Monday, February 11, 2013
It doesn't seem long ago that I was cruising the trails with Bill Gentry en route to his 100th ultramarathon finish, and my 50th. Both milestones occurred on the same day, at the same race, an incredibly hot and humid Catherine's Furnace 50k. It was July 2010. Heat index 105 degrees.
My 50th ultra seems like forever ago in some respects, but also like yesterday in others. There have been so many variables over the last several years regarding work, health, social life, and other time commitments, that you can never take for granted all that you have already done. Life doesn't guarantee a tomorrow, no less something as trivial as another ultramarathon finish. You simply have to take time to appreciate every single event as something of value and meaning. No race is ever pointless, nor is any ultramarathon ever just another ultra. I've learned over the years that it doesn't matter if you have one ultra finish, or 600, that each individual step in a 31 to 100+ mile odyssey has a significance. One step forward is always one step further than where you ever were.
Two and a half years after my 50th ultra, and 8 years after my first, I arrived at the 2013 Holiday Lake 50k in hopes to complete number 75. The day was the perfect way for me to celebrate the community of runners and volunteers who have gotten me as far as I have. My pace did not matter, my time did not matter, and my placing did not matter. Setting aside all the things that did not matter allowed me to truly enjoy the things that did matter. I got a chance to catch up with friends and run with people I rarely get a chance to run with. I also got to spend some time talking to the wonderful volunteers, instead of the usual dropping in for a few seconds, saying a quick thanks, and taking off. In 2007, I ran Holiday Lake for the first time and didn't know any other runners, and awkardly ate my pre-race meal and post race meal with little conversation. It's nice to know that the years have turned some of those unknown faces from the dinner table into established friendships.
Those friendships and familiar faces were common place on the trails Saturday, and noticed a lot of the smaller nuances of the trail that I admittedly overlook too often. I ran with friends Tim Cohn, Jim Bradford, Jenn Nichols, Jim Ashworth, Martha Wright, Stephanie Wilson, Amy Albu, Greg Loomis, Rick Gray, and a host of others who have made the Virginia trails one of the friendliest places to be. In other cases, I only saw folks near the turn around as they were way out ahead of the main pack. I got to witness fellow JMU Duke Matt Bigman nailing an impressive top ten finish. Matt was shortly followed by Guy Love, Emily Warner, the two Ryans(Nebel and Quinnelly), and Marc Griffin. Everybody ran personal bests, which always makes me happy to know the countless miles and hours of hard work are paying off for my friends. Then there were those who came to cheer and support the runners. People like Bill Potts, Tammy Gray, and Sophie Speidel. In culmination, I have literally shared thousands of miles and hundreds of hours on the trails with these folks. The miles went by super quick and the weather was possibly the best I have ever seen at Holiday Lake. If the quality of a day can be measured in miles and smiles, then this, by all measures, was a good day.
At mile 24, I joined up with a runner named Jeff Martin. Jeff was running his first ultra, which seemed so fitting that in a race where I wanted to reflect on my own humble beginnings as a ultrarunner that I would pair up with someone doing their first. Jeff and I got a chance to talk a good bit, and he mentioned his goal of just finishing, and maybe breaking 6:30. With all our talking, it turned out we were actually running a good bit, and possibly even enough to start a realistic push to break 6 hours. While it certainly wasn't easy, Jeff pushed through some cramps and fatigue and ran a good portion of the final miles. With about two miles to go it now looked like Jeff could break 5:50, which would have been 40 minutes faster than his goal time. Pretty soon we passed the "One mile to go" marker and we took off down the final segment of trail and onto the final stretch of pavement. I took a moment to really admire Jeff's spirit as he held nothing back and gunned it down the hill towards the finish. Just a few steps before the finish I moved behind Jeff so he could have sole ownership of his first ultra finish. He blew away his goals by clocking a time of 5:47. It was 43 minutes faster than he expected. I must say, there has always been something special about running with someone during their first race, and something additionally special about seeing them finish. Props to Jeff for really digging deep and having a strong finish worth being proud of.
So, that's pretty much it. Ultra number 75 is in the books. It was a wonderful day of sunshine and trails shared with good company. I don't know when, or if I'll get to ultra number 100. Based on current projections, I "might" get to 100 by the time of my 35th birthday, and maybe even my 34th. It's never been a priority of mine to see how many ultras I can do, or how quickly I can get to a certain total. Now adays, with so many younger folks entering the running scene, I suspect someone else will hit 100 finishes far sooner than 34 years old, which is fine by me. For the time being, however, I have made a personal note to be more thankful for every race I get to start, experience, and finish. Athletes like David Terry, Mike Broderick, and Micah True are reminders that life can be short, even for the strong and healthy.
Run free. Run strong