I could hardly control myself in the few weeks leading up to my first 50 miler. My training had been going really well, the course was going to be pretty dry, and I was getting to fly home and see family and race in my home state where I ran a solid 50k the year before. I was about as excited as could be, and maybe even too excited.
In my head, after analyzing hard weeks with up to 12 hours of substantial training, it just occurred to me one day on a run that I ought to go out hard and see how long my body could handle a hot pace, then hopefully hold on and finish well. This was my game plan with a week to go until a few things changed. As I checked iRunfar during the week, there was an article on patience in ultrarunning, and how many fail to have patience in races and training and pay for the consequences. As this was in the back of my mind, I asked some 50 mile veterans during the RMR Manic Monday run the week of the race about strategy, and was warned about having a time goal, and that finishing in one piece would be more important. Well shoot, it seemed like I was being warned about my ambitious goals in more ways than one, looks like my patience would be tested.
And tested it was. My flights went great, I landed in Jackson, MS in time to watch my little brother run a track meet and make the drive down to southwest Mississippi where the race would unfold under the beautiful pines of the Desoto National Forest. A very friendly pre-race briefing seeing some old friends and it was back to the hotel to get some sleep. My dad Ed, also 50 mile veteran, would be running the race as well, so his experience eased my nerves the morning of the race. I have paced him in his two 100 mile finishes and crewed for many of his ultras, so I knew what I was getting into and was very excited.
RMR Eric Lee was also racing, as he has some family in Mississippi as well, so there would be a good contingent from Boulder representing down in the thick air. The race started as Eric and I were joined by a nice fellow from Tennessee, and the three of us ran along in conversation for the first 25 miles or so until Eric and I pulled away. The race is made up of three big loops of 12.5 miles and two 10k loops at the end. The course is soft pine straw and horse trail, and the one obstacle is the numerous creek crossings during the race, probably getting runners’ feet wet over twenty times during the race.
The weather was 28 degrees at the start, and after about 10 minutes into the race, the first creek crossing brought numb toes for the next hour. As Eric and I ran on at about 8 minute pace, I was reminded how important patience was at this distance. I found myself slowing my pace regularly, I was just ready for things to get difficult like the pace always is in a 50k, but nevertheless I focused on my nutrition, doing gels regularly and eating an orange slice at most aid stations so prime my body for the last 20 miles. At around mile 28, I had my first rough patch, and as Eric put a few minutes on me in the woods I became very frustrated with how the run was going. I hadn’t even reached 30 miles yet and felt crappy. I was somewhat concerned, having never had a low patch on easy effort in a race, and was extremely surprised only twenty minutes later.
All of a sudden I looked up and was right back with Eric again. It hit me that my body had gone through a weird rough patch but had recovered, I was feeling good again. Mentally I was relieved. I was now prepared for the rest of the race; for the first time ever I knew that my energy would dip down and come back up for the remainder of the miles. After this mark Eric and I began to alternate leading by up to a few minutes depending on who was feeling good. It was really comforting to not be alone up front and to have a friend to converse with, taking my mind off the miles.
As I completed my last big loop and started my first 10k loop, I had a half a minute up on Eric, and was just coming out of another rough patch. Mile 42 was an 8:10 as I surged with energy coming into the last loop. Historically, the runner to start the last 10k loop in this race has won for the past several years, and I figured the loop I had just completed was strong enough to give me some breathing room. I pounded some water at the start/finish, and ran hard to start my last loop. Execute, I thought, all you have to do is not blow it up and you have a shot. You might win your first 50 miler!!
I was brought back to reality in a hard way a few steps after a creek crossing when I heard a large splash. Over my shoulder was a blur of RMR green as Eric passed me in a big way. He tried to encourage me the best that he could, but after a few blinks and he was almost out of sight. I immediately was much more tired than a few moments ago as first place dashed towards the finish. Four mentally tiring miles and I was back at the finish. 7:16.
Eric had flown past me and finished in 7:03, a big p.r. for him and a very well executed race. For me, I learned more about myself than I have ever known. The last few hours of suffering makes one become very introspective and see clearly who they are. I embraced the sine curve of energy and it was a super rewarding experience. I ran really hard for a debut 50 and was so happy to finally have done it. Elated to finish, respectful of veterans’ experience in getting my ass kicked, and happy to see my dad have a great day and come in fifth at 8:14.
This was not one of those races where I thought “I will never do this again.” I cannot wait to get back to the pain cave and give 50 miles a shot again. The Mississippi 50 is fantastic race, very well executed with awesome aid stations and great volunteers. Anyone looking for a very runnable, fun day in the South should definitely give this race a shot. I am really thankful for everything I learned on this day, friends and family supporting me, and the chance to represent RMR as we sweeped 1-2!