Last Friday night I packed up my Jenny vest and a drop bag. I made a messy pile of “will wear tomorrow” clothes and pinned my bib to my shorts. On Saturday morning I showed up at the Dirty Thirty 50K start line with trail shoes tied to my feet. I chatted with people nearby and waved to familiar faces. Shortly after 7am the RD counted down and we were off…
Just after noon on Saturday I walked into an aid station, kicked off my shoes and choked out the words “I’m not going back out” to the closest volunteer. I was done. I gave up. I quit. I was not going to finish this race. I was officially DNF’ing my first race.
Because the Dirty 30 was a race I signed up for on a whim and I have really high hopes for solid racing at the Mt Evans Ascent and North Fork 50M…and it’s hard to prepare for a strong race when you’re couch-ridden thanks to an injury you got pushing it too hard during a “training race”.
A fabricated excuse to get back to the start/finish area for massages and drinks? Maybe. But probably not.
So, what happened before I wimped out and bailed on a race I paid a fair bit of money for? I ran, hiked and stumbled around on the trails. I stretched and massaged my leg/foot. I shoveled food in my mouth at each aid station. I successfully covered my shoes in mud only to wash it all way in a rushing creek. I had fun. I chatted with trail strangers and profusely thanked every volunteer I came near. It was a good day. Mostly.
The race started a bit late because everyone had to be shuttled into the park, a new step for this race because last year’s flooding washed out the main parking lot. We got a quick rundown of what to expect on the course [mud, hills, rocks] then we were off. The first quarter mile was on the road then we came to a standstill while everyone funneled onto the single track.
We meandered our way uphill along a rushing creek for a few miles. Almost every creek crossing had a dry option…except for the last. By the time we got there I was ready for the cold water! Running wasn’t easy peasy, but it wasn’t unbearable. I had high hopes for this being that race where you don’t find your grove until you’ve covered 10+ miles. High hopes… I hit the first aid station at the bottom of a valley feeling good. As I rolled in I heard my name – this aid station was full of familiar faces and I left it excited to come back through at mile 23…and not just for the real Mt Dew they were serving!
The nearly 7 mile trek to the next aid station had lots of climbing with a few drops, just to send us back up again. I was feeling okay for the first portion of this stretch. The tendons across the top of my foot were getting irritated, but they were still functional…manageable. As we neared the second aid station [mile 11.8] I knew I was in trouble. My right foot had gotten worse and the left one joined in, just for fun. With every step – walked or ran – I could feel the tendons screaming at me. When I realized they weren’t going to calm down the tears came, hard. I came into the aid station prepared to drop, to give up.
It was a bustling aid station with cheery volunteers thanking us for being out there and running. How do you give up when someone is thanking you for being the reason they are outside sweating, manhandling food and waiting on us hand and foot?!
Rather than quit I kidnapped chips and M&Ms as I fought off the tears then thanked them for being incredible. I sent myself back onto the trail before anyone had the chance to ask why I was such a mess. Within a mile of the aid station I knew I wasn’t going to finish the race…but I’d come too far to turn around to drop at the last aid station so I kept moving forward.
The 5 miles that lead to the third aid station took forever. It was a mix of making myself keep it together with chatter and smiles when I was with other runners and completely losing my cool when I was by myself. I nearly killed my phone’s battery wishing for cell phone reception in the mountains. I knew it was futile but I desperately wanted someone to give me permission to quit, someone to tell me it was the right decision.
Along the way I came across a spectator who called me by name. He knew who I was because of mutual friends but I had no idea who he was. I’d been alone before I came upon him so I’m sure I looked a teary mess, but he never let on and kept the positive encouragement flowing! Thank you Neeraj, you have no idea what a difference you made in my craptastic race, even though I didn’t finish!
I swear the aid station kept moving further and further away. It was literally the longest 5 miles of my life. The trail got technical with a lot of scrambling. I actually enjoyed this – it was a nice break from the “well, I could run this but I’m being a big baby so I won’t” trails and with every climb stunning views of snowcapped mountains greeted me. Plus, intentionally tossing my handheld down the technical descents made me feel better about my day.
Yes, we were on course!
When I finally talked myself into quitting I decided I only had one option left – make the most of the time I had on the trails. As long as I didn’t think about my feet or the fact I may not be able to pull off a strong Mt Evans Ascent [or North Fork 50M!] I was okay. The trails are therapeutic like that. It was a beautiful day, I was in a stunningly green forest surrounded by mountains and my body was still working – I had things to be thankful for. The gorgeous weather brought families out onto the trails – it was impressive to see how far toddlers were hiking! They were incredible about trail etiquette – it’s hard not to laugh at the 4 year old yelling at her dad to “get off the trail, a runner girl is coming!”. I had to stay happy, I was not going to be the sad runner that made trail running look scary or stupid!
Eventually I saw balloons. And heard people! The aid station was near, it had to be! The descent into the aid station was easily runnable but by this time I had completely given up and it felt silly to run into an aid station if I was just going to quit when I got there. I really did literally kick off my shoes and toss my pack when I got to my drop bag. Hopefully people saw it as me getting ready to swap things out of my drop bag, not a hissy fit…but it was totally a hissy fit. I was pissed. Pissed at my feet/shins for being whiney bitches, pissed at myself for thinking I could run a 50K so close to my first 50M, pissed that this 17 miles felt harder than the entire 50M of Quad Rock, pissed that I was failing. Just plain pissed.
Two younger girls were the volunteers grabbing drop bags for runners and I think I freaked them out a bit when I tried to talk through my tears to ask who needed to know I was quitting. As I started toward the tent with a computer a guy walked up to a runner in a chair asking if he was ready to go. I jumped in – was he headed back to the start/finish? Could I come with? I had no clue if the driver was a volunteer or just another spectator but I wanted to leave, now. Luckily he was willing to take me and within 2 minutes of entering the aid station I was sitting in a car headed to the start/finish. The other runner dropped for the same reason – it was too early in the year to push an injury on a training race.
In my head I’d planned on hanging out at the aid station for awhile to work on my leg/foot and be supportive to anyone else coming in. Instead I got almost immediately whisked away to the finish where I was able to swap out my shoes, grab a bottomless Dirty 30 pint glass and hang out in the Elevate Legs demo tent. The finisher’s area was full of 12 mile finishers and a few speedy 50K runners. I saw a few familiar faces – faces I had seen on the trails near me, faces that also DNF’ed. It was oddly encouraging to know I wasn’t the only one having a rough day!
Storm clouds rolled through with a lot of noisy thunder but very little rain so I grabbed my jacket, refilled my pint glass and headed back onto the course, this time in reverse. I hiked out about a half mile cheering on the runners and promising a “nearby” finish with runnable trail. I made my way to the top of a hill and hung out for a bit – turns out this spectating thing is fun! Maybe I’ll quit racing and just spectate every weekend?
The next few hours floated by with a lot of spectating, pseudo-volunteering and pretending I was completely okay with my decision to quit. As the day wore on the tendons in my feet stayed “crunchy” so I knew I had done the right thing…and as the finishers talked about the climb on Windy Peak I decided I hadn’t really missed out on *that* much. Someday in the near future I’ll head out that way on my own just to see what it’s all about. Hopefully before I let my selective memory sign me up for this race again!
He ran 32 miles! And is still smiling!
It was a hard day out there, across the board. The list of DNF’ers grew and people were well over their estimated finish times…but Chris finished! He ran his very first 50K on an extremely challenging course on a hot day with a short bit of “oop, I got lost” mileage! He finished happy without the pain or low low’s he had dealt with at the Collegiate Peaks 25M! Chris officially became an ultramarathoner on Saturday, but I’ll let him tell that story later!
Am I happy that I DNF’ed? Well, happy isn’t the right word, but it was the right decision for me and my body. Had it been my goal race of the year or if I had a clear race calendar for the next month then I would have pushed on. My head was still in the game, my nutrition was solid, I was hydrated…it was just my feet/shins that stopped working right. The only consolation I have keeping myself sane when I think about upcoming races is that I did not blow all aspects of the race. Besides, the race started with heavy legs – might as well throw an already iffy race for the chance of a two solid races in the near future, right!?