Well, when I'm not busy being disgusted by politics, wanting babies from sperm donors and DNF-ing the year's biggest race, I'M DOING OTHER THINGS. Don't get me wrong, typically these things aren't exciting (like, did you know I got a zero gravity chair for my balcony?), but, you know, some things are worth mentioning. LIKE THIS: A few weekends ago my friend Kristin ran a 100-mile race. Through the night. On wooded trails. ONE-HUNDRED MILES. My mind often tries to stretch around that astronomical feat, but then it explodes, so. While we're on the subject, let's let it be known that I have zero (none, nada, never) desire to ever accomplish this feat. Not ever. Kristin, however, did amazing; running the entire thing in under 24 hours. And I was lucky enough to join her for the final 38 miles as her pacer. I like to think I was also her spirit guide, but whatever. We'll let her decide.
When I joined Kristin not too long before 7 p.m., she'd already run 62 miles, which is absurd. She was... "almost done." Meanwhile, there were still 38 miles in our future. Within five miles of my joining her, she puked. We were off to a great start. Of course, as she does, she completely rallied and within minutes was fine. In fact, she was mowing down the goods at the next aid station like it never happened. PUKE AND RALLY, you guys. Girlfriend will show you how it's done.
The twilight hours came and went (which were indescribably beautiful, by the way. In the woods, the sun setting...), and we were covered in darkness. THANKFULLY we only had one headlamp between the two of us at first (oops!), so we spent the first couple hours of night tip-toeing carefully along the trail, doing the best we could not to die.
Those dark hours were the longest. Eventually we snagged another headlamp (saved!), but for so many hours it was just her and I and the woods. There was nothing to see except what our lamps illuminated, which was very little. Every now and again the trail would open into a field, and it was INCREDIBLE. The moon was bright, the stars were everywhere, and thankfully the zombies were nowhere to be seen.
All of the scenery aside, it was one hell of a run. It took us 11 hours to cover the distance, much of which was spent walking in silence in the middle of the night while I did my best to keep Kristin moving forward. Although it was hard to tell outwardly, she told me later she was hurting. I remember the pain I was in during my latest 50-mile attempt and actually scream thinking about what Kristin was feeling in those wee hours. I tried to lighten the mood -- counting off the hours: "Hey, it's bar time!" "Oh, look at that, you've been awake for 24 hours." "Remember when it was still yesterday?" Like a champ, she'd laugh on cue, and I'd smile knowing she wasn't entirely delusional yet.
Kristin's parents were on the course the entire night, meeting us at aid stations, offering hugs and smiles and 5-Hour Energy. While they looked on, growing increasingly more concerned with Kristin's deterioration from shiny and smiley to pained and zombified, we'd eat soup, handfuls of green olives, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Oreos and drink cups of Coke.
My pal Marty reminded me at the start, "Now, remember. NO complaining." No matter how tired I was, how hard the course was, how grumpy I felt, KRISTIN WOULD BE WORSE, he told me. So I did my best, and actually, I felt mostly alright throughout the night. What got me the most was how tired I got. Like, actually tired. Sleepy. I remember watching the time.
WE ARE STILL RUNNING.
It's an absurd and, really, a cool feeling. But every time I yawned -- which was frequent -- I tried to remind myself Kristin had 12-and-a-half hours and 62 miles on me. THAT WILL SHUT YOU UP. Trust me.
Dawn came just in time. With about 5 miles to go (and in nearly the same spot Kristin lost her guts 10 hours prior), the sun started to rise. We were back on a familiar trail, void of the obstacles the night had given us: rocks, roots, and darkness. I think both of us came alive again in those miles. The finish line -- so exciting for so many different reasons for each of us -- was so near. Our pace quickened and our smiles came back. Once again, everything was beautiful. Just as we'd left it before the sun went down (what felt like) 39 hours prior.
As with any race that ever existed in the history of racing, the last mile is the longest. I don't know how many times I promised Kristin we were close. Definitely enough to make me the most giant, asshole liar in the world. "I swear, it's right up ahead. It is."
And before we knew it (what felt like 27 miles later), there it was: FINISH.
The finish line of an ultra is so unassuming and anticlimactic, especially at 5:40 in the morning. Few people populate the area, most of whom were just in your same position. Many of them nursing blisters or other such battle wounds, others grazing at the food table or splayed out on the ground, 100 percent at peace. It's the absolute opposite of what is going on in your own mind and body, where the screams and joy and excitement can be heard around the world. It's not that the people aren't happy for you, or that they're unappreciative of what you just accomplished, it's just... understood. You all just put yourselves through hell, and now you're welcomed with the best gift you can get -- peace. Throughout the night, not a single runner passed -- elite or otherwise -- who didn't offer words of encouragement. And once the finish line high starts to dissipate, and you're the one nursing blisters and other such battle wounds, not a person will come across you who doesn't congratulate you on your accomplishment.
When Kristin and I crossed the finish, hand in hand, we had the best fanfare we could ask for. Her parents, weary from a night of spectating, still smiled and hugged. Our pal Marty had stuck around after his own race to welcome us back. The race director, one of the kindest gentleman I've ever encountered in a race, was still there where we had left him 11 hours ago, still smiling, and congratulating us both.
We started running on Saturday and finished on Sunday. Kristin ran throughout the course of an entire day. All 24 hours of it. These are facts that still boggle my mind. I'm proud to have survived my portion of the adventure, nonetheless what she endured. It's incredible. All of it.
There isn't a feeling I've felt (yet) that compares to the exhaustion and pride and accomplishment of experiencing a run like this. Even when I walked, battered and defeated, to the inevitable DNF of the Ice Age 50 last month, I knew I pushed my body beyond the limits of normalcy -- because I could. Because I trained and I endured and I got myself to this point. That is a badass feeling. Any running achievement I accomplish is because I got myself there. Nothing tops that.
Except when I got home later that morning and went the hell to sleep.
Proud of you, Kristin. So much congrats.