Well, I survived 31 miles of the Mississippi 50!
I don’t know why I’m having such a hard time sitting down long enough and focusing for more than 30 seconds to write this recap. Hell, I drafted half of it in my head while I was running the race! But people keep asking how it went (you guys care!), so I need to buckle down and just blurt it all out. So to appease my apparent ADD mind, this recap will be broken up into two parts—the actual recap and lessons learned.
For those of you who are too busy (or don’t actually care) to read the entire recap, here it is in one quick sentence: Woke up, hurt to walk, ran anyway, run turned into excruciating limp, crossed the 50K finish line in 7:08, had a blast, sad I don’t have a buckle. Boom.
Now for the long-winded version—get your coffee ready:
Despite my hip/groin pain and the nagging voice in the back of my head telling me that I couldn’t possibly run 50 miles, I was super excited for the race. Becca, Greg, Ryan, and I piled into my Roller Skate (Rav4) on Friday afternoon and spent three hours listening to music, laughing, and wondering if my car would fall apart. I heart road trips. Highlights:
Running into packet pickup only to discover we were standing in a shady used car dealership
Eating my weight in fried rice at dinner
Learning how to KT tape my nether region
Fawning over former Miss Mississippi winners
After a restless night of almost no sleep, I stood up out of bed, felt a shot of pain go through my hip, and thought, “well fuck.” I spent the next hour pacing the bathroom and obnoxiously texting everyone who was racing that morning—”I can’t eat.” “I didn’t sleep.” “I can’t go to the bathroom.” “Do you have an extra handheld?” “I’m scared, I need a hug.” Y’all. I was a hot mess.
The 50K and 50-mile races started at 6 a.m., so those of us running longer all drove together and let the others sleep peacefully for a few more hours. After setting up drop bags and taking the obligatory “before” shots, the race started. All of the Bham runners stuck together for the first mile or so—it felt like we were back home on a training run. Comforting. Piece of cake.
Then the group started to pull ahead, and I settled into my slow limp/run and mentally prepared to spend the day rocking out to music and meeting new friends. But my running buddy Greg was using the 50 as a training run for the Lake Martin 100 at the end of the month, so he decided to hang back and run with me. Bless his heart (genuinely!)—he knew he would have hours of slow, miserable, cranky Tanya to deal with, and he did it anyway. And we had fun.
The 50-miler had three long loops (12 miles) and two short loops (6 miles). The course was soft and flat—as promised—and was covered in deep mud puddles and creek crossings—as expected. I like mud as much as a little teacup pig, but these puddles were more like small lakes and could have swallowed a toddler. It was near impossible to get your footing, and by the second loop it was easier to plow through the puddles instead of trying to skirt them and falling in anyway (not that I speak from experience or anything…). Except for the silt in your shoes and never having dry feet (my Cascadias did drain well though), it was great—trail runs are supposed to be dirty! And the creek crossings with freezing water did wonders for my aching hip.
It’s still funny to me what my stomach will tolerate during any given ultra. My go-to foods are usually chips, M&Ms, and Coke, with an occasional Gu thrown in for extra energy. My drug of choice on Saturday was Doritos—I couldn’t get enough of that shit. The aid stations were close together and well-stocked, so I only carried one handheld during the race. One aid station was even decorated like a redneck truck stop, which was so gloriously Mississippi that it was one of my favorite parts of the race.
The first loop was tolerable pain-wise. Don’t get me wrong—every single step hurt, but it was a manageable pain for a while. Sunrise in the forest was gorgeous, and it was still early enough in the day where it wasn’t too warm. Around mile 8 there was an out-and-back section on a hard-packed fire road, and that was where I had my first breakdown mentally. I loved seeing my friends again and there were signs with useless fun facts to distract runners from the suck, but that road hurt like a motherfucker. I was ready to sit down and call it a day right then and there had we not been 1.9 miles from the Start/Finish aid station.
I’m not sure what made me start the second loop after mentally bonking, other than the fact that I wasn’t crawling (yet), and was stubborn and unwilling to let go of the 50 that easily. By that point our friend Olivia had caught up to us and made it in and out of the aid station like a ninja—I need to learn how to do that! I took a NASID (I know, I know), ate a Gu and Doritos, and off we went for 12 more miles of fun.
I was flying high once the food and meds kicked in! I felt more energized, my limp was less pronounced, and I even managed to pee without squatting on a thorn bush or anyone seeing me (I hope). The 20K race had started at 8 a.m., so I got to see the rest of my friends out on the course, which is always a good morale booster. And then we reached the out-and-back section again. And it hurt, again. I don’t remember anything other than walking, complaining, and apologizing a million times. Oops.
At that point I had 1.9 miles to make my decision to start a third loop or officially drop down to the 50K. Even though I knew I had slowed significantly (the second loop was half an hour slower than the first) and was hurting badly, I kept wondering if I could put on my big girl panties, suck it up, and finish the race. I know it’s wrong, but I felt like I was giving up too soon and was weak by stopping. I’m pretty sure I talked over my decision out loud for everyone around me to hear—I bet the other runners wanted me to drop just so that I’d shut my trap.
I also think that Greg knew long before I did that I needed to stop, but to his credit he didn’t say a word and let me come to the decision myself. I tripped over a boulder (or maybe a rock, or more likely my own two feet) and while I didn’t fall, I overstretched my hip in the process. Holy shit did that hurt—it took every ounce of strength to not fall down and ugly cry, and that’s when I finally gave up.
Back at the Start/Finish aid station, I got a hug from Becca and tried and failed to change shoes and socks. Like, I touched one shoelace and gave up. I can’t even remember if I ate or drank.
I had seven hours to run/walk/crawl six miles to officially finish the 50K, and despite me looking more like Quasimodo than a runner, I would be damned if I didn’t at least have a 5 and a 0 in my official finish. So I said goodbye to Greg and my shot at a 50 and turned onto the short loop.
Here I broke all sorts of trail runner etiquette and talked to the hubs, my parents, my sis, and my trail friend Dan to tell them that I was alive, but dropping down. To be fair, there were no other runners anywhere near me, and I was lonely and trying desperately to keep myself together. It happens. Looking back, the final six miles went by quickly despite the death march. I tried out a “run one song, walk one song” system, but that soon turned into “run the chorus!” and then “run one line!” and eventually I just said fuck it. I did run the last half mile to the finish line though and the race photog captured just how awesome I felt.
I finished the 50K and spent the rest of the afternoon with my friends who had run the 20K and 50K crewing our Bham runners and cheering everyone on. It was the first trail race for most of these ladies, and they killed it! Kelly got second female in the 50K, and Lara got third female in the 20K. Birmingham must have an extra dose of crazy in the water supply—we breed some badass trail runners!
I know I’ve said it before, but I love the ultra atmosphere. There is nothing like standing at the finish line of an ultra with some new friends watching runners finish a ridiculously long race. The emotions on their faces were enough to make me choke up over and over again. And all of our runners did great—Lisa, Coach Alex, and Ryan all finished their first 50, and Greg finished without even looking winded.
Since last week I hobbled around some, partly from the hip pain and partly from normal ultra soreness. I hurt a lot less than I did after the Mercedes Marathon and I can walk again without pain shooting down my leg. I’m taking those all as good signs. My plan is to not run for another week, cross train and stretch a lot, and reevaluate from there.
So if you’re still reading, thank you to everyone for your well-wishes and kind words, and come back tomorrow to see what this crazy experience taught me.