It's been several days now and I'm still not even sure where to begin.
63 rugged miles | over 10,000 feet of climb | 16hrs, 57min, 59sec.
"are you tired?" or "are you sore?" Yes. But what most don't understand is that while this race has left me exhausted in ways, I feel more alive in so many others. And with that comes this overriding realization that it is an absolute privilege to be able do what I do.
Every mile is a gift from God. Some miles are blissful, some miles are brutal. This is the story of mine...
Race morning came early, but I woke calm & ready. It wasn't long before runners were ushered to the starting line, it was invigorating to finally be one of them. There the pre-race meeting went off without a hitch. Many words of caution to mind the leaves on the trail as they're apt to hide roots & rocks. (Something I experienced first hand, but I'll get to that...) then came the reminders to keep an eye out for blue blazes on the trees as well as the extra course markers to be sure you're staying on route. (Something I would find very important later, but I'll get to that...)
Then I was on my way, with about 60 other endurance junkies. The energy was palpable, yet focused on the task at hand. After a short jaunt thru town we were on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) and the climbing began.
Miles 1-6 were an interesting mix of trying to stay close enough to the group ahead of me to avoid getting lost in the dark on unfamiliar trail and to remain upbeat when notable twinges in my calves were making a premature appearance during the uphills. I counted the paved roads the trail crossed during this section in hopes that it would give me a better grasp of where I was on the return trip, this served me well & helped me to refocus.
The first few aid stations I was not the best version of myself as I struggled to find my rhythm. Thankfully my stellar crew (Hubby, Maggie & Cory) were still generous enough to put up with my shortness & get me in/out of the stations quickly.
Eventually I let go. Let the pace be whatever it was going to be. Waited for the sun to rise. I had been picturing this sunrise in my mind since I set sights on this race. The view, the stillness of the morning and the cool air on my face erased all of the impatience I had in the climb getting there.
The miles following the sunrise everything come together as I prayed it would earlier. A switch was flipped and my ability was now at harmony with the terrain. Miles 13-20 were some of my bliss where you know that all of the hard training you faced leading up to the event was exactly what you needed. I was doing well.
After I took this photo, I didn't take another. The woods in this area were heavily endowed with leaves and despite my best efforts I caught one of the afore mentioned hidden rocks or roots. In a split second I was down. Knees harshly planted first, bruising both, hands second. I've never been so thankful to be wearing full tights & gloves. More startled then hurt, I stood back up & continued on.
Next up, Ely's Peak... (Header & following images courtesy: Zach Pierce)
On the trip out the 100kers came head-to-head w/ the 50kers here, the perfect boost for this difficult section. I began gaining & passing other racers and then an oncoming 50ker let me know I was currently 3rd for women. So regardless of feeling another issue making itself known and not certain of my placement but excited at the potential, I dominated this peak. One of the more arduous climbs in the race was my strongest/most enjoyable. Wasn't smiling at the top, but I sure was at the base on the other side!
Then the bliss turned to brutal. Leading up to the race I had mentally prepared for my tendinitis to act up again, my quads to fatigue, calves to turn to rocks & hip flexors to wimp out as the miles & elevation added up. Pre-race phantom pains even supported this. But, as with many races the things you expect to be a problem. Aren't.
As I made my way toward the marathon distance a cluster of hemorrhoids had me in an increasing amount of pain and unlike the other problematic spots listed above, there is little your body can do to adapt to relieve pain here. For the next 40 miles I would battle the cowboy boot that was stiff kicking me in the arse every step.
My support crew was invaluable during this time as I struggled to keep going. At this point running the remaining miles seemed overwhelming & at times impossible. Between gravity, bouncing steps, increased heart rate on uphills and jarring downhills I was in a lot of hurt. I also tripped and fell face flat two more times and took a wrong turn losing a mile before reaching the 50k turn-around which only added insult to injury.
As I said before, every mile is a gift. Even the uncomfortable ones. So I began praying not for comfort, but for the strength to continue whether that came in body or mind.
"but those who hope in the Lord will renew their Strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
the will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31
Somewhere in the miles that proceeded I found my fight again & it was like a fire. I could feel I was being prayed for and I could feel my loving Savior answering. Such amazing sights filled my eyes, the perfect company I shared, the right music at the right time. All giving me the hope & assurance that I could do this. Another section of bliss.
As darkness began to fall so did my energy. Due to cold meds that give me dry mouth & so much climbing my hydration through out was solid, but after many hours of racing food became less & less desirable so I started grabbing what I could get down easily instead of what sounded good. My crew was exceptionally helpful in keeping me fueled along the way.
Any concerns I had about night running on such rugged terrain were put to rest when I noticed that the leaf covered trail was easier to define in the dark & any hidden roots/rocks would cast a slight shadow from the headlamplight.
Now in the dark, for the most part completely alone aside from the headlamps in the distance zig-zagging their way up the switchbacks, I ran with my soul. Thinking about everything it took to bring me to this moment and how long I'd been dreaming of that finish line. How even though the cowboy boot was giving me such hell, nothing else hurt.
The last 10 miles were the longest, I remember having to tell myself aloud to run several times when the general fatigue wanted to take hold. But I wasn't done fighting yet. I could see the flicker of headlamps behind me and the ones ahead of me, so I pushed hoping to catch the light ahead and not be caught myself.
At the last aid station I caught Chris, we traded a few encouraging words, he was so much stronger on the uphills that it didn't take him long to the take lead again.
As I neared Duluth I began to count the paved roads I crossed, just as I had on the way out, I was getting close. Once in the city my body ran like it meant everything, the best it could, the fastest it could and then I heard the cheering, the cowbells & the sprint was on. They say if you can sprint at the end of a race you didn't run hard enough during, I say hand me a cowboy boot & then we'll talk.
The day didn't go entirely as planned, but I was blessed with the moments I had been dreaming of and finished with a smile on my face. That's all that matters. :)