Warning: The post is a bit long, but it was a very long run..So it follows.
TL/DR: I signed up for a trail 50k the morning of, talked a friend into doing a 50 mile and another friend into doing what would be her first trail race and ultra. And then I ran for many hours, battling poison ivy, downed trees, vegetarians, and biting flies. And despite my dislike for trail running, running more than 5 hours at a time, and ticks – I had the time of my life!
Important Note: Many thanks to the Ohio River Road Runners Club and their photographer Tracy for the permission to use their photos in this post.
Lets hear it for those moments when the the running comes easy and the world turns with you. And. Lets take a moment to appreciate the suck that is a trail run.
Its a wild ride when those things collide.
It was a last minute decision, signing up and running the 50k at the Dawg Gone Long Run.
I spent Friday morning nudging my friend, Stephanie, over the fence she was on with regards to swapping up distance to the 50 mile option. “FIDDY!” I jokingly called at her every time she looked my way during our group run Friday morning.
She asked if I was willing to go out and run the last loop of a 16-ish mile trail with her to get her to the 50 mile mark. Apparently two laps of this trail equates to a 50k (32-ish miles) and a third loop gets you to 50 miles (Don’t work the math out. It’s trail running. Hippies aren’t all that good at numbers…just…just accept it and let the ‘ish’ at the end of the mileage tide you over) (Yes. Most trail runners qualify as “hippies”. Though, I learned at this race, more are vegetarians) (PS. I’m mostly joking. Trails are significantly more difficult to get exact mileages on than roads and has nothing to do with whether a hippie or a not-a-hippie maps it or not. Also. Trail runners love the outdoors, hippies or not. I’m mostly being facetious for humor-sake.)
“ABSOLUTELY!” I exclaimed to her before cheering “FIDDY!” over and over and pumping my arms in the air. I had to stop so we wouldn’t get kicked out of First Watch before Jim got to eat his bacon.
It wasn’t long (Seriously, I didn’t even get home from breakfast) before I was thinking along the terms of, “Hell. If I run one loop, that’s halfway to a full 50k. Why don’t I just go ahead and do 2 laps and get an ultra in?”
The reasons not to run it all swirled in my head:
But, I wasn’t trained for it.
But, I literally just did a marathon last week.
But, my training plan only calls for 12 miles this week…next week is 20!
But, I haven’t been on a trail in years...
But, I’m so injury-prone, I probably won’t be able to walk after this.
But, it’s a trail…trails have ticks… Ticks…exist.
But then, I would be there with friends…I’d get to see my friend accomplish her “fiddy” mile run…I could take all day to do it, really, since only the 50M’s had a time limit to meet. I wouldn’t be missing out on hanging out with my husband (He recently took up blacksmithing, and he tends to spend the nice days hammering out knives and razors now). And, “they” always say to be flexible with your training schedule…though I think that’s mostly for dropping distances or swapping days…? oh well. I could just go and “have a day”…. but… that concern that I’d break myself or be swarmed with ticks and die somewhere of all the blood loss (look, I know its unrealistic…but so is my fear of ticks, man. Don’t judge me. We all have our fears. At least I don’t have Achoophobia or Ambulophobia or Lutraphobia… though I may have Maieusiophobia…Hmmm… Okay… I need to stop reading this page!)
I called my husband to let him talk me out of this. After all, in the past he has been the voice of reason for me with regards to my running. He’s reminded me that, no, you don’t gain 45lbs of fat if you miss two consecutive days of running…or that I should, “Just eat the damn cookie”. Where my running friends are scary-influential when it comes to getting others to join in the crazy schemes, possibly not-well-thought-out running routes, and road trips to races in random places – my husband has grounded me with reminders of whats going on in the “real world”. It’s a damn good thing my running friends don’t also deal drugs.
My husband did not answer.
A couple hours later I was texting my running friends. Honestly, at that point, I think I already knew I was going to sign up for the 50k, but I was in denial.
Me: “Shit. Now I’m thinking that if I go up to run one lap, I might as well run two laps and get a damn 50k in…”
Jim: “Have fun but don’t get hurt.”
Karen: “Race starts at 6:30AM”
Me: “ This is why I need to run all my running plans past the Man…”
Jim: “50 miler!”
Karen – she basically just broke down to laughing at me in every response.
Me: “I’m not quite that bad…. that’s hella-early to get up for though… And drive…. And how do I get home if I get hurt or am too tired?”
Karen: “Come up tonight and camp with us.”
Jim: “Go with Karen!”
Me: “You guys are a bad influence…I’m gonna text a non-runner.”
Jim: “Non-runners don’t have all the facts.”
Me: “Perspective. I need serious perspective here.”
Jim: “Bah! That’s not even possible with non-runners!”
I should point out that I did reach out to my best friend, who is not a runner. Her response was. “OMG. lol.”
Even Stephanie chimed in with a message of, “Come run the 50k! Come run the 50k!”, alerted to the conversation by Karen.
Finally my husband responded that he was in meetings all day and then said, “looks like you’re stuck doing a 50k…I couldn’t save you. I didn’t talk you out of it in time.”
And that was it. I was in. At 2PM the day before the race, I was going to do an ultra on a trail that I was not trained for. Hell. I haven’t run a trail in two years.
I was considering my sanity and my calves – which were actually pretty tight and sore…because I thought it’d be fascinating to see if I could get a vertical mile by repeatedly going up and down my stairs in my home. The answer is yes, but damn it’s a calf workout. I was feeling it. And then, in a strange realization that the crazy was still in a contagious form, I talked another friend, Char, into doing the race with me too.
We are not smart people.
Race morning rolled around super early. I had to be up and out to meet Char so we could car-pool to the park, about an hour away from us.
Despite being in Ohio, the drive wasn’t bad, and we were able to follow the cars all bearing running store and distance stickers. We parked and shared a moment of staring straight ahead and contemplating our choices in life.
“You want a hit of this?” Char asked, pulling out a flask.
Holy shit, I thought, I’ve never had alcohol before a race…but what the hell? I’m just doing this for fun!
“Sure!” I said as she explained, “It’s pickle juice.”
“…Not.” I finished, “Sure-not. No. No thank you. Weirdo.”
We zombie-shambled in the slowly lightening world toward the shelter that would act as main aid station and finish line. There, we waited while people shivered around us in the oddly cool air and runners found their name and signed on the line. Ahead of us, my friend sheepishly said, “I’d like to change to the 50 mile please.” AND I CHEERED AS LOUD AS I COULD! Causing her to blush and everyone to cringe, and the race directors to glare at me.
Sorry, not sorry, folks. If you were expecting a calm and peaceful day in the woods, you shouldn’t have allowed me to come. I am a loud racer. I like to talk and cheer other people on, and tell jokes and share stories. I run for the connections! Also. I am high-energy (I did not get that wrong. It is not “high maintenance”. It is definitely “energy”) I like to get hyped up for races. Char and I both signed on the line and paid the people so that we could trudge the woods for hours and hours that day.
Trail races are different from road races in so many ways.
From the obvious: Trails vs pavement, duh; to the type of runners that are drawn there; to the acceptance of certain food types eaten on the run (You’ll be hard-pressed to find gu or cliff shot-type packets on trail runners. No. It’s all stuff like peanut butter sandwiches, beet juice, and potato chips…); to walking breaks; to how the races are started.
Road races, very often, will have physical starting and finishing lines. There’s no question about where you’re supposed to line up and where you’re able to stop on a road race. There are clocks posted along the routes, and the lack of ground-level objects (usually) means that tripping hazards are fewer. This allows you to “zone out” or distract yourself. The race will start at the sound of the air horn, or starter pistol, or…on a couple of occasions, a canon.
Trail races may or may not have a line…sometimes it’s a ribbon, sometimes it’s chalk on a paved spot, sometimes it can be a timing mat or a trail head…. More often than not, it’s some convenient crack in the parking lot pavement or something that resembles kind of a line in the grass/dirt. A lot of these races start with the race director saying, “ok, go.” Or something similar.
Basically, trial races tend to be far more low-key and ‘no-frills’. Many times, there’s no t-shirt and/or no medal. Sometimes there’s no “swag bag”, and some times there’s this cool thing called a “swap table” (Basically people bring gear, clothes, whatnot that is used once or not at all and they don’t want to keep. They toss it on the table and someone else, who may need a new water bottle system or like that shirt, would take it. I really like this aspect. It’s something that wouldn’t work very well at a road race…due to the different personality of the road-racing crowd).
We lined up in the entry road and one of the race officials gave out the rules and route description. Important information, but, in the one and only short-coming of this race, most of us couldn’t hear it, and it took long enough that we were given a late start. The late start wasn’t so important to me, but the people who were shooting for 50 miles and had to be out on the course for the last lap by a certain hour would end up feeling the strain as the heat rose and the few minutes lost at the start made all the difference.
Once the info meeting concluded, this kid sang the National Anthem and the race start was sounded by trumpet.
We were …off? We ran at a leisurely pace behind a car that led us along the roadway and down a pretty steep hill. And, well, what goes down has to come back up, apparently. The incline was harsh enough that we were leaning into the hill pretty hard to get back up. Oh? Trail runners and hills? That’s a walking moment. Because trail hills are usually so much steeper and draining than roads.
I laughed about the hill. I mean, well, I’m a big fan of running hills. I know I have to be careful who I say that around in my running group because they’ll likely get me into the Pike’s Peak run, and…well, I enjoy hills, but I’m not that into them. I was accused of liking to show people in pain when I snapped a couple of photos. I commented that I just wanted to be able to show how steep this hill was. Char was not amused, and I’m pretty sure she was cursing my name for talking her into this. Luckily, this hill was a one-time event to add mileage for the trail’s re-route.
That pre-race talk we couldn’t hear? Basically spelled out why we had this detour at the start:
A couple nights prior to the race, we had some big storms hit the area. This area got it pretty bad, and a bunch of trees were uprooted, broken, or down – and in many places over the trail. This meant that we needed mileage, hence the road detour, and that our trail run was more of an obstacle run. Which was awesome! Yeah, I lost a lot of speed and time climbing over trees, and, yeah, the last seven miles of the loop were difficult because I’d get into pace and start to get my zone and then I’d have to stop again to climb over a tree. BUT! Think about it. People pay hundreds of dollars to do obstacle races like the Warrior Dash or Tough Mudder…which is basically a trial run, with shit to climb over and water to wade through, and its all short distances and long lines…. Trail running though? For about $40, you too can have 32+ miles of creek crossings, mud, and climbing obstacles! It’s a steal! ($10, basically, will get you anything from 3 -10 miles on a regular basis throughout the year). Personally, I feel safer about the mud and water on these runs too.
So, back to talking about the race:
We stayed on the roads for about a mile and a half or so, crossing the dam and seeing a gorgeous sunrise, and finally entering into the woods by cutting through a grassy, dried-mud field. The first turn into the trees was easy to miss, and I spent a moment wondering if I took the wrong turn. Char and I made good time on the first 10 miles – opting to try and get as much distance behind us as we could while the weather was cool.
We followed barely visible paths through grassy portions, climbed over or under fallen trees, and blazed trails around the trees we couldn’t push our way through. Somewhere along the early miles was a pretty sweet-looking swinging bridge…and I hated it.
I remembered that Char had an issue with a swinging bridge on another race (She cleared up that it was seeing through the gaps of the boards, and not the bridge itself), and I stopped on the bridge to see if I could help her somehow to get over it. And then this guy came charging through yelling, “JUST RUN IT, IT’S GREAT! I LOVE THIS BRIDGE!” And he put so much force into stomping his feet down on the bridge that it created this wave along the thing…and my footfalls as I tried to run off it were so out of sync with the wave that I was stumbling and jostled and getting frustrated with the guy. We cleared the bridge and continued, having way more fun as we went along, the bridge forgotten entirely. We caught up and stuck with another couple of runners, letting them set the pace for a while.
About six miles in, I started to feel pretty hungry, but I didn’t want to use the cliff shots I was carrying. I’ve been having a lot of stomach issues on the last few marathons I did, and I kinda think its a combination of the stress I was under and these gu-like packets of not-foods. Ultras are good to test that on, because the general expectation is to eat real foods. If you really look at the photos, you’ll see that the gear of the day was hydration packs. I have one, but opted not to wear it because I always tense my shoulders up with it. The pack allows carrying stuff like the phone and “s-tabs” (short for salt tabs) and actual foods. I was using just a small hand-held water bottle, and it was a bad choice because my phone didn’t fit in it’s pouch. I had a 50-50 chance of grabbing the right water bottle at 4:30AM…and I chose poorly. As far as water though, this bottle worked out well for the distances between water stops. However, it did mean that I was trying to climb over tree trunks with something in both hands…and that was frustrating.
New to me on this run were the s-tabs. And I loved them! Though, I didn’t have enough with me on the second loop….we’ll get to that.
I debated pushing through the hunger and holding out for the aid station or just sucking it up and using the cliff shot…this probably affected me pretty harshly throughout the rest of the lap. I was once told by a respected friend and runner that once you feel hungry, you’ve already lost too much. You’re supposed to take in something like, what, 100 calories every 45 minutes? Yeah. We were rolling up on over an hour of strenuous work, and I had only water and salt.
Every clearing we came to that had a shelter with coolers and stuff set up around it had me hopeful that this was my life-saving aid station. They weren’t. And one, in particular, some woman sitting on a car in the parking lot yelled at me to keep moving straight. I yelled back asking if this was our aid station, and she started to say “no” when some guy stuck his head out of a tent and yelled, “RACE QUIETER!”
“DRINK LESS!” Was my response as Char and I went back into the woods.
The course brought us a lot of great views of the lake, and Char and I agreed to stop and enjoy the sights more on the second lap, since it would clearly be so much warmer and we would want to slow down anyway. I enjoyed the views, but did not enjoy the bugs.
A shelter later, and we were finally at the aid station. I immediately refilled my water, took a shot of coke, and started pounding chips and gummy bears. There was so much food! They had just about everything! Things that I normally thought were ‘too heavy’ to eat before, and especially during, running. Like frosting-heavy doughnuts.
“Eat! Eat! Eat! You need to get your salt back! You all need your energy! Eat everything!” One guy called as he filled paper cups with a pickle and pickle juice. Readers, Char was in heaven.
Stephanie was there, getting ready to hit the trail again.
“Having fun!?” She asked. I knew I had a goofy-ass grin on my face. It had been there pretty much the whole time.
“Always.” I responded. And then she was off. She had a time to beat if she really wanted to hit her 50 miles.
I intended to walk along for a while and slowly enjoy a cup of gummy bears, but as soon as we hit the wood line from the aid station, we were out again, running along the highway for about a quarter mile. My stomach was feeling off…and I suspected it was because I likely ate too much in my hunger. I worried that things were going to get undesirably gross for me if I didn’t take it easy for a little bit.
Char started chatting with a guy running in sandals and toe socks. They started jogging, so I had to as well if I wanted people to talk to….that is, except that I was apparently keeping a faster pace than them. I passed them and took my time climbing over the guardrail where we rejoined the trail. On the second loop, this would prove to be the hardest part of the race for me. Sandal man was great company, telling us about previous years of the race. He filled us in on the “why” of the road mileage at the start of the race, the tornado, other trail races, his sandal running, and his vegan lifestyle. He was surviving on beet juice while he ran.
I always think it’s fascinating to meet other runners and hear their story during the long runs. I like hearing about favorite races or dream races, or first races. I like hearing about tactics that work and things that failed horribly. I know that I have all these entertaining, or interesting, or scary, and just real experiences while running, and I know that other runners must have had the same. I like hearing about it. Just like I like sharing mine.
We kept company with him for the next 5-6 miles. These were harsher miles, with the downed trees. The damage to the area was far more obvious in this section of the trail. Around mile 15, while climbing over a couple of massive trees, I made the mistake of sitting on one to get to the next one…and I realized how awesome just sitting down felt. Guys. Have you tried sitting? It’s pretty brilliant when your lower legs hurt and you’re feeling wiped out. Some less-than-gentle prodding from Char and I was moving again.
“This is going to be our slowest mile.” Char predicted.
“Nah. It was the last one.” I answered, though I wasn’t sure how I knew that. I hadn’t looked at my watch since the half-way aid station. But damn if I wasn’t right.
Some parts of the trail had a little water, some holes, and there were parts that required some light-footing to avoid the mud. For nearly 15 miles I had managed my way along this trail in my shiny and still so new (like 6 days old) running shoes. They’re the only pair I had. My last pair had a long life of over 900 miles, and really shouldn’t be worn again. I was testing out a new type of shoe, and this was the only shoe I had… Before mile 15, they lost their shine.
I came up on this little crick. Not quite a creek…more just a drainage way along the low spot between two hills. It was jumpable…maybe… you know… about 10 miles earlier in the run, but with how sharply my calves were protesting the activity, I just didn’t feel the jump. Along one edge of the trail portion rested a log. I managed numerous other bitty water/mud-ways by hopping along a log to pass the area. So that’s what I did. I hit near the middle of the log, and the log fucking submerged in the water. The log, my foot, and nearly all of me, sank into the watery-mud. Of course, since physics says that two things can’t exist in the same location at the same moment, the mud had to go somewhere. Somewhere…like me. All up on me. It was unexpected, and shocky, and smelled bad. I growled angrily, and Char called to see if I was okay, but she was already making the same mistake I did before I could warn her in answer. Man, that mud stank. I’m not saying I was covered in it…in fact, my mud coverage wasn’t as bad as it usually gets (and I’m including normal city-based runs in this consideration. I find mud. Tide detergent could sponsor me. Seriously. Tide? Have your marketing team call me). But I was spattered, for sure.
It wasn’t long after the untrustworthy log in the mud puddle that the course took a sharp turn onto a concrete path, and then up and out of the woods, to the main aid station.
Loop one was over, and took just shy of 4 hours to complete for me. Stephanie was in the aid station, stressing over whether she would make the second lap in time. We all pushed her on, encouraging her, and she started out, a little uncertain, but determined. Char came into the aid station a little bit behind me. She was getting worn out by the trail and the heat, and technically still recovering from a recent foot injury that had her in a boot.
“Char!” I yelled when she emerged from the woods. “Char! Did you know this food is free? Come on!”
I stuffed myself with peanut butter and jelly sandwich bits, gummy bears, pretzels, another shot of coke, and grabbed some more pretzels to take with me.
We had a couple of people from the group hanging around the shelter, there to support the runners doing the 50 miles. They were giving encouragement and keeping the rest of the running groups updated with live video feeds. They were also pacing the runners on their loops. One of the women saw my legs covered in mud and asked if I fell somewhere. Studying my legs I explained, “No. I didn’t. I didn’t fall. This is just… this is just me.”
Char was ready to kick it. So we headed out to start lap 2.
Lap 2 was almost derailed as soon as it started. Char started feeling the start of cramps in her legs. These are like charlie horse level, mass-destruction cramps. Thinking quickly, I dialed up our friend back at the aid station to see if someone could drive a shot of pickle juice out to us. Karen was on her way to save the day! By the time we were crossing the dam, Char had pickle juice and was relieved that she wasn’t going to have to crawl to the finish. “There’s no doubt I’m finishing this.” She assured me. We started running as we hit the grassy field that dumped us into the trails.
It wasn’t long into the second lap that I realized four things. First, I didn’t swing past my car to grab more s-tabs. I only had four, and with the heat becoming more intense, cutting the recommended use (2 per hour) in half wasn’t going to work out if I kept sweating more and more. I was going to be without salt replacement for most of this lap, and that could get serious. Second, I have medication I have to take in the middle of the day, and I didn’t have it with me. I was screwed, because it would be three hours after time to take it when I’d get to it. Third, if this lap took as long (or longer) as the first one, I’d be running for 8 hours or more. Not long before finishing lap one, I told Sandal-Man, “I don’t know about running 8 hours or more. Once you’re at that amount of time, running is work, and I’m not ready for my running to be anything but a great way to spend a couple of hours…not take all day.” I was staring at doing exactly what I didn’t want: running for 8 hours. And lastly, I lost Char.
The stress of realizing that I needed to get back to take meds and the annoyance with myself for how slowly I was taking the trails had me cutting a pretty decent pace throughout the whole second lap, but largely at the beginning, where all the shade was. At first, I was very aware that Char was falling back, and I kept checking in with her and slowing and waiting for her. But then that fucking swinging bridge was there, and, not wanting to get caught on it while someone else was running across it again, I sprinted it…and then I just didn’t stop. I slowed, but I found my groove and I settled in – taking hills a little too fast (Marked by getting those little spots of fuzzy around the edges of my vision) and really killing it on the flat lines. The concern for ticks was there throughout the first lap (So badly that my talking about it got Char a little phobic about ticks…sorry, Char), but on the second lap, with no one to talk to for distraction, I became amazingly paranoid about the presence of ticks – especially in the trail portions covered with tall grasses. These I sprinted through too, to limit my time in them.
Around mile 19 or so, I slowed to catch my breath after such a sprint, and learned that there are some nasty biting flies in the woods.
“Shit! I got bit! Nature is biting me! Why is nature so bitey?!” I texted to Karen, desperate for some distraction.
“Did you fumigate?” She responded.
“Well. You need to fumigate.”
This addition of nasty bitey bugs created a world wherein I was sprinting through the tall grasses, to avoid the ticks I just knew had to be there, and charging hard through the shady parts of the woods to avoid the flies and their bite (Seriously though, are they blood suckers or just being bitches? What’s up with biting flies?). I was getting hot faster and faster, and not cooling down anymore. There was no air flow in among the trees, and it was noon. The sun was well up and bearing down, and the temps were rising. I’d get so that I would feel a headache coming on, and I’d slow down to take an s-tab, which I was begrudgingly using at a rate of one every half hour. I was down to one left coming up on mile 9, and I still had another hour of running to go. This lap, I didn’t debate taking in the cliff shot when I started to feel hunger. I quickly took down a caffeinated one at a water stop, refilled, drank down, and refilled again my water bottle, and was off.
Not long and I was catching up with Sandal Man. I passed him during one of his walk breaks, and tried to remember which land mark meant that the aid station was coming up in the next clearing (Hint: It was ‘creepy lady’s shelter’. Yes. There was some seriously creepy, or completely wasted, woman staring through us when we passed her at this shelter in the midst of the trees and trail on lap one).
Finally, I came upon the aid station shelter, and I noticed that right across from it was one of those really, really old graveyards.
“Guys!” I said, coming up to the aid station volunteers who were just finishing replenishing the food stuffs from the last surge of runners. They gave me their full attention, as though they expected some bad news about another runner on the trail.
“This is the dead-center of the race! See? Dead center!” I exclaimed, pointing to the grave yard. A runner that was seated in a folding chair and stretching her leg laughed loudly. The volunteer chuckled politely and took my water bottle from me as he asked, “Do you need more water? Let me get you some ice”.
I thought it was pretty clever…
Dead. Center. Guys! A graveyar…oh, forget it.
Refreshed on some salty snacks, and life saved by the aid station having s-tabs! Thank gahd! I asked him to give me as many as he could spare, and I tucked them into my water bottle pouch. No one mentioned the joke…I suspect that they figured I was just delirious. I was “strongly encouraged” to eat some watermelon. I’d never thought to have watermelon during a run before. It was delicious, but, like the name says, it’s mostly water.
This time I didn’t over-eat at the stop and my stomach felt fine heading back out on the run. I got jammed up a little bit trying to get over the guardrail this time. My legs were heavy and didn’t want to step that high, and once I got my leg over, the rail was high enough that I felt the sting of hot metal against my upper thigh. That motivated quite a quick response out of me and I hustled the other leg over it. For the last 7 miles, I struggled to figure out which hurt more: trying to go over the trees, or having to squat and climb under them.
I was again, keeping time with Sandal Man, chatting happily. He was working his run/walk method, and eventually I realized that I just wanted to get the race over with. So I buzzed past and dropped him. And then I was passing a few other runners.
I think its important to point something out, specifically for my running crew who know me – who know that I don’t like running alone, I don’t like not having music or something to zone out to when I’m by myself, and I don’t like trails. The trail was starting to become difficult as I hit the section with all the downed trees, and I was…happy. I was so damn content that the realization struck me like lightning. It was a snap, like the breaking of a fever, realizing how happy I was in that moment.
I was mostly running. Slowing to climb over trees and maneuver the occasional branches. I was so alone that every once in a while I wondered if I was still on the right trail and I would panic a little until I saw the orange line that indicated that I was in the right spot. I felt…whole. The trail wound near the lake with less than three miles left to go, and I marveled at how gorgeous it was to see that. I could almost believe that I was somewhere else…somewhere that wasn’t Ohio. It was like hiking a trail toward the beach and ocean…it was transportive (Which isn’t a word, and that’s probably why it grasps this feeling so well) and moving and I was able to hold that feeling in myself as I ran. And it was Brilliant!
And then I hit that mud puddle with the log. How could I have forgotten this damn spot!? I fell for it again. I tried to cross on the log again and got my foot dunked in the mud again.
But even that didn’t really dampen this feeling of…well, practically euphoria… that I was basking in. I was hot, and sweating, and loving my cool water drink. I was sore and tired and felt myself running just above auto-pilot. I was in the moment, and for the first time in a long while, it didn’t suck to be in the moment. In less than a mile I’d be finished and drinking water and chilling with all my friends. I was having a great day. Despite all those things I didn’t like on a normal day: All the hours of running, the trail, the ticks, the poison ivy, the loneliness… I was feeling so great.
I hit the pavement that marked the last uphill turn and would dump the runners out into the picnic area and finish area. I ran hard up the hill and through the politely clapping people to the finish line, where I was handed my medal.
I hurriedly took care of that medicine issue, and then returned to collapse on a seat and wait for everyone else to come in. I was told by Karen’s husband that she was “tricked” into pacing a final lap with Erin, one of the 50 mile runners with our group, and she was not happy. Checking my phone, I saw a message from Karen:
“Nature is biting me!”
I laughed and responded with, “Did you fumigate before you went out?” Throwing her words back at her.
Me: “Well. Do what I did and just run faster!”
Karen: “I’m just trying to survive. Smack Jon. This is way more running than he said!!”
Me: “Can’t. We’re too busy setting up bets from the crowd on you.” And then I sent her a picture of us high-fiveing each other, explaining that I smacked him.. with a high five. She was not amused.
The heat of the afternoon set around me like a blanket, and combining that with my exhaustion from the running and the beer that I may or may not have been handed by someone…I was starting to fade out fast. I could have curled up on the ground and slept happily if it weren’t for the aches in my calves.
Char finished a little while later, showing exhaustion and pride over her achievement. We ended up leaving before the bulk of our 50 mile runners got back in. I couldn’t keep myself up any longer, and still had to drive home. Char had things to do with her family too.
I’m so proud to say that Stephanie completed her first 50 mile run like a boss! And I’m so proud of her, and the other runners who destroyed that distance in the heat and with the time constraints. Way to go Pain By Numbers!
My recovery didn’t take as long as it has in the past. I was up and moving around a lot the next day, and too busy to run the next two days, which kind of forced me to recover.
I’m glad I signed up for this last minute. I’m glad I was motivated and got out of bed to make it out. I didn’t stress about it like I do before races normally. And I got to spend time with a great group of friends. Time with people I needed to be around. I’d say the only downfall is that people seem to think that I’m ‘all-in’ on this trail running thing now. I’m not. I still do not like running on trails. I mean, they were very beautiful. And peaceful. But I don’t always need peaceful. I want crowds and feeling like a rockstar. I like being loud and encouraging. I like being able to run beside someone, not single file. Also. Ticks remain a thing. There are still ticks. And. Poison Ivy. Which I managed to dodge having an allergic reaction to, somehow, on that day…but I reacted to two days later, when I put my shoes on to run again. I had to decontaminate my new running shoes!
You don’t have to read below the next line. It’s just some closing thoughts, and it gets pretty deep. If you’re here for the race recap, it ends here. If you’re here for the full experience of a runner and a human life, and how the running can fulfill someone, then feel free to keep reading.
Cheers! And thanks for reading this long post!
After thoughts, from the trail run I didn’t expect to enjoy:
Something clicked for me, little by little, as I was out running this trail.
It started as just a good feeling. And then it progressed to a feeling of contentment. It stuck around for when I felt overheated, when I lost my running buddy Char on lap two, and even as I felt awful over the fact that it was taking me so long to do this run.
It was happiness.
I was happy to be there.
Despite my hate for trail running, which usually ties with my phobia-like dread of ticks.
Despite the onslaught of biting bugs around mile 19.
Despite the extreme exhaustion from lack of sleep, early hours start, and the energy used in the sapping heat.
I was so goddamn happy. Even when I was so alone that I felt myself stressing out over if I was still on the right trail or not. Happy to be running. Happy to have just enough time to chat with other runners, and then happy to be by myself for a while. Happy to mutter jokes to the volunteers at the aid stations, and have people around me chuckle. Happy to see my running friends all working toward their goals and sweating with effort and, I suspect, their own deep happiness.
It’s been a couple of years since running just came to me like it did during that day. Where I could sign up for a last minute race – of any distance – and just go there with my friends and have a blast, no matter how well or poorly I perform. Its been a long time since I’ve wanted to wake up for these kinds of runs. Where I felt like there was a reason to.
And man, as that realization came over me while I chugged along and scaled trees and sprinted away from bitey bugs and potential “tick haven” areas…I just felt so…. Whole.
I felt like how I was when I first fell in with the Pain By Numbers Running group, and started feeling comfortable calling them friends.
Its awful that things in one part of my life got so bad that it nearly wiped out all of these things that made me this happy. But its brilliant to know that these things are still here, now that I’m able to pick my head up and be in them to the fullest again. And it amazes and pleases me so much still, that I could run a type of race I don’t like, for a distance I was not trained for, and I could have just SO. Very. Much. Fun. It was like being high.
I’ve never personally been high on drugs. Not my thing. But, I had a lot of occasion to have a lot of contact with people who were high, or getting high, or coming off a high. I know what they looked like when they were in it. And, to me, that’s how I was after the race. Talking happy non-sense, content to chill in one place or another, or just sitting and staring into space while I replayed all the happy moments, and challenges, and conversations of the race in my head.
My husband was amused and patient when I returned home. I’m sure he listened to the same three jokes get retold a dozen times, because I wanted him to be part of this experience too. He rubbed my shins and my knee and let me fall asleep as soon as we were home from dinner. He promised he would stop me from my next “crazy whim” running thing. But I don’t think he was serious. He spent all of the next day telling me how much I needed that race, and that on-a-whim thing. It used to be common from me. My husband couldn’t hide how happy he was that this trait has come back. We’ll see if he stays that happy when he’s having to wake up at 4AM for a drive with me….
Cheers! For real this time!