Sunday Morning, 0200
Quote of the Day: “It’s the good girls who keep diaries; the bad girls never have the time.”
- Tallulah Bankhead
(Obviously this is after the race when, as you can tell by my attire, I’ve completely crossed over to the “I could really give a shit” mentality.)
(Please stick with this post. I know it’s long but it covers my portion of a 180-mile race starting at 0200 in the morning. It’s a team relay; 10 runners that rotate through 30 legs continuously for 2 days covering 180 miles. Four of us had to attend a dinner so the other 6 started the race and we met them at 0200 to take over and finish the race.)
It’s about 0200 and we pull up to exchange point 18. As we pull up, we see a runner dashing out of the dark and into the area where his team sees him and start jumping and clapping. Although the runner is going fast, he looks deeply worn out, glowing with sweat and the sinews in his legs are evident.
“Man, he’s going pretty fast” says one of Captains with me, announcing the same thing the other three of us were thinking.
We all watch this little scene as the transition is made in the semi-dark and after the flutter of excitement, the other runner leaves and it’s that quiet that can only be achieved in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere.
I can only speak for myself but I think all of us were a little intimidated. Six of our teammates had been running since 1100 yesterday (Saturday) as had most of these other runners we saw. We were just coming from a Dining In but since these people had started, most of us had been relaxing somewhere, NOT in the baking sun all day.
We also had 12 legs to cover through the night and half the day tomorrow. It was our turn to take the baton and do our share of the Wild Miles.
We had been in contact with our team sporadically and had agreed to meet at check point 18. Because of a misunderstanding at the naming conventions, I thought that the first team would be covering the 18th leg and I would begin at exchange point 19. But we discovered that the legs we were running were numbered so that your leg ENDED at the same numbered exchange therefore since I was scheduled to run leg 19, my run would be between leg 18 and 19.
To my surprise, I realized 10 minutes before I was up, I would be running from this exchange point.
At night, the van would trail behind the runner about 100 feet to provide light and safety. We had two vans and the other half of our team drove forward when the runner was about a mile out to meet up with us.
When they drove up, they all looked haggard. The First Sergeant was in the passenger seat and he looked like the leader of a van of the living dead. They had been through the heat of the day and it showed.
Now just so you don’t miss this, this is a van full of Marine Corps Drill Instructors; the hardest men you’d ever be able to find and they were looking like they had been through a meat grinder. It was mesmerizingly horrifying. And we were next.
I hate to compare this to battle but I have to think this is what it’s like to seeing a patrol coming back from the fight as you were on your way out. Not the greatest feeling in the world.
We agreed that once the exchange was made, they should go at some exchange point further up and get some sleep. We had our own van and would be able to operate without their help. Obviously they had done the same under harsher conditions and had earned a few hours of sleep.
They took one of the pizzas I had brought and were grateful. We had also brought 20 gallons of water and a few six-packs of Gatorade but they said that they had relayed to Pam that they were out of only the Gatorade and had plenty of water. We thought they were dry so we brought what we thought was a life-saving amount of water. Plus, they pointed out, we needed it now and they didn’t. They were done in more ways than one.
I was ready to start my leg and waited in the darkness. I had recognized a team I knew from my Saturday morning running club that was waiting for their own runner. I nervously gabbed with them and experienced the first in what would be a theme for the next 12 hours: guilt over being fresh at 0200 when others were baked.
In the darkness, I waited. It was eerily quiet as everyone waited and I felt where the tired in me would normally be but it was being overshadowed by the adrenaline of starting my first leg of my first relay race. It was also my first run at night.
It seemed like forever but then in happened quick. In a flurry of sound and motion, our van came rolling up and the First Sergeant was out announcing our runner was coming. My heart started racing which is good because in a few moments, so would the rest of me.
In the pale light, I saw my teammate who I had only seen one other time: a team meeting last Thursday. He was soaking wet with a white clinging shirt and was obviously very tired not only from this leg but also had the living dead look the rest of them had.
There was also another team going through the same thing at the same time with their runner so at the actual transition point, there were quite a few people. The First Sergeant told the runner that I was the next runner but he obviously didn’t recognize me and had a look of utter confusion on his face.
“HIM!” bellowed the First Sergeant but that helped no one since there were a lot of “hims” standing around. He had to point right at me and I had to raise my hand as the poor Marine tried to sift through the haziness of his current state and finally, I saw the look of recognition and relief in his eye as he took off his Velcro snap bracelet that was used as an exchange mark like a baton.
He slapped it on my dry wrist and the bracelet was both soaking wet and cold.
I was off.
I had told everyone that I was a 9 to 10 minute runner no matter the distance. But with the adrenaline and the comparable freshness of my legs, I was also in a bit of a challenge. Not only did I feel the weight of 6 the Marines before me who had trudged through the heat for 15 hours, I also had another runner taking off at the same time I started. And the bastard was a rabbit.
I fell in right behind him and we took off. I felt nothing at all for about 5 minutes. I kept up with him but it was obvious I wasn’t going to catch or pass him. He looked like a solid 7-minute runner and had the build to prove it. I was shocked this guy had been running all day and performed that well.
I knew I was flying but I discovered that the nighttime masks your speed. By running in a bubble of light provided by the van behind me, I loped along seemingly effortlessly. I had my music playing and really my only concern was not stepping in a pothole and twisting an ankle. Most of my thoughts were “Wow, I’m doing it. I’m in the race and the other 9 are depending on me. I’m actually racing the Wild Miles. I got the bracelet and am rolling up the miles. So it begins.”
I stayed with The Rabbit for the first 5 minutes but then he took off. He scampered up a hill and when I finally got to the top of the same hill and crested it, he was gone. I mean like Roadrunner gone as Wile E. Coyote looks on. I don’t know where he went but one thing is for sure: I would never see him again. Good God.
I kept up my pace and started to sweat. But I wasn’t tired and the adrenaline and excitement kept my senses sharp.
I started to see another runner in the distance and for a moment thought that Rabbit had faltered and I was gaining on him. But as I got closer, I could see it wasn’t him and another theme raised its ugly head: competition.
My unconscious pace increase became more and conscious as I got closer. I turned it on to cover the final gap as I passed his van, wondering what my own van was saying inside. I hoped they were cheering me on, encouraging me to take the guy without mercy.
I passed him and he said “You have a good pace. Keep going.”
I said “You were a ….”
At that point my mind went blank and I realized I was breathing harder than I thought because I couldn’t talk. It sounded like I was almost insulting him and was scrambling for something nice to say to show him I wasn’t passing with meanness in my heart.
“…. a hard rabbit to catch.”
That was the last thing that was said between us because I had already put some distance between us in the conversation lag and, when you pass someone, you speed up and they slow down. It’s just human nature.
Within a few minutes, I was alone in the dark again. Alone except for the other 3 in the car lighting my way.
I figured that I was going faster than my 10-minute pace so I gave a rough estimate that I would be covering the 4.3 miles in 40 minutes. Yeah, I would make up that .3 with the increased speed, no problem, I thought.
Up in the distance, I saw a collection of cars.
“What the hell are they doing there?” I asked myself as I looked at my watch. It said 30 minutes so it couldn’t be the exchange point.
As I got closer, I realized that it was indeed the exchange point and thought to myself “Criminy, Jason , how fast did you run, you magnificent bastard?”
I saw Jair waiting for me with the big eyes I knew I had 33 minutes ago. I slapped the wet bracelet on his arm and like me, he was gone like a bat out of hell.
I didn’t answer my question until quite awhile later but crossing the line at 33 minutes means the answer came to a blistering 7:40 pace.
My first sentence as I returned to the van was “Don’t expect that shit for the other two legs.!”
I got back in the van but was not sleepy at all. Neither were the other two and we chit-chatted for the next 4.9 miles as Jair got his first shot at running.
Each runner got their turn and I forced myself to lay down even though I couldn’t quite get to sleep. This confused me because it was in the dead hours of the night and not only wasn’t I hurting badly, I wasn’t even remotely sleepy.
I don’t know what time it was when my next turn came around. Time seems to be unimportant on these races and only based on when your next turn is coming. About 15 minutes before I would get the wet bracelet, I put my shoes back on, grabbed my Gu packet, took off my dry hat and put on my still-wet hat, and downed a bottle of Gatorade.
I was ready.
On my first leg, I used a reflective belt that I had to tuck under the belt I was wearing to hold my number. If I hadn’t tucked it, it rode up and down right over my belly button in rhythm with my running, which also happens to be the roundest part of my stomach. I needed this little reminder like I need a hysterectomy and thus, the tuckage.
On the second leg, I took my cue from the other runners and used the reflective vest that everyone was using. So when Sam had a mile left, we drove ahead and waited at the exchange point and waited. Sam came running in and hit me with the wet bracelet and took off the vest. He put it over me, fixed the Velcro straps, and once again I was off like the wind.
Leg 23, here I come.
Still dark. Damn.
As I got away from the lights of the exchange point, the road took a left and downward turn. My team was still gathering Sam and like the first leg, I took off really fast.
Within a minute, I was going downhill. I mean like a REALLY steep downhill and my paltry little flashlight wasn’t doing such a great job since I was all-out running full stride down a hill. I was running faster than my light could illuminate.
I had looked at the map but didn’t really put what I was seeing together so the drop in elevation was surprising. I had seen I would be going downhill but that only made me happy that I wasn’t climbing. “This is going to be a great, easy leg” I thought because of the drop in elevation.
Well, I didn’t think about the darkness and long strides in the dark. And the speed I would be dealing with.
I was so relieved when the van caught up to me and gave me some light. I could see the terrain and obstacles well due to the angle of the light and I was zooming downhill once again, effortlessly.
This leg was my longest at 6.8 miles but because of the downhill, it was going by quick.
About halfway through, I noticed that the sky was not black anymore. It was more like a really dark blue that was getting more and more of a lighter shade with each moment that passed.
Holy shit, the sun was coming up.
When was the last time I stayed up all night? I can’t remember.
When was the last time you stayed up all night and was running?
The steep declines gave way to flat terrain with a few rolling hills. I knew I had gone too fast and my lungs were starting to burn. The reason for this was because there were a lot of teams on the course during this leg and I passed about 4 of them. I would see them and then because I can’t control myself, I would speed up to catch them and go by. I did it almost unconsciously and when I got past them, I had the irrational fear that I had spent too much of myself to catch them and then would slow down, allowing them to catch and pass ME. As though that would be the worst thing in the world.
OK, I do recognize how irrational that is but I had been up all night, OK?
For the first time during this race, I felt the pain of pushing myself. I was soaking wet, had outpaced beyond my abilities, ran to runners and then from them after I was ahead, and then faced some hills.
The last couple of miles contained the most insidious flavor of hills; the ones that turn. Why are these so bad? Well, when you are REALLY wanting to get to the end of a leg, you are convinced that the end is right over the next hill so when you get to the top of said hill and see a wide turn in the distance, life starts to suck.
The van drove up to me and offered me some water. I took it but could only take small sips because I couldn’t go without taking huge gulps of air for more than a millisecond. I was too out of breath the replace the gallons of sweat pouring off of my body.
It was light by the time they pulled up beside me and said they were going to go to the checkpoint.
“AKG kugha desngfn?” I slurred.
Things were not pretty, folks.
My worst fear was that I would falter and all those people I passed were gong to come strolling by. I would ruin not only my time for this leg but our team time would go down in a blaze and I would let the entire team down.
I was driven by fear but my body was heaving.
I heard footsteps and thought it sounded like the Hooded Horsemen of Death. I couldn’t look behind me. This would be the lady in the red, white, and blue running shorts I just passed and she would be the engine on the train of runners I passed, ready to get their vengeance on my insolent behavior.
It wasn’t her.
In fact, it wasn’t even A “her.”
It was a man and he was cranking out what had to be a 6.5-minute pace. This was not someone I had passed and why he was even behind me at all is a mystery but this was not someone I would be competing with and for this reason, I didn’t mind at all. He was out of my league and obviously, he had come from somewhere way back and was reeling in people like fish. Good on him. I just didn’t want a nemesis I had to battle this last mile.
Superman provided a benefit of sorts because I could gauge the terrain by him now that it was light.
But I was in real pain and I really, REALLY wanted this to be over with. I hoped to the very depth of my soul that I would crest a hill to see the collection of cars but all I saw was Superman rounding another corner on the horizon.
“OK, well, right past there must be the exchange point.”
Nope. Just Superman rounding another corner.
“OK, well, right past THERE must be the exchange point.”
I don’t know how much more disappointment I could have handled because this happened a couple of more times and I thought I couldn’t keep up not only THIS pace much longer but ANY pace. I was faltering.
Then, I saw the finish.
“What’s my time?”
“Is that good?”
“I don’t know, I don’t remember how far this leg was.”
“I hope I did good.”
I slapped the wet bracelet on Sam’s wrist and took off the vest but he didn’t need it.
Oh yeah, it’s light. It’s Sunday morning.
Later I calculated my pace and was shocked. I had hoped I did good and I had to check my calculations to make sure it was as good as it worked out to be.
7:12 per mile pace.
That’s Physical Fitness Test speed for me but only for 3 miles. I couldn’t have imagined in a thousand years that I could manage that kind of pace for almost 7 miles. And it damn sure didn’t FEEL like that speed when I was all freaked out about the other runners and the rolling hills at the end when life didn’t seem worth living.
The satisfaction of a trio of thoughts echoed in my head for the next few minutes: I contributed. I ran well for the team. I rate to be here.
You would think I could get some sleep and damn if I didn’t try. I probably shouldn’t have tried to lay down with the wet running shirt still on. I did have the sense to change into some dry underwear when the thought occurred to me and it sounded like the best idea any human mind had ever dreamt up in the entire history of mankind.
I don’t know if the people in the general vicinity of the back parking lot of Jack In The Box took an early Sunday morning gander at the blue van but if they had, they would have seen my bare ass fumbling around trying to put a dry pair of underwear on. To those of you I might have scarred for life, I am truly sorry.
Unexplainably, I laid down with a wet shirt still on. I had even changed my socks but the wet shirt was still on even when I wondered why the hell I was so damn cold. I grabbed my sweatshirt and put it over me like a blanket.
I laid there for about an hour but I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t. I had every reason to but just couldn’t.
When I decided to sit back up, I realized my “fast-drying” Under Armour shirt was not. It was still damp and I cursed myself for putting up with it. In the next minute, I grabbed a fresh, dry shirt, peeled off the wet one, and replaced it with pure comfort.
What the hell was I thinking before?
By this time, the van looked like several fights had broken out inside. Trash was everywhere, supplies were strewn around randomly, and bags were everywhere with items hanging halfway out. Everything that resembled a hook, to include the seat arms, had a piece of wet clothing hanging from them.
And it smelled real nice, folks.
I was always breaking new ground and by that I mean that the first time I ran, I got back in the van and the others hadn’t even run yet. After the second leg, I was the only one with two legs under my belt (I know that sentence sounds stupid out of context but you know what I mean, people!). That might sound like I’m bragging but I point it out because I’m thankful that it worked out that way. I don’t know what the others felt about “being behind” in that aspect but it would have bothered me.
Many times during the night, we had to consult “The Book.” You would think that we would know our legs and who was next but as our senses dulled, confusion set in and we had to constantly open the binder and study who was next, what the terrain looked like, and what the distance was on the next leg. Almost as the book closed, we would all forget, especially the next runner who would check it a couple more times before the run.
For most of the night, we didn’t have any cell phone reception which wasn’t a problem because the rest of the team was sleeping and who did we have to call in the middle of the night?
“What time is it?”
“0300 where I’m at, how about you?
“Five o’clock in the morning. On Sunday!”
“Are you drunk?”
“No, just staying up all night running 180 miles with 9 other guys.”
One of the best preparations I made for this adventure was to plug the exchange point grid coordinates into my GPS. Not only did this tell us where to go to but it also enabled us to tell the runner exactly how far he had to go before the next exchange point.
I would just dial up the next exchange point from the memory, tell it to route it, and it would calculate it down to the grid coordinate I programmed in. It was incredible.
Nowhere did this come in more handy than when we got into a city and had to actually do some navigating to get to the next point. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would have been for the driver who was working on a fraction of ability due to fatigue to try to navigate to the next point without the GPS telling him turn-by-turn where to go. I have to give Natasha, the name I gave my GPS, the Golden Thumbs-Up Award for this race.
My last leg was a bittersweet experience. After a few swipes at figuring out exactly if it would work out, I realized that yes indeed, my family would be at the very exchange point where I would start my last leg. I had gone through a few iterations of thinking I would be ending, starting, or not even exchanging at all where they would be.
It really does get confusing like this, people.
Part of the requirements for this race, beyond the $1000 entry fee, is that each team must provide two volunteers who get assigned at some point along the race to man the checkpoints. I had pressed my own family into service and signed up my wife, my daughter, and my son. Not only would it fulfill the requirements but I was excited to see them when I needed them the most: toward the end when the frayed ends of my sanity were coming undone.
I also wanted all of them to see what it’s like during these races. I wanted them to see the bloodshot eyes of the runners ready to go. I wanted them to see the support and the love from the other racers as they encouraged their next runner. I wanted them to see the mixture of fatigue, satisfaction, and pride involved at the end of a leg.
When we made the exchange just prior to exchange 26, I asked my team if they would drive me up to the next checkpoint and drop me off so I could spend an hour with my family. Now that it was day, we couldn’t follow the runners and so would drive up about 2 miles ahead and wait, offering them water or Gatorade when they ran by.
They dropped me off but Carrie and Alex had gone to get me some Starbucks (they love me) while Steph helped manned the station. No runners had got there yet so she was just sitting there but didn’t seem as angry as the average teenage girl woken up early on a Sunday to sit out in the middle of nowhere waiting for insane runners.
I kept myself busy by finding a real bathroom at the park behind the exchange point.
Let me explain.
It soon became evident early on that facilities were the key to this race. It seems that we were always looking for a place to drop deuces. We could take a whiz anywhere but a mud-receptacle was a harder animal to corner and when you found one, everyone else had the same idea. VACATE!
Not many things in this world is more horrible than really, REALLY having to take the butt-snake out for a swim and not having a place to accomplish this, especially if you were about to start your run. Sometimes we would shoot ahead and the next runner would be praying to any God available that there was a port-a-shitter at the exchange point only to find his hopes dashed.
When I got to where my family was, I asked the lady if there was a bathroom.
“According to this sheet they gave us, it doesn’t have anything annotated about bathrooms. This is an exchange point WITHOUT bathrooms.”
This was not good.
But the area was right in front of a sports complex and had a big building in front. Surely they had heads somewhere around here. The real question is if they would be open.
Actually, the real question was if they were available or if I was going to create an EPA nightmare in the bushes. I’m just sayin’….
I walked (hobbled) to other side of the building and there I found something I had not seen all night: no-kidding bathrooms. Not port-a-shitters but an actual men’s bathroom complete with four walls, a door, a stall, and … OK, it was a stainless steel prison toilet without a lid but it was good enough for my ass.
Note that I was next on deck to run which means that I was able to clean myself out (in an ACTUAL bathroom) right before my run.
I could have not asked for more.
Carrie and Alex finally got back and they had a venti white chocolate mocha that for all intents and purposes, was sex for the insides of my body. It felt like I was black and white and as the coffee ran down my throat, my body started turning into color. I also ate a chocolate donut which was the beyond description. I think my body absorbed it through my throat before it even hit my stomach.
A lady watched in awe and asked me how I could drink coffee and eat a donut right before running.
I think I snarled at her. I know I had to stop myself from telling her about the blissfulness of the bathroom back there but by then, the coffee took hold and I was polite which is more than I can say about a guy n a tan van that drove up.
I was off to the side and couldn’t even see him but I saw the reaction of the other workers there at the exchange point. It seems like this guy didn’t appreciate the runners on the road and was bent on conveying is dissatisfaction to the race volunteers.
You have no idea how much it took me not to take three steps forward, turn left, and unload a dozen hours of stress on this idiot. At first I didn’t know exactly what was going on because I couldn’t hear it. But I could tell the tone and by the reactions on the face of the volunteers, I suspected he wasn’t being all that nice. Again, my haze made me hesitate and by the time my ire was built up enough to step in, the guy drove off. I know I would have made it worse and they all chuckled about it, saying he just needed to blow steam. I don’t know exactly what I would have said but again, I know I would have made the situation worse.
I spent the last few minutes with my family but I wasn’t exactly in the talkative mood. When the transition was coming up, I kissed each one of my kids and my wife as they wished me good luck. I told them I would see them at the finish line and thanked them for their support. It was a good way to fill my tanks as I set off for my third and final leg of this race.
My tanks almost immediately emptied. Within the first minute, I went from the excitement of the exchange point and from the support of my family to blinding reality. I had been up all night, ran two very fast legs, and was now not in any shape to tackle 4.9 miles. I was screwed.
I ran on legs that felt like my bones were made of lead. The signals that I was sending downward were not being interpreted correctly so the feedback to my brain was very strange. Like sending the message to raise your left hand and watching your right hand shoot up.
This last leg of mine was the first one that the van could not follow the runner because it was on a bike path. This meant that 90% of the time, I was on my own and responsible for carrying my own water, keeping pace, and not falling down. None of these things were all that easy.
After making a couple of turns and catching the next runner due to the fact she got caught at a stoplight, I got onto the bike path and for the next 4.5 miles, I was on a dead flat, dead straight bike path which you would think would be an advantage.
But it was a treadmill.
I hesitate to complain because I didn’t have to deal with hills; I didn’t have to negotiate turns or directions; I simply had to run straight ahead.
But at this point, I needed some kind of external stimulus and I just didn’t have it. My legs were heavy, my chest hurt from the other two legs worth of breathing extremely deep (mainly due to needing exorbitant amounts of oxygen as I ran faster than my true ability), and I felt like I was going nowhere.
I did have the lady behind me to push me after passing her at the light. In the distance ahead I saw an older lady that was struggling so I set my sights on her. By the time I caught up to her, I discovered she was older than I thought and there would be no glory in passing her.
As I came abreast to her, I heaved out something close to a hello and smiled at her, trying to indicate there was no animosity in my blowing past her. Her head turned toward me as I smiled and I expected something; a similar response even just to be polite.
But what I got was a scowl that made my blood freeze.
Geez, lady, I know it’s tough and probably more so for you than me but did you have to put a curse on my kin?
I put some distance between me and her and then concentrated on keeping some semblance of pace to get this over with when I made the mistake of looking back and seeing another runner coming up in the distance. I had no idea how far I had left and was in no shape to judge if he would be able to catch me so I just trudged forward with only occasional glances backward.
I could see the finish line in the distance since it was so damn flat and I turned on the speed, thinking I would finish up strong, or at least as strong as I could under the circumstances.
As I got within a few hundred yards of the finish, the path suddenly dived right down a little bike bypass under the road it would have crossed. There were no signs anywhere and I had no idea if I was supposed to follow the bike path. I decided I had better do it to be safe (everyone could see) but this required me to climb a small hill that made life a little bit like eating shards of glass.
I have to admit though, my main motivation was to speed up just in case Follower Guy took the easy route and I’d have to beat him despite his heinous cheating spell.
I picked up the last 100 yards and finished with pride as I was VERY aware that this was the last time I would be running this day. I handed off the sweaty bracelet and joined the other two who had the look of envy, knowing I was done and they regretting what they had left to do.
I felt like I had practically crawled that last leg and in comparison to my other two legs, I had. But after doing the calculation, I discovered that under the circumstances, an 8:22 pace was not all that embarrassing.
It was my turn to drive at this point and I was more than happy to do it. I plugged in my FM transmitter and popped in my iPod, making a preemptive apology for subjecting them to Sarah MacLachlan, Alanis Morrissette, and others I thought would give them a moment of pause when they discovered who they had just spent the night with.
When it came down to the last leg, Sam had been dreading it for hours. It was the longest leg he had and the terrain was not all that happy for a runner, especially one that had been up all night. It didn’t help he had to use the can but didn’t have the opportunity at the last checkpoint simply because there was none available.
Most of the run was down Highway 101 and we couldn’t follow him very closely because it was right in the middle of the congested city and they had some kind of street fair going on.
We would pull up a couple of miles and wait for him to come by, encouraging him to drink water or Gatorade and not worry about time. Just crank out 9 or 10 minute miles and bring it home.
With only a few miles left, we followed some signs and pulled over waiting for Sam to catch up. We waited and waited and waited until we started getting worried. Crap, this was the most difficult part and at no time had we got lost all night and this is when Sam needed us the most.
We backtracked and soon discovered that this was one of the legs where the drivers and the runners follow different paths, kind of like my leg when I was on the bike trail. We raced around and as we were figuring this out, my phone rang.
It was the First Sergeant.
“Where are you, Sir?”
“Well, we are lost and not only that, we lost our runner.”
I know he was debating whether to throw protocol to the curb and tell me what he thought about that statement but in the end, he let the silence speak for him. I distinctly heard from the mental plane “What is wrong with this dumbass Officer?”
He suggested we just come on back and wait for him to come in and in the end, that is what we did. When we got to the park, we found out that he had beat us there by 3 minutes and I could only imagine what those last few hot miles were like with no support, now water, and no team.
I felt horrible.
As we drove into the park, I recognized the area from when I ran the San Diegito half marathon and tried to pull into a parking lot only to be stopped by some lady telling us they had the area reserved for an event. It took everything I had not to explain how our “event” made her “event” eat sand at the playground but I was only successful to the point of rudely blurting out that we were turning around.
We were routed to a lower parking lot and trudged up the hill to find the rest of our team. We were like zombies lumbering up the hill and halfway up, I looked up to see my wife and kids driving right by us. I didn’t possess the strength to call out and had to watch them just drive by as I opened my phone and called Carrie.
“You just passed me and I’m right behind you.”
She, too, was trying to find a parking spot and turned in to the same parking lot with Miss “We’re Having An Event” who, as I watched with more than a little smugness as she told my wife the same story.
When we got to the top of the hill, we found our team and we all shook hands in congratulations. We apologized profusely to Sam and explained what happened but it was all good because he made it and it was over. The First Sergeant told us he thought we had a good chance at getting 1st place in our division.
It seems the First Sergeant and his crew spent Friday night out there camping and made themselves the life of the party. Leave it to the Marines. Most loved the spectacle but of course, some had a lesser opinion of the rowdy Marines; some of which were the Navy team that assured the First Sergeant they would be drinking beer and eating chow when the Marine team came stumbling across the finish line.
The First Sergeant was noticeably proud that the Navy team had not yet crossed the finish line and they had started an hour and a half BEFORE us.
As we all swapped stories of our experiences, we asked how to get the chow, the beer, the shirts, etc. and they told us we had to have our bibs.
The ones we left in the van.
Way down the hill in the lower parking lot.
We stumbled down there to retrieve the bibs and by that time Carrie and the kids had found the parking lot and were just getting ready to climb the hill to meet us. I was so happy because I had some help!
By the time we got back up the hill, I was sweating and out of breath. I felt like there was huge black bags under my eyes, most likely because there were but I was a happy man.
There was a tinge of sorrow that I wasn’t able to start the race at 1100 on Saturday like most teams but when I thought about it, I did my three legs like everyone else. And we did it with a 4-man rotation which means instead of having 9 people run before I ran next, I only had three between runs.
I got my shirt and my medal without fanfare but I cherished them the moment they hit my hands. I got a plate full of food and a beer that put a relaxation layer throughout my entire body. I was afraid that I would take one drink, throw up, faint, and shit my pants. There they would find me curled up in a pool of my own vomit with shitty pants and a spilled beer. Take a picture and put it on the poster for next year.
At about 3:00 PM they started the awards ceremony and the nine of us that were still there gathered in anticipation. We still were not sure but we had figured we HAD to have won it based on when we started and finished in comparison to when the others started. Most had been before us and we had come in 5 minutes later than one team and way before another we had an eye on.
When it got to our category, the all men’s military division, they announced…
For only the second time in my running career, I had won something. And for the first time, first place. I had picked up third place in my age group a few years back.
Our final time was 25 hours and 7 minutes which also earned us 14th place overall out of 49 teams.
We got really nice glass trophies that looked like a bend rectangle of glass with our accomplishment on it.
I will sooner part with my hands before this trophy leaves my collection. I will likely request it be buried with me.
After the race, we hung out for a bit and talked to the other team members. It all likelihood, we will never come together again but we shared this one moment in time where we brought home a first place trophy as a result of arduous individual effort for the benefit of the team. It was the perfect melding of individual and team efforts that we can all be proud of.
By the time I got home, the weight of the last few days finally hit. In fact, the weight of weeks came crashing down since I was the rep for the Dining In and the team captain for the Wild Miles team. Either one would be a stress test but both on top of my normal duties and training was teetering on overwhelming. But as Carrie drove our car into the garage, the full force of relief hit and I was a rag doll.
I managed to get upstairs and take a shower. I changed into pajamas and laid in bed to get a little rest after talking with Carrie. I was so tired that I was finding it hard to express the collage of feelings I was having at the moment and I rode the strange sensation of involuntarily drifting on waves of sleep. I would dip down just a bit and surface, amazed at the feeling of “popping” in and out of existence.
The last thing I requested from Carrie at about 5:00 PM was to wake me up in two hours so I could salvage at least part of a Sunday night. Most likely I would wake up to eat and then go right back to sleep but I didn’t want to sleep the night through when the next thing I would know was it was time to get up and go to work.
At 10:00 PM, I awoke in the dark.
I stumbled out groggy and unsure legs to where Carrie was sitting.
“You were supposed to wake me up in two hours. Now it’s late and I have no Sunday left.”
“I went in EVERY HOUR and tried to wake you up. You turned over. You were unresponsive. You even yelled at me to leave you alone.”
I had no recollection of doing any of these things which is unusual because I normally will at least remember when I’m an ass to my wife, even if it’s a foggy memory of half-sleep. But I had nothing. The last 5 hours were a perfect void.
I had a sandwich and a bowl of vegetable beef soup. I downed that with an enormous cup of water, Motrin, and two Aleve.
Then, as I suspected, I crashed once again.
I wasn’t too pumped about the prospect of getting up and going to work tomorrow but I was in my own bed with a smile on my face and memories I will smile about for years to come.
That night I dreamt of wet bracelets.
Dead still, quiet, dark exchange points.
Running in bubbles of light.
And glass trophies.
See you next year, Wild Miles.
Free Advice for Today: “Keep a blanket in the trunk of your car for emergancies during the winter months.”
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.