A Dirty German pulled me back from the edge of despair yesterday.
It was a stupid decision on many levels to run that race. I had never trained for the distance, my hip is still healing, and after 3 weeks of barely running (or any other cardio), my fitness level felt compromised.
But I showed up. Just show up.
I wanted to run the 50k, but I only had enough cash for the 25k. I thought maybe it was a sign from the Universe, but I trekked back to my car and checked all my secret cash-stashing places. Found a 20 – bingo. Within minutes I had my cool swag and I was pinning that bib to my shirt.
I felt extremely calm and a little bit foolish for doing something so rash. I sat quietly and waited for the race to begin, reflecting on my stubborn personality but knowing that this race could save me from drowning in self-pity.
I’m learning small tricks with every event – this time I used the port-o-john early, and I was able to relax while I watched others stress in a very long line.
The weather was perfectly divine. I couldn’t imagine a better day to try this thing.
We lined up at the start after some confusion about which direction to face, and then we were off across an open field to head into the woods. The congestion forced us into a walk from the very beginning, but eventually things opened up.
The trail is an entirely different animal than the road. The road will let you zone out – the road will let you forget it’s a road. But the trail demands your undivided attention. One false move and you’re flattened and/or bruised and bleeding. Mud holes, roots, large rocks and fallen trees are all part of the obstacle course and force you to be completely present in the moment and focused on the task at hand. There is nothing else – only running and surviving the trail.
In this, I did succeed.
An ultra-marathon is much more of a social event than a road race. Zoned-out roadies are focused on pace and breathing and the only time we think about another person is if they’re in our way or about to pass us. Not so in the distance. Long conversations stretched out over miles. The aid stations were like dreamy buffets, full of such wonderful delights as salty potatoes, cheese crackers, pretzels, cookies, twizzlers, nuts, soda, salt tablets, Vaseline, tiny sandwiches, chips, and my all-time favorite – peanut m&m’s. Yummo.
We lingered at each stop for a little while – enough time to eat, drink, digest, catch our breath, and exchange friendly encouragement and smiles with our fellow runners until we were ready to tackle another section of the trail. The volunteers were like angels from heaven, checking on each of us and catering to us like doting parents.
One man sat out all day long at a confusing figure-8 intersection, just to point us in the right direction. He was beautiful and smiling and encouraging, and every time I passed him I wondered what could possess a person to be so selfless for a bunch of crazy strangers. My last time through, I was both relieved and sad that I wouldn’t see him again.
The 50k distance at the Dirty German was made up of two loops.
The first loop was without consequence, but I grew weary towards the end of it, and I was grateful to have an angel running just in front of me who paced me perfectly.
We talked to pass the time, and she just kept plugging along with me following on her heels like a loyal puppy.
Approaching the start/finish on a loop course is tough, because the shorter race is finished and the other runners have to dig deep and go in again. I wanted to be done. I considered dropping at that point, because my hip was nagging, and I knew the second loop would be the monster. I grabbed some potato pancakes and a twizzler, and headed back into the woods. Just do it.
The second loop is where I broke down and found my inner strength and peace.
I was running alone for most of it.
My hip was complaining, and I knew I was on the edge of another pull, so I nursed it and took my time.
My only goal was to finish the damn thing.
Birds sang, water flowed, and twigs cracked underneath my feet.
I left my music off and let my soul fill up with all of these beautiful things.
The woods surrounded me with calming energy and comforted me as it so often did in my childhood.
While much of the mud had dried, the roots and rocks grew bigger in that second round, and my feet were like lead. I stubbed my toes so many times that if I end up keeping most of my toenails, I’ll be happily surprised.
After a very long and painful loop, I emerged from the woods with a smile and a kick in my step towards that gorgeous finish line. I heard clapping and shouts and then someone called my name – my friend was running towards me with a hug and warm welcome into the club of ultra-runners.
My dream has only just begun.