Ah, my first official race report. Also my first official blog! I’ve been threatening it for years now and I’ve decided my Facebook friends are probably tired of every post being running related. That plus I believe in keeping my words clean on social media and I want a platform where I can write how I talk. So know that going forward and you can’t say I didn’t warn you about words I may use. Sooo… Dizzy Fifties! My second go around with this one. Two things to know first: If you are not a runner or know nothing of the vast difference between road runners and trail runners, know this: trail runners are a different breed of humans. We show up for a group run looking like 5 year olds who are allowed to dress themselves for the first time. We are kind of gross. We spend hours upon hours out amongst nature’s bounty and there are no port-o-potties here. We ask each other if anyone needs to potty before we head out. We carry hydration packs with 500 pockets so we can stash TP, bandages, M&Ms, extra socks, whatever. We drink pickle juice, Ensure and other things no one in their right mind would want to. We have weird food. We share things that no one should (not like secrets, but that too, I mean things like tri-glide, my last 3 sips of water mixed with Mtn. Dew, these gummies I accidentally dropped in the dirt but we’ll share them, here’s half of a soggy PBJ stashed in my pack if anyone runs out of fuel, etc.). Our blackened toenails, blisters and calluses are almost like a badge of honor. Sometimes sleeves become tissues out of necessity. I have pulled rocks out of the palms of my hands before and used leaves as bandaids. You get the picture. I say all of this not really to set the scene for my Dizzy race report, but because this is my first blog and a lot of my blogging will be about these outdoor adventures. I am a trail runner. These are my people, my little island of misfit toys. They are a generous, kind and loving crowd, accepting of all. They won’t judge where you came from or who you used to be. Just come run with us and we’ll figure out where we’re going. I couldn’t be more comfortable with any other people, anywhere other than on these trails.
Second thing: the reason I am even here to being with, toeing the line at Dizzy again. I enjoyed the race last year but had no plans of signing up for it in 2015 considering that it would fall on the Saturday right after my first 50 miler, Tunnel Hill in Vienna IL. On the third day of the 54 mile Birmingham Stage Race back in September, the 24 mile course at Oak Mountain did me in. At least it did my iliotibial band, or the IT band as it’s more commonly referred to. The number one over-use injury among runners. I followed doctor’s orders and by the time I started feeling relief, I had lost so much valuable training that if I’d followed through with Tunnel Hill, I’d have been miserable (not the good, runner kind of miserable we crave) and I would’ve invited more injury and another cycle of no running for a month and then more healing. With a heavy heart, I emailed the RD to withdraw my registration and I canceled my hotel reservations. It crushed my hopes but I knew what was best. So because I was feeling sorry for myself, as a consolation prize, I put myself on a wait list for a spot at Dizzy. Motivated by fear of missing out, since I was already missing out on the 50 mile fun. I had no actual plans of getting this spot, besides I was 12th on the list and it’s not a lottery. No chance, but if I at least list my name, I feel better. You see, back at the beginning of 2015 I made a plan to have at least one race goal per month, with some of those races being mini goals and some big race goals but nonetheless, I would run at least one race each month. Ironically, October is my favorite month and especially for running, it’s ideal. Did I get to race in October? No. I had to DNS two races, the Crusher Ridge 42K at Ruffner Mtn. and the 7 Bridges Marathon in Chattanooga (on a positive note, the RD of 7B is super cool and already let me defer my registration to 2016). So here it is, my favorite month, no races and a minimal amount of running. Maybe 10 miles. I had to at least put my name in the hat for something in the month of November. The couple of times I did get out on the trails with friends, it was magic! Great company, beautiful weather, pain is gone for the most part and life is looking sunnier. As I did my stretches and eased back in to double digit mileage, I started noticing that people on the wait list above me were getting spots. Oh crap.
I decided that if there was even the smallest chance that I might be lucky enough to snag a spot and stupid enough to take it, that I’d need at least one 15 mile run the weekend before. My best and most patient route planning trail buddy, Ryan, came up with a great course and posted it as a group run on the WRH Facebook page. I can’t wait. This looks awesome. I start feeling crappy on Friday afternoon, shrug it off, get some sleep and wake up early Saturday a.m. barely able to talk. I’m hacking, coughing, sneezing, and basically yucky all over. I text Ryan apologizing for not showing up, feeling like a flake AND a jackass since I was the one who proposed a group run and asked for the course map. I spent the weekend in bed thinking “you’re crazy to think that you’d even accept a spot, even if you did get one, which you aren’t so quit being crazy, you’ll start training again when this crud is gone.”
Wednesday morning rolls around and no email from Ultrasignup about a spot opening. I almost feel relieved about it so I start thinking of new training plans. Recover from the Holidays 50k is next up and the big one, Mountain Mist 50k, is in January. Do I want to use a plan from the book Relentless Forward Progress or do I want to do some googling and make my own from scratch? I’m reading about different plans about 5pm and boom… email pops up from Don Alan, the Dizzy RD. When I say super cool dude, this guy is definitely one indeed. Couldn’t be any nicer. I immediately like anyone who uses emoticons in an email, it’s like an icebreaker. It lets me know you’re not all stuffy and official and important. You’re just a regular human who likes a good smiley face like I do. Anyways, there it is, an email saying “I have a spot for you if you’re still interested.” Well…at this point I’d be a super duper jackass if I said, “nah, I’ll pass, I didn’t really want one.” I did want one but I knew it would be a stupid decision to think that I could just magically go run 31 miles with no training, 1 week after being sick and 2 weeks after the knee pain subsided. My solution was to think about it Wednesday night, sleep on it and send an email Thursday at 7am saying… “Thanks so much! I’ll see you Saturday!”
What did I just do? I kept repeating “don’t think about it, just do it.” I did all of my typical pre-race rituals. I checked the weather 5 times, laid out 2 outfits, prepared my shoes, mixed my water and Tailwind, stuffed my pack and my cooler, ate my giant loaded baked potato from Ted’s and tried to get a good night’s sleep. Too bad I went to sleep with CNN on because I woke up screaming (my husband can attest, this is no exaggeration) something about ISIS throwing bombs at our house, so I won’t do that again on race-eve. I just decided not to think about any of the forces I had going against me, which was basically all of them. Pretty much everything they tell you NOT to do before an Ultra, I did. Anything I think of before a race that calms me (like the “you worked hard for this, put in all those hours of training now let the hard work pay off, you’ve got this”) simply wasn’t applicable in this case. No hard work or training to save my ass now so I mentally prepared myself for the big ol’ dreaded DNF. If you go in expecting one, it won’t be that heartbreaking when you have to take it.
A brief course description for those who aren’t familiar with the Dizzy set up: the Pavilion is like the mother ship. You run one small 2 mile “warm-up” loop, then one North Loop followed by a South Loop, then one North, one South and one final North and one last South. That’s the 50k version, there’s also a 40 mile and 50 mile option. So the Pavilion is the epicenter of it all. You have to check in there after each loop to be counted. All of your stuff is parked right here too, all of the creature comforts you brought from home. Your magical food and special beverages all just sitting there waiting to distract you like a shiny penny on the ground gleaming in the sun. Do. Not. Stop. Unless you have to and even then, don’t linger. Rookie mistake #1. You will be distracted so whenever possible, run straight through. Unless your Mom or spouse came to see you. You better stop for a sweaty runner hug and quick “I love you” but JUST. KEEP. GOING. That’s how Dizzy works.
When I get to Monte Sano Saturday morning, the parking is a mess because I didn’t give myself enough time to get a good spot, typical me. I park in the hiker’s lot and haul all 400 lbs of my stuff over to the Pavilion. Immediately I see some of my favorite people, Kim, Chelsea, Colleen and Alex to name a few. Greg is laughing, making his rounds taking pre-race pictures. I already feel better. I haven’t seen them in so long and it’s calming my nerves to laugh with them, share jokes and smiles. Alex makes me feel better by telling me that he hasn’t really run much at all in the last month either. Ok, he’s an Ironman super human athlete and I’m not, so his chances are automatically better but still it’s good to hear. I’m grateful that the temps are in the low 40s today, not like last year in the mid 20s. Time to line up. Don’t think, just do.
Somebody yells go, we take off and then I hear a gunshot. Well, that was kind of funny. I run with Ronnie for a little while then settle in to a comfortable pace and I notice that my friends are either in groups in front of me or in groups behind me. There are times I like to run alone, times I like to run with people and times I like to run alone with other people. Last year I had Ryan and Michele (who took off for Vermont, I miss you sole sister!) pushing me along the whole way. Thankfully so otherwise I would’ve walked a lot more if it weren’t for those two taking pity on me. I’ve had a lot more experience since then and I’m plenty comfortable alone so today I don’t want anyone tagging along with me or vice versa, because there’s no guarantee on my pace right now. Hell, there’s no guarantee that I’ll even make it through the first 2 loops, really! I decide that I don’t need the anxiety of wondering if I’m hindering anyone’s else’s goal time by making them feel obligated to stick around. I feel better already having made that decision.
I’m feeling great during the warm up loop. A guy behind me started talking to his friend about the different races HTC sponsors on Monte Sano and that leads to a conversation about Mountain Mist and that leads to the story of the chick who DNF’ed Mountain Mist last year because she took a wrong turn. I can’t contain my laughter. For those of you who don’t know, that would be me (that’s where calling me “Shortcut” comes in). Clearly, I’m already having a good time but here comes the part of the race I’m worried about, Cold Springs. Dizzy doesn’t have a lot of elevation change but Cold Springs is kind of steep and the downhills are what caused my IT problems. In my mind, I’ve already decided it’s going to be all pain all the way down, all 3 times if I even make it 3 times and I’m just playing with fire. As you start down Cold Springs, there’s a tricky steep section where you can either sit on your butt and slide down the rocks on the left side of the trail, which looks like an obvious safe bet, or you can very cautiously and quickly tip toe down on the right side with not a lot of room, a steep drop off and lots of little holes where leaves could be disguising even bigger holes. It’s very deceptive the way it looks. I decided before we even got to Cold Springs that it was going to be balls to the wall going down, just go ahead and rip it up because the quicker I get that section over with, the less time my IT band has to revolt. The slower I go, the more time I’m spending stressing that part of my leg. It isn’t a safe bet but I tear down the right side of path and pass 4 racers scooting down the trail on their butts. I feel like an instant badass then I snap right out of it because karma has provided me with many a glorious face plant in the past.
I made it down, I’ve passed the people I needed to and I settle in to a comfortable pace where I’m happy. I’m feeling good. I love North Loop, I could run it a total of 31 miles and just call it a 50K. As I’m climbing out of Sinks, Jenny comes up behind me (or me behind her, I can’t remember) but either way we meet up and start chatting through the climb together and all is good in the world. I get to the Pavilion, grab a swig or two of diet coke, slam some pickle juice and I’m off again.
Oh South Loop. “I love South Loop”, said no Dizzy racer EVER. Think of the most boring thing you’ve ever done, compare it to a trail and you have South Loop. You think you’re going to trip on a huge stump or boulder on rocky terrain? Think again. I’m likely to fall the hardest fall I’ve ever fallen over a teeny tiny rock hiding in plain sight on the flat trail we call Bucca, a.k.a. Family Bike Trail. Bikers have just as much a right to the trails as we runners do, so don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s full of bikers. Who do these bikers think they are, cavorting around on a bike trail in the middle of a beautiful Saturday afternoon? As soon as you get your concentration on, a biker (or 3) comes and blows it to pieces and you have to start all over again until another one comes and disrupts you. Some are kind enough to yell “bike back!” but even when you’re not using earbuds (which I never do on the trails) I can’t hear them approaching. You’re playing Frogger with the bikers. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, I’m just willing to sound like a jerk and say what everyone else is thinking. I can’t explain why, but no one likes Bucca Trail! As my friend Kim put it once, “Bucca is like that kid in class who eats his boogers that no one wants to play with.” Or something to that effect, but she’s spot on.
When I say I hate the South Loop, it is NOT a criticism of the course design, which is usually the case when someone says they hate a part of a course. It is not a wish that the course be changed either, it’s actually a compliment to whoever designed it. By that I mean it’s terrible because it’s flat, boring, therefore mentally exhausting, so much that we want to challenge ourselves to do it three times, year after year. When something is so mentally draining, it makes you want to challenge yourself to try it again and again so that’s why I say it’s a compliment not a criticism. That being said, I still have yet to ever hear a runner say “I just love that Bucca Trail! South Loop is so great!”
I finish my first South Loop and pass straight through the Pavilion without stopping to start my second North Loop. Things are great! I pass through Cold Springs again amazed that nothing hurts. Almost halfway done. I realize I’m almost out of water and craving something salty and that my shoes need to be re-duct taped so I mentally start planning how to get everything taken care of and get in and out of the Pavilion as quickly and efficiently as possible. When I get there I catch up with Colleen and her whole family had come up to join the festivities and would run with her later. I’m not moving through as quickly as I’d intended but I’m enjoying seeing everyone’s faces. Off to South Loop #2.
This is where it gets tough. Not physically but mentally. I am already bored and knowing that I have to do it again makes me even more bored. This is where the “don’t think, just do” comes in handy. I spent a lot of time thinking about starting a blog, I wrote a lot of this inside my head to keep my mind occupied. I’d think about the bible verses that were posted on the trees throughout the race course. I’d think about my Aunt Cynthia who is about to start chemo as soon as she heals from the surgery she just had to remove a tumor larger than a newborn baby. She’s running a race of endurance that she never signed up for, nor was she ever given a choice in the matter. Please understand that by no means am I trying to compare running to the suffering caused by cancer, but I am using my thoughts to put things in perspective. If I think I’m “suffering” from something I decided to sign up for and I want to wah wah waaaaahhhhh all the way home then that’s plain stupid compared to real suffering. I remind myself that complaining about anything is selfish and pointless. I think of her, how strong she is and how she has no choice but to be. I want to be as strong as her. Suffering is the path to enlightenment and I truly believe that is applicable to all aspects of life. I think of my Mom and how she’s survived cancer three times and how strong she is. I’m merely running a few miles in the woods so if I even think for a second that this hurts, I couldn’t be more wrong. Right beside my Garmin, I’m wearing my green “Pray for Cici” bracelet for Aunt Cynthia and it makes me smile every time I look at it and think of her. I was starting to get a little too serious though, a sad kind of serious. A comfortable kind of sad but my mind needed to go elsewhere. I was thinking too much. Don’t think, just do. I saw my friend Jill coming from the opposite direction with a look of pain on her face. She’s a badass so I knew something wasn’t right. Through the trees, she saw me, threw her arms to the sky and yelled “I’m embracing my first DNF!” My heart sank for her, I know exactly what she feels like right now. I remind her she’s still a badass and that she’s making the right decision for her body. She is taking it with style and grace too, smiling through it all and still being grateful. I have huge admiration for this lady. As we are making our quick goodbyes (or see-you-laters) Jeanie emerges from the trail. Thank you Jeanie! I needed you and your spirit right now. We start talking about life, work, running, how boring Bucca is… oh I feel better. I was so dead set on doing this thing solo but a friend couldn’t have popped up on my radar any sooner! We made it through the most boring part together and we laughed when we realized that we just got lapped (again) by one of those really tall, single-digit body fat guys who’s probably on a racing team. I didn’t think I needed anything at the Pavilion (I was wrong) so I cranked it up and ran straight through.
I thought Jeanie was with me but I soon realized that she paused at the Pavilion. Down Sinks one third and final lap and I fully expected this to hurt. Something in my knee is definitely tight and pulling, but not really hurting. Pressing my luck. I try and step as carefully as I can do reduce impact on that knee and just pray it holds up for 10 more miles. That’s an easy, weekday morning run so I can do that. Easy peasy. I can feel myself slowing down physically, a lot more walk breaks are happening now but my mind still feels good. The thought crossed my mind that I was probably going to finish this thing! Then out of nowhere, oh shit, I am out of water. AGAIN. I’ve gone through 3 liters already and it’s not even hot. I’m sucking on the tube and it’s making that gurgling empty sound (the sound of despair) so I contemplate going back but I decide I can make it 4 miles without. Somewhere around Three Benches Jeanie catches up so I had a companion for the climb out of Sinks which is always a good thing. Up we go at turtle speed. As we approached the Pavilion, her husband David and dog Chopper were there waiting with a camera and a smile. Now I’m noticing that some of my friends are already finished, slurping soup, laughing and drinking beer. THIS RIGHT HERE is exactly why I could never do the 40 or 50 mile option of this particular race. I cannot bear to pass through and see everyone else having a great time without me. FOMO, more commonly known as Fear Of Missing Out. I see my friend David with his finisher’s medal, he hugs me and we head in opposite directions, him to his truck and me on to South Loop. I don’t know if Jeanie is still here or if she’s taken off so I fill my pack and go. I will see her soon either way, 6 more to go!
Last. One. Ermagherrrrdddddd….. will it ever end? Bucca just keeps going and going and going and now it’s almost 1 pm and the park is bursting full of scouts, bikers, hikers, families and other runners. Though I’ve vowed that I don’t give a rip about my time (which I always say and then end up stressing over a PR anyways) I really haven’t cared until I look at my watch and realize that even if I walked the rest of the way I’d finish in under 7 hours. Last year my time was somewhere around 7:10:00 so this was an exciting prospect! No training and still getting a course PR, is that even possible? I kept going, avoiding walking and thinking about trying not to think. Don’t think, just do. I thought about Cici again. Her daughter (my cousin) Shelton is a runner too and she’d appreciate knowing that she helped me finish strong and that I spent a lot of time thinking about her today. I looked through the woods and saw Colleen with her daughter Sydney and friend Karen on the other side on a different trail.
I know that spot, it’s less than a mile from the finish and it really started sinking in… I DIDN’T DNF. What???? Not only did I not DNF, I’d finish in 6:48:00 (I round seconds in Ultras, after that much time who cares how many seconds?) and that’s a 22 minute course PR! I hear clapping and cheering and the chute is getting closer and closer. It’s over. That’s always a weird feeling, almost anti climatic. A feeling of relief, nonetheless. As soon as I get the medal around my neck, I am greeted by Colleen and Ryan. YAY Ryan, what a nice surprise! He didn’t know I was running today and I explained how I didn’t know that I was either until about 48 hrs ago. I congratulate my friends and check in with Jeanie. She asked why I ran off without her and I laughed when I asked her what her finish time was. Her’s was around 6:42:00 (I think) so who ran off on who? We had a good laugh about it and I thanked her for running with me when I needed her the most. In all, it was an amazing day. I really surprised myself out there! That being said… do NOT do what I did. I had the time of my life, however I had no business running a 50k on these legs. The force must have been with me and I couldn’t do it the same way again if I tried!