Race morning we all woke up to the sound of heavy rain pounding the ground outside. It was different than any other race morning I’ve had so far, so I popped up as soon as my alarm sounded. I peeked through the shudders and said, “This will be a great day in the woods.”
Clothes were donned, packs were stuffed, chafe spots were lubed, and it was time to go. Excited and still blurry from sleep, Laura, Megan, Brad, and I piled into the car and headed to the race parking area. I must admit, I was wondering how the race was going to go. I love rain runs, but I had never been wet for an entire 50K. Oh well! Doing it is the only way to find out!
After meeting up with Angie and meeting her friend, we checked in and raced around the corner to meet our friends who were also running. Bryan was graciously willing to drive us up to the start to spare us the .8mile walk. What a gentleman!
The race start was like most trail race starts, low key and relaxed. People milled around, laughing and seeing old friends. Everyone was excited for the adventure ahead. It struck me that no matter where the trail is, there is a unifying love for it which unites us runners. You will find a common thread of support and joviality throughout the world, wherever runners gather for the purpose of tackling trails together.
The plan was for us all to more or less stick together, but I had my doubts about that going in. It seldom occurs that everyone feels the same at all times through a race that long, and so usually a group splits up at some point. Brad was talking about a 5:30 finish too, which would have been great, but a substantial PR for us. Nevertheless, Laura and I have been running increasingly strongly lately since enlisting an ultra coach’s guidance, so it felt within the realm of possibility if we both had a good race.
We did not both have a good race.
The race began and the mob moved up the mountain, stutterstepping and walking when it made sense, gaining more and more elevation in a flurry of adrenaline filled wonder. Right off the bat the gap began to widen between the Bangle-Sauce team and us Matzes. As soon as the crowd thinned a little I could hear it. Ever so subtle, there is a slight difference in how DW runs when she is not feeling well. By “not feeling well” I mean that her epilepsy is acting up and although her medication keeps her from having outright Grand Mal seizures, sometimes there is an electrical shitstorm going on in her brain. During those times, she can force her body to move and decipher what’s happening around her through sheer will, but she’s working through a thick fog. Not looking back, not having to look back, I kept the pace manageable and my wife close behind.
I asked, “How are you?” already knowing the answer.
“Not good” she replied.
“Do we need to stop? It’s fine if we stop.”
“No, I can keep moving forward.”
“Let me know. It’s better to bow out and be able to enjoy things later than to burn out out here.”
“I know. I will. Right now I can move forward.”
Damn she’s tough.
So on we went, determined to enjoy the miles as much as we could for as long as we could. I hoped our comrades had blazed ahead and were having a blast, and we settled into a rhythm of steady forward motion. Our recent training has given us more uphill running power, and I was pleased to note how much easier some of the inclines felt than they would have several months ago.
Even in less than stellar circumstances, the forest demanded appreciation for its beauty. It was utterly spectacular! I hope the pictures I’ve posted have done them even a fraction of justice, because it was truly a marvel to see. The lushness of Forest Park was unlike anything I’d seen before, and I’m already aching to go back.
The rain was not a problem at all. On the contrary, it was fantastic! I heard a runner celebrating that we got “free showers all day!” The creeks were fun to splash through, the mud was a little thick and sloppy in a few spots, but overall it made for a very enjoyable run. In fact, it was a welcome break from the heat back home. (We just hit triple digits)
Due to the thick forest canopy, our Garmins were completely useless. They lost signal so often that by the first aid station they were hopelessly behind. It was the first race we ran without ever having the slightest clue how far we’d gone. It wasn’t until the last aid station that we learned how far we had left. Less than six miles! We knew the last miles were downhill, so we shot off in anticipation of feeling some wind and letting gravity do some work for us! Laura had begun to feel a little better by then so she was leading at a speedy clip. For the first time in this race, we were hauling ass and firing on all cylinders. It was great!
The 5:30 mark passed and we wondered aloud whether our speed demons were gulping victory beer yet. The last miles felt better for both of us and every downhill felt like a rollercoaster. We turned a corner, saw the finish arch, and burned whatever gas was left in the tank. The roar of the crowd packed on both sides of the chute combined with the feeling of Laura’s hand in mine as we flew across the line in a moment of perfection. I am lucky to have been able to hold onto that memory; it’s one of my favorites of the trip.
Brad had joined the ultra ranks. Megan had PR’d. Laura and I had PR’d. Megan’s friend Will PR’d by an hour and a half! Life was very good, and as I sipped a Lucky Lab IPA from my finisher’s pint glass, I soaked in the scene and felt fortunate to be with these wonderful people in this amazing place.
Now it is nearly two weeks later and I am still reminiscing about our escape to the PNW. It was a time filled with laughter and incredible experiences. We made new friends, saw some of our favorite people, and got to know a very special city. I am indeed a lucky man.
Run happy and healthy, my friends!!!