October 9th, 2011
I have no feelings of nervousness for this race. No expectations. Driving in the dark I am calm, indifferent. The race starts and I am chatting with friends, joking around. I know these trails will be tough, but my head tells me thirty-one miles will be no problem. It could not be a more perfect day. Unseasonably warm, summer melting into fall. The fallen leaves, the brilliant colors, and a cool bite underneath the mild breeze are the only signs of October.
I run easy, stepping carefully over rocks and roots. There are constant obstacles hidden by the leaves, constant opportunities to succumb to the trail. I walk up the steep hills, saving energy. My pace is steady, slow, even. I try to take in the beauty of these woods, to breathe in the trees, the ancient landscape. A few close calls and I realize it is nearly impossible to take my eyes off of the trail.
I hit the turnaround feeling great. I feel like I can pick up the pace, finish strong. Fifteen miles seems like nothing. A few minutes later it hits. My stomach which has been on the verge of iffy all day twists itself into knots, my intestines wringing, cramping. I know I will not be able to continue to fuel. My pace slows as the pain fluctuates between tolerable and so sharp that I am forced to a sudden halt.
I sip as much fluid as I can tolerate, but I can feel the energy draining from my legs. Picking my feet up off the ground becomes a struggle. My hips strain with every step, my knees ache. Miles twenty through twenty-five are the worst. At twenty-two, the trail wins and I go down. I want to cry. I tell myself to get a grip, to keep moving forward.
I reach the last aide station and refill my water bottle. Time to regroup. Seven miles to go. I tell myself to suck it up, this is nothing. I swear there are twice as many rocks on the trail now, the hills twice as steep. Relentlessly rugged. With two miles to go I am back on even ground. It is such a mental relief to not have to focus on every step. I am able to pick up the pace to the finish. I see friendly faces right away and can’t help but smile. We recount the race, everyone with their own stories to tell. As soon as it’s over, the pain begins to fade. It always does. We forget about the hard parts and remember it as just another beautiful day in the woods. This is why I run.
3rd Place Female