More like 52.6k, amiright?
Yes, I’m right. It was 32.7 miles, instead of 31. But who’s counting? (I was)
Let’s see how much of this I remember…
It was cold when we rolled out of our tent at 4:30 a.m. The sky was insane with stars, which made it a little easier to stay out of the relative warmth of the tent.
Two hours later, I was standing in line to get shuttled to the start line with more than 130 other 50k runners. We all stood huddled in the wind, waiting to start running. Finally, the race director asked, “Are you guys ready?” (resounding yes) “All right! Ready? Set! GO!” And we ran off into the woods where I would spend the next 7 hours, 51 minutes, and 9 seconds pursuing a finish line 32.7 miles away.
Our course traveled through the deep ravines in Daniel Boone National Forest and Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. At first, we dove downhill for a while, crossed streams left and right, and blazed through some rollers along Lick Creek. Then, suddenly, we were climbing out of the ravine to an aid station at the top of the world (or so it seemed – it was a big climb).
After some potatoes and PB&J, we eventually flew back down into the ravine for an outstanding 9 miles of gentle rollers. This was a beautiful stretch that included running under and slightly behind Yahoo Falls, one of the most ridiculously picturesque places I’ve run through. It’s what someone would build in their backyard if they wanted to seem outdoorsy. Only I guess quite a bit bigger.
After the pretty uneventful rollers, we crossed hip-deep Rock Creek and started climbing again. And by climbing, I mean, we went straight up for 700 years.
Throughout the race, I had been generating a great amount of friction on my body in various places. I had some pretty uncomfortable chafing going on and blisters forming in a few spots on my feet.
Then, when I started climbing one of the steepest gravel roads I’ve ever seen, a muscle in my left quad cramped, arresting my ascent. While I massaged the cramp out, I thought it probably couldn’t get worse than this. It didn’t, so that’s nice.
Blisters, chafing, and nursing a cramp, I kept moving up the road and back into the woods. After a while, I came into a clearing at the top of a tall hill. In the east, serene mountains shrouded in shades of blue rolled along the horizon. This was what I came here to be a part of. The incredible beauty of nature will never get old, and will never cease to clear my mind’s cache.
I focused one last time on each member of my BCC trifecta:
– Blisters: They won’t go away. They may get worse.
– Chafing: It won’t go away. It will definitely get worse.
– Cramp: It’ll be a matter of time before my leg cramps back up.
I put all these inconveniences in the “this is a race” compartment in my mind, so they would just became a part of the race. Like the trail I followed and the trees around it, the BCC would be with me until the end. May as well be at peace with it.
The final stretch.
I make it a point to not ask anyone how many more miles there are until the end. To me, it doesn’t matter. They won’t take the finish line away; it’ll always be there, and I’ll get to it eventually. Why bother with those kinds of details? It may be farther away than I expect, and that could be hard to handle.
Other runners don’t feel the same way, and I unfortunately overheard someone say “You only have 5 miles to go!” and I couldn’t get it out of my head. My brain wanted to count down every time a mile ticked off. “Only four miles now! Just three left!”
When I got down to one remaining mile, I started looking for signs. I knew that the finish line was a really long bridge across the Big South Fork Cumberland River (see above). So when I thought I should be getting close, everything in the woods started looking like bridge stuff.
“Is that a cable holding up a bridge?” Nope. Grapevine.
“Is that wood on a bridge?” Nope. Just regular wood in the woods.
Then I heard Ashley whistling at me. She whistles to get my attention in the woods, and it’s very effective. I scanned the forest for her, and couldn’t see her. For more minutes than I’m proud of, I convinced myself that Ashley had come into the woods to finish the race with me. She hadn’t. It was a bird. And Ashley had already run her own 20k and was resting at the finish line. Not long after that, I saw the bridge in the distance. It was very far away.
Finally, a real person was on the trail and informed me that I only had 300 meters to go! I don’t know how far 300 meters is! But I picked up the pace and ran it out. Sure enough, I turned right, and there was a giant bridge stretching out in front of me. I started across and passed an older couple who were out sightseeing.
“How are you doing?” asked the man.
“Thanks,” I responded.
After I went through a little hut in the middle of the bridge, a cluster of people at the finish line started cheering for me. Cheering like I was finishing first; cheering like they had never seen anyone so amazing running across a bridge. My throat closed up and I nearly cried right there. A photographer was snapping pictures the whole time, and Ashley was there taking pictures, too. The race director shook my hand and with a huge smile said, “Congratulations, man, you are so awesome!” and his wife put a giant medal around my neck. I didn’t finish first. I finished 76th, but my heart thought I finished first. I couldn’t even look at my medal for a few minutes without getting choked up. These races can make your emotions paper thin.
On Friday night before the race, we were getting settled into the tent when I realized I hadn’t done my run for the day. I had intended to run 2 miles before we left town, and I just forgot. It was nearly 9:00 at night, and I was ready to get in bed. The wind outside was roaring and temperatures were falling quickly. I decided the run streak was over. I was too frustrated, and I didn’t really feel like going out into the pitch black, middle of nowhere campsite (where you have to store food safely away from bears) to run anywhere.
Buuuut, Ashley convinced me otherwise. She said this isn’t how the streak should end. It should end when I’m ready, not when I just forget and get frustrated. So, I put on my shoes and shorts and headed out into the wind and dark. I’m still running every day, though they’re not much more than the requisite 1 mile this week. 107 days and counting!
Chafing: The gift that keeps on giving.
The chafing I had accrued during this race was the worst I’ve had and is definitely the most uncomfortable aftermath of any of the races I’ve done. However, and this is important if you have had chafing or plan to chafe ever, we have this magic ointment (thanks to our friend, Patti, who introduced it to us):
Buy it. Get chafed as bad as you can. Use it. Return here and thank me.