I left home at around 11:45am on Saturday and drove about 2.5 hours to meet Glenn at the mile 60 aid station. There we helped the volunteers and cheered in the lead runners. It was amazing to see the front of the pack in action! I recognized Connie Gardner when she came through. What an outstanding athlete! She finished in 17:46 for first woman.
Connie at mile 60
The Pine Lane aid station was decked out for race director, Joe Jurczyk's, birthday. There was even cake! I was a little sad to leave to start sweeping but I met a lot of really great people and got to see some of what it takes to make an ultra happen.
We took our time, collecting course markings and Glenn told me about the history of the trail and the race. I had brought a couple bags and Glenn had brought a giant plastic sack. We began splitting up the course markings by type. I carried the flags, plates and paper signs while Glenn collected the wooden stakes the plates had been stapled to. I'm not sure it was totally fair for Glenn to carry all the weight but I'm not sure I could have done 20 miles with all those stakes! As we reached each aid station we emptied our goods (and their last food supplies!) before moving on.
A runner entering Pine Lane, mile 60.
The gentleman with the cramping issue unfortunately missed the cutoff at the next aid station by only a few minutes. We encountered him a few hundred yards out getting sick in the woods. Thankfully a volunteer had come out to meet him and help him in. Once he was comfortably settled at the aid station I gave him a high five and told him how much I admired his tenacity. It was a little like meeting a celebrity in my mind.
Glenn and I continued on and were thankful not to have to sweep anymore runners. At each aid station we always encountered one or two drops and I continued to feel the sting of those three letters every runner hates, DNF - Did Not Finish. I sincerely wished I could somehow give them my energy, fresh legs, or just a hug.
As night fell I started to struggle with the familiar demons in my mind. I have no idea why I get so stressed out by night running but I do. Glenn and I knew that the last runner was 45 minutes ahead of us so we wanted to do some actual running instead of hiking. Throughout the twilight period we got in some good miles and I realized Glenn is a lot faster than I am. As darkness fell I ran by the light of the moon for awhile and I was enjoying myself, which surprised me. Then Glenn began to pull ahead and I got a little freaked out being out there 'alone' knowing that he was pulling the course markers ahead of me. I pushed a little too hard and wiped out. It was then that I finally pulled out my headlamp and turned it on the medium setting. It helped immensely.
I remembered that Glenn had told me the course followe the blue blazes from the last aid station on to 60 miles. I felt a little better realizing I wouldn't get lost so I slowed down to a comfortable pace. Thankfully Glenn realized I had fallen off the back only a little while later and came back for me. We went a little slower from there on out, only running on towpath and road sections.
During the last section I finally felt the joy of night running. I wasn't scared anymore and I began to have more confidence in my ability to navigate the tougher singletrack sections. Shortly before mile 60 we encountered our last runner. He was being paced by a woman, his wife I think, and he was surly at best. His wife told us that they had missed a turn and gone several extra miles. I didn't have the heart to tell them they had already missed the cutoff. I asked if they needed anything and they said they were okay. I told them we were going to take a break to rearrange our packs and they should continue on.
Glenn and I rested and reorganized for 10 or 15 minutes and then continued on more slowly than before. A mile out from the aid station we caught the pair again. This time the runner turned on Glenn and I and went spastic. He told us to 'quit riding his @$$' and several other not-so-nice things. I knew he was tired and feeling the strain so I assured him that Glenn and I needed another break to rearrange the markings we were carrying. Glenn told me, "Don't worry, they aren't going anywhere." He meant the aid station but the runner and his pacer turned on us again. I really thought this bear of a man was going to strangle Glenn and I right there in the woods. I tried to placate him and tell him that Glenn meant the aid station people wouldn't leave without everyone coming in and they would be waiting for Glenn and I. I told him it was my first time on the trail and Glenn knew I was worried about getting lost. It didn't really calm down the runner but his pacer turned him around and they left. Glenn and I spent another 15 minutes carefully going through all our marking and organizing them into neat bundles for the aid station drop.
Thankfully we didn't run into the runner and pacer again until the aid station but when we did they ripped into us again. I quickly ducked into the restroom and stayed there until Glenn was ready to drive me to my car. When I emerged the runner and his pacer were gone and I was able to chat with some of the volunteers about my first experience on the trail and what I thought about it. I let them know about the unclear markings that led the runner astray and they said a couple people had issues in the same spot. They promised to let the RD know so it would be better next year. The encounters with the angry runner are the only bad memories of this experience and, since I understand missing a cutoff and getting lost, I still don't view it as too bad, just a little scary being confronted like that in the middle of the night in the deep woods.
Another runner at mile 60.
Glenn drove me back to mile 40 to pick up my car and then I followed him to mile 80, the covered bridge aid station, to help out there. I wish I would have taken some pictures during our sweep but my arms were loaded with markers and I didn't want to kill my phone battery in case we needed to call for assistance for an injured runner.
At the mile 80 aid station I was introduced to the aid station captain, Heidi. I told her I still felt pretty good and would be willing to pace if a runner needed it. Maybe it was coincidence or maybe providence but a runner sitting next to us looked up and asked, "Would you pace me?" I told him sure and he told me he was slow. I assured him slow was good for me. He introduced himself as Enoch and told me he had been having stomach issues since mile 60. I immediately went to work asking him about his food, hydration and energy levels. He assured me he was eating and drinking and was okay to continue. We waited a few minutes to let his cup of soup settle and then headed out.
From mile 80 the course makes a 4.7 mile loop that brings runners back to within a quarter mile of the covered bridge. At first Enoch was walking but soon he was jogging. I felt in awe of his ability to keep moving after covering 80 miles, 20 of them without being able to keep much down. During a steep climb he was able to take a gel and keep it down. I chatted away about meaningless things: how much I want to do a 100, work, school, kids, etc. It seemed like he got sick less if I kept him talking. I don't know if it was the right or wrong thing but it seemed to work and soon enough we were entering the next aid station. I got Enoch into a chair and made him promise to sit until he had eaten and drank something and let it settle. He promised me he wouldn't drop there. I wasn't willing to leave if he might drop. After he was comfortable I headed down the road back to the covered bridge.
Covered Bridge aid station, mile 80.
Glenn and I hung out with Julia (@ROJrunning) and cheered on runners. I started to stiffen up and get cold after an hour or two though. I wasn't really ready to go but I wanted my bed. I made my way to the parking lot and headed home thinking about what an amazing feat all of the runners were accomplishing. I also felt even more determined to be among them someday.
I now know that I have to dig a lot deeper and train harder than I ever could fathom. I saw runners with blood running from cuts, chafing and blisters. I saw runners whose feet looked like shriveled marshmallows and who couldn't hold down food but still didn't quit. It was really amazing to take part in something so much bigger than myself, to get outside of my own training and see what the toughest of the tough can do. Hopefully I'll be counting myself a member of this elite circle in 2013!
All total, I ran/hiked about 25 miles and got 8.5 hours on my feet!
All total, I ran/hiked about 25 miles and got 8.5 hours on my feet!