Duncan Ridge 50K, November 23rd
The first time I heard about the DRT50 from James and Mike, I thought it (and they) were crazy. They finished and confirmed that it was, indeed, a ridiculous race that took 2-3 hours more than a typical 50k...So the 3 of us signed up last year. I survived, in part because I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Ignorance is bliss! This year, Mike and I registered again to continue the tradition, and James would have if he wasn't off having adventures of his own with his wife Rachel in Taiwan. I was excited! When I told my friend Leigh about it, she looked at me rather confused and asked, "don't you remember what you said last year when you walked into the hostel?" "No," I said. She reminded me that I said "that was the stupidest thing I've ever done." The race amnesia is strong with this race...
This year I knew what to expect - 10 to 12,000 feet of elevation gain (give or take a few hundred feet) over 33 miles (give or take a mile or 2). In addition to the steep climbing and descending, the terrain was challenging in sections because of leaf-covered rocks that were slippery due to heavy overnight rains. I knew it was going to be a long day of hiking over some of the most difficult (and beautiful!) terrain GA has to offer - why do this again?
Most simply, I love the challenge of this race. I was excited to participate with so many others who love this area - and hear what first timers Marty and Sally thought. As typical, I saw them at the start and then not again until I finished and they were already looking refreshed and enjoying well-earned adult refreshments. I ran mostly alone, but spent a few great miles with Tom who told me his story of how he got into trail running, how much this trail meant to him and how he was looking forward to his first 100 miler in a few weeks.
The finish embodies one of the things I love about ultrarunning - RD Bobby greeted every runner as he or she finished. The look of relief, amazement, exhaustion and accomplishment as people finished speaks to what a unique race this is. The Coosa and Duncan Ridge trails are humbling and demand respect - they can completely break you down. I saw some of the most physically and mentally strongest runners not finish that day. I look forward to the challenge next year and will do my best to be capable of another finish. I hope I'm worthy of petting Ricky Bobbcat at the end again.
Pine Mountain 40 miler, December 2nd
PM40 was my second ever ultra three years ago. I love the atmosphere at GUTS events and the views at FDR state park are beautiful. Again the race amnesia is strong because I always end up cursing the rocks at the end, but keep signing up. After 3 times running PM40, I wondered what would be new or different this time - while I'd love to win this race, I didn't think I could run much faster than the previous year and there's always someone faster! I even told Kena at the start that I wasn't really feeling it and just wasn't excited.
We walked to the dam, the race started, and I realized what would be different - running with Holly and Harley! We volunteered at packet pick up the afternoon before and got along swimmingly. They're cat people and trail runners - what's not to love? I've never run an entire race with anyone - it's usually a few miles here and there but mostly solo. From the start, the 3 of us stuck together. Any time I was thinking I might complain about the rocks, Holly would
remark about how this was one of her favorite sections of the trail -
it was a great reminder what a gorgeous place it is to run. Around mile 14 we picked up another runner who was in a great deal of pain. For the next 26 miles, he was never more than a few paces behind us. After the race, he found us and said that our constant chatting and relaxed running helped distract him from the pain. Awesome! Glad it wasn't annoying chatter. :-) We also picked up my friend Kerry who finished strongly with us. Finishing together embodies another aspect that I love about ultrarunning - sometimes, it really is a team sport. We ran together, supported each other and finished faster than any of us could have done solo. I'd like to think we had more fun too!
Although the speed part is debatable - I took a wrong turn at mile 38 (38??!??) - there are only 2 turns on the course and I missed one. Harley officially finished before Kerry, Holly and I, however we decided that the 3 of us were the official winners of the unofficial PM42 mile race (no, it's not on ultrasignup.com). We'll be making our own running shoe birdhouses one weekend soon.
Lookout Mountain 50 miler, December 8th
I love running in Chattanooga, I love Rock/Creek events, many of my friends would be running, but I just couldn't get excited about this race either. Maybe the forecast for rain at the start had something to do with it. Texting with Brooke kept me positive while we waited in cars before the start - it would have been so easy to decide I had nothing to prove and go in search of a delicious Chattanooga brunch instead of running. It was my third year running LM50 and I was trying to think of what would be new or different this time (besides the rain). Holly gave me a great idea so I took the liberty of borrowing it (thank you!). Holly and Harley were running Bartram 100 that weekend (after a stellar 40 or 42 mile taper!) which is 16 laps of a 10k course. To keep herself motivated, Holly said she'd dedicate each lap to someone. So I decided to dedicate each section between aid stations to someone.
The first 6 mile section was dedicated to Holly and Harley of course! I thought of all their positive energy from the last race and how they were embarking on a great 100 mile adventure together. I couldn't wait to hear about it and was so thrilled for them both when I read about their finishes!!
The next section I thought about Tom from DRT50, who was supposed to be running Bartram as well, but stepped down to the 100K as he was battling the flu. He was prepared to push his body for as many miles as he could though. I was healthy, had a great rain jacket and awesome volunteers at the aid stations - I was inspired by his commitment and stubbornness. No complaining - just keep running.
Running back up to Covenant College, I thought of my friend Brooke, who was also running LM50. She's busy like all of us - job, awesome kids, awesome husband and stays positive and encouraging and fits in running. She even broke a treadmill - that's dedication! It was great to see Travis at the aid stations - he was cheering and helping out. They make a great team and set a great example for their kids!
First loop done, now onto Lula Lake land trust. The rain stopped, but the damage had already been done. Slippery, peanut butter mud awaited us. I thought of my fit momma friends Katie and Kat - they have stayed active and inspired others during pregnancy.
Next we arrived at the waterfall - I love this section of the race! The roaring waterfall, the climb up the ropes using rocks, the long runnable section at the top, although the fog would deprive runners of the gorgeous views. I've run some of the most beautiful places with Kena and Perry - Kena always takes time to notice the views, flowers, trees.
The sixth section is a 4 - 5 mile loop that I wasn't looking forward to. The trail is pretty, I'm just not a fan of running in loops. So I dedicated this to my friend Ray, who is better than almost anyone I know at running in loops. I hit a bit of a low, ate some, and then asked what would Ray do. Ray would sing! So I sang..."obla di, obla dah, life goes on..." Singing and thinking of Ray made me smile. And before I knew it, the loop was done.
Time for my favorite section of the course again, this time in reverse. I dedicated it to my family and thought of so many runners who get inspiration and support from their families. After 14 years, my parents are used to me running - my mom no longer worries about me giving myself a heart attack from the long distances. She's even walked a half marathon and one sister has run multiple half marathons. I'm proud of them and appreciate their support from miles away.
The last 7 or 8 miles if any race always seems long to me. Fellow runners are trail angels - so I dedicated the last section to friends I've (safety) paced and those who have (safety) paced me. I've witnessed runners who were completely spent somehow dig deep into unknown reserves and finish grueling races. I've cried and wanted to curl up in a ball on the side of the road and be left for dead - but pacers wouldn't leave me. I've been blessed with crew who have given me avocados, potion no. 9 gels, ginger ale, and knew exactly what to say to make me laugh and get me back on the trail.
And then there was music, lights, smoke from the campfire, burgers, a medal, a pint glass, a warm fuzzy fleece and my favorite Rock/Creek volunteer Michael waiting for me at the end. Well, Kris is my favorite too. I love my trail family and feel so fortunate.