Thursday, August 9, 2012
The race starts at 7pm and finishes at 7am. You run around a 10 mile trail loop as many times as you can. The one that runs the furthest wins. Sounds simple enough, right? What could possibly go wrong? The 10 mile course is supposed to be very well marked. And there are glow sticks out there at night to mark the trail, in addition to the pink ribbons. Of course, I took a wrong turn, not once, but twice.
We start off running with plenty of daylight with overcast skies and a slight chance of rain. The first loop was a lot of fun! There were only 16 of us running the 12-hour night run, and there were 20 100-miler runners out on the same course. I finished the first 10-mile loop in 1:58:xx, which was probably too fast. It was hard not to get a little competitive in such a small field. I was the 4th man (and 6th overall) after the first loop!
The second loop was a nightmare. And it fittingly became a dark and stormy night! Did I mention that my bib number was 966? (way too close to a bad luck number I really don't like) All my bad luck seemed to hit me all at once during this loop.
I met a100 mile runner named Steve just one mile into this loop. He had just fallen and was having trouble seeing. He was heading back to the starting line to quit, clearly shaken and disoriented. I played the part of a good Samaritan and offered my pacing services for this loop, hoping to jump start his race. He agreed, and we were on our way, with me in the lead.
It was not long after we start running together when I miss a turn and lead us both astray. Instead of making a hairpin U-turn, I went straight. We went off course for a full 2 miles before we turn around. During these 2 miles, Steve is convinced that someone had maliciously removed the course marking ribbons and glow sticks. Eventually, there are enough signs that lead us to the conclusion that we are off course. We actually ended up on the Tevis Cup horse race course! (the race that the Western States 100 miler originally followed)!
We trudged back at a very slow hike, and by the time we made it back to our race course Steve was out of water and done. We parted ways in opposite directions, and I continued with my own race (with 4 slow bonus miles). I had gone a total of 15 miles, and I had 9 more miles to go to finish my 2nd loop! This was very demoralizing. And to make matters worse, lightning, thunder and rain made their unwelcome appearance. The next 9 miles were quite miserable. The only highlights came with human contact at the aid station and the occasional 100 mile runner sighting. It felt really lonely out there and the lightning made me nervous. I passed a 66-year old runner who was running his first 100-mile race. He was only on his 4th loop after over 18 hours! He suffered during the daytime heat and was traveling very slow, but his voice was strong and his faith in God was clearly unwavering. I wanted to walk beside him for a while, but he moved over for me to pass, and cheered me on! What a trooper!
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. [Psalm 23:4]"
This quote from the Bible came to mind a lot during this miserable loop. My greatest adversary during this loop was my own negativity. Thoughts of quitting (I even thought about quitting ultras) after this loop were very strong. But how could I quit, when this 66-year old gentleman was out there fighting for a finish! I finally pulled into the aid station/start/finish and sat down. I was afraid of going back out into the darkness. I dreaded a slow slog through that "valley of the shadow of death". If I could run well, things wouldn't be so bad.
Steve was sitting at the aid station too. And he was trying to convince me to get out there and continue my race. I felt like a whiny baby. Steve offered me one of his Starbucks Frappacinos, which I eventually accepted. And then Rosa came into the aid station, having finished 30 miles for just the second time ever. Her headlamp was low on batteries. She had fresh batteries in her other drop bag at the next aid station, but needed help getting there. Once again, I offer my pacing services. This time however, I'm pacing a faster runner, and I have no idea if I can keep up. I also remember that I have two untouched servings of Vespa in my drop bag. I had not taken any early on because two servings would only last me 6 hours and I did not want to crash halfway into my race! After the coffee and a serving of Vespa, I felt rejuvenated and refreshed.
Me and Rosa head out of the aid station at 1:41am. All of a sudden, I'm running well again and I'm really enjoying the company and the conversation. Rosa's headlamp had turned off a few times and the dark trails really "creeped her out". She was very thankful to have me along, lighting the way with my little flash light. And I was thankful to have her along, a new friend, who clearly loves running just as much as I do. And then, I do it again. I missed the same turn as I did with Steve in the second loop. Disaster strikes again! But this time, we lose only a mile. It still costs us around 16 minutes. I am pretty embarrassed to have made the same mistake again, but we brush it off as if it didn't happen. The miles fly by. Rosa picks up some fresh batteries at the next aid station and we continue on together. We were making a great team! And two lights are definitely better than one. By now the clouds had parted and a bright moon had emerged along with a complementing sky full of stars. The night sky and the trails had transformed again, along with my attitude and good fortune.
We ran well together, and we talked about our kids and the things that inspire us. Lost in conversation and the nice running rhythm, we even ran up some of the hills that I would typically hike up. We finally pulled into the aid station/finish at 4:25am.
Rosa was ready to chase that final lap to get her first 50 mile finish, but I was hesitant. I didn't think I could keep up with her anymore. But I knew that I would have to at least try. We headed out again after I got some soup and another serving of Vespa. After about 3 miles, it was clear that I would not be able to keep up with Rosa's solid pace. I told her to continue on without me, to chase that down that 50-mile goal. She waited for me for a moment, and then reluctantly moved on. I was alone again, but I wasn't lonely. Even though I was moving slower than Rosa, I was still moving well. The skies slowly got brighter, and it was a glorious morning. I felt so alive. With three miles to go and an hour left, I simply stopped pushing the pace and just enjoyed a leisurely stroll through nature. I took more pictures. I breathed more deeply. I even ate some wild blackberries. It was truly a beautiful morning. I ran the last 100 meters into the finish line, at 6:52am. The race director put a snazzy medal around my neck, and I felt pretty good about my race. Rosa had finished her first 50 mile race (+1 bonus mile) at 6:26am. What a great, epic adventure! Epic races have a way of changing you. The person that went into the woods the night before is somehow different from the person that emerged the morning after. After facing such darkness and despair, I felt reborn and I gained faith and strength. I feel stronger, both as a runner and as a person.
I have two headlamps, but could not find either one before driving up to the race (2.75 hour drive). I only had my Fenix Handheld Flashlight, which I had never run with. It worked remarkably well with just two double A batteries for the entire night. Along with my missing headlamps were a few extra servings of Vespa, which would have really helped. I think I may have become a little dependent on the Vespa, which allows me to reduce my caloric intake. Without it, I need to eat a lot more. It almost feels like I'm cheating! And next time, I need to bring my own Frappacinos. The trails were a lot tougher than I originally thought. Each loop has about 1200 feet of elevation gain! And my 5 bonus miles added even more elevation gain/loss!