Journey to 50, by Giselle Reinhardt Gillis

Giselle from ultra

Giselle running mile 26 of 51.2 at the Big Bend 50 miler at Big Bend State Ranch.
 “Fifteen miles?”
“No, fifty. Like five-zero.”This is what I constantly told people asking me what I was training for. Yup, that’s right. I said FIFTY miles.
They also asked, “how do you train for something like that? Is that possible? What is trail running?Trail running is similar to road running, but you run on a single track dirt trail. Most trail races can be anywhere from a 5K to upwards of 100 miles, sometimes even more. Most major trail races are ultras—any distance greater than a marathon.

I never imagined that I could endure a race of this scale — something so far-fetched you just had to be a little crazy to even consider it. I jumped in with both feet and accepted the possibility that I could run farther than I thought humanly possible. I’ve always prided myself into setting goals and achieving them. This was more than that—the training was a journey itself.

First thing you have to do is commit by signing up for a race. After, some remorse and panic will set in: You think to yourself, “what have I done?! Can I really do this? Do I have enough time to train?”

Next, comes the long months of arduous training. Months of giving up Friday wine night with friends, staying up late, drinking water almost excessively, and sacrificing time. Training becomes a part time job. You accumulate high volume mileage and do strength training and yoga to keep yourself injury free. And speaking of time…..

Time is something so precious to every human being and putting in the hours to train for something like this was the hardest. I had to account for time before or after work to get the right mileage in. Time to prepare nutrition, water, and gear for every run. Time for rest and recovery. Time to spend with family so it didn’t look like I was obsessed (which, no matter my efforts—people thought I was anyway.)

Once training is complete and you begin the taper, all of your training and hard work come into play the days prior. All of those hours spent preparing and mulling over every detail finally play out. Race day is the day where you may have a restless night of sleep, early morning coffee, and eat the best pre-race meal to help with the anxious feeling you have. It’s the day where your toes meet the starting line and the count down begins.

Before I crossed the start line, I hugged my husband, cried a little and thanked him for all the time he dedicated to me in preparation for this race. I even had the luck of having my wise father in-law join in as support crew on this crazy ride.

I took off in the pitch black darkness of the early morning with a bright headlamp, a hydration vest stuffed full of salty snacks, gatorade and water. I started off all smiles, strong and full of adrenaline. Several runners were ahead and behind me; I felt safe running in the dark with fellow trail junkies. We talked about the night sky (which by the way, stars in Big Bend are unparalleled to anything you’ve ever seen before). The most commonly asked question between runners: “Is this your first time here?”
This went on for 15 miles and then BAM! We went up a steep mountain full of strange-looking cacti and even stranger looking trees. Neon pink ribbons carefully tied onto the trees lead the way. Finally, you reach an aid station with park rangers and volunteers and will ask you how you’re feeling and suggest eating the salted potatoes and refilling your water pack. Every stop, someone would inform you about the trail up ahead and how far the next aid station was, giving you hope for the next set of smiling, cheering faces with goodies and water.

 Giselle from ultra 2
Giselle taking a pretzel break at mile 25.
Aid station 5 was the halfway point. My incredible husband was waiting, ready to pace me for the last 25 miles. And oh my, those were the hardest, most grueling, painful & frustrating 25 miles I have ever run—the highest of highs and the lowest of lows ran deep during this half of the course. My husband would pull my hand up climbs and tell me to watch my step along tricky terrain—I had one function, which was one foot in front of the other. His function was to be my brain and tell me to follow, go here, go potty, snake there, drink water, sit down, or stop crying—whatever. At times, he would clutch me in close and whispered motivating words into my ear. By the 35th mile aid station, five people had dropped out of the race. That’s when I knew I had to continue this fight. Every step I took, the pain intensified in my feet and knees, and even worse was a growing abducter cramp. By mile 45 I had to stop, gasping for air. I bent over hands on knees and resisted the urge to lay on the rocky ground and sleep for a few days. By mile 48, we both realized we would be running a little over the 50 — 51.7 to be exact. Even my husband was cursing the wind at this point. Those last miles were by far the most difficult and I had some thoughts: Big Bend is a magical place. I imagined if you got lost out in the mountainous terrain, it would be for days, not hours. The mountains are stacked into and next to each other and the fact that the surrounding areas are unpopulated make you feel like you are really alone out there. I could feel we were close and was begging the sun to take its time stealing the last bits of the day. I kept yelling to my husband that we should have been there by now.
Giselle and Jonathan from ultra
Jonathan motivating Giselle at mile 35. She was hitting the wall at this point. 

We rounded the bend of the last trail and saw pulsing red and blue lights coming from what should be a road, which was still not visible to us. We ran the last half mile excited, but exhausted. We could see the lights growing and we finally came to the trailhead. Park rangers were cheering us on and told us we are literally on the home stretch. I reached the asphalt road and it felt like a high school track compared to the 50 rocky miles I just overcame. I ran slowly, taking my last steps of this crazy ride. Tears were streaming down my face, and I took in the last seconds of the sunset and the mountains as the sun was going down. I couldn’t believe that I had made it. I ran across the finish line where cheering medics and volunteers crowned me with the hardest earned medal of my life. The medal had a small accoutrement attached to it. The number ‘3’ and I asked the official what the significance was: He told me I placed 3rd in my age group.Since this incredible ride, I’ve gained a few pounds (it’s ok to have an ‘extended recovery’ after a race like this) happily drank my share of wine (and it’s ok to celebrate a year after a race like this) and sign up the “short” road races throughout the year just to appreciate the distance I achieved. Running for fun and training for my yearly half reminded me how much I love my DRG family, the motivation, the cheers, the “did you know she ran 50 miles!?” Haha, that’s my favorite. I may not ever run another long distance race, but for as long as a live I can say I was crazy enough to try, run and finish, just once.
Jon and Giselle love their DRG family and the support they provide in all aspects of their life. 


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