I never know what I’m capable of if I don’t try.
That was my motto going into DanMan. My goal was 50 miles, and even though it was a stretch, I knew I needed the mindset that I would complete 50. Otherwise, I was giving myself a way out the first time it got hard.
So on the morning of April 6th, my husband and I loaded up the car and headed north. He brought his mountain bike just in case. Good call.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, or how my body would react. My longest trail run leading up to DanMan was 13 miles a few weeks earlier, and the most time I had ever spent on my feet was a 5 hour road marathon in 2012. I did feel like I still had my marathon fitness from January and February though. The layout of the course, and the fact that it was free, kept me from freaking out too much. My main concern for that day was the weather and the threat of thunderstorms.
I met up with some of the guys I’ve run with on the trails/met through Strava who were also signed up for the 50 miler. That made it less scary knowing others there.
Everyone ran the first loop, which was 10k. I was running with the guys, and we settled into a run/walk the hills rhythm. As we came back around to the start/ranch house, my husband had his bike ready to go out. I changed my hat (because it was starting to rain) to one that would cover my head better. We headed out together on the second loop, which was for half, marathon, and 50 milers. The course was mainly dirt roads around the ranch, so he biked on one side while I ran/walked on the other.
We made the turn off for the 50 mile loop, and that’s when the weather took a turn. Rain started coming down harder, and there was lightning and thunder. I got a refresher course on where to go/what to do if you’re out on the trail or road when there’s lightning. We counted seconds between lightning strikes and thunder. 6 miles away, then 8, then 10. The lightning was moving off, but it was pouring. Rain was dripping off my hat, and I was trying to just get through the muddy sections and stay upright. We finished the loop and came back onto the main loop, and we even got to run with Dan (the Danman) for a bit. Then we made our way back to the ranch house/start.
At this point I was close to 17 miles in 4 hours. My quads were aching from the hills and my inner thighs were sore. Most of my miles were averaging 13 minute pace.
My husband took a break while I headed back out on the first 10k loop. This time it was very different. I was slipping and sliding, and even fell back on my rear from sliding in the mud. It wasn’t much of a fall, more of a slip and sit move. I told the guys to go on without me. I knew the layout of the course by then. I started getting frustrated with the amount of time it was taking to cover the distance. Miles were ranging from 15-20 minutes. The long uphill back to the ranch house took forever. My shoes were heavy with mud. I kept trying to scrape them off, but it didn’t make much of a difference. The cars that passed me on their way out of the ranch would slow and wave, shout out encouragement or cheer, and that lifted my spirits. When I finished the loop, I found my husband by the car. “I need to change my shoes.” It was mile 23. I changed my hat again too, to a dry visor.
By this time, the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to come out. It was a little humid, but I wasn’t running much so it didn’t bother me as bad as it usually does. My husband headed back out with me on his bike. By this time I was expecting to make it to around 33 miles with the next two loops. But it was still so muddy.
I was hurting from my legs sliding side to side – I’m not used to that movement you know. I was walking a lot more. My quads were aching. I was covering miles in 20 minutes. I had an alert on my Garmin set for every 45 minutes to remind me to fuel. Thank goodness for that. I would’ve missed a lot of calories. I remember saying, “Didn’t I just take a gel a few minutes ago?” Time was moving fast, but my legs were moving oh so slow.
And the low points. I cried – more than once. I said, “I knew it would be hard. I just didn’t know it would be this hard this early.” I hadn’t even made it to the marathon distance.
But then I did.
My husband took my phone and posted pictures to Facebook for my friends following along. Before we reached the turn off loop for the 50 milers again, I told him I wanted to skip it. I just wanted to be done. He agreed.
For all the low points, I had just as many smiles of celebration. I cheered each mile over 26 as a new distance. Yes, I finished another mile. Yes, that was a 17 minute mile instead of 20. Little victories helped get me back to the ranch house – where all I wanted to do was stop moving.
When I came up to the ranch house from the mud and reached the aid station table, I stopped my Garmin. I was done.
By that point, I didn’t care that I didn’t make it to 50k, and for sure 50 miles. The mud had done me in and my legs were through.
I looked at the table full of food that I had passed three times throughout the day. Pretzels, Nutella, trail mix, m&ms, pb&j, pickles, chips, crackers… So much food, but nothing sounded good. I wasn’t nauseous, and I knew I needed some calories. The man taking care of the table handed me a cup of Ramen with saltine crackers on top. It’s exactly what I needed.
After cleaning up and changing clothes, we headed into the ranch house where we could sit down and eat, and talk about the day. My legs were pretty mad at me and my feet were a mess, but I had a feeling of accomplishment that I haven’t had in a while. It was humbling for sure, but I don’t think my time on the trails, or with ultras, is through.
On a final note, I will say that trail race food is so much better than road race food.