The race started with a downhill stretch. Initially this might sound appealing. Easing into a race with a nice, comfortable downhill to warm up the legs. But there was NO easing into this race. It was more like I was barrelling down a dry river bed with only slightly more control than a 5 year old on rollerblades for the first time. There was no warming up either. My legs were at full throttle just trying to keep up with the rest of my body as gravity took over.
Alex was at my side, carrying a backpack that held my Fillauer Wave foot for when we turned around at the bottom of the hill...and started to go back up it. The only thing worse than going down the hill was knowing that I would have to go back up it. By the turn around point I was in a pretty sour mood. I had hyper-extended my right knee (prosthetic side) already and I was in last place, everyone else having 2 good legs that could handle the down hill much better than my prosthetic one.
I was in 45th place at the first aid station, which was about 4 miles into the race. After the aid station I started climbing up a 20% grade hill. And that's no joke. Alex can vouch for me. He decided to head back to the car at about that point, having twisted his ankle 3 times already on the first hill. I couldn't blame him. I definitely contemplated joining him. Seriously contemplated it. I was already 4 miles into the race and I hadn't actually run at all. I'd hurtled down a moutain and then hiked back up it. That was not what I had signed up for.
But I couldn't actually do it. I never have. And it will be an earth-shattering day when I finally do DNF a race (without a legit medical reason). I just don't have it in me. I can't quit. Even when I really, really want to. Instead, I just kept trudging up the hill and told Alex I'd re-evaluate at the next aid station, which was 8 miles (and a moutain) away. Luckily I started catching up with other competitors at this point and Alex pulled in next to us on his bike. With a portable cheering section and the company of other miserable competitors, I started to feel a lot better.
By the time I got to the second aid station (Mile 12.9) I announced very matter-of-factly that I would start crying if I saw another hill. I guess I wasn't feeling as good as I thought. :) Needless to say, there was another hill up the road. And then another. And then another. And lots of rocky trails and highways and gravel roads. 51 miles worth, to be exact. But I was settling in now that I was on the Blue Ridge Parkway with gradual sloping hills that I could run. It felt good. As did passing people, which I started doing quickly as I stretched me legs and ran almost the whole way to the next aid station.
I picked off runners one at a time. By now I was wholly involved in my audiobook so I didn't stop to chat as I passed people. We would throw each other a few words of encouragement and then continue willing ourselves along the course, which got a lot better as the hours and miles wore on. We ran to the top of Bald Mountain, which would more adequately be described as climbing to the top of Bald Mountain considering I was tripoding it across the rockiest patches of trail, with one hand on the ground to keep my balance.
The majority of the course was out and back, which has it's pros and cons.
PROS: I got to pass the aid station with beer twice, and the second time they had a glass of Oscar Blues Pilsner poured and waiting for me. I knew exactly what is to come.
CONS: I knew exactly what is to come.
Just as I started to dread one of the hills that I knew was coming up as I turned off of a gravel road and onto a much larger 2 lane paved road, I saw a blue Kia Forte Koup coming towards me. My blue Kia Forte Koup. Alex had started driving the course backwards (at least that's what I assume; otherwise he was trying to leave town without me) and ran into me on a long uphill stretch. He had a dry shirt, clean liner, and fresh Gatorade (I was really tired of the citrus GU drink that tasted like dirty socks) waiting for me at the next aid station. Yay! Something to look forward to. I kicked it up the hill.
Now to my next goal. Get through Bald Mountain (the treacherous, rocky trail running) before it got dark. I was flying at this point, as the sun started to set and my eyes worked hard to adjust to the hazy, dusk that fell. I had my little head lamp wrapped around my water bottle, which I now held in a way that would light the path in front of me. And then, before I knew it, it was completely dark. I could barely see my hand in front of my face. Which is probably why I didn't see Alex until I practically ran smack into him while he was sitting on the trail waiting for me to get to the next aid station...which, thankfully, was just 200 yards up the hill.
With 9 miles to go, I started to believe that I would finish this race. And probably in good standing if I could keep the pace up. I had passed a lot of runners and so far not many had passed me back. Wanting to finish before 9:15, I put my head down and walked/ran the uphills and cruised the downhills. By now, I was listening to my second audiobook. And my physical and mental capacity was about to be tested by a 1.2 mile steep downhill followed by a 2.5 mile steep, steep uphill back to the top of the Wintergreen resort.
I was actually kind of excited about the downhill. Who wouldn't be? Downhill is supposed to be easier, right? Gravity should be working with me, not against me. Or so I thought. And yet the first step downhill was truly painful. As was the next 1.2 miles as my legs worked desperately to keep up. My muscles were fatigued, especially my left quad, and suffered from microtears from the trauma of the 100k. Not that I was really looking forward to the 2.5 mile uphill that came next, but I sure couldn't wait to be done with the 1.2 mile decent.
When I finally did hit the last ascent into Wintergreen resort, I was struck by a mix of joy and dread. I was already physically exhausted and mentally beaten. I'd almost hit my breaking point more than once during the race, and here I was again, feeling like I might crack. Just then a car passed me and someone yelled out the window, "you're almost there", which didn't sound very encouraging given what I still faced. I didn't feel like I'd ever finish.
Time continued to pass, but I didn't feel like I was getting any closer to the finish line. And then I saw my car again. My portable cheering section was back. Alex was there talking me through the last mile. And I was running. Slowly. Very slowly. But it was a run and not a walk and I crossed the finish line in 14 hours 18 minutes, 3rd place overall for females (excluding the elites who were probably home eating dinner before I hit the turn around point!)!