Last Saturday, B and I headed out to run our second ultra, the Mississippi 50 Trail Run, where I hoped to run the 50K a second time. We had run the race last year and absolutely loved it, and we both have been seriously bitten by the trail bug.
To say that I was grossly underprepared would be an understatement, but that seems to be my MO lately, and I usually hope I can get by with a cute outfit, my cheerful optimism, and the paltry road miles I’ve been squeezing in since the Louisiana Half in January and the Loup Garou 20-mile run in December. We left the hotel at 4:30 a.m., followed by our friends Kim and Becky, who would be running their first ultra.
The morning was crisp and cold, maybe the upper 30s, with a nearly full moon peeking through the tall pines — perfect weather to start a race. The 50K consists of two 12-ish mile loops, the “orange” loops, and one 6-ish mile loop, the “blue” loop. The race director had told us at the pre-race meal the night before that we would get our feet wet in calf-deep water on the blue loop and that there was “some” mud on the course … a bit of an understatement!
B and I had talked extensively about the water/mud situation on the trail, and frankly, neither of us was too crazy about wet and muddy feet. We had never run in those conditions, and I was envisioning a worst-case scenario of hypothermia, chafing, and blisters galore. But we also knew that the trail would be what it would be, and we expected a very different race from last year’s perfect conditions. We had both brought shoe/clothes changes and had generously slathered our feet with Trail Toes, which we had read about on the Ultrarunning Facebook page and used for a couple of practice runs (it works great, btw!).
I had been training (if you can call it that) with a 5/1 interval, which worked out to about a 12 1/2 minute pace on the road, but I knew the trail pace would be slower. My goal was just to best last year’s very (very very) slow finish of 8:22. I also planned to walk the uphills (I remembered the course as being very flat, but more on that in a minute) and any creek crossings.
The first few miles went as planned. There was more mud than I was ready for, but at that point it was fairly easy to navigate by going around. I soon fell in with three pairs of girl runners — Melinda and Lisa, Patty and Renee, and Sarah and Christy — and although we were all doing our own thing, pace-wise, we stayed fairly well in sight of one another at that point.
There was mud, that became harder to circumnavigate as more runners plowed through it. And water to slosh through and temporarily wash away the mud. And there were brambles. And uphills that I had totally blocked in my memory of last year’s race (was Aid Station 1 really up that hill last year?? And what about that hill on the “back” part of the out and back?).
We soon were all sporting “battle wounds” from cuts from the thorns, and our feet and legs were wet and muddy. Surprisingly, though, I didn’t mind the mud and water as much as I thought I would. The course was as beautiful as I remembered, and the aid stations were well-stocked by friendly volunteers. The weather was perfect.
I had planned to run entirely by myself, which I had done during Loup Garou and dearly loved, but these six women were really friendly and fun to be around and absolutely encouraging and inspiring — talk about women empowering one another! I soon wound up mostly running with Lisa, a broadcast journalist from New Orleans who was running her first ultra, and Melinda, a veteran ultrarunner who had just run a marathon the week before. These ladies were awesome!
By the out and back, I was having serious doubts about running another two loops. I felt fine, physically and mentally, but I just didn’t feel like running any more — I don’t know how else to explain it. At the start of the out and back, as I was downing some chips at the aid station, I saw the most welcome sight, my sweet hubby, who was on the return from the out and back. We exchanged a hug and kiss, and I said, I think I might be done. And I was.
After stopping at the finish line to receive my medal and blanket (can I just say this race has the BEST swag, btw? And how awesome to be able to drop down to a shorter distance, the 20K in this case, and still be considered a “finisher”!), I headed to the car (where I found a sweet love note from my hubby!) for some warm dry clothes and to cheer on the 50K finishers. Kim and Becky rocked their first ultra in 6 hours and some change, B PRd his by 45 minutes or so, and all my new friends came in like champs. What a great day! We will definitely be back to run this race again, and that 50K has my name on it next March!
Musing on the race afterwards, I apologized on FB to one of my new friends for having bailed on them. Her response? “You were being a #SmartRunner. Some people don’t know how to make that call. You did fabulous!!!” I love the laid-back and empowering feel of these trail races and the support from the ultra community. I am not a quitter; I am a finisher. And I did not let anyone down, not even myself: I was a smart runner.