That afternoon, I lounged around... took a brief nap... watched some Vandy baseball... and decided to blow dry my hair, straighten it, put makeup on and get dressed in something other than pjs because we were hitting the town... for dinner. Yeah, not quite that exciting.. but hey.. after running 40 miles in two days going out for dinner is kind of a big deal. And when we got to the restaurant... they had to seat us... UPSTAIRS. Of course. Anyway, dinner was delicious and it was nice to actually feel like a normal person with makeup and a belt on.
That night I went to bed thinking... heh. 20 miles on Signal Mountain and 6 hours to do it?? No problemo. I could do 20 miles on Signal Mountain in my sleep, yo.
And then I woke up Sunday morning with calf muscles so tight that I could barely walk. Touche, stages race, touche.
I attempted to foam roll my calves... and experienced pain that I can only imagine is similiar to child birth or kidney stones: excrutiating. Still.. I wasn't too worried about the race. Sure, my legs felt like shit, but this was 2 miles less than yesterday!!!!! And not the type of elevation we had on Lookout... and... I had 6 hours to do it in!
We made our way to signal mountain and when we got out of the car and started walking around.. I started to get a little nervous... ummm.. my legs felt like total shit. Like.. the slightest bit of incline (I mean SLIGHTEST) made my calves and quads hurt. It was not good.
Still... only 20 miles, right???!!!??
We lined up and got ready for the start and as soon as we started and I started running.. I almost started crying at the prospect of enduring this leg soreness/stiffness for another 20 miles. I linked up with my running buddy and the first mile or so.. SUCKED. But, you know what??? After that.. my legs loosened up and while they felt tired... they weren't nearly as sore as they had started out. Boo-ya.
Everything was going along well... the first 6ish miles were all apart of the Stumpjump 50k race. A steep downhill to an aid station and then we got to turn around and go right back up (yay. ugh). Except after climbing for a few minutes we realized... umm... I dont think this is the trail.
That's right folks.. we were lost.
We started looking for shoe tracks. We started yelling. We knew we were roughly headed in the right direction because we were going up.. finally we heard some voices and went in that direction and found mushroom rock (a landmark on the trail) and some volunteers who directed us back to the trail. Sheesh.
The next few miles were kinda tough. We were starting to get into a more technical part of the trail and my shoes were SLICK (oh. did I forget to mention that it stormed Saturday night.. making the trail extra slippery on Sunday morning?) and I was sliding all over the place. I even jacked up my left shoulder trying to brace myself on one particular slide.
Finally we made it up to a ridge where there were TONS of downed trees on the trail. It was clear that a huge storm had ripped through recently and it was kind of eery being up there (not knowing if you were on the right trail didnt help.. the trail was not marked well at all that day). Finally we made it to the 2nd aid station. And it was at this point that I started noticing my time.. it was not good. I still had 11ish miles and I didn't have a huge time cushion.
From the 2nd aid station to the 3rd there was only 2.5ish miles. No problem, right?
OH.MY.GOD. This was the longest 2.5 miles of my life.. Seriously.. it must have taken me an hour or more to go through this section. Essentially no running was happening in there. I mean, VERY LITTLE. It was awful. We were down in the gully of the trail. It was sticky, it was rocky. It was a time suck. I also lost my running buddy in this part of the trail, so for much of it.. I was on my own and it was like I was constantly looking for the next trail flag to let me know I was on the right path. It was awful.
Finally in one part where I could actually run a bit, I came upon a photographer and another guy... Oooooo the aid station must be close, I was thinking!!!!
"I'm not going to look up at you, cause I might fall..."
This smile is fake. VERY fake.
So, I asked him... "how far till the aid station?" Casually, of course.
"Umm... at least a mile. We've been walking a long time." And his little friend added... "yeah, AT LEAST."
OH MY GOD, if I had had a knife on me, I would have cut them both.. LIES!!! I thought to myself.. PURE LIES. There is no way I've only gone 1.5 miles since the aid station.
in the fifth circle of Dante's Inferno deep in the bowels of Signal Mountain... but all I could do was keep going. So I plodded along... trying to tell myself that those guys didn't know what they were talking about. I was looking at my watch and realizing that I might not make the cut-off. This middle section was taking WAYYYYY too long.
Finally, I met a guy on the trail who cheerfully told me... "you've only got about a .25 of a mile till the aid station." SWEET JESUS THANK YOU. But, the closer I got.. I realized I had to climb up these crazy steep stairs to get there. But I didn't care.. I would have climbed up a rope if I had to... anything to get myself out of the bowels of Signal Mountain.
Once I saw the aid station, I hobbled over and the aid station workers were all like.. "ohhhhh look at the view behind you... " and I was all.... "hey, is that an otter pop you're holding? I need that."
I stuck around at this aid station for a couple more minutes than I would have liked... mainly to finish my otter pop, but also to give a pack of my endurolytes to a runner that I had met briefly on friday and had talked to that day.. he wasn't feeling too well and needed them way more than me.
And then it was time to get back on the trail...
This next stretch wasn't too bad... we ran on the road for a little bit and hopped back onto a trail, that wasn't too technical.. but still had it moments. I was freaking out. Worried that I wasn't going to make the cut off.
To be completely honest.. I don't really even remember this part of the trail. So, let's fast forward.
By the time I got to the last aid station I was told that I had 3.6 miles to the finish and I looked at my watch and it said I had been running for 5:07. Which meant.. I only had 53 minutes to run 3.6 miles.
Now, fair reader.. this may sound like a LOT of time to you... and while.. yes, under normal circumstances it should be plenty of time...but let me remind you... I'm going on 57 miles in 3 days at this point... these are trail miles... not road miles... and the net elevation for those 3.6 miles was a GAIN. Arg!
So, I booked it. Lucky for me, the trail was not technical at all... so I ran my heart out... when I got to an uphill.. I kept going.. when I got to a downhill... I accelerated... I was watching my watch like a hawk... counting down the minutes and hoping that I was going fast enough (again.. garmin was not accurate because of the elevation, so I had no idea where I was mileage-wise).
I started recognizing part of the trail as the beginning/end of Stumpjump and I knew that the technical stuff was all behind me.. all I had to do was run and fast! I was passing people left and right.. I'd ask them.. "arent you scared of the cut off time?" and they'd reply... "oh, we'll make it!"
I wasn't going to take their word for it.. I was stressed out... finally, I met a girl on the trail who told me I had less than a quarter of a mile to go.. and then I saw my friends at the end of the trail and they were yelling for me... I started running faster (how is that even possible? I have no idea)... finally I could see the finish line and I ran it in.. finishing in 5:48. Only 12 minutes to spare.
I ran through the finish line to people cheering me (which was awesome) and I kept going to get out of the crowd and burst into tears.
Now, before you think I'm an emotional trainwreck because of the accomplishment, etc.. let me set you straight... I was an emotional trainwreck, because I had just ran my ass off for fear of not making the cut off time. And that shit is STRESS-FUL. It happened in my first 50k, too. You have no idea how stressful it is to know that you've spent 3 days...and lots of time and pain to try and do this thing.. and on the last day the trails are too effing technical to run and you're not sure you'll make the cut off. It was awful.
But... the good news is.. I had made it! With 12 minutes to spare! And even though I knew lots of people were behind me.. and that they would be allowed to finish.. I didn't want that "6" in my time. I wanted to finish under the cut-off... and I did it!!!!
I waited around to see my running buddy finish, too! And I hugged him and thanked him and congratulated him!
I picked up my finisher's award (a nice wood bock engraved with race details) and a pair of smartwool socks! and got ready for the ride home...
I did it! I ran 60 miles in 3 days on some of the toughest trails I've seen.