“I’m going to retire from ultras. Never again. This is insane.” These were my thoughts as I struggled through a few of the lonely miles late during last year’s Dogwood Canyon 50k. Climbing the ridiculously steep hills with the sun in full blaze above and carrying an empty water bottle it was easy enough to question why anyone would want to subject themselves to this craziness. Throw in the sheer genius of wearing a pink tutu (yes, that was me) and the fact that I had just completed the Arkansas Traveller 100 only 2 weeks prior..... never mind. Those are just more excuses.
For some reason it always surprises me just how tough this course is even though I have ran some variation of it every year since 2008. To say that it is one of the toughest trail races in the midwest would not be an exaggeration. Fortunately, it is also one of the most organized (not counting the first year) and runner friendly races around. It’s been exciting to watch this event grow each year and expand to include a 15k giving many road runners an opportunity to experience a true trail event. The course is technical but forgiving, the hills are steep but rewarding and the overall experience will leave you beat up and swelling with pride.
I was a relative newcomer to running back in 2008. With about 2 years of road running and a couple of marathons under my belt I thought that a 25k would be easy. I could not have been more wrong. Within the first couple of miles my feet were wet, my knees and hands bloody from falling down and my legs were dead from trying to run up every hill. I had yet to learn about picking up my feet and the idea of walking during a race seemed completely against the rules of nature. During one of these uphill battles, crawling along at a snails pace, a pack of runners came flying by. They were running faster uphill than I could on the flats and it was an impressive sight to behold. I remember telling them “Good work” or something similar and this dude with crazy long hair responded with a half smile, “Well, thank you. You’re doing pretty good yourself”.
The attitude, smile and encouraging response from this elite runner was not expected and, honestly, changed my perspective about what runners should be all about. I had no clue that it was Anton Krupicka until a few years later when I lined up right behind him at the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler. He, along with Scott Jurek, Ian Sharman and a host of other elites exhibited the same encouraging behavior towards every runner in the race. It is always an uplifting experience to hear a word of encouragement mid-race from the very best in our sport to an average runner like me. It’s part of the draw that keeps me returning to the trails.
In 2010 I showed up at Dogwood to run the 50k. Nothing special or remarkable about this except that I was wearing a pink tutu and pink shirt. This was probably the hardest thing I had ever done. The reasons for the tutu were very clear and important to me but I was nervous, embarrassed and scared as I walked up to the starting line. Both of my parents had been diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year and I had struggled with finding a meaningful and unique way to help fight back against this disease. Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Dogwood is always held in October..... well you get it. I’m pretty sure that not everybody was staring and laughing but it sure felt like it. Once the race started all of the embarrassment, fear and nervousness was lost in the beauty of the trail. Weird how that happens.
Some people have this idea that I wear the pink tutu to every race, the grocery store, church and my kid’s school functions. So let’s set the record straight here.... I don’t particularly enjoy wearing it. It’s uncomfortable, rubs in weird places and slows me down a lot. I only wear it twice a year. Once during the Relay for Life Ozark County for a few laps and during the Dogwood Canyon 50k which I have dubbed as the “Turn the Trail Pink” annual fund raiser. I’m no longer embarrassed, scared or nervous about wearing it in front of large crowds of runners. I think that most of them understand why
and it’s become kind of fun to let people take a picture and laugh about it.
The training miles are starting to build as Dogwood Canyon approaches. Last year I knew that it would be a struggle coming off of a 100 miler. This year I know it will be a struggle because the course is tough and demanding. This will be my “A” race for the fall and the hope for a decent finishing time is high. The tutu will be back for the 4th year and I hope to recruit a few friends to wear pink shirts in support of Breast Cancer Awareness.
This really is a great event. All of the volunteers, course marshals and aid station workers want to see every person cross the finish line and are willing to help make that possible. The hills are steep. The creeks are cold. The trail goes on forever. Keep the relentless forward progress and the rewards are amazing. Plus they have beer at the finish line. That helps. Hope to see you on the course. I’ll be the dude in the pink... oh, you get it....
This article was originally published in the Ozark Mountain Ridge Runners September 2013 Newsletter.