Back in December, PennDot discovered the bridge that the LHHT used across the Pa turnpike was unsafe, and closed it immediately. The good news is a detour was found. The bad news is the detour is 8 miles-of road.
Dan Bellinger had run the road section and given some intel on it, which was immensely helpful. But without mile markers, I had no frame of reference on how far I had run. There is a gravel downhill, then a turn on a rolling asphalt road, then you cross the turnpike around mile 4 in the detour, then around 4 miles in a gradual ascent back to the trail.
I stop to pee and the runners who were in front of me are now out of sight. I’m alone, and thoughts are going negative. This long gravel downhill is getting to me. I’m really getting depressed and bleak. I finally realize I’m bonking and get a gel into me.
I finally make the turn onto the asphalt road. Where is the turnpike? It’s nowhere in sight. I try not to get hit by the fast moving trucks on the road. Now I can feel hot spots on my balls of my feet. CRAP. I’m getting pissed now. I’ve not had a hint of a blister problem until I hit this stupid road. I’m not happy. And WHERE is this turnpike?
I finally see the turnpike—in the freaking distance. I glance at my watch. It’s somewhere around 5pm. Now I’m worried about getting to the 9pm AS cut off. There’s no way I can do that. This adds to my already black mood. Which makes me power walk faster.
As I come to the bridge, I spot three runners ahead of me! This makes me feel so much better. I cross the turnpike and catch them.
“I am NOT Happy!!!!!” I declare. I think I scared them. Michael says I am moving well. “That’s because I am NOT happy!” Anger and unhappiness is giving me motivation to get down this gravel road, and I pull away from the three of them. The gravel is just making my now developed blisters worse.
A truck approaches from the direction I am going. It’s Rick, the RD, and tells me I’ve got “a little over a mile” to the AS. As I keep going AND going, I realize he’s lied to me. Of course he lied, he’s the RD. If he had said I still had three miles to go, I may have had a meltdown.
The AS finally (how many times have I said finally here?) appears in the distance. I’ve got a dropbag here. A volunteer keeps bringing me cold Gatorade as I rummage through my bag. I get my light, my music, scissors and some tape. I decide not to do anything to my feet until the next AS, where I think I have another drop bag. I think I now have a shot of getting to the AS within the cut off time.
The rain starts as I get back on the trail. It’s not particular a cooling rain. As it stops, it just raises the humidity level. It’s “only” seven miles to the next AS. And I have music now! I crank up my playlist. Now my mantra is “hurry hurry”. No walking, unless I am climbing. Go, go!
The soft dirt is kinder to my blistering feet, but when I set them down on a rock it hurts more. I can feel the blisters growing. That’s okay, I can run through pain.
I catch Bill and Tara right as we get to the next Aid Station. They have soup!! I eat two cups. I have not really been able to keep up with calories through this race. I’ve eaten all my gels I’ve brought. To spend more time in AS eating and drinking cuts down on your time on the trail. It’s hard to get this right.
It’s also 12 miles to the next Aid Station, with the 1230 AM cut off. It’s around 9pm. Doing the math now, I see I would need to keep a 17.50 minute pace to get there on time.
For any non ultra runners reading this far along (and thank you!) I know this sounds ridiculous. Who couldn’t “run” an 18 minute mile?
Well, okay, I’ve already run 48 miles. I’m tired, it’s still hot out. It’s now dark, so I am on a trail with a headlight. There is an actual downhill here. The trail at this point is through these huge prehistoric looking ferns, with actually cover the trail. You can’t see more than the edge of your light, and it’s hard to see the rocks on the trail. It’s very slow moving through here.
A kind AS worker had warned me of “two significant” climbs and I’m glad he did. I knew what to expect. But climbing is not keeping an 18 minute mile. I’m getting slower and slower, and the feet are hurting more and more. My mantra now is “run through pain”. And I can, or actually I can shuffle, but it’s getting slower and slower.
The worst point is when I put my right foot down in a water puddle. My burst blister explodes into fresh pain and I now can’t put my foot down, just the heel. I try to look for a hiking stick. I start crying. Which makes everything worse.
I stop crying. I can put my foot down again. But even if I make the cut off, there’s no way I can go on. A 30 minute mile does not complete a race. And now the cement mile markers are taunting me. I’m only at 54. I need to get to 56.
I get to 56. SO where is the AS? I’m looking for lights, voices, anything to show me I am close. I start to cry again. And stop. I’m not crying going into an AS. Finally I can hear voices, and see lights. Yes! I am finally done. I glance at my watch. I believe it’s 109 am. Cut off was 1230 am.