Warning: this is a long one full of thoughts on my latest attempt at a 50 miler and getting my 3rd DNF.
Somewhere back in July after running one of the Cul-de-Sac 5ks, as a friend and I stood at the finish line cheering on the rest of the runners, said friend asked, “Do you ever hate running?”
My initial response was, “Fuck yes.”
It’s true. There are times, usually when I’m in the midst of training for whatever race, that I hate running and don’t want to do it ever again. I begin with this sentiment as a segue to my review of the Mountain Masochist 50 mile race I attempted last Saturday on 5 November.
My 4th attempt at completing a 50 miler and my 3rd DNF. I was very disappointed in this drop and mostly I blame the mindset I had coming into this race. It created the perfect storm for a complete meltdown of body and mind.
I know I can run 50 miles at one time because I’ve done it once before. Maybe we can so easily complete the first distance race because we don’t know what the hell we’re doing so don’t know things can be any different. Maybe.
A month before the race I found out my unemployment monies had run out at the end of August. Here it was the end of September and the rent for October was due and I didn’t have it nor any way to get my hands on $1k that fast. I have already borrowed way too much money from people, robbing Peter to pay Paul as they say. Totally overwhelmed, I shut down and turned off. It affected my eating, my desire to get outside and run. I rested and then I only somewhat scrambled together a plan. It’s hard to keep fighting when you’re exhausted from circling the drain for four long years. So I finally relinquished control; I gave in to the pull and let myself be taken underwater.
The Dude lives in a house on the West End much like the one The Kid and I lived in with the addition of access to the attic. He invited me, the kid and our 3 dogs to move in with him. I thought about it for a few days. Nothing was nagging at me or causing me to run away screaming and we were unofficially living together anyway, so I said yes. I talked to the kid about it and he agreed as long as he could stay in the same school.
Two weeks before the race I started the moving in process, one week before the race I officially moved in.
Somewhere over those weeks I picked up a cold that was vying for space in both my head and my chest.
And there is some nagging tiredness that I cannot pinpoint nor explain. I’m sure a blood test would help me figure it out, but I am uninsured and without funds for a doctor so it remains a mystery.
Every bit of this stress weighed on me before the race began. I hadn’t concentrated on this race, it was just something I was going to be doing that weekend. That does not bode well for completing an ultra with a distance of 50 miles.
The race itself was fantastic. If you’re going to pick a 50 miler as your first, I highly recommend this one. The race director is awesome, Horton is happy to visit with you; both hang out at the finish line. The route was full of stunning views of Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge.
We got to see the sun rise over the mountains. I almost stopped to take it all in. Almost. A picture would not do justice to the view of stunning oranges and yellows.
When the sun came up I saw that my hands were not functioning out of sync due to the cold as I had originally thought. You know the feeling, cold on the outside, warm on the inside, therefore they are hard to get moving. Instead they were swollen to almost 4 times their usual size. (I have tiny hands/fingers.) This was barely 10 miles into the race and I said FUCK out loud. I immediately knew I needed to switch tactics so at the next aide station I switched from plain water to Gu and started sucking that down like I was about to die. I ate salt at a few aide stations; not much since lack of salt wasn’t the issue. I remembered to eat my pack of almond butter before the halfway point which is an accomplishment for me.
Because of the underlying fatigue, I lost time on the uphills. I just didn’t have it in me to be a total badass and run/walk up those damn hills. Gravity and trusting my feet would find their way helped me a lot on the downhill.
Ralph and I leap-frogged one another a lot. That was pretty awesome. I told him it was nice being in a race with a lot of people I know. It is also very different to run a 50 miler with 300 other ultrarunners instead of just the usual 50-60. Before I was even halfway I had already decided I would do MMTR again and had a much better understanding of why there are those who have completed it 12, 20 and 25 times consecutively.
Anyway, you know something is wrong when somewhere around mile 12 you see a bunch of tents and wonder if they’d let you crawl in to take a nap in one of their sleeping bags.
At mile 15ish, as we were dashing off, the volunteer yelled behind us that it was all downhill to the next one. About 1 mile later we were climbing up again. Ralph caught up and I asked him where the downhill went. We both laughed.
Shortly before the aide station at Long Mountain Wayside we got to the top of a smaller hill and had a flat section that lasted about 2 miles. On the right it opened up to a gorgeous view of the valley and several peaks peppered with the oranges yellows and reds of late autumn leaves. Again I almost stopped to take it all in. Maybe I should have used that opportunity to stretch the ITB in my left leg. It had been getting tighter and tighter since I began the race.
When I started running again, I got about half a mile and felt the ITB in my left knee start seizing. I am very familiar with this feeling so I knew what was happening. I had been feeling both my adductors and abductors getting tighter as the miles got higher. Not a good sign. I was hoping they would hold out for the duration, yet feeling that spike on the outside of my left knee told me otherwise.
I had been crying off and on throughout the race. I was tired and didn’t want to run anymore. I was mad because I had been looking forward to running all day in the woods and yet here I was and didn’t want to be there anymore. I was so tired. I just wanted to curl up and go to sleep. That isn’t a good enough excuse to bail from the race so I pressed on, determined to complete it anyway.
Yoga has taught me when your body fights a particular pose or your mind gets agitated when in a certain pose, then you need to do that pose as often as you can to work through whatever has you stuck there. You need to pay closer attention to what is there. I was telling myself this is hard work because it IS hard work, that I was fighting this long day in the woods meant I needed to get to that finish to be able to work through whatever was causing the agitation.
It felt like all the stress from the year, moreso the past month, was all coming to the surface right there in those mountains at that moment. The song that played on loop through my head was Brave by Sara Bareilles.
It felt like my emotional self was exploding everywhere. And with each mile it was getting worse.
As I approached the halfway mark, I saw Casey and Jason and asked if they were on their way to the next aide station. That’s where The Dude was waiting for me and I really wanted to get to him so I could cry and feel sorry for myself. We briefly discussed details then I left to get my drop bag. Carena and friends were waiting near the trailer at a picnic table; they yelled awesome encouraging things at me and I started bawling.
Ultras bring out the emotion in even the toughest of humans. Run a 50 miler or greater and you will be stripped bare of whatever pretense you had about yourself. The dirt forces you to look deep inside and see what is there to take.
Carena gave me a ride to The Dude since they were going there to cheer on Brian, Hunter, Travis, Ralph and Martha. The Dude greeted me with a sad smile and the best hug I have ever received. I cried a little bit more then realized I was shivering so quickly changed. I showed him my hands and he said, “Holy shit, babe!”
That was mile 31. The race began at a prompt 0630 and I got to The Dude shortly after 1pm. I had not peed since sometime after sunrise which was about 0740. Not good at all when running that distance. I was sitting in the chair for almost an hour waiting for runners when I finally had to pee. I kept drinking and drinking some more. Finally the swelling in my hands started to recede. We tried to take a picture but without scale, they look like my regular hands.
After seeing Ralph, Hunter, Brian, Martha, and Travis off to the loop, The Dude and I left to head to the finish line. We stopped along the way to visit a waterfall, The Dude laughing at my lack of agility because I’m usually part mountain goat. We spent some time there listening to the quiet water flow down, noting the cool grooves and dips that have been etched into the rocks.
We headed toward the finish line after a bit. I admitted out loud that my emotional self really did not want to watch anyone cross that finish line. So we stayed long enough to check out the General Store, eat some broccoli and cheese soup, then head back to Nicole and B’s house.
I left the race behind me. Ate Mexican. Drank a Dos Equis. Later, back at their house, I ate s’mores and drank champagne. And I let the defeat of the day roll off me. Nicole was excellent, she didn’t ask me much about the race though I told her a bit of what happened via text message as we started back her way. It’s been a week and I still don’t want to talk about it. This is a very hard, very personal defeat for me.
So I’m not really enjoying running right now. I don’t hate it, but I am not in love with it either. I’m taking time off. I’m going to do lots of things that aren’t running, like focus on getting to the gym 4 days a week. Hopefully 5 if I can get motivated on a weekend day.
My body is exhausted and needs a break. I will know when it’s time to start running again and until then, I plan to enjoy all this extra time I have to do other things like knitting, maybe even getting more involved in our ever growing running community. And the ongoing process of melding two very singular households into one.
In the meantime, anyone need anything? We probably have it sitting on our front porch waiting for you.