Unfortunately, this is not my typical race report. Today, I attempted my first ultra - the War Eagle 50k trail run at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. And today, I had my first DNF - Did Not Finish.
I'm frustrated. I'm embarrassed. I'm disappointed.
The first questionable choice in preparation for today's 50k was to keep running last Saturday even after I rolled my ankle to the point that my ankle bone touched the sidewalk. I've walked off a thousand similar injuries; six miles later, though, I finally threw in the towel. Good thing I have awesome friends, one of whom came back to pick me up at the park in his car. Post-run, post-Epsom salt soak, post-ice, I thought: maybe it won't be too bad:
Sunday morning, though, the jig was up: I had a straight CANKLE.
As the week went on it got better each day, and I stayed optimistic about my ability to do the 50k. Not only was it my first attempt at an ultra, I had already paid the $75 entry fee. Come on, people - you can't just let that go.
I ran Thursday, just 3 miles, to see how it felt. A friend taped me up with K tape, and I thought I was going to be okay.
Friday morning it felt great, seemingly no negative impact from the previous day's run:
By Friday after work, though, I could tell I'd had a setback. I began to question the wisdom of running on Saturday. It didn't help that severe storms (including possible tornados) were forecasted for the area. On the other hand, it also doesn't help that I'm a sucker for peer pressure. So this morning, I got up, got dressed, and headed out the door to do my best.
If it hadn't been for my friend Jeff, there's no way I would have been able to muster the courage and grit to make the attempt. We met up at the parking lot and planned to stay together on the run. He did it last year and was familiar with the trail, so I figured that would help me avoid the worst spots. I needed to get my ankle taped, so naturally, I had world famous photographer Luis Escobar do it for me. Who else?
I don't think the gift shop lady was too keen about me sitting on her counter. But we were quick. One picture inside, then time to hit the trail.
I could tell pretty much in the first two miles it was going to be a rough day. I essentially had to walk the downhills - and since I assumed I would have to walk a lot of the uphills, too, things weren't looking too good. The trails at Hobbs are amazing, but they're still trails, and still have rocks and roots and uneven footing. Right around mile 7, I did it again - stepped on a rock, rolled the ankle pretty badly. That was it - I knew I would be walking to the next aid station for a ride back to the finish.
In those seven miles, though, I totally got why people love trail running. It was raining, but it really wasn't that bad under the canopy of the trees. It was muddy, but that made it more of an adventure. The quiet and solitude of a trail run are so different from the crush of the crowd in a huge traditional marathon. The runners come equipped with Camelbaks, and the aid stations have pretzels, gummy bears, and Coke. The challenge of the path sharpens your focus; makes you pay strict attention to your steps; requires that you demand more of the amazing machine that is the human body.
I got an idea of the difference in the mindset needed for a trail run, as well as for an ultra. You can't halfway mentally commit to a 50k. You're either in or you're out - there is no halfhearted effort. I think that's why I'm convinced I'm well suited for the ultra distances. I'm all in - or I'm not in at all.
Admitting defeat and accepting my first DNF feels terrible. I crow so much about my running, I was embarrassed to report my inability to suck it up and drive on. But that's when I realized, for maybe the thousandth time, how special the community of runners is. I was brought to tears by a dear friend who posted these for me on Facebook:
"...who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." -- Teddy Roosevelt
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." -- Teddy Roosevelt
I'll try again next year. For now, I'll mope a little bit, nurse my ego a little bit, and spend the next week providing embarrassed explanations to co-workers and friends. But something like a sprained ankle isn't enough to keep me on the sidelines.
Time to hit the pool. With a vengeance.