Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
50 Miler Training,  Race Reports,  Running,  Trail Running,  Ultra Training

Anatomy of a DNF – Lake Martin 50 Race Recap

Why am I so bad at race reports? Why don’t I just admit that they’re the worst to write and just abandon them? Because my Type A personality won’t let them go, dammit! So I’ll continue to be a slave to my blog. This Lake Martin 50 race report will be a stream-of-consciousness post, so roll with me here. My old race report is much more useful.

Lake Martin 100/50/27 is a fantastic race. If you’ve considered running it but haven’t yet, do it! The course is a pleasant mix of rolling (read: hilly) single track and red clay jeep roads. It’s scenic and not technical and the perfect place to run your first ultra. Chris can attest to that. Plus, it’s a Southeastern Trail Runs race by David and Mary Jo Tosch, so you automatically know it’ll be well-run.

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running, Birmingham Ultra Trail Society
BUTS loving some Lake Martin

Good. Now that I’ve gotten the pleasantries out of the way, let’s get down to my race experience. My DNF. Technically, it’s not a DNF because I finished the 27-mile “fun run.” But it wasn’t the distance I signed up for, and this is my blog, so I’m calling it a DNF.

There are different types of DNFs (Did Not Finish). There are obvious sick/injured/missed cutoffs DNFs. There are “Fuck it, where’s the food and beer?” mental DNFs. And then there are the DNFs where your heart and body and brain get into a battle royale for hours until you succumb to common sense and quit so you can live to see another day. That was my day running Lake Martin 50.

Full disclosure—I was never really confident that I’d finish the 50. After my Mercedes ultra, I hadn’t had a single pain-free run. All of March was one big Groundhog Day from 2014. Same pain, same race distance, same outcome. Only this time, I was smart and stopped running before my “run” turned into a broken sad hobble like at Mississippi 50 where Sally’s boyfriend thought I had an actual disability.

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
He’s not far off – I am a little…deranged

So my only goal for the Lake Martin 50 was to run for as long as possible without doing further damage to my L4. Or SI joint. Or lady bits. Or whatever was the source of my hurt.

Which I did, successfully. I threw in the towel when my body said it was time to call it quits, and walked (not limped) off the course proudly. But not without going through all five stages of grief while deciding to drop.

Denial

Sally, Mindy, and I drove out to Lake Martin early that morning, rocking out to some T Swift to wake us up. I had felt that telltale shot of pain up my leg when I stepped out of bed. Awesome. But nothing was going to stop me from toeing that start line. Because, stubborn.

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Mile 1. Ow. 49 more miles. I got this.

I ran the first 12 miles at a comfortable pace, chatting it up with friends, taking photos, and enjoying the scenery of Lake Martin. The sun rose and the light filtered through the trees onto the new spring grass and leaves and flowers—I was smitten with trail running all over again. I could run forever! Except that every blessed step hurts. But fuck that! Yay trails! No pain, no gain!

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
It’s so pretty! But I don’t got this.

I spent a lot of those miles being distracted by Chris, who was running his first ultra. You should know all about it if you clicked on his race report in the beginning of this post. If not, go read it now and come back. Good? Good.

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
This is Chris. Hi Chris.
Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
Chris left me some great photos on my phone

Chris and his famous blogger wife Rachel are the best couple (of friends) you could ask for. We share a love of dead animals, photography, and running. Chris and I fell into an easy rhythm of chatting and leap-frogging each other during those first 12 miles—he successfully read both my body language and mind, knew that I was in a world of pain, but played along and pretended it wasn’t real. Enabler!

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
Look! Chris showed me I look great running! I can do this!

Anger

I rolled through the Heavenly Hill aid station for the second time, barely pausing to refill my water and grab a handful of chips. I knew that the longer I lingered, the more time I’d have to think about dropping. And I didn’t want to drop! Pain is all in your head! I could do this! You’re meant to suffer in an ultra! I stomped out of the aid station and back into the woods.

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
An example of a “rolling hill” with soul-sucking clay

I spent the next six miles completely alone. Well, except for the voices in my head. I didn’t want to just “give up” and run “only 27” miles if I wasn’t feeling terrible. I don’t quit while I’m ahead. Or still moving forward somewhat successfully. Power through it, Pansy. Suck it up, Buttercup. I’m a stubborn fucker who would literally have to be on the brink of permanent injury or death before admitting defeat on something I really want to do.

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
Chris! Why’d you run away! COME BACK.

I was cranky and pissy and kicking rocks and hating everything and everyone. Mature, right? Instead of focusing on running, I was throwing a temper tantrum. Pause—I’d like to take a moment to be thankful that I have the energy in a 50-miler to devote to throwing tantrums, when a few short years ago the thought of running an ultra terrified the bejesus out of me. Unpause. I was mad mad mad.

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
Red dirt roads that never ended

Bargaining

But the thing is, you can’t have a bad day on the trails. It isn’t allowed. A bad race is still better than a good day not in the warm embrace of the woods. So I came to my senses, calmed down, and did the only reasonable thing to do at that moment—whipped out my phone and started calling all the people. I told everyone the same sob story, “Wah wah wah, my leg hurts but I’m in the middle of a race what do I do?” But I clearly called the wrong people. I was wanting some reassurance that yes, I was a pussy, and no, I shouldn’t drop. Unanimously, everyone said, “DROP!” when they heard the word “pain.” Ugh.

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
Gorgeous backdrop to my desperate phone calls

I then launched into my elaborate recovery plan once the race was over. I had months before Cascade Crest 100, so why not suffer through a 50 and then sit on the bench for a few weeks or months or decades. My bargaining skills must be a tad unpolished, because no one agreed with my logic—I knew I should have taken more sales courses in undergrad.

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
Lie to me and tell me I can do this

Depression

I got to the start/finish aid station and glumly told Tosch that I was dropping to the 27-miler. And with those words, I got a serious case of the sads. I held my head high as I dipped back into the woods alone for the final 7-mile loop, then promptly fell apart. It was perfect running weather, I was working on my golden runner’s tan, I was in my happy place, and yet I was the saddest panda at the zoo.

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
Time for my emergency mood-boosters!

Running is my thing. It’s what I do. It’s not completely who I am, but it kinda is. And when you take away one of the things I love most, I’m going to be upset about it. Sure, it’s just a race. One I didn’t ever expect to finish anyway. But there’s a reason “death before DNF” is a common saying among ultra runners—we will do everything we can to avoid failing. It’s deeply disappointing.

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
This older gentleman from Alaska was running the 100 and was a huge inspiration to me

I stopped at a little creek and lay down to mourn the loss of my race. Ok—really I wanted to take a rest, have a snack, and listen to the water, but I was also mourning. Multitasking, yo! I eventually stood up and put my big girl panties back on, then met up with another runner and chatted with her for the remainder of the loop. Pause—what are we learning here? What’s the common thread of all Tanya low moments in races? Running solo gets to me. I need a running buddy at all times, or else I get mopey. Unpause.

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Pity Party for One
Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
Upright and smiling again

Acceptance

The 27-miler has a short two-mile out-and-back section, where you need to grab a ribbon to prove you’re not a cheater (as some have done in Tosch races) (we know who you are). I took off with renewed energy. Two miles left before finishing yet another ultra. Let’s do it!

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
What’s another instant mood-booster?
Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
CLYDESDALES!

I used those miles to act a fool and enjoy what was left of the race. I sang out loud. I skipped and danced. I took shots of whiskey. I had finally accepted that today was not my day to run 50 miles, but damn it if I couldn’t still have fun! Still a great day at the office, if you ask me.

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
Hey, random beach ball. Why yes, I will sit and rest on you.

And that worked. All the anger and sadness and frustration melted away with the sweat that was pouring from my body. No matter the struggles, I still got to spend the day doing exactly what I loved. And overall, I had a fantastic time.

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
Made the turnaround ribbons into a fashion statement
Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
Final hill of the day

So there it is. A peek inside my brain during the Lake Martin 50. While it was hilarious at times (I swear I didn’t exaggerate—if anything, I under-exaggerated how I felt inside), I was really, really bummed. I battled both my body and my brain for hours and hours and miles and miles. That shit is hard, no matter how experienced or trained you are. Runners get it. You set a goal, and it hurts when you don’t reach it. But in my case, it would have hurt worse to reach that goal. So instead, I Did Nothing Fatal. Which was still a win.

Lake Martin 50, Lake Martin 100, Southeastern Trail Runs, Lake Martin, David Tosch, DNF ultra marathon, ultra running, trail running, Alabama trail running, five stages of grief in trail running
My (fittingly) failed finish line leap

2 Comments

  • Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine

    Did Nothing Fatal. I love it! I have yet to jump into Ultras, but reading this recap took me through the emotions with you. I can definitely see myself acting the same way! While I know it was so hard, I’m glad you finished the way you did. Goofy and not totally physically destroyed. That’s my kind of finish.

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