Once I got to Spring Farm I realized that my tried and true blister treatments were not working for me any longer. And who happens by on her way out of the aid station? Yup. Lisa. She stopped, helped me fix up my foot (with a moleskin donation from another runner going by), then went on her way. What an awesome thing to do! I decided that I was going to slow things down and not push my feet to the point of the open sores I had last year. I knew I was kissing goodbye my goal finish time, but I figured I could push harder at the end if I didn’t hobble myself in the beginning.
I topped off my water supply (by the way, Nathan makes a hydration vest (the Intensity) that fits a big girl like me. All hail Nathan!), had a snack, and started back up Cedar Drive. Then starts the climb to Skytop. The final push to the tower is a set of stone steps. REALLY? That was just plain mean. =) Almost everyone I came across was really interested in what I was doing. I actually had a great time talking with hikers and bikers and taking photos for people. Who knows. Maybe some of them will try the race next year!
Next came what I think is my least favorite portion of the race – Forest Drive and Old Minnewaska Road down to Rhododendron Bridge. Not sure why I don’t like it, but I don’t. I got to the water stop at Rhododendron Bridge at the same time the third place finisher was there. Last year I was there when the fifth place finisher was there. I’m getting better!!!! That’s when I started up Overcliff Road, one of my most favorite portions of the race. I turned a corner and came across a couple of women who were out running. They stopped and cheered me on. Then one of them exclaimed that she remembered me from last year and she gave me a big old hug! What a pick-me-up! I’m sure I was moving a little faster after that.
My feet were holding up pretty well, I was happily taking in the sounds of the trees in the breeze, and next thing I knew I was at the Lyons Road aid station. Talk about a cheering section. Man, the volunteers there were fantastic! I rooted through my drop bag, added another pair of socks to the two pair I was already wearing, swapped out my empty snack baggies for full ones, grabbed a cup of chicken broth (yay, chicken broth!!!), and headed on my way to Awosting Falls. Comparing how I felt this year to how I felt last year I realized just how much more fit I am. I felt great. And that’s when the steepest climb started. I huffed and puffed, but made it up the hill feeling tons better than last year. I’m still shocked about that. At this point I was between miles 25 and 30. I swear. The longer I run, the less I am able to gauge how far I have run. I swear I should have come upon the 30 mile marker much earlier than I did. I felt like I’d run the distance. But maybe I was just excited to get to Castle Point, another of my favorite spots. I gave myself a 10-minute break once I got there. Ate, drank, and stared out at the beautiful Hudson Valley.
The weather was pretty much perfect as far as I am concerned. A little chilly to start, then warm throughout the day with some great breezes. This year it was mostly cloudy which suits me just fine. That held until I was just past Lake Awosting when it started pouring. I had no rain gear with me, so I got soaked to the skin. I was cold, but the rainbow that followed made it all worthwhile.
The rest of my jaunt back to Lake Minnewaska and then to Lyons Road was really uneventful. At this point on the trail I was by myself just plugging along and enjoying the run. This time through Lyons Road I decided to try the bean and cheese burrito I dreamed about last year. You know what? It was TASTY! Since I was certain to finish after dark I grabbed my headlamp and put my fleece on for the rest of the race. I was not going to freeze like I did last year. Grabbed another cup of broth and set out on the final leg of RTR #2. I couldn’t stop smiling as I went along.
This year I had people around me for the majority of the race. It was great to get to know some of the other runners. The trip to Trapps Bridge and Undercliff Road was just plain fun. And this year it was light the entire time I was on Undercliff! Of course, because of the rain there were only a few climbers to watch, but I enjoyed the chance to see them. It didn’t get dark until I was well on my way to done with Oakwood Drive. The headlamp goes on, I’m chatting away with the women in front of me, and all is right with the world.
Then comes the dreaded loop on Forest Drive (this is where I barfed last year). I wound around a corner, up an incline, and am greeted by none other than Marc & Heidi, the two volunteers who were there last year! I think I may have squealed with delight. They were just as sweet as they were last year, and even made a joke about thinking twice about bringing coffee this year! It was so great to see them again, but I had a loop to traverse. Which was really much more pleasant than it was last year. Once I got back to Marc & Heidi, I gave them a very heartfelt thank you for being so wonderful to me last year. As I was walking off, the two women in front of me asked me about last year. Turns out one of them had read my blog post about it! They’d had no idea until then that that poor sap in 2013 was me. We laughed quite a bit about that.
The last few miles were actually kind of boring this year. It was dark. I knew I would finish. I felt good. It was vastly different from last year.
This year I ran across the finish line. 16:17:53. I did it. And I wasn’t hurt!!!! [sound of screeching tires]
I wasn’t hurt then.
I drove back to the cottage. Talked with a friend. Had a snack. Went to sleep. And woke up a couple hours later with a pain in my right calf like someone ran a flaming knife up the side. It was swollen, hard as a rock, and I couldn’t put any weight on my foot. Every position hurt, so I couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep more than a couple minutes at a time. And that’s how I spent the night.
Sunday morning Noah brought scones to my door again. He asked how I was doing and I had to admit I wasn’t doing too well. A couple hours later Noah and Michelle came and checked on me. They were going to Poughkeepsie to run an errand and went out of their way to drop me off at the urgent care clinic. The doctor at the clinic poked my leg a minute and told me it might be a blood clot and sent me to the ER.
At this point I had traversed 50 miles, slept less than two hours, been up another 12 hours, had not showered, was hungry, thirsty, and in pain. And I got to go to the ER.
Seven hours of hospital joy and I was discharged with a diagnosis of Rhabdomyolysis and a peroneal strain. So here I was at midnight, floundering on crutches, exhausted beyond measure, and waiting for a cab to drive me back to High Falls.
This is where the fun begins. The cab pulls up and there’s already a guy in the back. Okay. I get a double fare. Sure. All I want to do is get away from the hospital so in I go. The fare and the driver start asking how I got hurt. I thought for sure there would be an accident when they both started screeching “fifty miles? FIFTY?.” All I could do was laugh. Yeah. Fifty miles. They start talking about all the places in the area that are fifty miles away and are more and more astonished that I would have done that on foot on purpose. That’s when I see that we have left the roadway I know and are somewhere. I don’t know where. After a quick shopping trip at a gas station we weave our way into some residential area and drop off the other fare. Then we get back to a roadway I know and I can relax a bit. Meanwhile, the driver is talking a mile a minute, and everything is punctuated with “no, really!” I am so punchy it’s giving me giggle fits every time. He starts telling me how I should move to the area. No, really! It’s not a bad commute to NYC. No, really! There’s every type of food you could want in New Paltz. No, really!
I’m giving him directions to the cottage and tell him to make a left turn. He tells me that’s not the right way. I say…no, really! So he turns. He got me back to the cottage, offered to help me out of the car, and waited until I got inside before he left.
So here I was, in New York for the week and I couldn’t do anything but lay around with my foot up. I had to cancel my rock climbing class. I didn’t get to go to the bakery at the CIA. I didn’t get to see Hyde Park. I didn’t get to go to the Saugerties Lighthouse. I didn’t get to go to Bear Mountain. I didn’t get to see West Point. I didn’t get to walk across the Walkway Over The Hudson. I didn’t get to do anything that I had planned.
But I did get my first ever visit to an urgent care clinic. My first ER visit. My first ride in a wheelchair. My first ride on a stretcher. My first IV. And my first crutches. So I guess it wasn’t all bad.
Next year I will drink more than I did this year but less than I did in 2013. I will keep my eating plan. I will tweak my blister plan once again. I will wear a zip-up fleece instead of a pull-over so I won’t overheat if it’s not that cold. And I will once again have bean and cheese burritos in my drop bag.
Because I will be back next year and I will run better. No, really!