When I sat down, the ice bucket full of ice was sitting next to me on the edge of the tub. It hardly contained enough ice for a proper ice bath but it would have to do.
I looked at my feet once again. No blisters. Just a few callouses and a few slightly tender spots that would be gone by the following day.
I turned on the cold water to a trickle. When water splattered from the empty tub onto my legs I quickly turned the water up to allow it to fill in to stop the splashing. Somehow, while the splatter was exceedingly uncomfortable to endure, the rising water on my heels and calves was quite pleasant.
Normally, I would wait until the water was at a suitable level and then dump the ice over my legs. Today I picked a couple of ice cubes out of the bucket.
Plink. Plunk. I tossed one to the outside of my right foot and one to the outside of the left foot.
I thought about the pre-race. Parking, getting a number, waiting to use the one stall in the bathroom, pulling out gear, meeting new people, connecting with friends.
The SweetH2O 50k was underway.
I headed out at a pace 2 minutes faster than I anticipated. Must be the taper.
I counted 14 people in front of me when the road straightened out before plunging into the woods. "Keep an even, easy level of effort and you'll start picking them off as they get tired."
Plink, plunk. The cold water was rising too slowly. Now it was deep enough that I didn't feel like moving. Just let it ride.
As we completed the first loop, we ran onto a brief portion of road. I was so proud that I knew to cut the tangents around the curves. I wondered if anyone was impressed.
The ice cubes continued to join the water as I smiled at my expectations. I wasn’t beholden to the goals I had set. I had no idea what they should be. Among my unrealistic expectations there were a few about the trail.
When the race route meandered down to the river and sent us out toward the difficult portions of the course I expected the trail to be more reasonable. It must be level since it ran along the river.
It took us over rocks, hopping across logs, crossing natural drainages and tip toeing through tree roots. Somewhere on this portion I twisted my ankle. I ran on.
Plink. I decided to make a game of sliding the ice cubes down my thighs to see if I could get them to glide over my knees to where my shin was slowly being covered by water.
A branch knocked my sunglasses off of their perch on my hat. They rolled down my back and into my hand. I kept running.
I glanced back to see if my deft reflexes had been noted by a now intimidated runner behind me.
There was no one behind me.
My pace was slowing. “When the trail opens up I’ll be fresh,” I said. “I’m strong on the hills,” I said. “I’ll really reel them in then,” I said.
I heard a shout behind me. "Hey, I think it's this way!"
Plunk. I was sliding the ice cubes, one after another, down my leg into the water now. I couldn’t get them to slide over my kneecap.
About the time I reached the Top of the World, a new pattern developed on a trail that seemed to defy patterns. People began to pass me at regular intervals. The pattern remained until the end of the race.
“This is your first 50k. Finishing will be good.”
The Top of the World could be more appropriately named the Top-Bottom-Top-Bottom... ...of the World as it propelled runners on a roller coaster of breath taking inclines and declines. While the course is beautiful, 'breath taking' is not intended to mean anything other than 'breath taking'.The tub water rose slowly to engulf my heels and the midpoint of my calves
I had passed the Top of the World aid station and was making my way back to the river. Two runners had recently passed me and were heading out of view.
I came out on a power line clear cut at the top of a hill that dropped precipitously on both sides. This was the case all along the power line cuts but there were no runners in sight.
There were no trail markers into the trees on the other side.
I stood alone hoping another runner would come along.
In a few seconds one came into the clear from the direction I had come. After a few seconds of standing together, bewildered as to what to do, a few runners came out of the trees from the other side.
They were coming back, confirming that it was the wrong way.
We headed back the way we had all come. 50 feet back into the trees we saw a line of runners going along the actual route.
Plink. The tub water still had not covered the top half of my legs. I looked into the tub of ice. I had only used up half the ice cubes. Plunk.
Heather May passed me. I passed her.
The first visit to the Top of the World was over. People were still passing me. I stubbed my toe.
Heather caught up with Joe McNab and I and we ran together. She told us she’d already fallen once.
I was a couple hundred feet behind. Joe stood by to make sure she was OK. We ran together again. I left them at the aid station just before crossing the bridge. They both finished the race well ahead of me. Heather would be the female race winner.
Plink. I was still sliding ice cubes down my legs only to be stopped by my knees. The earliest ice cubes had already melted into the cool water.
Heather had already passed and Joe was running with me when we were passed by Sally Brookings. We exchanged a few pleasantries.
As she sped on I shouted, “If you’re going to get chicked, you might as well get chicked by a legend!”
I thought I was pretty cool with my ultra-lingo knowledge. I wondered later if I had been rude.
“Legend!” she shouted, “I don’t see any legends out here!”
Ploink. Finally, an ice cube rocked gracefully over my kneecap and down the ramp of my leg into the water.
I would be passed by six more female athletes.
On the steep descent down to the water crossing I reached out to push aside a slender branch. It turned out to be strongly connected both above and below. It was spiked with nasty thorns.
It stopped me dead in my tracks in spite of the downhill momentum. The thorns gripped my body from my right shoulder and continued down across my torso. The lower end of the branch slid across my left thigh leaving its mark on my leg. My left hand pressed hard on a thorn that left the middle of my palm bleeding.
“Are you all right?” It was Joe again.
“Nothing that the water won’t clean off.”
Sally was climbing out when we reached the water.
A little politeness on my part would have led me to offer the first trip across to Joe. He help Heather up and waited for me to untangle myself from my self wrought ribbon of thorns. He wouldn't have accepted, but...
The water crossing was a non-event. Today going out to fast had its advantages. Later runners waited over 40 minutes to make the crossing.
The water did wash away the blood and I didn’t give it another thought until I was safely home.
I was down to the last of my ice. The water was finally beginning to cover my legs. Any movement that caused the water to splash up on the dry portions of my body reminded me that the water was still quite cold.
I looked down at the lacerations on my thigh. I smiled. War wounds.
I started getting pains in my stomach. Was I over-hydrating? Were these cramps people spoke of? I chose not to include my pre-mix of protien powder, maltodextrin and Succeed! Caps into my next drink. At the next aid station I would just get water to slosh in my mouth and spit out. I had read to do that somewhere.
I got hungry and broke open a gel pack.
The water in the tub had engulfed my legs. I wondered if I should turn off the water. No. What I had misdiagnosed as cramps during the run was actually core muscles tightening up. I might as well let them freeze too.
The second trip to the Top of the World was actually less eventful than the first. I did not get lost. People were getting punchy and saying things that were only funny under the circumstances.
At the Top of the World aid station they told us we only had 4 miles to go. The aid station before and after the trip to the Top of the World had said that on the next visit we would be at mile 27. I remained quiet. No need to disillusion anyone.
The rest of the race was a series of runners politely making their way by me. At some point I stubbed my other toe.
Mile 28 still makes me laugh out loud when I think about it. You'd have had to have been there.
As I cleared a point that brought me around to the north side of the lake I looked up toward a field that represented one more hill. At the top of the hill stood two small figures. I began the climb toward them.
“Come on, honey! You can do it!”
Of all the things. It was my wife. It was my daughter.
“Dad, you’re almost done!”
“You can do it! You’re almost done!”
I later told my wife it felt like a “Sound of Music” moment.
As we ran around the last curve of road together my daughter pushed into me as she tried to move out of traffic to the side of the road.
“Don’t push me!” I snapped at her.
The emotions were a little raw.
I thought of George MacDonald who described how people sometimes think they have become better when in reality they only feel better. When I'm in a good mood it is easy to be good. It is when I am spent that I am most aware of opportunities to improve.
I finished my first 50k with a time of 5:56:07. 46th over all. I had been passed by 32 people. I was deeply satisfied.
I gingerly pulled myself forward and turned the tap water off. I laid back into the water.