By Christina Morrow
I’m not a nervous racer. I know there are a lot of people who get wound up before a race and worry themselves into a nauseous mess so when that gun finally sounds they’re about to pass out before they even take the first step. That’s not me. The biggest concern I have, and I think a lot of you share it, is whether or not I was able to poop in the porta-potty before the race. And if not, I know there are potties at regular intervals that will be there for me, so I still don’t get particularly worked up. If I did poop, then I know it’s going to be, at the very least, a slightly faster finish time.
A couple weekends ago, I was in Munising, MI for the Grand Island Trail Half Marathon. (They offer a full and ultra if you swing that way, but I learned long ago my body revolts spectacularly if I try to go past 18 miles.) Many of us mainland Michiganders know and love the U.P., especially in summer. It’s the slightly backwards little brother (and I mean that as a term of deepest endearment, so don’t get your panties in a twist) that’s host to some of the most beautiful natural vistas in Michigan. The Grand Island Trail Half is an absolutely stunning 13.1 miles of surprisingly easy terrain (excluding that gorgeous and exhausting mile on the beach and the couple miles in the middle up those hills). It’s the kind of race where your finish time is a bit slower because you stopped to take some photos along the way. If you’re my dad, you try to post them to Facebook as you take them only to realize the cell service on the island is spotty at best.
My dog, Ford, admiring our camping spot the day before the race.
Lining up for the start of the race, I was feeling pretty good. I know you’re wondering about this: yes, I was able to poop. And though my stomach had been acting strangely the last few long runs, forcing me to pit stop more often than I normally would, I was fairly confident I was not going to poop myself or have to pull over and squat in the woods while trying to avoid poisonous plants I knew nothing about and contemplating whether or not forest rangers could arrest people for indecent exposure. (The bathrooms are spread thin on this race. If you can, I’d recommend the one around mile 4 on the beach. It’s an absolutely lovely open air wooden outhouse right off the water.)
2016 Post-race plunge into Lake Superior with my honorary aunt, Kim.
At the gun, I took off at a solid pace, right where I wanted to be for most of the race. Thanks to an extended vacation the month before on which I deliberately left my running shoes home, I was in no way trying to PR for this race. All I really wanted to do was get the miles in to make up for some of the calories I planned to consume in beer and hot dogs later that day. I learned the hard way last year to go for the hot dogs at Johnny Dogs and not the pasties at Muldoons. You might kick me out of the state for this, but I am just not a fan of pasties. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if it’s just that I’m eating them at the wrong places and you have an awesome pastie joint I need to try.
Anyway, I was less than a quarter mile into the race, just starting to clear that starting pack and get into a good rhythm, when a shooting pain started in my back and continued to stab every step I took. I kept running, thinking the pain would work itself out and lessen soon. Instead, it increased to the point where it hurt to breathe. I stopped to walk a little, stretching a bit, hoping that would help. It didn’t. I tried running again, thinking there was no way I was bonking a quarter mile away from the start. That was supposed to happen at the finish, where you can force your body to go those maybe 500 steps to the finish line. But there was no way I was going to make it the nearly 26,000 steps it would take me to reach the finish. So I stopped. For the first time in the 10 years I’ve been casually road racing various distances, I did not finish a race.
I think this happens to everyone at some point, some more often than others. At least that’s what I’ve heard from other people. Granted, normally a person covers some mileage before they bonk or scratch or succumb to the big, fat DNF. But I’ve always been able to pull through. I might slow down a good deal. Maybe walk a 15-minute mile or two. But I’ve always finished. And maybe it’s silly, but it felt like crap to turn around, as other runners passed by me with curious looks on their faces as I went back the way we had come. I felt like a loser. I didn’t even get to a single mile. As I walked back, each of the 500 steps sending a sharp pain up my back, I think I went through each of the five stages of grief and loss:
Denial - I turned around a couple times thinking... I can push through this. I couldn’t.
Anger - Boy, was I fuming. There were some NSFW words rolling around my head, for sure.
Bargaining - If I could just make it to the beach, just four miles, I’d happily turn back.
Depression - Would you believe it if I said it was just a single, solitary tear that stoically ran down my cheek as I walked back completely dejected?
Acceptance - I got back to the finish line where my family and friends were planning to wait another couple hours before they’d next see us, and immediately went to the table where they had the cherry juice and organic fig bars for racers. Dammit, no matter what, I was still a racer and I was getting my cherry juice and fig bars. They’re the other half of the reason I run this race: epic natural views and awesome post-race snacks. It’s a toss-up whether I like the Moomers ice cream after Bayshore or the fig bars at Grand Island better, but you can now tell that I’m a food motivated runner. So I drank my juice and ate my bars and planned my comeback for next year.
Three hours later, after watching a couple hundred other racers actually finish (not the best feeling in the world), we were back at our campsite. I had a cold beer in my hand and I was floating on a giant blow-up lounger after consuming half my weight in chili cheese dogs. My back still hurt, but I was floating on a giant blow-up lounger, beer-in-hand in the middle of a beautiful lake in northern Michigan with plans to take a pontoon boat trolling along Lake Superior to Pictured Rocks later in the day. I guess life really wasn’t so bad after all. At least I didn’t poop my pants.
Pontooning with my bestie. He's impervious to everything, including waves that had others putting on those orange life preservers. Notice the trucker hat and Patagonia baggies - an absolute must for summers in Michigan.
For more information about the Grand Island Trail Race visit (it does take them a while to update this for the next year): http://www.greatlakesendurance.com/michigan-races/grand-island-trail-marathon.html
Christina is a part of the marketing team here at Gazelle Sports. When you can't find her at her desk in the creative cube crafting graphics and stories, she's normally off on an adventure with her husband, Nick, and dog, Ford.
The three of us last year in Munising.