Once the light of day had arrived, I felt like the race had really begun. The miles began to pass by a little more quickly, although not as quickly as I would have liked. Now that I could see, I would glance at my watch when it told me I had completed another mile, and my pace was around a 13 or 14 minute pace. I thought I should have been running faster than that, but the trails were way more technical than I had imagined and the hills were unending. I began to get annoyed with this. There was no way to get into a rhythm of any sort because every time I started to, I hit a rocky section or a steep hill. I have heard from other ultra runners that hills are not worth running because they burn up your energy too quickly, and so I walked many of them.
Eventually, however, I got tired of stopping to walk and I started to run up the shorter ones. Up, down, up down, rocks, roots, up, down.
And then the 50k runners began to catch up to me. They had started their race 2 hours after the 50 mile, and when I reached mile 20, they were on mile 14. Many were very polite about passing, but I could tell some just wanted me out of their way. I usually obliged, but this too interfered with any sort of rhythm or cadence to my running. I became more aggravated with each stop.
At one point a man ran up behind me and commented on the breeze that was passing through. I agreed with him about how good it felt, and as we talked I realized how nice it was to have company. I asked if he needed to get by and he said not yet, that hills gave him trouble (we were running up one as we talked). Before I could respond I tripped and fell hard on my left hip. Just as before, I hopped up quickly and kept running. I was embarrassed once again, but the man said it happens to everyone and that it really hurts. I rubbed my hip as I agreed. It had really hurt.
Much to my dismay, he did eventually pass me. I continued running, singing my mantra in my mind and trying to convince myself I was not in over my head. Not only was my hip still aching from the fall, the pain had moved down to my knee and it was getting harder to bend it. I knew this was not a good place to be at mile 22, and I was worried.
Things took an instant turn for the better when I reached the aid station at mile 23 and saw the face of Jason Reneau. He too had started the race, but only to get in a good run and then cheer for me. I signed him up when I signed up, but he had been taking some time off and had no intention of running more than around 15 to 20 miles. So he thought.
He asked me how I was and I said okay. He told me he was finished running, and I looked at him, eyes wide and pleading and said, "Can you go with me?" Without hesitation he said yes, told the aid station workers he would be running on with me, refilled his water bottle and off we went.
It was so good to see him, that I talked his ear off for the first few miles. I told him of every fall and how I felt. By this point I was hurting very badly and I was getting discouraged. I did not understand why it was so hard. The Dizzy Fifties 40 mile had not been anything like this, and I had trained much harder for this race.
This section of the race was probably the most beautiful. We crossed several creeks multiple times and it looked like we were in some foreign jungle instead of the mountains of Georgia. The rushing water, the rock formations, the lush ferns all around - I tried to focus solely on the beauty and not on the pain, but it was getting harder to ignore.
I did not see how I could do 25 more miles feeling like I did, and I knew I was going to have to drop. When this realization hit me, disappointment came like a rush and as hard as I tried not to, I began to cry. Now, crying and running do not go together because doing the two at the same time make it hard to breathe. I started to make all sorts of strange snorts and sniffs as I tried to hold it in, and Jason, who was running behind me figured it out.
"Babe, don't cry." he said so sweetly it only made things worse. I had worked so hard. I had trained and planned and pushed when I was exhausted. The early mornings, the hills, the heat, the long runs, the excitement. And all for what, 28 miles and a DNF? I could not believe I had worked so hard for nothing. I tried to get myself together before I got to the aid station. I did not want to blubber like a silly girl when I told them I was finished.
As despair and doubt wrapped themselves around me, I looked up to see a familiar gray head sticking out of the trees in front of me. Surely that couldn't be...it was! It was my mom! She began cheering and when I reached her, she already knew the state of things. She put her arm around me and asked how I was. "Not so good," I said.
Jason and I had reached Aid Station # 5 at mile 28 and I had a gear bag waiting on me, along with my wonderful parents who had shown up to surprise me. As I stood there planning to quit, trying not to cry, Jason looked at me and said with his voice shaking just a little that he could not let me quit.
"We won't make the cutoff now," I said.
"So we will run until they tell us to stop." he replied.
He then wasted no time. He fished out the clean socks and tank top from my gear bag and handed them to me. Mom handed me my honey stinger bar squares and some ibuprofen. I ate while she pinned my number on my clean shirt and Jason changed his socks. Jason refilled our water bottles as I hugged my parents and off we went. As we started running I asked Jason how he felt. He said it did not matter, this was about me.
I know for a fact I would not have finished the race that day without the love and support of my husband, my mom, and my dad during that pivotal moment. At my lowest, they were there and they knew exactly what to do. This was a turning point in the race that changed the outcome, and I am at a loss for words to express how much it meant to me. The love of these people helped me shake off my weariness and doubt, and run the race I came to run that day.
It was going to get a bit worse before it got better, but I did not know that. All I knew was that I was loved by some incredible people, and somehow that gave me the strength to keep running.