Reach the Beach 2016 Part 5

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27.5 miles were done. I had more than a marathon, with just two legs left. It was getting weird, though. It was like some form of shock I suppose. My whole team came out to cheer my finish of the nightmare 8.5 miles, at least in my pretty jacked up head that’s what they were doing. I was very proud of this run, and felt not an ounce of hesitation in sharing my journey. Dan was off, and we jumped into the van as he went flying through another hilly run. I was beginning to become concerned about Melanie who seemed to be struggling now with an old knee problem coming back on her. She was up next, but only had two final runs to the end. I was losing track of times and the distance of the rest of my team.

There was a deep ache building in my quads, one I hadn’t really experienced before. I was okay for now, but needed to stretch. Between the starts of Dan’s and Melanie’s legs, I took some time for the ever-classic baby wipe shower and changed into my 5th outfit on this journey. I quickly warmed up and Dan, looking about as perfect as someone could look after being up for over 24 hours and having run close to a marathon himself. We were teammates, but looked quite different right now. I was the slow plodder who aggressively went after the longest miles. Dan was more reserved while conquering everything in his path. As the only two dudes in the van we worked perfectly together. Just like the rest of our team.

It was only a few moments in when Melanie texted me. She had called, but my phone somehow never rang. She was hurt and we needed to get her a knee brace asap. We whirled around and Michele told me to sit still and let Dan, a physical therapist who could actually help her get out of the truck. I needed to stay in the van, along with my overprotective self and let my wife figure out her journey. If she needed my input, she knew to engage me. Right now she needed to figure this one out on her own. We were getting closer and closer to the finish.

She stopped and Dan had helped her fit the knee brace perfectly. She fought like the champion she ALWAYS is, and finished another long leg, despite the pain in her knee. And Michele was off. Everyone kept telling me to sleep, but I couldn’t. Somewhere after Michele’s handoff to Christy, we were back in the van and I finally fell asleep. After four minutes I jerked awake and yelled “My tickle pillowed me! I mean my pillow tickled me!” Michele told me “Go back to sleep Thad.”

I was utterly spent and I think my team was wondering if I had any chance of finishing this. Christy said I mumbled something about Koala Bears next, but I don’t remember. After a few more minutes, like maybe three more, I was awake and wouldn’t sleep again for the rest of the journey. Whatever happened now, seven minutes of sleep would have to be enough. I knew what was coming, anyway, and I was going to have to be ready for it pretty quick.

This 8.9 mile run didn’t look so bad on paper. In fact, just a few days earlier, Melanie and I drove the route. I wanted to see the actually leg itself, and it didn’t disappoint. There was a fairly tough hill early, and a brutal climb about half way through, but otherwise I could handle it. It was flatter than any of my previous runs comparably. I decided to focus on just getting to my final leg. I kept thinking about just running four miles and finishing this adventure once and for all.

I went to the transition area massaging my quads as best I could. If you’ve ever seen me in spin class, you know I have the legs to make it through something like Reach the Beach, but my weight and mental game have always been my worst adversary. I was lighter than usual, though, and mentally was ready for all of this, but now my legs started failing me. With 8.9 miles to run, and Julie flying into the transition area, there wasn’t any time to worry about my quads anymore. It was time to start my fifth leg, and to get a little closer to the finish.

Julie handed me the bracelet and I was off on another adventure. I easily ran the first hill, but felt very slow out of the gate. After about a mile I knew I was stuck at a ten minute per mile pace and getting slower as the leg wore on. I joked with a few runners and used my knowledge of the course to encourage other runners.

“Oh there’s only two rough hills this time. You’re in great shape!”

“Thanks man!” was the usual, enthusiastic response.

I always enjoy greeting my fellow runners. And now, more than any other leg, there were vans all along the side of the road. I joked with and thanked them for cheering for me as I passed them.

With about six miles left I yelled to one van, “The finish is just around the corner they said, right?”

They all look stunned until I yelled back, “No worries! I’m just messing with you! Six miles. I’ve got this!”

Ragnar Relays can be fun, but YOU have to make them fun. You can experience the towns, the course, and the people at their fullest, which was always my number one objective. It’s what the other runners, vans, and bystanders want anyway. Everybody wants to be part of your journey out there.

My quads were getting worse and worse by the moment, but if I could run that last 8.5 mile leg, this 8.9 miles was happening no matter what. I kept running, and kept getting slower. It didn’t matter. I was going to run the whole way.

One of the vans took a liking to my joking, as they waited on the side of the road for their runner. So much so, a few of them followed me for awhile cheering me loudly with their cowbells clanging. I laughed the whole time, until they finally said goodbye and headed back to their van. Most of the vans were headed in to meet up with their runners. I was getting closer to the finish.

Fortunately, when I drove the finish a few days earlier I realized I had about a half mile down hill to the finish and could coast into the school. It was the perfect way for a very tired and weary runner to finish their longest leg of this insane journey. I had planned everything perfectly, but suddenly realized, just as I was getting to close to the turn  onto the main road towards the school, I had planned to come in from the wrong direction.

That lovely decline was now an incline, as I turned the corner and realized I was just under a mile away from where I thought I’d come out. My stomach sank, and as I began to climb yet another the hill, I had to dig into what reserves of strength and energy I had to make one final climb. Out of nowhere I felt like I was going to vomit, but I continued to fight my way up the hill and towards the finish. I wanted to stop and give up so badly, but nothing would allow me to do that. I was still running, somehow, and finally the hill ended, and I turned into Chester Academy. The feeling of nausea grew worse, but I didn’t want to barf while all of these people are cheering for me at the finish. I kept fighting with each step until I saw Dan and ran to him and handed him the bracelet.

Melanie was close and I yelled to her abruptly, “I need to go vomit!”

A lot of folks chuckled. I kind of stood there dazed, when the stomach stuff finally started to alleviate itself just as my quads began to burn like I’ve never felt them burn before.  I stretched quickly, but it was to no avail. I headed to the truck and we left to get Melanie to the final leg. I drank and ate fast to try to get some energy back into my now very weak body. I needed to get something going in my quads, and maybe food was the ticket now. I had a few hours until my final run, and I needed all the relief I could get. I cleaned up in between stops, and Melanie fought through her knee again and was simply amazing. She was injured, but still running faster than me.

Michele, Dan, Christy and Julie were all doing well. Their overall speed was dropping a little, but nowhere near as much as mine was. I was done with 36.4 miles now, and had already destroyed my goals for this race, except for speed. I was more than willing to sacrifice speed for the chance to run every step of this journey, though now, as my quads felt utterly spent and destroyed, that was yet to be done.

We finally headed into our final legs, and Christy finished hers at a great pace and with some fire. Julie was off on an almost seven mile journey, and we headed to my final transition area. We were finally here.

I slowly slid out of the passenger seat of our truck, my feet gently landing on the ground below. My legs were shaking from the 36.4 miles I had run in the past 30 hours. I tried to brace myself and somehow managed to wobble towards the transition area. Each step felt heavy and shaky and fear began to sink into me. I shut down all thinking about the 4.1 miles I was supposed to run and focused on getting my legs moving. Walking seemed impossible and slow, and the idea of running was pure insanity at this point. How in the world was this going to happen? Julie would be here soon and I had maybe ten minutes to figure this out. I moved close to the area where we would hand off, dropped to the ground slowly and began to stretch out my quads. My calves and the rest of my body would be good enough, but my knees kept locking and jerking, thrusting my body suddenly forward as my quads kept giving out. The thought kept echoing in my mind –

“You can do this, Thad. 90% of distance running is mental. The other 10% is mental. Believe it.”

I had to stay right there in this moment. I had to stay right there in my mind. I love my buddy Dan Thomas, and if I ever needed a backup plan, all I had to do was tell Dan I was done. Or Michele. Or almost anyone else on our team. I wasn’t concerned about us not finishing the run as the team. I was still dealing emotionally with what happened to me on the Final Leg of the Reach the Cape Relay last Spring. I had succumbed to the heat and hydration problems on the Cape. Though I felt I gave it my all, it never felt right. I wanted more. Now, with one leg left, I had a chance for a little redemption. At least for myself.

Melanie helped me finish stretching and I rose up from the ground as I saw Julie now fighting her way up the final incline of her last leg. Moving into the Transition Area I cheered for her, leaving my incoming teammate as oblivious as I could to the condition I was really in. One of two things were about to happen. Either I was going to be strong enough to run out of the Transition Area or I was going to do the unimaginable, and fall straight to the ground with the first step. I was prepared to fall. At least this time I would know I had done my best and pushed my body as far as it could go. There would be no walking. There was no way I could walk these next four miles, anyway. I could not physically walk 4 miles. Good grief, I could barely walk to the transition area! I still believed I could run, though. Its different muscles, right? I was strong, wasn’t I? I had to believe I could finish this final leg without walking. I was ready to do a faceplant, and fall straight to the ground on the first step I would attempt to run. That was better. I’d rather get hurt than quit.

My quads were in throbbing pain. My knees wobbled like a plate of jello. I was pretty sure I was going down, but that didn’t matter anymore, because the moment was upon me. I had to do this! This couldn’t be like the Cape. I had to run the whole way!

Julie smiled as she slowed, held out the bracelet, and slapped it on my wrist one final time. I turned away from Julie towards the path I was to run on. It was now or never. I made the decision. There would be no backup plan. No matter what happened I would not ask for help. This was mine and mine alone, and my mind was made up. The finish was just ahead and I lifted my leg and just as it dropped to the ground and in front a mass of spectators I…

(The final story from Reach the Beach 2016 will post this week)

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