Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Cactus Rose 100
After a less-than-restful night, my dad and I got out of bed at 5:30 AM and drove through a cold, dark morning. The wind had gotten stronger than expected.
Once in the park and on dirt roads, it became hard to find our way around. There weren’t many signs, and those that existed weren’t particularly helpful. There’s no electricity in Hill Country State Natural Area, so no lights.
With some help from a volunteer, we eventually found our way to the start/finish area, having only managed to drop off one bag ahead of time. My dad would have to drop off the rest after I’d started running.
Due to the pandemic, the Cactus Rose no longer had a normal mass start. Instead, runners chose a one-hour time slot before the race, during which they could start at any time. I’d picked 7:00-8:00 AM Saturday morning, intending to begin as soon as it was bright enough to run without a light. After disrobing and pinning on my bib, I made it to the start line just in time, at almost exactly 7:30 AM.
The course started off mildly enough, nothing but a slight incline up a doubletrack fire road. It felt remarkably easy to run. No weak knee, no sore achilles, no stiffness. This is what running is supposed to feel like! After beating my legs up for months, I’d almost forgotten.
It’s easy, but that doesn’t mean you have to run fast. Don’t push. You’re gonna be out here a while. Effortless, not fast. Easy, easy, easy.
Only 1.6 miles in, I walked up a steep, rocky slope. With effort, I probably could’ve run through it. But according to a more experienced friend of mine, going out too fast is how you DNF. If I were to miss my goals today, it was more likely that would be caused by foolishly charging up every hill in the early going, rather than spending an extra 20 seconds walking up a hill instead of running. Besides, on steep hills, walking isn’t much slower than running, so it barely costs any time while saving a ton of energy.
The first aid station, Ya-Ya, was hardly an aid station at all. It was a designated spot along the trail where runners were allowed to leave their bags. It resembled a pile of litter more than anything else. My dad wasn’t there, and neither was my bag. No matter, since I’d only gone 4.1 miles at this point; I’d already planned on skipping this aid station. But the problem was if my dad wasn’t here yet, he’d probably get here later and wait for me, meaning I wouldn’t see him (or my bag) at Nachos, five miles from now. If he didn’t make it there, I’d have to go the first 16 miles with no food or water.
Side note: I loved the names of some of the aid stations. In order, they were: Lodge, Ya-Ya, Nachos, Equestrian, and Boyles. Lodge was easy to remember; there was a lodge at the start/finish area. I remembered the order of the rest by thinking “Ya-Ya, Nachos!” and thinking of a gender-swapped version of Equestria Girls.
Leaving Ya-Ya, more easy miles, lots of them on doubletrack jeep roads, in flat, grassy areas. One of the “hills” I’d included in my pace band came and went without notice. I was cranking out each mile in 7-8 minutes, when my goal pace for this lap was 9:31. Every mile I ran, I was getting two minutes ahead of pace!
Thunk!-scuffle, “Oh SHIT!!” WHAM!!
I caught a rock with my right toe and went down, mostly on my left knee, on top of more rocks. My hand was scraped up, and my knee hurt like hell. I could already feel the adrenaline rushing.
“You OK?” A group of three runners was just ahead and heard when it happened.
I stood up. “Yeah.” My knee hurt, but it worked. “It’s just a skinned knee.”
“That part’s pretty sketchy!” one remarked to another as they trotted away. It wasn’t, really.
I walked a few steps. Couldn’t do it without limping. My knee was still sore.
Not now! Don’t tell me I’ve ended the race less than ten miles in!
If I’d hurt myself in the last ten miles, limping my way to the finish would be an option. 8.6 miles in, with 91.4 miles to go, it’s not. If there were anything wrong with my knee, I’d be out.
After walking for a couple minutes, I could do it without a limp. I started jogging easy. The limp returned, but only for a while. By the time I made it to Nachos, only about a quarter-mile later, I was mostly back to normal, aside from the blood pouring down my shin and my hand.
This time, my dad was there!
“Uhh, you OK?”
“Yeah. Skinned knee is all. I’m fine though.”
“You want a Band-Aid?”
“You have one?!?” I could hardly contain my excitement.
As my dad pulled a Band-Aid out of his wallet, I finally admitted out loud, to myself more than anything, that I was mostly upset about losing time from the fall.
“So I’m kinda pissed more than anything,” I disclosed, “I’d been doing so well before that.”
I grabbed a few grapes and blueberries and headed back out. My dad promised to be at Equestrian
As I left Nachos, I was running more tentatively, and continued doing so for the rest of the race. No longer did I try to blaze through some of the rock gardens. One of my greatest concerns was starting too fast and wearing myself out, so perhaps the spill I took helped, in a strange way. It had caused me to slow down and respect the rocks.
And just in time! The section between Nachos and Equestrian is not only the longest gap between aid stations, at seven miles (all others were between 4-5 miles), but contained the most difficult miles of the course. The steepness of the hills was tough enough, made even worse by the technical aspect of the terrain. Most notably rocks.
My goodness, the rocks! Where did they all come from? Why are they still on the trail? Why don’t they ever roll off the trail and down the hill? How can there be so many??
Where it wasn’t covered in loose rocks, the trail was entirely made of rock, and never a nice, flat slab. A lot of time was spent walking, including downhill. There was no other way.
Throughout the first lap, I was frequently leapfrogging a young runner, about my height, with frizzy red hair. The way she ran could somehow be described as both smooth and aggressive at the same time. She wasn’t the slightest bit out of control, but was pushing herself and running like she meant it. I liked her style.
Remembering what had happened in the Bandera 100k, I elected to wear knee-high socks to start the race. The course has a lot of sotol cactus, often growing across the trail, and you have to run through it like a saloon door.
This time around, the sotol didn’t seem nearly as bad - until mile 12.
Goodness gracious, did more of it grow since last time?
I went ahead and walked through most of the sotol. Didn’t get scratched nearly as badly as I had during the Bandera 100k, when I ran through at full speed. It was still annoying.
Why doesn’t someone come out and trim just enough to keep the trail clear?
At one point, I was passing a ton of people coming the other way. Most of them had hydration packs and running shoes on; they were probably in the race.
Am I going the wrong way? I kept wondering. This couldn’t be a coincidence. After a while, I finally asked the question aloud.
“Yeah, you go up and do a loop and come back down the same way,” answered another runner.
Ah, yeah, I’d forgotten. One of the toughest hills on the course involved a lollipop loop. In the last lap, you could imagine there’d be a temptation to cut across and skip the hill.
At the top, you were treated to the best views on the course, and notably, a couple of benches. Aside from the lodge at the start/finish area, these were the only man-made objects in the park. Even trail signs were completely absent from this preserve.
Once again, my dad was waiting for me at Boyles. I only took in a small amount of food and water, then kept going. In the short time I was there, Frizzy Red Hair charged through.
“Look at her go!” my dad remarked. He’s not a runner, and even he could tell.
“Yeah. She’s good.” I gulped down one last mouthful and took off.
A few miles later, I caught up to Frizzy Red Hair. She was walking up a steep section of rocky trail; I was still jogging it.
“You’ve almost got the single lap men’s record!” she exclaimed. “It’s 3:45. I was going for it, but these hills…”
If I had to guess, she was an excellent cross country runner, probably on scholarship in college, and has made the transition to marathon distance. Now she’s getting into trail running, and is still adjusting to its unique challenges. But she’s a kick-ass runner in general, and would probably be an outstanding trail runner if she keeps doing it.
I looked at my watch. 3:45 wasn’t going to happen, but 3:50 probably would. That would put me ten minutes ahead of my target pace for the first lap, which originally seemed kind of ambitious. And that’s despite losing some time from falling, and included some strategic walking. Things were going well!
The signage for how to enter the start/finish area was easy to understand, but there was nothing telling you how to exit and go back onto the course. The volunteers didn’t appear to understand how to answer that question either. Thankfully, it wasn’t too complicated, but if you do it wrong, your timing info gets messed up. Short break, got back out there. I might as well have skipped this one.
The first ten miles still felt effortless, even with 25 miles under my belt. Clearly, this was the easiest part of the course. Not quite as fast as the first lap, but nearly so, and my target pace had a decrease in speed built in.
The plan was to run each lap in 4:00, 4:30, 5:30, and 6:00, for a total of 20 hours. The first lap came in at 3:48, almost 30 seconds/mile faster than the target pace of 9:31/mile. And the target pace on this lap was a whopping 10:43/mile. Easy! For the first 10 miles of lap 2, I was still running well under 8:00/mile, getting another 2-3 minutes ahead of pace with every mile.
My dad was at both Ya-Ya and Nachos. I barely stopped at either of them, but at Ya-Ya, handed him a pair of socks and asked him to take them to Equestrian. The morning was still cool and cloudy, but it’d be warming up by then.
An unexpected problem was brewing: My water bottles weren’t thawing out. I’d frozen them earlier in the week, and the night before the race, we left them in a cooler in the trunk of the car. This morning, they were still frozen solid, and since it was cool out, they hadn’t melted much. For now, it wasn’t such a problem, since I wasn’t sweating, but I’d need that water eventually. If the bottles didn’t start melting, I’d be screwed.
If it never gets warm enough to melt the bottles, then it probably won’t be warm enough for me to get dehydrated...right??
As I left Nachos and cruised up a slight hill, I passed two guys.
“Dude, you’re flyin’!” one remarked, “What lap are you on?”
“This is lap 2,” I answered.
“And you? What lap y’all on?”
Damn. Sure, they were walking, but they were walking with a purpose. Looking pretty good for lap 4. And depending on when they started, they should be on pace for...I tried doing the math in my head.
“When did y’all start?” If it were 7:00 AM Friday morning, it wouldn’t be that impressive.
“8:00 last night!”
Damn! It was about 12:30 PM now. With 16 miles to go, they’d probably finish with a time of roughly 20 hours, give or take.
20 is my optimistic goal. I could do my very best and still lose.
Going into this thing, I knew winning was a possibility, but not an expectation. Same went for 20 hours. But somehow, I’d strongly tied those two ideas together; if I got one, I’d surely get the other. Both were optimistic goals though, and winning, in particular, isn’t 100% in my control.
If I run my best race, and someone else runs better, that’s OK. Don’t worry about this other guy. Just run.
I did a little more math in my head. If I held the exact same pace as these guys, I’d be here in my last lap right around midnight.
OK, get here by midnight and you can still win this. Especially if you still have enough energy to run this hill. They were walking.
The grueling middle section of the race wasn’t any easier. The clouds were getting thinner. The air was getting warmer. Sweat was finally making an appearance. I decided to change out of my knee-high socks when I got to Equestrian. Good prediction that I’d want to do so by then, and nice that my dad was willing and able to ferry a pair of socks exactly where I’d want them.
My dad was faithfully waiting at Equestrian. I sat down at a picnic table and started taking off my socks.
“I went into town and got a burger,” he informed me. “‘The best burger in Bandera,’ according to the sign.”
“How was it?”
“The best burger I’ve ever had in Bandera!”
If he’d had time to go into town, order a burger, wait for it to be cooked, eat it, and return to the park, either he did this in impressive time, or I’m not moving too fast. But I was still ahead of pace, and Nachos-Equestrian is a long, tough stretch. I guess he’d figured that out last time.
“That last part is so tough,” I muttered, as I pulled on the new socks. “I don’t want to do it again.”
“Well, you’ve only got to do it a couple more times!” my dad cheerfully replied.
True. 41% of the race down, but the worst parts are half-over.
In all, this aid station took something like eight minutes. Way too long. Socks take forever to change, since you have to un-tie and re-tie your shoelaces to do it. I laced them a little tighter this time. Until now, my feet had been sliding all over the insides of my shoes when dancing through the rocky bits. With a snug fit, I’d have more predictable footing.
Now that I was no longer wearing knee-high socks, I finally noticed that almost everyone else was wearing them. Why is that? Some people swear compression socks help combat fatigue, but every third party study has concluded they help with recovery, but do nothing for performance. Maybe the strategy is to spend so much time at aid stations, you legitimately recover a little bit? Or maybe it was simply to protect from the sotol.
The “hill” leading out of Equestrian is more of an incline than anything, and it wasn’t any harder the second time around. Neither was the lollipop loop, probably since I expected it this time, and wasn’t nervous about whether or not I’d taken a wrong turn.
At one point, I passed a convoy of horses, four in total. Horses have the right-of-way on trails, but on occasion, I've seen horseback riders get out of my way instead. These four didn't move, and one of them warned me that her horse spooks easily, and I ought to give it a wide berth. So I did. I wasn't too upset about taking a quick break anyway.
I wanted to drink plenty of water at Boyles, but couldn’t. The water bottles were still mostly frozen. The sun had come out. It had started getting hot. I looped the bottles’ lids around the straps of the bags so they could stay exposed to the sunlight and melt by the time I got back. But since this was the first time I’d done that, I wouldn’t see any effect until I returned here 25 miles from now, by which point it would probably be dark.
The last five miles to the Lodge were difficult, and especially rockier than I remembered. The whole stretch seemed to take a lot longer than it had last time. Arrived at the Lodge about 45 minutes ahead of pace and switched watches. You know the race is completely insane when 13 hours isn’t enough battery life and you have to switch watches - twice - only to have enough battery to get through the race. I left my first one plugged into a power bank, hoping it would recharge enough by the time I got back, since my second watch wouldn’t make it through the last two laps.
It was hot. I put on my sunglasses and started lap 3. One of the volunteers cheered loudly.
The first miles didn’t feel nearly as easy.
Did someone come out here and make all the inclines a little steeper? And add a few more rocks to the trail?
Here and there, I walked for no reason. My legs didn’t feel the same, but it wasn’t like I couldn’t take another step. My stomach...there was something odd about it.
My dad was waiting again at Ya-Ya. He’d decided not to go back to Boerne and instead would continue crewing throughout the race. What a trooper!
This would be especially helpful since it was the later stages of the race where I’d probably need help the most, and I wasn’t so sure I could rely on my students as a support crew. They weren’t planning to make it out until 10:00 at the earliest, by which time I’d be well into my last lap, and there was no good way to coordinate when it came to finding me on the course. Knowing I’d have support throughout the race put my mind at ease.
“There’s something wrong with my stomach. I’m probably gonna have to poop sometime soon,” I remarked.
“Well, uhhh, I think there was a port-o-potty at Equestrian…” That was 12 miles from now. Obviously, this guy didn’t know how it works out here.
I left Ya-Ya at a slow jog. I wasn’t losing any time, but wasn’t gaining any either, and this was the fastest part of the course. My pace was supposed to slow down by nearly three minutes/mile, which means compared to how I’d been running in prior laps, a difference of about five minutes/mile. And I was using almost all of it.
In between Ya-Ya and Nachos, I finally pooped - three times. After each one, I only felt a little better, but the aggregate of all three made a difference.
On the third iteration, disaster struck.
One of the race’s policies regarding COVID was all runners must carry a mask and wear them when passing and at the aid stations. However, no one was doing this. I left my mask folded and tucked into the back of my waistband. It laid nice and flat, and I essentially forgot it was there. Which, normally, was great, until I forgot at the wrong time.
After my third poop, which was mostly liquid, the mask fell out of my waistband, in precisely the wrong place, and sank.
Shit! ...Like, literally!
I fished it out and rubbed it in the dirt, then wiped it on a rock. That was the best I could do. Most of the physical residue was gone, but it was still soaked. Thankfully, it was all on one side. I folded it over and carried it in my hand. I’d drop it in my bag at the next aid station, which was only about a mile away.
I was still on pace at Nachos, despite three stops and everything going wrong. The concern, of course, was that was the easy part. My legs still didn’t feel the same, and my stomach, somehow, still wasn’t fully settled. I could literally hear my insides sloshing as I ran. It sounded like it was coming from my lower back, around my kidneys. That couldn’t be ideal. It was starting to look like 20:00 might not happen. And the hardest part of the course was just ahead. It was still hot.
On a positive note, my water bottles had finally begun melting in earnest, and I could drink as much as I wanted.
Incredibly, I made it through the notorious Nachos-Equestrian section ahead of pace. Perhaps that was because I’d already been walking a lot of it in prior laps. Sure, I was tired now, but considering how slowly I’d done this section in the first two laps, getting tired didn’t make you any slower.
The sotol still didn’t seem as bad as it had during the Bandera 100k, not even without the high socks this time. I came up with two hypotheses as to why that was the case:
Maybe in winter, the plant dries out, and the spines are stiffer and more prone to scratching. At this time of year, perhaps the plant is a little more fleshy/flexible and doesn’t scratch as badly.
I’m simply running through them slower, as opposed to crashing through them at full speed like I did last time.
After another bathroom break, it felt like my stomach had found its peace. When I got to Equestrian, not only was I still far ahead of pace, but I was feeling better, even after the toughest part of the course! My stomach was settled, the air had started to cool back down, and even my legs had started to come back. Maybe they’d felt weak because with an upset stomach, I was running with improper form?
It was only about 6:30 PM when I got to Equestrian. Making it back here by midnight, 5.5 hours from now, didn’t sound ridiculous anymore. I dug my waist light out of my bag. It wasn’t dark yet.
“You want me to take that to Boyles?” my dad asked.
7:30 was about when it got dark, and Boyles was less than five miles away.
“Yeah, I can make it there before dark.” I handed it off, then got moving. I started having doubts right away about that call. Before I’d even left the aid station, I asked a volunteer, “It’s only about four miles to Boyles, right?”
“Just over four, and then five from Boyles to the Lodge.”
“Thanks, wanted to double-check.”
“Just so you know, the fastest time so far is 20:17,” he added. He had an informative look, like this was important information. In other words, he knew my time and thought I had a chance at winning.
“Great! I think I can break 20!” I left Equestrian smiling.
Shortly after Equestrian, I saw a group of three runners standing together. One of them was fiddling with something on another’s hydration pack. One of them gave me an incredulous look, like she recognized me from somewhere.
“This is the second time you’ve lapped us,” she stated.
I wasn’t sure what to say that wouldn’t come off as either arrogant or patronizing. “Uhhh, great, I guess? Let’s do it again sometime!”
“That’s awesome! Good job!” another one added.
I finally realized I was the only one out there who wasn’t carrying anything between aid stations. Nearly everyone else was carrying a hydration pack, many of them were using trekking poles, and the very lightest people were either using a fanny pack or simply carrying a water bottle in their hand. Not me. I hate carrying anything. And if I couldn’t make it five miles without food and water, I wouldn’t consider myself in good enough shape to do a 100-miler in the first place.
That said, I should’ve carried a light in this section just in case, even though it wasn’t dark yet. Going ahead without a light was against better judgement. It occurred to me that it had been getting dark at 7:30 two weeks ago, when I most recently was running at that time of day. It probably got dark about 7:15 these days.
But Bandera is southwest of Wimberley, so that should make a difference, right?...But what if I fall again? What if something else happens? What if I simply get tired?
The thought of getting stranded on the trail with no lights served as an excellent motivator; I forced myself not to push, but to hold a solid pace, even when it got hard. As the sun set, the air was rapidly getting cooler. For the first time all day, I could feel myself chafing. My sweat had dried, and the salt was starting to rub. I didn’t have any kind of lube in any of my bags until Ya-Ya, 13 miles away.
The sun had just dipped below the horizon when I made it to the top of the lollipop hill. One particular overlook, near a bench, was stunning. The sky was red at the horizon, with a smooth gradient through orange and yellow, before fading into a light, then deepening blue. The hills looked purple against all the colors in the sky. Wow.
Another runner was stopped, taking a picture. I would’ve paused for a moment to take it in, but without a light, I was still concerned about getting to Boyles before dark.
Had it taken another five minutes to get to Boyles, I probably would’ve had to start walking at all times for safety’s sake. I put on both my waist light and head lamp and turned both on. The waist light is much brighter and served as my main light, but it’s nice to be able to point a light at whatever you’re looking at, which is something a waist light can’t do. That’s where the head lamp comes in.
The entire course was marked with neon reflective swatches, which were visible enough in the daytime, but stood out like crazy at night. Aside from what was right in front of you, nothing was visible, except for these floating dots marking the trail. Every so often, I’d see a light out of the corner of my eye and think the trail made a hard turn, only to look in that direction and realize it was a radio tower dozens of miles away.
Like last time, this section took longer than expected. Could be nightfall was doing this. It didn’t feel hard, not even 70 miles into the race, but felt slow, and like last time, it felt like there was an excessive amount of rocks on the trail. Now that it was dark, there were a lot less people around. No day hikers, and no one doing the shorter distances either. The dark and the quiet made for a peaceful atmosphere. Running through the void felt surreal.
I was over an hour ahead of pace by the time I got to the Lodge, and I still felt good! Made it a short pit stop and headed back toward the trail. There were a few volunteers seated at a table nearby. I turned to them and held up one finger.
“One more!! One more!!”
They didn’t react.
Unlike lap 3, I didn’t walk sporadically in the first ten miles, and instead, made the best of them. Not nearly as fast as the first two laps, but still cranking out eight minute miles when it was flat. Had to slow down more than usual in some of the rocky slopes, but that was OK. At this point, a 15-minute mile would have me breaking 20 hours, and it sounded like that was enough for a win.
The X-factor would be the dark. I still don’t like running in the dark and never fully got comfortable doing it. Would that have an effect? Or would sleep deprivation wallop me at some point?
In addition to physically feeling better, I felt more focused now than I had in the first half of lap 3, when it felt like I was running in a daze. I’d begun drinking caffeine starting in lap 3, at a rate equal to less than a Coke per hour, but that might’ve been the difference that perked me up and got me going again. Somehow, this second wind had already lasted over 10 miles, and showed no sign of disappearing. How long could I keep this going?
I started applying lube at every aid station where I’d left some. The chafing didn’t go away, but at least it never got worse.
Back on lap 2, when I’d passed the guy who’d eventually finish in 20:17, I calculated that I’d have to be leaving Nachos by midnight to match his pace to that point. I was leaving Nachos shortly after 10:00, and where he was walking up the hill, I was still running.
I passed a tall guy with a hydration pack, carrying unusually long trekking poles, jogging along slowly. He looked like some kind of giant spider lumbering through the dark.
“Good job, man! What lap you on?”
“You’re lookin’ good for lap 4! Where you from?”
“Wimberley!” He didn’t react. “You know where that is?”
“Yeah. I just figured you must be from Colorado or something. You’re killing it in these hills.”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Colorado is ridiculously overrated, and its hills aren’t impressive. On a bike tour a few years back, there was a three day stretch in Kansas that was hillier, mile-for-mile, than the average day in Colorado on the same tour. Colorado’s hills are large, and reach high elevation, but that’s only because they start from high elevation, and they’re not particularly steep. On that same bike tour, in 2017, California, Nevada, Utah, Missouri, and Arkansas all had more hills than Colorado, mile-for-mile.
Long story short, you don’t need to go to Colorado to find some hills, and you don't need to be from Colorado to be good at them.
The middle section of the course didn’t feel any worse than it had before, in part because I was intentionally tentative. There was no reason to push through it, especially the dodgy parts in the dark.
Don’t hurt yourself. Just get through this and a sub-20 time and 1st place finish are yours.
Still felt good at Equestrian arriving there at about 11:30 PM. With 9.5 miles to go, I only needed to finish by 3:30 AM to break 20 hours, which meant I could walk the whole thing and still do it, easily. 19 hours looked likely. 18:30 wasn’t unreasonable. 18 hours was...still technically possible!
My second wind, which had started 25 miles ago, was still going strong. I was fully aware that made no sense whatsoever. How could a second wind last this long? Second winds are somewhat common in ultra distances, but they're usually not sustained for this long, at least not this steadily for this long. I wondered if the caffeine was part of it. It almost felt like I was fidgeting, only the fidgeting wasn't wiggling my fingers or something, but rather moving my legs. I didn't have to think to do it. It felt automatic.
For the fourth time, my dad was waiting at Boyles. This time, he had someone there with him.
"Look who I found!" he exclaimed.
"You made it! Hey guys!"
At long last, two of my students had made it out to see the race. As I suspected, they arrived a little after 10:00, then had trouble tracking me down. With only five miles to go, they found me.
An 18 hour finish was still technically possible. I had just over an hour to make it happen. Each mile would have to be run in 12 minutes on average, which could be difficult in the dark, considering how rocky this section was. I recalled that on each of the previous laps, this section had taken longer than expected. With 96 miles under my belt (the course is actually 101 miles), it would probably take even longer this time. But I was going for it. I barely ate or drank anything, since anything I ate or drank wouldn't have time to kick in by the time I finished.
"We believe in you, Mr. Landauer!" my students cheered as I jogged away. And after hearing that, so did I. My steps felt quick and light.
You can do it. It's not that hard.
Compared to laps 2 and 3, the first few miles took less time than expected! Perhaps that was because on both of the previous laps, I'd been in this area when it was warm or hot outside. It had cooled down to nearly perfect running temperature. And on top of that, I wasn't holding back anymore. I'd walk if I had to, but there was no longer any point to pacing myself. Nothing was coming later for which to save energy. This was it!
Slowly, my needed mile pace to finish a sub-18:00 changed from 12 minutes to 13, then 14, then 15, 18, 20. And the last mile was cake, a flat, straight dirt path, slightly downhill.
Holy shit! You got this!
As I cruised the last mile, I felt like I could keep going for another lap. I was almost disappointed to be finished. Did I truly give my all? Could I have done better? Maybe, but I wasn’t about to beat myself up for it. If I’d tried harder, it probably would’ve backfired. Almost everything had gone right today.
When I approached the finish line, no one was there. It also wasn't clear which way to go. Do you finish this lap the same way you did the others, or do you go through the big arch this time?
"WHICH WAY?" I shouted. No response. "WHICH WAY??" A volunteer came over this time, and after a few more words, managed to let me know you finish this lap the same as the others. Strange that you don't finish by running under the big arch. Crossed the line in an official 17:48:10. I walked over to my dad and hugged him.
There were only three volunteers in the finish area, along with my dad, my students, and no one else. It was quiet. Earlier, there were dozens of people buzzing around, and the volunteers were cooking sausages and other food for the runners. I didn't take any at the time, because if I ate something like that and kept running, I'd puke. Now that I wanted food, it wasn't there anymore. They still had a cup of ramen and one glazed donut. I ate them.
One of the volunteers came over to take my chip and handed me a belt buckle. By finishing in less than 24 hours, I got the special one, with the gold rose on it. I put it on a belt and took a victory photograph.
Yo Adrian! I did it!
My students congratulated me, then wandered over to their car to pull out a tent and set up for the night. Hard to believe they drove over two hours to get out here and watch me for a total of maybe five minutes.
My dad brought me some comfy clothes to change into, so I went over to a spigot, rinsed off as best I could, and changed into them. Had to get completely naked in the process, but considering it was dark and no one was around, no big deal. At least, I thought so. It wasn't until I was about done that I noticed there was someone sleeping in the grass only about a meter away. He finally got up and moved just as I was leaving. I felt bad for waking him up, but at the same time, maybe don't choose a nap spot that's right next to the only spigot.
With a fresh set of clothes on and a little food in my belly, we hopped in the car and started the long drive home. It would be a little less distance than I'd run today, but in only 2.5 hours.