First official full trail ultra in the books this weekend. Dances with Dirt in Gnawbone, Indiana did not disappoint. It had been a busy taper week with traveling to Texas for work, training new employees and starting summer semester for grad school. Thursday night I got home, and Friday morning I repacked my suitcase and Isabelle loaded up the car for the “4-hour” drive from Nashville TN to Nashville, IN. After nearly 6 hours of listening to “Nothing Rhymes with Murder” and “My Favorite Murder” podcasts with Isabelle, we made it to packet pickup right before they closed. We were too late for the group dinner, so we suffered through with fast food grilled chicken and hoped for the best.
The majority of our trail running group were staying together in a large cabin and Isabelle and I were able to score a bed with them. This was a blessing for many reasons but also enhanced my embarrassment when I realized my suitcase (complete with 3 running outfits) was not in my car! That has NEVER happened to me before. Luckily, I’m such a pack rat I had a random “workout outfit” in the car, my running shoes, and hydration pack, so I wasn’t too worried about that guffaw affecting my race. We hung out for awhile and went to bed before 11pm. Not having my PJs did affect the comfort of my sleep but I doubt I would have slept well anyway. They tell you to stock up on sleep several days before a race because you are likely to sleep poorly the night before.
RACE DAY! The morning was OK. I didn’t get to follow my usual rituals (such as brushing my teeth) due to no luggage but otherwise, no issues (aside from not being able to find the bananas). Woke up on time, left on time, and arrived on time. Even had enough time for a pre-race potty break and everything seemed on-point.
The race started at 6:15am. I started off with my friends Todd and Kren about 2/3 back. No need to have all those fast runners pass us by trying to start in the front. It was still a little dark but the sun came up within a few minutes and soon we were running up mud hill. This was my third time racing on this course. Usually mud hill is a sloppy, shoe stealing mess; however, today it was definitely the best conditions I have experienced. I was able to pass a few people and my race game felt strong. I was delivering a strong effort but trying not to push too hard in mile 2 of a 32 mile race. I skipped the first aid station but stopped at the campground bathroom early on around mile 4 or 6 – can’t remember. I am definitely someone who stops at bathrooms but this felt really early for me and I noticed some slight discomfort in the female area so I re-applied my squirrel’s nut butter early in the game. I saw Kren right before and after that, which made me feel really good because even though she is older than me she is a much faster runner so I was feeling pretty happy to be in pace with her at that point. I had lost Todd somewhere on mud-hill and found out later he passed me when I ducked into the first bathroom. Between miles six and ten I still had some female discomfort but it was bearable enough and I told myself I would check into it at the next opportunity. Somewhere around mile 9 (I think), Kren passed me and told me that she had been running with Wally, a legend in the Ultra-Running community. She mentioned to me that he had run several Western States and well over 150 ultras in his career. This man is over 70 years old!! He caught up to me shortly after that and we talked for a few miles until he passed me. Such a NICE man! During that time, I told Siri to text Isabelle to wish her good luck before her ½ marathon attempt. How many 16 year olds do you know who will not only train for a trail race but drive 5-6 hours with their mom, happily hang out with a bunch of 30-70 year old adults, race a different race AND wait like 5 hours for their mom to finish….. the whole time sending encouraging messages? Isabelle surely isn’t perfect but that girl is ONE IN A MILLION!! Okay, so I texted Isabelle and then about a mile later (around mile 12) there was an aid station near a primitive bathroom. I had been feeling like I had to pee for about 3 miles so I tried but no luck. Started off again and right about that time my body completely rebelled. My pelvic area hurt so bad I ran through clenched teeth. I “ran” through clenched teeth for about 4 miles. At mile 15ish, I saw a text of encouragement from my dear friend Brittani to which I replied, “I’m having a total pity party for myself right now. At mile 15 ½. Everything was going so well and at mile 12 I started to feel like I had to pee every single step I take running. It feels like my bladder is going to pop out of my body and I don’t have to pee because I tried four times and I can’t run even though my legs feel good.” To which she responded, “keep moving forward Jennifer! You can do it! You will do it!” When I saw her text I just wanted to cry because I was really in a lot of discomfort and I knew I would need to keep on going.
Shortly after this, I knew I could not run anymore. It was the most uncomfortable thing I had ever experienced. At the moment it felt like child birth! At that point, I started to realize that I was going to be out there a really long time. I don’t mind being slow, but I do hate other people waiting for me. I texted Isabelle that I was forced to walk and would be really late to finish in the hopes she would get a ride back to the cabin and get a shower after her own race. In my mind I was going back and forth between, you should quit, and you should keep going. I was okay to walk, but every time I tried to run (which I did keep trying) I could only go a few minutes before the gritting of my teeth didn’t help. Maybe that’s how I broke a tooth! Just thought of that.
At mile 18.22 I texted Todd because honestly, I was surprised he hadn’t caught up with me and had no idea he had passed me. He was at mile 19.5 at the aid station. I responded back, “I might call it quits there. I can’t run at all because it feels like my bladder wants to fall out.” To which he responded, “Go one more aid station.” In the mean time, I was getting texts from Isabelle like, “Just keep going.” “She needed a hero, so that’s what she became!!,” “Go mamma go mamma!” Then when the rain started, I got a text that said “It’s just water! It’s practice for swimming!” “You got this!” and MORE. So every time I wanted to quit I thought of that sweet girl waiting for me and the 50K sticker I already bought for my car and I had to keep going. I kept trying to alternate between fast walking and running a few steps. I had also started chaffing really bad from the many bathroom attempts and humidity so that just added insult to injury. My electrolytes were out of balance too. My fingers and feet were extremely swollen, so I started to pour salt straight from a baggy I brought into my bath and drink it down with water.
Mile 22 a huge rain/thunder storm started and lasted the next 10 miles (while I was trying to pee yet again), and I got soaking wet, but I honestly did not care. I just kept trying to remind myself how lucky I was to be in such a beautiful place with so many people encouraging me and supporting me. How many people wish they could be in my shoes? What on earth did I have to complain about? I was one lucky girl!! As that went through my mind the rain turned the trail to mud, the trail became more rugged, slippery and dangerous and I nearly fell backward off a steep muddy incline – TWICE!! But I kept going. Then the horse trail, complete with horse poop turned to slurry, splashed horse poop slurry all over me. I kept going. Then back down mud hill. This time IT WAS mud hill! Shoe stealing mud, ankle twisting mud, trees down, rain falling, thunder clapping mud. My feet hurt so bad at this point my bladder didn’t hurt so I ran. I can deal with foot pain – lol! I ran as much as I could the last two miles. I just wanted to get this over with. I fully intended to just drive home instead of staying the night because I was over this race and I wanted a hot bath.
Mile 31.6. I FINISHED!! My sweet Isabelle was waiting for me (with no shoes on), and I think she walked as fast as I ran. Went through the finish line with a hug from my baby girl who is really a fabulous young woman (but always my baby) and ALL the DIRTBAGS were there to cheer me on. I was both SO HAPPY to see them and felt extreme guilt for making them wait for me for so long. THEY ARE AMAZING. I really am a lucky woman. Anyone can have friends when they are on top of the world but to have friends when you are at the bottom is really special. I cried a little.
I found out Monday that I had a very extreme bladder infection and my body had just had enough and rebelled against me. On antibiotics now and hoping it has not traveled o the kidneys. Tuesday I noticed my tooth was broken and during the writing of this, I am wondering if it is from 20 miles of gritting my teeth. From mile 12 to mile 31.6 I thought, more than one time, why would anyone ever want to run more than a ½ marathon? Now I am wondering which ultra I should sign up for next!