It's 2:30 a.m. I'm finishing up my 34th mile. Everything is uncomfortable. I am drenched in sweat. My legs are cramping from lack of hydration and electrolytes. It is dark and has been for the past 5 hours. The shadows are beginning to play tricks and the small section of single track is getting tougher to navigate.
But I keep going. One foot in front of the other. Moving faster when I can, moving slower when my body fails me.
Nothing ever lasts. Nothing ever lasts. Nothing ever lasts.
It's been a long time since I've felt so low while running. It humbles me. It rips my confidence up and slashes right through my happiness. I latch on to the fear of running twice the time in just 3 short weeks in likely similar conditions.
I can and I will. I can and I will. I can and I will.
I make and eat a giant stack of blueberry pancakes. Carbo-load time.
I piddled around collecting my gear and personal aid station goodies.
Bib pick-up was easy (as is true in all small races) and I set up my gear near the aid station. I talked to a few other runners around me and waited for direction to get started.
Though it was 88* at the start, I felt pretty good for the first few laps. I didn't bother to wear my tank and once we got through the first lap, I popped in one ear bud so I could listen to music. The girl was keeping a great pace and I stayed within a few steps of her for about 6-7 miles.
My competitive side was in full force and I didn't want to stop early on at the aid station because I was sure she was running the 6 hour (I am still not really sure if she was or not). However, by the 4th lap, I needed to grab something liquid so I stopped briefly and then caught up with her.
She stopped at the 6-7 mile mark and I never ran with her the rest of the night. I think I saw her a few more times, but the darkness and people shedding clothing made it progressively harder to discern who was who.
I took a few pieces of watermelon and 2 PBJ squares in the first 10 miles, but my stomach started to feel queasy not too soon after that. I was trying to alternate Mountain Dew and water as I had at Gnaw Bone, but soon I was so nauseous that I had to grab Tums from my aid station.
I was kind of paying attention to my pace, but the darkness made it so I really only looked at my watch every once in awhile.
When I got to the half marathon mark, I started to go rapidly downhill. I think I ate a total of 4 watermelon pieces, 3 pretzels, and an orange slice in the last 24 miles. I was incredibly nauseous and could hear my stomach sloshing after I tried to drink a half bottle of water thinking it would help with dehydration. I went to the porta-potties 4 times and the intensity of need increased through the night. Several times I questioned whether or not I would make it to the proper facility in time.
Those middle miles were absolute hell. There was a group of army rangers doing a series of night exercises on the same course with full gear. I wanted to use them for my inspiration, but shamefully, I was just annoyed that I was forced to weave in between them on the same course. When their vehicles came up and down the small, single lane gravel road, I cringed at the dust and exhaust fumes.
Everything was annoying me. I was annoyed that other runners were laughing and having a good time. I was annoyed that the aid station didn't have prepoured drinks. I was annoyed that the soda I drank wasn't flat. I was annoyed that my ear bud was falling out. I was annoyed that my feet felt dusty and dirty from the terrain. I was annoyed that it was hot. I was annoyed I had a huge box of goodies and the only things I used came from the "medical" side of the box.
In retrospect, there were a few good things going on. I was keeping a pretty decent pace despite all my breaks in the middle miles. My legs didn't hurt. My feet didn't hurt. I was continuing to move forward despite everything in my mind telling me to stop.
I really wanted to stop.
Somewhere near the upper 20s, I decided to just stop trying to drink anything and put my head down and move. I shuffled along and forced myself to go a lap (1.2 miles) without stopping. Once I got through that, I walked a minute or so and then repeated it again.
When I got to 2:30p.m., I contemplated the ridiculousness of running in circles in the middle of the night in June in Georgia. I could just stop and be happy with 30-some odd miles. But I tucked in behind 3 runners who were happy and talking and laying down a nice pace late in the race. So I followed behind the pack of 3 for the next 15 minutes. I let them guide me to the last lap and when the clock showed 5:47, I decided to keep going for 1 more lap when 2 of their 3 runners decided to call it a night.
I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to finish before the 6 hour mark as I headed down the single track for the last time. My body was spent. I wavered between just walking it and making a final "push". In reality, I continued to shuffle until I reached the final bend and then shuffled a little faster closer to the finish line.
Done. Finished. Complete. Signed, sealed, delivered.
I bent over and then laid in the grass huffing and puffing by the timing tent. My legs cramped up immediately after stopping and I took a few minutes to collect myself.
This was a small race. But winning overall is still really cool. And this one meant even more considering the amount of times that I was ready to throw in the towel.
More importantly, aside from obvious injury or debilitating pain, this race made me feel stronger as an endurance runner. Spending a little time on the dark side was good for me to experience. I have shaken it and am ready to move on.
In fact, I might have run today....