My alarm went off at 4:40a.m. Saturday morning, and for the first time in a long time, I had no idea what I would experience and no idea if I could actually complete what I was setting out to do. Several months prior, I signed up to run the Dizzy Fifties 40 Mile Trail Run, and trained for it as best as I knew how. When race day arrived, I hoped to be ready and part of me believed I was. But the other part of me knew I’d never run an ultra marathon, I had very little trail running experience, and I had no idea what the day would bring.
Jason got up early as well and drove me to the race. I shared my butterflies with him and he shared his confidence in my ability to run the 40 miles. In no time we arrived at the aid pavilion on Monte Sano, I checked the box next to my name on the race list and waited with my friend, Kristi, for the race to begin.
We would be running a 2 mile loop, which we would only run once, and then we would begin the figure 8, that I hoped to complete 4 times. The figure 8 consisted of a north loop and a south loop. The north loop was rocky with some steep declines and inclines. The south loop was curvy, mostly flat and mostly smooth. After each loop, we would show up at the pavilion where our aid was kept and let the volunteers check us off before beginning the next loop.
The first two loops were pleasant and uneventful. Kristi and I stuck together, going slowly on the north loop and picking up the pace to a steady rhythm on the south loop. When we reached mile 20, I felt good, and I wasn’t discouraged at the thought of running another 20. When I reached mile 26, I smiled because I had reached in “new territory” and with each passing mile I allowed myself a little more confidence in my ability to finish the race I’d set out to run.
Kristi and I talked most of the time we were together, growing quiet only when we became weary or needed to focus on difficult terrain. There were pieces of paper taped to trees along the course containing a few encouraging words from a Psalm. I few times I chanced looking up from the ground to read them. When I grew tired, I thought of the day I’d be given a brand new body that could run all day and never grow weary. I thought of soaring on wings like eagles, bounding over the rocks and roots that caused me to slow along the race course. The words of the Psalm posted on the trees reminded me that there was Strength to count on beyond my own…and on I ran.
Jason cheered me on between most of my loops and seeing him was extremely encouraging. Mom came out around mile 23 and it was wonderful to see her every time I completed a loop. Knowing that Mom would be at the end of each loop kept me going, giving me something to which I could look forward.
The hardest loop was my very last north loop. Around mile 30 I found myself alone in the woods with a little over 4 miles to go before I would see anyone. I was moving more clumsily due to my tiredness and the terrain slowed me more and more. Going uphill was easier than going downhill because my “brakes” weren’t working as well by that point. When I would slow down to maneuver over rocks, my body would sigh in relief. I had to remind myself (aloud at times) to pick up my feet and keep moving.
As I climbed the steep hill of the north loop for the last time, I saw Mom standing at the top. Jason was waiting for me at the aid station and he asked if I wanted him to run with me on the south loop. I said I did and off we went. This was my very last loop and by this point I KNEW I was going to complete the race. I was tired, but excited that I would actually complete 40 miles. Even though we were running around 11:30 pace at this point, it felt like an 8:30 pace.
Throughout the race, there were times when I tripped or stumbled, but I never fell all the way down. I saved that incident for the last few feet of the trail. Just as I was about to step onto the road that would take me to the pavilion for the last time, my foot caught a root and down I went. I landed hard on my hands, but I wasn’t hurt. I hopped up, said, “I’m okay!” and kept going. At that point, NOTHING was stopping me.
I completed the race in 7 hours and 54 minutes, finishing at least 6 minutes faster than I’d planned (although even in the planning I figured I’d be well over 8 hours). I was ecstatic to have completed the race and thrilled with my finishing time. Mom and Jason congratulated me, along with a few running friends who were still hanging out at the pavilion.
As I write, it has been a week since I completed the race and I am still amazed that I did it at all. My feet and legs are fine with day to day use, but my quads begin to argue after more than 4 miles. I will give them time to heal before revving things up again. I don’t really mind having to rest and recover because I’m reminded of my amazing first ultra marathon on the trails of Monte Sano. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience, and I am grateful to my sweet husband, my supportive mom, and my awesome God who saw me safely through it.