It was a personal goal that was a long time coming for local runner Carrie Dawn Roy when she reached the 100-mile mark during the 9th annual Merrill’s Mile, an ultra-run held annually during the Fourth of July weekend at Camp Frank D. Merrill.
“I have been trying for almost 15 years to do a 100-mile race,” said Roy. “My first attempt was 14 years ago in Alabama with an iconic 100 called the Pinhotti. It was the second year of the race and I showed up alone after having ran a 10k and falling in love with trail running. At the time, I owned a Crossfit gym and had shared how I wanted to be an ultra runner. I overheard a female in the gym, that I had great respect for, say to another member, ‘She's too big to be a runner.’ I pretended not to hear her, but I have heard her every day.”
The overheard comment became a motivational tool for the Lumpkin County teacher, who continued to try to finish a 100-mile run despite many hardships and disappointments.
“My first 100 would end in a DNF, Did Not Finish,” Roy said. “I would have many, many, many of those over the next 14 years.”
Despite her many trials and tribulations trying to achieve her goal of finishing a 100-mile run, Roy’s determination never faltered and she began to find inspiration from the people she met and befriended through her ultra running experiences.
“Here's the thing about ultra running, there is no ‘look’,” Roy said. “You will get passed by a woman that is 30 years older than you or a man that looks like Father Time, and there are lots of those. The people at these races; will encourage you, lift you up, help you, share what they have and try to give what they don't have. After every race, your Facebook friends list gets bigger and you go home saying, ‘I’m never doing that again’ but sign up for another race before you fall asleep.”
It may have taken 15 years, but last month when Roy ran in her sixth Merrill’s Mile she finally accomplished that elusive feat.
“Merrill's Mile is very personal for me,” Roy said. “My first attempt, I did 80 [mile long] laps; tried to sleep and when I woke up after two hours, I couldn't move. The years after would be similar stories. You can plan for everything, but never know what will happen. I have also had five reconstructive foot surgeries, a total hysterectomy, emergency gall-bladder removal, bladder tack gone wrong and an ovarian torsion in the midst of all of this.”
Merril’s Mile is not for the faint of heart. The yearly race is run on a foot-wide, one-mile paved loop with approximately 10 inches of elevation; Roy has seen her share of obstacles during her past attempts of reaching 100 miles while taking part in the Merrill’s Mile event.
“This race comes with choices,” Roy said. “You can run for 6,12, 24 or 48 hours. Each lap is just under a mile, so to complete 100 miles you must do 101 laps around the large oval that breeds snakes, pop-up thunderstorms, darkness filled with cries from coyotes that pass through you and heat so powerful that there are still pieces of running shoes stuck to the pavement from four years ago. Merrill's Mile is hated and loved. It can destroy your feet. The exposed pavement to the sunlight will drain you and find spots on your body to open up and mimic scenes from Dante's Inferno. At some point, when you have not slept and you have covered the distance from Dahlonega to 285 and back, the blood in your stomach leaves and fills your legs. Everyone reacts differently. I've had years to figure all of these things out.”
However, this year when Roy finally completed her first 100-mile run, she encountered an obstacle she had never faced before.
“I knew what to do,” Roy said. “What I wasn't ready for was the ‘giant wall of done.’ I hit it with six laps left. My stomach felt like labor contractions and I crawled in my husband's truck in the darkness of the Ranger Camp and myself.”
But instead of giving in to the pain and darkness, Roy leaned on the motivation that had kept her striving for her goal through all the years and failed attempts. She also had the support of her friends and her husband to help quiet the voice of doubt that filled her during those final laps.
“I heard the voice of the lady in my gym and then I heard a tap at the truck door,” Roy said. “Three girlfriends in the middle of the night, one husband; dipped and rolled in patience; along with the voices of every runner there and every runner that had been there before silenced the voice that haunted me. It was a Hidalgo moment. I think my last five laps may have been my fastest. In the dark, I ran.”
And there was no time for proper footwear.
“I ran in flip-flops. I saw myself at 13 when I started to run for the first time, I saw myself at every race, every time I put a bib on, every time my alarm went off and I put my shoes on,” she said. “There was way more than 100 miles out there that weekend, I had 1000s in me. I ran across the line and hugged my friend as she placed my first belt buckle in my hand, the prize for a completed 100-mile race.”
And, just because she finished her goal, Roy has no plans to stop running.
“I’ll hang it up, and make room for more,” Roy said about her 100-mile belt buckle. “I have miles to go before I sleep.”
Roy encourages others to give Merrill’s Mile a shot, believing that by doing so they might discover things about themselves that they never would have thought possible.
“This is a great race for beginning runners and walkers,” Roy said. “Just go out there and see how many you get. I'll be there.”
Roy said the feat of finishing a 100-mile race would never have been possible without the boundless support of her husband, Matthew.
“I’m very proud of her,” he said. “She never gave up on making her goal happen in the 15 years it took her to do it. I’m just glad to have been part of it all.”
“My husband Matthew has been there every mile with me,” Roy said. “He was my crew at Merrill along with everyone there who knew how bad I wanted it.”
The couple will now try to tackle Roy’s next running goal together. It’s one they began when they were first married.
“Matthew and I are also doing a race in all 50 states,” Roy said. “We are eight states in. The morning of the day that we got married we ran a half marathon in Nevada.”