After finishing Mountain Mist and the completion of the Grand Slam at the end of January, I spent most of February being kind of lazy. I suppose not lazy by anyone else’s normal standards, but when you spend 3 months running and training for ultra marathons, and then suddenly you’re only running maybe three times a week with nothing longer than 10 miles, you feel kind of lazy.
So, needless to say, I wasn’t exactly prepared for this race. But it’s so low pressure, and I had so many friends doing it, I knew that even if I didn’t get very many miles it would still be a fun day in the sunshine with my best buddies. The way this race is set up ends up making it feel like a big family reunion or company picnic, except better because it’s with people you actually like. It takes place on a 1 mile crushed gravel loop that winds around Delano Park in Decatur, AL. Everyone generally sets up their own “home station” along the path, and basically you just run in circles all day. It sounds mind numbing, but it’s honestly really fun. You get the chance to get to know everyone out there and run with people you might have never gotten to run with before. Runners come and go all day, some doing a relay, some doing the whole thing, some people just showing up to hang out and provide support when needed. And best of all, the race directors and volunteers are all so nice, accommodating, and organized. The aid station was well stocked, we wanted for nothing, and loop after loop we were greeted with smiles. I had plans to run with my steadfast trail friends, Kim and Colleen. In my head I was referring to us as the Girl Power Squad all day.
Kim and I arrived just before 5am to get our packets and personal aid stations set up. We were both in the same boat– having done very little to prepare for this race but just hoping to have a good time. Soon it was time to start and we all slowly gathered in the grass. It seemed like there were fewer people there than last year and we joked that we were the only weirdos that actually showed up on time for a race that lasts for TWELVE HOURS!! Off we went on the first loop and Kim, Colleen, and I settled in to a good rhythm along with another runner (whose name I forgot even after trying really hard to make sure I remembered it because I SUCK AT NAMES) and it didn’t take long for us to get into the good topics of conversation– religion, death and dying, self-compassion… It was awesome.
We adopted a strategy of “run two, rest a few,” where we would run two laps and then stop at our chairs to grab a snack, drink something, pee, etc. We often ended up needing to sit down and shake the gravel our of our shoes. SO MUCH GRAVEL!! As nice as running on the soft surface is, the tiny rocks stabbing my feet all day were a real nuisance. I ended up with blisters fairly early on in the race and I was regretting not having gaiters on my shoes. I ended up switching from my Nikes to my Montrails, which helped a little, but not a lot. Thankfully I was running with partners that were just along for the ride the same as I was, so there wasn’t any pressure to perform well and we were having fun, taking selfies, telling stories, and enjoying our time together. At one point the entire cast of The Wizard of Oz walked through the park cheering (we still aren’t sure if that was real or a group hallucination), there was a random Godzilla statue that kept inexplicably moving to different places around the park, you know normal ultra marathon things.
Our friend Tracy stopped by to run with us a little while, we did several laps with her, posted a selfie on facebook at the half marathon mark, and before I knew it, the sun was high in the sky and we were nearing 20 miles. I had taken a couple breaks and sat down to rest while Colleen and Kim continued to run, so they were ahead of me in number of laps. I was starting to get tired and hungry, REALLY hungry. I took some Excedrin for my back ache, and I was drinking Coke at my stops by aid station, but my stomach was ready for some real food. I couldn’t wait for the pizza to get there at lunch time. It was also getting surprisingly hot for a March day and I ended up ditching my shirt entirely and running in my sports bra and tights. I’m sure I looked crazy, and I felt a little silly, but it was worth it to not feel like I was having a heat stroke.
We started adding short walk breaks to our laps. It’s a running joke for the race that at the beginning of the day, the loop is entirely flat… but somehow by the end of the day, all these hills appear out of nowhere. We started walking up the “bigger” “hills” and that surprisingly made a big difference in my mental state and also my general feeling of fatigue (that was probably also the Excedrin kicking in). Suddenly I felt like I could run the loop pretty much forever as long as I was allowed to keep taking these walk breaks. Also the pizza finally got there, so I took a slice and walked an entire lap while I ate it. It was magical.
Mile 27 came and I had officially finished a marathon. There were still hours left in the race but I thought to myself that I could likely stop here and still be happy with my distance. A marathon on little to no training! That isn’t shabby! Our friend Lindsey was planning to come run with us some, so I decided to sit down and rest until she got there. My blisters were starting to feel really sore, so I figured I could put my feet up and let them cool off a little. I grabbed a handful of pretzels and another cup of coke and got comfy in my camp chair. I think the break was about 20 – 30 minutes and when Lindsey showed up I reluctantly got up to run/walk some more. I was definitely tired and achy, but still laughing and having fun.
We had all reached the part of the race where you start to feel delirious and I’m pretty sure half the stuff I said didn’t make any sense. We were taking more frequent walk breaks and I started to feel like the wheels were definitely falling off the wagon. The gravel in my shoes was driving my CRAZY!! I was around mile 29 and decided to just walk the rest of the way. I had my heart set on going at least 32 miles, so I could have a distance PR, and if I had to walk to get there, SO BE IT. Thankfully Kim was feeling the same way, so we walked/waddled together. And complained about the gravel the whole time. And probably told nonsensical stories because our brains were incapable of properly processing information. I was amazed by some of the other runners that were still going strong– it’s always really cool to be able to watch the progress of the people who are truly competing. There was one girl there that was so steady, she didn’t seem to falter all day and her parents were the SWEETEST PEOPLE EVER! They were cheering loudly for everyone and they seemed so genuinely happy to be there.
FINALLY I was on my final lap. I was so ready to sit down and never ever run or walk again. My feet were hurting, my left hip was on fire, and my butt was chaffed. We slowly walked my final lap and I proudly finished the race with 32 miles– the farthest I’ve ever run before! Yippee!
All in all, another fun, successful year at the Delano 12 Hour! Maybe one of these days I’ll actually TRAIN for this race…