The thing about ultramarathons, for me at least, is that they’re so long that you start writing the post-race blog post while you’re far short of the finish, since there isn’t anything else to do.
As of 5:30 p.m. on Saturday - still short of 12 hours from the start, I’d settled on what I felt would be a good opening line.
"Compared to last year’s race, I finished an hour earlier - and vomited 17 miles earlier."
I still think it would’ve been solid - it played nicely off last year’s report - except for the fact that it would turn out to have a factual inaccuracy. On the first part, that is, not the second - it is definitely factual that I vomited on the side of the trail a few minutes before writing that line in my head.
I finished this year’s race in about 29 hours and 38 minutes, which is about an hour and 15 minutes slower than last year, which was my first 100 miler ever. This one was more brutal.
I made it to the mile 51 aid station - the Ozark Trail 100 was actually 103.6 miles this year, so about halfway - about an hour ahead of last year (10:40 vs. 11:40, approximately).
The first half went decent enough. Bit of a rough patch at mile 33 (actually, I kinda expected to start vomiting here), but I started to listen to music (didn’t do that at all last year) and that seemed to help. Listening to self-described gangsters rap about their club antics while running on singletrack all day is weird enough that you can’t break out smiling occasionally.
At mile 51, I changed into my warm clothes in preparation for the night, and said farewell to some fast guys I’d been hanging with but figured I wouldn’t see again (correctly).
Shortly after leaving the aid station, I threw up a few times, as already mentioned. I think it was just from ingesting a lot of “gels” and “shot blocks” and weird shit like that in the first half. It wasn’t as violent a ritual as last year at mile 68, and I guess it was nice to get it out of the way.
It’s hard to describe the night. It’s dark. It’s cold. You slow down a lot. You’ve basically got 13 hours of darkness - from 6:15 p.m. to 7:15 a.m. - and it’s 90 percent of the race.
You will battle demons.
You will know for every second that you could quit.
The demons will know this too.
But I stumbled alone. I took a caffeine pill or two a couple times, after one seemed to save me last year, but they didn’t seem to have as much of an effect.
I was in pretty rough shape when I rolled into the mile 80 aid station, but, you know, it was mile 80. The night seemed colder than last year - I put on two more layers than I had last year. I drank a couple cups of hot chocolate, ate some ramen noodles, put new batteries in my headlamp and tried to ignore the fact that I was shaking. One of the aid station volunteers (angels do exist) noted I wouldn’t get any warmer by staying around longer. I hated him for the irrefutably of his logic. I stood up to go.
When the f*** did my left calf start hurting?
It was incredibly, incredibly sore, but I told myself I had to get the aid station, that I could decide whether to keep going by then.
It was a nine-mile stretch. It took three hours last year; it took three hours this year. I didn’t see another person the whole time.
I walked up the final hill fully planning to drop.
Got to the aid station, saw a couple other runners there, got some hot chocolate again.
And I just couldn’t. Not out of some macho element, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It will be light in an hour, I said to myself. Just walk it in.
So that’s what I did. By the final stretch, I’d realized my had calf progressed from stiff to a shadow of its former self - its range of motion had massively deteriorated.
It was then I decided that I’d probably tore something. Oops.
The last few miles of the race is the worst. Lots of hills. People who could still manage a run would pass me. Then one guy caught up with me and stayed at my pace. He was wheezing and hacking up shit and said he’d caught bronchitis at mile 70 from the cold air. Can you self-diagnose that? Whatever? Company for the death march.
Crossed the finish line - still at a walk - found a cot and just stayed there and stayed there and oh it hurts and why the hell would I do that and oh it hurts and the cot, yes the cot.
A guy I’d been with at halfway had finished 5.5 hours ahead of me; the winner was another four ahead of him.
I think I finished 26 out of 38 finishers. Forty-two percent of starters dropped.
And I got another belt buckle. Such a weird ritual.
So it’s three days later now, and I once again realize that these reports don’t really capture much of it at all. Made it to my shift at 7 a.m. the day after finishing. The calf is hearing - seems like a mild tear of something somewhere, but nothing a little break from running won’t heal. I’d be taking one of those anyway.
I just wish my mile 51 self had written a more memorable ending than this one.
Related: This is what I look like when I ran 103.6 miles