Des Plaines River Trail 50 Mile Race Report by Caroline Tonozzi
I chose this race because it had been reported by others to be a great first 50 miler. I had thought about doing a 50-mile race ever since I started running marathons last spring. I signed up before the new year, making 2014 the year of my ultra debut. It was close to home, organized, and had top-notch race directors. The 50-mile race option sells out every year, so I knew it was going to be a well run race.
Training started the beginning of June. Over the next 4 months, I put in more miles than I ever had training for my previous marathons. I did 2 marathons and a trail 50 K the 6 weeks leading up to the race, just so I could get the miles in. I wasn’t sure I could handle the recovery, but I bounced back relatively quickly in between races. As a bonus, I had a great time, and really fell in love with trail running. I knew I had to put in the work so that I could finish the race.
The night before the race I ate a great pasta meal with family and friends, alleviating some of my mounting anxiety. I had my drop bags and backpack already packed so that I didn’t have to worry about it that night. With my clothes laid out, I went to bed early, as I needed to wake up at 4 AM. I got a last minute text from my mom, telling me how proud she was of me.
I woke up before my alarm. It was a little colder than what was predicted, and I was nervous. My brother graciously drove me to the forest preserve where the race began so I didn’t have to worry about driving home 12 hours later. I got my timing chip, lined up my drop bags in the appropriate areas, and sat in the car until the sun started to come up on the horizon. I was feeling nervous until I saw friends of mine near the starting line. We took a few pictures then lined up at the start
All 200 runners listened to the announcements made by one of the race directors. Right after the announcements, the race started. I was running alongside a veteran ultrarunner, Mary from Madison, who kept me company for the first 10 miles. She was easy to talk to, and I was able to maintain my usual marathon pace. We were marveling at the beautiful fall colors as we ran towards the first aid station. About 7 miles it started to rain. It was a light drizzle, which persisted for the first 20 miles. My rain poncho was in my first drop bag, but I didn’t really need it. I had a visor on and gloves, and my quarter zip shirt kept me warm. Mary and I hit the first major aid station, where I drank some Coke, ate a PBJ, and grabbed some gels from my drop bag. Mary started ahead of me, and said she would see me at the turn around at mile 26.
I ran by myself at this point, slowing my pace down, as I wanted to save my legs for later in the race. I started to add more walking and put my headphones on to listen to a podcast. I saw the lead marathoners speed by me, something I usually miss being a back-of-the pack runner. I hit another aid station, filled my handheld, ate some more, and trudged on. The next aid station was in another 6.2 miles, which was the halfway point and 26ish mile mark. I didn’t see too many people until I got about 3 miles from the turn around. I congratulated the runners as they ran by me. The rain had stopped and the sun was trying to peak out. It got a little warmer (not much), and I could ditch my gloves.
I shuffled into the aid station and turn around point. The volunteers took good care of me, getting things out of my pack, refilling my handheld, and pouring me cups of Coke. I changed my shirt to a lighter fabric as the temperatures continued to climb. I thanked the volunteers and got out on the trail as quickly as I could.
I reached the 50K mark in 6 hours and 45 minutes. It was a little later than I had anticipated but not by much. I hadn’t run more than 31 miles ever in my life, so I had no idea what to expect for the next 19 miles. I hit a low point at mile 33, overwhelmed by the fact that I still had a long way to go. I texted a friend of mine, who told me to eat something and try to find someone to run with. I was totally alone for this stretch of the race, so finding a buddy wasn’t an option. She had told me to focus on running to the next aid station rather than worrying about the mileage. I couldn’t listen to my podcast anymore, so I started reciting lyrics to songs in my head.
I finally made it to the aid station at mile 36. I drank more coke, tried to eat a PBJ and almost vomited. I was started to feel nauseous and tired, which I knew was trouble. If I couldn’t eat, I wouldn’t be able to run. I munched on pretzels and squeezed down a gel. I felt better after the pretzels. I ran when I felt like it and walked when I had to. I knew I just needed to keep moving forward.
At the next aid station, a volunteer filled my handheld with a liquid carbohydrate supplement. I drank an Ensure, and ate some potato chips. The carbohydrate supplement saved me for the next 3 miles. At mile 43 the nausea hit again. I couldn’t get another gel in so I started walking. Doubt crept in and for the first time I wasn’t sure I was going to finish the race. I told myself to just keep moving and eventually I would cross the finish line. I also couldn’t believe that I had gone for 43 miles and was still moving my legs. My quads were really sore, and my calves felt tight. I kept moving, knowing I only had 7 miles to go.
I met up with 2 other runners at this point. They gave me a ginger candy and dried bananas. It was like magic. I felt instantly better. We hit the last aid station, where my friend Janel was waiting to help us. I ate a banana and drank more Coke. We had 4 miles left to go, and it was starting to get dark. We trudged through the last few miles together until we saw the lights at the finish line. My brother was there along with a few volunteers and the race directors. With 100 yards left to go the tears started to flow. I crossed the finish line in 11 hours and 48 minutes. I shook hands with the race directors, who gave me a hearty congratulations and a belt buckle for my efforts. I was a 50-mile finisher!!