A cool thing happened to me after I left the 32-mile aid station at the 100kout Mountain Trail Race, something I’d never really experienced before: I caught a major second wind.
I’ve always read about the sometimes dramatic mood and energy swings that runners get during a super long ultra event, but I’d never been through them. Even in both my 50-milers, what I’d felt was just a long, gradual wearing-down, from strong, to steady, to slow, to trying-not-to-walk-too-much-so-I-can-just-get-to-the-finish.
From mile 26 to 32 at 100kout, I was not doing well. It was during a long stretch of cold rain, and I got caught wearing just shorts and a tech t-shirt. So, I was drenched and shivering and running trails that had often morphed into running streams. In addition, we were gradually winding our way back up the mountain. The switch-back climbs were wearing me down.
I met my girlfriend, Laura at the 32-mile aid station (Covent College). I changed my socks. I changed my shirt to a warmer, long-sleeve, thermal Under Armor piece. I sat for a few minutes and sipped some chicken noodle soup. Then I trudged out on the trail again. My legs were still cold and stiff. But there had been very good news: Covent College was the first aid station of the day with a cutoff time, and I had come in 2 hours under. It was no guarantee for the rest of the day, but it was still a relief. I was past the half-way point, and I had some time in the bank.
Then, less than two miles out of Covent College, I felt a change. It was utterly unexpected, but my legs felt fresher, my chest felt warmer, my back felt stronger, and I said to myself, unequivocally, “I am going to finish this race.” It was the first time that day or in the months before when I really knew that was true.
After limping through the six miles before Covent College, I zinged through the next six miles to the aid station at the Start/Finish line. Seriously, I was almost giggling by the time I rolled down the hill back to the tents and parked cars.
Kris Wharton, the Race Director, had informed all the runners that she would do a personal assessment of each runner’s condition at this station and if she felt you weren’t in shape to continue, she would pull you from the race regardless of cutoff times. Well, I didn’t plan it this way, but I was practically dancing when she found me to give me the once over. In fact, I reintroduced myself and gave her a big kiss on the cheek for the help she’d been giving me over the phone during the morning. She was nothing but gracious and motherly.
My body certainly didn’t feel that good through the rest of the day and night, but I never lost my optimism and I never had any doubts about finishing. It was an uncanny feeling. The kind of thing that makes you foolish enough to try an event like this again some time.