I don’t really know how to start this story, and I have a feeling it’s going to be messy and wandering and potentially not very chronological. But here we go…
2:45 a.m. is a really early time of day to wake up. My usual race anxiety appeared to be missing, probably in part becuase I had managed 6 hours of solid sleep. We ate breakfast, had some coffee, and got dressed. I was anxious, but there was a layer of calm in between the nerves. We had packed our gear the night before, so we were on the road by 4 a.m. for the short hour drive to Cassoday, KS.
We checked into the race, said a few hellos, double checked our gear, made a last trip to the bathroom, and then headed to the start line. It was still dark at the 6 a.m. start but the sunrise was coming.
We started our 50K journey just like all our other long runs with a warm-up walk. We knew we would catch up with everyone who started running from the gun. We enjoyed the morning sky, noted the windmills, said hello to cows. It was in the mid-60s and humid with a breeze. I was worried about the rising heat and made a comment to Noel that I was planning on breaking from our usual hydration plan and drinking extra when I felt thirsty. My heart rate was high from race nerves, so we talked to distract me and calm me down.
Mile 90 Photography was there and got these fun shots of us around mile 7. The scenery was amazing. So much green, rolling hills, and the footing was better than I thought it would be. Early in the race, we decided to take a selfie and a view shot every 5K. Thinking of the 50K as ten 5Ks stacked on top of one another helped me to mentally break up the distance.
I knew there was going to be hills, but I hadn’t given much thought to the strategy of them. Initially we attempted to maintain our 3:1 walk run, but then realized we could hike the inclines and cruise down the declines. We made quick work of the first half and got to the turn around way above our “goal” pace. And there were cows!
We refilled our water bottles at every aid station and made sure to eat every 3 miles or so. Around mile 19, Noel started complaining of cramping in his quads, and it quickly made it challenging for him to even walk let alone run. My back started cramping as well and my hamstrings were tight from all the hiking up the hills. We took stretch breaks and just kept moving forward towards the Battle Creek manned aid station. Once there, Noel was able to sit and drank over 40oz of gatorade and ate some salty pretzels. The temperature at this point was over 80, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the wind was easily 20mph with gusts in the 30s. Summer had come early to Kansas. I saw later someone describe it as “blowdryer conditions.” We considered stopping there, but we didn’t know how long we would be there before someone came along to give us a ride back.
The 30 minute break at Battle Creek seemed to rebound Noel. However, after a couple more miles, the quad cramps returned, and I could tell he was not ok. We were about 3 miles from the finish with still two more turns to make before we were back in town, and Noel decided he was done. He laid down in the grass on the side of the road for fear of passing out from the pain of the cramps. Thankfully I had cell service and was able to get a message to a friend who knew the race directors. She said she would reach out and let them know what was going on. Right at that time, a guy on a dirt bike came our way. We had seen so few cars and vehicles…mostly just a couple of farmers moving equipment. I flagged him down, and he said he had just seen a car head the other direction and he’d go flag them down.
Soon a family arrived in an ATV. They were amazing. So gracious. So kind. The wife immediately got us two ice cold water bottles while the husband helped Noel into the back. They were on their way to camp and fish at a nearby lake and were more than happy to drop us off back in town.
I entered survival mode. I was worried for Noel, although having seen him at his absolute worst after Ironman Boulder, I knew this was different. The heat was the culprit. We hadn’t had time to acclimate or heat train at all. His electrolytes were way out of whack. My focus was getting Noel rehydrated. Not finishing didn’t even really enter into my thoughts. I was glad to be out of the heat and glad that Noel was going to be ok. That man is my entire world. Despite his urging, I was not going to leave him to finish the race. I didn’t care about anything but his health and safety. There is no Hannah without Noel.
Later, when we were showered, fed, and headed towards rehydration, we did have the conversation that I could have probably finished. I may not have been in great shape when I did since I would have had at least another hour in the sun and heat. The day happened the way it happened. I accept that. We are still alive and still happily married. The hours and miles we put into training for this 50K were not wasted. Those miles gave us time together and gave me reflection time to process the last year of my neurodivergent diagnosis.
In the end, we ran 29.6 miles. Longer than we have ever run before. We almost finished a 50K, a feat few humans even attempt. I admit that I do want another crack at Heartland 50K. Noel has already volunteered to crew me. I think he secretly just wants an excuse to ride those roads on his gravel bike.