Dirty 30 Race Report
Distance: The race was supposed to be 50K (31 miles) but due to flood damage and a re-route, ended up somewhere approaching 34 miles.
Vertical gain: 8,000K, felt like 10K!
Goal: To better my time from last year. In 2013, I was worn down from my first 50 mile race immediately followed by a road marathon. I started the Dirty 30 feeling strong, but somewhere near mile 21 things quickly turned disastrous. At one point I even sat down on a large rock on the side of the trail, tucking my head into my lap and wishing I could quit then and there (I was miles from a road or aid station). Two guys, who were also struggling, coaxed me into standing up and turning their duo into a trio. We walked it into the finish line in 9:28. Since then I’ve felt a bit shitty about the time and this year wanted to earn some redemption.
Things done incorrectly:
Too fast at the start! Even though I told myself repeatedly before the race that my ideal position would be in the very back of the pack, somehow I still found myself among a group of runners who wanted to go faster than I did. Because we were on single track for a solid four miles, I pushed myself to stay with them so that I wouldn’t clog up the line, and ended up putting in a half-marathon effort when I should have been conserving.
Nutrition. I didn’t eat nearly enough. I tried a variety of foods but had to force it all down. I struggled with heavy fatigue in my muscles and then I began to get a migraine probably from low blood sugar. (It was one of the few races/days in the mountains that my headache got worse, not better, over the course of the day). I kept the migraine from getting too bad with caffeinated GU, but many of the down sections were particularly painful when my feet slammed against the ground.
Gummies in a side pocket. Before the race, I moved my gummy bear stash from their usual ziplock bag in a back pocket of my Salomon pack to a pocket next to my ribs. They ended up melting and goo-ing up my pack, shirt, and left hand (from holding my sides during the steeper climbs) for the entirety of the second half of the race. Ew!
Stuck in my head. Have you ever begged yourself to shut the frak up? I couldn’t stop crunching splits and miles remaining and vertical gain climbed. Worse, I kept comparing myself to the runners who were around me. I alternated between wondering why I couldn’t keep up with them when I was being passed, and then realizing how strong they all were and feeling intimidated. At one point I looked down at an Ironman tattoo on the calf of the guy in front of me and realized just with whom I was trying to keep up. Nothing good comes from this line of thought.
Things done well:
Tried a new mantra: “no limits.” I’ve been feeling like I’ve been boxing myself into negative thinking about what kind of runner I am (mid to back of the pack for these kinds of hard races) which leads me to a lot of “I can’t” thinking. Reciting “no limits” helped, but inevitably my mind would wonder back to crunching numbers and eyeing the runners around me.
Stopped to take this picture.
Made friends. My mental game turned around about ten miles in when I heard the runner in front of me talking to another runner about a possible Nolan’s 14 attempt later this summer. (Nolan’s 14 is a unofficial, self-supported race to climb 14 Sawatch 14’ers in less than 60 hours, and it absolutely fascinates me.) As soon as I began asking him about his plans, my mind pulled away from number crunching and I was finally able to relax, let my lungs open up, and settle into a sustainable pace. We chatted for about a mile about Nolans and other races. Turns out my new friend (Bill) has done over 20 100 mile races and close to 100 ultras in total. Absolutely awe-inspiring. A few miles later I chatted with a woman named Joy, who turned out to be a neighbor, and then after that a woman named Paula, another 100-mile veteran. Paula and I kept a similar pace, so we teamed up. She pushed me on the climbs, and I think I pushed her a tad on the descents, so it was an advantageous partnership. The best part was the conversation which took my mind off of the suffering. It’s amazing how much you can bond for over 10 miles. And it was amazing how much she could keep talking when I could hardly breathe! I was sooooo thankful. (Though I’m a little disappointed not to hear her president stories!)
Turned left at mile 25. Okay, actually, I think it was mile 27 or 28. At that point, runners can either turn left for one last climb, this time up Windy Peak, in a 5.5 mile loop, OR they can choose a big DNF (Designation on the results, stands for Did Not Finish) and head straight back to the finish about a mile away. Leading up to this check point, I had it in my mind I wouldn’t continue. Paula and I had been hearing thunder for over an hour, and even worse, we were bumping up against the cut-off time. I was telling myself just to make it to that point and then we could cut out. When the volunteer at the check point told us that the storm was moving the opposite direction and that we had beaten the cut-off time, I was crushed. Crushed because I wanted the excuse to stop pushing myself. Never before had I been so sure I would DNF. But Paula made that left turn, and bonded over our mutual desire to push one another, I followed her. Hardest. Choice. Ever.
Dug deep to climb Windy Peak. Paula led and I followed after her, and despite crippling fatigue and muscle pains and my hurting head, we pounded out the 1,200 foot climb to the last summit of the day. From there we had a three mile (ish) descent to the finish line, which we crossed together.
9:32, 4 minutes slower than last year (though this year’s course was 2-3 miles longer). But the difference is that this year I am proud of myself for finishing and not at all ashamed of my time. 15% of the field DNF’ed. I can’t remember the last time I felt so satisfied to simply finish a race within the cut-off. After struggling a lot this season with self-doubt and frustration that I’m stuck in a plateau, it’s refreshing to gain so much gratification in just knowing I gave the race 100% of my capabilities.
Hero points to my husband, Nick, for waiting hours for me at the finish line, meeting me a ways up the trail before the finish, hauling my shiat to the shuttle and then to the car, driving home, pulling over when I needed to puke, and listening to my post-race moaning!
Thanks to Bill, Joy, and Paula, for connecting with me on the trail and making all the difference.