At the start of the race, I didn’t know how to feel. I thought I’d be listening to soul-crushing music and getting in “the zone”. I envisioned an extensive stretching routine, a couple Rocky air-boxing rounds, and lots of puking. But I felt nothing. I was nervous, sure. But I had no motivation. Just fear. Afraid of the unknown, I was sandwiched between the enormous distance and my lack of solid training (my training had left me injured every other month, and I hadn’t ran but three miles in the last four weeks).
When I reached the parking lot, runners were doing their warm-up thing all over the place: stretching, jogging, a lady puking in the bushes. I got out of my car and spent what should have been my warm-up time making sure I had everything loaded in my hydration pack. As I shoved the last item, my headlamp, into the sack, the race director, Jenny Baker, called us all to the starting line for announcements. When I reached the staging area, I had to pee. When I opened the porta-potty door, a heavy aroma of nervous poops and pre-race vomit lathered my body and the inside of my nostrils. I gagged. Hard.
As I exited The John, its door creaked a long sigh and slammed behind me, interrupting Jenny’s pre-race prayer. After we finished begging God for mercy, concerning our terrible decisions (dang you UltraSignUp.com), I met someone that graduated from the same high school that I did. Her energy was a ten! I tried to channel some of her morning mojo. It helped a little. Or it at least distracted me from the anguish of having yet completed zero miles of a 37.5 mile race.
A few moments later, Jenny called my group forward, and I stood at the starting line.
I hadn’t stretched or warmed-up.
And we were off.
The first three miles were brutal. A quick run to the bottom of the mountain, and then a 5k’s worth of steep climbing. By the end of mile four, I was breathless, on top of the mountain, and in last place.
I had previously trained going the opposite direction on the Pinhoti and knew the next three miles would be slightly downhill. I tightened my Nathan hydration pack to my chest and ran. I caught up to some other racers.
Whenever the steeper downhills came, I leaned forward and let gravity take me down them. This naturally allowed me to pass some runners who were more skittish on the steeper, more technical downhills. I was in no means trying to win, but my ego got the best of me. But I was burning too much power by trying to keep myself out of last place. I knew it, but just couldn’t control my competitive spirit.
Around mile seven, I bounded down a long, steep descent. Suddenly, the terrain changed, and I was ascending back up another mountain;. My heart-raced; I lost control of my breath (I thought I was hyperventilating); and my muscles tightened into Quickcrete. A few of the runners behind me gained their ground and overtook me during this dramatic episode.
I eventually reached the top (it only took stopping every couple dozen of feet and trying not to hurl). After a few minutes of controlled walking, I found my stride and shuffled down the trail.
By this time, the faster runners from the shorter race, a 23-miler, started passing me (they had started an hour after us). Their energy was contagious. I ran behind one of the larger, muscular men downhill for like half a mile. But I blew up again when a long, steep uphill stretch appeared. Another runner in my race passed me while I keeled over, grasping my trekking poles, desperately holding on to my breakfast.
Eventually, I made it to the mile 11 aid station. I loaded up on junk food, Coke-a-Cola, and some energy gels. But in my frenzy of chugging down the Coke, I forgot to fill up my hydration bladder. I grabbed my trekking poles and took off down the trail. The next aid station was seven miles away and marked the mid-point of the race.
The first section after the aid station was downhill, I jogged as much as I could, but the ability faded.
It had been four hours since the start and I needed to pee. I knew the faster runners in my race would start meeting me on their return voyage soon. I had to urinate before they got too close to my position. I stepped off the trail, turned off the music on my headphones, and listened to the forest. I didn’t hear any steps, but I could hear the voices of a running group that I had passed hours before. They sounded far enough away, so I turned from their direction and did my business.
My pee resembled the color of sweet tea from a Mexican restaurant. I then remembered that I hadn’t refilled my hydration bag. I reached back and gave it a squeeze. There was maybe two-thirds of a liter left, and I still had a long three-mile climb and two miles of ridge running and descent ahead of me.
The clearer voices of my rivals startled me, and I scampered farther down the trail. But as another mountain lifted the ground beneath me, my pace crawled, my heart raced, and the group behind me became the group ahead of me. They asked if I was alright; I told them I was dehydrated or something. They offered me salt pills, but I remembered that I hadn’t been taking my hydration tablets. I mixed up a tablet in a bottle with some water I had left. It’s salt burned into my tongue. Not a good sign.
Two miles later, after my pace slowed to a halt. Despaired, dehydrated, and destroyed, I called my wife.