Arrived in World’s End State Park around 7pm, after totally losing cell service at 6:45.
Hills that looked like walls towered over both sides of the road, leaving just a sliver of sky above.
Surrounded by rocks, trees, cliffs and rushing water, it was beautiful, and terrifying all the same.
Check-in (and the start line) were located at the very bottom of WESP, at a tiny cabin perpetually in the shade.
Kevin & I grabbed bibs, some coffee, and awaited the “safety” meeting from the RD.
The speech was mainly directed at the 100k’ers who would be racing in the dark, we were noted as those doing the “fun run”, told about course marketings, bears, and rattle snakes, and that was sort of it.
Didn’t calm the nerves one bit.
We drove out of the park, and got a bit lost thanks to the 0 cell service, but eventually made it to our “hotel”. A main home with 3 attached cabins about 300sqft, max.
We dumped out all our gear, nutrition, and hydration out on the bed, and packed our packs.
Laid out our clothes.
Ate about 5lbs of sushi, and went to bed.
With a 5am alarm set, sleep would be short, and restless – but at least there would be sleep.
Alarms went off at 5:00am and 5:05am. By the time our feet hit the floor, the 100k racers had already started while we fumbled for coffee and a shower.
I texted my wife that I loved her and I’d be able to call her in about 12 hours when we got service again.
We got in the car and drove back to the end of the world.
No service, and just a hint of sunshine greeted us at 5:45 upon arrival.
We mosied around for a while before finally throwing our packs on and heading to the start line. Waiting there, we got a few last minute instructions on our first few turns, but nothing super helpful.
The countdown was slow, and at the gun, we started our watches, and began to jog.
We started ‘fast’, around a 9 minute mile (both of us coming off of sub 3 hour marathons 6 weeks earlier, so it felt slow as hell, but ‘smart’).
Flat for the first half mile on a road, over a bridge, past some cabins, and then the left.
The left took us up. Straight up.
We jogged for a bit, then hiked, and eventually began to climb.
Hand over hand, scrambling up a rock wall full of moss, boulders and trees for stability.
Our 9 minute mile became 25 minutes quickly as we crawled up a mountain.
At the top, made a U-turn over a makeshift rock bridge, and had a gravel path straight down (which was almost harder than the up).
This climb was already tough, but just a warm up – the next several miles were all a big climb up to the first aid station at High Rock.
We didn’t need much here, so we grabbed a snack, and moved on.
This was a pretty uneventful section. Some rolling hills, a climb and a drop or two, but fun, fast, and smooth trails.
We hopped over trees, slipped in mud, and joked most of the way.
A soft lull into what we thought the rest of the race might be like.
This is where things got “fun”.
After a long, long descent, Kevin & I were greeted with a significant climb reducing us to a slow walk.
On that walk, roughly mile 12, Kevin told me he’d hurt his achilles. Unsure how bad, he was ok climbing, but not great flat or descending. He was going to aim for the 15 mile aid station and determine if he was going to drop.
At almost the same time, after the big climb, I started experiencing severe quad spasms.
Yay, not even half way there and we’re both dying.
We walked, I chugged hydration and chewed on salt tabs. Eventually my cramps went away, and we kept jogging.
When we got to the Devil’s Garden, we realized it wasn’t a ‘drop-able’ aid station. Kevin had to make it to the aid station by the start at Worlds End, 4 miles away.
This was a slow trek.
I fought off cramps and spasms, Kevin limped through his achilles. But we made our way at about a 17 minute pace.
No major climbs, mostly descent back to the bottom of WESP (some very steep), but one foot in front of the other we made it to our bag drop and the end of the “warm up miles” as the RD had called them.
Here was when things changed.
Kevin dropped out, gave me his gear, and said (a little more than) good luck.
I was on my own for the last, and hardest, 12 miles of the 50k course.
The RD’s wife helped me get loaded up on food, water, and ice.
I waved goodbye to Kevin and the last thing I heard from the aid station when I walked away was “enjoy the climb”.
And up I went
“Enjoy the climb”. Ha.
3 miles of the straightest straight up that’s ever been straight up.
There was no run-able section here. All walking, all hiking, all crawling. This section averaged 24 minutes per mile. Over an hour to move 3 miles.
I’d heard “once you get to Canyon Vista, it’s all flat from there” – didn’t believe that either.
During the climb we crossed over creeks, waterfalls, up mountain sides, and had to use trees like ladders to make our way to the top.
But at least we were rewarded, with a view unlike any other.
The Canyon Vista was beautiful. So panoramic that the scenery seemed to move like a movie standing still.
There was fresher air up here, but there was also something else. Something else that would make the next 10 miles almost impossible.
The temperature had risen almost 35 degrees to 90 and humid since our cool start at 7am, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky to tone it down.
It was officially “on”.
Only 5.5 miles, but some of the longest and loneliest miles I’ve ever had.
To an extent, the climb to the canyon vista was ‘fun’. It was scenic and the payoff was very cool.
These 5.5 miles? Not so much.
Bland, uninteresting. Full of climbs, rocks, mud, and sections that even if you were feeling good generally weren’t run-able.
This is where negativity crept in.
“What am I doing?”, “Should I have stopped?”, “Did I stop sweating or is it evaporating?”, “Do I have enough water?”, “What if the spasms come back?”.
You hear about the “lows” that ultra runners push through, and I was ready to be dejected at a point or two, but damn.
These were real, crushing, and significant emotions of doubt, despair, and even though I wasn’t “feeling” that bad – it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other, because there really was no alternative.
“Forward is progress”, is written on the RoadID badge on my watch. That’s all I had in that moment. The endless woods in front of me, and a phrase yelled by a drunk person at Ironman Maryland 3 years prior written on my watch.
But here I was, moving forward.
In the latter half of these miles, when we weren’t climbing, I had to play a game with myself to keep going.
Walk .08 miles, run .1 miles. Then walk .06, run .1, then walk .04, run .1, etc. until we were jogging again.
Spasms in the quads came and went. I walked, ran, climbed and slipped around.
The entire race for me was these 5.5 miles.
I knew at the next aid station I was almost to the finish, and adrenaline would carry me, but these miles barely seemed to tick off.
.01 at a time…
.01 at a time.
The last 3.7 miles were a strong mix of emotions.
Coal Mine at 27.7 was also the turning point for the 100k.
2 hours before me, people who had moved along the same 27.7 miles I had, made a left to do another 31 mile loop before returning past this station to head to the finish.
I was equally envious of their ability and journey, and excited I wasn’t them.
But knowing I had 3.7 miles, and not 34.7 left, gave me a burst of energy.
I took off out of coal mine at an 8 minute clip.
All on a gravel service road for about 3 miles, I was moving.
Flat and fast, finally hydrated again, and stomach felt good, I started doing the math in my head.
I’ll be done in 25 minutes! Just keep going!
But I’d forgotten 1 thing.
The .7 mile descent down to the finish.
By down, I mean straight down.
Reduced to a careful, slip-avoiding march, the last .7 miles took what felt like hours.
Blister pain became real, quads refused to work, and the heat crept back in.
One more obstacle to overcome.
The last few tenths of a mile were a blur.
Flat, lots of turns around parking lots & people.
Running through the same parking lot I came into 8 hours earlier on my way to the timing mat.
This wasn’t like Ironman though.
There wasn’t a huge crowd. It wasn’t dark. There was no big scream at the finish. No theatrics.
Just one big exhale as I ran across the line.
I did it.
“It” didn’t equal overcoming the race. Nor the 31.4 miles.
It was overcoming all the plans that went to shit.
The injured friend. The last 12 miles solo. The unwelcome negativity. The doubt. The negative self-talk.
It was overcoming all the things my brain tried to tell me made it too hard, too long, too hot, too difficult.
It was overcoming myself.
But that’s the point afterall, isn’t it?
The race is over, now 4 days past.
My legs feel good again, and I even managed to keep some toenails (though for how long, who knows).
So what now?
Probably some time off intense training. Maybe Boston in April if my application is accepted, but likely nothing crazy before then.
What about ultras?
This was fun, lots of fun (now that it’s over), so there will be more. But it’s a balance.
Training vs family, one activity for another. You can’t do it all.
But IF I were going to continue with ultras, they’d be targeted. They’d be qualifiers, they’d be meaningful.
This was a black toe dip in the water of things to come.
So who knows, maybe I’ll make my way back to the end of the world.
Maybe this time I’ll make that left turn at Coal Mine.
Maybe this time I’ll put my name on the growing list for that little jog out west.
Maybe, just maybe this forward progress isn’t done moving forward.