Hotter Than Hades – My Ultra Journey Day 11

welcome to msI think this race is going to be around for a while. Not sure I will put myself through it again, but the race grew from year to year, the people are phenomenal and there is just enough about this race that is unique that it will draw people.

My day started at 4:30 am at the Holiday Inn Express in Greenville, which is about a 10 minute drive from Leland, MS where the race ends. This is a 13.1 mile straight shot that begins in Tribbett, MS which is 13 miles due South of Mitchell Distributing in Leland, MS. Buses start leaving from Mitchell Distributing at 5:15 am. The three guys I came with and I decided to leave the hotel at 5:15 and catch a bus about 5:30 which worked fine. We parked and got right on a yellow school bus, waited about 5 minutes and were off to the start. I’ve rode a bus to a marathon relay point once, but this was decidedly different. As we trundled down the road heading due South with the son starting to peak up over the horizon, it just seemed like the distance was too far to run and a little like you were going off to fight a battle or do something that was not safe. Oh, that’s what fear feels like!

We got to the start at Simmons Planting and immediately started looking for bathrooms, the most notorious of pre-race rituals. There were only 3 bathrooms for over 200 participants, clearly a problem and there were looonggg lines. The guy that later started the race was walking around encouraging the males to go find a tree or a bush. I waited in line until 6:10, 5 minutes before the start, then made other arrangements and hoped for the best with what I could not take care of. The start is about 1/4 mile from the starting line which I jogged easily, which was my only warm up. There was one wheel chair participant who started right at 6:15 and then we milled around for a few minutes while people ducked in to the rows of corn or behind a tractor to relieve themselves. Then before you knew it we were off.

I watched my pace early to conserve energy. This is a flat race on a black top road between fields of alternating corn and soy bean. With almost no shade. There are aid stations every mile but besides that, you are alone with your anguish. It’s late June in the delta region of Mississippi, hot and humid and the monotony of the landscape is grueling on your mind. My plan was to run conservative early then gradually increase the pace and beat my half marathon PR of 1:37 by two minutes, 1:35.  There was a small group of 5 or 6 runners that took off fast and quickly separated from the field. I fell back behind a group of about 12 runners and just waited. There were some people in that group that were laboring hard early and I was feeling for them, knowing the challenge that was ahead. I ran my first 5k at a 7:35 pace, did a quick mental check and decided I was ready to start speeding up.

From 3.1 miles to mile 8 things were going fine. The aid stations throughout the race were well stocked with water, sports drink, gu, cold towels, ice, one had a run through water spray shower and one featured boy scouts shooting you with big water guns. There were 3 porta potties on the course, but the first one was not until mile 8 which was a problem for some as I found out later. My pace was right on where I wanted it to be averaging 7:24 mile pace. I was aware that I was starting to have to work harder and I was definitely feeling the heat coming from my right where the sun was beating on me. With a little over 5 miles to go, I still felt like things were going to plan. I had passed all of the small group I started behind and caught a couple of the brave soles who went out fast at the beginning so I felt assured of a top five finish and a PR.

It was about a half mile later things changed. It was suddenly like I was running in sand and energy was draining from me quickly. My pace had slowed and I had to remind myself to keep pressing so I didn’t slow down too much. But over the next mile, it became obvious I was in trouble. I could not find a gear to press through what must have been the stress from the heat. I had been drinking water and dousing myself with water and cooling rags, but I could not cool down. My pace slowed to 8:30, 9:00, 9:30 and I was passed by 11 or 12 runners, including my good friend Nick and another runner that I have raced against often and never lost to. I mounted two efforts to pick up the pace. Once by telling myself to just run hard for a minute and then even if I slow down I’ll be faster, but that backfired as I felt even worse at the end of the minute and my pace showed it. Then with one mile left to go, I tried to stay close to the last runner who passed me and just ride in on their pace, but I was only able to hold that for a couple of minutes.

I ended up dragging in at 1:47, 10 minutes slower than my PR. The race ends on a dirt road that cuts through corn field the back of Mitchell Distributing. After I got my race “medal” which was a pottery cross made by the kids at the camp that the race benefits, I headed straight for a chair in the shade and plopped down, not moving for about 15 minutes. I was able to watch others coming across the finish including both of the other guys I had traveled to the race with. The post race was excellent with a medical tent offering free massage, plenty of food and free beer for runners and spectators. I was mad at myself for underestimating the toll the heat would take on me and ending up one of those who just went out too fast for the conditions and my conditioning. I’m a sore loser. I race to beat my goals and try and win, so when something like this happens, it takes me about 24 hours to get over it. But I was happy for those who had run well and met their goals and tried to bury my disappointment in my own results so I did not spoil their fun.

I’ve probably checked this one off the list for good, but I think the challenge of a half marathon in the June heat of the delta will have enough allure to keep new people coming and some of the hearty ones coming back.