The Algonquin 50K: I didn’t finish the race, but I finished the course

Kristin Staples captured this photo of me coming into the aid station around Mile 10.

Oh no. I’d looked back, and the horses were right behind us. The horses that we had to stay in front of to finish the Algonquin 50K in eight hours.

This gave me as much of a burst of energy as I could muster after running more than 19 miles through the trails, including an especially substantial mud pit and some wet areas. I had until 2:20 p.m. to make it to the next aid station.

I didn’t quite make it there in time, but my run continued, due to a miscommunication. But before I bring us back to Mile 24ish, let’s go back to the beginning.

I took a pre-race selfie in my new Run Happy Brooks hat and ESRC shirt.

I trained for the Philadelphia Marathon in November, and then after a week off and pacing the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Half Marathon the next weekend, I got back into training. It got off to a rough start when I ended what was going to be a long run at 3.38 miles because of a painful blister. However, over the next several weeks, I did two long runs with friends on the Algonquin Cross County Trail and an additional 20.22-miler.

Then came the PHUNT 25K on Jan. 15, during which I suffered terrible pain on the bottoms of my feet. The pain continued for the rest of the day and throughout the next day. I’d had issues with foot pain after long runs, including after the Philadelphia Marathon, but the pain seemed extra bad after the PHUNT 25K, so I decided to see a doctor about plantar fasciitis. I got some advice, including to wear supportive shoes around the house, and I just picked up custom orthotics Thursday (after this race).

To avoid hurting myself further, my next three long runs were 10.5 miles (on the Algonquin trail), 10.1 miles and 8 miles.

Prior to last year’s race, I didn’t think I wasn’t going to do the Algonquin 50K this year. I wanted to do the race last year and then go back to volunteering. However, last year’s horrible weather left me with a DNF about halfway through, and I wanted to come back to redeem myself.

Here I am (center) working my way through the Mile 8 mud pit with Jeanelle (left). Photo by Craig Young.

I was concerned about the eight-hour cutoff going into the race, but I hoped to come in right around 7:59:59. In 2017, the first year of the race, I completed the 50K in 7:48:46. My marathon time the month before, at the Louisiana Marathon, was 4:53:11.

However, my marathon time in November was 5:34:20. That doesn’t really add up for getting a sub-8:00 finish, based on my prior time. However, I’ve had more experience running trails since 2017, and I figured I could do a better job of pacing myself.

I drove to the race with Carla and Lauren, and my boyfriend, Mike, would be there to drive me home at the finish. I had plenty of time in the morning and had a bowl of oatmeal and took my inhaler. Before the race started, I got in a brief yoga practice with Nicole, which was nice. Then, we were off.

Here I am giving thumbs up after I made it through the mud pit without falling (however, I did fall after this). Photo by Craig Young.

In order to try to stave off pain in my feet, I decided to do consistent run-walk intervals from the beginning. I programmed four-minute-run, one-minute-walk intervals into my watch so that I couldn’t ignore the beeping. I also didn’t want to be looking at my watch the entire time. I didn’t take into account that this wouldn’t show me the lap pace for each mile, which would have been nice.

I skipped the first walk interval because of the large crowd at the beginning, but then I was on track. Pretty early in the race, Jeanelle, who had planned to do three-and-one intervals, joined me, and we stuck together through the second aid station.

We were near some other runners who were doing intervals, as well. At one point, I went to pass the pair of runners, and then immediately fell. Oops! We continued along and I felt strong.

Here I am continuing on the course after falling in the mud, running with Jeanelle. Photo by Joe Andrews.

In order to try to conserve time, I didn’t stop at the first aid station because I felt I had what I needed. After this aid station, which was around Mile 4, there was a long stretch of dirt road, and Jeanelle and I pushed it on the running intervals, running faster than we had on the singletrack trail portion we’d just completed. Her watch showed our average pace, and we were able to make up some time.

Even the next part of the trail wasn’t too tough to run on — it had fewer roots to maneuver. We continued our run-walk and probably around Mile 6 or 7, another runner, Abbi, from California, joined us. Mile 8 included the infamous mud pit where I’d been captured falling in a photo the year before. I carefully made my way through the mud, trying not to fall, but the mud actually took the shoe from another runner nearby. Someone else had come back to look for the phone she’d lost.

I was all smiles after making it through the mud pit, but not long after, my shoe went down into some mud and I fell trying to get it out. Thankfully, neither of my two falls were serious at all — but my hands (and leg) were extremely muddy.

It was nice to make it to the second aid station, run by Delmarva Moms Run This Town, around Mile 10, and great to see a lot of friends. I wanted to get some Smith Island Cake and refill my water. Unfortunately, the aid station had run out of water. Karen filled one of my bottles with some ice, which would later melt down. Thankfully, I did have enough water, as I was wearing my hydration pack with a bladder and two bottles — I’d just been hoping to have extra.

At this point, I was almost to the Mile 10 aid station. Photo by Kristin Staples.

After this aid station came the sand — Algonquin Beach. I tried to keep up my intervals, but unfortunately lost Jeanelle in the process, and Abbi had continued in front of us after the aid station. So, I was now on my own. There was another runner I was near for a lot of this section, but I was running/walking alone.

I’d felt great during the first 10 miles, but once I was on my own, I didn’t feel quite as strong. My intervals were getting slower. I also had to make a quick bathroom stop off the trail during this section.

Around Mile 13, runners made a turn on the course, and I got to see some other runners heading the other way (these participants had already completed about 19-21 miles). It was fun to see many friends, and I felt so much better than last year.

I made it to the aid station at Mile 15 and didn’t even want cake — rare for me. It was getting warm, and I needed something salty. A salty potato really hit the spot. I also had my water bottles refilled. I walked for a little bit after this aid station and then got back to my intervals.

It felt great to make it past this point, since this was the aid station where I was pulled last year. I even said that to some of my friends as we crossed paths on their way back and my way out — that we’d made it further than last year.

The next section was the Greenbriar Spur, an out-and-back that would get us back to almost the same location at Mile 19. Here, I got to see the friends I’d trained with, along with other friends. I also started to get too warm during this section, despite staying hydrated. At the turnaround, I saw my friend Eddy. Then, I was on my way back.

Here I am heading toward the finish (blue flags indicate the way back; pink flags indicate the way out). Photo by Joe Andrews.

On my way back, I saw Race Dictator Trent’s brother, Jason, running the other direction, and he exclaimed that we had until 1:25 to make it to the aid station. I felt like it would be tight, but that I could make it. I only remember seeing four people behind me after the turnaround — Jason, a man in a blue shirt (didn’t catch his name), a woman in a green shirt (who I believe may have been Trent’s sister, Trina, the last official finisher) and Jeanelle. The woman in the green shirt passed me soon after the turnaround.

I kept 1:25 in mind and worked my way to the next aid station. I actually pulled over to the side twice to throw up — hardly any either time, but it certainly wasn’t ideal. I think this was because of the temperature.

I didn’t look up the temperature at the time, but I later saw that it got up to about 65 degrees — in February, in Maryland. This isn’t a temperature that I had trained in recently or find ideal for a long-distance race. It was in the low 50s at the start and I was comfortable in short-sleeves and shorts just standing around. I was glad to be able to wear shorts, because I much prefer shorts to pants for running. After last year, I didn’t want to complain about the weather, but it was too warm for me. At one point, I poured some water in my hat and then put it on to try to cool myself down.

I made it to the Mile 19 aid station and one of the volunteers said I had five minutes to spare. Someone else said seven. Either way, I’d made it to that aid station before the cutoff. I wanted another potato, but those must have been gone. I had my water bottles refilled. All the volunteers were great at each aid station, taking my bottles, refilling them and putting them back in — doing all the work for me. I also had a pierogi and some chips before continuing on. I still didn’t want cake — I wanted salt.

I captured this photo along the course just to show how empty it was after I turned in my bib. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

Now, things were going to get more tough. I was told at the aid station that the next cutoff time was 2:40 p.m. at Mile 24. I couldn’t remember whether this would be around 23.5 or 24.5 on my watch, but I was thinking 24.5, which would make it a tight squeeze. Normally, 5 or 5.5 miles in an hour and 20 minutes wouldn’t be difficult, but I was definitely slowing down, and I knew an extra half mile would make a difference — at a 15-minute pace, for example, half a mile takes 7.5 minutes.

It was stressful to have to think so much about the cutoffs and whether I would make it.

It was more shaded after the Greenbriar Spur, which was a relief. I thought about running in just my sports bra, but decided to keep my short-sleeve shirt on to try to avoid chafing. I did well with chafing during this race, and I used Okole Stuff, which had been recommended to me at the Pemberton 24 by one of the sweepers at this race, Colette.

Soon after the Mile 19 aid station, I stopped to try to get something out of my shoe that had been bothering me. I didn’t find anything, but the uncomfortable feeling continued. I later found out that the skin on my feet had become pruny from running through water, and my skin had folded into an uncomfortable crease on the bottom of my foot.

I was following horse tracks for close to eight miles, so I had to get a photo of that. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

Soon after I took off my shoe and continued along the course (with the shoe back on) was when I saw the horses. At that point, I did try to speed up, and I lost the two runners who had been behind me.

Since we started the race at 8:30 a.m., I calculated that I would need to get to the next aid station, Midshore, by the time my watch said 6 hours and 10 minutes. I knew I was cutting it close, but I didn’t have enough energy to just run faster till I got there.

I heard the music before I arrived, and when I got there, Melissa greeted me and said I had not made the cutoff — which I had figured was coming. I stopped my watch. I figured my run was over. According to my watch, I’d come in just under five minutes late.

I was given the option to either take a ride back to the finish or to turn in my bib and continue on the trail unofficially. This was where the miscommunication came in; I later found out that I wasn’t supposed to be able to continue, even as a non-participant in the race. So, if you sign up for this race, expect to be pulled from the course if you don’t make it in time (and I understood that going into the race).

With fewer than eight miles to go and weather that wasn’t miserable like last year, of course I wanted to make it to the end. I knew I’d be slow, but I also knew that I could do it. I took off my bib, turned it in, and continued along the trail, which was still well-marked. At this aid station, I had my water bottles refilled and I think I ate something, maybe a potato. I was also eating the Clif Shot Bloks I’d brought with me at or near aid stations along the way.

Of course, turning in my bib was disappointing, so I walked for a bit after this aid station before I got back on track. Without a bib, I didn’t have a time I needed to shoot for anymore. My feet did hurt at this point — nothing like at PHUNT, but they were not comfortable, and I’d been running/walking for more than six hours and 15 minutes at this point, so of course, I was not super fresh in general.

Finally, the end! My boyfriend, Mike Piorunski, captured this shot of me almost to the finish line.

After a bit too much walking, I decided to turn on two-minute-run, one-minute-walk intervals on my phone, as I figured it would be more motivating to run for two minutes at a time than four. I skipped some of the run intervals, but I continued making my way along the course. Once I made it back to the dirt road, I saw John, from the last aid station, who encouraged me and offered assistance if needed. Every volunteer I came across was just so encouraging.

I never saw the horses pass me, but they must have taken a different route at some point, as after the Midshore aid station, I was following horse tracks. In addition to the blue flags I was following, the hoof tracks helped to ensure I was following the course.

I made it to the Eastern Shore Running Club aid station, and to my surprise, there were still volunteers there. Since I was no longer part of the official race, I wasn’t sure whether they would be there or not. It was nice to see my friends there, and I got a piece of potato. I also ran into Ashley, who hadn’t made it to the aid station in time. I mentioned to her I was finishing unofficially (not realizing this was a problem) and encouraged her to do so as well.

She was walking, but she quickly speed-walked away from me faster than I could run-walk (which was totally fine). I tried to continue my intervals, but there was a lot of mud in the last section slowing me down. I kept hoping that somehow my watch would align with the finish line at 31.1 miles, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I was expecting my watch would read about 32 miles, and I ended up with 31.94.

At some point, I did start going through puddles on purpose, because the cold water actually felt good on my feet.

I posed for a photo after completing the course. Photo by Mike Piorunski.

Along the way, I encountered a park employee who asked if I needed a ride. I probably only had about two or so miles left, so I said I didn’t need one. He was concerned about them locking up the park, but I said I’d gotten a ride and was also being picked up, so my car wouldn’t be locked inside. I then saw him a little further down the course; he was friendly both times.

I was completely alone for about two-and-a-half hours, aside from at the two aid stations, but I never felt miserable. I have at times struggled mentally in ways unrelated to running, but I was at peace even being alone with my thoughts. I had some issues with coughing, but my breathing issues were nowhere near as bad as they have been during other runs.

Once I turned in my bib, I’d warned Mike via text that I would be coming in after eight hours, and I got a call from him just as I was getting to a paved road near the end. I let him know where I was and ran the end of the course, on the road and then grass. Many people had left, but the arch was still up, and there were people who cheered me on. I crossed the finish line in 8:45:04.

I didn’t earn the coveted finisher mug, but I did earn some redemption, in my mind, for being able to conquer the course after last year’s disaster. Then, I enjoyed some beer and food. Mike brought me some Smith Island Cake, which was much welcomed now that I was finished running.

During the training, which included many early wake-ups and long hours (and also fun with friends), I told myself I could finish the race this year and then get back to volunteering. I did not want to run a 50K every year — but I ended up doing a redemption 50K last year and still ran the 50K distance this year as well. That’s three total 50Ks!

I loved that a backpack was included as part of the swag this year!

I’ve thought a lot about whether I want to train for and run this event yet again, or whether I’d like to volunteer in 2023. I still have not decided; I’ll decide right before registration opens. I know registration will open before I run my next marathon, but I’d like to get my marathon time back under 5:00 before attempting the Algonquin 50K again. There are so many factors — overall speed in general, the weather, injury… it makes it hard to decide what I want to do a year out.

It’s been a week, and I haven’t yet run again. I’m giving my feet and body some time to rest in hopes of getting rid of this plantar fasciitis. Next up is the RRCA Club Challenge 10-miler next Sunday, so I will do one short and slow run before that.


Splits are from Strava; I didn’t see my splits on my watch during the race.

Mile 1: 13:41
Mile 2: 13:54
Mile 3: 14:54
Mile 4: 14:30
Mile 5: 12:25
Mile 6: 12:50
Mile 7: 13:17
Mile 8: 16:27
Mile 9: 13:54
Mile 10: 14:21
Mile 11: 17:25
Mile 12: 14:59
Mile 13: 17:32
Mile 14: 15:20
Mile 15: 14:35
Mile 16: 18:00
Mile 17: 14:39
Mile 18: 17:18
Mile 19: 14:21
Mile 20: 21:07
Mile 21: 16:21
Mile 22: 16:09
Mile 23: 15:52
Mile 24: 15:41
Mile 25: 21:38
Mile 26: 19:43
Mile 27: 18:07
Mile 28: 16:33
Mile 29: 20:29
Mile 30: 20:38
Mile 31: 22:44
Last part (.94): 16:40
Total: 8:45:04; 16:26/mile pace (this is the elapsed time; I did stop my watch briefly at the second-to-last aid station where I turned in my bib)

4 thoughts on “The Algonquin 50K: I didn’t finish the race, but I finished the course

  1. Way to finish 🙂 I know Maryland had been COLD pretty much up until race week, and I heard from some other local runners they’d dealt with nausea/puking during the race thanks to running in temperatures way warmer than they’d trained in. In spite of that, I don’t think anyone was wishing we’d gotten a day more like 2021 though haha. Hope you can get the foot pain under control!

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  2. Congrats on an ultra finish! There is a satisfaction to cross the arch. Wishing you a fast recovery and hopefully either right shoes/PT will solve the foot problem. I might muster up enough courage to do this race next year, so it would be nice if you sign up again and get that mug

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