The Last 16…

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I can’t do this
I have to do this…I mean, I have to get back somehow…
How long is this going to take?
Was that a bear?? Nope. Just a stump.
Poison Ivy? Poison oak? Poison sumac? Yep.
How dumb is it that I just keep climbing mountains just to run down them again?
Is that a snake? Yes. That actually is a snake.
Is that Fireball on the aid station table? And Emergency Drinking Beer? Seriously? People are nuts. I mean, more nuts than I am for running these trails that obviously no one ever uses. Because…rocks, roots, ledges…yep, that’s why.

Mile 40.5 aid station…I left the crackling fire, delicious food and light for narrow trail with barely any markings, rocks jutting out of the trail that were eager to trip me, a steep drop off on my right, some crazy bird that was squawking in the trees nearby (what kind of bird is that vocal at night? A rabid one, probably), and darkness (other than the light from my precious Petzl). I tried to put on music, but my headphones got tangled in my trekking poles and shortly after I started doing an uncoordinated spastic dance trying to free them, I quickly realized that I needed both eyes and all attention on the trail if I didn’t want to end up careening off the side of the mountain. So that was it for my foray into running with musical distraction. Then I hit a slick rock and ended up splayed out on the trail, my one and only fall of the race. I quickly assessed my situation and determined that I was uninjured and needed to get up and keep moving.

At some point I saw it off in the distance…a dim light bobbing along through the darkness like a ghostly lantern.  My heart lept. It was another runner! Woohoo! I would not be mauled by a bear at night by myself! I would be mauled by a bear in the presence of others! I approached and the man in the back asked if I wanted to pass. HECK NO! I’ll just stay back here, thank you very much! Eventually, it dwindled down to just me and one other runner, but I could tell that we were both committed to hanging in there with one another. Neither of us wanted to be out there alone and in the dark.

When we rolled into the last manned aid station, I knew that I could not linger or I would never leave. Very Hotel California-esque, I know. A man shoved a cup of luke-warm chicken noodle soup into my hand, and I gratefully scarfed it down. We had just completed an incredibly gnarly section of trail, and it had taken me longer than any other grouping of miles the entire race (3 hours and 20 minutes for 7.5 miles) . I didn’t know how I could possibly be out there another 3-4 hours, but at this point quitting would hurt more, so I gave my running buddy a nod and we headed off onto the trail. Again.

If there is one thing that drives me nuts at a race, it’s that person who tells you that “you’re almost there!” when inevitably you are definitely NOT almost there. Well, we encountered another runner on the course who had done this race before, and he told us that once we got to the stream crossing “just up ahead” we would be at Wolf Creek, where the last unmanned water drop was. After that, it was less than four miles to the finish. THREE streams later, I was getting a bit peeved. We finally got to Wolf Creek, and I was so relieved to see that water drop…until we started climbing again. We climbed and climbed and I got more and more aggravated. I really felt like this would never, ever end. I looked earnestly for pink ribbons because I was convinced that we had made a wrong turn, and the finish was really way BACK THERE! We had not made a wrong turn, and the climb just kept on going. My legs didn’t feel that bad, given all the miles that were on them for the day, but I was just over it. I was trying not to go into a negative head space, but at some point I said, “This is DUMB! I’m ready to be done. No more climbing!”

I eventually saw the most beautiful sight in the world…an enthusiastic race volunteer standing in the middle of the woods in the dark saying, “You have one more mile!!” THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT! YEAH! I LOVE RUNNING! I COULD RUN ALL NIGHT! About half a mile later, I was more like, “How has it not been a mile yet?? I’m going to just keep counting to 60, and eventually I will get there. Right?!?”

We hit the pavement and I started my very ugly trot to the finish line. I passed under the blow up arch at 3:40am, and was handed a box that contained my finisher’s mug by a race volunteer,  as he congratulated me and patted me on the back. I stopped running. After running (who am I kidding, there was a LOT of hiking in there) for 19 hours and 40 minutes, I was done…

2 thoughts on “The Last 16…

  1. Great job! Between the wind/temps and the terrain, that was a tough night. I also used the buddy system (which I never do). Interesting lesson in how we don’t accomplish these things alone…

    Liked by 1 person

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