3 years ago this month, I was contemplating running 2 marathons in the same year. It seemed a bit crazy. Training for one took 3 months! Could I dedicate 6 months out of the year to marathon training?!
Fast forward through 16 marathons and 3 ultras and I find myself texting Steve (aka rp9919) in early April about a possible marathon in May. Nothing for time, just a fun run (!?!). I was on a roll with a marathon every month since December and where else to get some ultra training than during a marathon?
Except he was already signed up for a 50 miler. And Boston was on the schedule in just a couple of weeks.
I said I'd wait until after Boston to pull the trigger. It would be silly of me to register if I felt like I needed a break after Boston. And I wouldn't know until a few days out from that.
Boston came and went. Body felt good. Mojo felt good. I could just go and log some training miles, right? No need to necessarily RACE....
I sign up, we pick a camp site, and then I am basically tapering again. 4 marathons and a 50K are a pretty decent base, right?
I get up super early on Friday partially so that I can hit the hay early for the painful wake up on Saturday morning and partially to have a little more time relaxing that afternoon with Steve.
I drive from my sister's house in west Atlanta and make myself wait a couple of hours to grab coffee. Like a reward or something.
Except I cannot find my wallet. Oh. S%$&*(. I tore my car apart, called my sister, and eventually found where it had fallen out into my clothes bag. Admittedly, the first thing I thought was I can't buy coffee! Then I thought I can't buy gas! Then I though I can pick up my bib without my driver's license! Lastly, I thought I can't drive without my driver's license!
We went to bib pick up and got our gear, signed our waivers, and then decided to relax a bit more before heading into town before dinner.
We drove to the start and parking was a breeze with a small race. No lines or even people near the port-a-potties. When Steve and I wandered over to the start "corral", we were on the front line.
The first half mile is on a gravel path that is very easy running and the rain has subsided to a mist at this point. Though I'm not awake, I am aware that at least my body feels pretty good. We veer off the gravel path and then up about 400' of a ski slope that has ankle deep mud. The kind that will pull your shoes off if they aren't tied tight enough. The kind that makes gross slurping noises. I am giggling because it is just sloppy, slow-moving ridiculousness in the dark. Everyone is coated from shoes to thighs in mud.
Eventually, it starts to flatten out a bit and while the mud is still prevalent, the footing slightly easier without the extra climbing. Day light makes it even easier and we are switching off our head lamps before we reach the first aid station.
The next section I finally feel like I am getting into a groove after fighting with the mud. The trail is much easier and we are going down a bit. I begin to shake off some of the early funk attributed to lack of caffeine and sleep. Steve and I are enjoying a pretty easy pace knowing that we have a long day to keep running.
From here it gets tricky to remember exact details. We did run with a girl for a bit early on who does a bunch of racing and had on a Western States shirt (2014). She stayed with us for a few miles and then took off. We played leap-frog all day. There was a guy we picked up for a bit who eventually would finish between Steve and I.
We did stop at the drop bag aid station at mile 11 so that Steve could change his socks and I could use a proper toilet. Both of us were much happier right after that.
There was a stupid, stupid, stupid section at mile 19 that we renamed Hemorrhoid Hill in honor of our choice conversation and the huge pain in the ass navigating this section of trail. Climbing over 1-2 trees is no big deal. Climbing over and under trees trying to figure out where the trail was is a bit different. Fortunately, we always found the little pink flags pretty quickly, but there was a lot more hiking/orienteering and less actual running.
There was some section in the upper teens that was a creek bed. We were running down a creek. It was sloppy, muddy, wet, and footing was terrible. But it seemed easy once we got to the hill that we had to crawl up because it was so muddy and steep. I was grabbing onto tree limbs hoping that I wouldn't fall back down into the creek. And after gaining a bit of footing, it was another section of sharp ascent to the top.
We covered two separate sections of stairs together. One had about 100, one was 160. The one with 100 stairs we had to do again in the second loop. Yippee?
I was eating Oreos and drinking Mountain Dew at the aid stations. I got the volunteers to fill up one of my bottles halfway with Mountain Dew. It seemed to perk me up and it was cool enough that I wasn't really needing to drink a ton. I had handfuls of Pringles and bites of PBJ. I grabbed a salted potato and a stack of saltines at one of the aid stations. When I was out on the course, I was supplementing with gummy bears, Roctane GU, and Clif Shot Blocks.
Somewhere in the low 20s, my Garmin starting beeping low battery. I had my back up in my pack ready to go. Eventually, it faded to black around mile 29. I started up the second Garmin only to have it last about 7 miles. Womp, womp....
One of the prettiest sections of trail was right after the halfway point. Lots of big beautiful trees and gorgeous flat single track trail.
Whatever/however he said it this time made me think it was okay to leave him and so I started down the next section by myself. I was feeling really good and on an up for about 4 miles. I passed a few guys that had passed us earlier and was brimming with confidence. Even a pit stop behind a tree couldn't hold me back!
But then the top of foot right across where my shoelaces were started to ache. I was trying to fix the tongue of my shoe because it kept slipping, but this didn't alleviate the pain. I ran for a couple more miles before I finally got to a picnic bench where I could lift my foot onto the table. Do you know how hard it is to untie and retie your shoe after 38 miles? But behold, instant gratification! My shoes were tied too tightly and after swelling slightly while running that long, they were being bruised. Genius. Pure genius.
So after I resolved this situation, I noticed my second Garmin was dead. When I finally came to the next aid station, I asked how many miles I had left. They told me I was at 40.6, so 9.4 miles to go. I was going to get this thing done.
Eventually, I got to the paved road section and chased down a relay runner which at the time gave me delirious happiness. I was probably running 10 minute miles, but I felt like The Flash. I knew that when I got to that final major aid station at the end of the pavement that it was time for the homestretch.
It was both wonderful and terrible to have no clue how close I was in those final miles. Just when I thought I'd crested the hill or made the final turn, I saw a new, longer, higher, muddier stretch of trail. I chanted to myself I can, I will, I can, I will, I can, I will. I was having actual conversations out loud, with myself about how dumb mud was and how this was just silly. But in my heart, I was loving how much grit this was requiring. If I could conquer this amid covering 50 miles, well, heck, I can handle a lot.
I finally crested a hill and spotted the main road with a structure that appeared to be building next to the finish line. The hill, which doubles as a ski slope in the winter, was a major quad burner. I was trying to run gingerly down the darn thing, but really, after 49 miles, it was kind of impossible. Once I got to the bottom, I realized I still had to run across a field because the structure was not the finish line area.
About 200 yards from the finish line (give or take, I'm terrible at that kind of thing), I came up to the "trail" marked with pink flags that went directly into a river with knee high water. Other runners were running through the creek and I followed them in through the other side. Then I didn't see any more pink flags and I wanted to just cry. How do I get to the finish line?!?!
A nice relay runner got back into the creek with me and pointed to the pink flags that followed the bank of the river towards the finish. At least I still had to get in the river...
The finish chute was within sight!!
I put on warm clothes, grabbed a beer, drank said beer, grabbed food, and settled in at the finish line to watch for Steve.
I am so glad that I got to spend 30 miles with my running buddy and even happier that it was a memorable adventure. It was a tough course, but I feel like a better runner for having completed it. Plus, I have a new PR-on-my-feet which will make the 12 hour race seem much more doable. So while I was completely off of my 50 mile PR, I know that I gained some serious experience points. And fun points.
Sometimes the best decisions in life are the least planned. A sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs solo road trip through a sliver of America to camp and run with your running buddy that you met on the internet for a last-minute decided ultra on a cold and rainy weekend is as fun as you make it.