A Race Report By Bren Tompkins
The pounding of the pavement now even at a walk is excruciating. My left shin has pulled a mutiny on my body and my right knee is singing the same tune, “Stop this – now!” My headlamp is dim and I struggle to stay at Sara’s power walking pace. Sara and Alec talk in front of me and slowly begin to fade into the darkness as we march ever closer to the trail head. “Why am I doing this?” I ask myself this a lot today and I’m still not sure of the answer completely. I thought I had it, but I lost it. Where did it go? Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.
The day started like any other race day except for the great people I got to spend it with. Just like all the times before, I didn’t need an alarm to get up. Too much excitement for that, and not just me either because Bo, Chris, and Elijah didn’t need theirs either. Or maybe it was because I woke them up stumbling around nervous as hell. Laughs and smiles came with bacon, oatmeal, and eggs at breakfast. What a day we have ahead – the awkward nervousness was still in the air – none of us said it, but it was there for sure. “I’m not nervous at all today!” Lara would jokingly say. After discovering there wasn’t an open bathroom in the hotel lobby I headed for the gas station next door. Glad I did because my stomach was nervous. After I got out we headed for the start line. Sara and I nervously searched for bottles, headlamps and any other thing we thought we wouldn’t remember. I lost my phone twice in the car looking. Once while it was in my left hand….my nerves are shot. Deep breathes now as we walk to the start. We greet everyone with smiles and laughs; taking pictures as often as we can.
It’s like a family reunion. No other feeling like the feeling before a race. The heaviness of the task, the fear of the unknown is like no other. After a short briefing from the Race Director Caleb Wilson we were off.
The course was a 10.4ish mile loop shaped like a crooked X or cross. You did 9 loops and a shorter 8 mile final loop for 101.6 miles. The course was made up of: a paved road to thin the crowd, then twisting single track mountain bike trails with relentless hills that never stopped, a short paved road section, more twisting relentless hills with steeper downhills, then a smaller paved road with a turnaround and water drop, 2.5ish miles steeper hills that twisted and turned forever with more flats (still not much), then you were to the sandy hilly uphill road that lasts forever that leads to the youth camp aid station, then you turn around and head back down the sandy uphill road (yep uphill both ways – I don’t understand it either.), the next section of trail has more short uphills with a few big ones but more twists, then you make it to Fort clinch where you run through the parking lot to the beach and around the fort with a water drop on the other side, the last section of trail is my favorite with its longer banked turns and one very steep hill with steps it was fun to run, then you were back on the paved road where you’re heading out to the ½ mile flat hard concrete pier that roasts you alive, you then turn around on the pier head back to complete a loop. Sounds like fun – huh?
As the race begins Sara, Masumi, and I get side by side then pick what part of the pack we want to be in before the single track starts. Once we get on the trail, the beauty of it really hit me. The forest is beautiful with its palmetto branches hanging randomly, with oak trees shielding us from the sun, and the soft pine straw underfoot. The trail is open even though it is single track and you can see freely into the forest around us. The hills come with little to no recovery in-between and jokily Masumi says, “Great way to start the day off…. with a roller-coaster!” We all laugh and like a nut I put my hands up on the next downhill. We come to a steep uphill with cobblestones embedded in it to help your footing I’m guessing. The stones are slick and the dirt\sand on them makes matters worse. We make it through these obstacles easy and back on the road. We never say it but we all speed up when we hit the pavement. After a half mile we are back on single track and after jumping and hopping over hills, roots, and trees Mario gets brought up, and now I got that song stuck in my head. Also just in case you’re wondering I’m now jumping and making noises like Mario! “Someone is going to knock you out that doesn’t love you,” Sara laughs. “You’re probably right Sara!” We go through some steep downhills that are long and swooping. You can really hurt yourself or pick up some speed – I’ll let you know which later. A nice bearded 50 miler is in front of me and I’m seriously considering passing him regardless of the conga line behind me. “Bren – no passing,” Sara tells me and I back off. “That’s right stick to the plan,” I tell myself (Out loud? Maybe!). See the plan is to run the 10.4 mile loop in around 2 hours, that’s with stops and breaks. That’s about 11:30 pace overall, but not running for 9 days I’m a bit excited (Picture me shrugging). After some twists and turns we make it to pavement again where the turnaround is in sight from the trails end. Cheers and hiyas come from all directions as you see people leaving the turnaround and water drop. We turn around and get back to the trail head on the other side of the road. For the record this is the most challenging section mentally and physically. The hills are steep, but the flats are longer. So you can run the flats great and then power walk the uphill. The hills are steep and long – not complaining just stating the facts. I rather enjoyed this section most of the day. About half way through this section you come to perhaps the steepest hill on the course. It’s about 20 ft. high at a very hard angle and once to the top it flattens and turns before going down at the same sharp angle, but this time with slick cobblestones embedded in it so you break your neck. I’m not sure I saw anyone run this downhill the whole race. It was just too risky that most everyone tried to go to the side and miss the cobblestones. Care had to be taken here for sure. The sights and the sounds of the forest are so peaceful now. It mixes well with the talking and laughs from us. After lots of ups, downs, twists, and turns we make it to the dirt road which leads to the youth camp. Time for a systems check. Quads? Good. Feet? Good. Calves? Good. Arms? Good. Knees? One good other I’m not sure of. It has been feeling odd for a week and a half. I decide to put on my knee brace when I get to the aid station up ahead. I must be honest this sandy dirt road sucks to run on, and on top of that it goes on forever – uphill. Just picture rolling hills on an uphill and that’s a pretty accurate picture.
We round a bend and are greeted with cheers from Alec, Lara, and Katie. We hand off our bottles and tell them how we’re doing as we head to check in and turn around. Coming back Alec makes me eat and take a gel in my pocket. He hands me my bottle of tailwind and we are off again. “You guys are doing amazing!” Can be heard as we round the bend out of sight. Sara & I chat about how lucky we are to have Alec & Lara as our crew. Also thank you Adam for asking Lara and getting the ball rolling on this.
“Where is Masumi?”
I turn around see Masumi smile at me and continue eating something. I’m not sure how but this road is uphill both ways with no top – how is that possible? Ask Caleb Wilson. It’s weird for sure and it sucks. Once we make it to the sign telling us to turn back in the trail we all say here we go and fall inline. This section is the second most difficult to me. More hills, less flats, with more twists. Almost to the Fort there’s a steep uphill followed by a uphill turn and the a steeper uphill with 2x4s has steps. I always enjoyed this hill. Maybe it was the 2x4s made climbing easy or maybe it was because then I knew the Fort was close because you could smell the water. After rounding a bend and a small hill the sign telling you arrived at the Fort is seen. Back on pavement in a parking lot we gallop for the beach. The beach is made of crushed shells and isn’t too bad to run on. It’s actually soft and a welcome change. The breeze off the river is cool and calming. We chat with Robert Rankin – it’s his first 50 miler and we congratulate him. He thanks us for letting him tag along and we thank him for the company. He goes on to finish in 2nd place overall, congratulations man. You looked strong every time we ran with or saw you.
Once you round the beach in front of The Fort you pass a water drop before turning back onto the trail again. This is without a doubt my favorite section. It has long swooping right and left hand turns that are banked and just fun to run. Also the excitement of heading back to the starting line helps. After running this trail with a smile on our faces we pop back on the road again heading towards the parking lot where it all started. Once you round the bend to the parking lot I get lost in an open parking lot and Sara puts me in check. We head for the pier. The pier – ugh. It’s more of a microwave, a hard, unforgiving, microwave with pedestrians to dodge – yay! It starts out with soft 4-5ft wide pier made out of that plastic wood stuff before it turns to concrete that’s been hardening in the hot sun for ages. Then after a ¼ mile or so it opens up to about 10ft wide still the UN-daunting, uneven pavement. It looks almost like they had a concrete pouring class every 8 ft. It’s very uneven and unforgiving on your feet. The sun literally bakes you and rarely was a breeze out here. We make our way to the end and turn around to make the trip back. We make the decision to stop to pee at the port-a-lets at the start. Masumi doesn’t have to and offers to fill our bottles while we go. Walking up to the aid station I call out my number and a robotic voice says my name. I look down at my watch and we ran that lap a little hot. Well a lot hot because we did it in 1:38 instead of 2:00. Oops – that’s what race excitement will do the first miles. After looking at the buffet of food I opt for a hammer gel in my pocket and so does Sara. We walk to the end of the parking lot to let things settle before picking up our pace again.
Once back on the trail this half of the lap fades by pretty uneventful with us just running finding a groove. There was a few times each of us found a root, but no one went down over it. On the way to the youth camp aid station I said,
“Hey we should name this big hill!”
“Call it the suck,” Sara says.
“How about Walkbreak Hill?”
Sara laughs at me and we pick our way through the cobblestones on the other side. Once at the bottom we pick up our pace and get lost in the sea of twist & turns and ups & downs. Rounding a small hilly bend we are greeted with a stop sign and the sandy road to the youth camp. We chat and meet Andrea Chaves on the road. He just finished the Brazil 135 not long ago and is looking strong today. We make it down the long hilly road and are greeted with cheers. It feels so good to come in here and see such familiar faces. We hand off our bottles and head for the check-in a few yards up. I call out my number and turn around. Chris Rawlins tells us we look great and we head for our crews.
“Have you eaten anything?”
“I had a gel,” out of breath I say. Alec looks at me half to get on to me and half to make sure I’m not pulling a fast one I think.
“Here eat this. Now,” as he hands me Spidey fruit snacks and my bottle. Not given a choice I scarf down the snacks even though I don’t want to. “You guys look outstanding,” Alec says with a smile and off we go. Sara takes the lead this time as we head to the fort. In this section there is no air movement and it’s getting hot. I stub my toe a few times and everyone laughs at my skills of not falling. We make it to the fort and the beach in a blur. As me and Sara round the bend onto the beach Robert Harem is there cheering us on. It brings a smile to our face to see him out there cheering. Small things like this become huge later. After passing the fort I notice Masumi has fallen back a little and hope he’s okay. Robert runs with us for a bit as we make our way down the beach. He tells us how strong we look and that our strategy is wise. After we stop and pee at the water drop we make it to the trail again and Robert says he’s going to wait for Masumi. We part ways and enjoy the trail. Sara and I both say we love this section of trail. It really is a blasted to run, but eventually as you go farther down it you’re greeted with the dread that the pier is close. Once on the road we head for the parking lot that leads into the pier. There’s no shade from the trail for several miles. The sun is getting high and the heat is definitely rising. We make the turn towards the parking lot and are greeted with Alec and Lara who are out for a stroll.
Their smiles and cheers raise our spirits some, but it soon passes as we make our way onto the pier. It’s crowded now with fisherman and people walking to the beach below. There is no wind on it and it’s like a microwave cooking you from the inside. The concrete it’s made of is uneven and unforgiving. My feet feel like a small hammer hitting an anvil with every stride. One good thing about the pier is you get to see who’s in front and who’s behind. The cheers coming from others and the encouragement you give to others always makes me feel a little better. Back in the parking lot Sara and I head for our mandatory potty break. Peeing in an ultra is good – especially if it is lemonade colored. We check in at the finish and we’re still a little hot this lap, but much better than last. I just get more tailwind in my bottle and fill Sara’s. She eats a gel and we walk out the parking lot. After all we’re still a little fast on our laps.
This next lap I call hot as hell and watch Bren gracefully stub his toe and somehow not fall while Sara laughs. Once we were back on the trail I was so tired. Sara stub her toe once or twice, but I did it at least 10 times from the beginning till the youth camp. Just picture sympathy music, me stubbing my toe, language like a sailor, and you should have the jest of it!! I really started to worry because stubbing my toe meant I was tired and it was very early to be tired. I beat myself up a lot about this, “Keep those knees and ankles high Bren – pick your feet up.” It was just so hot and the shade was a welcome break from the blistering sun, but there was no air moving under that canopy of trees. Sara and I made it to the turnaround water drop while she went to the portalet I try to figured out which cooler had tailwind in it. I mixed flavors just to top our bottles off. Not going to lie it was horrible – different flavor every swig. It was so hot neither of us cared though, I started to think about how great a nice cold rag on my head would feel. “Tell Alec to get the frog tog cooling rag out at this stop.” I say to myself over and over. With this heat it’s a good chance I’ll forget. We make it to the imagined oasis that the sandy road brings after those hills and then comment about how this is harder than running the beach. I must be honest. I hate that freaking road. Sara agrees wholeheartedly I’m sure. We make it to the aid station check-in and get a pep talk and some calories. I have no interest in eating a Hammer bar and Alec makes me anyway. Good thing because it was delicious. Where did those things come from? Bo Millwood you’re a genius because those Hammer cranberry bars are the shit!! After the party in my mouth is over and I’ve been given a clear coat of SPF 50 I remember to tell Alec about the frog tog cooling towel then we’re off again. We make it to the trail head and Sara is more than happy to let me lead. I may do this now, but it will change. The canopy gives no refuge now, it’s an oven with no air movement. The sign signaling our arrival at the fort is welcoming and once on the beach the breeze and soft sand is refreshing. It’s gotten so hot in the 2.5 miles here we’ve both almost drank all our bottles. We round the fort and stop at the water drop to fill up. The sun is beating us down. I can’t wait to get in the canopy again, only to be reminded that no air moves under it. This section helps us take our minds off it with its long swooping turns almost like switchbacks. The soft cold mud is nice too. Back out on the pavement I’m in autopilot stumbling through the heat. The parking lot comes and goes. I stumble heavily through the pier dodging fishermen, children, and beach goers as I’m cooked from the inside. I cling to Sara as she drags me through this part. “It’s like a microwave. I’m being cooked,” Sara says. I nod in agreement. We stop for our mandatory pee-break and mine isn’t a good color. I don’t remember drinking Gatorade so I shouldn’t be peeing it. At the aid station Caleb fills our bottles and puts ice in them. This is the best thing ever. I start shooting water before going to the good stuff – Coke Cola. I tell the lady at the aid station “I don’t drink anything but water, except in races. This caffeine will have me high as a kite!” The lady at the aid station laughs and says, “Yeah for 15 minutes!” I laugh and tell them thank you. We begin to walk again and the heat is draining both of us.
“My feet feel like hamburgers. I was hoping to feel like this at 60 not at 30.” Sara says lightly.
“My feet are starting to hurt too.”
“I think I’m going to change in to Hokas this lap.”
“That’s a good idea. Maybe I should change my socks and it will make everything better.” I say back to her. We begin a slow trot to get back into things. We see Masumi round a bend. He looks good smiling in high spirits. We’re both glad of it. Once back on the trail things start out okay, but I have more troubles picking my feet up and Sara laughs every time.
“I’m amazed at your skill to not fall!”
“It’s a gift!”
“Tenacious B!” Sara says and I smile at the name. I like it! I drink all my water bottle except for a few drops in the bottom. We make it to the turnaround, I toss what little Is in my bottle and then discovered that both coolers were bone dry. Oh no – it’s 2.5 miles to the youth camp. I’m so thirsty and I’m sure Sara is too. This is a valuable lesson, no matter how little is left, never throw it away dummy – drink it. Sara comes out the portalet and asks what’s wrong. I tell her and she takes the tops off the coolers, we both pour the little bit in them in our bottles. Hopefully this will last until the youth camp. We are kind of in the front of the pack and this makes this situation kind of scary, but to the RD’s credit he did warn of this in the info for the race. I’m glad this happened early on so I never counted on the drops anymore. Back on the trail Sara realizes I’m struggling and takes the lead. She pulls and keeps us going. We make it to the sandy hilly road to Mordor. This road just goes on forever. It has to get longer and add a hill every lap. Sara and I our just drained – the heat took most of it and then the course beat the rest of it out of us! Like Zombies we made it to the aid station and check-in. We told our crew we wanted to change as we went by. They had chairs ready for us. Alec comes up and throws the cooling towel on me. Omg it feels amazing. They lead me to my chair and I hit it like an anchor hitting the sea floor.
“Here eat this.” I look at him and then realize I need to just eat it because he isn’t going to let me not eat. Yet again it’s the best bar ever. He gives me my socks and I peel my shoes off and then peel my socks back. I start to fight my toes into the new socks pockets before fighting my shoes back on. I’m handed a cup of Coke and I down it with a smile. Lara helps Sara change her shoes. Alec helps me out the chair and I have a back spasm. It’s painful – I think it’s from the chair, but you know running over 35 miles on unrelenting hills could do it too. Alec hands me a banana, “Here eat this.” It’s unpeeled already and I start to eat it before I drop half of it. Without batting an eye Alec has another peeled and waiting for me. “Here stretch.” He puts the calf stretcher in front of me and I stretch one leg while he massages the other with the stick. “Switch,” and we do the other side. I can’t put into words how amazing our crew was/is and how thankful I am of them. While Alec tends to me Lara is equally doing the same for Sara. They are a well-oiled machine. Robert and Katie also helps us and encourage us during this time. As we begin to leave refreshed and feeling better, “Take it slow since you just ate.” Alec says to us. They all say, “You guys look awesome out there.” We decide to walk the road to Mordor all the way to the trail head. We talk about how lucky we are to have such a great crew and friends. Neither of us say it, but I think we both feel better. We see Andy on the road just before the trail head and he doesn’t look good. He says he’s sick and he does look it. We ask him to run with us, but once on the trail we lose him. I feel recharged and lead without stubbing my toe every couple minutes. We breeze through this section and make it to the beach. We stop to refill and the bottles are empty here too, but we just wanted to top off our bottles so we were fine. Walking to the trail in the shade with a breeze we see a 50 miler sitting under a tree looking pissed or sad – you decide. We ask if he needs anything and if he is okay, but he stops us, “I’m fine.” He seems kinda out of it and we decide to let someone know about him. It’s really hot now. Back on the trail we enjoy this section but its short lived by the dread of the closing pier. The pier hot, festering, boiling, microwaving pier… We stumble through the motions of the road to the pier and then are greeted by fellow runners leaving the pier in the direction you wish you were going – away from it. On the pier it becomes a haze of nice jobs to people running in the direction you wish you were, fishermen dodging, and there’s the end it’s almost over. Then it’s reversed. More fishermen dodging, nice jobs in the right direction, pity for those running in the other, and it’s almost over. Off the pier it’s time for a pee check and that ends lap 4. I drink some more water and then some coke. They have pancakes. Silver dollar pancakes – don’t mind if I eat 1 or 5.
We get our bottles filled and we start to walk a bit and chat. As we walk we chat with Grant who has just lapped us and started his 6th lap. With an Australian accent he looks at us and says, “I’m at 52 miles and just got to do that again!” Off he went again. We both say he can’t do it because of the heat, but he goes on to set a new course record. Not the first or the last time I’ve been wrong. The guy is awesome and amazing to watch. We slowly talk ourselves into running some and at the turn are greeted by Andrew Snope– it’s good to see a familiar face out here. He tries to snap some pictures of us as we run by and then comes up beside us barefoot and all.
“Looking good guys! Mind if I run the trail with y’all?”
“We would love the company,” Sara says. We hit the trails and chat with Andrew about the course and other things running. We actually feel very upbeat with him.
Sometimes that’s all you need is someone familiar to brighten a run. Andrew ran ahead of us several times and snapped pictures of us.
The main thing is he kept us talking and in good spirits the whole lap. The next part of the lap is uneventful as our bodies have memorized the course. The water drop has water only, but at least it has water. We make it through Wallbreak hill and the rest of the hilly section then to the road to Mordor. That stop sign is a welcome sight at the end of the trail until 20ft later you realize you hate that freaking road. We make it to the aid station and refuel. We take our time again. “That lap was the hottest. Y’all won’t have any more hot laps like that,” Alec tells us as we both get something cold put around our necks and I play with the calf stretcher thingy. After leaving we get back in our line once on the trail of Me, Sara, and then Andrew. Andrew keeps us positive all the way. We make it around the fort and show off our favorite part of the course. As we get close to the parking lot to the pier Andrew parts ways with us and we were so thankful for the company that lap. On the pier it is more of the same raging inferno we’ve come to expect. During the pier we see a lady who just looks pissed off. We talk about it and find out later that she was trying to cut the course and had to run the pier 4 times to finish. Good for the RD making her do this and being nice to allow her to finish. The pier is a very (can I underline that enough?) fitting punishment. After the pier we went for our mandatory pee break and I started to check us in at the aid station. Sara comes out the port-a-let and says, “I’m peeing blood.”
“You been drinking?”
“Um yeah. I think its Tailwind. Never had this with Gatorade.”
“I’d definitely stop drinking it just to be sure.”
We talk to Robert Harem about the peeing red thing and she feels fine, but she is peeing red. We decide to get going again. We walk and talk to Harem back to the trail since he’s going to the youth camp to get something for the RD. He snaps a couple pictures and tells us we look great.
So thankful for these guys – every little thing was welcomed and helped a lot. We part ways with Harem as we enter the trail again. I feel surprisingly well this lap as it has cooled off and we just get it done. Run to a hill, powerwalk to the top, ease down and use the momentum to get farther up the next one – then repeat over & over. We scare a deer and I’m starting to think it’s the same one because we’ve run up on one several times now in the same area. We also run up on an armadillo which was cool. Right before the small road section on a nice downhill I toe a root and completely flip in the air landing on my shoulder blades, but with momentum rolled and was still moving. I’m laughing, amazed I’m not hurt.
“Omg, you okay?”
“Surprisingly yes! Did you see that?”
“Yes! I’m amazed at your skills I tell ya!”
We both laugh and make it to the turnaround uneventful. Back on the trail we go through the motions almost on instinct alone. We don’t talk much just have settled in and we are about to get a pacer after this lap……..this is comforting to me at least. We make it to the road of Mordor and hate it the whole way. As we come in to the aid station we are cheered by our crews. We refuel and are off pretty fast. Sara tells everyone about the pee situation and says, “TailWind can kiss my butt and you can put that in your blog!” Everyone laughs and hey it’s in there! Lara offers to have our headlamps at the Start/Finish line where she will pace us. We both are feeling pretty good and just plow through the hills. The air in the trail isn’t stagnant anymore now which is nice and cooling. There’s a nice breeze as we round the beach at Fort Clinch. Back on the fun part we just have fun. We both feel okay all thing’s considering and we are over half way to 100 miles. I think the excitement of Lara waiting to pace us helped. We make it to the end of the trail and out to the pier before sunset – it still sucks though. We make it back down the pier and to the finish where Lara hands us our headlamps. It’s still not dark enough yet for them, but we get Lara too. I eat me some more pancakes. Love those things.
As we leave we walk a little and chat. Sara and I take it easy on the road, but when we hit the trail it’s all business then. We just plow through and keep going. Eventually headlamps are turned on right at the turnaround. For a while I’ve been worried about the color of my pee and have been drinking more water to fight it – needless to say at the turnaround I had to go. With my headlamp on all the bugs seemed to just want to fly in my eye, so I was wanting to get to the youth camp wear I had a pair of clear safety glasses in my bag. We decided also this would be a great time to change clothes, one because it was getting chilly in a singlet and two because I had to go. 60+ mile pit stop – my body threw me for a loop this race. Usually I got to go about the 25k mark. While running the section before the youth camp aka the hard part Lara said, “You guys don’t need a pacer! My shin splint is acting up on this course so at the Aid Station I’m going to get Alec to go with y’all.” Her saying this made me feel good at the time. Any confidence boost was needed now. To Lara’s credit she just ran a 3:19 at Boston a few days before. Also that word shin splint rang in my head.
“I think I got a shin splint too. Should I wear a compression sleeve?”
“If you want to or it helps then yeah,” Lara says back to me. We make it to the road and describe our hate for it to Lara. She laughs and gets a kick out of it. We make it to the Aid station where Alec grabs my bag and we go in the restroom for me to change. He helps me out of my shoes and I use the bath room, lube up, and change clothes. I eat me something while waiting for Sara and actually remember the clear glasses to wear. I did forget the compression sleeves though. Sara announces that her pee is normal again and I’m glad to hear it. Mine has also changed to the proper color must have been the extra water. From here on the shin splint hurt and I totally forgot about my knee – well almost. Once we were back at it we walked the road to the trail. At night with a headlamp you see insect eyes everywhere. I mean everywhere. Probably spiders. Don’t tell Sara! Back on the trail I’m still feeling good and we start to go with Alec behind me and Sara behind him. I look back some if I don’t hear her and notice she has stopped. We make sure she’s okay and get under way again, but she falls back. I start to worry about her. I start wondering what I should do now. Made it this far with her.
“Go on and leave me. I’m holding you back.”
“I am not leaving you in the middle of these woods in the dark. Let’s walk a little.”
“I can’t run. My toes feel like they’re going to explode and I miss my babies. Why am I out here instead of home with them?”
“To show them that they can do anything, no matter how hard if they put their minds to it. That’s what you’re doing.”
She apologizes, but doesn’t need to – I understand. In long distance races everyone reaches the point where you got to decide what you’re doing it for and then if you’re going to keep doing it. I guess you could say it’s where the race begins. We walk for a bit and eventually I talk her into running 2 minutes and walk 2. You can hear her suffering through them and I’m not much better. We make it to the beach and Sara is crying asking for Alec to call home. My first instinct is no because I’m afraid she will quit, but she talks on the phone to her family as we walk the beach. After she hangs up she still is emotional, but seems a bit better. We make it to the trail and start the run/walks again. Sara starts to talk again and I’m glad. Whatever she had to get through she did. No one can get you through it but you. Anyways we agonize through the trail and make it to the road. My shin is killing me and my low point looms closer and I know it’s coming. If Delirium was any indication then about halfway through this next lap I’ll hit it. Walking the road now like a zombie. I limp with my left and then my right knee reminds me of my right. I’m a mess. We make it through the pier with run/walks. At the aid station I get pancakes, coke, and refill.
Walking out on our 7th lap. “Two more hard ones after this one and then an easy one.” I tell myself somewhere around the turn Sara has perked right up and talked me into power walking the rest. I’m not sure about this, but everything hurts too, so I’m open. Screw it – let’s power walk this bitch. So we walk like we know what we’re doing. Sara is much faster than me, but Sara is much faster than me at everything! Going through the trail is welcome because it’s soft on my feet which are hurting now. We march through the eerie woods and scare that deer again. Me and Alec also try to not mention the millions of spiders we see every time Sara mentions she doesn’t see any. I even try to point some out to her off the trail but change my mind. She’s in a good mood, so let’s keep it that way. Not a lot happens the rest of this lap. It’s a blur actually. I hit my low point in the same section as Sara last lap. I just can’t keep up with her, my shin hurts, my knee hurts, my headlamp is going dead and I don’t know why I’m doing this to myself anymore. Sara is going to win first female. If I was getting that buckle I’d be like her too. “But you’ll still get an awesome buckle,” Alec says back. Wait – what? I said that out loud? Crap I’m losing it. Alec knocks down every negative thing I say with a positive and I’m thankful for him. When I hit my low I spew negative till I work through it – that’s just my way. Alec stayed by me and kept me focused while I worked through it. I mumbled to myself and thought (out loud probably) about why I’m doing it. What makes me want to do this to myself? I just want to sit down and eat pizza. Where is the damn pizza anyway? I blindly followed or was pulled by Sara through that lap. We made it to the pier and then the start/finish.
So here we are on Lap 8. The pounding of the pavement now even at a walk is excruciating. My left shin has pulled a mutiny on my body and my right knee is singing the same tune, “Stop this – now!” My headlamp is dim and I struggle to stay at Sara’s power walking pace. Sara and Alec talk in front of me and slowly begin to fade into the darkness as we march ever closer to the trail head. “Why am I doing this?” I ask myself this a lot today and I’m still not sure of the answer completely. I thought I had it, but I lost it. Where did it go?
“Oh look there is Mars!”
“What?” Alec thinks I’m hallucinating now that I think about it.
“Oh it is Mars!” Sara says to him pointing.
Alec laughs probably relived I’m not completely crazy yet. As I limp on that road looking at Mars I begin to cry. Maybe it’s just everything coming on me at once or the pain. No that’s not it. Mars makes me think of Trustin and Faith. That’s what I’m doing. I’m going to show them I can do this….that they can do whatever they put their minds to. It might be painful and it might be hard, but I’m not quitting. We sit down when it’s done, so quit whining and move. Right there I break through. We press on and I stay behind but do my best to keep up. The rest of this lap fades by as I try to stay with Alec and Sara. Them talking is comforting and takes my mind off everything. At the turnaround we saw Elijah and Robert. Elijah wasn’t feeling well and we asked if he wanted to walk with us. We ended up getting away from him though. He had a hell of a pacer with Harem. Proud of that kid. We make it to the camp Aid station and I walk up to the aid station like a zombie. I’m hungry and need something solid.
“Do y’all have pizza?”
“No. Would you like a gel, fruit, or some chicken broth?”
“Yes chicken broth sounds great!”
Bruce walks up and says, “You want a hamburger?”
“Yes!! I’d love one.”
“Okay let me get a bu…” Before he could pick up the pack of buns I had the hamburger patty in my mouth. “Oh my god. Thank you. This is the best burger ever.”
They all laugh as I walk back to the Low Country Ultras tents. I tell everyone how delicious the burger is and off we go again. Lara joins us this time as well. They take turns talking to me and keeping me upbeat. I’m in a lot of pain and this is the part of the race where emotions come and go like aftershocks from an earthquake. I don’t remember much this lap, but I remember that at the pier I would run ahead of Sara and then walk. She was so fast that she would catch up, but in my mind it gave me a little break. The waves crashed under the pier and one time scared Alec – that was funny. Lara and Alec decide that the last lap Alec will do with us and then Lara will do lap 10 with us.
Lap 9. The last hard lap I tell myself because the next lap is shorter. In the woods a big thing jumped out a tree and then the other thing started fighting it. Couldn’t see it. Don’t know what it was. Didn’t run because I couldn’t. I would have let it eat me as long as I could lie down in its mouth at that point! Other than that we pressed on. I was on autopilot and it’s all fuzzy to me. The excitement of almost being on the last lap kept me going. While we were in the woods you would hear someone on the road sometimes and one time we hear out of the blackness, “Y’all are doing awesome!” It was Robert cheering us on from the road, how he knew we were in there I don’t know. We made it to the camp and back out. We will not have to run this section again, so say goodbye we did. Okay goodbye translates to, “Fuck you trail!!”We make it to the Fort and say a nice goodbye to it. It was good to us with its cool breeze and soft sand all day. Back on the fun part of the trail I wasn’t a fan this time. Marching on that road back to the pier knowing we were not going to see those sections again was a relief. The pier was still hard and unwelcoming, but at least it wasn’t hot. We make it to the start/finish.
Lap 10. Marching to the trail knowing we were 8 miles from the end wasn’t much comfort anymore. We did find out 2nd female was almost 20 miles back because the other chick quit in the 80s. This was a relief and we did take it a bit easier. 8 miles seemed like 1000 at this point, but we marched on and we told each section goodbye (The fuck you trail kind.) as we finished it. Going through that last section before the camp is just brutal. It goes on forever with hills. The stop sign for the road was such a welcome sight, but then we have the road again. We hobble down the road into the aid station for the last time. Lara joins us as Alec drives to the finish.
“Come on guys – you got this. You never have to be on this road again.” Lara would tell us. Walking past the signs pointing to the trail and going straight felt good. We marched on. 3 miles to go.
“Bren, Lara did it at Epic with me – will you finish with me holding hands?”
“Y’all are going to Waz it in after the pier right?”
“Yes,” we both say. We walk the long road to the pier and as we make it on the pier I cry and say, “I love you guys.” The whole 3 miles Sara and I took turns being emotional as the gravity of what is happening weighed on us. “When does this pier end?” Sara would ask.
“Not much longer – you got this. You don’t ever have to be on this pier again.” We are really thankful for the Zoellers. They are the best. We get to see a beautiful sunrise and turnaround on the pier. Shortly after we see Karen pacing Bo. They run to the end and catch up to us so they can see us finish. “We just want to see you guys finish.” I’m thankful for such amazing friends. As we got to the end of the pier we gave our bottles to Lara. We took hands and ran it in 24:32:31/35. Sara got 5th overall & first female and I got 6th overall and 5th male.
Was an amazing day for me and my friends. I would like to thank everyone that helped me along the way. I’m not going to mention names this time, if you did anything – thank you. I would like to thank Caleb Wilson for putting on a very tough and challenging race. All the volunteers were fantastic at this race and I can’t thank them enough. The people out that day were just something to witness. I would like to thank the Savannah Striders and the Savannah running community for their support in my craziness. ZEM has supported me when I wasn’t much and I’m very grateful for them and their shoes that allow me to run these distances. Last but not least thank you for reading. Next up is the Great Savannah Endurance Challenge 24hr benefiting challenged Athletes Foundation –come run it with me and a group of amazing people. You won’t be sorry! 🙂