Minutes b/f the start.
Marty led the team meeting the night b/f the race. They wanted to make sure that you knew that it was okay to DNF if your Achilles was acting up. You’d rather die than DNF. You’d rather die ten horrible deaths. It had, however, been your only anxiety going into this race. You knew you could finish the things as long as your foot held up. You told them that you would do everything and anything in your power to finish the race. You’d tape it up and take a bottle of Tylenol, if you had to. You didn’t want to push it until rupture, obviously. But you’d do everything in your power.
You were at the point of being superstitious about it. If you went one day w/out it hurting, you’d analyze everything you did that day for it not to hurt. Which vitamins had you taken? Had you used compression that night? Anti inflammatories? Prayer? Stretching? Since your pacers Jessica and Marty had been out, you’d climbed four 14ers. You’d climbed five the week b/f. The all day ups and downs didn’t seem to bother it much. But when Jess had suggested the two of you do a little five mile shake out run, you had to stop at one mile. You’d been icing it in the mountain streams. You’d been taping it w/ KT tape. It seemed to hurt whenever it wanted to. This was the biggest race of your life. Four of your closest friends had driven out here to help you cross the finish line of a hundred mile mountain race. They were getting nothing out of this. They were here for you to finish. And finishing looked grim. You didn’t want to let them down. They told you they understood if the injury prevented you from finishing. You were grateful to have such understanding friends. But you wanted to finish more than anything in the entire world. You had sacrificed EVERYTHING for this race. When you lay in your sleeping bag the night b/f, you were scared and emotional. You knew it was possible you’d be DNFing less than five miles into the hundo. You had no idea what would happen.
You had two alarms set for 2:30 am and kept waking up every half hour out of nervousness of oversleeping.
Most of your crew drove you to the start of the race. You’d decided to walk the first mile to warm up the Achilles. Then you’d begin jogging. Not even close to your usual approach and something you’d never normally do. As you were waiting for the start of the race, Anton Krupicka walked by.
Good luck Anton! / you said.
Do we have to check in? / he asked you.
No man, this is it! / you tell him.
He looked nervous about having to check in which was kind of funny to you. This was his fourth time doing this race. He’d won it twice. You’d think he’d know. He looked clear eyed and focused though.
They counted down and said go. There were camera crews and thousands of people up in the middle of the night, cheering. You remained in the back of the pack, walking. There were eight-hundred people ahead of you and about five behind you. You walked and it felt fine. Once out of town you began the job. You were tentative. You weren’t toeing off. You baby it, knowing your other leg will suffer the brunt of the day and night. At mile five, you run right past where you’d been camping for the last week. Your crew was is there, covered in blankets and wearing headlamps, cheering everyone on. You stop and hug them.
How’s it going?
So far so good / you say, to your surprise as much as theirs. You and them both half expected you to drop right there. They cheer you on.
At mile ten you decide to start passing people. The first AS is at mile 13.5 where Marty is waiting for you. You shed the headlamp and arm warmers. He tells you there is a lot of runners ahead of you. That was when you got to work.
It was the first big climb of the day. Sugarloaf pass. Your power hiking skills are decent and you push. You don’t talk to runners. You push. You grind. Once at the top, you start running down, running eight minute miles. You push it hard to National Fish Hatchery aid station at 23.5 miles. You tell the volunteers your number so they can get your drop bag. They look. They look. You help them look. No sign of it. They’ve lost your drop bag. You’ll be through this AS two times. It had extra shoes, socks, compression, Carbo-Pro, Tums. It had everything you need to make it through this race. The tough just got tougher. You see your crew all together for the first time this morning and they lift you up and make you smile. Maggie touches your face to give you positive energy. Everyone is taking pictures and having fun. There is a long stretch of flat road after that. Tons of vehicles w/ crew members are going back and forth on the road and cheering for the runners. You are gaining confidence. The foot is feeling good. You are passing people by the dozen. Things are going your way. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself though. Remain calm and focused on the present. Remain humble. ANYTHING can happen over the course of a hudo. Back to the trails w/ a four mile ascent to the Twin Lakes aid station. You are jamming on watermelon and gels. That is usually all your stomach allows. Your salt and hydration intake is down to a science. Totally flawless. This is the aid station you began seeing people crying. Two women and two men were bawling. One guy was in the fetal position, wailing. D/t injuries? The course being too difficult? Who knew.
You cross a river. Up until now, all the runners had been pretty quiet. Not a lot of talk. But once you all begin the climb up Hope Pass, everyone unites as brothers and sisters. Everyone is encouraging each other and struggling to get up that massive, steep climb that can humble the worlds best ultrarunners. Especially w/ forty miles on the legs. One guy said it was like running forty miles and then climbing a 14er. That sounded accurate to you. You have no idea how long that climb took. Hours, for sure. You don’t take many breaks. You break treeline. Then there is an AS that’s so far up, it takes llama farmers to haul up all the supplies needed to man an aid station for a bunch of runners for the weekend. You stop to put some calories in. Someone tells you it’s only a half mile to the top. Eff! You thought you were at the top. A half mile of climbing may not seem like much but this could take an hour. You are at 12,800 feet and it’s like running w/ a sock in your mouth. Luckily the food gives you a little boost. This is where you see the leader of the race, Anton Krupicka and his pacer Dakota Jones bombing down as you are going up. They are moving fast and they are ALL business. Then you see Thomas Lorblanchet (who went on to win the race) and his pacer Anna Frost not far behind. Nick Clark is in third. These guys are your heros. They are about ten miles ahead of you. Someday. Someday…
You run most of the way down. This is nearly an eight mile descent. You knees are blowing up. You make it to Winfield and you are dehydrated and calorie depleted. Your crew gives you Snickers, Red Bull, candy, water, anything and everything. The good news is this is where you can pick up a pacer. Jessica is primed and ready. Her energy is perfect b/c you are spent. You’d just run the hardest fifty miles of your life. Probably the hardest thing you’d EVER done. And now you are about to turn around and do it all over again. But somehow your confidence is growing. This was where you told your crew / I’ll finish no matter what. It may take me longer than expected, but I’m going to finish.
You and Jess begin the eight mile climb. Hours go by. She said it was the hardest thing she’d ever done. It starts to rain. She tries to stop you to put on the raingear.
No, we have to keep moving.
But shortly after that, you have to sit down for a minute b/c you are becoming confused and disoriented. And then you keep going.
After making it to the top, you walk the half mile down to Hope aid station. All you can get down is chicken broth and candy. You take down as much as you can. It’s enough to push it hard down Hope Pass. You both run down almost all of it. Five steep miles down and your knees are screaming. River crossing. Aid station. Switch pacers. Four miles up. It’s dark. The headlamps go on. You and Marty run a long flat section. You chat w/ other runners who are struggling. You puke on a gel. It’s going to be tough getting the calories down from now on but you have no choice. The tough just got tougher. Your feet are trashed. Your shoes are falling apart. Wet socks. Rocks and sand inside your shoes and socks. You need to make it to the next aid so you can switch socks. You and Marty run a half mile, then take a break. Run a half mile, take a break. Achilles is getting fussy. Top of your other foot is getting fussy. When you finally make it to the aid, you have your crew tape up your feet. Your shoes are rotting right off of your feet. Since the race lost your dropbag and extra shoes, you have to borrow whatever you can find. Thankfully, Jessica’s boyfriend wears the same size as you but all he has are some cheap $35 Adidas and no one has spare socks. You shake the sand and rocks out and wring them out and put them and the Adidas on. The tough just got tougher. Switch pacers. You and Jess have one more monster climb, Sugarloaf pass. You eat as much watermelon and drink as much chicken broth as you can and go. You’ve been dreading this climb for hours and you just want to get it done. You push hard. Jess is struggling to keep up. You are hiking faster than everyone on this climb. All you see are headlamps going up and endless climb. You devour it. You have to stop to change your headlamp batteries. There are six or eight false summits. And what goes up, must come down. For miles. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s quiet. You’re grouchy. You are not responding to Jessica’s questions. Legs and feet are hamburger. Gone. You are not having fun at all. You are in hell. You just want to be done. But there is absolutely no choice other than to grind it out to the final end. You switch pacers for the last time. Marty is going to take you home. Thirteen more awful miles. You hate running. You hate runners. You push on. As you and Marty are hiking, you see a building off to the right, near the lake. A boathouse. But as you get closer, it’s gone. Or never was there. You see people setting up camp to your left. That’s strange / you think / --people setting up camp at 6 am. But when you get closer, they are gone. Never there.
Marty, I think I’m hallucinating.
Marty turns around and looks at you and smiles.
Welcome / is all he says w/ a wry smile.
The tough just got tougher. Ten miles to go.
It’s the longest ten miles of your life. It feels like fifty.
Marty, I have to stop to get these rocks out of my shoes / you tell him. Only they aren’t rocks. They’re rock size blisters, right on the critical spots of your feet and you are rendered unable to run. It’s going to be a hike aaaaallllllllllllll the way in from here.
The tough just got tougher.
Ten and a half years later, you and Marty make it back into town. Tawnya meets the two of you. You have just enough energy and pain tolerance left to run the last quarter mile. You hear your name. It’s 8:30 am. Twenty-eight and a half hours. Eight-hundred started. Only three-hundred finished. You are right about in the middle. And there’s no way you could have done it w/out your crew that drove eighteen hours on their own dime and slept on the ground or in their cars to do whatever it took to see you to the finish line. It felt so good to have them there and to hug them and thank them at the finish. Words are never enough. THANK YOU GUYS. They helped you achieve something that you’ll have w/ you for the rest of your life. And that’s that.