Still riding the euphoric high of “oh my gosh I just signed up for my first marathon!!”, I was turned on to the dark lure of a website better known to the running community as “UltraSignUp.com”. This is where average running folks can go and look at beautiful course overviews, and professional photographs of runners having a blast while tackling anywhere from 30mi, 50K, 50Mile, 100K, 100Mi or even 24+ hour endurance – body abusing competitive events. I never even knew there were so many events being held so locally to where I call home – until I ventured onto Ultrasignup.com!
UltraSignUp.com had me hooked!
I loved to go on and just see what was in the area over the next year, mentally playing out the could-be race day, thinking: “I would bet that I could do that.. 5000ft of elevation gain really isn’t thaaat much when its spread over 31 miles, I suppose”. I spent a lot of my work day checking out this website, and also reading ultra/trail running blogs. I was at work – “but this was purely research, important research that would benefit me for many months to come”, I thought to myself, justifying my interest in reaching further and further distances!
This all took place around August 2018, I had just thrown my $120 so willingly and enthusiastically to the directors of the Mount Desert Island Marathon, which I had not yet run at the time of searching UltraSignUp.com, I was just ‘interested’. Thinking that I could at least finish the full marathon without injuring my ill-equiped body; I found a race that was close to home near Plainfield, NH –
the best part was that they offered a bit of everything for the family!
Taking place on the pavement and later transitioning to dirt back roads all around Norwich, Vermont – the Nor’Witch Ultra was making its debut at the end of October 2018, and back when Ultrasignup threw the race onto my internet browser, there were only eight other runners signed up! I had a chance, but then again, I only wanted to finish the race once – just to prove to myself that I could run distance (in case I was struck down on my way to work and could never run again, I could at least say from my hospital bed “but..I did it.. once!” A bit morbid I suppose, but I was well on my way to being the most fit, best feeling version of myself that I had ever been until then!).
I consulted Ciara about joining the 50K race on October 28th (yeah.. I know ..two weeks after my first full 26.2 miles), exclaiming that they even had a half-marathon and full marathon in addition to the 50K distance. She in turn brought up my lofty idea with her mother, Tuesday (who – if you haven’t read my other posts – go read them!, she signed us up for our first 5K months prior and we all loved running events together, then ending the day with savory vegan food!). Of course Tuesday was super psyched and they decided to join on race day with the half-marathon while I began earlier in the morning for my first 50K ever – would it be my last? Would I even finish? I hoped that I would finish – I didn’t really see any way that I wouldn’t at least finish the race, unless I tore all of my leg muscles from the bone and ended up on the side of the road sucking down my coconut water (spoiler alert: that definitely did not happen, thankfully!).
UltraSignUp got paid that day – the first time from my bank in what would be a fantastic love/hate relationship
(I found out that race sign ups can be ridiculously addicting)
I finished my first ever full marathon sore, but feeling overall better than I ever could have imagined! Despite my assumptions, I was still able to walk back to the car, the ride home was grueling because my muscle fibers continued to pulse and move – a habit they had developed over the prior 4 hours of running! I can assure you that I may have walked a bit funny when I returned to work the following day, walking around the hospital where I work all stiff legged and perhaps a bit of a slow limp – but overall, I was psyched – I had done it! I knew to take the next two weeks slow, doing short mileage to promote the healing and recovery.
I honestly don’t believe I would have been so pain/lactic acid free and recovered as quickly as I had from my initial 26 miles (it took about 3-4 days before I really felt strong again), I didn’t run until Wednesday, and even that was a super reserved, just simply moving my leg muscles through the paces of 5 miles; but it felt super good to get back out there! I have heard of some folks taking weeks to recover – I didn’t have the time nor patience for that! The weekend after the marathon and prior to the 50K I did a 13 mile somewhat slow run, just letting my leg muscles decide the pace –
whatever felt do-able, sustainable, just overall good – that’s how fast I decided to run that weekend!
My last ‘training’ run was scheduled for that Friday morning – before work, and of course we had a last minute meeting come up, but knowing that this was my last chance before the ‘big day’ – I went for my 7 mile run. I felt like I had to because that’s how it was planned out in my head, that’s how I set up my training, any deviation from my plan and the universe may just implode and I would not be able to run. I had to get in those miles so I could just stretch and yoga the following day!
The morning of the Nor’Witch 50K Ultra
in reality didn’t seem much different from any other race day; I got my running vest ready with 1x 16oz flask of filtered water, 1x 16oz soft flask of our coconut water/Himalayan pink salt/maple syrup concoction (which had worked flawlessly only 2 weekends prior – for my full marathon!) and 4 packets of Muir Energy” target=”_blank”>Muir Energy. It was a chilly October morning with continued threats of rain all day – so I prepped for the worst with my go-to North Face beanie, long sleeve moisture wicking shirt with a GoreTex Marmot jacket over that. My legs run ridiculously warm all the time – always have since I was a kiddo! – so I rocked the Rabbit shorts which worked super good two weeks prior (all I ask for is no chafing! and they work wonders at being soft and comfortable even 20+ miles into any day!), some darn tough socks that I hoped would treat my feet right for the entire event (my constant fear of losing toe nails or even worse: black toe nails! Luckily I have still never encountered this!!), I topped my whole foot wardrobe off with what I knew would work – my Salomon SpeedCross (trail running shoes that fit so well that I adopted them for my road abuse), I had even sewn the tongues of the Salomons to the side of the sneaker before the marathon to ensure comfort all day – they were still sewn tight and I loved them for that!
I made my trips to the car, hugged and kissed my lovely Ciara – who was now beginning her routine stretching and beginning to chat with her mother dear, now into the two-hour drive from New York to our apartment just over the Vermont border in New Hampshire! Being my first time ever to Norwich, VT – I ended up driving right past the field where the inflatable start/finish gate was located – which I recognized immediately, turned around and pulled my car into a side lot and
just sat staring at the freezing rain coming down on my windshield.
I made the trek over to pick up my race kit and bib number, chatted it up with folks I had not yet known (turns out it was Adam himself – the NorEast Trail Runs co-founder and race director, super, super nice guy!! Eliza was in the other corner playing around with boxes of swag!). I jogged around and eventually high-tailed it back to my car to get geared up and have what would be the first banana and packet of Muir of many on this dreary, cold morning. With about 10 minutes until the gun would fire (we were on school property, technically there would be no guns firing this morning!), I used the porta potty one final time and began the final stretching against a fence post.
The whole area had a nasty storm overnight which brought many tree limbs down, once the race directors had cleared the course and checked everything over – the full marathoners and 50K crowd would be starting all together (an hour later for me), which was still okay because it seemed like there were still only 25-30 of us running this morning!
We all gathered around and listened to Adam for a minute or three and next thing I remember – we were off! Running out of the field, around the corner past Dan & Whits and beginning our initial ascent of the 13-mile loop (our course literally looked like a Halloween bat – two oval loops with the Norwich town green where we began in the center). I had begun toward the back of the packs with some rad folks that I had only known slightly – from another trail race at Mount Ascutney earlier in the summer, I spotted the Runners High Herbals trucker hat from across the field! We chatted for a bit and not far into the road miles I was off on my own, listening to the echo of pure laughter rolling through the hills.
There were minimal signs for mileage throughout this course, only sporadic postings which read encouragement such as
“You Know You Signed Up For This – Keep Going!”
and other similar witty sayings! The course was absolutely gorgeous, some views here and there as we crested hills and ran ridges, the young safety director and I passed numerous times as he cruised down the hill and came to a rest at the base, waiting for runners to pass – we both remarked to one another that we didn’t know whether to ditch our jackets or keep them on for anytime the rain would start back up (which it never did for the remainder of the event!), wishing that the weather would make up its mind for all of us!
Rolling over hills, through a canopy of late-autumn colored maple trees,
continuing down the middle of a personal driveway which turned out to be a most lovely horse farm where the race photographer was waiting with camera gear in hand – he certainly knew where to sit and wait for the longer-distance runners of the group, but from reports I heard that he didn’t show up much for the half marathoners – Ciara ended up with one photo of her unfortunately after the race had ended.
Cruising back toward town, still feeling very fresh and with my second Muir comfortably packed inside of my belly, I hung the right and followed the colored arrows for my race, away from the half-marathon finish line in town. This began another set of hilly roads (in my mind I remember this hill being somewhat of a 60 degree climb at the time – when I revisited several months after the race, it was a very mild several hundred foot climb!), I had walked several hills with arms swinging to keep my forward momentum going, but not knowing what I was in-store for when mile 30 came around – I wanted to reserve all the energy that I could being so early into the race!
Flying down the hill and past the church and school in West Norwich, I began passing runners going the opposite direction – and daaaamn did they look strong! I knew I was going at a good pace for myself, but they were flying – I assumed they hit the end of the road and were en route to the 50K finish line, obviously I had not memorized the course map prior to toeing the starting line! I passed another woman going the opposite direction who didn’t glance up or muster up a wave of any sort, just trudging through the miles; turns out that all of these folks who were going back, passing me, had reached the un-staffed water cooler/snack table and were directed via signage to turn around: the signs directing me to continue simply read “50K Runners Only”. That was me, so I refilled my water flasks, pounded down some much-needed water and off I went – onto what seemed like a stretch of road that no one had yet trekked down until now.
I felt very alone down that next stretch of road,
the asphalt had ended, the houses were stretched extremely thin and I went for the next 6 miles or so not seeing a single person.
By now the coconut water was not quenching my thirst, it had everything I needed to proceed with strength, but my brain did not want anything to do with the saltiness any longer. By now the extreme cravings and thoughts of “I would do anything for…” began. What I craved was ginger ale; I had not had any bubbly soda for years before this race, but I love just about anything with ginger! This craving stayed with me until mile 27 or so when I was coming back from the second “bat wing”-shaped loop. The un-staffed table legs were folded, everything on the ground, water cooler was completely dry – but what they had was pure magic waiting for me there: a twelve pack of Canada Dry Ginger Ale, there was something that seemed like pure bliss at the sight, who could have known that was exactly what I was craving – the one and only thing that I wanted above all at that point. I popped a can open before the final long stretch of ascent, emptied all of its refreshingly bubbly contents down my throat,
let out a gingery burp and muscled one step after another – up that hill with a renewed joy for life!
I at least recognized this last ridge of a hill, plus with the sign which read “Only 5 Miles To Go!”, I trucked on, passing another fellow wearing a race bib, he was stopped on the side of the road admiring the views of the mountains East, on I ran. Eventually cresting the ridge and making the long and slow descent back toward town. At this point, I still did not know distances or what the course map actually looked like – not that specifically anyway, so I just went on, waving to everyone I passed (folks seemed so kind and got their cars over to the other side of the road and complimented with enthusiastic thumbs up and waves as they passed).
The whole combination of runners high delirium, pushing on and feeling the beautiful drain of energy from my muscles (to a degree that I had henceforth not experienced!), the magic of someone predicting that I would give my soul for a ginger ale and then coming through with precisely that; just having the time to ponder how incredibly lucky I felt to have a lovely lady to return home to, how drastically that I had turned my life around up to that point, how lucky I was to get the opportunity to run a distance of 33.5 miles – I teared up a lot on this run.
Just the most satisfying tears of joy, of recognizing the desire to live that I had within me now that I was so ready and willing to throw away for the preceding decade,
I was truly happy now; neither running to, nor running from, at this point: all I wanted was to run.
The dirt road passed over streams, past farms – there was so much to see that it took the monotony off of the distance that I was covering. The next thing I knew was that I found myself back in the village of Norwich, I saw another woman running from the opposite side street onto our course, passing me with a slight gesture of a wave. Now I seriously believed whole heartedly that I took a wrong road and missed a turn, cutting necessary mileage off my track – because when I turned the next corner and began back down the main strip – there was the friendly photographer again who (after taking several awesome photos) began yelling “It’s right there through the field – GO GET IT!!”
Somehow I found myself ducking under the mini-archway and being rewarded with the 50K Nor’Witch finishers medal, glanced to my left to find Ciara and Tuesday together soaking up the propane heat in the warming tent together, they ran right over with hugs galore and kind words of “holy shit – you did it” – or something similar to that I’m sure!
We hobbled back across the street with hopes that our photographer friend would capture all of us in the moment, for – we all ran today, ran our own race. But at the end of the day we all pushed past what we thought we were capable of, a day of racing that we will surely never forget! A day followed up with a big, big bowl of dairy-free banana nice-cream!!
Feeling super lucky that I was able to push through and crush 50 kilometers (which technically translates to 31 miles, my GPS declares that I ran 33.5 miles during the Nor’Witch Ultra), I now cannot wait to have another go at distance running, coming soon – joining again with the rad folks at Nor’East Trail Runs for their Winter Snowshoe Series – I set my sights to the Triple Crown of Winter Ultras: 10K followed by 13.1 miles several weeks later, then the ultimate struggle of a 50K on March 3rd – every mile thrown down with my Dion racing snowshoes attached to the bottoms of my feet!
Join me as I run and hike my way to plant-based greatness (or at least I feel great about it!)
As always – thanks for joining my adventure through my first of many 50K events, please comment below with anything – questions, tips, tricks, suggestions – I’d love to hear from you!
Take care, and Happy Trails!
Overall stats for the day:
Recorded with the Strava app
- 33.5 miles
- 5hr 28minutes
- 3,587′ elevation gain