We loaded Nikki into the car at 5am as she was looking forward to being our “race support” for the day. At least until we got there at it was 27 degrees. Then she started reconsidering the entire adventure. (Spoiler Alert: When Donnie left immediately after my finish, she requested to stay with me because she was having so much fun. Don’t pity her TOO much.)
I was already nervous about my back going into this race as I seem to be at about a 2-hour limit before it starts really hurting. But – other ailments I’ve been wrestling this season have been nutrition and my broken toe. The good news is? The nutrition and the broken toe caused me ZERO issues. The bad news is? I whined about my back and the pain I was in for 5 hours.
But – let’s not get ahead of ourselves!
This is my 3rd go at this race. My first one was difficult and I walked a lot and emotionally fell apart on the South Loop #2. (You do the North Loop of the course and the South Loop of the course 3 times each.) My second year I fell apart on the South Loop #3. It now seems very fitting that I fell apart on the South Loop #1 this time. IT IS ALWAYS THAT DAMN SOUTH LOOP. I started falling apart because there’s a 3 mile stretch on the SAME trail (Bucca bike trail, for you locals) where I feel like there’s VERY minimal change of scenery (zig zag through the woods) and it get’s VERY boring and VERY lonely and y’all? I started to lose my mind. Partly because that trail makes me so crazy. Partly because my back was ALREADY starting to hurt and I new I was not even at the 12 mile mark yet so it was going to be a LONG day. I finally got off that trail and was on the last 2 miles of that loop when my running friend Amanda showed up behind me and I would tell her later, “I almost kissed you I was so happy to see you.”
(Side note: the North Loop had this section between where we turned off of the Mountain Mist trail and onto Sinks and there was about a mile and a half of the most perfect autumn trails. Gorgeous freshly fallen yellow leaves covered the ground but there were still plenty in the trees and the sun was shining through JUST PERFECTLY all day long so it would have been REALLY hard not to have gotten some boost from the scenery Mother Nature blessed us with for that stretch. Most of the rest of the course was brown and dead but that stretch? The stuff of dreams!)
She was doing her “effort” loop that her coach had told her to do so she was definitely running faster than I was but I told her I was going to try to keep up because I was SO desperate for company. And I did keep up with her. We started the North Loop #2 together but spread out a bit as I’m a tiny bit faster on the downhill but I’m slower everywhere else so by the time we finished that 4-mile loop she had caught back up with me and I was DETERMINED not to lose her on the next South Loop since that’s obviously where my brain starts to deteriorate.
The next 9.6 miles (1 South Loop and 1 North Loop) were kind of steady. We had picked up another running friend, Colleen, and we were all basically alternating our Ups and Downs emotionally and physically so we would take turns leading. We all periodically would walk to stretch things out, but for the most part we ran a very steady pace with very minimal walk breaks. I broke down and took 400mg of Ibuprofen before our last North Loop but decided it didn’t do crap and my back was actually hurting worse so I took 400mg more before starting the VERY difficult FINAL South Loop.
Amanda had done some quick math and decided we could actually do a sub-7 hour finish. I hadn’t been wearing a watch the entire day and was just calculating hopeful finish times with the race clock at each loop. I told her I would do my best. One of our local phenom runners (who had just won the Krispy Kreme challenge that morning) hung with us to keep us on pace, I think he was determined to help Amanda reach her goal. I was about 50% determined to stay with her but my back was hurting SO BAD.
About mile 27-28 I saw this PERFECT tree off to the side of the trail. It was down but it looked to be a GREAT fit for my back so I hollered, “I’m stepping off trail to stretch my back, I’ll try to catch up.”
And I laid down backwards over that perfect tree and considered never moving again. It was PERFECT. It took all of the tension out of my back and I just stared up at the blue sky amidst the partially naked autumn trees and decided I could die there and be happy. But then I remembered my group and knew the longer I waited, the harder it would be to catch up. So, I got up (kinda sadly) and pushed it to catch them. I did get about 5 minutes of less painful running, but the back stretch didn’t last near long enough. I caught up with them at about mile 18 and told them, “I’m here, but if I see another perfect tree to stretch on, I’m pulling off again.”
But – I guess it was a good thing – I never saw another perfect tree. Our friend Colleen was feeling a little bit steadier than Amanda and I were and at that point we were SO close to the finish she just kept moving even when we stopped and stretched. BUT! With Eric’s (the Krispy Keme King himself) help, when we were running? We were still on pace for a sub-7 hour finish. Which is a PRIMO finish in my book. And while the last 2 miles were tough, we did it with VERY minimal walking and with A LOT of self-cheering, “We can do it! We got this! We’re almost there!” and we pulled into that finish line at around 6:56 clock time. IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL THING.
While that was definitely the most pain I’ve ever been in during a Dizzy 50K, it was still my favorite. Not quite a PR but I wasn’t going for a PR so I’m SUPER happy with my time and VERY grateful my friend found me at just the right moment before I was going to throw in the towel and walk 21 miles.
About 99 out of 100 of my races have finishes that have depended entirely on my running friends, which means I’m eternally grateful for each and every one of them. #LuckyRunnerGirl
As always – unless otherwise noted – pictures are taken by our local race photographer Gregg Gelmis from We Run Huntsville.