I did it for the glory, bragging rights and ultimately the car sticker. You know what I am talking about, the $2 dollar football shaped custom vinyl sticker made by Maine Illustrated that say I did a 50 mile foot race just to get this sticker for my car because the rear left side looks a little empty without a sticker affixed to it. I am not sure whether having a running partner that’s just as crazy as I am if not more is a blessing or a curse but I mentioned this to her and after a few minutes of deliberation her response was “OK I am in”
Having never done any trail running or distance over 26.2 miles we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We got our first taste of the Appalachian Trail on the November 7th run organized by Cathy. Both of us made it out with a twisted ankle and deeper realization of the kind of pain and anguish that is to come.
We were both very nervous on race day and our plan was just to make it off the AT alive. Having said that, I am not sure what it was but we made pretty good time on the trail, there were a few missteps but we sucked it up and kept going. Next came the dreaded flat towpath. We started right off with the 10 minute run 2 minute walk strategy. We ran into Iva, another MCRRCer around mile 20 and she decided to join us. Things were going according to plans for a while but around mile 22 my hamstrings decided they had enough and locked up, I couldn’t keep pace with Iva and Amanda so I dropped back to run my own race.
This was the lowpoint for me, I shuffled best I could and made it to the aid station at mile 24, took water, gatorade and whatever food they had available. I made sure I took my salt pills to keep the cramps in check. This was when I realized I wasn’t mentally ready for the distance beyond 26.2 miles I panicked and my body responded by cramping up in places I never cramped before. I don’t know how but my glutes cramped up. Is that even possible ? At this point I didn’t know if finishing was even possible, but I had to try so I marched on, shuffling along the towpath looking for anything and everything to keep me distracted.
As I shuffled along the C&O canal towpath, there were a few runners that decided to veer off the path and inspect the trees for termites, one yelled out “this tree is good, I personnally checked it“ as he hurriedly zip up his pants. I was pleasantly distracted for a while but then around mile 27 ish I looked to my left and heard a barrage of gunshots going off one after another. Growing up in a moderately rough neighborhood have taught me a thing or two on how to best deal with these kind of situations. Either run for cover or blend in with the surrounding. Obviously the first option wasn’t viable because at this point I couldn’t even outrun a tortoise let alone bullets. I thought about just dropping and blend in with the leaves on the ground but then I still have a race to finish. I am not sure what came over me but I instinctually turned on my gangster swagger and did my best impression of the matrix effect, weaving and dodging as I shuffled along at a lightning fast speed of almost 15 minutes per mile, ad libbing sound effects as I imagined the bullets blazing past me in slow motion, “pchooo pchooo pchooo.”
After a few minutes of dodging, weaving and ad-libbing, I’ve come to realize how silly I must look to the oncoming runners, I confessed that I heard gunshots, I was then told that it were from a shooting range on the other side of the canal. Crisis averted, the embarassment was a great distraction as I shuffled on toward the next aid station. I took my time and do the needful but again I must pressed on. I saw a guy lying on the grass enjoying himself so I had to hurry on because I see myself doing just that in a few seconds if I don’t move. By this time I was pretty much out of it, my hamstrings were screaming and I cursed everything in sight for making this such a horrible experience. “FU trees, FU leaves, FU rocks, FU guy breathing heavily trying to pass me.”
It was then at mile 28 that I ran into Jeff, a fellow MCRRCer, actually he ran into me. He saw me suffering as I was leaving the aid station and accompanied me the rest of the way. He had a lot of interesting stories to share, he did mention that they might not all be true but he would tried to tell it best he could. There were stories of Johnny Appleseed, Leif Ericson and the origin of the Appalachian Trail, whether true or not, his stories were extremely entertaining and helped me forgot about the pain. We stuck to a 3/4 mile run and 1/4 mile walk plan. Jeff kept me entertained with his repertoire of stories, he had one after another and as we were talking and running we made it to mile 38 without much complaint from our sore legs.
Sunny, one of the coaches from the 10 minute First Time Marathoners pace group had said that she would pace Amanda and I to the finish at mile 38. As I was running with Jeff I convinced myself that I just need to get myself to mile 38 and Sunny would bring me to the finish line like she promised. But then I realized that Amanda was way ahead of me and she would see Sunny first. She was running with Iva, would she be so heartless as to take away my last chance of redemption ? Luckily she knew how much I needed Sunny and told her to wait for me.
When I got to mile 38 and saw Sunny there I knew then that I can do it, and finishing IS possible. There’s nothing like seeing a familiar face in such a gruesome race. I was down to my last trick, ready to give up. All that changed, if I give up now, not only would I let myself down, I would also let down my coach. She believed in me and I found the confidence to believe that I can see this through. Sunny’s gentle guidance and encouragement slowly got me out of my slumps as I regain my spirit and head to mile 50 for a strong finish.
At mile 49 Sunny mentioned that due to the rules she wouldn’t be able to finish with me, I should be able to finish on my own and she’d see me afterward. I knew the finish was close so I nod my head and pushed on, when I saw the finish line I was so tired that I didn’t have anything left in me for a strong finish. I planned to accept defeat and just walk it in, get my medal, and go home. With about 200 meters to go I saw, Khoa and Quin, 2 of my friends who came to support me at the finish. They held up their end and came to see me, I couldn’t let them down so I had to muster every last ounce of strength I had in me and sprint toward the finish line. They were running along side me yelling words of encouragements and or profanities. I was too tired to know any difference. Later I found out that they were telling me to slow down so they could take a picture of me finishing. @%@$%@ I felt stupid, but I am glad that I sprinted, I didn’t accept defeat.
I finished in 11:22:52, got my medal, hugged Sunny, shook Cathy’s hands, met up with Amanda, Mo and Jenny, my 2 other friend who came out to support us, then I had to borrow $2 to buy the effing sticker which I thought we would get for free. The verdict is still out wether I would do another ultramarathon, but for now I am content with my medal.
Then this very morning as I was talking to Amanda on Gmail she sent me a link to an article about the race by the Herald Mail and the very first paragraph I read was
“The two most prestigious ultramarathons in the United States are the JFK 50 Mile and the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.”
I hate myself, what’s sad is that I will mention this to Amanda and she would agree within minutes.