Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Devil's Lake 50 in July

It had been two weeks after my DNF in South Dakota and my logic behind doing this race was that I had gotten in a 42 mile long run, so it wouldn't be the worst idea to go run a 50 miler.  I'm a huge fan of the Dances With Dirt series and last year I ran my first marathon at Devil's Lake.  I knew the course, I knew the course was hard, and I knew I had to do what I did last year twice.  I also had watched Erin suffer through it the year before, and if Erin suffered through it, it was bound to be ugly for me.  I went into this race with absolutely no expectations, and just a handful of hope that it would go better than the 100 attempt.

And it was terrible.

I slept in my car the night before at the start/finish, which I really love doing.  I get to sleep in until the last minute, and between Cohen's dog bed, an abundance of pillows, and a battery operated fan, I really have quite the nice little set-up - not to mention I have little-to-no money and it is free.  When the obnoxious air-horn sounded and everyone clicked their Garmins on, I was left standing with my arms dangling by my sides, in the middle of a yawn that was so huge I thought for sure my jaw was going to disconnect on both sides.  ...And off I went.

This DWD 50 starts off with 5 miles on ski slopes, and then you go past the start/finish, and (to put it simply) climb a bluff, go down the bluff, run through open fields for a lengthy out&back section, climb back up, do it all again, go back to the ski slopes, and then finish.  The first 10 miles clocked by quite smoothly.  I didn't feel awesome, but I felt okay.  I got tied up with an obnoxious man rambling on about how many 50ks he has done in only a year, but thankfully we got separated after a few miles.  I have learned, in the past few months, that my strength in ultras is running downhill.  When a lot of people start to feel the soreness in their quads and when everything starts to hurt so bad that going downhill is more painful than going uphill, that is when I feel best.  I know that I can always run my downhills, and that is the only thing that saved me in this race.  At the aid station at mile 25, the 50 milers have the option to cut off of their course and head to the finish line, and take a 50K time instead of a 50M.  I fought with myself like no other at this point.  I've never had conversations with myself as mean and full of self-loathing as I did during this race.  I got stung by a bee just past mile 40, and I reached down for it and squished it to death between my fingers, getting bee blood all over my right hand.  I shouted many things through a jaw that was clenched so tight my teeth were sure to shatter - including (but not limited to) "FUCK YOU, BEE.  I HATE YOU.  I HATE YOU SO MUCH AND I HATE HONEY.  I'M NEVER EATING HONEY AGAIN.  FUCK."

I suppose I should speak for a moment on my mental place during this race, for that's the only real reason that I'm bothering to record this.  After the first 10 miles of this race, I hated it.  I hated everything about it and I hated myself more than I ever have before for doing it.  I got into such a dark place in my head and I never came out of it - not for one minute.  I knew that I wasn't recovered (hardly at all) from South Dakota to be running a 50.  I didn't give myself a break after that DNF, I was already running before we even left the state, and I came back to Michigan and went right back to maintaining normal mileage.  This would be fine if I was still training, but I wasn't.  I had no business to keep up a training regimen, no matter if I had just failed or succeeded at the one thing I had been training for.  Call it my pride, call it my ego, call it me being stubborn, call it whatever you want, because I can guarantee I was calling it every goddamn name in the book on those 10 hours of my mental low.  I knew I had come to this race for all of the wrong reasons, and I was paying for it, and I knew I deserved it.  Being competitive can be fun, getting into race-mode can have its positives, but really the main reason I race is to run different places that I haven't been.  I like to be entertained, I like to see new things, I like to meet new people, and I generally run (and especially race) very happily.  This wasn't a new place, I knew exactly what was coming, I made 0 friends because I didn't feel like chatting with anyone, and I certainly was not running happily.  Whenever I assessed myself, nothing was really wrong.  My muscles were, for the most part, feeling fine, but my head was nowhere near decent.  I expect lows in ultras.  I prepare for them, and I know that they're (usually) inevitable, but I never came out of this one. This race was me beating a dead horse, with my body being the dead horse.  The only thing I carried on this race was a handheld, and my iPod shuffle in a Spi belt which I did use for a bit to try and get my shit together, but I ended up ripping it off because it wasn't helping.  I didn't have a drop bag or any gels on me because I wanted to learn to survive on aid station food.  Per Erin's suggestion, I made myself love salted potatoes, and it turns out I think they're a superfood.  I fueled and hydrated pretty damn well for being so mentally beat up.  This race has an amazing aid station that is at the top of a bluff and out on a rocky cliff.  The second time I visited it, mile 30 or 31 or something, I sat down for the greater side of 20 minutes.  I sat here and took in the scenery as much as I could.  I looked at the bluffs I was surrounded by, the lake hundreds of feet below, the rock formations, and individual trees across the gap from me.  The volunteers asked me if I was okay, and I assured them I just simply was not ready to keep moving yet.  I truly believe that you can get a certain kind of energy from taking in the beauty that you're surrounded by, and that's exactly what I needed.  It just kind of sucked that it took so many minutes to get it.  There were climbers here and I watched them while I was petting someone's dog, thinking "I want to do that.  That looks like so much fun."  The aid station at mile 45.5 was next to the finish line, and knowing that I had to go past it and up and down the ski hills sucked.  For whatever reason, I started to cry a little here.  I clenched my jaw and forbid any tears to roll down my cheeks.  There was a lid on the salted potatoes and I choked out, in a very small voice, "May I please have some salted potatoes?".  The volunteer apologized up and down for not having the lid off and I did my best to assure her that she was amazing, all the while perfectly aware that I was sounding like a five-year-old practicing please-and-thank-yous while trying not to fucking lose my emotions and cry hysterically.  I left this aid station walking, as I did most of them, and some lady in a blue dress came up and grabbed my arm, said "Lets go.  You are amazing.  You can do this.  You are so awesome." and made me start running.  I trotted along with her, and as I split off onto the trail she let me go and ended up falling.  I looked over my shoulder and weakly called "Are you okay?" but I got no reply.  I saw her get up and brush herself off.  I walked most of the ski hills except for the last part, which was all down them.  As I stated earlier, I know I can always run downhill.  So I did.  And I crossed the finish line.

And it wasn't worth it.  If I could go back in time and re-do this, I wouldn't have done this race.  I called Erin and we talked for a long time as I leaned against the side of my car, recapping the past 11 hours and 56 minutes of my life.  I knew exactly what I had learned:  Recovery is important, and I need to start treating it how it should be treated.  That being said, I haven't run since the race and I'm doing fun things.  I've been staying at my mom's on the lake since I got back, and I've been swimming and kayaking to keep my mind busy and off of running, and today Sammy and I are going climbing.  I told myself I wasn't going to run for a week, and it's incredibly difficult, but I think it's smart.  I'm incredibly grateful to have Erin in my life, because I think she is the only person who understands really what I'm going through, because she's been here, and she tends to have the same mental processes that I do.  Running your body into the ground fucking blows, and it's even worse when your mind follows.  Training can be really hard on the body, but I think that (for me, at least) it's even harder on the mind.  It's easy to slip into obsessive states and not realize that you're reaching a point where you are no longer benefiting from what you're doing.  When I called Erin, one of the first things she said was "Being in such a dark place for so long is a terrible feeling, but I think that's where you really learn the most."  And that is very true.

So, as I've already said, I'm focusing on other fun activities for a little while and getting back to my "happy state" in running, and learning to climb.  I've decided not to race until TNF 50 in December in San Francisco, but I'm excited to go to races to crew, pace and cheer people on.

++Also, that lady in the blue dress came up to me when I finished and gave me a huge hug.  It was then that I realized she was completely hammered (hence her falling).  She was slurring her words and making me laugh, and invited me to sit with her and all of her friends in the shade and have a beer and eat.  I did for a little while, and then I was on my 6 hour journey home.  Before I left she chased me down and demanded I take her e-mail.  I ended up winning my age group (though I may have been the only one in it, to be fair) and taking 9th OA.  I got a pint glass and another DWD pail.  I use my other pail to put fruit in, perhaps I will put vegetables in this one.
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