There are those experiences that are well conveyed through words and pictures. But this particular experience is quite different from the rest. I will do my best, but in all honesty, you just had to be there. PS, this is a long recap.
Back in the fall, Christi & Meggie decided to go ‘Ultra Crazy’ and sign up for their first ultramarathon. An ultramarathon, for those unfamiliar with the term, entails running any distance longer than a traditional marathon (26.2 miles or 42 kilometers). Most of these races take place on nontraditional surfaces, such as trails or dirt roads, though some are on your typical road. The particular race they registered for was The Huff 50K at Chain ‘O Lakes State Park in Albion, Indiana. Unfortunately, due to Meggie’s injury, she had to pull out. So in order to make sure Christi had the support she needed to conquer just over 31 miles, Karen, Meggie & I decided to join the 3-person 50K relay.
Friday evening after work, I met the girls off of the I-69 exit and we started our 2-hour journey north. We discussed what we were going to do on our hot girls night in Kendallville, where we would get dinner, and our expectations for tomorrow’s run. As we approached the halfway point in our trip, around 6p, we noticed that there were quite a few people driving without their lights on. ‘Dumbasses,’ we thought. Then we noticed that on more than one occasion there were drivers flashing their lights at us. Do we have a flat tire? Is our gas cap open?? Finally, Meggie reached down, and sure enough, our lights were off. Whoopsie.
We finally started closing in on our first destination, Camp Lutherhaven. Aka, packet pickup. The drive felt like a scene out of a horror movie. A group of 4 girls, driving through BFE, pitch dark outside, with only corn fields on our perimeter. To top it off, we were listening to Holly, the SiriusXM Christmas station, making it all the more eery. All we could think of was being kidnapped while Kenny G, Sleigh Ride was playing in the background. Can’t you picture it?? Totally scary, yet hysterically funny.
After driving through standing water and answering Karen’s questions about reindeer, we arrived at the packet pickup. We laughed til we cried when I asked, “Is there an expo here?”
“No, but there’s foosball.”
We immediately felt like fish out of water. Ultramarathoners, as you can imagine, are pretty hardcore. I mean what person voluntarily signs up to run 31 miles? So imagine how we felt, 4 such pretty girls, wearing heels, carrying designer purses, accessorized to the nines, walking into a lodge full of hippie-types immersed in their pasta dinners. Yep, we’re running this too. Though our intenseness may not measure up to yours, Team Perfect Strange is still pretty badass. We commented on our badassness the entire weekend.
We did collectively decide on the drive up that instead of running the race relay-style, we would change our entry to just do the 1 Loop Fun Run together (minus Christi who had to run a separate 15mile loop). The same distance would be covered (10+ miles), only this way we could run together versus taking turns. Best. Decision. Ever.
We made our way out of BFE ‘by the way of right’ and determined Applebee’s was going to be the site of our pre-race dinner. It was like a beacon of light after driving through the “sticks” of Kendallville. We got a table in the bar, ordered up some tall beers and greasy grub, and carried on per usual. Our new friend, Jon, and his friend Megan also met up with us for a few drinks as they were running the race too. We kept the dinner short and sweet and retreated to the Best Western where we immediately changed into pj’s, talked about Meggie’s new friend Florrie, and snuggled up to the sweet sounds of Kenny G. It had officially become our trip’s anthem.
“Speaking of being kidnapped,,” 😉
After a great night of sleep, we awoke bright and early,, to SNOW! The past week in Indiana has been a wet one. Because of all the rain, we learned that conditions on the COL trail were suboptimal, with lots of mud and standing water. We were optimistic that it wouldn’t be as bad as they were telling us. Snow should help too, right?
At 7a, we were off!
There was only one line taking us into the park, making for a huge backup only 30 minutes prior to the race start. The girls running one loop weren’t nervous, but we worried about Christi, who had a big day ahead of her. Amazingly, she stayed uber calm. Slowly but surely we made our way through the gates.
I did make a quick meetup with my FIL, who lives closeby and wanted to drop off my furbaby’s birthday present (ps,, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ALLIE!!). It was nice to see his face, if only for a brief moment. We then headed down to the start line for a potty break and some pre-race pics.
After witnessing some very ‘raw’ ultramarathoners who had no qualms about “relieving themselves” in the middle of hundreds, we got positioned at the starting line. Due to the long lines, the gun time had gotten pushed back by about 20 minutes. We once again met up with Jon and Megan. We were so happy Christi had found someone to run with; we hated leaving her to tackle such a daunting task alone. Not that we doubted her for a second. Before we knew it, we were off and running. Let the ultramarathon experience commence!
Christi and Jon quickly turned right to their separate loop while Meggie, Karen and I continued straight. We started on the snow-covered pavement which quickly transitioned to a trail. Initially, the terrain was great. Dirt, leaves, snow-dusted hills. There was a little mud, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Plus it was SO pretty outside with the snow falling. We kept telling eachother how badass we were for doing this. We should get all the Perfect Strangers to do this together!!
Our naivety was short lived because not far behind the ‘nice’ trails came the real mud. The surrounding lakes were well over sea-level, which then overflowed to the course, either leading to standing water or thick, dense mud resembling chocolate pudding. As to avoid trudging through the sludge/ knee deep water, there was a lot of “off-roading” through trees, branches, and thorn bushes. Aka a lot of scratches, bruises, and bleeding ankles.
Us girls left our Garmins at home and thank goodness because we there was absolutely no sense in paying attention to pace. As soon as we would get through the mud, we would pick back up to running, only to have to stop 2 minutes later and walk through a forest once again. The persistent starting and stopping made it very difficult to get into a groove. We passed people and in turn got passed many a time. But we didn’t care. This was all about the adventure. All we could keep saying (besides expletives) was that we were so grateful we decided to do this together.
A few miles in we hit our first aid station. Let me just say, best aid stations ever. Pickles, potato chips, M&M’s, boiled potatoes, Jolly Ranchers, and Fig Newtons. Plus water and G2 of course. These people know how to do refueling properly. We stopped for a good 5 minutes and just snacked away.
It was so pretty overlooking the lake.
We continued on, running, walking, trudging through mud. We did a fairly good job staying clean for the most part despite the awful conditions. But towards the end it was hopeless.
At some point we decided we needed some music to keep us going. We started by singing Sleigh Ride everytime we escaped the mud. “Just hear those sleigh bells jingle-ing, ring ting tingle-ing too.” The groups around us couldn’t help but laugh. Later on, we decided to truly bring Kenny to the trails so we started playing the actual song on Meggie’s iPhone. There may have also been an impromptu dance party to Bel Biv Devoe while swinging from tree branches.
The last part of our loop was probably the worst as it was right next to the lake. But true to form, we trudged through the mud, climbed logs, and made our way to the end hand-in-hand. Best part: seeing Meghan and Jake, who had made the 2 hour drive that morning, cheering us on to the finish line!
Unofficial finish time: 2:45:xx !!!
We immediately stripped off our wet muddy clothes and retreated to the post-race tent. On our way down, we saw Christi and Jon who were just starting their second 15 mile loop. She looked great and we were so proud that she was going to run this entire thing as planned. We couldn’t imagine how nasty the trail conditions would be the second time around and would never have judged her if she wanted to quit after lap one. But quit she did not. She warriored ahead.
The five of us chatted and refueled in the tent for a bit before deciding to go somewhere to actually warm up. C would likely take close to another 2-3 hours to finish so we had some time to kill. I directed us over to the local Friendly Inn where we partook in pitchers of beer and dollar shots of Ice Mint.
Around 230p, we headed back to the park only to find out that Christi was still 6 miles or so from the finish. In other words, at least another hour. Since we were already cozy in the car, we decided to park on the side of the road around mile 29 and cheer for the remaining runners. There were very few spectators on this course (is this typical for ultras??), so we figured we would give them something to smile about. Busting our rap tunes loudly, we cheered, clapped and whooped for every person that ran by. Some appreciative, some not so much. One cute man even said, “I could hear you guys from across the lake. Thank you!” Heart-warming & worth every minute.
We finally saw the Angry Bird hat over the hills, so we immediately got out of the car and started screaming our heads off. Here’s some video.
So proud. With 2 miles left, we headed to the finish area and watched for them as they approached the final stretch.
Here they come!!
Unofficial finish time: 7:31:25 !!! Truly unbelievable.
In true Christi fashion, she began bawling as soon as she crossed the finish line. We embraced her, muddy gear and all, and congratulated her on her amazing accomplishment. It gives me chills just reliving the moment. We were so fortunate to be able to share this experience with her, never doubting her for a second.
We immediately helped her get out of her shoes and she changed into dry clothes. She donned her medal with pride and we got back on the road after a stop at McD’s for food.
What an unbelievable day/ weekend/ adventure with my girls. We bonded more than we ever thought possible and couldn’t have anticipated this weekend going any better than it did. Although maybe with a little less mud. But truth be told, I will never ever hear Sleigh Ride again without smiling my face off 😀
PS,, Read Meggie’s version here!