Defending My Title To Win Overall Female at 2023 Donna 110by Dawn Lisenby on 08/15/23
I love the 100 mile distance for the adventure it affords; for the mind, body, and with friends.
I went into the Donna 110 unsure if my body would be capable of running, let alone competing, at this distance anymore. Since having COVID in July I have suffered from persistent, and at times, intense muscle twitching (not cramping) in both my calves. It has been a constant since the first day it began, two days prior to last year’s Badwater 135. One of my first signs, along with a severe headache, that something was not right.
I thought with time it would go away, but it did not. Finally in October I began searching for answers, as it began to affect my running by making my legs feel more fatigued than normal, due to the constant muscle activity.
After MANY doctor visits (one just this past Thursday prior to race) including a; primary, nutritionist, cardiologist, vascular specialist, and neurologist, it has become a consensus that it is due to neurological complications from COVID that are affecting my autonomic motor neurons causing them to misfire, ie Long COVID.
Would it affect my race? Who knew? But I was given the green light by them all to give it a try. And so now you know why there was a lot of fear going into this race. I also went into this race self crewed with no planned pacers, so that did not help ally any of my worries.
The morning of the race though I adopted my new motto: Love over Fear. It is from the book I am reading by the race founder Donna Deegan. It was her approach to dealing with her reoccurring breast cancer.
LOVE is what this race is all about and it ended up being what defending my 2022 championship would be about too.
Love was shown by friends who went out of there way to support me by: helping move my car; come out to run or ride a loop alongside of me; to help assist me even though they had their own runner to crew; and even to buy me balloons to ensure I knew I was loved. Thank you Christian, Judie and Merri from the bottom of my heart. You all are very much a part of my win.
Love was shown by the community who supports this race. It is like no other. With people putting out coolers in front of their homes to support the 110 runners with water, bars and oranges, and many more doing the same during the marathon. One guy was handing out freshly made bacon! Another had made PB&J squares that they individually wrapped. I relied on those the second day with no crew to support me and having to carry everything on me.
The community also decorated and does chalk and signage for the ultra runners. None more wonderful than the one made just for me mentioning Debby by the Mayor of Atlantic Beach who came out to cheer the 110 runner’s on. Thank you Ellen and Alison so much. Also the encouragement from all my friends who sent me cheers, and said them personally, while running their own races on Sunday. It truly lifted me up.
Love was shown by those who bring this race to us and the great devotion they have to it and the cause. Thank you Chris, Amanda, Marc, Chris and of course their fearless leader Donna. Again if you have not run this race you should.
My race was not without trial. But from the beginning (and through most of it) I felt really good. Starting out of the TIAA Jacksonville Jaguars Stadium definitely lent to the confidence, especially when they announced me as last year’s champion! I began to believe I had a chance of finishing and possibly taking the title. But with strict cutoffs along the way nothing is guaranteed, nor with this distance.
My athlete Nancy was running as well. I knew she was well trained and an incredibly strong woman, so she would be my main competitor. There were 7 of us to start, 4 would finish, with 1 missing the cut off.
Nancy took the lead early on with my taking my usual place at the very back of the pack, as DFL you would say. I did manage to listen to an announcement about 10 miles in that put the wind beneath my wings for sure!
Around the 50k mark I took the lead and would not relinquish it for the remaining 54 miles. I really felt strong except on my second to last lap when I grew tired and was battling food fatigue as well. I focused on the finish and drove myself to meet the second to last cutoff by an hour and the final one by 1.5 hrs to complete stage one of 84 miles in 19:37. Nancy would come in 32 minutes behind me.
After a rest of about an hour, and a refresh in the banquet room provided for the ultra runners during our mandatory 3 hour break prior to the start of the marathon, I ate a quick bite of hotel free bfast. I then headed to the marathon start, to which I walked to 3/4 of a mile away. LOL
I always get emotional at this start line. It is like no other. I saw Nancy lined up ahead of me and knew that if I wanted to defend my title I would have to pass her early on and keep it that way. In other words I had to want it and work hard for it. I settled on a run/walk interval for the pace I thought that would secure that.
From the beginning my leg’s resisted, but I focused on the strength my sister showed in her final months of life and thought if she could endure that as long as she did, I can surely endure 6 hours of this.
I also focused on the tremendous support and love shown throughout the course by the community and the runners, many who were friends I got to run a few miles with. It made each mile fly by and before I knew it I was 2 miles from the finish messaging Christian to see if he would get my vest so I could run through it without it. As it was all during the race, he was there for me when I needed some assistance, for which I can not thank him and his runner, my friend Steven, enough.
And then unbelievably, but not, as I had worked so hard for over 24 hours for it, I crossed the most amazing finish line to once again be crowned the women’s overall champion with a time of 25:49.
Not too long after my athlete Nancy would cross to become the first breast cancer survivor to finish the Donna 110, as her first 100! It was the cherry on top of quite an amazing weekend!
Congrats to my friend Daniel who took the men’s overall win, and friend Steven for his finish at his first 100 mile ultra too. I am excited to see this race grow in the coming years, as it is a very beautiful and meaningful one that takes hold of your heart and never lets it go.