When mentally preparing for my first 12 hour ultra I wouldn’t have added “don’t crash the car on the drive to the start” to my “don’t do” list, but from now on it will be on there. Right at the very top.
I’d been super calm and efficient exiting the house. All gear imaginable was already packed in the car the night before, and clothes were laid out ready to go with no last minute panics or second guessing. A decent breakfast had been successfully eaten without my usual having to choke down cereal through a wall of nerves. I had stealthily tiptoed through the house without rousing any sleepy dust encrusted, bed-headed urchins and was confidently on track for a comfortable, stress-free, pre-race arrival.
I climbed into my car, put her in reverse and backed out of our driveway, carefully minding the row of parked vehicles across the road like I always do. Then *Crunch!* That was a sudden shock. It was such a shock that I didn’t even register straight away that I’d hit another car. A stray rubbish bin that had wandered onto the road perhaps? But no, at 5am night-time still firmly ruled, and there lurking in the darkness was a black car parked neatly in my blind spot, with her tail end jutting halfway across our drive. I have no idea how I completely missed seeing it, but then you don’t expect to have your driveway exit used as a parking space.
Mood shattered, car crumpled and in a flood of emotions (guilt, fear, anger, panic) I had to sheepishly go wake Bill. Thankfully he sorted out a note to the other owner, took photos and then carefully maneuvered my car out onto the road to send me on my way.
Thanks to this little drama my envisioned relaxed pre race schedule was completely shot. I arrived at the park with seconds to spare. Just enough time to tick my name on the list, grab my bib number and head out at the rear of the pack of headlamp wearing runners when the race was declared GO! I was still all bundled up having expected to be hopping around in the cold for a while before take off. I was soon having the most miserable loop of the morning while sweating away and trying to get a feel for the course while staying in sight of the illuminated mass up ahead so as to be certain I wasn’t off track. All the while still shaken and berating myself heavily.
It was a relief to put the first 1.93 mile loop behind me and descend out of the woods drawn towards the lights of the aid station like a moth. On arrival, aid station volunteer extraordinaire, Betsy Rogers, welcomed me by name and plopped my first piece of candy into my trick or treat bag to signify the lap completed.
I decided to let notions of staying with company go and took a breather. I went and got changed properly, taking a moment to calm down and set my supply box up by the encampment before heading back out again in a slightly better frame of mind. The next time I set off into the dark I was certainly dressed more appropriately.
For the rest of the day I pretty much kept my head down and kept running solo. It was amazing how few runners crossed my path over the course of so many loops, although I started to recognise a couple of speedy folks as they lapped me many times over (I became very familiar with the sight of a “Skagit Runner”‘s back disappearing up the path ahead). Occasional brief conversations of smalltalk were struck up with these random runners over short segments of trail before they would forge on ahead, but encounters were rare.
Mid race, one chap enquired how I was doing as he blazed past. I was in the double digits for my lap tally and replied “Oh, getting dizzy!”
He retorted “You’re not going fast enough to get dizzy!”
Oooh! How cheeky!
That’s okay. I was taking it slow and steady on purpose anyway. The Carkeek 12 hr was my first twelve hour ultra, and after a Summer of struggling with injury, it was my first long run since a 50k back on May Day. My game plan was to just go out, take it easy, and see how I coped. At the back of my mind I was thinking it would be awesome if I made it to marathon distance. Yes, marathon distance would be achievement enough.
My first marathon, the Medoc Trail Marathon in NC, took me four hours and nine minutes. The Carkeek 12 Hour is billed as “The hardest twelve hour out there. Period.” and they are not kidding. Marathon distance at the Carkeek 12 hour comprised 14 painful loops with a total elevation gain of roughly 6020ft.
It took me six and a half hours to run 26.2 miles at Carkeek Park.
The first few laps were run by headlamp in the dark and other than simply running from glow stick marker to little ghost emblazoned orange flag I had no idea where I was. I vividly remember catching my breath with the beautiful sight of a suddenly illuminated patch of toadstools by the side of the path, and being struck by a sense of elevated sounds as I ran. As dawn broke and night lifted it was curious as to how the perception of trail and my sense of place changed.
At the aid station I’d grab an egg sandwich from my drop box, or some snacks from the ever increasing selection on the table, and then quickly get back onto the loop. I’d then run the short way to the steep cruel hill with the taunting evil steps that became my loopy nemesis. I’d eat my way up the stairs and then break back into a run at the top. Walk hills, run the rest. Certain points along the loop became markers to look forward to seeing again, and notch off along the way. The fish hatchery becoming visible amongst the leaves was one of those. Traversing two little bridges was always a joy too. Despite the steep steps leading to and from the bridges, clattering across the grated surfaces was a welcome contrast to footsteps on dirt and leaves.
Just after a fast and flat paved stretch by the fish hatchery there was a park road to cross and this mentally cut the loop into two sections. While my legs would always grumble on their climb back up into the trees from this car park, my spirits would always lift as it would soon be time to hurtle as best I could back down the hill to the start. The final stepped descent wasn’t as steep as the first stair climb, but it was more treacherous with steps spaced unevenly necessitating great concentration. I tried hard to bypass the steps and skirt the edges but was constantly unable to get a good rhythm. I was hitting the brakes all the way down, and it got more difficult to navigate this challenging section with each pass. With the aid station tantalisingly close I think I grew to despise this descent the most.
As the marathon mark approached I was concerned to feel a hot spot forming on my right heel. My newly purchased Injinji sock liners were a slightly different style to my norm, and weren’t proving compatible when used as a double layer. Rather than press on and hope for the best I decided to give it some scrutiny as soon as I could. I slapped on a plaster and changed my socks. I also decided to switch out the New Balance 101s for my old Mizuno’s to give my feet a little more padding, a break from the pounding and just change the pressure on the back of my heel. Although I eventually switched back to the trusty 101s several laps later the relief was immediate and disaster averted I ran my marathon without reaching blister point.
Of course, there was still a good five hours of time left on the ultra clock and having reached my goal more miles seemed like a grand idea. After all, a 50k is only an extra five miles, right? Unfortunately this was the Carkeek course and a 50k would mean another three loops, and tackling another 1,290 feet of climb (and descent). I ploughed right on through the aid station before I could change my mind. Onwards!
The next loops were slow, and rough, but I got it done. Shortly after logging eight full hours of running my Garmin beeped at hitting 50k, and then promptly died.
Safely back at the aid station, Betsy got ready to scratch my name off the runner’s log and asked if I was done?
“Hmm, maybe not quite yet.”
I enjoyed a relaxed cup of coffee knowing and decided to take my Halloween costume out for a celebratory spin. Costumes were encouraged for this run and as I’d arrived late to the party mine had yet to see the light of day. I’d seen a couple of lovely wise owls, Jane Fonda, the Cowardly Lion and Glinda the Good Witch all brave a Carkeek loop, it only seemed right that I should don my flying gear, climb into the cockpit and do a loop the loop finale to end my run.
And then I surprised myself. I had a simply grand time running this loop in my aeroplane. Out of the blue it felt as though the previous seventeen loops had just been training and my legs had suddenly figured out what it was I wanted them to do. They were working, I was flying, I was having fun. I didn’t want to stop. Victory pass complete, I ditched the crate and went right on back out again, greedy for more miles.
Sam had had a footy match that morning, but all afternoon I had been hoping that Bill and the kids would appear at Carkeek Park and give me a needed boost and cheer section. At the eleventh hour I was feeling very alone and getting despondent that they weren’t going to make it. After completing my twentyfirst lap I took a break to call them and was overjoyed to learn they were on their way!
I should then have charged back onto the trail to get 1.93 more miles in before they arrived. Instead I found myself dallying with another cup of coffee so I’d be there when they piled out of the car.
Of course, with my husband and two excited little children on the scene my resolve didn’t just weaken it completely evaporated. Betsy’s pen of doom hovered again and this time I nodded, “Yes, I’m done!”
I collected my finisher’s medal, nicely plump bag of candy, and happily followed Sam and Bea to the playground.
Carkeek 12 Hour – final tally:
40.5 miles in the form of twentyone 1.93 mile loops with a total elevation gain of 9,030ft (430ft a loop).