Yesterday I took on what is probably the most difficult challenge I’ve ever put my body through. There were times when I wanted to quit. There’s no shame — plenty of people cut the mileage short, and this low-key event doesn’t even record DNFs. They record how many miles you completed.
But I’m stubborn. And in the times when quitting was possibly an option, the thought ran through my head that if I didn’t finish the distance, then I would have to try again. And if I kept going, well, this could be my one and only ultramarathon.
I know at least during the first 10 miles as we ran from DC into Virginia, when I was still hanging with a nice woman experienced with this trail, there were people behind us. And while she charged forward when we hit the first rocky portions that slowed me down — trail inexperience plus the extra caution I was using — nobody passed me. Well, except for one woman who got lost and ran four extra miles by the time she passed me.
By the time we got to a short out-and-back portion that checked in at the same aid station around miles 17 and 20, I knew there was nobody else behind me. I saw all the other runners already on their way back.
I was alone. I was dead last. And I didn’t care.
My legs were aching, and I was barely running. The downhills started to hurt my knees, and the uphills just hurt everything. I would attempt to run whenever it was flat — but it was typically short-lived until I got to a stream crossing or rocky trail.
Most of my (limited) trail training was on fairly runnable trails. The only streams I’d crossed were so small you could probably jump over them. I didn’t know that much about this trail, but had seen some pictures of stream crossings and rocky terrain. I knew this was going to be a challenge, but I wasn’t prepared for how difficult this course was going to be!
I do think I got lucky — one picture from last year showed people actually wading in the water. We must have had more rain last year. I was happy there were always enough rocks to cross, and I only got my feet wet a tiny bit.
I did almost fall in a stream around mile 24, but since I caught myself, I find it funny.
Just after that crossing, I hit the last aid station. They cheered for me and offered me a ride if I wanted to call it quits. At the pace I was going, I risked not finishing before it got dark. One volunteer asked if I had a flashlight. I didn’t, just my phone’s flashlight app, assuming the battery didn’t die searching for signal in the woods.
There was no way I was going to get that close and quit. After a quarter of a PB&J sandwich and some peanut M&Ms, I continued on the course and hoped for the best.
After crossing Chain Bridge, I was able to run for a bit along the canal, until I got back into the woods and had a few more rocks to climb. The trails in DC are a little easier, though. While I was still walking a lot I attempted running more frequently. Still very slowly. But mentally, I was feeling better. I was in the home stretch.
It was starting to get darker, but there was enough light to see the chalk markings to find my way back. I was glad there were still people walking the trails, it might have been a little scary to be in the woods alone at dusk.
The last mile was in the street, so I didn’t have to worry about darkness anymore.
I made it.
Nine hours and six minutes later, I am an ultramarathoner.