By Michele Dillon
It was August 23rd, 2017 when my name was pulled for the Georgia Death Race lottery. Just under 2 years since starting trail running, with only three 50ks and one 50 miler under my belt, and though I didn't know it yet, a 55k DNF in my very near future.
The Georgia Death Race is a 68-74 mile point to point trail run deep in the humidity filled North Georgia Mountains with around 14,000 feet of vertical gain, and a race that many have declared feels like finishing a 100 miler. It instantly appealed to me for many reasons but mostly because it was a new and rather massive challenge. A lot of ultra-runners are typed as only being able to do what they do because they are fighting inner demons. I'm not going to disagree with that entirely for myself, but the biggest thing that has motivated me since the moment I did my first ultra-race, was the challenge. Can I do it? Is it possible? Most things that I've truly put my mind too, I've been able to accomplish…but ultra-racing is such a different beast. You can completely prepare yourself, do everything you're supposed too and still end up having a horrible time come race day. I've experienced this more than once, and yet I keep coming back. It's not masochism, although some may argue that, it's the inner drive to test my body and mind's limitations. I know eventually I'll find it, whether it be because I failed or because I decide there's a point that I just don't enjoy that specific level of challenge. In truth, this has all been a search for that limit. Maybe that's my inner demon, the one that needs to seek out the finite end of her capabilities.
One month after being drawn for the lottery, I attempted a Gary Robbins 55k in Whistler, Canada. It was a 34 mile course with 11,000 feet of vertical gain. I got to mile 22 with having climbed 8,500 feet before I missed the cutoff to be able to continue. I had been dealing with Plantars Fasciitis for about a year leading up to the race which ended up slowing me down significantly; but to be honest I was chasing cut offs from the very start. The first 10 miles I had a sweeper following me and three other ladies who were desperately trying to move fast enough to not hear the ring of his bell. Finally I was able to break free, going on to experience one of the most beautiful courses I have ever been on which included running out to a glacier with a view of snow peaked mountains. The disappointment I felt at the DNF was pretty vast, but I also knew going in that it wasn't going to be an easy task getting to that finish line. It only lit a fire under my feet and gave me a huge wakeup call that I would need to train and train hard in order to even feel confident toeing the line at GDR.
Thus began the hiring of the best coach ever, David Roche, who my boyfriend happened to also be using and was seeing amazing results from (including crushing that same race that I DNF'd). I had always liked the idea of a coach but never really believed that I would actually see substantial gains from using one. Boy was I wrong. In just the first two months, I was PR'ing distances left and right and running up hills I thought would only ever see the movement of my slow, sloth like "power" hiking. As each week of putting hard work in passed, I was getting stronger and stronger. My confidence in being able to actually finish this race was building at an exponential rate. I had no idea that I had it inside of me the things that I was now able to do and it's been amazing to feel such freedom and ease on the trails. It hasn't all been puppy licks and laughter though, I have definitely had my low moments mixed in throughout all of this. Most of it occurring over the past few weeks, as I'm fighting to get the last bit of fitness in and the days until race day are ticking by faster than a cockroach after the light switch turns on. I'm embracing it all as part of the process though; the good, the happy, the doubts and the 'what the hell am I doing's. Anyone who claims to have had a perfect training…is probably Courtney Dauwalter and I believe her cause she's amazing…but anyone else is a hot jar of mayonaisse.
No matter what happens for me come race day (March 31st!), I am confident in the fact that I have put my full body, mind and soul into getting there and will walk away with a completely satisfied heart.