The forecast was for sunny 60 degree weather by 3pm, but at 5am, it was downright cold. The starts of the 40, 20, and 8 mile races were each staggered by an hour, so as an 8 miler, I had a lot of time to kill. I chatted with John as Mark and Amy kicked off their 40 mile adventure. I took pictures and cheered as John disappeared up the hill on his 20 miler, and then returned to the van to keep warm and wait for the minutes to tick past. I had run a 15k the previous weekend and felt pretty good, so I was optimistic that I’d have a pretty good run. I was extremely excited for my first real trail race.
An hour later, I am skidding around a hairpin turn, spraying frozen mud and wet leaves everywhere as I try to dodge the loose rocks and roots all over the trail. I find myself almost wishing to be back on the thigh burning uphills because they were less scary. Almost.
When I hit my third uphill, the momentum and adrenaline wear off. I am still hanging with a small group of runners, but a few of us slow all the way to a walk. As a fairly experienced racer, it takes a significant swallowing of pride to accept this. It helps to not be the only one. I soon learn, though, that pride is the least of my worries. High school physics is a bigger concern, as I learn the hard way that Newton was right: objects at rest tend to stay at rest. As the hill levels off, convincing my reluctant legs that we really do want to start running again is difficult. Slowly my stride opens up a bit, until I lurch into next downhill. Wash, rinse, and repeat. It helps to have a bad short-term memory.
There are no mile markers, and I have lost the pack, so I just keep grinding on until the aid station at mile 5. I sure hope that no one heard me this morning when I speculated about doing the 20 miler next year. I no longer have any qualms about walking the steepest bits. I haven’t seen anyone for at least 20 minutes, so I’m either on the wrong trail, or everyone else is walking these parts too.
As I hit what has to be around mile 7, I catch a lungful of someone’s campfire smoke. I usually love that smell, but at this point it makes me want to puke. I start seeing more people, hoping one of them will please tell me I’m almost done! A volunteer appears and shouts “3rd place female!” Brief confusion, until I realize I am no longer alone, a woman has been slowly creeping up on me. The volunteer’s words give her a second wind, and I graciously wave her past. We cruise into the finish. The Fritos there taste like little bits of heaven.
Slowly, I catch my wind, and ask another finisher for the time. Total run time was around 1h13m. Considering how punishing the hills and trail surface were, I’m more than happy. I catch a shuttle back to the start and take a nap in the car. After John finishes, we head over to watch the finish to the 40 mile run. These folks do not look nearly tired enough. We eavesdrop on the HAM radio folks monitoring the course and learn that Amy is at the 38 mile mark, and is in the lead for the women’s race. For her first 40 miler! She is very nonchalant as she crosses the finish line, and hardly even looks winded, amazing. Mark pulls in a little bit later, hitting right around the time he was aiming for. After all, for him this is only a training run for bigger and better things.
The day turns out to be as gorgeous as the forecast predicted, the scenery is unbelievable, and the people are inspiring. I can’t wait till next year. Maybe I’ll try the 20.