I Didn’t Quit

While Matt’s race report is titled, “I Didn’t Walk,” my race report speaks of another victory, perhaps not as admirable as running a fast time in addition to running the entire course, but just as important in races such as ultramarathons. To sum up this past weekend’s Ice Age 50 Miler, I would have to say that 1) The race was harder than I anticipated, 2) I just didn’t have any pep in my step, and 3) At least I didn’t quit.

The night before the race, we got the lowdown on the course from several runners who knew it well. Their words of advice were to watch out for the silent killer, the relentless hills. I haven’t exactly been hill training, much less training at all for this 50 miler, so I was a little nervous, to say the least. Several miles into the race, I knew exactly what the other runners had meant about the hills. None of them were steep, none of them were long, but they were never-ending. There weren’t many flat sections to just open up my stride and pop off a few fast miles, and since I wasn’t feeling great from the start, I didn’t have the strength to run all of the hills like Matt did. Which brings me to my second point, how I felt.

I haven’t felt normal on a run since the last 50 miler in mid-March. I’ve been sluggish at best at even the slowest of paces and have even cut a few runs short because I just didn’t have the energy to push through them. After talking with another female runner the night before the race, she pointed to signs of iron deficiency, something that so many other female runners deal with, and I think she’s right. It was a little too late to pump up my iron for the race, so I dealt with the feeling of lethargy the entire race. I knew I was in trouble after just nine miles into the race when I felt like I had already run 35 miles. At that point, I knew I was in for a long day.

When I was faced with the prospect that I’d just have to gut out the remaining 41 miles, the thought of quitting entered my mind. I knew my time would be slower than expected, I wouldn’t be competitive in the race, and I’d have to be ok with the satisfaction of finishing the race, no matter what the time. I would also have to be ok with being out there for a very long day. Those were some sad thoughts that I had from miles nine to seventeen. After seventeen miles I caught our friend Eric, who was dealing with knee pain and therefore also dealing with his own Plan B of just finishing the race, with a good time thrown out the window. I wasn’t feeling as bad as he was so I let him go just a mile and a half later and tried to keep a slow and steady pace.

At 26.2 miles, we crossed a major road and it was the best place, and probably most common, to quit the race. There were plenty of volunteers and spectators to take me to the finish, I had run a lot of miles but still had so many to go, and I had a challenging, windswept and lonely section awaiting me. It took all my willpower to leave that aid station and just continue on. The main reason I continued was because I didn’t want to face the fans of Urbyville with a DNF next to my name in the race results. I didn’t have a great reason to quit other than I just felt crappy and didn’t want to be out on the course for so long. I also convinced myself to continue because I know that I’ll have so many days on the CDT this summer that are going to be challenging. If I quit in a one day event, what does that say about my odds of quitting a 100 day event? And so I continued on.

Thirty miles into the race, I saw my chances of finishing pass me by. It was another female runner who had a good pace going and who I noticed I’d leap-frogged with for the last few miles. I thought to myself, “Julie, she is your chance to finish. Latch on to her, talk with her to pass the time, and finish this thing with your pride still intact.” And that’s exactly what I did. I asked her if I could hang with her and I think she was glad for the company, as it was her first 50 miler and the miles were starting to wear on her. We stayed together for almost all of the last 20 miles and I do believe she is a huge reason for how I was able to finish the race. We chatted most of the time, came up with strategies to get from aid station to aid station, kept each other positive, and finally pushed it into the end to finish one after another. Amie, if you ever read this, you were a lifesaver out there. Thank you for dragging me along for the ride.

With my ego a little hurt, my body hurting even more, I crossed the finish line in 10:09.01. It was a far cry from the 8:33 and 4th place finish at the Land Between the Lakes 50 just two months ago, but with my lack of great training and my overall lack of energy, I was due a poor showing. I’m just thankful I was able to keep moving and save the race by running with someone else. Most of all, I’m glad I didn’t quit, especially now that I’m writing this race report, and I’m happy to be finished with the race so that I can move on to the Continental Divide Trail.

Thank you to all the other runners and volunteers in the race; every word of encouragement and “Good job,” along the course helped me continue the race. Special thanks to Jeff Mallach, the race director who allowed me to sell my books at the packet pick-up and who organized such a well-run race. Another reason I love these races is because we can often meet the race directors and talk with them about the race, something that would never happen in a huge road race. That personal attention is what keeps me coming back for more races, even if I only finish with the satisfaction that I simply finished the race.

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