The next 5K was a meandering, beautiful bit with amazing views of Buntzen Lake. Eventually I was able to settle into a descent rhythm, temporarily ignore the alternating pain in both my legs and was actually able to enjoy both the running and scenery. Looking back, it was personally my best and most enjoyable part of the race.
By the time I hit the aid station at 18K I had even befriended a couple of other runners near the back of the pack (we all jokingly hoped that they were at least a few people who had yet to make the aid station, in hopes we weren’t dead last). After refueling at the aid station on some Coca-Cola, re-filling some water, it was time for the last stretch of the race. And as I suspected, the largest climb of the course started almost immediately after leaving the comfort of the aid station.
The climb lasted for what seemed like forever. At this point, I had become so immune to the pain shooting through both my legs, I made it a point to climb a little and just stop and rest. I was lucky to have some company, too. Another guy didn’t have spikes on his shoes either and didn’t have much experience trail running. So we chatted, offering words of encouragement as we took turns leading the climb. After approximately 350 meters of slipping, sliding and clawing our way to the top we met one of the last course Marshall who gave us some great news: the climb was over, and there was only an “easy” 3-4K to go.
By this time, I was cold. When I started the race my steady pace caused my body to appropriately heat up and I started to sweat. But since my quad and my knee had bothered me, my pace had slowed considerably and my body temperature consequently dropped. My once sweat soaked hair was starting to freeze and my soaked Under Armour shirt was damp. I was ready to be done. Any fun I had, or was having, was gone.
So I bit down, ate the last of my energy gels, took a deep swig of Gatorade and for the last 3K I gave it my all. The closer I got to the finish line, the less I thought about the pain. I even ended up passing my climbing buddy (much to his surprise) and found myself going faster and faster.
By the time I could see the finish line, I was in what felt like a full sprint. Just before passing my climbing buddy I had looked at my watch and I was already a minute over my goal of finishing the race in under 4 hours. But I didn’t care. And as the finish line came into view, the few cheers from the people left propelled my to victory.
I had hoped at the end of the race legend endurance runner Gary Robbins would still be there. I’d come all this way and after what I had just been through, I wasn’t leaving until I got a high-five. And sure enough, as I crossed the finish line I gave the biggest, most awkward high-five to Gary as he attempted to give me a free head lamp (I found out later that they were doing a live auction and apparently because I had finished when I did, I got a free head lamp, not that I’m complaining at all, it just didn’t make sense at the time).
I had done it. My final time was just under 4 hours 8 minutes, I hadn’t beaten my goal, but I had survived and I hadn’t quit. That was enough for me. Looking back I’m super happy I didn’t quit, that drive and ferry ride home would have been a lot of harder. But as I got on the ferry back to the Island, with a warm coffee, I sat outside and stared at the sunset, smiling, knowing I’d just done one of the most difficult physical things I’ve ever done. Period.
But as the sun began to set and the ferry got closer to the Island, I limped back to my car knowing I had my work cut out for me if I was going to survive my next race. 25K down, 35K to go.