it's 3 am. i'm sleeping. can't though, no sleep. i'm outside. there is a chill in the air and it is dark, save for the ambient glow of a full moon, softly illuminating an alien desert landscape.
must. wake. up. i'm 78 miles in, and there are 23.4 miles to go.
i fall into stride with some runners and make some new friends. we chat for a while. one of them is falling asleep too. they're playing "name two bands for each letter of the alphabet," to try to keep their brains moving, and they're stuck on x. they are from new mexico, and they know leadville like the back of their hand! they know karen?! socializing keeps us awake for some minutes. we play leapfrog with our paces and can't keep pace. alone again.
an erosion-prevention log built into the trail looks comfy. sitting down to find that it is comfy, i nod off. right away the next runners wake me up. seems like they thought it looked nice and cozy too, though the middle of the trail is probably not the best place to sleep, they advise.
what they don't realize is i did try sleeping off the trail, but the desert's version of fall leaves is something like spent cactus spikes, and those are not nearly as cozy as a log built into a rocky trail for erosion prevention.
around this time it occurs to me that a bench is up there somewhere. i just have to make it to the bench.
in addition to being tired, foot smash thing is starting to really hurt my left foot. it's happening too soon. we're not even close to "almost there."
time passes, and there's the bench. something feels not quite right about the bench prospect though. passing runners will see the bench and they will be concerned and ask "are you ok? need anything?" "yes, sleep," i'll reply, and they'll have woken me up.
the aid stations is just a couple hundred feet up. i recall that another runner was snoozing on the water resevoirs last time i passed (the course is 6+ loops). earlier in the day the ground under that aid station canopy was covered in discarded gel packets and was swarming with bees, and we had to dance around a bit to avoiding getting stung while filling our bottles.
now, that same area of ground, composed of coarse gravel, looked like the most comfortable bed in the world. as i stumbled in, so did another guy in a similar state. "can we just nap for 10 minutes?" we both ask the aid station attendant to help us out. i set my alarm to wake me in 9 minutes, lie down on the gravel, and rest my head on a water bottle of a pillow.
9 minutes later, my phone quacks, and i wake up. foot smash pain is gone, i'm not tired anymore, and my legs feel... almost fresh!? wohooo! i'm up and out, runnig the next 15 miles, no problems. 11 minute miles uphill at mile 95? why not?!
eventually ran out of gas, and hiked it in for the last couple miles, getting to the finish line in just over 27 hours.
collected some new bling!
there were highs and lows throughout the day, and it may never cease to amaze me how the body and mind can oscillate between the highs and lows. moments of elation are balanced with moments of pain so intense that it becomes clear that the best choice is just to stop and go home. i saw a runner near the halfway point that i had spent some time chatting with earlier who now said things were going poorly and that she was going to be happy just getting the 100k done and calling it a day. the race has a 100k option so that your results still count instead of outright dnf, and she and i had both dnf'd our previous races (western states and leadville respectively). i cited a story of my friend michael who i remembered seing go from being a complete stumbling zombie at mile 60 or 70 to then blazing up hills a few hours later. and hours later, i saw her again, smiling, feeling great, and well past the 100k mark. she finished the full 100 miles.
i had several moments like that. texted mimi during my first low, which was at mile 18. 18?! i have run a least one 20 miler once a week just about every week for the last year now, so to be feeling defeated at mile 18 was absurd. in my head i was telling myself "something must be seriously fucked up if i feel like this already, so it's fine that i'm done. sometimes it just goes like this." fortunately, this happened:
i did this one solo, without a crew or pacers, because of some thing i made up about how doing it solo might at least partially make up for happened at leadville, presumably by making it harder and by leaving me with nothing and no one to fall back on. while i missed my running bffs, i feel good about getting it done on my own. i went to some new place by msyelf, watched the sun rise in the desert having never seen such a landscape before, and met the challenge of me vs myself for 27+ hours.
was this really a solo effort though? unless you are in 1st place on a point to point trail in an unsupported race with no aid stations, i don' think there is any such thing as solo. the local high school track team helped fill my water bottles at one of the aid stations. new mexico friends help me stay awake. LA Lakers 'WORLD PEACE" uniform costume guy gave me a gu roctane in the middle of the night at a time when i couldn't even remember what kind of product roctane was (i've consumed a fair share of this in the past). friends sent me encouraging and funny texts. zombie doctor (who as of this year now holds the men's world record for most hundreds in a year, which he referred to as "have run a few of these this year") shared some important lessons about bloodflow. the lady who had lost 3 close people to her, 2 that week, and was still out there, reminded me to be thankful and made me think that if she's out here getting it done, i sure as hell have no excuse not to. karen (dnf redemption!) and vicki and tommy countless others helped me pass the time, sharing gear reviews, race reports, dreams, goals and life stoires. during those times together the pace unknowingly picks up, the concept of mile markers fades away, and we temporarily forget about the pain. we're just there, in the now, and we're together. beyond each individual runner, the human spirit is putting its best foot forward.
the editor's note from this month's issue of ultrarunning magazine, by tia bodington, captures this well:
"one of the most striking things is that you can never know, just by looking at sombeody, how they will do in a race. they may be fit, but injured. they may be carrying 20 pounds more than optimal for their frame, yet be so well-trained and determined that they beat the socks off of everyone else in their age group. they may be a novice and not know the meaning of that special kind of ultra pain that creeps up after mile 82 or so.
the runner next to you could be a junk-food junke, vegan, omnivore, or cavement diet proponent. maybe they're just getting over chometherapy and out jogging a 100-miler anyway, or just getting over the flu. mabye they're a top triathlete or sub-three-hour marathoner checking out another sport.
you don't know, just by looking at sombody, excatly "who" they are, only that they are here on the trail next to you, deserving of your consideration and respect as a fellow ultrarunner. you don't ask if they are a republican or a democrat before you say "good job, stay strong, you can do it." you don't ask if they are gay or straight, pro-choice or antedilvuian before you ask them what they'd like in their bottle at the aid station. you choose the common ground - without juding other aspects of their lives. that's one of the great things about the ultrarunning community"