I heard this race drew a more competitive field than the one I did a month ago, so I was surprised when we all huddled around an imaginary start line without timing chips in a parking lot near Sassamat Lake for an unannounced count down from ten. They had no megaphone, so they replied on two people to shout in unison. You have got to love trail running.
News in the bathroom pre-race was that the course was longer – and that BC Hydro was in the area blowing stuff up. A small group of ladies were fretting over cut-off times.
The first bit was pretty easy, undulating beside the lake, with occasional breath taking views of the fog rising off the water. After a sharp right, I realized that the terrain was changing. From “a hearty climb” like the BCMC to “steeper yet” like the Grind to “hands and knees” like the top of the Lions.
After arriving at the peak rather hastily, the trail quickly dropped back down.
I am not a technical downhill runner on the best of days, but having torn my rotator cuff last week, bombing down a rocky rooty mountain was not working. My wildly flailing arm and any big steps would send a jolt of pain up one side of my body and through my arm. Trying to steady it was almost impossible so I stuffed it into my pack, tourniquet style, and slowly made my way down. Running where I could move softly, walking where I could stay in control.
This is going to be a long day.
My solution, which was so brilliant to me at the time, was short lived. My arm started to go numb and my shoulder started to cramp. And after falling and going down with a thump unable to free my arm, I started grabbing onto the bottom of my shorts and pumping my hand on the flats and climbs which felt better and took my mind off the ache.
Every now and again the pain would almost become unbearable. And then it would fade.
Isn’t that ultra-running though.
I was thankful the rest of the course was, although monstrously hilly, not nearly as technical. I was able to run most of it without too many zingers. After having resigned to walking the rest of the downhills, I was delighted to be able to put some ground underneath myself on the drops. I was seriously starting to miss my two girls and hoping they weren’t giving grandma a hard time. Whoever said absence makes that heart grow fonder was right. I’d let them eat bananas on the couch right about now.
When I run these races, I usually don’t carry my own fuel. I love dreaming about what might be at the next aid station: oreos? peanut m&ms? boiled potatoes? ketchup chips?
Sadly but honestly, it keeps me going. When you’re out there, life becomes so simple. Keep going. Keep moving. Pick up your feet. Little indulgences like oreos go a long way. And I think that in many ways, that’s why we do it: to strip our lives down to it’s main essence of big struggles and little rewards.
At some point though, I was no longer excited about oreos. I was still elated every time I emerged from the trees into the full sun and caught a glimpse of it’s ray shining on the water below. But oreos were not enough. Plodding through the darkness of the trees, I hoped BC Hydro might just explode me. Not to hurt me forever, but give me a solid excuse to stop running.
Alas, no bombs. Just more miles.
My watch died after 20k, so I spent the last 30 only knowing I was somewhere between 30 and 50 kilometres. I passed someone and noticed a GPS on his wrist. He was from the States… but informed me we had 9 miles to go. Just less than 14k. Awesome.
I ran about 5k to the next aid station and was informed that we were almost at kilometre 36. Just over 14k to go. Awesome.
On the trek down to the aid station, we passed all the lead runners. I was probably 15 minutes off the lead pack of girls and they were flying. The leader looked like she was running 400m. On the way up, I got to cheer for all the people coming into the station.
It’s funny, some are still just as sparky and enthusiastic as they were when they stepped out of their car in the morning. Others just make whatever grumpy noise happens out of their mouth, head down, trudging on. Presumably hoping that BC Hydro will end their misery.
And you get every type of person. From gorgeous women dressed in fashionable high-end athletic gear to those older men who have have done hundreds of ultra-marthons and yet can tell you about each of them in detail.
You know the guys: slightly crazy hair, well-worn bandana and gaiters, ultra-marathon shirt from the glory days, Running Room water bottle holder. Stuff that still works. Stuff that has always worked.
One road marathoner that I ran with for a few steps quipped about how it was possible for his hamstrings to literally feel like they were going to tear in half so early in the race. “Is that normal?” – “Sadly, yes.”
After dropping back down for what felt like an eternity – and the final aid station (several oreos later) – the last grunt uphill began.
Looking up the mountain, you would see a sparse line of skinny colourfully-dressed people, weaving back and forth, willing their little legs to defy gravity enough to haul them up this one last hill. Their resolution flickering in and out to prevent total desperation from taking over. People who have learned to stay positive through necessity. People who do.
And then the final drop. It seemed to go on forever, until finally you hit the tip of the lake and can see the beach at which this madness started. You can hear the finish line from the bottom of a long set of stairs on the water.
You don’t hear music. There’s no announcer. But the race director says your name, looks you in the eye and shakes your hand as you cross the line. She hands you a draw string back with the race’s logo on it.
I jumped right into the car to pick my girls up. For me, there’s nothing at the finish line that beats that.