Two weeks ago, it rained Monday through Friday and I was over running in the rain. If you live within a 6 hour radius of Atlanta, you probably feel my pain. So. Over. The. Rain. I took my speed workouts to the treadmill and cranked it up to speeds that were close to what I had been running on the track. I noticed after my Tuesday workout I had a bit of soreness in my foot (the same one that wore a boot last year) and then again after my Thursday workout.
I had one of my biggest training runs scheduled that Saturday and went in filled with trepidation. Running had been going so well since last August and I had just a few weeks left before toeing the line at Georgia Death Race, my goal race for the spring. I told Chantal and John I was a bit nervous about my foot as we climbed up and down Coosa and the DRT, but the off and on soreness was manageable and I was relieved when we made it to John's car parked at Skeenah Gap, 6.5 hours and over 7,000' of climbing later.
However, the pain intensified through the evening and after texting with my coach, we decided it would be best to give it a few extra days rest. I ran again on Wednesday and it seemed to be okay enough. I finished up the rest of my workouts as planned for the week and ran 2 hours at Sawnee Mountain with Steve, who was visiting from Michigan.
That evening, the soreness was back again and I was feeling really frustrated. My coach gave me a pep talk, filled my workout calendar with swimming and cycling, and I tried to keep from panicking.
Thursday night, my plans came together thanks to Dan and I was going to be riding with him, Gary, and Jeremy on Friday. We all met at my house and Jeremy graciously made the drive to Charlotte in heavy traffic and rain. Everyone agreed on burgers at a place in downtown Charlotte and I wolfed mine down in minutes. Though I wasn't particularly tired, I managed to fall asleep somewhere between 9:30-10 and slept really well.
We got to the starting area just after 7:00 a.m., picked up our bibs, and dropped off our food donations. I saw a few familiar faces like David, Jenster, and Laurie and got a few photos with friends before we got started.
At the race start, a bunch of people took off down the fire road and I tried to settle into a comfy pace. I didn't have any dog in the fight and wanted to just run some miles without pain. After a week off of running, I felt really, really fresh. My legs were poppy and I felt like while I putting in some effort, I was also super comfortable.
I cheered everyone on as we saw each other through the 2.8 mile turnaround and then started chatting with Kent who had been keeping nearly the same pace as me from the beginning. We had a few miles for me to briefly explain I had been contemplating bailing at the first aid station, but I was feeling so good (and pain free!) that I wanted to try to make it the 2 hours instead.
We hopped onto the single track at mile 5.7 and I was surprised to find the next section very, very runnable. The miles ticked off and I barely looked at my watch. Kent and I talked about any and everything runners talk about it - races, running, family, jobs, etc. He was keeping the pace conversational and it was exactly what I needed.
As we neared the 90 minute mark, I took a moment to try to text my coach to ask what I should do because I was feeling so well that I wanted to run more than 2 hours. Unfortunately, I didn't have any service and I kept checking every 10 minutes or so hoping I could get something to him quick. We came up to the 11.7 mile aid station at almost exactly 2 hours and I let the devil and angel on my shoulder hash it out as we grabbed aid.
The smart, good, angelic runner would have dropped at the point and begged off a ride to the start. The dumb, bad, devilish runner prevailed and I guiltily felt like I stepped off the high-rise diving board as I knew this meant I was 99% committed to finish by opting to go on. There would still be a chance to drop at the other aid stations, but I knew it would tough to make that call.
The next section to furthest aid station is considered one of the gnarliest. Sasquatch Summit is full of boulders and hand-over-hand climbs and is followed by the Soul Crusher, another gnarly climb with steep grades. I was loving this part of the race and all my vertical training made it seem really, really doable.
When we got near the aid station around 17 miles, I was still in great spirits. Jeremy looked surprised to see me still running and gave me a double high-five and Dan, not surprised at all at my dumbassery, also gave me a high-five. I grabbed a pickle and a handful of chips and topped off my soft flask with a mix of Gatorade and water.
Kent told me the next section was kind of boring and while I wasn't looking forward to boring, I was happy to be cruising comfortably and not in any pain. We got passed and passed people a fair amount in this section and added another runner to our caravan who is also running GDR (& Western States!), Brett. The three of us navigated to the last aid station together and then took off down the trail, fists full of pickles, Oreos, and chips.
The mud was extra sloppy in the final miles, but I have been running in mud all winter. I just plodded right through it and laughed as splattered across my legs. The rain had held off, I was just a few miles from finishing a race I thought I'd DNF, and I was having so much fun just running happy. Even Hallucination Hill didn't phase me. I was just plodding along between Kent and Brett, yapping away and swapping stories (and maybe taking a few selfies).
Brett decided to hammer out the last 2ish miles solo and took off towards the finish. Kent and I continued along and though our conversation quieted a bit, we still were in good spirits as we came into the final stretch. Once we saw day hikers and heard whizzing cars on the highway, we knew the finish line was close. I came in with the biggest smile, happy my devilish move paid off and that I could go home with my heart full.
I gave Kent a fist bump and then swapped war stories briefly with Gary and Jeremy while we waited for just a short time for Dan to come in. Everyone was happy, exhausted, and caked in mud. The rest of the day sealed the deal on a really fun 32 hours. Some things will have to remain like they do in Vegas, but let's just say I'm never sorry to have another adventure to say remember that one time....