The sun was still shining bright and it would be for at least another hour before giving the almost full moon a chance to brighten the night sky over Pedernales Falls State Park. There was nobody counting down for me to start the race and I was the only one standing at the staring line so I sent one last text message and I began my 37 mile journey. This trail race was my first to run underneath the Texas stars which required me to use a headlamp to navigate the rocks, water, trees, and whatever else I would encounter along the way. I had been thinking about this race, counting down the days for over a month, so to say that I was obsessed about it would have been an understatement. This was going to be my longest and toughest run yet.
I made it to the first aid station with a huge smile on my face. Everything was going well for me so far. I was moving at a decent pace and my new shoes felt like I was running on air. I started running a year earlier in an old pair of basketball shoes that I used to mow the grass in. I learned quickly that proper running shoes made a huge difference when I got my first pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20. For this race I had purchased Hoka One One’s Speedgoat 4 in an attempt to help me navigate the trails more easily. I felt like I could run in those shoes for days! About a mile after the first aid station my left shoe came untied and this was the point that I realized I may be more stubborn than I thought. It did not seem as though the untied shoe was effecting me in any way and I did not want to stop until I made it to the second aid station so I pressed on. I thought back to watching Dennard Robinson when he played for the University of Michigan and how he would play QB with his shoes untied. That was the only justification I needed to run with my shoe untied. The sun was getting sleepy and started fading away behind the trees and I had not put my headlamp on yet so it was beginning to get difficult to see. As I was running up a hill I saw what appeared to be in the distance a deer who was running and stopped dead in its tracks. I wondered to myself if my headlamp had been on if the deer would have frozen until I got closer to it. Instead this one had as much interest in me running as my non-running friends do when I share my running stories. I arrived at the second aid station, refilled my water bottles and I retied the laces in both of my shoes with a double knot so that hopefully they would not come untied again.
I ran into my first problems on the trail after I had left the second aid station when I rolled my right ankle on a rock. This is not typically a problem for me, it happens quite a bit on rocky terrain. I have learned that if I keep running it typically takes care of itself. I rolled the ankle a second time and I still had no real cause for concern. The third time it happened was much worse than the first two times and it slowed me to a walk m. All three times happened within a one mile segment on the trail. I drank a little bit of water and took the opportunity to get out my head lamp because it would not be much longer until I needed it to help find my way in the dark. It was not until I put my water bottle up that I realized I had a 2 inch splinter sticking out of my hand from where I had grabbed on to a tree to keep me from falling. I pulled the splinter out and I slowly worked my way back into a jog and then into a run and I pressed on into the night.
The rest of my first loop of 18 miles did not get much better. I found myself rolling my right ankle more frequently with each mile. I had to walk through the more rocky areas and running on the dirt trails. At one point after rolling my ankle again I started hoping the next time would be my left one. I made my way into the last aid station before the start/finish line, I refilled my bottles and I took a seat for a little bit to check out my ankle. I noticed that it had started swelling quite a bit and I knew I had two more miles of trail left to make a decision about finishing this race. This was the first time in any race I had even thought about not finishing. My first trail race I got lost and ran an extra mile and a half and did not even think about quitting.
I left the aid station and I thought about three letters. DNF. Did not finish. I started weighing the benefits of grinding out another 18 mile loop of this rocky terrain on my now swollen right ankle versus the benefits of stopping. I went back and forth in my mind over stopping or pushing through for one more loop. Each step I took left me more even more indecisive. Each step on my right foot told me to stop and each step with my left foot told me to ignore my right foot (we don’t need him) and finish this thing. I even pushed my pace a little to see if my ankle could handle it. Right foot had the strongest argument and I decided that today was not going to be my day to finish this race. I would finish strong and turn in my timing chip when I crossed the start/finish line.
I crossed the line and I went over to the grassy area next to the aid station and I sat down for a little bit because I was not quite ready to quit. Maybe it is the competitor in me or possibly my stubbornness and mentioned earlier, but something that told me if I just sat down for a little bit I would be fine and I could start up and finish the race. Ultimately as I sat there I thought about how many people have donated their hard earned money towards my fundraising campaign to Stop MS! I thought about all of my other teammates on this relay across the US. I committed to run 167 miles from Ohio to Pennsylvania and I would be starting my segment in a little over a month. I decided risking a more serious injury and losing training time would be selfish of me so I got up and walked over to turn my timing chip in and told them I would not be finishing the 60K today. They gave me a 30K medal for all of the miles that I did complete and I was not sure that I wanted it because I did not complete the 60K distance. As I sit here writing this I believe that this could quite possibly be my favorite race medal because it is a reminder of my first DNF and motivation to make every single training run count. Most likely this will not be my last DNF and I am okay with that. I did not start running because I thought it would be easy. Ultimately my goal is to complete a 100 mile race and this is part of my journey to get there.
When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.Angela Duckworth, “Grit”