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That title says a lot, and I do not mean it in a hyperbolic sense. The more I think about last Saturday, the more I am certain it was, if best day is measured in the happiness and love you feel and sense of absolute contentment with things. I’m getting a head of myself. This is going to be long… I was certain I WASN’T running Umstead this year back in January. I had just had a pretty bad race in Florida and felt kind of burned out. But shortly after that Steph told me I essentially had to run it and I trust her judgement absolutely, and thought about how it could be a really fun time for us, so why the hell not. Rhonda, the RD, so graciously allowed me to send my registration in and get one the “competitive” entries. I feel silly even saying that, it sounds so… much, but that’s reality and I DID want to be competitive. Fast forward a bit and the month between the Gator Trail 50k and Umstead was less than ideal from a running standpoint. While things in other areas of my life were getting better and better and I was happy and feeling good about life, my knee was a different story. The fall at the race jacked something up in my hip which led down to the knee. Running was painful and damn near impossible over 4-5 miles. So I went into a sort of unplanned, extended taper. I was confident that I had the cardio to get 100 miles and run it fairly quickly, the long runs had been there, the miles had been there, I just needed my legs to hold up. John Stiner, as he has done so many times in the past, helped get me to the start line with a few treatments. Aside from being a good friend, he has pulled me “out of the ditch” so many times in the past four years, I have lost count and I am immeasurably grateful for the work he does. He told me something very wise a few days out — “Your body may not heal up on your timetable.” I went into the race feeling relatively good but aware that I might not be 100%. A few days before the race, Steph came down with some sort of combo allergy/virus that really knocked her for a loop pretty badly. I drove down to Wilmington the day before the race to pick her up so she wouldn’t have to make the drive feeling like death. She had said maybe she’d just stay there and come up the next day in the afternoon if she was feeling better, that driving down and back the day before a race wasn’t a good idea for my legs. What I tried to get her to understand was that having her there, if she wanted to be there (which she very much did), was so much more important to me than the possibility of my legs feeling a little cramped from driving. I’d rather start the race in a great place mentally, which I knew I’d do if I could spend the night before just hanging out with her and if I could get a kiss right before we were sent on our way. The happiness far outweighed anything else. And that’s just what I did. We had a great steak dinner at Texas Roadhouse and got back to Durham early enough. And just like before every good race I’ve had lately, we stayed up a bit later than I should have, had a few beers, listened to some great music, and just enjoyed one another’s company. I fell asleep with zero stress on my mind and a heart full of bliss. I got up before the alarm, sometimes around 4 am, a few hours after we fell asleep in a heap. I roused first but the pull of the bed was so strong, I kept delaying it by 5 minutes here and there. When I finally did get up, I proceeded to take way longer than it should have to get ready. In retrospect maybe I should have had things packed and ready to go. Steph was, as usual, ready to go first and helped me get my ass out the door and on the road. We arrived at the race site right around 5:30 and parked a bit of the way up the hill out of the start/finish area. There was a nice spot right along the trail that we ended up sharing with Dan Lenz’s family. I went about the business of getting my bib and getting ready. Steph was so encouraging and helped me not deal with not letting my nerves turn way the hell up. In fact that most nervous I got was when I couldn’t find her for a few minutes after going to the bathroom. But there she was, right at the start. Bib on, shoes tied. A kiss for good luck. Ok, another. Maybe one more. Happiness was all I felt. Knowing she was there, despite how she felt, telling me how proud she was, how much she loved me, it filled me up. We heard the air horn and I started the race in the best possible mental place (and I had Steph’s water bottle that said “Steph Carter” on it so the whole day I could look at that and smile). The first loop was the easiest, which makes sense. I started out just jogging along, letting the headlamps illuminate the trail. I was up in front with a few other people, and quickly this guy Michael who I didn’t recognize, Hal Koerner, and I had some separation from everyone else. I didn’t bother looking at my watch until it got light out but I figured we were running around 8s. I wasn’t laboring, and, more importantly, my knee felt GREAT. The first glance at my watch was around 7 miles, just out of AS1. Whoa. A bit surprising we were going around 7:30s. Too fast. I took the opportunity on the hilly stretch to go to the bathroom and ease it up, but with all that I still came in at the end of lap one with one of my fastest laps I’ve ever run out there, training or racing. The smile on my face as I turned into Camp Lapihio would have been all I needed for a light, I was so excited to come back, feeling so good, and knew I was going to see Steph. There she was and as I came back up the hill it was a nice stop to get a quick hug and kiss, grab some eats and be on my way. I filled my water bottle and whatnot and it was like filling my happy meter at the same time. I wish I could go on to write similar things about the next 7 laps. About how I stayed so happy and felt so great and ran on to a PR and everything was wonderful and their were fireworks in celebration later. But that’s not how the day went. Nearing the aid station on the course for the second time, I started to feel my knee. The same feeling I was getting all month at mile 2 or 3, here I was not even 20 miles in and I was feeling it. I stopped to stretch and massage a bit, hoping it would pass. By the time I got to the hills on the back section, I was feeling it A LOT. My muscles were fine, my breathing was unlabored. I was in great spirits. But there was increasingly a feeling like a knife jabbing itself into the outside of my right knee. I hiked up the hills and it abated some. I would run after that and it would be ok for a few steps but started coming back. Somewhere along the powerline section which I was forcing myself to run, the first thoughts of dropping entered my mind. The starting and stopping in such cold weather (it was still in the 30s and didn’t warm up much all day) was causing my legs to feel like they were about to cramp despite not being tired. I knew I was probably running kind of funny too. The thought of doing 75 MORE miles feeling like this didn’t just seem difficult, it seemed literally impossible! I was feeling pretty dejected and hated the idea of coming in and telling Steph that I was already done, that she’d come out here so excited and we were going to be disappointed. I turned back into the camp all set to say that. But something happened when I saw her. She asked me how I was and I was honest. I told her it hurt. I told her I COULD go shuffle 9ish minute miles for the rest of the day but didn’t necessarily see the point. I was a whiney mess. But I thought to myself, standing there, hugging her, near tears. I don’t want to stop. Not yet. I can’t say why except that once again, mentally, emotionally I felt recharged. The pain was still there and I think I popped some ibuprofen (a first for me at a race!). She said some encouraging words, my hilarious friend Toni gave me a slap on the ass, and I was on my way. Somehow. The pain didn’t actually get better. It got worse in some ways. Early on the third loop I was starting to feel my achilles. I guess from favoring my left side, it was putting extra stress and getting tight and painful. All thoughts of being competitive were now firmly out the window and I wasn’t sure what exactly I was doing still out there except that I wanted to keep going. The third lap mentally might have been the toughest. I was hurting, it was cold, I was lonely, everything kind of sucked. The only good thing were going by other runners or passing them and the cheerfulness everyone exuded despite the obvious strain of effort we were all under. So many friends out there on the course, too many to name all but particularly Shannon Johnstone who has been such a great friend to me along with her husband Anthony, I saw Cherie Yanek before she was done at mile 50 and she always looked in good spirits. I saw some people from the Runners Anonymous forum that it was good to put faces to little avatars. The good jobs and rock ons and whatnot helped get me around. The aid station volunteers at the mile 7ish station were so amazing all day, so cheerful, and I was always greeted with personal “GO MARK!” cheers which made making the turn and coming down the hill something to smile about no matter how bad I felt. The hills the third go round were tough. There was a lot more run/walking here, heavy on the walking. I was passed at some juncture here and maybe at another too, it’s fuzzy but beside the point. Once again, coming up on camp, I was set to call it a day. I came down the hill and there she was again, my angel. This time Jimbo, her friend who lives out in California was there too. Brief greetings, up and back the hill filled up. She told me I might as well go get a 50 mile finish at this point. Hearing HER say it, it made sense. So there I was, having gotten my hug, kiss, ass slap, and pep talk, my meters filled up, on my way out again. As I left, the inimitable Ray K gave me some sage advice about how I just need to walk some to realign and then shuffle as best I can, that things will loosen up and it’s going to be ok. I had my Pikachu shirt that Steph got me for Christmas on at this point too, which was another source of happy distractions. So that’s what I did. And I got passed by a few more guys. At some point Dan Lenz, who was having an exceptional race and would go on to second place (!!!) caught up and we jogged a little together before I told him to stop letting me slow him down. I shuffled along, again a fairly uneventful lap. The pain in my achilles was becoming worse and worse, and somehow the pain in my knee had kind of stabilized at “really bad” and so I could mostly shuffle. I got through the loop and coming back toward camp, I knew at least I was going to get a 50 mile finish. I was kind of excited because this way I could be done and not take a DNF and then we could all have the rest of the day to hang out and just drink away the pain. But a funny thing happened when I came down the hill. No Steph. No Jimbo. I went through the start/finish, refueled and came back to the table. Brian was there and pointed to a note. Someone else said my WIFE said to call her. Ha! I liked the sound of it and didn’t correct her. Steph had left the sweetest, most encouraging, loving note for me to call her, telling me she and Jimbo got some food and that she was so proud of me. I called her right away, she asked how I was doing. My achilles feels like it’s going to pop. -So good then, ok. She said her and Jimbo would be a while and if I needed them to bring me anything. We left off by me saying, well I guess if you guys aren’t going to be back any time soon I might as well go shuffle out another lap and see how I feel. I took my shirt off for this loop, just to change things up and also because my nipples were starting to feel a little rubbed. THAT development led to some hilarious cat calls out on the course. Their nefarious and brilliant plan had worked. After the race she told me how they had already eaten and just knew if they weren’t there when I came in, I would have kept going and that’s what they wanted me to do. And it worked like magic. I would have stretches where things would hurt less and I could get into something resembling a groove. The fifth lap certainly didn’t suck too much, relatively. I wanted to get done quicker than the others because, honestly, I missed seeing Steph at the end of the 4th. But then I came down the hill to the AS halfway through and what did my eyes see?! The prettiest sight imagineable — there were Steph and Jimbo standing there at the aid station! WHAT?! They had wanted to catch me halfway and oh lord was it the best pick me up! She didn’t let me linger too much but I refueled my hug and kisses and was on my way, happy knowing I’d only have another hour instead of two before I saw her again. The rest of the lap was much the same with me hiking the hills and running when I could. I came down and it was the same process — refuel, hug, kiss, encouragement, happiness. As I left I mentioned that I was kinda lonely and maybe it would be nice to have someone to pace me, but not just anyone. She asked who then and I had no idea, none of my friends were around. It gave me a chuckle. Little did I know, this woman, this amazing woman sprung into action immediately and behind the scenes. I shuffled around some more. I was trying not to think that even if I finished this lap I still basically had a marathon to go. UGH! It never felt warm all day, and it felt particularly bitter at this point. I was trying to eat and drink as much as possible and I never really had an issue digestively, although Steph kept assuming I wasn’t eating enough (I WAS! I SWEAR!). I kept counting down every mile (which isn’t the smartest thing to do). I think it was on this lap too (as I had before) when I got in a dark place I would start thinking about things that made me happy. About dark beers and pizza and warm, sunny beaches. As you could imagine, a lot about Steph; the adventures we had planned beyond Umstead, about the things we had done, about how Umstead is OUR special place in so many ways, about how absolutely great she was being to me and how much I loved her and how loved I felt… You can vomit now! At the end of the lap, Steph wasn’t with our stuff. I was curious until I got to the top of the hill. There she was, introducing me to some guy named Brian. She said he was going to be my pacer for the 7th lap and then Chuck Akers, her friend Blanca’s husband, was going to pace me for the last one. I know I had only mentioned it in passing but holy shit, she went and did exactly what I needed and wanted. And she didn’t just give me some random asshole pacer, even though she didn’t know him and neither did I she vetted him well and he turned out to be exactly what I needed on that seventh lap. We set off (of course after I got some food and some kisses) and right away I felt a little better. The pain had not subsided but I was at this point kind of used to it. So I ran, some of the quickest miles i had in hours. We were averaging under 9s at times on the first few miles of the lap. I was starting to do some mental math to see about when I could figure on finishing and thought I had a good shot at a sub-16 if I didn’t slow considerably. He was a great pacer, talking when we needed, allowing me to be quiet when I wanted. I felt a little woozy coming out of the midway aid station and we had to walk some more of the back section than I would have liked but we still brought it in about the same speed as the preceding laps. I had mentioned in passing how I wish Steph didn’t have to work the next day and apparently he had told her that after I went out with Chuck for lap 8 and, as of course any amazing person would, she called out right away to spend the day with me instead but I’m getting ahead of myself. It was getting dark when we came back in. I knew at this point I had no choice but to finish. After all I went through, All STEPH went through all day FOR me, this last lap was going to happen. Chuck was ready to roll (again, Steph was working magic behind the scenes to make sure he was there for ME). I don’t think anyone noticed, but when I came up the hill and she was there with Chuck, I was so overwhelmed with love and a sense that there was someone in the world who was sacrificing herself for me, to give me the best opportunity to run this race as best I could, who was there for me all day, despite everything she felt, I was about to lose it. I think one more second of hug or one more kiss and I would have been a crying mess, the happiest sort of tears, such gratitude I felt in my heart. In so many ways I was running this race for her, to make it worth her trip, because I knew she would get joy out of seeing me succeed, just like I get joy more in seeing her successes. But lap 8, I was running thinking solely of her, of that hug at the finish that I knew awaited me. I told Chuck I just wanted to come in under 16 and he said we’ll get there. Chuck was, as Steph said he would be, AWESOME! She said she knew we’d get along well and she was right. Even though I wasn’t 100% the whole lap was great. We talked, he had me laughing at times, he kept me pushing, he had some good tunes going, it was perfect. I was so grateful for his company, for Steph orchestrating all this, for all the people out there cheering me on as I cheered them, the positivity that was flowing was almost tangible. There were many times on that loop I was glad it was pretty dark because my eyes were welling up thinking about it all. I came into the aid station for the last time and I remember saying something like, I love you all, I am so happy and thankful you’ve been out here for us all day, but I am also very happy I will not be seeing you again. And we were off. I wanted to try to run as much of the lap as I could but I had no choice on some of the hills. As soon as we hit the powerlines it was a run. I pushed myself up Graylyn and then again up Cemetery Hill. I asked Chuck if he could run on ahead when we got into the camp and tell Steph I was coming, I wanted that hug ready and I didn’t want her to miss a moment (like she would!). He said he would of course, and then I started pushing. It was certainly not as fast as 2012, my legs just didn’t have it and the pain was still lingering, but it was a damn run. Once we got to the gate, half mile to go, even right here writing these words I just got a chill coursing through my entire body thinking about it. It is a feeling I will never forget as long as I live. I am about to cry right now, overcome with the same joy and happiness and love and sense of fulfillment I felt then. Pain be damned, I bombed down that hill. I tossed off my shirt and my head lamp and gloves and Steph’s water bottle as I went by the chair. (only the water bottle and shirt were ever seen again!) Bounding up the hill my heart was going a million miles an hour. I could see the timing tent, the red neon lights, I could see the finish, I cou– OUCH! In the darkness and my haste I slammed my toes into a step and took a pretty hard fall forward with about four steps to go. It didn’t matter, I was done, I popped up and bam, there it was. I could hear people cheering, I could see them cheering, I could see 15:40 something on the clock and then, in a moment… the world melted away. There she was. Steph was standing there just beyond the finish. I ran to it and when I was sure I had crossed some line, I stopped and I started walking (probably more like wobbling). Into her arms. Into the most amazing, most loving, most long awaited hug I have ever had in my entire life. My heart could have ruptured, beat right out of my chest. We were alone in the woods again, just the two of us. We wandered toward the aid station and she wanted me to get a shirt but I stopped and I hugged her again and I kissed her. Again, the world was gone. It was just us in our most special place and that was all that mattered. I knew then that this was the greatest I had ever felt in my entire life. I have not got the words to adequately describe it, but I will never forget it as long as I live. Stephanie had been there for me from the very beginning, had pushed me, loved me, encouraged me to go way way WAAAAAY beyond what I believed of myself to be possible, and I did. I am not ashamed to admit had she not been there I would not have finished the race. That is just a fact. I wanted to do it for her, I wanted to run to the best of my ability to honor her and make her proud and happy and I am so thankful I did that. I found something inside myself I didn’t know was there, and now that I know that, the ability to be better than I think I am, on that day, it has such applications to every thing else. She saw something in me, she believed in me, and I was better, so much better, for it. And that’s the thing about Stephanie. She is like that all the time, not just for that race. She sees the good, has the empathy, loves with her whole heart and makes everything and everyone better for knowing her, for her being there, in someone’s life, at my race, wherever. She is, in the best possible way, one-of-a-kind and I am lucky to have had her there for me, to have her WANT to be there for me no matter what. She deserves every single happiness, blessing, and wonderful amazing feeling in the world and then some. I could write an entire separate post just about that but I digress.
I got dressed and wandered into the lodge and we relaxed by the fire a bit but I just could not stop feeling so happy. She seemed it to. I wanted the moment to last forever, and in some ways it will linger forever in my mind. It was the toughest I have ever had to work at a race, the toughest race to complete, but I am proud I did it, stuck it out and finished. Knowing that I had Steph there all day, cheering me, proud of me, the memory we made, the day we had, THAT is better than any belt buckle I could have gotten or placement (5th if you must know). I know people use the world “best day ever” somewhat flippantly, but heading home together after the race, when we finally DID collapse in bed, again later than I probably had any business being up, the last thought before unconsciousness was just that. With this woman laying next to me, holding me, being there for me, loving me, March 28th, 2015 was the best day of my life. Who knows what the future holds. Life is not all ups and highs like that I know, and I have to understand that, which is something I have struggled with, mightily at times. Writing this has really highlighted just how lucky, how fortunate I was. When you have someone like that, someone who will do for you what she did for me, cherish that, be grateful for it, and let them know you are. Do it every single day. Because people like that, they are a rare unicorn. I am grateful I had her at Umstead, and we will always have that day, those moments. Some people live their whole lives and don’t get to feel the happiness and love I felt. Another chill just now. So in light of that… thank you to the Umstead volunteers, everyone who had a hand in making this race happen from the set up to the registration to the aid stations and whatever I’m not thinking of. Thank you to Toni for being so funny and making a sign that had me laughing each lap even if I didn’t want to. Thank you Shannon for spending that day running thirtysomething miles at Umstead with me which helped me think I actually could and should do it and for being a great friend. Thank you to Jimbo for being there so Steph wasn’t on her own. For being a great new friend and helping lie to me so I would do better than I thought capable. Thank you to Brian, whoever he is, for the seventh lap. Thank you to Chuck who I’m so glad to finally meet, for being such a perfect companion on that last lap, for the stories and laughs (even if there weren’t many good ones about Steph!), and THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to Stephanie Carter. My heart is bursting just thinking about how great you were to me. I could write another several thousand words on it. You were everything to me and more. I hope everyone reading this takes that to heart, I know I am. And I hope everyone reading this has the chance to experience a race, a day like I did. To be impossibly happy, to feel love in every fiber of your being. I was fortunate that through running I met such an amazing person (and many other truly great people) And if you do, thank those who made it possible and brought it into your life. Be the kind of person you want to be around. As with running, life has a way of working out really great if you don’t push it and act the way those you admire and love act toward you. Mark, out.
A little over a month ago, I ran the Gator Trail 50k down in Lake Waccamaw (such a fun word to say!) State Park. It’s about an hour west of Wilmington. Six 5.2 mile loops of flat, runnable, trail on the shores of a big ass lake. The short of it is that the race went really well. But to leave it as a bare bones report about my time, placing, and a recap of each lap would be to do myself and everyone reading this a disservice. Thus, this is not so much a report about one particular race as it is a recap of the roller coaster that has been the past few months. And a bit of a love story. Be forewarned dear reader, there will be some feelings and it will be long (of course it will be). However, unlike many a entry on this silly blog, most of the feelings will be positive in nature, and it has a pretty happy ending. Sorry if that kills any suspense.
To properly talk about this race and why it meant so much to me, I have to go back a bit and talk about some stuff that has only tangentially been alluded to here and may not at first glance seem related to a 50k trail race in NC in late February (but it is! It all is!). About two and a half months ago I was still training for the Wildcat 24 hour race which took place on a high school track in Florida. In the lead-up to the race I started going to UNC by myself on weekends and circling the track 50k or so at a time. Leading up to one such weekend, I got it in my mind that I needed to do a 12 hour run. Running for 4-5 hours on a track by myself is fine enough, but I thought for 12 hours it would be nice to have some familiar faces. So I put it out on facebook asking friends to come down, run with me, heckle me, whatever. I made promises of beers to entice. There were a few bites but it seemed like most of my endeavor would be undertaken solo. Then a few serendipitous things happened. It was the Wednesday before the weekend and I was at home, messing around on the interwebz, drinking an adult beverage and I struck up a conversation with someone from the running group on facebook. It started as a silly conversation about hanging out in various parking lots and woods and the illicit activities that were undertaken there back in high school. It was from that thread that Stephanie and I got to talking. What started as silly talk about cats and running went all over the place and lasted longer than I intended on staying up. During the course of that conversation, she mentioned that she was doing a 12 hour RACE the same day I was planning to do my 12 hour run. The race, the Nutcracker 12 hour, was taking place about an hour from me, a 5 mile out and back on a rail trail. By the end of the conversation the wheels started turning. I thought to myself, if I WANT to run 12 hours, there’s no way I would be able to run as much just circling a track by myself versus an actual race setting. Plus in a race, I’d have more support, would have some guaranteed company, and truth be told the fact that Stephanie would be there and maybe I could talk to her some more was decidedly in the pro column. So before I went to bed, I had registered for the race and totally changed my plans for the weekend. Fast forward a few days and it turned out Steph had a hotel room with an extra bed. Instead of getting up at 5 to drive down there, I figured it would be easier and more cost effective to split the room with her and stay a few miles from the start. So that’s what we did. And as soon as I got there after work, the conversation was easy and fun and had me laughing. She was gorgeous and it took some effort not to stare, lest I come off like a creep. We ended up staying up way later than I had planned, me drinking a few beers (and apparently not offering her any loud enough so I came across as kind of a jerk there). To get to some semblance of a point, seeing as how this is still in December, I ran 85 miles the next day which was good for a PR and the win, despite starting late and calling it a day early. I was so happy the whole day, mostly because of how much fun I had with her the night before. The only bummer for me that day was that she ran about 30 miles and then left. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye or talk to her at all really. It felt great to win and set a PR but my mind was preoccupied with when the hell I was going to get to see this amazing person again.
Fast forward a little more… we take a trip to Florida the very next weekend (hooray me being on winter break from school). Half a day in a car and the whole time I was realizing that I was totally falling in love with this woman. The chemistry was exceptional, the conversation effortless, the laughter; I felt so remarkably at ease around her, which was noteworthy considering how guarded I tend to be, especially with people I’ve just met. We had an incredible weekend of beach-going, running, Taco Bell-ing, a bit too much driving, and all manner of debauchery and shenanigans. It snowballed from there, quickly. There were earnest pronouncements of love, there were weekend adventures, all sorts of excitement and plans made and make outs and I will spare you the nitty gritty fantastic vomit-inducing details. Suffice it to say, it was unlike anything I’ve experienced or felt for or about another person and it was wonderful. To me, it came along at what felt like the exact right time. The past few months I was finally starting to feel like ME, the me I have felt so often has been trapped and buried, finally coming to the surface. Happy, able to stand on my own two feet, confident in who I am and what I want out of life, not needing anyone or anything else to complete him but certainly open to things that complemented my life. And Steph did just that. A runner too, doing the ultras and appreciating dark beers and good music and nachos and all sorts of scandalous behavior as much as I do. Completely unlike anyone I’ve ever met, in the best sorts of ways. I was so excited to start this new chapter with such a perfectly suited co-pilot.
Regular readers will remember back to my Uwharrie write-up where I mentioned it has been a weird and not particularly easy month. Well it hadn’t and the ensuing few weeks between then and now haven’t either. I’m not going to get into details because this IS a running blog not a Mark’s personal life blog. But it DID have an a bit of an effect on things and the fact that Steph is the race director of the Gator Trail makes it somewhat relevant to all this. Suffice it to say that things were really great and then, pretty abruptly, things were less than that. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault per se, but it was not great. I had been trying to deal with things, personally, romantically at least, being a bit of a jumbled, confusing, frustrating mess. Fortunately the running had been going well so at least I had that to focus on. Uwharrie came and was a great boost, confidence-wise. Then last week came along and I did something particularly dumb and childish and for a while thought I may never talk to Steph again. This also left the prospect of me running the race a bit up in the air. I was on the fence a week out but decided that I had signed up for it, paid my money, and worse case scenario I go run the race, she doesn’t speak to me, it’s awkward and then I leave. I was prepared for the worst and, as always, being my hopeless romantic optimistic self.
Fortunately, things did improve. Steph is one of the most empathetic, genuinely kind people I’ve ever known and earlier last week she reached out to me, we chatted a bit here and there. Over the past few months, I had heard her talk and stress out about RDing the race, how she basically had to do everything from start to finish. I can only imagine how much pressure that puts on anyone, not really having any volunteers or help, anyone to delegate anything to, with the burden of putting on a race, answering emails, putting out little fires, and then actually running everything that day. A few days before the weekend I repeated my offer to help her set up and help out after I ran, pack up, whatever she needed to make things a little less stressful and burdensome. At some point Thursday she said she had help already. So my plan became… drive down to somewhere near the race, sleep in the Hotel Sonata night before, run the race as best I could, offer to help after but be prepared to maybe just have to turn around and head back home after. I accepted that as a real possibility and likely.
Then we got to talking Friday and she changed her mind, told me to come down with my tables and asked me to help with some last minute stuff. So I did, gladly. I got down there mid-afternoon and was fully prepared for her to be stressed. Instead, she was the opposite. There was music on, there were beers in the fridge, there was the same easy, fun conversation that has become so commonplace between us. Something just felt different, in a good way. Seeing as how this was the first I was seeing her in over a week, it was the best sort of surprise. And once again, just like in December, I spent an evening before a race with her, drinking more than I probably should have, staying up later than I probably should have, but being happier than I could have possibly been under any other circumstance.
The race started at 8am, which meant we needed to get there by 7am to set up and check runners in, which meant we needed to leave Steph’s by around 5:30-6am to get there in time. 5 am rolled around quicker than I would have liked. I went down and moved all the crap for the aid station into my car. When I was certain that I had gotten every single thing that needed to come to the race packed and ready to go, I got her up and we were out the door and on our way shortly before 6. As we drove down to the race, Steph was sitting shotgun, reclined as far as the stuff in the back would let her, blanket over her head, holding my hand and getting to sleep about another hour and there was something sweet and relaxing to me about the whole situation. Not once did the thought cross my mind that I was actually driving there to RUN 31+ miles, which was definitely a good thing.
We finally got to the park right around 7. The timing people were already setting up. We got to work getting things out of the car and set up. There were about 35 runners who ended up showing up to run, Steph checked them in while I got the food and water and stuff out of the car and onto the table. At some point when everything seemed to have been settled, I went into prep-for-race mode. A quick bathroom trip, changing shoes, getting the stuff I might need in between laps ready. Steph realized it was just about 8 so she started going into her pre-race spiel, everyone was pretty much lined up, and there I was, shoes untied, and not exactly ready to go. So I hustled, and fortunately the timing ladies started taking attendance which bought me enough time to get my ass on the starting line with shoelaces tied and gloves on, finally getting my mind around the fact that I was about to RUN this thing now. I got a quick good luck kiss, and was reminded that I was supposed to win the race, no pressure or anything. And with that, we were off.
Here’s where most of you may want to start. This is where I actually talk about running a race!!! I hadn’t looked at a course map, hell I don’t even know if one exists! I just knew we were running a 5.2 mile loop around the park and some of it would be near the lake and that part would probably be kind of rooty and muddy. The rest was a complete mystery to me. As such, I was more than content to just hang back and take it easy early on, let someone who DID know where they were going lead the way, at least until I was confident of my bearings. And that’s just what I did for the first few minutes. We took the road away from the visitor center and toward some trails where we turned on. There was an abrupt left and then some windingness. I realized quickly that the trail was actually very well marked with blue flags and signs that said “Gator Trail” with an arrow at every significant turn. So about three and a half minutes in, I was confident enough that I could start to actually run and probably not get lost, so I picked it up to what felt like an “I’m actually running a race” pace.
As soon as I did that, I could feel myself separate from the rest of the field. Then suddenly I could hear a “slappaslappaslappa” noise, like someone was smacking the ground with a sandal. Which was actually exactly what as happening. One other runner had pulled up right behind me and was maintaining my pace. Going in, I had hoped and kind of figured that because of the small field and relatively low key nature of the race, I might be able to take it a little easier than otherwise and still be able to come through and meet Steph’s request. But this guy hanging on my shoulder, that changed things a bit. I had no idea who he was or what his ability was, so I had an actual race on my hands! We chatted briefly about how it was both of our first times here, he mentioned he’d just hang with me so we don’t get lost, and I think I said something about how that might not be the BEST idea but let’s see. Honestly, I wasn’t in a particularly chatty mood. I was in a GOOD mood but just kind of wanted to run my race as quickly as possible without wrecking myself, get done, and be able to hang out and help out the rest of the day. So about a mile in, I unconsciously made the decision to not take it out easy and settle in, I was going to hammer from the start and hope that I could hold on longer than he or anyone else could. So that’s what I did. I started hammering, a mile in with 30 or so to go, running a pace that definitely didn’t feel sustainable but what the hell!
We came out of the woods onto some park road for a brief bit, then turned back onto more sandy, windy, flat trail. That would be how I’d sum up the first 3ish miles… flat, some sandy spots but mostly firm, some wet spots but all of them avoidable on the outer edges of the trail, some mulch, all of it completely runnable without needing to really be mindful of where you were stepping. We came to the first water spot which I knew was about 2ish miles in. I noted we were there around 15 minutes, which given the relaxed first few minutes made sense. I figured I was running close to 7:00s at that point. The next mile wound around some campsites, totally uneventful. I put a bit of a gap on the other guy going through the campsites and down toward the lake trail. This was the part that got had some roots and twists and mud and a couple spots where the puddles were unavoidable. Once I got knee deep on the first big puddle (and it was because it was deep, not because my legs are short!), I lost all conception that I was going to get around the course unscathed and just started bounding straight through so as not to waste time. Eventually I came out to the boardwalk, which was slippery in spots but I never felt out of control on it. The boardwalk ended right behind the visitor center, but I had to run around behind and then around it to complete the loop. I couldn’t see anyone behind me as I was going behind so I figured I put some distance on second place. Good. As I came through the start/finish, I stopped at the car which was thankfully open. I reasoned in my head that I hadn’t slept more than a few interrupted hours last night, had been up for a couple already, and had a marathon to run still. So I grabbed a caffeine pill out of the car and downed it with some Coke Zero. Steph wasn’t outside, Matthew (who’s 9 year old son would end up running the 50k in just under 8 hours, JEEZ! IMPRESSIVE!) was helping out and said she had gone inside to cut up something and get warm. I still didn’t see anyone behind me so I figured I had a bit of a cushion and a happy Mark is a Mark that runs better. So I ran up to the visitor center and luckily Steph was walking out. She asked what the hell I was doing over here instead of, you know, going out on another lap. I don’t remember if I said anything, I just grabbed a quick kiss and was on my way, spirits ridiculously high.
Somewhere on the twisty turny early part of the second lap I caught a glimpse of the second place guy and that was enough to light a fire under my ass. I started legitimately hammering with everything I had. I figured to myself, I’d either put a decent enough gap on him and everyone else and thus could ease up and cruise to a win, or I would blow up in the process and thus more power to anyone who could hang with that. I thought of Prefontaine and how he would completely approve of how I was running. I thought of Steph and how she would probably not approve as much as Pre and tell me to be smart and I smiled but continued to run somewhat recklessly. I popped out of the woods and off the boardwalk way quicker than the first lap. In fact, the second was by far my fastest of the day. Steph was out at the table as I came in. I think it was here that she told me to “maybe slow down a bit, you want to finish strong like this” and I nodded and said I would. I meant it too, I meant to slow down some, and I suppose I did. A bit.
The third lap went by relatively uneventfully. I could no longer see anyone behind me but I didn’t allow myself to relax. I told myself that if I could hammer this lap, I would most likely give myself enough of a cushion to ease up some on the fourth and fifth, saving myself for a final push. I noted that I was a bit quicker than the first lap through most of the mental checkpoints I had created and it was nice to start seeing more and more people, saying hi or good job and trying (not always successfully) to not startle them as I went by. What struck me all day is how positive everyone was, which is not really surprising for an ultra but is always nice. Pretty much everyone, all day, had encouraging words and it helped keep the mood light. I think it was on this lap that one of the young kids who was running said something like, “Jeez you’re fast!” to which I replied, “the faster you go, the quicker you get to be done!” I got to the lake trail part again, just a little behind the second lap’s splits. I was feeling pretty damn good actually, just went by a few runners trying to tip toe around the big mud puddle (muddle?) that I actually begun to find quite refreshing. After the second puddle there was a row of three wooden planks. I took them a bit quicker and more careless than I ought to have. By the middle plank I knew I was in trouble. As soon as my right foot landed on the last plank, I felt like one of those cartoon characters that hits a banana peel. FWOOP! SPLAT! My right foot slid out and off to the left and I went down HARD on my right hip/butt cheek. My entire right side went into the mud next to the plank. I didn’t think I had done any considerable race-ruining damage, it just hurt like a sonofabitch, and I didn’t want to look like a dipshit when the people I had just gone by came around the corner so I popped back up and began this sort of awkward trundle until I could get a handle on the radiating pain in my ass to break back into something of a run.
I finished the lap shortly after taking a pee and stretch break. I think this was the lap Steph was out on the course somewhere so it was the least amount of time I spent at the aid station. I was in and out and on my way. Half way done and still feeling ok. I thought to myself, push for another lap and then I could probably ease up some. So I pushed hard into the woods and just kept the peddle down as much as possible. I was familiar with the ins and outs of the trails, the spots where I’d need to slow it down for a sharp turn, the spots where I could stretch the legs and push the pace a bit. I was feeling good still somehow, and I was so damn happy. I wanted to be done with this loop quickly because, truth be told, I missed not seeing Steph at the end of the last lap. So once I got on the lake trail I could feel myself getting excited. I was a little more careless than I should have learned how to be on the muddy section I fell on but I just wanted to get back and see her. As I came off the boardwalk I could glimpse the visitor center and all the hubbub and I pressed harder. Fourth lap done and I couldn’t see anyone even close behind me. I eased in for a kiss and some more encouragement. Two to go.
Fifth lap I don’t remember much of except that it happened. I was starting to feel the accumulation of the efforts but I was still able to keep a pretty decent pace going. The encouragement I was getting was great and it was so cool being able to cheer others on as I went by. Such a happy family we all were circling this park. I knew I wanted to run my last loop in my Pikachu shirt. So as I came through the parking lot I took my shirt off and went digging for it. It took a while to find but I did and was trying to put it on as I ran out for the last lap. Steph yelled after me that I look really cute anyway. That was a nice little boost. The last lap was definitely the toughest. My legs were starting to go and it was much more a mental effort to keep moving. I was glad I figured I had a decent cushion but now the course record was my goal. I wanted to win her race AND set the course record like she told me to.
As I got to the point where I knew there were only two miles to go I started almost crying. I had been pushing all day, I was running so happy, and at that point I was starting to visual the end, visual running into the finish and seeing Steph’s beautiful face, so happy to see me and the feeling I would feel of elation and relief. I got off the boardwalk and I was in as much of a sprint as I could muster. I rounded the parking lot for the last time and just hauled, everything left in the tank to the finish. She was there, she was smiling, I was smiling. I was done. 3:34 and change. I walked over to the table and she came right over to me, beaming. She asked me what I needed and all I could think to say was, “a hug and a kiss,” which she happily obliged. She mentioned the course record was within sight and to get back out there. I paused to process before happily informing her I’M DONE! She looked at me curiously but after a brief confirmation, we all came to the same place. And it was sheer elation. Better even than I imagined. Oh jeez, just writing this I can remember how it felt. The look in her eyes, the feeling in my heart, just pure bliss. Bliss at being done, bliss at winning and running so well, and bliss at accomplishing something at HER race, FOR her in a way as much as for me. To be able to help how I did before and still do what she asked, it was such a huge joy.
I stuck around to help out at times, lay down at times, and just BE at times, with her, watching her run this race so expertly from start to finish. I considered myself having the easy part, I just had to run. She took care of everything else. At the end of the day, everyone had nothing but great positive things to say about her and the race, and I was SOOOOO proud of her. The fact that I won, to me, was secondary to the fact that she put on such a great race and seemed so genuinely happy. I was mostly grateful that I could play a role in that. I just kept thinking throughout the day how she is a special human being, one-of-a-kind in the best possible ways, and I’m lucky to know her, let alone to love her and be loved by her. The day brought us so much closer together and the rest of the weekend continued that trend. The weirdness and unrest and all that had finally started to lift and the positive, the optimistic light was beginning to shine very brightly. I will never forget the Gator Trail, for the best kinds of reasons.
I ran the Uwharrie 40 mile trail race last weekend. I attempted to run it two years ago to less successful results. Two years ago I was injured and undertrained going in to the race. Pretty much from the get go I felt pain in my knee. Seven miles in I ran into a tree limb with my head and that should have been a sign, but I continued on with my probable mild concussion and my knee that felt like a hot knife was stabbing it, until I decided to call it a day at 29 miles.
Let’s fast forward. 2015. I am healthy. I am somewhat better trained. I am ready to run 40 miles without hitting a tree limb, otherwise maiming myself, or quitting!
It’s been a weird month for me. The running has been solid, but there is much more to life than running. Ultimately, I took Steph’s advice to “start happy” and wanted to carry it further, to finish the same way. So in my drop bag I put my Pikachu shirt, figuring at the 20 mile turnaround I could change into it, with the weather getting warmer and I would be able to run back in something that would be a constant source of joy. I’m getting ahead of myself.
I got a decent night’s sleep before the race. I’ve had a pretty good stretch of training although essentially none of it came on trails. I was confident that I could at least negotiate the route without doing any serious damage. Driving out there solo at 4:30 am was a bit rough but not anything I wasn’t accustomed to. I got to the outpost around 6 and was able to get ready, get my drop bag ready, and get a ride to the start with about ten minutes to spare. Of course, I realized upon arriving at the race start that I’d forgotten gloves. Good stuff. Thankfully Ronnie had an extra pair of mittens that he generously lent to this guy, thus saving my hands from inevitable Reynaud’s attack.
The start came uneventfully. Myself and Jeremy Ramsey, last year’s winner, separated ourselves pretty early on. I was content just to follow him and not get lost for the early miles. I noted that we passed through the 8 mile aid station and I had not run into any trees so I was already doing better than last time! Somewhere around then he pulled off to the side to take a dump and I carried on, now leading the race. Alas, it was short lived as I promptly got myself lost, and needed Jeremy to come along to find the trail. Again I took the lead until getting lost a second time at which point he pulled away to the turnaround. I was content doing my own thing to the 20 mile point, getting in a few minutes behind and pretty much right where I thought I could/should be (3:05ish). I changed into my Pikachu shirt, had a Boost shake, refilled my Diet Dr. Pepper bottle (because someone let his Nathan get all moldy whoops!) with some water and was on my way, again leading the race.
We went back and forth for another few miles. Apparently Jeremy got lost in some section and fell a few minutes back, only to come roaring back and pass me around 28ish miles in, when I was feeling less than awesome. On the way back I was content powerhiking any significant uphill and subsequently bombing any downhill and trying to do something that resembled an actual run on the flat stretches. I think the key throughout the day was that no matter what the race brought, I was running happy. Steph had sent me a message before the race started telling me to take it easy early, run smart, and run happy. I took it to heart, making it my goal to stay upbeat and positive from start to finish. It definitely got difficult at times, but in the last 20 miles, whenever things started to feel kinda bad, I would look down at my shirt, see Pikachu, think of what that meant, smile, and feel better about everything. And it would carry over to the running. It was an easy way to “run happy”.
At some point on the way back, right after the long, arduous ascent I saw Shannon and she took an awesome picture of me that makes me look like I was legit running the whole way. She is awesome and has been such a great friend to me and so is Anthony, who had an excellent race himself, and I love them. Every aid station I came to I was told I was somewhere between 60 seconds and 3 minutes back. I was trying my damndest to continue pushing but at the same time I was aware how close to the red line I was. The uphills in particular, I could feel my heart pounding in my neck even when I was power hiking them. I would turn things loose on the downhills but it would only get me so far. In general, the way back FELT significantly longer than the way out. But that makes sense.
i eventually got to the last aid station around mile 38. I knew I would be finishing this time which was lovely. I also knew I would probably not catch Jeremy and I was ok with that. I had run a smart race, and one that I could be proud of. I pushed with everything I had up the last hill. Once at the top, I knew it was just a twisty turny rocky downhill back to the finish and I ran with some reckless abandon. At some point I twisted my ankle bad enough to briefly consider I may have just broke my little toe, but fortunately that was not the case.
Eventually I could see the finish through the trees. I careened down the trail and into the chute, second place in 6:26 and change, about two minutes back of Jeremy’s victorious and impressive run. I was and am delighted. While it got difficult at times, I never really hit a low low patch where I questioned why the hell I was doing it in the first place. I ran 40 rugged miles in about the time I expected, placed well, and had a chance to see some of my running friends finish their own races after that, which was just as rewarding as finishing my own run. And, in a way, that seems like a good metaphor for life. It’s going to get difficult at times, it’s not always going to go the way you hope for, but it’s YOUR choice how you react to that. You can choose to be happy. You can choose to be optimistic that things will get better, that you will feel the way you did at the best of it. And it will make a huge positive difference. And things DO get better. I never hit a really low spot. The day I got to spend on the trail, the fun I had, the connections with the amazing aid station volunteers and the runner friends at the finish… that’s the important stuff. The past few months have really helped me reshape and refocus my point of view on this whole running thing (and this life thing), reevaluate what’s REALLY important to me. The two races recently I’ve run with a sense of positivity and happiness, I did really well at. It helps when you have great people come into your life and bring so much joy and positivity with them. Hopefully that running joy continues through this year and beyond. Stick with me, the best is yet to be.
Til next time, Run HAPPY everyone!
A week ago I sat down to write up a report for the 12 hour race I ran two weeks ago and decided that was a bit shitty of me without first acknowledging how I apparently only write up races I do well at despite the last two years of running actually being pretty terrible. So then I started to write a bit of background info and it got long so I turned it into it’s own thing and then wordpress gave me the middle finger when I posted that. And now I’m just annoyed but I want to write about this race and I want to say something about other stuff but I feel mentally stuck and unable to move beyond this whole, “Hey, the last two years sucked and I was pretty misleading and almost downright dishonest about why” and I don’t want to look back ten years from now and actually end up believing the bullshit I wrote. So here I am writing this as a sort of cautionary tale to others who may find themselves in the same situation as I once did. I suffered so you might not have to…
Let’s go back. Why? Because it’s my damn blog and I can do whatever I like and really, it’s just mom and Katie reading anyway (and maybe Kevin, hi Kevin!). Early 2012 I was running better than at any other point in my life. I had a string of a few races where I set PRs, won things, or otherwise kicked some pretty serious ass. And then some time around May I was told at work that I was going to help train a new program coordinator. Fine, whatever I figured. And then I met her and she was attractive and long story short we ended up dating. Now I will stop here and say this is not some post about how terrible my relationship was and what an awful person she was and how that is why I sucked at running for about two years. Because it’s not. This is about how I made a number of choices, over and over again, that piece by piece began to sabotage my running. I dated a girl who I shouldn’t have gotten involved with. I knew that before we ended up getting involved and yet I did it anyway. That was my first poor choice. And then as the relationship continued, and she demanded more and more sacrifices, I continued to make those sacrifices. At any moment I could have just said, “Fuck it, I’m done, this isn’t worth the compromises I am making,” but I didn’t. It wasn’t her fault, she didn’t hold a gun to my head. She just made it clear that she was not a fan of me going to run and work out after work and not being able to see her until much later in the evening, sometimes just to say goodnight and go to bed. That wasn’t enough for her. It was, realistically, all I should have been able to offer some days and if she wasn’t ok with that, then it shouldn’t have worked. Instead, instead of sticking up for my needs, what I held as important, I said ok and would skip out on a day of training in favor of going over after work and watching hours of shitty reality television and, probably, arguing about something. I sort of alienated a lot of running friends too, I often had to go to races I wasn’t running by myself, she not understanding why I would want to spend a weekend at a race I wasn’t actually IN. It was shitty. I didn’t run much. I got hurt because of that. It was a bad cycle. I went from accidentally winning a trail marathon one year to walking most of the second half of it and completely embarrassing myself the next. I DNFed my first race. I barely ran an ultra distance at two different 24 hour races. I sucked and everything was terrible. And the real kick in the pants is that I wasn’t exactly sacrificing all of this for some sort of romantic bliss. The relationship was one-sided and abusive and really sort of broke my spirit. I was stuck in a shit situation that I helped create and for whatever reason I couldn’t find the strength to just get up and out, despite so many opportunities. It was sort of a “devil-you-know” thing, I think. Whatever it was, it was terrible and I was quite depressed for a good chunk of that time. The running suffered and that’s what this blog is about so let’s try to stay on topic.
This past July we broke up for good. It was a breath of fresh air; like when you try to see how long you can stay underwater for and you just keep holding it and holding it until you think you are going to pass out and you start seeing flashes of light on the periphery and finally you allow yourself to surface and take that big, wonderful, glorious gulp of oxygen and it instantly fills your lungs and you feel ALIVE. Yeah, that’s what it was like. And wouldn’t you know it, the running almost immediately improved. I will admit to running a marathon PR in April when we were still sorta technically still together (although on some sort of break and even running that marathon caused a HUGE fight but I digress). But from July on, things have been on an upward trajectory. The freedom that not being in a soul crushing relationship has afforded has allowed me to rediscover myself and who I am, as a person and as a runner. When I moved down here to NC I was single and alone. I lived alone, I didn’t have many friends, I would go to work and come home to Cary and run for an hour or four and then come home and drink some beers and PTFO and do it all over again. And that’s what the past few months have been more like.
Oh holy shit. Blah blah blah, waaaaaaaaaah. Life was soooooo hard. Holy shit, do you even HEAR YOURSELF?! Have you stopped to read this crap you’re writing Mark? This is insane, inane bullshit. You sucked because you didn’t run. You let some meanie girl dictate what you did. Wah. Get over it. I AM over it. Ok then, that’s settled. Do not let anyone control your happiness. People, ESPECIALLY significant others, should COMPLEMENT your life, they should magnify your happiness, not control it. If you need to fundamentally change who you are and what you care about in order to be with someone, you should NOT be with that person. Period. No discussion possible. If you like to run and you want to do it all the damn time, fine. Find someone who thinks that’s cool. And so that is what I’m doing. I’m running my ass off, drinking my beers, living my damn life the way that makes me happiest. I’ll be damned if I allow myself to make the same mistakes again. So there’s my cautionary tale, or something. It’s sad and pathetic and embarrassing but it needed to be out there so I can’t hide from it or use it as an excuse anymore. Or something.
ed note… this was originally started back in April. I obviously took a while to finish it…
Last weekend I ran the first ever Rock n Roll Raleigh marathon. This was my first road marathon in five years! Until sometime in January I had had no intentions of running this race. But by virtue of the generosity of Brooks toward their ID Coaches program (of which I am a proud member) I was able to enter at a cost that fits my budget (as in, free, THANK YOU BROOKS!)
The days leading up to the race were a bit tumultuous, personally, and as a result, the runs were not quite what I had hoped. Fortunately the Wednesday before, I had one of my best training runs/workouts in over a year – the Fullsteam run with a 5 mile stretch from around east campus that I ran in 29:40, faster than anything I have run in a long damn time. It gave me some confidence going into the weekend. The weekend itself was very rough. I made some bad choices. It was a very VERY emotionally draining time and I contemplated not doing the race at all. I went to bed very late the night before, figuring that I was still on 50-50 and leaning toward not doing it.
I woke up without an alarm and a feeling of crushing depression. I figured I might as well do SOMETHING today and run the race, because the plan for the rest of the day was to drink my feelings away.
I had something to eat, bathroom, the usual. The drive to Raleigh on so little sleep was actually fine. I felt surprisingly alert and awake and the sun was threatening to come up soon. I had a little wait when I got near downtown but before too long I was on top of a parking deck with plenty of time to spare. I got myself put together, finished my GenUCAN stuff, started the process of lubing the necessary body parts, tying the shoes, blah blah blah. I sauntered over to the start area and found a place to poop and then went over by the start where I saw Monk and chatted a bit. It wasn’t until pretty close to what was supposed to be the race start time that I realized I did not have my D-tag on my laces. SHITBALLS! I ran pretty hard the ~half mile to the parking deck, up the stairs, tore through my bag, put it on, and ran back. Turns out because of the traffic, they were starting the race a little late, which gave my heart an opportunity to calm down some. Guess I had my warm up in now.
Some people talked, sang, etc. Then finally bang, we’re off. The mass of people head down the block and I’m up near the front but for a while people are just blowing by me like I’m out for a Sunday jog. I glance at my watch about a half mile in, 6:30ish pace. Well at least it FELT like a jog, something I don’t often have the luxury of thinking about 6:30 pace. The course wound through downtown Raleigh for a while, I wasn’t focused on much of anything except running comfortable. I felt pretty good, I was breathing alright, I wasn’t concerning myself with the people around me much, and I was trying to take in the sights and spectators enthusiasm.
Hit 5k in 19something. Right on. My splits were pretty even. I wasn’t laboring, but other people seemed to be. I was guessing the ones who were looking closer to maxing out were half runners. Honestly, most of this early stretch is kind of a blur. I knew it felt a little humid despite still being pretty cool so I made a point to drink some at the aid stations along the way, but not too much. My belly never felt particularly sloshy. At some point we ended up near Hillsborough and that’s where the half marathoners turned off while the full runners turned right to do the long out and back up Hillsborough to Edwards Mill and Reedy Creek. I could see the mile markers for 21 20 etc as I was going out, and approaching double digits. It was a long way to go still. Yeesh.
We ran around PNC Arena and I saw a photographer and still felt good and happy enough to throw up the “Bull City” sign. I hit the half in about 1:26ish. That was right on where I wanted to be, and feeling like I could probably turn around and run a similar second half. Considering I just wanted to break 3 hours, yeah, happy. Around Edwards Mill I ran through something called a mile of music, with speakers blasting some pump up jams the whole way and it was actually pretty neat and motivating. Turning on Edwards Mill, there was a fairly long uphill and I just remember thinking, “do work, do work”. I had no idea how many people were in front but I figured at least a dozen or two. As we turned onto Reedy Creek there was a longish gradual downhill. I knew eventually we’d come to the turnaround and then I’d have to run back up this whole way. I started counting runners as they were coming back. The leader was way out in front. Then another guy, and another. I saw Heidi Bretscher, the lead woman (and only one ahead of me).
*ed note…. I have now successfully finished this report from this spot three times and each time, when I hit publish, WordPress basically told me to go fuck myself. So I give up WordPress, ya’ll are getting a tl:dr of the rest
I was in 10th or so. I passed some people on the hill going back up. I started noticing it was getting warm. I passed some other guy. Then on Hillsborough I passed one more to be in 6th, where I’d stay to the finish. Crazy. We merged with the half marathoners. This presented issues when I started getting delirious and they were not staying on their side of the road. Grunts helped. Around mile 25 I thought I was literally going to die. I didn’t thankfully. But my field of vision began experiencing black spots that kept growing in size. I sprinted in from mile 26 and could barely feel my body, it was a weird feeling. I managed to duck in under 2:57, in 2:56:52, a 4+ minute PR. It was hot by the end. I was dehydrated. I felt like shit, but I was proud of myself. It was a solid race and despite the second half being hotter and tougher, managed to hold it together. There, that’s it. I broke 3. For my efforts, I spent a good chunk of the rest of the day apologizing for running the race at all, but that’s not a story for this blog.
I had written up a pretty detailed post, as is my nature, about this past weekend’s 24 hour race around Hinson Lake. I spent a good chunk of time on it, as I have a bit more of that than usual considering my quads will not allow me to get into a full depth squat yet, and other related sorenesses and pains, and maybe a touch of intestinal bleeding.
But fuck it. I don’t know. I just, maybe I’m losing my desire to continually put myself out there. Maybe I am currently coming off as the sort of person I would very much like to slap upside the goddamn head. Maybe whatever. Fact is, I don’t think this is going to be one of my detailed, thoughtful, insightful, maybe even helpful-to-some race reports.
I ran for pretty much 24 hours at Hinson Lake. The first two years I was there, I didn’t do that. Not even combined. 2012 I was overcooked already and knew going in that I was only looking to get about 100 miles. I was starting three hours late and my goal the whole day became to just crack the leaderboard before I stopped. I did. Made it about 80 miles in 12 hours of running time, 15 hours of race time. Good enough. Last year was even worse; going in with a messed up left side (I say left side because it wasn’t just one specific part, it was the hip, IT band, hamstring, glute, you name it). 16 miles and I was cooked. I walked a few more laps just to make the total look less pathetic but I spent most of the race helping at the timing tent.
This year I went in healthy, having survived a hot, humid summer of decent training. I was rested and ready to see what I could actually do. I was looking forward to conquering that 24 hour beast that has bit me so often.
Fuck it. Running is dumb. I ran 101 miles in 16 hours. Then I turned into a little bitch. I “ran” 23.5 more miles before 8am. I suck. Everything sucks. Running is terrible. I’m terrible.
tl:dr I ran 123.5 miles in 24 hours and placed 2nd and I am an asshole who is rude to other people and curses around little children
I have been running. I’ve run a number of races this year that I have not written about because I suck as a blogger. I guess it’s pretty easy to neglect something like this when you know only a handful of people read it regularly. It’s not like I’m anyone that anyone would want to be reading anyway.
I digress. I broke 3 hours in the marathon in April, in a race I also almost died in. Or something. It is my birthday. In a few hours I will be waking up to head to Umstead to run 30 miles for my birthday. The fact that I can casually write that is a good indication that training has been and continues to go in the right direction. But fuck. That is soooo boring.