Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Stone Mill 50: Warmth and Camaraderie

Today we have another guest post from DJ Research!  Last week he wrote about his pre-race jitters for the Stone Mill 50.  Having survived--and beating his goal time by a half-hour--DJ Research is back to reflect on his first 50-mile race.

All told, it took me 9 hours, 26 minutes to cross the finish line. I ran for most of it, walked for significant chunks, and at one point, I fell face first while running downhill, skidding through the leaves. But the most significant moment of my day happened before the race even started. With 30 minutes to start time, there was a line winding out of the men's restroom. "There's no line to use the urinal," I was told. As I took my position at the end, I thought, Well, I'll be sure to relay the message to anyone who comes up behind me.

If you've read (this), you know I had a lot of anxiety prior to race day. Of all the things I'd been worrying about, the line for the one and only men's stall (for 200+ male racers) was not one of them. We don't need to get into details (I've already given away too much), but it can be really difficult to use the toilet when there's only seven minutes to race time and a line of people waiting on YOU. I'm telling you this, because despite all the worrying, all the over-thinking, all the hemming and hawing, this, the one thing I hadn’t considered, was (thankfully) the most intense and nerve-wracking part of my day.

Stone Mill 50 start
Stone Mill 50 start

I found my first ever 50-miler to be just as grueling as I'd been told to expect. But it was twice as rewarding. I trudged my way up many hills and enjoyed equally many downhills (even after 40+ miles, I still managed the energy for exhilaratingly fast descents). I bonked my face off - not once, not twice, but three times. At mile 43, I was rewarded with the finest styrofoam cup of ramen I will probably ever enjoy. I staved off the choice words of my inner demons and was lifted up by several trail angels that I will always remember for their unexpected encouragement. And I was witness to the camaraderie I had heard that the Ultra community was famous for. While waiting for the toilet.

It was 5:30AM, dark, and 36-degrees – 30 minutes to race time. The line, thirteen people deep, had already extended outside the facilities. As it slowly took its course, we compared shoes (super minimalist Vibrams to supermaximalist Hoka One Ones) and recent races (some had run the Richmond Marathon only last weekend), and we all came to a mutual agreement: no more than two minutes on the toilet.

The whole day was like that. I never had to ask to pass anyone on the narrow single track trails. Before I even had the chance, the notion was offered. If someone tripped on a root, the closest person always helped him up. The aid station volunteers never waited for me to ask for something, everything was offered. Encouragement was tossed about like confetti. And I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Stone Mill 50 2012

In a lot of ways, my first marathon was much more difficult than this race. Don’t get me wrong, running 50 miles is an ordeal that can be full of pain and loneliness. However, where my 30,000-person marathon felt like a race of just me against the clock, the Stone Mill 50 felt like this cool thing 421 other people and I were all trying to accomplish together (plus dozens of volunteers and countless other supportive bystanders).

Running UPHILL to the finish

Stone Mill 50 Finish
Crossing the finish line!!

And the person who I think typified this the most is someone I’m still very thankful for: the guy three spots ahead of me in line who said, “You know what guys? I’m just going to poop in the woods.”


1 comment:

  1. This is the exact experience I've had with trail running every time. People are so darn nice. I completely agree that it feels like you are just in it together for a great experience. And that's not even racing ultras. I love the trail community.