I had already stepped on a dead rabbit and could not see much…
Running long distances is stupid. I know this. A big portion of me still asks what is beyond my limits, mental and physical. Several have asked me how the Shawnee 50 Trail Run went, I’ve been responding with, “fun.” The truth is, it was not always fun. When it did get tough and I so desperately wanted to walk, I reminded myself that it never always gets worse.
Brendan and I met a mile into this 54 mile adventure. I hitched my wagon to him because my headlamp would not turn on, I had already stepped on a dead rabbit by accident, and could not see much due to the sideways blowing snow and darkness of a 5am start time. Thankfully I knew that he was a strong runner and was even told weeks before that I would not be able to hang with him for the whole race. I imagined he could at least get me to daylight. He one upped that idea by letting me borrow his spare flashlight and dragging me along for an entire day.
the nearly 12,000 feet of climbing was wiping me out.
From the start it was important to not consider the day’s total distance but simply run from aid station to aid station. These five to seven mile chunks were much more manageable and made the morning go by quickly. Before I knew it, noon had come and gone and a marathon was behind us. Brendan and I were still running together, him having already survived a rough patch but stronger now than he had been all day.
Was feeling self conscious for a couple hours that I was holding Brendan back but I knew what his goal time was today and I simply wanted to hold on as long as possible. It turns out running from pre-dawn to post-dusk causes a bit of damage to one’s confidence and gate. The dozens of creek crossings, muddy low paths, and nearly 12,000 feet of climbing were wiping me out.
we were only 10 miles from the finish but I was bottomed out.
Running for hours on end has a way of bonding individuals. Any feelings of holding Brendan back were cleared away when I overhead him telling his crew that we were definitely finishing together. With that mental boost, some bacon, a lot of warm chicken broth, and four pancakes we were only 10 miles from the finish but I was bottomed out.
Not finishing never crossed my mind but I was not enjoying myself and hitting a low point. I had been following Brendan for a couple hours at this point and wondering how I would finish without hiking it in. I finally came to the realization that although my running form sucked and I could not really slow myself on descents, nothing was getting worse so I might as well run.
“Brian, it doesn’t look great.”
With three miles to go we stopped at the final water station to get out lights and any extra layers before nightfall. Call it guilt for making Brendan lead so long, determination to make it back, or trying to prove I was a tough ultra runner in front of my new friend but now I was leading us back to the lodge. I tried to keep my negative thoughts to myself and Brendan was thankfully giving some positive reinforcement at regular intervals. Unfortunately I could see my own shadow from his headlamp and could tell from my humpbacked stride that I must look awful. I asked and thankfully all he said was, “Brian, it doesn’t look great.”
In the day lit woods it is difficult to know how much further you have to reach landmarks. In the woods at night it is less than ideal for the same task. With each passing minute we wondered if we were near the lodge. At one point we heard some voices cheering and knew that we had to be close. Both of us hooted into the darkness like the Jackets just scored a short-handed goal. This excitement flooded my emotions and soon after I was fighting back heaving sobs thinking about my family and the summer’s worth of effort leading to this race. And that’s when I fell for the first time, at mile 53.
ultras are not about glory or rah rah moments
Laughing and scolding myself before I even hit the trail, I was dumbfounded that I could make it this far without tripping only to bite it with less than a mile to go. After pushing up the last climb Brendan and I finished and hugged to the enormous crowd of five. These ultras are not about glory or rah rah moments. They truly are individual events. Thankfully I was able to share this entire event with one other individual, Brendan. He pulled me along, was a source of great conversation and motivation, told me to drink more water, and without saying anything he reminded me that in ultras (along with life), it never always gets worse.
Designed a map pst race to potentially hang on our wall at home. That has already been vetoed as acceptable art.