Alarm at 4:20 am. You slept in the back of the truck at the start finish, camping w/ buddies. You felt bad and awkward being the one who said / Okay guys, it’s 9:30 pm now and I’ve really got to get to bed…
You are at the start line. Everything in your life is falling away and you are becoming intensely focused on the job at hand. You’re not thinking about how the day will turn out. You’re focused on the present moment and doing what needs to be done to continue running all day. You look around and see your competition. Some strong guys. Ryan Dexter puts his hand out for you to shake and he’s grinning ear to ear. Darren Fortney is right behind him. These guys have STELLAR ultra resumes. They’ve run races, set course records and run distances you could only dream of. No matter what the outcome of the day, you remind yourself to be thankful just to stand on a starting line w/ guys like these. It’s 5:30 am and the temps are already in the 80’s and climbing. Most people are shirtless and focused. You plan to run w/ Dexter and Fortney for a few miles and chat w/ them but when the gun goes off, something happens. You take off. Not a break-neck speed. You make sure it’s not a pace that you can’t manage ALL DAY. But you are booking. The only people ahead of you are some 50k runners. You attack the climbs. You attack the descents. Your plan is no different than most races…run hard for ten miles or so to get ahead of folks, then back off and conserve energy the rest of the day. You blow right through the first few aids. One salt tablet and one gel every half hour. The crowd thins out. You are definitely near the front. When you finally stop at an aid, someone tells you you’re the first 50 miler to come through.
That’s good news / is all you can say. You try not to get excited. There’s a LONG ways to go and anything can happen. You find yourself a little panic stricken. Your breathing isn’t relaxed, it’s shallow. You’re putting unnecessary pressure on yourself. You have to talk yourself into the meditation in motion that normally just comes to you after a mile or so. You chant mantras to yourself:
Get comfortable w/ being uncomfortable.
There is no pressure to perform today.
No matter what happens, in a couple weeks you’ll be climbing your favorite mountains.
And it works. Eventually you level out. You chat w/ folks. You begin bumping into your friends who are running the marathon that started an hour after you. You bump into Logan Polfuss who is running the 50k (and you are thankful b/c he’s moving at a good pace). You chat w/ him about the course and he assures you that the 20 mile aid station is coming up. The course is completely different this year and they have you running a hot out and back through the sunny meadows. You push on. And on. And on.
Logan and I, coming into the 20 mile aid station.
There are climbs. There is heat. There are quad killing descents. Your clothes are soaked. You refill your hydration pack up at every couple of aid stations and drink heavily while stopped. You power hike the monster climbs. People cheer you on and tell you you’re killing it but you can’t quite accept their gracious compliments. It’s too early to get hung up on how well you are or aren’t doing. Anything can happen. ANYTHING. Whenever anyone tells you you’re the first 50 miler to come through you simply reply / That’s good news / and keep moving forward. On the second loop you are feeling better about things. There is an out and back stretch where you can see who’s behind you and how far. There are a couple of guys who are close. They are both bigger than you (almost 200 lb dudes) and b/c of this, you underestimate them. No way they are going to be able to keep up to me in this heat / you think. You soldier on. Every time you turn around, there is no one there. At the 35 mile mark, things start to slow down. You are just wanting to be done. You are becoming physically and mentally fatigued. Legs are jacked. Brain is mush. At 40 miles you can’t talk. Aid station volunteers ask if you’re ok and you nod. But you literally can’t formulate a sentence. You try and again they ask you / Are you okay?
Every step is beginning to hurt. Your quads are screaming on the downhills and the downhills are your only friends at this point. You have to hammer them as hard as your body will let you to make up time. You have no choice. You’re moaning w/ every step. You begin passing people who are struggling w/ the 50k and marathon. They tell you that you look strong. But you feel weaker than ever. It’s all mental at this point. You try to push the demons out. At the mile 45 aid station, you drop off your hydration pack and just take a handheld water bottle w/ water and ice. You put ice down your shirt. And you have the hardest 5 miles of the day ahead of you. Up and down and brutal ski slopes of Devil’s Head ski resort. At this point you’re talking to yourself. Swearing at yourself. Crying. Laughing. Wondering what you’re doing out here. You have lived w/out an air conditioner, tv, junk food, girlfriends and caffeine for way too long in preparation for this moment. You are finishing almost an hour later than you had hoped because it’s almost a million degrees but somehow you are here. And they are back there. This is your time to hammer it out w/ every single ounce of strength and passion in your body. If you don’t give it a hundred percent…it’s all a failure. These are the moments you live for. This is how you learn the most about yourself. This is how you get stronger. This is how you become a better person. This is your time…
You’ve never been so happy to see a finish line. You hear screams and they announce your name. You hear / First place 50 miler / and you run right into the arms of your friends and family. There is nothing left. You have no words. You have no energy. Everything is perfect and you smile for a long, long time. You celebrate. But we all know…none of it really means much. At least not in the grand scheme of things. Life can be a funny thing sometime. W/ funny little lessons. W/ funny little ups and downs. And today was definitely an up :)