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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.