This was my second attempt at this particular race. Last year I ran 44 of the 53 miles in Vibrams and it did not go well. The first half was fine but my feet really started hurting after mile 30. By 44 I could barely hobble and I decided it was in my best interest to call it. I probably could have finished but I’m not sure what kind of damage I would have done to me feet.
We camped out the night before at the start line. It was cold, dipping down to 42º (but the car thermometer said 34º in the morning). I eventually pulled my face completely into my sleeping bag to use my breath to aid in keeping me warm. Lisa and the girls are real troopers and made it through the night with minimal complaints, though Sweetums did crawl into Lisa’s sleeping bag which kept them warmer. I stayed in bed a bit longer than planned and in the morning I had just enough time to get dressed, brush my teeth, crap and run my drop bags to the start. I literally got there with 10 seconds to go “Here are my bags…bye!” In fact they marked me as DNS until I got to the first Aid Station and checked in.
It was dark at the start and cold, but the sky was clear and if you took your eyes off the smooth dirt road we started on for a brief second or two (don’t fall) and looked up you could see an awe-inspiring array of stars. Cuba is kind of out there so there isn’t much light to get in the way.
From the start the course meanders along a dirt road for a bit then quickly onto single-track that follows a cliff face over-looking a wide valley. It is here that I get to watch the sunrise.
Lisa and the girls were waiting at the first Aid Station 9 miles in. Quick hugs, removal of my outer layer and a few bites of food. and I was back at it. This was when I noticed the problem: my hydration vest was leaking. This happened in April when I ran the Cedro Peak 45 Miler. I felt my back as being very wet (I mean I was sweaty but at only 12 miles in not that sweaty) so I popped the bladder out and lo and behold a leak in the seam! in the same general location AS THE PREVIOUS LEAK AT THE SEAM!
I have oh…40 something miles to go, no reliable source of water and my back, ass and feet are wet. Guess I had better get going. This is particularly demoralizing since a) this is the second race it has happened during and 2) This particular race had defeated me once before. As I ran along I had thoughts bounce in and out of my head about DNF’ing and how people might understand as I was going to be under-hydrated. Then I got down on myself for having such defeatist thoughts so easily. I’m a bit of a mess…just saying.
I came into the second AS in decent time (I think I lost all real sense of time quickly) and immediately asked for an extra water bottle or even some tape to try and seal the leak. No extra bottle but we did try to fold over the bladder and tape it down. After a quick patch (No dice. It barely slowed the leak) and gulping down a bunch of Tailwind and water I was off.
The benefit to knowing I was on a limited and dwindling water supply was that it forced me to moderate my running. I ran a lot smarter than I perhaps would have and I did not ever really feel drained. Optimism.
From the AS 2 it is a gently downhill along a dirt service road, barely a path really and then more single track through some technical hills. This is easily tho most desolate and isolated part of the run and the most beautiful. The up and down through the hills here are tough but reward you with some stunning views across the plateau.
It was where I veered into the single-track here that I really started praying. Asking Baha’u’llah to help me make it through the run. I shit you not I immediately found a full collapsible bottle that some runner had lost. kk point taken. Prayers of thanks and renewed prayers for assistance.
After coming down out the hills to the third AS it is mostly flat and pretty runnable. 4.4 miles from AS 3 to the turnaround but damn that feels long after so much time on your feet. AS3 staff had a water bottle on had so now I ran carrying two and with no fears of dehydration. My hands were now full so I did not take any more pictures. Plus I was pretty fucking wrecked so…fuck the pictures anyway.
Lisa and the girls were waiting at the turnaround. I love and am so grateful for my family. I swapped out my two tiny water bottles for a pair of Camelbak bottles we had in the car, changed my socks and chatted with my family for a bit while I ate everything in sight. This consisted mostly of PB&J, M&Ms and bananas and nutella. A few glasses of water and Tailwind and I was off to ….to do it all again in reverse…Damn it! Why do I do this?!
The scenery was just as stunning on the way back and the weather could not have been better. 70’s and overcast with occasional drizzles to keep me cool. I spent most of the return trip yo-yo-ing positions with another runner named Rachel and we chatted a bit and were very encouraging to one another.
I eventually slowed down as my toes were really starting to hurt. All the downhill had me sliding into the front of my shoes (I failed to trim my toenails prior to the run) and it hurt after so many miles. FYI I haven’t lost a toenail yet but it looked a bit dicey for a while after.
Coming back into the final AS (also the first) I felt pretty good. I was still running (slowly) and I had lots of time to go those last 9 miles. Lisa and the girls were there again to cheer me on. This is particularly meaningful here. This was where I dropped last year. They knew it and I knew it. Oh and some dude at the turnaround knew it. He recognized me and told me I had better shoes than last year. True story.
I didn’t stay long. This last stretch was going to be the longest one. I ate a few bites, refilled my bottles with water (Tailwind giving me a bit of an unsettled stomach and for me that’s saying something), grabbed a headlamp and headed out.
I ran all the way to the base of the cliff and I pushed up the steep climb pretty quickly. Once to the top though I had spent my legs. I couldn’t sustain a run for more than a minute or two at a time and I ran/walked the last 6 miles to the finish.
It got dark and a little cool but 13 and a half hours later I finished. Lisa and the girls, as always were waiting. Cheering me across the line and I ran to them instead of the finish and I wasn’t even sure I had crossed the finish I was so happy to see them.
I was happy to be done. I hurt, I could barely walk at this point but I hobbled around with the other racers while we ate and sat (finally) and we all smiled at each other. Sharing the same little secret. The knowledge of what it is like out there and in my case a little bit more about myself.
At the very least. I knew I could do this and maybe will again.