Yesterday I ran 27 miles at Mad Marsh, and although I wasn't racing it myself, it was one of my best race experiences ever. I arrived with a "Sherpa for Kara" sign on my back, and didn't quite know how the day would go. My knee is still not 100%, and as it was Kara's first ultra, a lot could happen. All I knew was I needed to get her to the finish line! The race is 31.5 miles, 7 4.5 mile loops on an old grassy golf course. It's almost entirely flat, but having run this race before I knew it was more difficult than it appeared.
I started the first loop with Kara, since she had told me her tendency in races is to go out too fast- I kept us to about a 10:00 pace, and we finished the first loop in a little over 44 minutes. But my knee was starting to hurt. I felt terrible about sending Kara out on her own, after volunteering to run the entire race, but I knew she'd need me more on the later loops and I didn't want to slow her down when she was running strong and steady! So I filled her water bottle, gave her some electrolytes and Gu, and sent her out for loop 2, while I stayed behind to stretch my leg.
Kara did well on loop 2, coming in only a little slower than loop 1, and I felt good enough to join her again on loop 3. I got her to eat a banana and more Gu, but she was nauseated at the thought of eating anything else. I started to worry about her getting enough calories, but as she was still running well with minimal walk breaks I thought she was okay for the time being. But as we got close to the end of loop 3 Kara told me she was feeling a bit light headed, so I knew nauseated or not she needed to eat!
At the aid station I grabbed a cookie, a pb &j, and some pretzels, and made Kara eat all of them and tell me which she could stomach best. She was not happy about it, and after a minute or two needed to run to the bathroom. I felt bad for making her sicker, but I figured it was still more important for her to get the calories in. I grabbed another banana and some pretzels, and we set out for loop 4. At this point Kara was having a bit more trouble breathing so I had us take more frequent walk breaks. Also she came close to throwing up a few times but we pushed on! At this point I think we were taking just under an hour per loop.
Kara was feeling a lot better and looking stronger after loop 4, so I thought I'd save my knee a bit (it wasn't really hurting, but just a bit sore) and have her do loop 5 on her own, then finish the last two loops together. But a little after Kara set off, my friend Emily asked me to come with her for her final loop- she said she was pissed off at the race and could use some company to make sure she kept running! So I ran out with her, and running faster actually made my knee feel a bit better (I think we were around 8:45-9:00 pace). After about 2 miles we caught up to Kara, and Emily went on ahead for her last few miles of the race. Kara was slowing down, but still seemed better now that she was eating more.
On loop 6 Kara's I.T. band started to lock up. A few times she needed to stop and stretch, but at least her stomach and energy level were betterbthan before. I tried to distract her by singing random songs and telling stories. Halfway through the loop Kara passed 24 miles- her longest run ever! Then toward the end of loop 6 I congratulated her on being an "official marathoner" as we passed 26.2 miles. I was concerned about Kara's I.T. band and knew she was really starting to hurt, but she was still running pretty strong, just needing more frequent walk breaks. We reached the aid station and I quickly grabbed more food, water, and electrolytes, and we set out on the final loop!
Unfortunately Kara's I.T. band was getting worse. She was still determined to finish but as the pain increased I could see her mood going downhill. She started worrying about being swept, which I assured her was impossible- we had about 1:45 to go 4.5 miles! We were running at times, but then Kara's I.T. band would completely lock up so she could barely bend her knee- then she would lean down and literally punch her leg to get it to loosen up! She was in tears at times from the pain but wasn't going to let that stop her! We talked a bit about random things to keep her distracted, but the last few miles were tough. I had to play drill sargeant a bit, telling her I know it hurts but you are going to drag yourself to the finish no matter what. I made her run as best she could whenever her leg was loose enough. I reminded Kara she was "doing it for the kids" with Cornelia deLange Syndrome, and she wasn't going to quit now!
We finally made it to the last quarter mile, and Kara was determined to run the last bit. We ran up the slight hill, and I reminded her how awesome she was and how proud we all were of her. As we curved around we could see the finish line, and all our ultra friends started cheering for Kara! I hung back so she could run through the finish line, and she blasted through in a total of 7:15. Her husband and daughters ran up to meet her and our friend April put a medal around Kara's neck. I was so proud of her! I've had I.T. band issues in the past, and I know how painful it is, so I know how much Kara had to push through to finish! Her determination was amazing, and although I think I helped her get through a few low points on the course, the accomplishment was totally hers! No one can give you that strength to persevere- it comes from within! I'm so honored to call Kara a friend!