The changeover from 4:59 a.m. to 5:00 triggered the blasting horns from The Rocky Theme Song on my Alexa. I flung myself from the bed, scrambling to silence it, as my bloodstream filled with cortisol and adrenaline. Last night, I set Alexa’s volume way too loud, and I treaded the boundary between motivational morning tactics and waking up our nine-month-old daughter. As I killed the alarm on the Echo dot, my phone screamed in the kitchen. I stumbled down the hallway, sidestepping a hundred free-range Legos who somehow escaped our children’s toy round-up from last night’s “clean up, clean up” song and dance.
After tip-toeing down the corridor like Indiana Jones, I reached for my phone. The front screen reads:
September 19, 2020
The Georgia Jewel 35 Miler
I dismissed my wake-up call, turned on the flashlight, and illuminated a safer passage through the plastic minefield.
After brushing my teeth, showering, deodorizing, and… ahem… dropping the kids off at the pool, I stepped onto my bathroom scale. I stepped off and shifted the edges of the scale away from the bathtub and wall and tried again. Still not right, I examined the legs for a wobble, but it’s sat flush upon all four feet. I weighed one more time to confirm the reading. No bueno.
That memory now haunts my mind’s eye on repeat as I climb the first mountain past the halfway point. I’ve travelled halfway to the top. Less than a mile away from my family; only 800 meters from what would have been one of the most disappointing moments of my life.
I stick my hydration pack’s straw into my mouth and draw cold water from the sack. I take a few more large drags before clipping the tube back onto my chest strap.
For the past two days, at my job, my supervisor pulled me to assist one of our extrusion lines. And though the temperatures outside were mild during the week leading up to and during the race, our plastics extruders can reach over 450 degrees Fahrenheit. I normally work in a laboratory setting, and though I do frequently work in the ambient heat of the warehouse, the temps don’t compare to the sweat storm that I endured on the Thursday and Friday preceding the Georgia Jewel.
This morning, when I weighed myself in the bathroom, I was 5 1/2 pounds under my normal weight of 230lbs. So, I started this ultra-marathon dehydrated.
Seven miles passed before the next aid station. During that time, I met back up with one runner who witnessed my near downfall on the journey to the midway point. She still traversed with her unwavering forward progress. She and I took turns during 2/3rds of the race as DFL (what the ultra-running community refers to as Dead F’ing Last) for the 37.5 miler.
When I had originally mentioned not hitting the cut-off time, she said, “I don’t care if they take my bib at the aid station. I’ll go on without it. I’m getting this thing done. I HAVE to get this done!” I would rely on this mantra to get through many of the harder moments over the next six hours.
When I reach the aid station at mile 25, I’m feeling like a new person. I had passed time during the last mile speaking to a man from Virgina; he was doing the 50 miler, and his energy and steady hiking pace helped pull me from the darker regions of mid-race depression.
The aid station, in the middle of the forest, on a jeep service road, is a wonderful oasis. They set me up with all kinds of vegan candy, a hummus tortilla, and lots of soda. I also remember to fill up my hydration pack before I leave. As I head out of the station, I almost forget my trekking poles. The same neon green aluminum hiking sticks that, unfortunately, in less than two miles, would play a leading role in one of the most disappointing decisions of my adult life.