If there is one thing I’ve learned about the Darkside 8-Hour Run since its inception in 2003 it is this: There will be one indelible moment that everyone will remember. Whether it’s the torrential lightning and thunderstorm that resulted in a one hour ‘interruption’ and a subsequent three inches of water on the Riley Field track, the 40-degree weather and accompanying rain, wind and hail (in May, no less) the first time the event was held at Bear Creek Farm, or the event-record performances of Eileen Torres (54.06 miles) and Ferit Toska (56.1 miles) in 2014, the event always leaves something behind that people will be talking about in the years ahead.
This year the event was held at beautiful Bear Creek Farm in Moreland, Georgia for the fourth consecutive year…and this year, the event more than lived up to its reputation. I’ll get to that later, but first I want to share what turned out to be one of the most enjoyable running experiences of my life.
I had the privilege to run at least one loop (1.02 miles) with almost everyone in the event at one time or another, some of them I’ve known seemingly forever and others I was meeting for the very first time. To be honest it was really hard to tell because in running everyone is family; there are no strangers.
In no particular order (I’d be hard pressed to list them any other way) I ran with:
- Debbi, a former Darkside 8-Hour champion whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. She was running as strong as ever and we talked about the good old days (before our bodies started to betray us) and how good one another looked (she was lying; I wasn’t).
- Ron, who always tells me how much he doesn’t like to read but enjoys my articles—the short ones, anyway. I told him when I write I always can tell when I’m past the point of keeping his interest and that I was writing a book of short stories (working title ‘Short Attention Span Theater’) and that when it’s published it will be dedicated to him. (True story. If you’re looking for fiction read Stephen King.)
- Beth #1, another former 8-Hour champion who will be crewing for another runner in Death Valley in two months at the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon and depending on how things go, may consider running it herself next year. If she does she asked if I would be on her crew (naturally I agreed because I rarely have the presence of mind and/or requisite common sense to say ‘no’).
- Beth #2, whom I hadn’t seen since she became a mother of two but seemed to have WAY too much spring in her step to be a mother of two. Every time she passed by me (more times than I care to remember) the thought ‘motherhood suits her’ crossed my mind. She nodded and said ‘gentle dude’ every time in return to my thought bubble, which would have been the coolest phrase of the day if it hadn’t been for my grandson (to be continued…).
- Heather and Patrick, who will be getting married next month (they met for the first time at a Darkside event a couple years ago). Incidentally, there ceremony will be at 6:30 on a Saturday morning and will be followed by an 8-hour race of their own.
- Adamy, who will be helping me with the Darkside Distance Festival this October. I found out she—like me—thinks clearer when she runs and came up with several good ideas for the event for me to consider.
- Ferit, the event record-holder with whom on this day I managed to run side-by-side with…for one loop, anyway. A little while later I had almost as much trouble keeping up with Ferit’s son Derin for a loop, who apparently has a good bit of his dad’s genes (thank goodness I have more endurance than most four-year olds).
- Krischan, my seven-year old grandson who took up where he left off last year when he called everyone he passed out on the course ‘slow pokers.’ This year he not only called them slow pokers; he included ‘lazy boners’ in his repertoire (a phrase I absolutely LOVED—even more than ‘gentle dude’).
At the end of the day, after eight hours of running the paved and rolling 1.02-mile loop of asphalt two former champions showed their mettle and finished with the most mileage: Ferit led all the men with 49.98 miles (sorry, Ferit; 49 loops X 1.02 miles = 49.98 and we do NOT round up!) and Beth #1 was the top woman with 43.86 miles. By the way, both of them were mentioned in my 2013 book Distance Memories as having ‘incredibly bright futures’ in running. Color me clairvoyant.
As for me, I spent most of those eight hours running, filling water coolers, updating the leader board every hour and simply enjoying the camaraderie only runners can share. I didn’t have a particular goal in mind until Ferit reminded me that my next marathon or ultra would bring my lifetime total of those two distances to 262, a fitting number since a marathon is 26.2 miles. Ferit had suggested to me a couple months ago that I should run 262 miles to celebrate the occasion; I figured running 31 loops to constitute an ultra of 50 kilometers would get that thought out of his (and my) head. Additionally someone told me a while ago that I was on a list of runners with the greatest amount of elapsed time between their first and most recent ultra. My first was the Stone Mountain 50-Mile Run on February 6, 1982, so after running 50K today my elapsed time between my first and most recent ultra would extend to 34 years, three months and eight days. (Note: I have no idea where I stand on the aforementioned list but I do know it’s in the top 100. Hell, it might be in the top 10 but don’t ask me; I’ve never seen the list.) I still remember the first official advice I received as an ultrarunner. It came from Vaughn Crawley as I was running one of the severe up hills of my second (of 10) five-mile loop around the base of Stone Mountain: ‘In ultras it’s advisable to walk the up hills.’ I’ve never forgotten it.
Getting back to that one indelible moment…
I had the pleasure of running about a dozen laps with Antonio, a man whom I’ve known for over 20 years. He started running less than two months ago, a fact I know because he texted me every night with the mileage, the time and the route he ran accompanied by an occasional question or two about the sport. At my suggestion he started out by running two miles a day, quickly upping the ante to four. He developed a growing fascination with running shoes, asking me virtually every day at work (Antonio has worked with me for over 20 years as well) about a particular brand or style to get my opinion. A couple weeks ago he ran his longest run ever: Six miles. I encouraged him to run at Bear Creek just to get a feel for running with others and to enjoy the camaraderie. He took my suggestion and wasn’t disappointed; neither was I.
Before heading to the starting line he told me he hoped to run 10 miles so he could ‘make me proud.’ I ran several loops with him and passed along the advice I first heard in 1982 at the base of the only uphill on the loop. He thanked me later and said how the short breather he got walking the uphill every loop reenergized him. After he finished his first 10 miles he walked another four with his wife Miriam. After that he started running again because now he had his sights set on bigger game: Finishing a marathon. A few hours later he accomplished just that: Twenty-six loops and 26.52 miles, qualifying him as one of the few people who technically ran an ultra before running a marathon. He had a smile on his face when he finished; the same one he started with over six hours earlier.
Antonio had quadrupled his longest run and gone from two to 26 miles in less than two months. I mention them both in a single sentence because I can’t discern which is more impressive. Either way I was impressed…VERY impressed, and trust me when I tell you I don’t say that very often.
Later that night Antonio sent me a text: ‘Just wanted to tell you THANKS for everything. I’ve never been treated so good today by everyone!!!’
The perfect ending to a perfect day: Antonio had discovered the camaraderie of running and the joy of fulfilling a dream.
As for me, ‘number 262’ is in the books. If it’s the last marathon or ultra distance I ever run, I can’t think of a better or more appropriate ending.
I can live with that.
Find the Results to the 8hr here.