But my fourth leg…
It was sometime after three in the morning. I hadn’t slept. I wasn’t tired, though. I honestly wasn’t much of anything. I had dreaded this leg for four months. I had been staring at it, waiting for it. I knew there would be a reckoning out here. I thought about it on every training run. I knew this leg would beat me. I have always known it.
It had to begin somewhere. I was calm and focused. Most of the van, except for Dan and Christy were asleep. I was at the transition area waiting for Julie to come racing in, which she did just as I was ready for her to be there. There was no emotion in this hand off, I simply took the bracelet and ran out of the transition area. I was in no hurry to get anywhere. I would run for as long as I could, and not think about it. If you know you are beaten what do you do? I just started to run and kept running.
There were no streetlights. Very few houses were near me. The road was a nice little decline on and off for the first few miles. There were a few small hills up, but the first two and half miles felt just fine. I knew what was waiting, though, and when I saw it, it looked just like I thought it would. I was about to run four miles of some of the nastiest incline New Hampshire has to offer. I was as ready as I could have been, I suppose.
My van was right where I asked Dan to meet me, right at the start of the onslaught of hills. We had discussed me taking some pain meds. I had a bit of a headache, probably from lack of sleep. We were a little unsure at the start, but Dan had them ready for me if I needed them. He stood right outside of the truck, while everyone else slept. I grabbed the three ibuprofens and kept moving straight ahead into a hill. I guzzled the three of them down with water from my hydra pack and kept running.
I do different things to pass the time on the long run, especially when running up some tough hills. Sometimes I look at my feet, refusing to look up at all, and count all of my steps. I often try to guess how many steps it will take me to get to the top, and I always play to win! I’ll even lengthen or shorten my stride a little to be right. Sometimes I’ll try to recite scripture for as long as I can, hoping to pass the time quickly while edifying myself with God’s encouragement and truth. Sometimes I quote the words to songs, or sometimes it all becomes one simple chant to keep my legs climbing all the way up. This time, it was a simple thought – “Nothing is impossible with God.”
I chanted it out loud, and in my head. Sometimes I’d space it between other recitations or just the silence in this dark and troubling woods. A female runner thanked me for saying it as she ran past me. Somehow I hadn’t slowed and kept climbing. Somehow this strategy was working.
As the start of this leg I knew I would have to walk, but now, over halfway through I was no longer quite so sure. I wasn’t slowing down much, but my body was wearing down with each step. At the halfway point I had logged over 32 miles in the past eighteen hours. The bottoms of my feet began to ache greatly and my quads were feeling some deep exhaustion of the pounding from the incline. Still, I was running.
I turned suddenly to the right and followed the road back to left and around another bend. I realized I had to pay extremely close attention to the road. If I went off course, I could get several miles off track very quickly and without cell phone reception in this part of the mountains, I could find myself in serious trouble very quickly. It was very dark, only some light from the full moon coming through the trees helped me. The temperature had dropped into the mid forties and wearing only a t-shirt and shorts I was barely able to keep warm. Fortunately, my heart rate was up with the hills, so that provided the extra warmth I needed.
It must have been a person making all of that racket ahead, I thought. I heard some crashing in the woods on my right just a few hundred feet ahead. As I got closer, a man in his late fifties caught up to me and we ran together. As we neared the woods, I pointed and said, “What the heck is that?”
They were glowing. Glowing white eyes were staring right at us in the darkness of this woods. They moved with us, gawking at maybe their next meal or just another random attack they would launch on a defenseless victim. Either way, the older guy was going to leave me pretty soon anyway. I was starting to really slow down now.
Before I knew it, I was alone again. I wasn’t passing anybody the rest of this leg, but I was still running and still not giving up. Somehow the endless hill after endless hill seemed to become part of my ecosystem, like a way of life to me out here on the open road. I was pretty used to them by now. It was just the way things were, and they weren’t going to change for a few more miles.
“Nothing is impossible with God.”
A few runners passed me.
“Nothing is impossible with God.”
The hill continued to go up and up.
As I close in on the six and a half mile mark, a man standing outside of his van yells to me, “You’re almost done with these hills! Keep going a little further and you’re there!”
Hope. Nothing is impossible with God. I made up my mind. I didn’t care how slow I went, I wasn’t walking. Not for one single step. I had made it this far, and somehow, despite my now throbbing feet and burning quads, this was going to happen. The road flattened and I picked up my pace a little. As sore as my feet were, I knew the quicker I finished this leg the quicker I could get some rest.
The red lights. Those burning red lights in the dark of the night and I was finally close to the end of this amazingly brutal run through the mountains. I ran to the lights and to my team. Somehow I had done it, and I honestly at no point until maybe the fifth mile in did I consider this could be done. I had overcome the toughest leg in my journey and only had two more runs to go until I was done. My quads and feet were in agony, but there was time to stretch and recover and figure this out.
My longest leg, an 8.9 mile trek through the hills of Chester was my last long run of this race, and then I’d have a short and flat four mile jaunt to finish this incredible jounrey. I was ready and even though my body was breaking down, I had run 27.5 miles and had only 13 more to go. With my toughest leg behind me, what could stop me now?
I was about to find out.
(to be continued)