“Alright, so everyone doing the 50K gather around the start area. The course is 3 loops. Each loop is about 10.5 miles. So you’ll end up doing around 31.5 miles total. The route is shaped like a tadpole. You’ll start on the tail, then do a big loop and come back on the tail to the start/finish area.” Tom, the race director, was giving a quick rundown of the race before he let us off. It’s 6 a.m and still dark. The temperature is in the low 50s and a heavy fog has covered the morning air. There is close to 50 runners doing the 50K option. There is also a 50 mile, 50 mile relay and a 10 mile race.
“We’ll get started in just a few seconds,” Tom continued. Most everyone strapped on their headlamps. “Shit, I hope this doesn’t mess my race up. Shouldn’t be dark too long.” I thought. “I’ll give a three command start.” He yelled go and two guys just took off down the path. Immediately I told myself to be patient, those guys won’t last long. At least one of them will have a blow up.
Myself and one other person were behind them, leading the second group. Both of us didn’t have a headlamp, so we were going cautiously slow. The race started on a small stretch of trail then went to a short section of road. A guy with a light caught up with us on the road and stayed with us when we got back on the trail. I was trying to be nice and let him go ahead to help lead the way, since he had the light and all, but he wasn’t taking leadership. Really it was me and the other guy without lights in front. I couldn’t see shit. I could only see a few feet in front of me. There were glow sticks placed along the course. Once we passed one I could faintly see a glow in the distance. We missed a few turns when I was leading. I really couldn’t wait for the sun to rise, so I could see!
The terrain was either a dirt, fallen leaves and pine straw mix or a very loose sand. Personally I felt like there was more sand than any other surface. After a few miles, the trail dipped down into this eerie bog. It felt really dark in this part with a thick fog and bare trees. It got muddy here and there was a small creek to cross. For some reason this part reminded me of the movie The Never Ending Story. I for some reason remember the kid in the movie walking through thick mud in some creepy forest. Anyways, I leaped over the creek no problem. Then a few more steps through more mud and there was another creek. I got across this one just fine. Then there was another one. It looked a tad too far to jump across. The water was black so I couldn’t see how deep it was. I assumed since it was just a small creek it wouldn’t be deep. I took one step in and the water came up just above my knee. Damn! Water filled shoes already.
My feet were weighed down for a few minutes. The trail got out of this ‘forbidden forest’ area and now I was running with the guy that had the light. We just finished the tail part of the course and now were on the loop part. The sun was starting to come up bringing some visibility. But the fog was sticking around and it was overcast. We kept at an easy pace and never said anything to each other. I was focusing on staying relaxed and keeping my breathing in rhythm. The loose sand was not a fun surface. Finding spots to get good traction on were limited.
By the time we reached the half way point of the loop I could see finally. At the first aid station I took a few swings of water and dumped a few cups on my head to keep cool. It was a quick stop and I took off when the other guy did. We kept together for about a mile keeping an easy pace. All of the sudden he takes a hard right. I figured I missed yet another turn so I look back. He’s got his shorts down, ass pointed towards a tree and pushes a bomb out. I didn’t see anything, but it sounded big…
I laughed out loud and just went on alone. “Patience,” I kept telling myself. “The race is mine if I just keep patient. Those guys that went out hard won’t be able to hold it.”
Making my way around the loop with no problems, I get back to the tail section again. This time runners from other races are going the other way. We exchange “good jobs” and “looking greats.” I get back to the muddy section with the creeks. With the more foot traffic, the mud was just more sloppy, slippery and deep. About ankle deep. I get to the first creek (the one I decided was too far to leap on the way out) and I make the leap. Right when I land my foot slips from under me and I hit the ground hard. I landed on my left hand/wrist really weird and it hurt for a few minutes. “Don’t be stupid” I told myself. I decided to just jump in the water from then on.
When I got out of this part my heart was pounding, I guess from the fall. I calmed myself down and pressed on. I followed the trail back to the road and felt relief once I found it, knowing I was about done with my first lap. I started to see more and more runners. I couldn’t tell who was doing which race. I kept looking for a guy in a yellow shirt, since that’s all I remember of the two guys that took off at the start. I passed a few guys with no shirts on but they didn’t look familiar.
I was now on the small trail section that the race started on. I came up to an opening and there was a bunch of targets for a shooting range. I didn’t recognize any of this from earlier. Well it was dark so I wouldn’t have seen it. I run around but don’t see anywhere the course goes. Shit, I made a wrong turn somewhere. It run back but don’t see anywhere to go. I run back once more to the shooting range to double check. Nope. I turn back again and the two runners I started the race with were there. “It’s the wrong way,” I told them. We head back the way we came and see a girl make the turn we somehow missed.
We made it to the start/finish area and refuel. Filled back up on water and dumped more on my head. There were a lot of people hanging around. I started the second loop not knowing which place I was in. I thought maybe the two guys that were in the lead might have been taking a long break. I had no idea. The guy I had initially started the race with, left with me. He slowly pulled away. As we ran on I kept seeing him just around each bend. I made it through the mud fest with no problems this time around.
Coming up to the halfway point of the loop and the race, I caught the guy in front of me. He was breathing a little hard. I ran with him for a little bit but left him at the aid station. Back on my own, I pass some 50 milers. Everyone shared words of encouragement. When the course looped back to the tail part, I started to recognize people I had passed earlier. They were nice enough to step aside, if the trail got too narrow for me to pass. Maybe they knew I was somewhere in front of the 50K race.
Running on, I pass a guy walking. As I came up he said “I busted my knee.” It was one of the guys that took off at the start. This was when I realized patience pays off. I made it back to the road and onto the trail towards the start/finish. I pass a guy going the other way and we both nod to each other. I realized he was the leader. A few minutes later I’m at the aid station refilling my bottle and pouring a few extra cups of water on my head. It was getting warmer outside. The co-race director tells me I’m down 3 minutes from the leader just before I take off for my last lap. I pass a runner and he tells me to “go get him.”
I’m amped by this point. Leading up to the race whenever I visualized the race, for some reason, I pictured myself having a come from behind win. It was all coming together. This was my time.
Not too far into the last lap my legs started to ache. First it was the quads then the hammies. Muscle twitches up and down my legs. My body wanted a break but I kept going. I had to start really digging deep here. Giving in wasn’t an option. If I wanted to win this race, this was were I had to man up.
Going through the creeks, I thought my legs were gonna lock up from the cold water. Thankfully they didn’t and I pushed through the pain. My heart rate was starting to elevate from the physical fatigue. “All I have to do is maintain this pace.” I kept telling myself. Maintain and I’ll win this thing.
I got to the final aid station. I still hadn’t seen the first place guy. I asked how long ago the last guy left. The response, “just two minutes ago. He doesn’t look good either. He was stretching a lot and his shoulder seemed to be bothering him.” I smiled and said “I’m gonna try and run him down.” I had cut his lead down. Slowly I was pulling him in. I left that aid station refreshed and on a mission. Just maintain for about 5 more miles.
Those uplifting feelings didn’t last long. I was tired and hurting. I was hoping to see him any minute. I was waiting for the moment I would see him. Each turn on the trail revealed no one in sight. I have never kept running through this much pain before. If this were me a year ago, the first sign of pain I would have given in and started the death march. Not this time. I wanted this one so bad.
I got to the creek crossings. My first step in the mud, and I just I felt out of it. Jumping in the creeks and sloshing through more mud took a lot out of me. My momentum and drive just seemed to sink down with each step in the mud. I felt completely wiped out when I got out of that section. I didn’t start running right away. I walked, counted to 10 then started with my run. Just a few more miles….and where the hell is this guy?!
I made it about a half a mile more. I was exhausted. I couldn’t tell if my vision was going in and out or if it were my eyes just trying to close. I felt I could have laid down and taken a long ass nap. I walked a little. Then ran some more. Got to an up hill and walked up that. I felt the race slip away from me. I started to get down, but I had to hold my head up. I was still in second place and so close to the finish.
I picked back up the run but didn’t last very long til I was walking again. I kept his up for what seemed like forever. By this time I knew I wasn’t going to pull off the win. I figured he might have already finished the race. So my main focus now was to finish second, strong and under 5 hours.
After another quick walk break I start running. The trail went a little down hill and I let gravity do the work. All of the sudden my foot hit something on the ground. The next thing I know I’m face down. Dirt/sand is all over me. I don’t even remember falling. A runner up a ways heard me and asked if I was alright. “Yeah!” I called back. I picked myself back up and trudged on. Finally getting to the road, I was on the home stretch. It was amazing to be just about finished. It was a tough battle and the last few miles kicked my ass.
I crossed the line in 4:57 for 2nd place. The co-race director put a medal around my neck and congratulated me. I walked over to the aid station and grabbed some orange peels. I was starving! My hands were still covered in dirt but I didn’t care. I chomped away with dirt all over the orange slices. I was biting into grittiness but it tasted amazing. I chugged a few cups of Coke after to get sugars back in me.
I felt completely dead. I wanted to lay down so bad and just fall asleep. But didn’t want a leg to cramp up. I headed straight towards the post race food and destroyed a bowl of gumbo. It kicked the life back in me once it got into my system.
I congratulated the first place guy (he finished about 15 minutes ahead of me, that’s how bad I fell apart) and the other runners that came in behind me. I was extremely happy with the result of the race. It got really tough in the end and I stuck with it. I’ve never pushed myself that hard before through so much pain. I wanted to win, but everything can’t go your way. Relative to other ultras this one would be considered easy and flat. But regardless of that, there won’t ever be an easy ultra. Each one will present new challenges and new experiences.
Looking back, I really could have used one more gel. I ate my last one early on in the last lap so it was inevitable that I would bonk close to the end. I learned a lot during this race and I’ve made huge progress since my last one. I’m going to do some rest and recovery through Thanksgiving and get to business training for the Keys 100 in May! The road continues on.