July 24, 2011

Unreal - The Story Of My First Ultra Marathon

Read the full story here : Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV

- Part V -

"I'm gonna do this."

The thought emerged from deep inside of me. I was 28km into the race, and I was still alive. It had been so tough it was overwhelming, but I had made it through to this point. Yves started handing me plates of mixed vegetables, which tasted so good I was grabbing them by the handfuls. I looked at him straight in the eye.

"I'm gonna do this."

He nodded in approval. I was not sure I could see the resolve needed inside my own soul, but I could see it in Yves' eyes. He thought I could do it.

I kicked off my shoes and removed my wrinkled, dirty Injinji's. I had to clean my feet and my shoes of the mud and debris, then I put on a pair of Sugoi compression socks that went all the way up to the knee. At least I wouldn't have to worry about my socks getting pulled down. I started barking orders at Julie. "2 containers with cakes. Big pocket." "Refill the bladder. Outside pocket. Don't take it out. 3 big squirts of lime, 3 pinches of salt. Wait; 4 pinches." I didn't even see her do it, but I could feel she was working frantically, trying to make sure everything would be in the right place. I felt so bad because there was no care, no politeness in my voice. All I could do was grab handfuls of veggies and shove them down my throat.

She handed me my bag. As I got up and put it back on, I gave my friend a last glance. My throat choked in emotion, I babbled.

"I'm gonna do this. And I'm going to do it for you."

Coming out of the tent's shade, I headed for the starting line. The looks I got on the way seemed to be both of puzzlement and pity. I knew I was in for a world of hurt, but there was no way I could've stayed behind. One leg after the other, I started trotting, then sped up to a jog. I was back on the course.

As soon as I took the turn from the gravel road into the woods, for the third time, I started to make sure my brain could take this. At that point, it was evident the rest of the run would hurt bad and require absolutely everything I had. Somehow, that thought calmed me. I was thinking about Yves, about every time he'd told me one of his mottos: "Start slow, then taper down".

So I changed my approach to the whole thing. I tried to enjoy the pain in my legs, tried to hold straight and get some good forest air, I also allowed myself to walk as much as I wanted without feeling guilty for it. It was taking me longer, but this lap didn't seem as difficult as the other ones.

I took a longer break at the first aid station, chatting with the nice kids there, joking about having gotten lost. I refilled my hydration pack and headed out with somehow lighter spirits. Whenever the trail got too rough or my footing got less secure, I slowed down or walked. I ate tons of things, too. Pinole cakes, dates, watermelon, cereal bars.

It seems it took forever to cover the distance between the first and the second aid stations, but I eventually got there. It had been restaffed and the lady at the table took a couple moments to make sure I was OK, to check I had all I needed in a very friendly fashion. She also started to speak French to me, quite a surprise in the middle of a Northern Ontario forest!

I was feeling relieved that my third lap was more than half-way done and I took some time to chat with the aid station staff, until a very worried young guy, one of the race officials, walked towards me. "Dude, you're running the 56, right?" "You're not gonna make the cut-off."

Wait. What?

"I don't get it, I said. The cut-off is seven hours." It was the first time I actually verbalized that in English. In French, "7 hours" and "7 o'clock" is the same thing. 7 heures. So if the cut-off is not at seven tonight, this means...

In a flash, I got it. "How much time?"

"How much time have I got?" I insisted, totally freaked. "45 minutes, max", he answered. "Precisely how far are we from the finish line?" His last words hit me like a sledgehammer. "5.4 kilometres".

"No." I looked at the guy, who could not hold my stare and looked down. I turned to the nice lady, in an absolute state of panic. "This isn't real", I said, tears streaming down my face as I realized there was no way I could make it down that fast. "It can't be over."

With infinite resolve in her eyes, the lady scrambled my stuff in my bag, zipped everything up, held it to me and said "You're right. This isn't real. There's no way you're NOT making it. Go."

I clenched my teeth, clipped up my bag and took a last look at the young guy. "I'm so sorry, he said". "See you next turn", I answered.

I wiped the tears clouding my vision, took a deep breath and started to run.


Continue to Part VI

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