June 8th: After having stuffed my small high endurance pack with the essentials for the ultra I cycled to the 15 miles to Gtown as my last training before the race. After 5 minutes on campus rummaging through the first aid kits for blister prevention supplies we headed for Pennsylvania! We went straight to the finish line to scout the terrain and envisage the last few strides of the race- v exciting stuff. At 5:30pm we went to the pre-race dinner- pasta, bread, cake, salad- every ones plates were stacked high! Listening to the race director go on about all the tricky spots on the course and giving sound advice about the initial 8 mile climb had us all ears. The atmosphere was pretty thick with anxious excitement, after a brief chat with some other ultra runners we headed to the hotel for a beer before bed (it was very stormy on the way back- but we were assured that the front was just moving through making for a sunny but dry race day!). Over a beer at the hotel two older looking men joined us- they were in their 60ies and fellow competitors. We sat and talked ultras for a half hour- one of these guys had no cartilage in his knees, was missing a few bones among other injuries “but just loves the atmosphere at ultras” and so was going to run the full 70 the next day, crazy. The other guy had run 10 100 milers in a year and 35 100 milers in total- but was totally chill- he was planning to just make every cut off and just have fun. When he left Rick informed us that he ha written a book too (I guess he didn’t want to boost his ego!)!! Bed at 8pm -sleep much- I don’t think so (that’s the problem with trying to stay super hydrated all day- you spend all night getting up to go potty!! The beer did not help in that department by the way!)
June 9th: Woke up at 2:45am- went to finish and caught a school bus to the start (over 1:30hr ride). The bus drivers remarks as he dropped us off were: “I’m going to drive back now- you guys can run!”- and we did. After the last preparations and lubrications 5:30am came and …. OFF we went. 100 nutters climbing up this hill with big smiles on our faces! The advice was to not go fast up the first 8 miles or we would be paying for it 4-5 hours later… and slowly but surely we went. Rick assured us that we would see all the sprinters again later on (and we did!). The first 2 hours were in a cloud of fog with occasional drizzle (not what the weather had forecast but e were hopeful all the same). At mile 12 I got a bit of a funny pain above my left foot which was quite worrying as it was a very acute ache that I had never had before. Trying to stay positive I focused on all the prayers and thoughts of many for me and begged Big G for some ole healin touch- and surely enough at mile 20 it completely disappeared, as did we from Ricks sight. Rick was doing a great job of pacing and I was determined to stay with him, but I was so eager to burst on ahead that when he encouraged Claire and I to go on for the third or fourth time we did. He said “you know all the important stuff now so go at your pace and just don’t go fast up the hills (mind you if I pass you later on- I will laugh!!)”. Claire and I spent the next 2 hours CRUISING with fantastic conversation before we joined on to another duo with whom we chatted for 10-15miles. Miss Richmond and Mr Blue (I’m not good with names). And so we raced past the marathon 26 mile and the 50k mark slowly progressing in to un-chartered territory! The scenery, as you can see from the photos, was absolutely stunning, ferns that were glowing, fluorescent green and sometimes as tall as us; thick forests that only let shimmers of light through and sparse fields surrounding lakes brilliant in the sunshine. I also need to mention the uplifting aid station crews who were so encouraging and helpful: greeting you with huge claps as you emerged out of the trees, taking our packs and getting us all the supplies our bodies craved! When the trail got kind a rocky we lost Mr. Blue and Miss Richmond and sped up ahead to mile 46 where we were re-united with a drop bag of goodies (a bag we had prepared and asked to be left at this marker to give us something to look forward to!) Our goal until now was to finish STRONG before 22hrs- no injuries, safe and sound with the thought “I could have done this faster”. Well something was happening as we were going by more and more markers, my competitive side was kicking and screaming to come out! I started to dream about finishing before 18 hrs which was the old skool cut off time that challenged many…. then looking at my watch and pace I cut it to 16hrs- according to our speed that was well within our grasp!! After a proud moment with the 50 mile post we hurried on… only 20miles left!! We were well on target to finish strong!! But something happened- a little demon called fatigue started to catch Claire and the next 10 miles were spent trying to out run him. Our goal for a 16hr finish diminished in to a 17hr- but that was ok. We tried everything- words of encouragement- pep talks that I think made Claire want to shoot me at times, but then at mile sixty whoooop! Claire got a second wind!! I think what did it was making very loud animal noises that did it, or it could have been singing “I’m a lumberjack” or maybe “the hills are alive”!! The second wind lasted until the dreaded grilled cheese sandwich aid station. At mile 62 there stood the last aid station- the last calorie kick until the finish, the last smile and bit of support before the descent of the mountain. Emotions can be a bit warped after nearly 16 hours of running so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Claire fell in love at this point. She fell in love with her wheat breaded grilled sandwich, and was now down to a mesmerized walk. It was dark, and somewhat selfishly I still had high hopes of breaking 17hrs. I had told my dear friend that I wouldn’t leave her in the dark, but we had now come across a fellow competitor who was going at her pace…. and I still regret this a bit but I said: “do you mind if I go…”. Claire said: “sure”- and with that I booked it! So much for camaraderie (I had just let go of my word in favor of pride- quite shameful really- SORRY CLAIRE). I looked down at my watch and I had to average 10minute miles for the last 8… on rolling hills, in the dark, in the woods- hhmmmm. I took a few pain meds and thought- whatever- you only live this race once. Peggin it down the path I made the first 6 miles at an average of 11 minute- but I knew that the last 2.5 where steep technical down hill. That could mean careful safe steps down or RISK IT ALL AND JUMP! Guess which one I chose. I made the last 2 at a 7 minute and last one a 6 (this is notoriously a short mile though!). Sprinting past the finish I ran and hugged the first person I saw- which ended up being my bro in Law! Quickly kissed Anna and asked- “what was my time? what was my time? did i break 17hrs????”………….. 16:59 baby- oh yeah!! 10:29pm. Its funny how things turn out just right innit. I would re-live that whole 17 hours in a second- it is up there with the greatest days of my life so far…. could it be due to so much prayer…. I think so. Thank you to every one who supported me!