So! Yesterday was my second go at the Dizzy Fifties 50K. I’ve been running the trails for weeks in preparation but – as I learned last year – there’s really no way of preparing for the mental taxing that running them THREE TIMES takes on you.
Yesterday was no different. It just tolled on me in a different way this year!
My main goal was to beat last year’s time of 7:40. I knew I could do it by simply minimizing my stops at aid (I lollygagged last year) and by running down Cold Springs (I wasn’t trail-worn enough yet last year to try). I was worried at first though because I feared the wet leaves would slow me down on Cold Springs, but I’ve been running a bit faster this year on average so I hoped beating my 7:40 would still be feasible.
I did the first 2+ miles slow and easy at 27 minutes. I didn’t even stop at the aid and just started on my first of 3 North and South loops. The North Loop went well and I actually ran okay down Cold Springs, the leaves were only bad on the big rocks – so I was more careful on those. I did the first North Loop in under an hour (about 53 minutes) which made me VERY happy. I grabbed an uncrustable and headed out on the first South Loop.
This is where I’ll detour with one small anecdote. I have absolutely NO natural sense of direction. NONE. So, when I’m training for a local trail race I spend weeks before running the course with maps and turn-by-turn printouts. I memorize every turn just so I feel comfortable on race day. I knew that Dizzy Course in my SLEEP.
This came in VERY handy at the start of the South Loop when a kind woman walking her dog was telling runners to go the wrong way. There are two chunks of trail marked because you come BACK on one stretch and go OUT on another. She had seen runners going the wrong way evidently before, so she told people to go the wrong way, I guess. I stopped the group in front of me and told them which way to go. About a mile later? I started getting passed by fast people. A huge chunk of them. It was mildly depressing, but it turns out that they had gone the wrong way and didn’t realize it until they saw the lead runners running TOWARDS them. So…score one for Kim having no natural sense of direction!
I wanted to finish that first South Loop in under 1:10 because I started realizing I could come in under 7 hours if I continued to pace well. I made my goal with a few minutes to spare and set out on the 2nd/Middle loops. This was the hardest part for me last year because I just got so depressed. I was getting tired and sore and I knew I still had to do BOTH loops one last time before finishing.
This kinda happened again this time, but not as bad as last year. I made both loops under my goals again, keeping me on track to finish in 7 hours, even allowing for a tad bit of a slower last loop. Unfortunately, at the end of the 2nd South Loop I stubbed my toe REALLY bad (I had a few falls already, nothing too bad) and was worried I broke it. I hobbled for a good half of a mile. I made a quick aid stop, noting my back was already starting to hurt a bit. (It usually starts hurting about 5+ hours, but it started hurting at 4:30 yesterday.)
I started on my last North/South loops and I was starting to hit bottom mentally and physically. I decided my toe wasn’t broken, but it was still aching. I was having periodic threats of quad cramps. I was feeling lonely because I hadn’t really run with anyone all day. I stumbled AGAIN and caught myself weird on a tree, kinda pulling my back in a weird direction. Basically? I hit rock bottom on my LAST loops this year, when I did on the MIDDLE loops last year. Go figure. When I got to Cold Springs AGAIN, my back was REALLY hurting so I barely ran down it at all. I spent the entire rest of the North loop going back and forth between walking and running, trying to find a stride/form that would alleviate the pain in my back.
I never found it.
It took me about 1:10 to finish the North Loop. 15+ minutes slower than the previous two times. I knew for SURE the South Loop would be even slower so I started – very sadly – giving up on my sub-7 hour goal.
I stopped for my longest aid stop to chug some Diet Coke (saved for my last stop) and to take some Ibuprofen for my back. It was KILLING me. And I hadn’t eaten in a couple of hours because my stomach was NOT wanting food. I started out on my last loop with a 5:40 clock time, only giving me 1:20 to come in under 7 hours. It had taken me 1:10 when I was feeling good, so I didn’t see how I could make my new goal. I sadly trudged on…trying to seek solace in at least beating last year’s time. Which was my original goal all along.
For the first mile I was only running the downhills and doing this weird walk thing with my butt out, trying to stretch my back. At one point I looked at my watch and I had only been on that loop 10 minutes. Meaning under a mile. The loop was 5.5 miles. I was MISERABLE.
And then, about a mile and a half in, I hear someone come up from behind me. I turn around, prepared to get off the trail to let them pass and it’s a FRIEND! A familiar face!!! And he seemed as excited to see someone he knew as well. He is normally in the lead packs of runners but he had combined the 50K with another race because he’s insane, so he was finishing in the back. He was actually a whole other set of loops behind me. So, I was four miles from done. He was 13, and maybe as miserable as I was because he had already run 30 miles at that point.
He was walking some too and I told him I had given up on my sub-7 goal. He looked at his watch and was like, Kim…you can still do it. We have plenty of time.
And what happened next is one of my favorite things about running. AFTER THE FACT. During? It sucks. But after? It’s great to reflect on.
I basically pushed through those last 4 miles, running at times faster than I had most of the time, just because a friend was helping me. I put the pain, and the misery aside and pushed with my mind where my body was empty. Every part of my body: feet, legs, back – all wanted to stop. To walk. To crawl. But I ran anyway. We still walked up a few of the little hills, and I rewarded myself with a walk break when we hit this gravel road I hate. But basically? I ran that South loop in 1:08. The EXACT time I ran the other two. And considering I walked a lot before my friend found me? I ran my last 4 miles faster than the other miles in the day.
I came in at 6:48. A full 12 minutes ahead of my new goal. The funny thing is? We picked up another struggling runner along the way. My friend hollered at her, “Come on! Stay with us! We’re taking walk breaks, you can do it!!” And she did. And she thanked both of us profusely later.
So…when I say running is often 80% mental? I lie. Sometimes it’s 100%. And running friends can change your entire day. Which is why I keep an arsenal of 50 million of them on hand.
Please forgive any typos or grammatical errors. It’s 4am and Wesley woke up with leg cramps so I’m typing this in the dark, rubbing his leg. Proofreading will NOT be happening today.