The Dunes 50 Miler race report – My first 50 miler

Anyone who knows me, knows I can be sporadic in adventures sometimes. I am a firm believer that true living begins at the end of your comfort zone. I thrive on the pushing myself to new limits while having an overall experience. Sometimes, opportunity doesn’t always appear in plain sight and you have to bridge the gap. The Dunes 50 Miler was just that for me. Thanks to some special people of Down to Run I was able to be a part of this great event. Special thanks to Robert Rounsavall for several reasons. Before I go into details I wanted to say thank all of the volunteers and organizers of DTR who were out there night and day, before and after the race making sure they could help in any way they could. Without any of their hard work and dedication which can been seen in many aspects, none of this would have been possible.

When I don’t have plans, I usually find something to do. Having a minimum of a day to mentally prepare myself to grasp the fact that I was going to attempt to run 50 miles on a difficult course, I was too busy with logistics to have to worry. After all, my goal of doing my first 50k in April I had plenty of time to prepare for. For the first time, I was going into a race unsure if I was going to be able to complete it. I didn’t let anyone know that, but having completed my first marathon two months ago and logging about 40 miles at Skydive Ultra over the course of 3 days, I was averaging about 15 miles of running a week just to stay fit. I had ran 3 miles at a decent pace, two days before and was sore. I was worried I had been too unfit and had no idea how my body was going to react.

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I used the uncertainty to at first let my brain think that I wasn’t ready, I then let the uncertainty to power my soul and mind to complete this race. (Photo: Michael Brown – 50 Miler Runners Pre-Race)

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Race morning was ironic for me. I was unusually nervous. I could feel that same nervousness with runners around me who were thinking how long of a day they had ahead of them. 50 Milers, 100 Milers. Each of us having a different reason of being there, but we all had one main goal. To finish. (Photo: MB – Race start)

I didn’t have a plan set in stone, but rather had 5 plans of scenarios and what I would do. I told myself, 2 25 mile loops, THAT’S IT! My bib number, lucky number #13. I felt like I was setting myself up for some unknown. At mile 4 I began running with a Taylor whom I would run the first 3/4ths of a loop with. I was unsure, and she knew exactly what to say. We ran 3:1’s. The first 4 miles were in the dark, at mile 6 right before the first aid station I tripped and fell on a root and memories were brought back at my worst race that I ran 8 Hours of Hell down at CRP (I got heat exhaustion where my body refused salt and fluid intake). I got up and made myself forget, replaying JJ’s “Pick up your feet woman!” in the back of my head. Around mile 8 was the Dunes of Heaven, and the sand madness you embraced. Then came Dunes of Hell shortly after that.

The day happened to have record heat, the sand and I had some words with each other, where I kept convincing myself how much I loved sand. I’ll be honest, I told myself I didn’t want to see sand for at least a year. Hill, after hill. I was told the aid station at mile 13 had tailwind which I had ran out of, didn’t. I then took in some “real food” and off I went for the next 13 miles which were some of the best miles. I had to take off my ring because my fingers had swollen up like balloons due to the heat, I could barely grasp.

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(Photo: MB – Running back between the Dunes after Federal Hwy.)

I got to the start/finish line (Mile 25) in just over 6 hours and was on target for a 12 hour 50 miler time, but knowing I would slow down over the next half. My IT bands were on fire, hard as a rock. I learned another lesson. In longer races, sitting at an aid station may feel like 5 minutes but in reality it was 25. I reached at the 50k mark, a new distance PR in a race and did a happy dance! Fast forward to mile 34, my sleep deprivation of not sleeping well the night before set in. I told myself, I’ll lay on the ground and have someone call me in 5-10 minutes and set my alarm. I struggled to not lay down and take a power nap. I told myself, no I can power through to the aid station where someone can actually wake me up. Those 4 miles were easily the toughest for me. I remember walking with my eyes closed for a few 15 second intervals. I was kind of emotional too. My time reflected those miles, I had slowed down and I didn’t have time to take a nap if I wanted to be safe within the time cut off or encountered a problem during the remainder. I downed a bottle of coke, a bottle of Mountain Dew and took some snacks for the road. I felt brand. new. How can you feel brand new after running 38 miles you ask? You forget what normal is or feels like.

I had started running in the dark, I watched the sun rise, I watched the sun set and I ran into the darkness for 3 more hours. At mile 42 it was dark, and I was alone again from mile 38-44. I had a few spiders crawl across my shoes, and saw hundreds of their little eyes, which made me run quite a bit faster. One of the brightest moments was Mile 7.7 aid station; Brian Schoenberg the captain. The popsicles was easily the best item of the entire Ultra fare food. I did not run with music but for about 20 minutes, going for the real experience of enjoying what the world in nature has to offer. I somehow kept singing Twenty-One Pilots Message Man & Car Radio in my head for miles though. I ran the last 6 miles with Cynthia, which was mostly speed walking and running the last mile in.

That’s when my emotions really set in. That unknown, now became a known feeling. I could feel the energy of those waiting at the finish line. 15 hours and 28 minutes of striving. I may have shed a tear or two, but more importantly I had never been so proud of myself for completing the most physical and mentally tough thing and race I have ever done in my entire life. Being an Ultra Runner is so much more than running, having been on the volunteering side for quite a while, I was very respectful and had so much joy for getting to experience the other side. When I crossed the finish line, I was more thankful than anything and everything I could think of. The doubt I had, had been wiped away long before, but now I had proof. It was one of the most amazing feelings in the world. I felt successful in what I had accomplished. I set a goal for a 100 miler right then and there in my head. “If you never challenge yourself, you will never realize what you can become”.

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“Your age doesn’t define who you are as a person and what you can accomplish”. I am often faced with looking much younger than I am, while some people mess around with it, deep down it bothers me how I could somehow pass as a 12 year old until you had a conversation with me. During this race I heard others “My god, she’s young!” “How old do you think she is?”, I chuckled. This race made me have an entire new viewpoint. I was the youngest person to race, and complete the Dunes 50 Miler. I am the same person, regardless of my age. I will always strive to do amazing things. I will always be who I am, regardless of my age. For someone to be my age, and for me to be me is more than enough satisfactory for me. I don’t run these races because I am rather young compared to ultra runners and want to set any records, but rather for my own reasons to be successful in my own eyes, for accomplishment, for the experience, for pushing myself to new limits. Instead, it empowers me. I can not express all the amazing things I have learned during these races  that otherwise I may have learned years later in life, or never at all. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Thank you Dunes 50 Miler for all that I learned about myself, pushing myself to new limits, making new friends, and for letting me forgive sand. Congratulations to all the finishers.

Until next time,

Courtney A. May

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