Written by Paige Roberts
Photos by Tim Roberts
One of my children had been home all week with Influenza A, and all I could do was cross my fingers and hope I wouldn’t get sick. Plus, this being my first ultra, I felt unsure about my preparation. Having capped my training runs at 18 miles, I wasn’t super confident in my ability to make up the difference come race day.
On Friday, I packed my Nathan bag with GUs and salt pills, ibuprofen and hope. I set aside a spare outfit and shoes and double-checked my fluids. Then, having piled my family into the car, we drove around listening to Halloween tunes and perusing the neighborhood’s scary houses—anything to keep my mind focused and calm.
The morning of the race, I woke up early and made a few peanut butter and jelly roll-ups for the trail. I sipped coffee and ate a bagel, trying to relax as best I could. Around 6:15, my brother, Chad, picked up my husband and I and we headed toward Country Lane Woods in Willow Springs. We got there early. Ally and Elaine of CUSS Running were still setting up. After grabbing my swag bag and bib, I hid in the car until Ally’s prerace rundown.
At 8:00 a.m., we were off. We started smack dab in the middle of what was an 8-mile course, shaped almost like a lollipop. At the beginning of each loop, we headed north. The limestone path crossed a busy street early on, eventually leading us into some single-track that circled around and spit us out back towards the starting line. After that 4-mile section, we were to check in before proceeding south to complete the lap. This portion of the course was an out-and-back, which included some small hills and rolling terrain.
The first two loops, my brother and I talked—catching up, bonding, enjoying this unique experience together. Coming in on the second loop, I saw my friend waving at me near the aid station. This was entirely unexpected. Not only did she drive 45 minutes to cheer me on, but she—along with my husband—hung around to support me and see me through to the finish.
At the half-way point, I changed outfits and loaded up on snacks. Putting in earbuds for the third loop, I felt my body go into cruise control. Music brought me new life. I had anticipated walking some later in the race, but between the music and the snacks, I just kept running, feeling far better than I had anticipated. The last loop was much the same, my brother and I choosing to keep our earbuds in, my body responding well despite the miles.
I had run nearly the entire 32-miles, averaging a 12’32” pace. Things could not have aligned any better—the weather, my headspace, my body. And I was proud. So proud. Because after all the work I had put into my training, after all the uncertainty and self-doubt I felt in the days prior, I had done it.
I was now an ultra-runner.