(Dammit - blogger hates formatting from a Word document. Because it is free, I assume, so sorry about the non-existent paragraphs)
This past weekend, Ann and I adventured to Portland, aka, “home” in a month or so (!!!) to look for a place to call “home” in this city soon to be “home”.
We’d lined up 4 potential places, the first of which rented before we even got to walk inside of it. Our stress levels already on high alert, this pushed us into the red, which, according to our government, means the likelihood of a terrorist attack is very high. Or something.
That afternoon, I went for a run at Forest Park: A network of 40 or so miles of amazing, lush trails. Spending an hour trotting up and down the muddy switchbacks eased most of the strain, and I took note of the markings for the next days’ race, which was organized by pctrailruns, whose events I’d run in twice before. As I trotted back towards the car, I (literally) ran into the race organizers, setting up the final markings, and I told them of my jealousy of the 50k runners who would get an entire day out there.
Sunday, we looked at a potential house to rent (cute. Incredibly cute. A bit small, but…cute.) and Ann decided to drop me off for a run at Forest Park while she ran by the river (poor kid is STILL rehabbing her injury and isn’t supposed to run hills quite yet). I climbed up the initial incline and hit the trails, taking a left instead of my normal right, just to see what else was out there. The race markings were now muddy and trampled, and I figured that the race had been over by at least an hour now, adding up on my fingers (truly, I’m that good at math) that the 50k would have officially ended by 4pm. It now being 4:00, I guessed I’d pretty much have the place to myself.
Not 2 minutes after that thought and practicing my times tables on my fingers, I saw a slow-jogging runner up ahead. I looked for a place to pass her, and as I did and grinned an “afternoon!” to her, she responded, “How far to the parking area?” As I turned my head to answer “I’m not sure”, I noticed she was wearing a race number…and it started with a “5”, which indicates – for pctrailsruns – that you are a 50k runner.
I stopped and waited for her and asked if she was in the 50k, and an exasperated “uh huh” came as the answer. “The cutoff time is 5:00.”
Holy. Shit. She’d been out there for 8 hours and likely had another 3 miles to pull herself through.
“Want some company?” I inquired.
She paused, which in her current state was the equivalent of screaming “ARE YOU KIDDING ME, YES!!!!!!”, so I told her to get ahead of me and we could chat.
I introduced myself to her, and she to me as Leslie, reporting that her friend Kate, a doctor and ultra runner, was acting as her crew person and would be meeting us the last half mile. It was then it dawned on me:
“Is this your first 50k?”
“What’s your longest run before this one?”
“3 ½ hours.”
We’re getting you in before the cutoff, I promised to her. In my head. Just like crazy people think!
Leslie kept up an amazing pace, particularly for the final 50 minutes of 34 or so miles of running. See, 50 kilometers are more or less 31 miles, but some “trail bandits” (I prefer the term “dipshits” myself) moved the markers and sent a bunch of runners on a 2-3 mile detour. May they all live to smell my socks and shorts-liner after a 100 miler.
I asked if she wanted some fluids from me, as she wasn’t carrying any, and she politely declined, as her crew person Kate was also a doctor and had told her she was over-hydrated at the last aid station.
“Over-hydrated” basically translates to “you puke up a shit-ton of water”, which, apparently, Leslie had done and was now feeling better.
We hit a series of switchbacks that began leading us downward. When asked, “How much longer, do ya think?” my only answer was, “Maybe a mile…but then again, I could be completely wrong.” Pacing someone the final miles of an ultra distance is a tricky balance of encouragement, allowing deathly silence, joking, and storytelling. I was cautious to not talk about my recent DNF at the San Diego 100 and instead supplied her with stories of my painful finishes, so she would know that the hell she was feeling was completely normal.
Again, she brought up her friend Kate, who would be meeting us at the finish, and a connection hit me:
“Is her online name ‘KateMD’?” I asked, jumping over roots and rocks.
Holy crap! I knew Kate from online running forums (nerrrrds). Her first 50 mile race report was an inspiration to me as I trained for my first 50 miler.
“Well, now you’ll get to meet her!” yelled Leslie.
And soon enough, there Kate was, awaiting Leslie’s arrival, about ½ a mile from the finish. I introduced myself and my online name, and she shrieked, “Oh yeah! Hi!”, then, Leslie, all battered and beaten to a lump announces, “No way! I know you too!”, introducing herself by her online name as well!
YES WE ARE NERDS SO WHAT??
Kate and I fell back as Kate told her to give it all she had left for the final 100 yards. And as I watched my newfound trail friend slip ahead of me, my thoughts went back to my first 50k finish, and all of the feelings that washed over me: Pride, joy, sadness, relief…it truly is an amazing experience, because you face something so much bigger than yourself, look it in the eye, and say, “I can.”
And then, with relentless training, friends backing you up, and a bit of luck on your side, you do.
Leslie wept at the finish as she hugged her dear friends and the race directors. Filled with pride for her, I watched as nearly 9 hours worth of emotions drained out. Then, she turned and saw me and outstretched her arms, giving me a hug with the strength not typical for someone who is physically and mentally exhausted.
I smiled. “You’ll never forget this.”
The small crowd laughed, and Kate added, “No matter how hard you try!”
As I readied to continue my run, Kate turned to me with the most stunning smile and said, “You got to be someone’s angel today.”
And so I set off for another hour and forty minutes into the woods, reflecting the entire duration the miracle that had just transpired, tears pouring from my eyes at times, my heart filled with emotion.
It certainly put all of the house-hunting/Portland-move-stress into perspective, and this is the life-lesson that ultra running has taught me time and again: No matter how dire or frightening the circumstances, regardless of how ready you are to give up and surrender to fear in any situation, no matter how uncertain the future seems, relentless forward motion will carry you there.
And who knows? Along the way, you might make a friend or two.