For a detailed course description, read my 50-Mile Ultra Marathon Preview Blog
A half-marathon distance separated me from the finish line when the elevation, fatigue and high temperatures of the exposed terrain finally attacked the little energy I had left. It was 5 p.m. on Saturday and I was 37 miles into the Mt. Disappointment 50-Mile Ultra Marathon. It was then that every muscle in both legs contracted and remained locked-up as I literally collapsed to the ground.
As anyone who’s experienced a foot cramp can tell you, the involuntary nature of the contraction is quite uncomfortable. Now imagine this happening to all of your legs muscles; calves, quads, groin and hamstrings simultaneously causing both feet to turn inwards as you stumble and collapse on the hot, dry fire road over four-miles from the next aid station.
I had just completed a three-mile descent and was one, maybe two, miles into the six-mile ascent before the next aid station. I had to beat the 6:30 p.m. cut-off time and I knew I had to regain my strength if I wanted to continue. After collapsing, I crawled across the trail and took refuge from the sun under the shade of a yucca plant. Here, I desperately rummaged through my pack to find my endurance fuels. I ingested a pair of electrolyte capsules and an energy gel, then chased them down with a mouthful of warm water and sports-drink mixture.
As I lay there, the muscles spasms were firing at random and causing me to bellow in pain. I tried to remain calm and relax my muscles as I waited for the endurance fuels to work. Within minutes, two race officials stood over me and asked, “Are you OK?” Wondering if they were real or if I had begun to hallucinate, I asked the race official to take a picture of me using my camera. Attached is a photo of me taken by one of the officials, who laughed at my strange request. In the background, you can see the top of Mount Wilson where the finish line was located.
I got up under my own power and completed the five miles and 2,800 feet of elevation gain to the second-to-last aid station with only 15 minutes to spare. I was out of the aid station by the 6:30 p.m. cut-off and on my way to the last aid station, located 1,650 feet below on a four-mile descent. This section took me just over an hour and I was the last racer to make it in time to be allowed to continue on to the final stage. Everyone left on the course behind me would be transported to the finish line once they arrived at this final aid station.
So there I was, alone, the only runner left for the final six miles. 2,600 feet of climbing switchbacks up the east side of the mountain separated me from the goal I had been pursuing for the last 13 hours. Within a half-hour darkness closed in. I was switched on my headlamp to illuminate the single-track trail. My physical and mental condition was worsening by the minute as the elevation increased with each step. My vision was blurred, my eyes burned and I could only see one step ahead--for three hours. Step by step I continued, digging deeper into my heart than I have ever had to in my life.
This symbolized the true beginning of the race. I figured most runners, families and volunteers were already home. They had already showered, had dinner and some were probably sleeping.
Sleep. All I could think about was sleep. I wanted to sleep and to wake up in my own bed. I tried to sit down to rest but it was too painful. The muscles in my legs began to cramp again and I got up and pressed on. If only I could take a nap, I thought. Then this reasoning was challenged with the fact that even if I did sleep, I would still have to finish the race when I woke up and it would be harder to finish after stopping than if I just kept going.
So I kept going until I found a rock that stuck out about head level. I turned off my head lamp, folded my arms over the rock and rested my head upon my arms. Less than two minutes later, my eyes were open, my headlamp was on again and I was in forward pursuit of the finish line.
These mental and physical games of resting, stretching and battling from within my head and my heart continued for three hours until I could see the radio towers at the summit of Mount Wilson through the thick canopy of trees above. I set foot on the pavement with a sigh of relief as I emerged from the darkness and into the final 100 yards of my journey. My friends and remaining race volunteers all dropped what they were doing to congratulate me on my 15-hour, 15-minute finish. I was recipient of the “Get-to-the Finish” award, which is given to the runner who shows true determination. After a 45-minute rest in a chair, I had consumed a caffeinated soft-drink and my muscle spasms subsided. I was finally ready for the drive back to San Diego and to sleep in my own bed (not on a rock!).