I went into this run with one goal. Sub 5 hours finishing time. That was it, a line in the dirt was drawn and it was up to me to cross it... at some point.
So off we went from Terri's campsite and down into the Winding Stairs trail. Reluctantly I was in the lead on the single track easing along at 7:30 pace though my hope was to run around 9:50 pace for the day on average. Byron Backer and Sean Cienfugos were both chugging along with me leading the way downhill for 3.5 miles. I was the fortunate one taking all of the spider webs for the rest of the 60+ runners on their way:)
Soon Sean asked to go by and Byron and I stepped to the right and Sean soon was a phantom on his way to the turnaround at the bottom of Winding Stairs. Byron and I reached the turn about 60 seconds behind Sean and at 7 minute pace. Much too fast but it felt very slow. Time to slow down... the climb back up was smooth and very runnable. About halfway up this climb the leader came back into view as I was able to spot my running friends on their way down the trail. There was Georgia Snail looking at ease with Jim and Psyche was a little pack with her shining smile lighting up the world.
Soon Sean and I were even on the trail and we began taking turns at the lead. I was a bit quicker on the climbs and he would fly by me on the descents. I was going for even effort and happy with the rhythm of the trail at this point. Arriving at aid station one I drained my bottle and took an extra gel for my pocket and stashed that away for later... (much later in a far distant place which was only 2 linear miles away.)
Because I had stashed all my supplies ahead of time on the course the previous night I was able to stop for about 5 seconds to drop a bottle and pick up freshies. Off I went toward the river all alone now as Sean was stocking up at the aid station. Around 2 miles later he was back with me screaming down the trail and passing me just as we reached the river. We returned to our yo-yo rhythm with the trails on climbs and descents.
As we began the climb out of the Chattooga and toward Hwy 107 I was soon running alone and being eaten alive by deer flies... those little annoying bastards.
Reaching aid station two I again dumped old bottles for new and headed downhill for the two miles to the turn around at 19 miles. I was on pace for a 4 hour finishing time at 15-16 miles and so knew that the second half of the course was about to lay the smack down on me:)
At the turn I was now about 1 minute in the lead and only passed a handful of runners on the return in this 4 mile out and back between stations 2 and 3. Upon reaching the final aid at mile 21 I grabbed the last two bottles of support I had left out and headed into the darkness...
My spirits were optimistic but my muscles in my shoulders were screaming, my arms tired and my heart rate spiking at the slightest change in elevation. Even the descents were tough at this point in the run. At mile 24 I took my first walk break, something I never do... I was now on a 2 minute rotation of running and walking, trying to run on anything downhill or flat. This strategy was successful and soon I was running everything again for about 3 miles. Marathon split time was right at 3:30. Still 90 minutes to complete 5 miles.
My mind was mush and and body was mushier. The fog was deep in the brain and soon I was faced a steep climb of about 1 mile. I had not seen anyone for a long time. Georgia Snail looked really good when I saw him and I tried to stay positive like he seemed to be. The hill before me required 4 sitting breaks and 25 minutes to cover what I figured was about a mile. I swear had a ride been offered to me I would have taken it at a few points-- luckily I had only one way to escape the wilderness area and that is what I aimed to do.
"5k to go" I told myself as I popped in a final piece of hard candy. This one was a glowing iridescent blue and tasted like a cough drop. For some reason I had saved this magical sugar dose for weeks and now was the time for it. Suddenly awake from my stupor I began to run the trail again. Minute by minute my mood improved and I decided to finish strong for Lynnea who could not make it to the river this weekend. I wanted good news to tell her as she rested at home with a special package in her care. These thoughts elevated me and I was soon moving at around 8 minute pace.
I reached the final downed log on the trail and knew this was about 10 minutes from the finish. I ran on through the soft trails as they wound into Big Bend falls. The water eased me and I was feeling great. My time was looking promising and I hoped to finish under 4:40 at this point.
Up the final climb with a little walking and then to the road to the finish, out of the woods and returning to Terri's campsite (having to pass mine fyi) to stop the clock at 4:32.
On this new course I was able to improve my 2009 finish by 36 minutes and feel a lot better doing it, despite the terribly rough patch out there. The doom and gloom gets a strong hold on you at points, all you can do is keep moving on and see where it ends... because it always does. Imagine if we took the easy way out, think of all the things we would miss!