For the first Saturday in 2019, I had a free Saturday morning.
Between basketball, and then soccer, and mix in some baseball and some Cub Scouting or family events, my calendar was full. With the soccer season not over, but taking a weekend off for Memorial Day, I was fortunate to find a run last Saturday relatively close to home. I hadn’t run a race since New Year’s Eve, and this time of year in Wisconsin is a great one. There are several pretty big races going on right now. Last year, in fact, I ran the Ice Age Trail 50k in honor of my dear friend Kim. And the first weekend in June is the “Kettle 100,” an event that features several distances from 31 miles to 100 miles, and is one of my favorite events. That first weekend of June has soccer on the schedule for my family, and we are leaving for camping “Up North” on Sunday, so it didn’t work. Therefore I gladly took the opportunity and the “OK” from the family to get away for a race last Saturday, May 25.
The Bunk House Trail Runs offer 50K, 30K, and 10K distances for runners of all abilities. This event is dedicated to the legacy of Tom and Loraine Bunk, who have been a cornerstone of the trail running community in Wisconsin for a long time. Construction of a year-round shelter building at the Scuppernong Trailhead was started in June 2017, with all proceeds from this event donated to the shelter project ($13,866 to date); future proceeds will be used to complete the shelter, and other projects in the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest. Being from the Northern Kettles, which are often referred to as the “Better Kettles” by those who live up by me, I enjoy events in the Southern Kettles, and the people I get a chance to see and catch up with.
The course is a challenging 10-kilometer loop (the loop is considerably longer than a 6.2-mile 10k); 50K runners will do multiple loops, reversing direction each lap. There was a fully stocked manned aid station with various food and fluids located at the start/finish area, and I had a chair set up with a cooler full of everything I thought I’d need for this Saturday morning adventure, planning to access it between each of the five loops.
Friday night was a rowdy one with some pretty impressive storms working their way throughout the state (I’m glad I wasn’t camping!), and unfortunately Saturday morning brought one of the very first “warm” days of the spring. Normally I would never, ever complain about 70 degrees. But to have a hot and humid day on my first long race of 2019...well, the timing could have been better. Oh well. Mother Nature is impervious to criticism, so we take what she provides.
Race morning proved to be humid. At 7 a.m. we were off and running, and the first loop felt pretty good. Unfortunately, by the middle of the second loop I was beginning to feel that I had overestimated my training and fitness, and underestimated the difficulty of the course! My legs were feeling the constant hills, and my mindset and mood had soured. I simply wasn’t having fun. I started to come up with reasons to quit. My legs hurt. I was hot. My stomach wasn’t processing calories. The mental list of reasons and excuses lengthened with every hill. I managed to finish the second loop, regroup, grab some more sports drink, and head out for my third loop. I was currently in second place and was on pace to finish in under five hours (which was my goal), but my mind had already checked out a bit, and I was pretty sure that I’d quit the race after completing the third of the five loops. I was fully invested in a self-pity party and continued to add to my list of reasons to quit.
The only real reason was...this just wasn’t fun. I wasn’t having fun. And you know what? That’s an OK reason to stop. I have run over 60 races like this...and this one, with my lack of training and the difficulty of the course, this one was especially “not fun.” So as I worked my way through loop three, I was pretty content with getting back to the start/finish area, packing up, and heading out. In addition, the temps were getting hotter and it was even more muggy out.
Then...it started to pour. It rained hard for about 45 minutes. In that rain, I thought to myself, “well, there goes that excuse about being too hot,” but I was still 99.9 percent sure I was going to quit. It was still raining when I reached the start/finish line. I sat down for a moment, then started to pack up my supplies and my cooler with water bottles in it. Then a friend who was there watching his girlfriend noticed me packing up, and walked over, in the rain, and asked how I was doing.
My reply was pretty much a grunt. But Craig wasn’t having any of it. He offered me different foods. Then he started in with some simple math.
“You have three loops done. So then you just have one more to go. Then you’ll only have one more to go.”
While that sentence sounds odd, it made perfect sense to me. He was convincing me to keep going. I didn’t like the sound of needing to cover another 13 or 14 miles...but if I just started my next loop and took it one step at a time...then it seems a bit more manageable. Finally, he closed the deal with the following:
“Your brain will deal with all of this a lot better if you finish.”
He was right. Quitting after three loops would have made my body much happier. But my mind would have known I had quit. And that would have bothered me for a long time. So...I went back out.
I finished. Those last two loops weren’t fast. They weren’t all that fun at times. But I finished. There were some brights spots too...I got to play in the mud. I had a new pair of shoes on, and they weren’t so bright by the end, but they worked well. I also came within about 10 feet of a Baltimore oriole, which was beautiful. I also was able to come to terms with not meeting expectations in terms of time. And I was taught once again that our bodies are capable of a lot more than our brains allow. Our brains want us to quit long before our bodies need to quit.
My finish time was 5 hours and 18 minutes, good for third place overall. After resting a bit and then hosing off my shoes and legs, I made the drive home and blasted loud music, and relaxed. My brain allowed me to be satisfied with my morning—I hadn’t quit!