A beautiful morning greeted me and I was feeling fresh and supple. Ready to run patient and subtle... and then the race began. From the first few steps something seemed odd. The Marathon was back below my feet, for the first time in 6 years and it was there to remind me that it was never to be taken for granted.
26.2 miles is a long way. Add 3,000 ft. of elevation change and a time goal to the mix and you have a challenge on your hands. I left with the lead group at a comfortable pace through 3 miles of comfortable flat to rolling terrain. Upon seeing our split at 3 miles (19:30ish) I decided that I needed to have an even more patient approach, thankfully. The hills began their assault in earnest in these early miles and I knew this day would be one of fortitude and not of course records. The lessons being deeper and probably more important as dealing with adversity is the true test.
The biggest and longest of the hills were behind me around mile 10 and by this time I was feeling warmed and pretty good. Smiling and talking with volunteers on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I kept on the gel and fluid schedule and though I was still feeling a tad uneasy in the gut and the legs were not going to run any smoother or easier than what they were doing, I knew I could tough this day out and complete one of the toughest Marathon distance runs around.
The Blue Ridge Parkway was a nice 4 mile rest after the initial hills had softened up the quads. This would be the last chance to run on this forgiving terrain for the remainder of the run. The final 9 miles were to be uphill, though gentle in spots. I reminded myself to not get carried away on these alluring sections and continued clicking off 7 minute miles. I was right on pace for my goal of 3:10:59.
We turned onto HWY221 and headed over the Eastern Continental Divide, shy of 4,000 ft. and I was able to reminisce on some long trail runs completed in the Molas Pass (Durango, CO) area out west. While I was some 8,000 ft. lower in elevation that was really no relief at the moment. A little further up the road I glimpse the Viaduct some 700 ft. above me. At this point I was another hour from the finish, feeling a tad weary and knew that the viaduct was actually below the elevation at the finish line ahead in McRae Meadows.
A few more miles passed, almost as if a spectator I was along for the ride. My mind was just telling my legs to keep on, and we'd check in with them a while later. This worked for a few miles until the legs began barking in small stitches. Left quad, right quad, left hamstring... this cycle continued any time I felt the effort on climbs increasing. I stayed patient, tried to run relaxed and smooth, to run tall. The runners began passing me and telling me how good I looked... not a good sign I think. If I looked so good the order'd be reversed, right?
5 miles to go. Oh Lord... the hills now are small bumps that my mind have turned into mountains. The pace is still somehow holding while that perceived exertion grows with the minutes. I KNOW now, that the wall is looming. I will not escape it today, I just hope that it waits long enough for me to slip by a few more miles.
5k to go and now I want to stop running. Another step another step another step... pace has been forgotten (though I am still holding pace somehow.) I slip to 12th place and as runners pass me I remind myself to run with integrity... to just keep running, I can still finish this thing with pride, but if I walk... if I walk... DON'T walk... that is not the path today. 1.5 miles to go and help arrives. An unnamed runner from Spartanburg, SC pulls me along. A quarter mile goes by, we climb the "last hill" only to reach another. After being helped so much at a crucial point I am thankful.
We arrive at McRae meadows to the sound of the bagpipes. The Highland Games are in full swing. People are having a great time! I am ready to be done, ready for in to be Sunday night when 36 hours will have passed and I will be feeling nearly "normal" again. I reach the track. 400m to go now. No more hills. I know I look like hell, and I should because that is where I have spent the previous 3 hours plus. 300m to go. I see Lynnea and the family who have come to their first Marathon to support me. I summon strength to smile at this point, appreciative of their time and love. One more turn... I see the chute, Scottish Clan tents creep slowing along side me at the edge of the track, fading to the past. I reach the line and click the watch. Done. 3:13:17...
Having lost 3 minutes in the final 3 miles I could not have been more surprised, more relieved and more happy to have run such a successful race. I so looked more forward to seeing my wife somewhere among the 15,000 spectators ALL the way on the other side of the track. There was no Rocky moment, just a quiet embrace, a perfect reunion of souls. I often think of Lynnea out there in those lonely hours... how if I just keep going, if I just keep going... with some patience the great reward will come. To be with the one I love again. And that moment on this day was as sweet as ever. She knew I was not at my best that day, but in that, with the battle I had undertaken she also knew that I had proven something much bigger than I did at the Chattooga. I had finished something when all I wanted to do was stop. I did exactly what she would have done.
So, as far as external results go. I finished in 3:13:17... (you could call that a 2:45-2:55 on a flatter course) good enough for 12th overall out of 400 some runners. The winner ran 2:47, holding 6:30 per mile for the duration and looking fresh as a daisy at the finish. Some great memories for him. Now it is time for me to rest and recharge for 2 weeks, running sparingly, just to remind the cells that they'll soon be back at it. 7 months of steady consistent training has taught me much. Now I will take the down time and have afternoons with Lynnea. Then... the training begins anew... and what is next?
Goblin Valley 50k... Utah. A transcendental desert 50k...