Overall time was 7hrs 47min. That is a long day but there were 360 people signed up to enjoy it with!
The course was great, extremely technical with LOTS of climbing and LOTS of mud. For those who know House Mountain here in Knoxville, picture House Mountain: make it longer, add in many more rocks of all sizes, add in ankle-deep mud over most of it (and stick that mud in the last 10 miles of the race), climb that mountain and go back down... twice, and you begin to have an idea as to how technical this really was!
The gun goes off at 8am sharp. There is no fanfare to this ceremonial start; the guy just fires a warning shot 5 minutes out and then again at 8am without any other word, signifying the start. This catches many people unawares and has them scrambling out of the door from the lodge in a hurry!
The start of the race had us meandering through a very misleadingly easy, pine-laced, single track course until the first aid station 6 miles in. It was beautiful and very cushy under foot through this section. Of course, this would not last!
The trip through aid stations 2 and 3 were not too bad although we did see the beginnings of the mud we would encounter later. At one point the mud was so thick and gummy that we all gained about three inches of height!
Past aid station 3 is where trouble started for me.
Up to this point, I had been doing pretty well. The course was fun, I had met and run with really cool people, and in general felt pretty good. It is well documented that in ultra marathons there are mental ups and downs. I hit my down around mile 17 ish... I was hurting pretty badly at this point. My knee was in real pain, my ankle was in pain and felt really unstable, and I wasn't sure I could even make the time cut-off at aid station 5. I was in a real funk.
I was actually thinking of bagging it at the next aid station with the excuses that: I was working on about 3-4 hours of sleep every night for the previous week due to work stresses, the pain in my body felt very real, and I probably wouldn't make the cut off and would be pulled from the race anyway... on and on...
That's when Tim came up behind me. I was walking at this point (and not very well at that). This guy shuffled up behind me, and I asked him how he was doing... His reply shook me completely out of my funk!
He said "I'm hurt'n pretty bad, but I came here to get a job done and I am going to do it...they're gonna have to pull me off this course!" At that point, pain left my body. My mind completely lifted and I was back! It was instantaneous!
Tim wasn't sure if we could get to aid station 4 fast enough to make the cut-off, but I felt sure that we could. So together we started running again.
Since my pain left me I was in a much better place mentally and physically than Tim, and worked with him to pull him out of his own funk. This was perfect timing for a lot of reasons. One, because we were at mile 20 or so, with the absolute hardest part of the course ahead of us, and two, because we had enough time, if we hustled, to make the cut off.
We made it with about 20minutes to spare!, and after all of this we still had about 1hr 45min to go.
The climb up the trail called Water Line (no ice on race day) is crazy. It starts at a reasonable angle, covered in rocks, but quickly gets crazy. The grade continues to get steeper and steeper until you get to the waterfall section. This is where you literally use your hands to pull yourself up using rocks, trees or anything else you can find. It's muddy, slick and vertical for a bit. This is real climbing...at mile 26!
Once you've made it out of this gully you find the Shangri-La of aid stations! There were the happiest and most fun group of people to greet us, complete with bites of potato that we could dip into salt! This was heaven.
Back on our way, feeling proud that we made the climb and with new food in us, we looked up about a mile ahead and saw another runner. He came to a stop, hung his head down and started walking back to the last aid station we'd just left. Tim and I were together still and stopped to see what was up.
us: "whoa dude what are you doing?!
him:"awe man my pain, hurt, long, hard blah blah..."
us: "that's cool if you wanna quit but you've almost made it to the FINISH! you have only 5ish miles left! It's gonna be really hard but if you quit now you'll regret it. Finish -- you'll be on top of the world!"
him: "...I'll try"
...And so we trod on. Shouting encouragements behind us as we went until we could no longer see him. At this point I was feeling pretty strong. I asked Tim if he minded me going on and he said GO! So off I went! It felt amazing to run strong at this point in the race.
I ran down a very steep and technical decent, into a flat and the very muddiest part of the race! It was wet and slick as could be, and ankle deep. On the climb out I caught and passed 5 people! Ran past the last aid station and onto the final flat section leading back to the finish!
Jack met me with a mile left, having finished in 5hrs 25mins (way to go Jack!), and wanted to run in with me (thanks Jack!). The last mile of the course is a bit anti climactic really: it was flat, windy, and really cold, and because of the weather there is very little fanfare to welcome you in. But... there is pizza! and coke, and while enjoying these in the warmth of the lodge, I noticed the guy who had decided not to quit come in, see me and sign 'thank you' with a huge smile on his face! He yelled over the crowd that he made it under 8hrs!
What a great day. It really is amazing to me what we are ALL capable of. With proper thought, things that seem incredibly hard, end up not even being a test. Everyone has this in them. Whether it's our athletic life, our home life, or our work - right thought makes life easy and good!