It’s not what you think. We promise.
Ultra Runner, NutriFitt Athlete
I had just finished my first marathon in 2012. Sitting in a hotel bathtub full of ice, legs cramping, profanities spilling off my lips, I swore that I would never, ever run 26.2 miles again. Less than a month after finishing that race, I found myself online signing up for my first trail ultra. Blame it on social media. A Facebook post took me to YouTube and I sat fascinated for hours watching people run through the woods and across mountains for 50 and even up to 100 miles at a time. I said to myself, “I am going to do that.” Nothing could stop me!
31 miles through pristine protected wildlife areas filled with steep climbs and stream crossings was my next adventure. I was pumped. Never mind that I had never ran a single mile on a trail. How hard could it be?
Toeing the line at the Music City Trail Ultra 50k in 2013, I remember looking around and seeing the most interesting group of runners I’ve ever seen. The trail running community was on full display and as I stood next to a guy in his sixties – wearing his long hair in a ponytail, a tie dye shirt, and cargo shorts – I couldn’t help but think that I had finally found my tribe.
After taking off into the woods, a steep ascent had me gasping for air as I wondered just what in the hell I had gotten myself into. I ran next to a mother of three for a few miles. We chatted about being a parent, tattoos, and running. Eventually she left me behind, smiling as she sped off, telling me to keep it up! That’s the thing about ultras, you learn just about everything about your fellow racers. At points during the race, you sometimes forget that you are in a competition. But what fascinated me the most, was how these ultra-runners seemed to bask in the pain and suffering of the experience at hand.
For me, running has always been a form of therapy. A way to face my demons and battle depression, anger, and anxiety. Running was about being alone, a way to be separated from people. That would change after this race. About 27 miles in, I had completely forgotten about the pink ribbons that marked the course and it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen a pink ribbon in over an hour. Panic set in as I realized that I was likely lost. A mistake on a course like this can add miles to your race, and possibly prevent a finish. As I tried to breathe and take in what was happening, I felt a breeze, and I smelled all of nature as raindrops began to fall. I realized that to truly be alive, you needed to stop complaining about your situation, refuse to believe in bad luck, and just ride the storm toward the destiny you want to create. That moment in time changed the direction of not only my running, but also my life.
Photo by Jake McKenzie
Mandy Griffith Oakes
Certified Running Coach
We all have races we nail. We train accordingly for the distance, the course, and the temperature. Our finish time reflects our work, and we are proud.
But, those successes don’t come without our fair share of failures. Those races we think we are ready for, but they end up slapping us in the face the moment the gun goes off. Well, this was one of those races.
I was pretty certain the 2013 Hillbilly Half Marathon was going to eat me alive as soon as I walked outside and felt the temperature that morning. It was unseasonably warm for early June and race temperatures were in the low 80s at the start of the race. Add in the rolling hills of Leiper’s Fork and I knew my body and mind were in for it.
I’m always up for a challenge so I pressed forward. The first half of the race was tough, but the last half was pretty much an out-of-body experience – except I was in my body, and it felt like my skin was melting off. No water mistifier or electrolyte drink could have prevented the inevitable, which was me walking. I credit the cows and the scenic countryside for pulling me to mile 12, but it was those very same cows and pastures that inspired me to craft my perfect escape from the race, or at least vanishing from the final race results.
As I made my way into the final curve of the last mile, I snuck over to the nearby fence, unpinned my race bib, and threw it into the field. I felt so free running to the finish line, forgetting about my time, and thinking no one would ever notice. Except somebody did notice.
Soon after, the race director was looking through some of the photos of the race and noticed I was missing something as I crossed the finish line. An expert in “Where’s Waldo?” no doubt, he point blank asked me if I “bandited” the race. I fessed up and told him that I decided to feed my bib to one of the local cows at mile 12 because I was too prideful to accept my shoddy time.
Years later, as a running coach, I continue to share this story as an example of what not to do in a race. Accepting the fact that you aren’t always going to crush a race despite every effort to train for it properly. Learn from your failures and if you need to, laugh at them. Loudly!
Photo by Sam Carbine
CPT, Sports Nutrition Specialist, Fit Studio
Picture this; a dark 4:30 AM start to the race day, the sun trying to peak through the east, while the enormous lake Michigan sat still in the north. Athletes from all over are prepping their minds, bodies, and their race equipment for a half Ironman.
For those who are not familiar with a half Ironman, let me break it down for you. The race kicks off with a 1.2 mile open water swim, 56 mile bike ride, and a 13.1 run to finish.
This particular race was in August of 2015, the year my husband, Scott, and I decided to do our first full Ironman (140.6 miles).
Scott’s full was in May while my race was in October. Meaning, he had nothing else on his schedule and could give it all he had. I on the other hand, had the biggest race still to come and this race in August was my last time to prep for my full Ironman. No funny business allowed. My swim wave stated 30 minutes before his. So I knew I was his rabbit. But that did not hold me back. My goal was clear: To finish before he could catch me.
The entire day was going well, no sight of Scott anywhere. It was around mile nine when I hear a very familiar voice say, “I have been looking for you all day.” Yes friends, this was the voice of my husband. My first question to him was, “Please tell me you’re on your first lap?” As he came up behind me laughing and said, “come on babe, let’s finish the race.” At that time, I had two thoughts: “How did he catch me?” and, “How am I now going to hold that pace?” I finally gave up trying to increase my pace and let him soar by. But I guarantee I would have $#*! myself if I had attempted to stay on his heels. Even though he caught me and finished before I did, I went on to compete in my first full Ironman in October, injury free, and this time, with no one chasing me.
Photo by Zach Hawkins
Midwest Guru Supervisor, Brooks Running
In 2002, I ran my first half marathon here in Nashville. At the time, it was called the Country Music Marathon, but it’s now well known as the St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. It was also the first year they added the half marathon option to the race, so needless to say, I was both excited and nervous to be running with the “big boys”. I trained for six months straight for what I knew would be a strenuous 13.1 miles.
On race day morning, I remember being blown away by how many runners and spectators lined the streets. I knew this was a big event in Nashville, but I was even more amazed when I strolled up to the starting line.
The race started off great and I was feeling confident until mile 6 where it become clear that I was going to have to stop and use the restroom (No. 1. Not No. 2). I eased on until I came to some Porta Potties in the Belmont/12th South area and jumped off the course. When I realized there was a line 10 people deep, I started to panic. Hoping to get a respectable finish time, I was reluctant to wait, so I immediately started to look for alternative options.
I decided to take a detour in the opposite direction. When I found an area suitable for my needs and outside of the public eye, I ran behind a house, jumped over a fence, clambered over a concrete wall and what I thought was, a secluded spot.
As soon as I began to relieve myself, I heard someone yell, “Hey buddy!” Startled, I looked over my shoulder to see four more runners in the same backyard. We were nowhere near the race course and I clearly wasn’t the only one unwilling to wait in line.
The rest of the race went on without a hitch and I placed fairly well for my first half marathon. The entire race was a blast and my experience helped me learn the two rules for racing: Rule No 1. Everyone has to start at the starting line. Rule No. 2. Everyone has to finish at the finish line. What you do between rule No. 1 and rule No. 2 is completely up to you.
I’ve run the St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon every year since and it remains to be my favorite of all time. It’s the race that really got me hooked on running. I’ve now been working in the running industry for 10+ years. I will be running in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon again this year for my 17th year. If you’re one of the few that hasn’t ran or watched this amazing race, I highly encourage you to try it.
Photo by Jake McKenzie