Around 3:15 p.m. today I hurriedly opened the door to my car, sat down and began sobbing.
I had just run for 8 hours and 10 minutes for a goal but didn’t achieve it. There was no applause for me at the finish line. Instead I gave the race official notice that I was dropping out and quietly slipped into the sidelines. One person congratulated me while I overheard another saying I didn’t finish. I had so many emotions inside as I rushed to my car to let the tears burst.
Months ago I registered for the Tallahassee Ultra Distance Classic 50-miler while still hyped up from my first ultra marathon, Crooms 50k. I juggled training for the 50 while gearing up for the Ironman, mostly achieved by adding an 8ish mile run the day after a long run. Everything was great until this past month when I traveled, worked and got engaged. My runs got shorter and training was put on the back burner.
Still, this morning I lined up with about 20 other runners next to a little chalk line waiting for the race director to yell, “go.” We were off and I started playing with the numbers in my head. One mile is two percent. Every five miles was 10%. The more I thought about it the less daunting 50 miles seemed.
My tight legs loosened up after a couple of miles (like they always do) and I really settled into a nice groove of running:walking 8:1. I felt strong. Around mile 16 I felt a few sharp pains in my left knee that made me stop for a minute. The soles of my feet felt tortured and behind my knees (mostly the left) was in pain. Otherwise, the rest of my body and my breathing was solid.
The course was a loop of six miles in the shape of a T with two aid stations. It was a small race but the out-and-back setting made running alone a rarity. Most people knew each other from the local track club. I liked that six mile loops seemed less intimidating, but it was hard always passing my car and the option to jump in and leave!
From the beginning the race director talked about 50-milers who chose to drop down to the 50k. In my mind he made it sound like an option. This was the first downfall: from the beginning I allowed myself to think I could just finish with the 50k group. Having an out from the start isn’t good.
My legs were hurting pretty bad around mile 20. At this point I started to prepare to end at 50k. Richard’s texts and your tweets reminded me that I’m strong and not to give in. Crap! You guys were supposed to say, “sure! quit! take the easy route!”
I realized ending at 50k would only be because it was such a convenient end and not because I needed to quit. I’m fine with backing out when necessary, but convenience should never be my reason. So, since I couldn’t say my body needed to stop at 31 miles, I went out for another loop.
Good news: I PRed (set a personal record) for the 50k! At 6:36 I beat my previous time by 36 minutes! And I had the energy to keep running!
Good Lord the back of my leg killed me on this loop. I couldn’t extend my left leg so running was awkward and walking was basically limping. I tried to jog it out before settling to a fast walk…. which slowed to a more casual walk… which ended with a “please let me float to the fcar” walk. I tried out a slow jog and everything in my body hurt. I stretched. I did downward dog (which helps a lot, by the way).
I know what endurance events and running on empty feel like. Seven weeks earlier I finished an Ironman and wasn’t in any kind of pain like this. This wasn’t good.
I thought of my options. I could hobble 15 more miles in pain, even after the finish line and aid stations were torn down… or I could take my 50k PR, personal distance record and still un-injured body and leave the race early. Regardless, I did an ultra marathon. It wasn’t a total fail.
Once I saw mile 32 took 18 minutes and I wasn’t getting any better I decided to head straight to the finish line to check out. I was still set on completing a 50 mile race at some point, but my body was telling me loud and clear that this was not my day.
As an athlete I easily get caught up in the “must finish” mindset of a race so much so that the race becomes more important than me. I don’t respond to pain like most people. I push and push and achieve and get the job done. I tweeted: Sometimes walking away from a run that is no longer good is the reminder we need that we are more than runners.
I tweeted, facebooked and texted that I was dropping out but I was 100% okay with this decision. And I was. Kind of.
Until minutes later when I sat in my car sobbing.
I’m proud for stopping when I knew the race was over for me, avoiding injury, PRing the 50k and running farther than I ever have before. I’m sad I didn’t finish the race I set out to do and invested 8 hours 10 minutes toward. I’m mad because I know the reason I couldn’t finish is entirely because of my lack of training.
I’m not sure if this was a good experience… or an okay experience… or a bad experience. I wanted to do 50 and I didn’t. My body said a big “NO” and I know it’s because of my preparation. Still, I ran an amazing 36.4 miles and that alone is something to celebrate.
Runs don’t have to be all good or all bad. I believe each one is a learning experience about our minds, our hearts and our bodies. I learned a lot today… a lot that I want to put toward rocking the next 50!
Thank you to everyone on Twitter who cheered me on during the whole experience. I read each tweet and they certainly kept me from feeling alone! Thank you!