Wednesday, October 20, 2010
My First Fifty, Part III or I Could Be a Stunt Double
Jason and I ran on. We were both tired, and I knew he was suffering, but he would not talk about it. Instead we talked about Chance being a good trail dog. We talked about road running versus trail running. We talked about all kinds of non-running related topics, and I enjoyed the quiet conversation as we ran through the woods together. At one beautiful spot I said, "We should come here sometime to see this."
"We are here now seeing this," he replied sensibly.
"I know, but I'd like to come just to see this," I said. We had seen several families and hikers enjoying the woods, creeks, waterfalls and beautiful weather. I will confess, I spent many a weary moment wishing to trade places with them.
We were running along a nice, smooth bit of trail when it happened. I was chatting away, enjoying the rhythm of simply running and feeling better when I tripped on something (a small stump Jason later told me) and went flying. I landed on both knees, but my right knee took the brunt of the fall as I slid until I slammed my left shoulder into the trunk of a tree. I uttered one loud "UH!" when I hit the ground, and when I came to a stop I was sure my knee had shattered into a million pieces.
A girl we had just passed asked if she should tell someone at the next aid station. I nodded yes, but then shook my head no as Jason said we would be able to make it. I sat up, holding my knee with my eyes squeezed shut as I tried to breathe. Eventually I straightened it out. Then I stood up. It wasn't shattered into a million pieces after all. As I held on to the tree trying to shake it off, I looked at Jason and said, "Just call me Grace," and then I started to walk.
Both knees were bloody, and my shoulder was throbbing, but I was able to start running again.
"Obviously I cannot talk and run trails," I said to Jason once we were moving.
"Well, just be careful," he replied. I usually respond to that statement by telling him my middle name is "Careful" but I'd just proven that to be incorrect. We joked about the great sound effect I made and how it sounded like something from the movies. I was relieved that my knee was in one piece and it would live to run another day.
We reached the next aid station at mile 32, and I sampled just about everything there was to eat as Jason quickly refilled our water bottles. As we ran, I made a decision. The next aid station would be mile 37.5 and if they did not cut me, I was going to keep running. The exhausted, throbbing, bleeding part of me welcomed the idea of being cut. The rest of me (and maybe even that part too) wanted to finish the race.
Mom and Dad were at that aid station and their eyes got wide when they saw my knees. An aid station worker wrote down my number, looked me dead in the eye and said, "You doing okay? You've got 4.9 miles to your next aid station." And there it was. I was 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff and cleared to keep running.
Jason continued to run with me, but as the miles wore on, he was finding it harder and harder to hide his discomfort. He eventually admitted that his feet were hurting pretty badly, and I knew the terrain was not helping matters. The hills at this point were brutal and there were many rocky sections over which we had to scramble. As we neared the next aid station, I begged him to drop. I did not want him to suffer any more because of me or to be too sore to run the next week. He did not want to leave me alone in the woods, but I told him I was at a much better place now and I could do it. Finally he agreed to stop and go with Mom and Dad.
So my amazing husband, who had planned on a 15-20 miler that day, ended up running 42 miles on seriously tough terrain. When we finally reached the next aid station, Mom asked if she could run with me, but I told her no. She had been training hard to qualify for the Boston Marathon and was growing strong and fast. I did not want her to ruin all of that by getting hurt on those trails. I took out my ipod shuffle that had been tucked in the pocket of my water bottle. I hadn't used it until now because the trails were so narrow and I needed to hear if people wanted to pass, but at this point there were few of us left on the trails. I flipped it to "The Battle" from the Gladiator Soundtrack and took off.
I ran like a woman possessed. I had 5.4 miles until the next aid station and then only 2.6 more to complete the race. The finish line would close at 7:00 p.m. which was when it would be dark. The sunlight occasionally blinded me as it made its decent through the trees. I kept my eyes on the trail before me as I ran uphill, scaling cliff-side rocks, scrambling over technical sections, racing the setting of the sun. I wondered who this girl was running through the woods like this and where this energy had come from...if it was real energy at all.
I watched for the ribbons that were guiding my way on the trails. Eventually I began to see the glow sticks from early that morning. I ran along the ledges where I'd seen the first glimpses of the sunrise as I raced the sunset to the finish. I was almost brought to tears again, as I heard voices at the approaching aid station, but for an entirely different reason this time. I knew without a doubt I would complete the race and with that realization came a gratefulness I cannot describe. I was amazed, humbled, grateful, empowered, determined...and grateful again. I thanked God for getting me all this way. For the song that became my mantra. For the people in my life. For whatever ability He had given me to help me get to this point.
And there was Mom, standing near a ledge waiting for me. "Wow, you got here a lot faster than I thought you would," she said. "I ran most of the way," I replied, out of breath. She asked again if she could run with me the remaining 2.6 miles, promising to be careful, and I said yes. I required very little from the aid station at this point. Jason handed me a cup of cold water and I was off again...for the last time.
While having Mom with me was fun, and I enjoyed showing her (and seeing myself) what I had traversed in the darkness that morning, these 2.6 miles seemed like an eternity. We caught up to a guy who was running with his platoon, and only he and another out of the 7 who signed up would be finishing. We talked with him on and off, but he and I were both distracted by how badly we wanted to see that finish line. My adrenaline from the 5.4 miler was wearing off and a strong weariness was replacing it.
Finally, I scaled my 10,000th hill and saw the trees clear into a field. The most beautiful finish line I had ever seen was there, along with Dad and Jason cheering for me. The announcer had to run back to his post to read off my number to the sparse crowd still milling about. "Here is number 101, better known as....Jane Reneau! Congratulations, Jane!" I smiled as I crossed and a photographer took my picture. I received a medal around my neck and the tightest hug from Jason as he told me how proud he was.
I could not believe it. I did it. I completed the North Face Endurance Challenge Gore-Tex 50 Mile Trail Run in 13 hours and 51 minutes. I was 90th out of 94 finishers. A total of 124 runners had started the race, which meant 30 had dropped or been cut.
It was the most wonderful feeling in the world. I was bloody, bruised and beaten by the day, but in the end the goal had been accomplished. I cannot claim my own strength as the reason, however. I think we know from where my strength came, and I shall forever be grateful to the husband who stayed by my side, to my parents who showed up at just the right moment, to my friends and family who sent prayers my way that day. And, most importantly, to the One who has blessed me with all of it.