Sunday, November 21, 2010
As the fall ultra season was approaching a few months ago, I was feeling good. I had conveniently forgotten about the pain involved in running last year's Stump Jump 50k, and replaced those memories with the camaraderie and fellowship that trail running offers. So, I signed up for an ambitious (for me) schedule that started with the 2010 Stump Jump, and included my first attempt at a 50 miler. I was knocking out 50 to 60 mile weeks and feeling healthy when Stump Jump rolled around and ended up with a PR at Stump Jump with the help of my friend Nathan. He encouraged me a the finish, and we both PR'd the distance, but on the last 4 miles I was breaking down badly. On those last few miles I began thinking about how much further I would need to run to complete the 50 miler, and honestly, I think that is when I jeopardised my next race.
The Dizzy Fifties is a two loop course at Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville Alabama. The race offers a 50k, with an option for a 40 and 50 miler. The tricky part is that you come back to the start/finish area after each loop and the temptation to hang around is great. I was feeling good at the start of the race and my friend Nathan and I started at the back of the pack to purposely keep it slow at the beginning. This strategy worked great and we were sailing along, occasionally chatting with other runners (although I mostly just listen to other peoples conversations). The North loop of the course is the hillier of the two and the shorter of the two. It includes a long descent and a long uphill at the end. I enjoyed the scenery of this loop as it offers beautiful overlooks of Huntsville and some interesting rock formations. The second loop is longer, but flat and I remarked to Nathan that we could really make some time up on the very runnable South loop.
I was enthusiastic, but still cautious after completing the first 10 miles and the weather was perfect. I switched into a short sleeve shirt out of my drop bag which contained practically all of the running gear I own, and we set out for the second North loop. I talked for a while with a nice runner from Huntsville (I didn't catch his name), and Nathan and I took turns leading through the South loop. I was feeling great along the South loop and told Nathan I was going to pickup the pace for a while and we made good time finishing that section, but I began to notice that the South loop really seemed long. This was a bad thing for me to notice.
We grabbed some food and hydration and headed back out for the North loop. The North loop went smoothly, but I was tired when we got back to the aid station. No problem, we drank a small can of Coke each and headed back out for the South loop again. Somewhere on the South loop I began to feel bad. My legs were hurting, and I kept thinking about how long this loop seemed, even though it was flat. At mile 25 I was really hurting, but I kept pushing on. Nathan found a zone and pushed on ahead as I began to take walk breaks. I knew that I could quit and call it a day at the end of this loop and would have completed a 50k, but I had signed up for the 50 mile race and was conflicted. I ran/walked my way back to the aid station finally and the race director and time keeper immediataly asked me if I was going back out. I told them I didn't know and sat down at a picnic table under the pavillion. Nathan was already there waiting for me and after a few minutes, he and the race director talked me into heading back out for another loop. We walked back to the trail head and ran for a while then I stopped to walk. Nathan walked with me, but I realized that he was ready to run and I told him to go ahead. I did not want to mess up his race and I had no idea what I was going to do.
My legs were hurting, that's it; I was not injured, I did not have blisters, no stomach problems. I was just tired of putting up with the pain in my legs. So I found a great rock that overlooked the long descent and I sat down. I just sat there and looked at the trees for about ten minutes. It felt great not to be moving and I tried to think of anything but the race. At this point I did not see any other runners, and for a few nimutes I felt better, so I headed back out on the trail. I ran/walked for a while, but I could not get my head in the right place. I tried to think about having Thankgsgiving dinner next week with my family, my friends in the running club, my job, anything to not think about my legs but nothing worked. My mind made it's way back around to the current situation every time. So, I just walked. I walked the rest of the North loop back to the aid station and told the race director I was done. His wife was the timekeeper, and she was very nice and gave me a finshers award for the 50k, but I felt really bad about quitting. I took my stuff and laid down in the back of Nathans truck for about 30 minutes, feeling sorry for myself. Then I decided that sulking was not going to help at all and decided to get up and cheer Nathan in as he finished the South loop. I ended up talking with some very nice people and Nathan soon finished up his last loop to complete the 40 miler.
The highlight of the day came when I watched a guy finish the race and his girlfriend was trying to find something for him to drink. I overheard her say that the Poweraid was upsetting his stomach, so I went over and offered him one of my Cokes. The look on his face of relief and gratitude was worth the whole experience.
I have been humbled by this experience, and will never take any race for granted. I will train harder for the next two ultras this season (Mt. Mist50k and Mt. Cheaha50k), but most importantly I will always remember that helping out someone else made me feel better than anything else that day.