I got to the Mile 15 aid station of the Algonquin 50K and Al told me that I didn’t make the cutoff to continue. But my reaction was actually relief. For the past few miles, I’d been thinking about whether to drop.
Around Mile 13, I walked with a friend who couldn’t feel her feet because of the cold and made the decision to drop, and I made a phone call for help so she could be picked up. (And that mile is hardly distinguishable from my other miles around that time, as far as time.) Dropping had already crossed my mind. I’d gone through so much squishy mud and deep water that sometimes came nearly up to my knees. I didn’t feel physically tired like I would in the later miles of a 50K or marathon, but the mental aspect of the race was getting to me. I had started out feeling pretty good, but I had stopped being able to imagine myself finishing the race and being out there for so much longer.
I’ve already mentioned in this blog that I suffer from a mental illness. Without going into too much detail, I had started to worry about hypothermia and could see this worry was going to plague me for however long I was out there. Having already been to the hospital for the opposite problem — heat stroke at a race in 2012, and dehydration at another race in 2014 — I know the elements can take a toll, and I didn’t want to hurt myself.
I had also just been to the emergency room 29 days prior when I was hit by a car while on an evening run. I’ve run plenty of times in the cold, and usually I run hot — wearing shorts when others are wearing pants, for example — but continuing to go through deep water was scaring me, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle it for another four hours. I had mentally become OK with dropping, which probably slowed me down. I was wondering if I just didn’t want to continue and could push through it, or if it would be truly dangerous to keep subjecting myself to deep, cold water and wet socks and pants for another four hours.
So when Al told me I didn’t make the cutoff, and I didn’t have to decide whether to keep going, that’s why I was relieved. I got a ride back to the start in a full car. Apparently, I had only missed the cutoff by about five minutes.
The day started a little after 5 a.m., when I woke up and put on the outfit I’d picked out the day before — with a couple changes. I swapped the jacket for one with a hood and I changed the socks to thinner wool socks, as they were going to be wet no matter what. I made some oatmeal and had that, and I drank some water with Nuun in it on the way to the start, which was only about 30 minutes away from my house. The race is held on the Algonquin Cross-County Trail in the Pocomoke City/Snow Hill area of Worcester County, Maryland, and it starts and ends at Pocomoke River State Park – Milburn Landing.
I was worried about the cold, but the high had at least increased from 24 degrees the first time I checked (when Saturday’s date first showed up on the weather app) to something in the 30s. However, it had been raining and snowing so much leading up to the race.
Not long after entering the park, there was a COVID-19 health screening and temperature check, and after that, I proceeded to a parking lot I actually didn’t realize existed. I followed a path to the starting area, went to the bathroom and headed back to get in my starting area. This year, to spread people out because of COVID-19, there were two waves. I was in the second wave, and we started in a curve with spots marked six feet apart like the one at the Naylor Mill 7K and Pemberton 24.
My first mile — which I ran with my mask on — would be the fastest of the day. I took my mask off after the first mile, after people had a chance to spread out, though I pulled up my Buff at the aid stations. I actually got warm soon into the run and opened the fleece vest I was wearing over my raincoat rather than keeping it zipped up. I decided to drop this vest at the Eastern Shore Running Club aid station and get it from my friends after the race. Jill actually just dropped it off (washed!) while I am working on this post.
After the first mile, some of which which wasn’t yet on the trail, the course became much muddier. Right before I reached Mile 2, I fell in the mud, getting my right shin all muddy. It wasn’t a terrible fall, but I had that vest open and my phone was in my left pocket, which swung up when I fell. It whacked me in the face underneath my left eye.
I got back up and continued on my way. I ran the first mile in 12:43, but my second mile was 14:07, and my third was 15:06. I wanted to keep it under a 15-minute pace, and ideally closer to the 13s, so I was quickly getting off pace.
At Mile 4, I came to the Eastern Shore Running Club aid station, where I have volunteered for the past three years. I didn’t get any fuel here, but it was fun to see my friends, and I emptied my vest pockets and handed the vest off to Jill.
After that, there was a long stretch on a dirt road. Even the road was wet, with some puddles deeper than expected, but I tried to make up a little time here, since it was a little bit better terrain and not super squishy.
At some point, probably around Mile 6 or 7, I started having problems with coughing. This was frustrating because it was too early on for this. Around November, I was having problems with coughing and had a chest X-ray and pulmonary function test done, but the chest X-ray didn’t show anything wrong and the pulmonary function test just showed mild asthma. Before that, I already had an inhaler for exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.
It was not COVID-related, and coughing has been an ongoing issue for years, but I thought it had gotten better in the past few months.
I do have an inhaler, which I had taken before the start, and I brought it with me, and I also was prescribed a pill to take to help with mild asthma. I haven’t been having the coughing problems lately, though I did experience coughing on a run or two in the past couple weeks.
I was trying to run as much as I could because there were so many places I walked through, like the deep water and mud. However, after the Mile 10 aid station, I decided to do run-walk intervals in the hopes that slowing down would help my coughing. It did seem to help, but my pace had gotten too slow to meet the cutoff.
Somewhere around Mile 8, there was the worst mud pit of the part of the course I ran — and there was also a photographer there. I ended up falling in the mud, and while I was not hurt at all, my mittens — which I’d actually folded back to expose my fingers as my hands weren’t cold — were covered in mud, along with my hands. I wrung out the mittens and brown liquid dripped from them.
I’ve been on social media a lot since the race, and I was waiting for these mud pit photos. I’m glad my fall was captured — just to show how tough this race was and what we all endured.
About a mile or so later, there was another photographer, this one at a huge puddle. It’s kind of misleading to call them puddles, because as I noted, some of them went nearly up to my knees. There would be times along the course where I would step down and it would be much deeper than I expected. I’d run through puddles the previous weekend at the City Park, but continually going through water to my mid-calves or higher was a completely different experience. It’s always wet at Algonquin, but this was extreme. “Brutal” was a common descriptor that I saw used.
At Mile 10, I got to see some friends at the Delmarva Moms Run This Town aid station. I knew I wanted the Smith Island Cake, and I had some red velvet Smith Island Cake in a cup. The potatoes also looked good, and I had one of those. After that aid station, there was a small road portion before continuing back onto the trail.
I do think the run-walk intervals helped with the coughing, but my pace was also above 15-minute miles, which was too slow to make the cutoff. It was tough to pick up speed with so much mud and water — plus the coughing.
While walking with my friend, I asked her how she knew her body temperature was dropping, and she had mentioned feeling a chill. I felt a chill, too, maybe a little bit later — I can’t remember exactly when it started. I think I could still feel my feet — and sand/dirt had lodged its way in between my feet and my insoles— but the worries were taking over, and my pace was slowing down.
As I headed toward the Mile 15 aid station, I saw friends who were heading back after hitting Mile 19 and they were very encouraging. I think some even said I was looking good. I didn’t mention I had been thinking about dropping.
I ran my last three full miles in 18:46, 16:46 and 17:17 — none of which would have been fast enough to keep me on pace if I had continued at that pace. I knew it was extremely unlikely, probably impossible, for my second half to be faster than my first half. When I stopped my watch, I had run 15.14 miles in 3:53:54, a 15:27 average pace.
I had wanted this race to be my victory lap after surviving getting hit by a car and being able to run again. It wasn’t as long as I wanted it to be, but I am grateful that I was able to get back to running so quickly, that I am able to run, and that I was able to run 15 miles in terrible conditions. Early on, I was concerned about where I was in the pack — I felt like I was behind — but I tried to steer my thoughts more positively, which was tough.
There was a spot available in a car back to the start, so I took that. At least two of the runners in the car heading back with me were participating in the DUC — the Delmarva Ultra Challenge. Participants in this event ran a 50K at a surprise location the night before the Algonquin 50K (which turned out to be a loop at the trails by the YMCA in Pocomoke City), then started the Algonquin 50K.
Even though the heat was blasting, I got a little colder in the car, probably because I was in wet clothes and not moving. I figured I would still pick up my post-race food and then head out. By the time I got into the pavilion, I was even colder. I got a burger from Bob, which I brought back to the car, a piece of cake, and a couple cans of beer from Melissa to bring home.
Along with my mom, boyfriend and friend I had just been walking with, I texted my friend Veronica at the ESRC aid station to let her know I wouldn’t be continuing (I would have seen them again around Mile 28 if I had continued). I got a nice, encouraging video message back from Veronica, Jill and Nikki.
After getting the food, I walked back to the car — which seemed like a longer walk than on the way there — warmed up a little bit, and headed home. It had rained during my part of the race, and it was definitely overcast — not sunny at all — but it seemed to pick up a lot more on my way home. There were also chunks of snow falling out of the trees during the run.
It was nice to get out of the wet clothes, and my left leg was all brown from falling in the mud. I had to scrub that out. It was also nice to enjoy a hot shower.
Although I did not earn my finisher mug this year, the race does have a lot of cool swag that I did get. During a locals’ drive-thru packet pickup on Thursday (there was also one on Friday), I picked up my participant gear, which in addition to the race bib included a Brooks long-sleeved shirt, Injinji socks, Squirrel’s Nut Butter, lots of stickers, a hat, a Koozie and a card to give to a Salisbury nursing home resident (which I filled out and brought with me Saturday).
I am thankful to everyone who was part of putting on this race — Race Dictator (yes, that’s correct) Trent Swanson, his entire team, all of the volunteers and everyone involved with the Forest Service/Department of Natural Resources. It was great to have the opportunity to train for and run an in-person race when so many opportunities have been canceled due to the pandemic. It was also nice to see friends and meet a few people that I knew from social media in person.
When I got to the Mile 15 aid station, there were already people waiting there to be picked up, and I was thinking it was possible that 40-50 percent of runners may have dropped or been pulled.
The actual number was much smaller, but it was still nearly one in four who started the race.
According to the results, there were 194 runners who started the Algonquin 50K on Saturday morning. There were 148 who finished the race, including six who came in after the eight-hour cutoff, and 46 who did not finish, including me. This means that of those who started, 76.3 percent finished and 23.7 percent did not. This is triple last year’s DNF percentage of those who started: 7.7 percent. At least some of those listed as “Did Not Start” for Algonquin had actually started the Delmarva Ultra Challenge the night before.
So, although it’s certainly not a good situation, there is something to be said for terrible conditions and being in this together — a feeling of not being the only one.
I will be looking for next year’s registration date, and I definitely hope to get redemption at the 2022 Algonquin 50K. I know I can do it — I did finish this race in 2017, under much better conditions.
Mile 1: 12:43
Mile 2: 14:07
Mile 3: 15:06
Mile 4: 14:19
Mile 5: 14:58
Mile 6: 13:51
Mile 7: 13:34
Mile 8: 17:03
Mile 9: 16:30
Mile 10: 14:00
Mile 11: 16:47
Mile 12: 16:09
Mile 13: 18:46
Mile 14: 16:46
Mile 15: 17:17
Last bit (.14): 1:53
Total time running: 3:53:54.9 for 15.14 miles (15:27 average pace)