I had an absolute blast in last Saturday's Dances with Dirt Green Swamp 50 Miler. At one point, kicking water in the air, running, laughing, I said to the other woman I was running with, "I'm having so much fun!"
Going into this race, my biggest worry was the negative consequences that could occur if I ran into an alligator. My brother had one when I was younger, but it was smaller and in a tank. What if I ran into an enormous alligator? Everyone warned me they ran very quickly and basically, they could eat me quickly.
My love for 50 milers convinced me to do this race, over my fear of alligators. I think they're the most fun distance! Marathons are way too fast and painful, 50ks are fun but you're just starting to get into things when they end, and 100 milers are WAY too longer. 100ks are also fun. But 50 milers - they're the perfect distance. They're short enough that you can do the run, eat a great big dinner, have a mellow night out even. I LOVE 50 milers.
I almost didn't get down to FL with the crazy snowstorm - my flight was canceled and I flew down to FL a day late. Even driving across Florida was stressful - I feel like I didn't fully relax until I started running.
Florida was struck by a cold wave. At the start, it was 34. I decided to go with my favorite pink running skirt, tank top, with my warm black running top from EMS on top, gloves, and pink visor. We all shivered in the tent by the start, warming up by the heater.
The 50 milers started at 5:30a.m. The first 8 miles or so were quite dark, so we ran with headlamps -- and consistently got lost. Miles 1-5 were white ribbons, and 5-10 were orange, and the orange were SO hard to see. Running in a big pack, we still got lost several times.
We started out running on fairly flat trails and sand. I was glad I wore my gaiters. We were all chatting with each other, and one guy was RUNNING AND SMOKING! He was a runner who also smoked cigarettes; so bizarre.
Around mile 3 or 4, we got to our first water section. There was no way around it, and it was a bit of a shock with the cold temperatures. We ran through it, complaining, and my shoes made that soggy sound for a while afterward.
I hooked up with a nice woman, Kim, and we ran together until Mile 23 (when I had to stop to pee, argh). She ended up winning the race - go Kim! We chatted a lot, exchanging ultra stories, talking about what we find attractive in a partner (Her boyfriend is an ultrarunner!), splashing through the mud.
The trails were often completely full of water, and we tried to avoid it (Hey, I wasn't taking any chances with the alligators) if it was easy; if not, we splashed right through. Because the trails were quite flat, we were able to run most of the course. I had a huge smile on my face and at one point said to Kim, "This is so much fun!" I was having a blast.
Some of the 50k runners and relay runners ended up blasting past, and I ran with some nice 50k runners for a while. The relay runners kept getting lost and missing the turnoffs. A lot of the time, I ran alone, which is fine with me. On beautiful trails, I don't need anything else. It's a test for me. It's my meditation. It's my happy time. It's the time when I'm my true whole self.
Around mile 24, I saw two hunters with very large guns. Guns frighten me, and I nervously said hello and acted friendly. Shortly after, I saw a water moccasin. I only knew it was that because two guys near me told me; despite their friendly-sounding name, they are quite poisonous.
At one point, I had to climb a fence. I looked around for the ribbons, thought, "Are you kidding me?" when I saw the ribbons on the other side of the fence. So many times in races when you realize you have to cross streams ("Are the trail markers REALLY over there? Oh no...") it's the same feeling. It wasn't too hard, but it was a little ridiculous around mile 24 (and then you have to climb over it again on the way back!).
I joined up with this nice guy and we chatted a bit, and then we took the wrong way, following some stupid Verizon flags in the ground (instead of the ultra flags, which were almost the same colour).
The worst thing about having a relay at the same time is watching the relay runners blast by you and feeling slow...and when they see you at the aid stations. I was covered with gu, blood, sweat, mud, snot, and eating like a maniac. They stared at me as I inhaled pretzels, peanut M & Ms, snickers, my powerbar chews, gels. "Oh YUM!" It made me aware that I was clearly not normal.
Around mile 32, I saw the hunters again...this time dragging a bloody dead boar. Not the best thing for a vegetarian to see, especially when her stomach is upset.
The race started to get painful - I pushed past the pain and my stomach felt queasy. I ate pretzels, jolly ranchers, forced myself to eat. When you don't eat, then you bonk, and then it's over. It's hard to balance eating with nausea. At one point, I laughed to myself: "Of course I'm nauseous. I'm eating gu and snickers and m & ms and pretzels - that's not the best combination." Not to mention the fact that I was also running at the same time as eating.
The terrain was lovely - very runnable. I've never run so much in an ultra. An aid station mistakenly told me I was second woman (which I doubt, especially when I passed two women in the last ten miles). Still, I pushed forward, passing people.
At a mile to go, I pushed as hard as I could. A relay runner was struggling and his teammate began jogging with him (barefoot). I passed him. His teammates were infuriated. "You can't let her pass you! Get her! You can get her!" No way. I was so determined - I pushed and pushed and grimaced --
(I finished ahead of him!)
It wasn't my best 50 miler - 10 hours 16 minutes - but it was a lot of fun. As usual I met all sorts of awesome, wonderful people. I had fun doing what I love most - running.
After, I learned I was 3rd woman overall, 1st in my age group (To be honest, I was the only one!), and 7th overall. I feel quite good about that!
I highly recommend this race. From what I've heard, other Dances with Dirt races are even harder, but totally fun. When a race is insane, sign me up!