I had never ran this far before. My right side was cramping from heel to butt, yelling at my left side for still running so smoothly and setting the pace for my whole body. My calf muscles were protesting as I devoured the banana muffin. My lungs were actually quite happy, happy but could not find a song to sing like they had on laps 1 and 2. I thought a mantra was appropriate, “If you run on the Earth and with the Earth, you can run forever.” It is a Tarahumara saying, and I
repeated it a dozen times or so with a few different variations. A runner with fluffy golden hair and bright green shirt paced by me. I had passed him about 10 miles back. We exchanged a salutation of “nice work”…. “you too”…Should I try to keep up with him? Where was I in the standings? It was tough to know what place I was in because of the overlapping 10 and 20 mile races taking place during the middle of my 31 mile race. I had passed probably 100 people and was passed by less than 10, but I assumed most were in the shorter races. I really had no idea where I was in “the pack”. My goals had been to finish under 6 hours (which was assured by now) and to finish in the top half of the field (who knows!).
Mile 25, the final aid station. I approached to see a guy, too tanned to be from Washington, laying on the ground talking to the attendant. I did not stay long – stretch my calf out, drink some juice, and take off again. Before I left I looked at the concerned woman stationed at the tent and said with full sincerity, “Thank you so much for helping me!” Up and down hills, across little creeks, brushed by sword ferns, my legs took me through miles 26, 27, and 28. One last big hill shook its fist at me.
I looked behind me, no one in sight. To my front, the same. I would not be passed by anyone else in the next 2 miles so backed off the throttle for the last big hill. Coming down the other side, winding through steep switchbacks, passed a hooting and hollering spectator. I could see the road to the finish. Picking up my foot speed and turn-over, a handful of people lined the road, my 30 miles were nearly complete. I rounded the last corner to the finish and the race director yelled, “This guy is smiling!”
I was smiling, my legs felt like fence posts but I was enjoying this ride through the forests of Snohomish, Washington. I saw my girlfriend Carin waiting at the aid station, smiling and shooting me encouraging energy beams. She had ran in the 10 mile race earlier that day. I took off my water belt and handed it to her, tossed back a cup of Nuun hydration formula in my gullet, gave Carin a quick kiss, and pitter-patted back onto the trail for the final 1.1 miles loop, “see you soon!”
The race, apart of the “Evergreen Trail Run” series, was 31.1 miles because that is what 50 kilometers translates into, kind of silly really. The final loop, or, “victory lap”, was one last grueling gradual hill up and then back down, across two creeks, and slip-n-slop through some mud a few times. I passed the same hollering spectator from 10 minutes ago, “YEAH BABY!” he yelled, “YOU GOT THIS BUDDY, YEEEHAH!”
“Couldn’t have done it without you here” came from my flapping lips and cheeks. I again saw the finish area approaching, for real this time. Carin was at the finish line this time clapping. Her two friends were there also, and their little dog. I felt proud of my cramps and sore joints. My toes were creaking and my lips dry. I had prepared well for this race, sprinting hills in the middle of the night, running along the beaches of the Puget Sound, juicing carrots, kale, and oranges for lunch, stretching and icing at night, running Cascade Mountain trails…I felt good.
There is little glory or glitz at the finish line for these long races, only respectful nods and high-fives from your muddy and haggard race comrades, and the smiles of race volunteers serving you a bowl of chili, and a pat on the back from the race director. I wanted to lay in the wet grass and eat my chili and write a haiku about lactic acid build-up. Carin held my arm and listened to my grunts and moans.
“You ready to go?” She asked.
Sure I was ready, ready to race again.
Final time – 5 hours and 16 minutes. Placing – 10th out of 65 or so.