Three weeks ago, I was on top of the world after finishing the Rouge Orleans 2-man ultramarathon relay. Yesterday, the running gods decided that it was time I get knocked down a notch or two off that high.
In 2011, I ran the Carl Touchstone Memorial Mississippi 50 as my first ultramarathon. It was a 50K in the rain, with wet and muddy conditions. But I had a good time, coming in with a top 10 finish and running in the mud was a novelty and made for great a great story. I decided that I wanted to come back this year and run the 50 mile race when conditions wouldn’t be so sloppy. The goal wasn’t a specific finishing time, but just to cross the finish line and get one of the coveted 50 mile belt buckles.
I decided earlier in the week to discontinue my running streak so my troubled IT band and ankle tendonitis would be well rested going into the race. By Friday, I was chomping at the bit to get a run in, but was able to hold off.
I made the 3-plus hour drive with my friend, Dale, who was also running the 50 mile race. He brought along a couple growlers of a special oatmeal stout homebrew that he made just for this race. We got to the DeSoto National Forest at around 3:00, so we had time to set up camp, have a beer, and visit with some of the other crazy runners who were either camping too, or had just come to scout out the start and finish area and surrounding trails. Naturally, a quick thundershower hit not long after we had finished setting up our tents, which would be foreboding of what was to come.
Soon enough, it was time to head to the pre-race spaghetti dinner and pick up our packets. There I met my Rouge Orleans teammate, Kristin, who was running the 50 miler too. We listened to some instructions from the race director for the following morning and visited with some of the other runners. We left to head back to camp and get some sleep, since the race started at 6AM. Or, shall I say, attempt to get some sleep.
I realized on the way back that I’d forgotten my sleeping bag. Oops. But I did have an air mattress and a couple of beach towels, so I figured they would suffice. They did. That is, until the temperature dropped down to the mid-50s around midnight, where it hovered the rest of the day. And with the winds whipping through the tent, it felt much colder. A storm blew through around 1:30, and I don’t know if I slept any more after that. I finally climbed back into my Jeep around 3:00, hoping it would be a touch warmer, which it was. But I still didn’t sleep well and finally gave up around 4:45, when I got up to eat some breakfast and get ready to run.
We were ready to go, and we got a nice pre-race photo all sporting our FORGE Racing gear.
At 6:00, we were off. I was planning to run really slowly on the first 12.5 mile loop and started out with Kristin for a few miles. It became obvious early, that the trail conditions were nearly the same as they were in 2011: a muddy and wet mess. I put on my rain jacket when the rain began to fall and told Kristin I’d catch up to her in a bit. I never did.
My IT band started to bother me a bit about 3 miles in, but it wasn’t terribly painful. Yet. The mud was more of the issue. Every step was a challenge. No one could get into much of a groove running because there was a constant battle to keep your shoes on and stay upright. I walked off and on, trying to save my energy since it would be a long day. Dale and I played leapfrog for most of the first loop, and I finished that loop in just over 2:20 feeling like it would be a long day.
My IT band had really started to bother me at that point, but I used a roller back at the car which refreshed me a bit. I started the second loop feeling much better and with a better attitude. That is, until I reached the mud again. This time, the course was trashed by all the 50 mile and 50K runners, as well as all the 20K runners who started at 8:00 AM. It was at this point that the fun of it all got sucked out of me, much like the mud sucking the shoes off my feet. It went from the excitement of the race to a chore, and my attitude reflected it. I got ticked off with the conditions, and the pain in my IT band was increasing exponentially. Running is something that is fun to me. What I was doing on this course was anything but fun. It was a chore. And I was in pain. I sat down at the mile 17 aid station and tried to loosen up my IT band with a few exercises, to no avail.
At this point, I decided that 50 miles was out of the question, but I was beyond the halfway point of a 50K finish. This new goal reinvigorated me for about 3 minutes, when I hit the next patch of mud. I was moving very slowly at this point and people were passing me looking a whole lot better than I was. They all seemed to have good attitudes, and that just pissed me off even more. It took me another 40 minutes to get to the 20 mile aid station. I began to leave that aid station, in pain, having no fun, questioning why I was doing this. I had 5 miles to go to get back to the start area, then 6-plus miles to go after that to finish a 50K. And I realized that I couldn’t do it. I was already injured, and continuing on was just going to make it worse. I could barely walk, much less run. And that’s where I threw in the towel. 20 miles in, and it felt like 30 miles given the conditions and my injury.
A volunteer drove me back to the finish where I checked in and told them I was dropping. I did get a medal for a 20K finish and a water bottle, but that’s not what I’m in it for. I’ve never been a big “race bling” guy, so medals don’t excite me. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment more than anything else. But the only thing I accomplished yesterday was aggravating my injury even more.
I hung out by the car with Kristin’s boyfriend Devin as we waited for her to come by. I had changed my thought process from ‘competitor’ to ‘cheerleader’ for her and Dale, as well as other friends, including Troy Mouton, running the 50 miler as well as my neighbor, David Alexander, and Ryan Green, both running the 50K. Devin and I waited, as the rain began to fall, and eventually saw her come down near the finish of her second loop. Unfortunately, we also saw her stop and leave with the bright yellow water bottle that I had gotten myself after my DNF. It turns out that she had some similar issues around mile 18, had decided to stick to the 50K, then eventually bailed on it altogether after the pain became too much.
Dale, however, came through his second loop no worse for the wear. He continued on another loop, while we warmed up in the car, as the temperature had dipped just below 50, and our promised sunshine never materialized. We enjoyed several beers and commiserated on our failed attempts and discussed what we learned. Finally, Dale came through and Kristin and Devin left to make the long drive home.
I was able to see Troy finish his 50 miler in a very impressive 8:21. I’m floored by that time, knowing the conditions. It’s just so hard to describe just how poor the footing was and how the mud just weighs on you after so much running. The effort needed to get through that can really get to you after a while. Props to him for nailing it. We refueled with some of that oatmeal stout, and they took off on the long drive home.
I took both our tents down while Dale finished his final two short loops, so there wouldn’t be anything for him to do after running his 50 miles. I made my way down to the finish line and saw a lot of people get to finish their 50 mile race. It really was good to see these people finishing with smiles on their faces. I really had an appreciation for each and every one of them, because I knew just how bad those conditions were. Dale came in at 11:17 elapsed time, and was glad to be finished.
Today, my IT band and ankle have me hobbling around the house. My wife and I are a sorry sight to see, her with a broken bone in her foot and me limping because of my self inflicted running injury. I’ll have to take a break from running for a bit to get healthy. Fortunately, I don’t have any long races scheduled until late May, when I’ll travel toBirmingham,ALfor theXTERRAOakMountaintrail marathon, then the Leadville trail marathon on the last day of June. The break from racing will be a refreshing one, and it will be nice to get healthy, then get back to running just for the joy of it. The joy was lost on my yesterday, so the mental break will help.
I’ve also decided that this was likely my last visit to the Mississippi50. While the race director and the volunteers all do a great job of putting on the race, the conditions are just not fun. Even with a drought, I think there would be lots of mud and water on the course. It crossed the line from being fun to being miserable. There are some other ultras that I’d like to experience as well, such as the Black Warrior and Mountain Mist in northAlabama, the Stump Jump inChattanooga, Rocky Raccoon and other races in the Tejas Trails series. I’ve experiencedMississippi50, and it’s time to move on for me.
See you down the trail somewhere, and hopefully soon.