- Part III -
The run to the second aid station took longer than I thought. There were a lot of climbs, twists and turns, plus the factor that running on a path you don’t know always seems much longer. I made it nonetheless, more tired than I’d have liked to be, but still motivated.
The last stretch of trail leading to the finish was a bit smoother, allowing for uninterrupted running most of the time. That was a welcome change. My pace was still very slow, however, and I knew each lap would get increasingly difficult. Instead of getting discouraged, I focused on the trail and its challenges.
I was still having the sock issues, and by that time, my socks were down to both my arches. I was grateful to be a barefooter, as my forefoot landing was - thankfully - unaffected by this mishap. My shoes, however, were filled with mud, wood chips, pebbles and all sorts of trail things and I was afraid they would scratch my skin or cause blisters. There was, however, no way to know right now and I trusted that if anything was to go wrong with my feet, I would feel it before it gets too late.
Lost in my thoughts but still highly focused on the trail, I emerged from the woods, back down on the gravel path that leads to the finish line. I felt a strong rush of adrenaline, and a sense of urgency to finish up this lap and start a fresh one, hopefully less eventful.
The closer I got to the gate, the more I felt like pressing on without even stopping. I couldn’t think straight and became obsessed with making up for the time lost on my first lap, so I passed the gate, turned right around, grabbed a fistful of ice, rubbed my head and face and put the remaining pieces in my jersey. I picked up two cups of water and downed them. Julie barely had the time to walk up to me; I simply smiled, waved goodbye and headed off to my second lap.
The sun was already high in the sky and the temperature had risen sharply. The gravel path was partly exposed, and I felt my body temperature rising fast. It must have been at least 30 degrees already, and I knew it would get even hotter as the hours passed. I made sure to drink plenty, taking big swigs out of my hydration pack.
As soon as I took the turn on the trail, I became all alone over again. I’d spent the first lap pretty much on my own, and I had welcomed the cheers of the crowd and the music around the finish area. Now it was chirpy birds and crickets again. It made me realize what was ahead of me.
I opened some energy bars and chewed away in small bites. I wasn’t really hungry, but at least it was making my mind busy. As I was approaching the steep hill where I’d stopped on the first lap to try and fix my shoes, I suddenly remembered that I’d done nothing about that problem and that I’d missed the opportunity to stop and change. It also downed on me that I hadn’t filled my hydration pack either, which made me anxious considering the blistering heat.
I tried to focus on the trail and make progress. But no matter what excuse I was making up in my head, I had to quickly come to the realization that I wasn’t getting any faster. As a matter of fact, I was feeling my energy escape me and had to slow down to a walk a couple times to avoid exhaustion. A lap and a quarter done. Things did NOT look good.
At least the first aid station comes quick. A couple hundred meters away from it, just before the climb, I tried to look up to get a glance of the trail ahead and missed a big tree root right in front of me. My foot didn’t pass over it, and instead I kicked it with full strength. The momentum threw me completely out of balance, face first, arms wide open, freaking out, scrambling frantically to try and avoid a bad fall. I don’t know how I did, but I managed, after 8 or 9 fumbling steps, to not crash into anything, regain my balance and straighten up. What the tree root didn’t take from me physically, it did mentally: I got really scared and became very nervous, remembering far too well how I’d craked one of my toes against a tree stub just a couple weeks ago in a trail run in Lac Brome.
The aid station came and went. The stretch between the first and second stations is beautiful, but lonesome and very long. It has the most changes in terrain, too, which keeps you on alert at all times. Behind me, I could hear steps on the ground. There was a runner not too far.
As the sound got closer, I glanced and saw a girl in a running skirt, looking fresh and coming in faster than me. I asked if she wanted to pass, but she declined. We exchanged a couple words. I could see from her tone she was not too impressed with the way I looked, considering the amount of running I had left to do. She was very nice, still, and gave me some good words.
After some climbs, she was obviously faster and told me she’d pass, which she did. I could still follow her for some time before she faded away, and that somehow made me happy. It gave me something to think about. Every twist and turn, she’d disappear for a blink and then I’d see her again, her pink running shirt beaming out of the lush green background.
Suddenly, for no apparent reason, she collapsed to the ground without a sound. My brain was starting to be slow, so I thought she’d kicked something and had fallen, but as I got closer, I could see she was holding her folded leg, grimacing. I stopped and tried to help, but she shooed me away with a hand gesture. “Leg cramps”, she said. “’Have ‘em all the time. I’ll be fine, just keep going”.
Gasped, I said nothing and started going again, looking back in quick glances, in absolute disbelief. As sure as death and taxes, it only took a couple minutes before I could hear her again, getting closer, then passing me. “What type of person does that?”, I thought. “I would have never been able to get back up and go.” “What if I fall?” “Is this safe?” “What if I cramp up like that?” “Am I really ready for this?”
Crippled with doubt, I loosened my attention.
I kicked another root. The pain resonated all along my leg, up to my hips and lower back. Frantic scramble. Panic. I managed to stay up again, took a couple steps, then came to a complete stop.
“I can’t do this.”
All alone, in the middle of a trail by a quiet lake, my body had stopped. My mind had stopped. I was unable to take another step, convinced of my total and utter failure, threading on an inevitable conclusion: “This is too much. I wasn’t prepared for this. I’m gonna have to drop out, or I’ll leave on a stretcher”. I was overwhelmed. I felt tears coming up, like a six-year-old that’s being left behind by both teams because no one wants to pick him up. I was failing. I unclipped my bag, leaned against a tree and took a leak.