It’s the Simple Things (That Make You Smile): Crashing Back Down on the Way to Pine Hollow
I wasn’t as far under as I had been earlier in the day, but I wasn’t recovering. My stomach was getting queasy for the first time and we had a 5.7 mile section to Pine Hollow which seemed endlessly long. I was smiling and reminding myself it would get better. I had just gotten my first assessment of the women’s field, and I was in fourth but third was hurting and second was taking forever at the aid stations. At that point, it was merely information to me; I had no intention of racing until I got to Covered Bridge. I settled in, smiled and reminded myself it would get better.
It did not.
I decided my calories might be failing, which was a real possibility that late in the day. I realized I hadn’t eaten at Happy Days because I got fixated on the Camelback/water bottle switch. But since my stomach was queasy, I was hesitant to do another gel, and I didn’t have Stingers with me because I was practically naked and didn’t have many places to stash things.
When I stopped to pee, something fell out of my pocket. Oh my God, I had the Tums with me.
I took down a chocolate Clif SHOT with a three Tums chaser, and thirty seconds later, I nearly got to know a very long, very thick snake very very closely.
I don’t know if it was the Clif SHOT or the snake, but I was back on task. I met up with George Themelis on the way to Pine Hollow and could tell he was struggling; he tried to latch on but it didn’t last. I ran into Pine Hollow – or “hiked up the obnoxiously steep grassy hill” – triumphant and hollering back in answer to Robin’s call.
DB was wearing his SPAM t-shirt. I said what I thought was the most important thing, “I love you,” and looked at this incredible lot of friends and family I had around me. Robin. Gwen. Lexi. Darrin. Darris. Jay. Shelley. Eliott. Salty. Rachel. Steve. It took me a minute to come up with what I needed. It was really because I was so overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed by my love for all of these people, and I didn’t have time to express it.
I called for Ramen noodles and Coke. There were glitches with the Ramen. I ended up with plain Ramen. It was foul. It was noodles, in that gelatinous kind of broth they get, with no flavor packet.
“Well, it’s starch,” I said wryly, trying to ignore the whole taste thing.
They poured water over my back. It set the chafing on fire.
They told me that Jill was out, that Connie was “gone” and that second and third kept changing position. I decided to let those two tire each other out while I headed to the Covered Bridge. Before dark. Because of all my goals – placing, placing higher than last year, breaking 19 hours – this was what had eluded me at the last minute last year. I have had so many stories over so many years on the way to Covered Bridge. Not this year. No, this year was going to be a straight shot across Wetmore Road, and I was getting there before dark. I was still a bit off my pace chart, but it wasn’t tragic. I did a quick adjustment – not quite math – and decided I would be there by 8:30. I shared some early miles out of Pine Hollow with a runner from Florida, and it was a real treat to have conversation for a bit. I slowly pulled ahead. I sentimentally charged the water crossing that I’d had to stop at with Darrin two years back. I crossed Wetmore Road, glancing quickly at the bench and the road and drawing strength from journeys past. Though my energy was dipping, I had coffee coming at the bridge and I relished running these difficult, rutted stretches of bridle trail in the daylight. I approached Szalay’s Farm, realizing how close I was to my Covered Bridge triumph. I was evaluating my physical and mental states thoroughly. I was evaluating what I had: ready to hunt, mentally strong – against what I did not: leg turnover non-existent, right IT band pinching hard, stomach questionable, still warm. I had Tylenol and coffee coming, but running 80 miles faster than ever before was wearing on me. Wearing on me enough that I was seriously questioning my ability to close. Could I hold on? Yes. Bring out “Second Half Star,” the chic-ing machine?
Not so sure.
I turned off of the trail, and she was mere strides ahead of me. Third.
I pulled up to her, asked how her day was going. She told me that second was not too far ahead, but she was strong. As in, “you will not catch her.” Those were not her words; it was what I heard.
I reacted. First, I needed to break third. Melanie is an astounding runner, which I knew from doing my homework before the race. Her marathon is in the 2:50’s, but this was her first 100. I didn’t know how that was going to balance out, but I did know that we had some nine miles total of road in the last 20 miles – and I didn’t have her road speed. Which meant I had to break her – definitively – now.
I want to say I pushed like it was a 50K, but the trail was rutted and I had run 80 miles. I pushed like the damn devil though, stealing glances back on the turns. That girl was going nowhere.
I pushed harder when we hit the gravel trail, probably all of a ten minute mile. She held on.
All at once, my body felt on fire, my stomach turned over, my head started pounding and my legs turned to jello. I ran into Covered Bridge on the verge of collapse, waiting to throw up and burst into flames while my head exploded. They say I looked fine. I assure you, I was not.
I had told them I would need Ramen, my iced coffee in my actual handheld, and maybe my brownie when I got there. Lexi came over with the Ramen; it was vegetable Ramen. There was celery and carrot floating in it and it made dizzy with nausea.
Robin handed me my coffee and I couldn’t stop mumbling “she’s holding on, she’s holding on” right as she walked in.
They asked if I wanted Coke, if I needed this, if I needed that. I was watching the Covered Bridge (in the daylight) start twisting and turning like the farmhouse in the “Wizard of Oz.” That’s when my legs got the weird feeling like they do when the bridge shakes at the start of the NYC Marathon.
Honestly, I was drunk as a skunk.
I cursed myself inwardly as I went to the chair, but it was preferable to the ground. Potato soup materialized to replace the rogue Ramen. It had huge chunks of garlic in it which confused the hell out of me. I showed Darrin my hands to make sure it was safe to take Tylenol. I tried a sip of Coke. I watched Melanie. I tried more soup. Then everyone got really blurry and looked like carnival funhouse characters.
They kept telling me I was okay.
Darrin told me this was my favorite part of the course, where I did my best work.
Robin told me I had been in worse shape last year and my eyes already looked better.
Darris told me I had a stronger close than anyone in the race and that my day wasn’t over yet.
I tried not puke and thought it was all pretty rich as I shivered half naked, covered in mud and wet clothes. I do most of the laundry, and I knew exactly how soft and warm and dry that SPAM t-shirt was.
Jay asked me if I was throwing up before he started getting blurry again. He said if I was keeping calories down, it would get better.
I heard their voices from far away, come on Star, come on Star, come on Star.
I tried to get up, and it just went back out from under me.
All I wanted to do was crawl under a chair and cry.
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