As we were leaving Skunk Hollow Adam and Sarah were just pulling in, and I felt a mixed bag of emotions. I was feeling great physically, but I had some creeping doubts sneaking in because I had only eaten about 400 calories (best guess) and had only taken in about half the electrolytes I had planned for. The part that was nagging at me was I knew once you get behind on these things (especially the electrolytes) it’s hard, if not impossible to get caught up.
I was going to have to be very diligent with my intake from here on out. I knew I had to force myself to eat on a regular basis in between aid stations, and keep pounding my Nuun. I went into this with the mindset that it wasn’t a 50 mile race, but a series of 5-7 mile races (the distance between the aid stations). An experienced ultra runner told me once that an ultra was all about eating, drinking, and running… In that order.
I was looking forward expectantly to what was in store for me, but I knew we had some tough going ahead. I was going to push myself to the point where my body would quit and my mind was going to necessarily take over. But when would that be? At 20 miles? 26.2? 50k? Just how bad was that wall going to be? Would it be mostly physical? Or would I break down emotionally? How much would I have to rely on my friends to get me through this? Would we be able to hold each other up? Or would we all go down at the same time? This next segment was going to be the mucilage of our rapport. 4 miles to the next aid station, 18-19 miles until Dugdale’s and our next drop bag’s and crew, and 4 major climbs totaling around 3000′ of climbing (almost 1/3 of the total elevation gain of the entire race).
What goes up must come down and the big climbs were always followed by some steep descents. From the outset Jeremy D and I established ourselves as the downhill bombers of the group. Anyone who’s been following me for a while knows I’ve been focused on my downhill running technique since training for Boston this year. I’ve practiced and honed my technique even further in mountain and trail races over the Spring and Summer. I’m glad I did though, because it was even more important to do it properly here than it was in Boston.
Some of the descents here were so steep that braking at all would’ve just shredded my quads. I was forced to just let my legs go and pretend I was flying. Many times my arms went out to the sides for balance. Sometimes it was so much fun that we were whoopin’ and hollerin’ all the way down. Still other times it was so scary we were literally screaming out in terror as if we were on a really hairy roller coaster. I remember a particularly gnarly section where Jeremy D and I actually stopped and walked back a little just to make sure Luau and Jeremy B made it down in one piece.
The climb up Garvin Hill just seemed to go on forever. Between the course description and the published elevation profile it seems we climbed 1600-1800′ over 2 miles. We started on a dirt road, turned into the woods, the single track and switchbacks through the woods just went on and on. As soon as we saw the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak, we finally came out of the woods into what looked deceptively like an open pasture, but it was the side of a big hill filled with even more switchbacks.
When we got to the aid station at the top of the hill… Huge payoff! Definitely the most breathtaking views from the highest point course. It would’ve been really easy to just hang there and stare-off into the distance for a while if it weren’t for our trail boss wrangling us and heading down. The way down the backside of Garvin Hill was just as beautiful and extremely fun with easy flowing switchbacks to the bottom. Only to set us up for another 3-4 miles of climbing.
This particular stretch was an alternating low point for myself, Luau and Jeremy B. We each had a down and raw emotional moment through here where the rest of us held the other up with positive thoughts of “just keep moving” and “it will pass.” I remember lots of cursing, dirty jokes, talk about music (And Jeremy D’s affinity for good Metal), I believe I even broke out into some “Ice, Ice Baby” and “Jump Around” here (I made it into the Beastie Boys “Paul Revere” later on in the race). Conversation turned to Monty Python and we broke out into a rousing version of “I’m a lumberjack and that’s ok!” We talked about Saturday Night Live and even “Old Gregg.” Anything to keep our minds off of the pain and suffering we were experiencing.
The aid station at the top of that climb was called “Margaritaville.” Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of Jimmy Buffett (having worked on island bars and tex-mex bar/restaurants where Buffet is played 24/7), but these Parrot Heads really created a party atmosphere and it was refreshing to say the least. They were so helpful and upbeat that just being there picked-up our spirits. Plus, they had made all sorts of unique treats (even though I stuck with the pb&j, cookies and chips I’d been scarfing at all the rest of the aid stations), and it was nice to have options at that point.
Pulling out of “Margaritaville” we knew the next station was at Dugdale’s where we would see our crew’s again, and I was looking forward to getting into my New Balance MT-101’s as the Peregrine’s were getting really waterlogged and heavy at this point. Besides, the sun had been out for over an hour and it was getting hot. Subsequently, I was sweating a lot more. I put my last two Nuun tablets into my bottle and knew I was going to need more. Needless to say we were looking to cover the next 4-5 miles as fast as possible. Luau had already had some cramping issues at this point. I told him to try popping a Nuun tab in his mouth directly (I had done this on a long run with good results) and it seemed to work for him.
Within a couple of hundred yards we caught-up to a couple of cute girls we’d met earlier on the course and struck-up idle conversation about the course, the heat, etc. When suddenly the bottle I had just put 2 Nuun tabs into blasted a cold discharge all over the back of one of the girls as the pressure built-up and released. Normally, this probably would’ve been incredibly embarrassing, instead she thanked me with some “I knew you were happy to see me” jokes and took it in stride. The conversation quickly deteriorated from there. Just one more difference in the attitude of ultra runners over “faster” runners. Everyone is so laid back and funny. At this point I have to mention all of the gas bags on the trail and fart jokes that ensued. Hilarious. And I won’t mention any names. They know who they are!
We made it into Dugdale’s which was in the neighborhood of 32 miles, and I knew the real race was just about to get started…