Merrill’s Mile: Race Report

Yeah yeah, another race report. But then,  I could tell you about reading Derrida and Nietzsche for grad school homework and then my boring old race report doesn’t sound so bad does it?

So anyway, on Saturday and Sunday (9/1-2) the aptly named DUMASS events (that’s Dahlonega Ultra Marathon Association) held its first running of the Merrill’s Mile 12 and 24 hour  timed races at this Ranger camp out in the boonies. Timed events are not like your usual races where the winner is who gets from Point A to Point B the quickest. Instead, the winner is the person who runs the most miles in a given time period. Since I’d never run more than a 50k+ (that random 36ish miler I did in the spring), I opted for the 12 hour as a stepping stone towards the longer ultras that I’d like to try. I could have done 12 hours at night, but decided daytime running would be a better idea. In retrospect, the fact that the was as hot at you’d imagine in Georgia in summer makes me wonder if night running would have been more pleasant.

Since I’d never taken on anything of this caliber, the week of the race was a little stressful in trying to sort out the logistics of food, lodging, transportation and the like. The Boyfriend graciously offered to come with me, and although I was a little reticent about making him give up his weekend so I could go run in circles (oblongs, actually), I was ultimately glad to have him around. His best role of the weekend was in chauffeuring me to and from the race. We left Greenville at about 5am on Saturday morning and I spent most of the drive dozing and trying to avoid thinking about what I was about to try.

We got to the camp and set up on the backstretch of the one-mile loop that I’d be calling home for the next 12 hours. This choice meant that I would run by Boyfriend and my cache of food and liquids at the end of each lap before crossing the start/finish area and the official aid station. As I’m learning with ultras, the race got underway with basically no fanfare whatsoever. I adore the way ultras start because if it were like other races I’d get too hyped up and go out far to fast.

As everyone got into their groove over the first few hours, I occupied my time by trying my best to not know how many laps I’d been running, taking food from Boyfriend, and occasionally socializing with the other runners. Then it got hot. Like really hot. From about 11:30am to 5pm the loop was in full, scorching, Georgia sun. Honestly, I think I fared better than many of the other folks out there and that’s purely down to my own laziness. You see, all summer I have had good intentions, and you know what they say about those. I mean to get up early and get my run done before the heat of the day, but I inevitably stay up too late, wake up too late, and not start running until noon or so. This means that I’m not only a little more acclimated to hotter conditions, but that my body is also just used to running at that particular time of the day. Getting through those hot miles was still less than pleasant, but once it began to cool down, I was pretty pleased with my progress.

I’d hit the 50k mark at 5 hours and 45 minutes and felt like I was staying on a solid pace and managing my rate of breakdown fairly well. Palmer (that’s Boyfriend), left camp at around 4pm and ended only getting back as I was closing in on 50 miles, which I hit in 9 hours and 55 minutes. I’ll be honest in that I did not do so hot while he was gone. I’d more or less shut my brain off early on and let him worry about reminding me to eat, drink, and when I should probably slow down for a recovery lap. Thus, once he left for a while, I had no ability to manage my own survival. D’oh. I got so focused on just getting to 50 miles. That was cool and all, but once I hit 50 I was kind of over the whole running an ultra marathon thing.

I walked lap 51, then sat down and ate more food, took off my shoes, and chilled out for awhile. At this point, I’d been told that I was leading the 12 hour race and so I figured I could leisurely wander another mile or so and still be in the lead. I sometimes momentarily forget that I’m competitive.

I knew a couple of the guys would be closing in on 50 miles soon, but they’d intimated that they would not be going on much beyond that. I didn’t count on John getting a second wind! I’d met John at the Georgia Jewel 50k earlier this spring and there he’d passed me fairly close to the end. He was totally about to do the same thing here. So, I started running again. I really didn’t know I had it in me, and the time was winding down on the daytime 12 hour.

Also, I was wearing flip-flops.

I tried. I really really did. It was probably the most pathetic attempt of not going down without a fight ever, but I started flip-flopping along again in the fading light, hoping that I’d hang on to my lead. John and I were good-natured about it, him yelling across the loop “why are you running again?!” at me with a smile and I yelled at him “curses!!” It was a fun way to end the day, and I ended up with 55 miles to his 56. I honestly would have stopped at 51 or 52 if it hadn’t been for that last burst of competition and encouragement by a new friend Sandy, so I was thankful for it. The 55 was enough to win the women’s 12 hour division, as we were also pitted against the nighttime 12 hour racers so that was awesome.

Planning ahead by a few meters, Palmer handed me a beer which I cracked as I crossed the finish line for the last time and I was so glad to be done but even gladder that I’d done it. We packed up all our stuff and I did my best to extend thanks to everyone and we headed off to shower and get some sleep in really uncomfortable hotel beds.

I really can’t express the emotions about it all, but I’m kinda hooked on this ultra stuff now so maybe I’ll get better at it over time. Physically, yeah things hurt, but I’ve run 60-100 miles a week for a pretty extended period of time now and I feel like I am getting a good handle on how to fuel myself and recover during and after my training runs so it transferred over pretty well. So, um, that’s it. Typically, I forgot to get any photographic evidence of the weekend (though there are lots of pics on Facebook) so here’s a drawing of a cat wearing a sombrero:

It's a cat. Wearing a sombrero.