“Let me get this race-bib off, and I’ll see you guys in the car.” I tell my family as they stand behind the runner’s chute at the midpoint of the race.
They don’t budge.
I’m getting irritated. I don’t want to prolong this embarrassment any longer. I had come to terms with my failure miles ago; and now, I just want a Powerade, and to use our minivan’s a/c to cool the anguish off my dirty face.
“Guess what?” my wife asks.
I’m afraid of what she’s going to say. Honestly, I’ve been hearing rumors from the other runners I had encountered while descending the mountain. They mentioned some things that could seriously violate my plans of blaming my defeat on being too slow.
I look down and start taking off the safety pins holding my bib on. “What?” I ask.
“They said you guys can keep going. They’re not enforcing the cut-offs because they have to wait for the 50 and 100 milers to finish too.”
I throw my body over the tops of my green Foxelli trekking poles and sigh at the ground.
“You can do it, Dad.” My fifteen-year-old says.
“Yeah. You got this.” Our twelve-year-old throws in.
“Daddy, can I have some gum?” asks our six-year-old. My wife pulls him back under the yellow runner chute ropes. “What!? Daddy said I could get some chewing gum when he was done with his race!”
Still bending over my poles. I’m afraid to look at my family. They’re too inspiring.
I peek up at my baby though. She looks unimpressed with my newfound fragility. I know what shes thinking, “You’ve been training my entire life for this. Don’t stop now, Da-Da!”
My wife catches my glance. “You’ve so got this.” She whispers.
At this point in the race, I’ve covered 18 of the most grueling miles my body has ever traversed. If you consider the intense elevation gain and milage together, this has been the hardest run of my life. Now, they expected me to turn around and do it again. Ugh.
I look up, blinded by their naïve enthusiasm, “LeeAnn, I don’t have another 18 miles in me.”
My pitiful confession inflicts its damage. They all lose a bit of their glee. I can see the light at the end of my nightmare. But then, my vocal chords go rouge.
“Let me chug some water and eat something. Then I’ll figure out if I can keep going.”
I turn around, walk over to the aid table, and moments later, I’m throwing back cold water, Coke, and ginger ale.
I then limp back to my “crew”. I assume my, now normal, position across my trekking pole’s handles, and think of a reason why I shouldn’t go.
They hold their breath, either from the reek of the nearby outdoor toilets, the B.O. from passerby ultra-runners, or in anticipation for my decision, I’m not sure.
I don’t know what it was; the Coca-Cola high-fructose corn syrup hitting my bloodstream; the cold water soothing my war-torn kidneys; or the Katy Perry song blaring behind me; but something happens.
My wife encourages me, “If you go four more miles and still quit, then at least you went four more miles.”
I think on that for a moment. It’s clever, but wrong. I would go four miles into the forest, quit, and then would have to walk four miles back; thus forcing me to drag my butt eight total miles to prevent going 18. She knows how much I hate backtracking.
“Ok, I’ll keep going.”
My wife leans in for a kiss.
My older boys come over for a hug.
And my six-year-old hits me up for some gum.
I turn to face the mountain. Ahead of me lies the hands-down, hardest day of my life. I hike back onto the trail, and just like that, my race resumes.
I make it one hundred feet before my cardio and calf muscles force me to stop. My kids can still see me though; so I pretend that I’m stuffing food into my bag, but really, I’m dying. I wave at my family through the trees. It’ll be seven hours and a lifetime before I see them again. That’s when the real tears flow.