It took a little under 6 hours to get to Hell, and the first thing that needed to get done when we got there was get the tent up. It was especially important to get this done because the weather forecast had rain in it for overnight. My kids were very excited to camp out. By the time we got to the camp, the 100-milers had already began.
After the tent was up, it was about time for dinner and my wife to run an evening 5K. This was going to be her first trail run, which also happened to be her first nighttime trail run. She did awesome, finishing in 33 minutes. She decided to avoid the "natural" portion of the run. While she was running, the kids and I ate pizza for dinner, a great pre-race dinner (not really, but I wasn't going to worry about it). After dinner, we made friends with people camping next to us and shared a fire with them. We had a couple smores with Reece's cups, which is the only way to have them (thanks Matt and Jessica), then the rain started falling. The rain picked up intensity to a level of downpour, and it didn't stop for approximately 5 hours!! Unfortunately, one side of our borrowed tent didn't have a zipper to close it, so we got a bit of water in the tent. Our sleeping bags, clothes bags, and everything else got wet. We were lucky to have air mattresses, so we weren't drenched, but the rain was so loud that I only got a couple hours of sleep total overnight.
I got up the next morning, got ready in the dark, ate a Clif bar and banana, and walked the short distance to the start line, which was the benefit of camping. The downfall of camping proved to be the rain and all the problems that it caused. The course was a 16.67 mile loop through mainly trails in a state park. To complete 50 miles, I was to do 3 full loops. My loose goal was to finish in 10 hours, so each loop would need to be done in 3:20. I carried a water bottle of Smart Water with me, which I refilled with Smart Water on each loop, thanks to my "crew." The start was at 6 am, so I started with a headlamp and long sleeves. The course was quite muddy from the significant rain that occurred overnight. I felt bad for the 100-milers; they ran that whole night in rain. I talked to one of them, and he described the trail as a constant creek crossing because of the amount of water. So, the amount of mud that I had to deal with was nothing compared to what they were running in for 5 hours while I was in my soggy tent. The trail was single-file and crowded for the first mile but thinned out into packs of like-paced groups. I was somewhere in the middle. My plan was to walk the uphills and run most of everything else. I found that I could descend the hills quite well, and I was able to control a fast pace down. At the first aid station, I refilled my water bottle with water and grabbed a chocolate chip cookie. The next aid station, I ate a quarter sandwich and refilled my water; I stood at the aid station while I ate. By the third one, I figured it out; I consistently would grab 2 pretzel rods, a quarter sandwich, a third of a banana, and refilled my bottle, and here is the important part...I walked while I ate, so my time at the aid station was minimal. I fell in to this groove at the aid stations. After the first loop, I gave these items to my wife, got a kiss from them, and left for the second loop. As I left for the second loop, my wife gave me the best piece of motivation possible, which kept me going, she said "see you in 3 hours." Simple, but it was motivating. I knew that she and the kids would be waiting for me at the finish in 3 hours, and I didn't want to be late for them, so I pressed onward.
When I came to the end of the second lap, I was feeling the effects of the run. I had officially run longer than I had ever run at one time when I came through to finish my second loop. My wife and kids were cheering my on, refilled my bottle with Smart water, and my wife said those motivating words "see you in 3 hours." She didn't ask how I was doing, which is good because I would have told her that I was hurting, and I might have suggested sitting down, which would have been the end of my day. Instead, I could feel that she expected me to keep going, so that's what I did. I left to go on my last lap. My first 2 laps were done in under 6 hours, so I was starting to think of a 9-hour finish. I tried to reign in my thoughts, but I couldn't help myself. I was going to finish an hour faster than my goal time. But this feeling of joy was soon dashed when I began out for the last lap.This one seemed to take forever. It was especially hard to get the food down that I had left the start/finish aid station with. I had to have walked for 10 minutes, which was by far the longest walk that I had done to this point. Finally, I got to running, again. I was drinking a lot more, also, and I almost finished off my water bottle; I was still over 2 miles from the next aid station. When I made it to the first aid station, I felt relieved, and I knew that I was 12 miles to the finish, which seemed somehow more manageable. I trudged on, and hit the midway aid station. I told the volunteers thank you and that I wouldn't be back another round. It was a little comic relief for me, and I'm pretty sure I get a pity laugh from them workers; it was helpful for me to make others laugh a bit while I knew that I was struggling inside. They cheered me on and gave me a boost. Right before the last aid station, I hit another low. I was thinking about my wife and kids and how they were waiting for me, and I knew that my pace on this lap was slower, so they would be waiting a longer time for me to come around this time. I got to the last aid station, and as quickly as I hit the mental down, I was brought back up by the fact that I only had less than 5 miles to go. That was a long 5 miles; the hills seemed bigger than the previous 2 laps and the landmarks that I had remembered were further apart. I saw almost no other runners for the last 3 or more miles. I kept thinking to myself that I must be in last because everyone else had finished already. Finally I hit the part of the trail where you could hear the campground, and I saw the clearing of trees at the top of the hill that gave me the signal that I was there. I got a huge burst of energy. I felt like I exploded out of the forest into the campground. A guided yoga session was happening in the background, but everyone gave me applause as I came to the finish. My wife and kids were yelling for me and ringing a cowbell. I made across the finish with my kids trailing behind me. 9:14:50. My legs were jelly, and I just needed somewhere to lay down. The volunteer at the finish asked for my age and made sure that I ran the full 3 laps. He noted that several other runners dropped out of the 50-mile race and finished the 50K instead. He told me that I was the 13th runner to finish the 50 miler and the first in my age group, so I was given a "trophy," which was a miniature VW bus that said Age Group Winner on the top. I was completely happy with the result and my eyes filled a bit with liquid. I had never won anything in running before, and an age-group win seemed like a win to me. However, on-line it indicated that I was 17th overall (out of 85) and 4th in my age group. I'm not sure of the discrepancy, but I do know this...I got the trophy, so I guess I won. The best part was getting to enjoy with my wife and kids. We even got a text from my wife's friend who was watching our little girl; you can see the picture she sent us below (it's now my background picture on my phone).
My kids asked if we could come back next year, so I could do the 100-miler. I think that may be a good idea, as long as I get to have my great crew come back with me.
|Me and my crew...my son's holding my "trophy"|