It’s been well over a week since we completed our latest
adventure, so I should have posted earlier, but with end-of-year activities
everyday and packing for the beach, I let it slide.  I will say, however, that it was well worth the time and
energy.

When we got there, we discovered, much to our dismay, that
there were no other 24-hour co-ed teams racing, which is a pretty big bummer
when you come ready to compete. 
However, there was a 24-hour, all men’s team, so we decided to race them.  Yes, we had 50/50 men to women, but at
least it would make the race more interesting.  It was interesting only for a few laps; then, we realized we
were pretty far ahead and continuing to pull away from them. 

Our next goal (because you always need a goal) was to race
the 12-hour teams who, theoretically, should have been running faster since
they were only running half the time. 
It soon became clear that we were far ahead of any of them as well.  This left us with no goal.  Technically, we could have loaded up
our gear and left.  We had won.

But then we decided to run the course record instead, which
was, according to all posted results, 180 miles.  This, we thought, was a reasonable and worthy goal.

The race, then, became one of my favorite kinds, a race with
the clock and with ourselves.  And
I think we did quite nicely.  Every
single person on our team ran the very best they could.  Our times and abilities varied, but the
one thing we were consistent with was effort.  It was a great feeling to come out of those woods and round
the grassy field up to the finish and hear everyone cheering my name, and it
was just as great a feeling to be watching and waiting, to see which headlamp
seemed to be moving the fastest in the darkness, and to hear, “Get ready!” and
know that my teammate was pushing just as hard as I had been.

Add to the good racing the element of adventure, and it was
a great way to spend a weekend.  I
have to admit that I had been apprehensive about the night runs.  I ran my third 5K at dusk and knew that
my next run would be around midnight. 
I wasn’t sure how running deep into the woods in the middle of the night
by myself might be, but I had a feeling it would be like running scared for 3.1
miles.  There was also the added
thrill of a wandering bear that had been spotted several times around the camp
and the eerie sound of a train that passed by our camp several times that
night.  Cory had even timed it out
just right so that he was running parallel to the train as it went by the
woods.  He said he could feel the
ground shake.  But when my turn
came, it was not anything like I had expected.

It was, I have to say, pretty disorienting at first.  So much so that I ran off course within
the first mile and had to backtrack a little.  But once I got used to it, it was actually kind of peaceful.  Everyone slowed down a little bit at
night, as we knew we would, but not as much as I had expected.  Rocks, roots and stumps are a little
scarier in the dark, and I wanted to make it through without any major
injuries, but mostly what I felt in the dark at night was an overwhelming
feeling of gratitude.  I was just
happy to be there, in the dark woods of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a place I completely
and utterly part of, running fast. 
All I could see was the trail right in front of me, and all I could hear
was the sound of my own breathing and the occasional distant wail of a train
whistle and a rustling in the grass beside me.  And all I could think of was the beauty surrounding me, the
wildness and peace, and the fact that I was out there with other crazy people
who felt compelled, for whatever reason, to come out of their comfy houses and
warm beds to run through the woods at night and see what other people miss
altogether.  I guess that for every
person running out there that night, there was a different reason for doing it,
but I was grateful that my life had led me to that place and time and to a
group of friends as good as those who waited for me back at camp.

And that was the other nice thing about running in the woods
at night, just knowing that there were people there waiting, watching the
darkness for a sign of my light, and wishing good things for me.  It also helped to know that if I fell
in a hole or was eaten by a rabid badger that somebody might notice after a
minimal amount of time and come to find me.

The night part of the run was a peaceful one, but it was
also one of the more grueling parts, particularly as dawn approached and
fatigue was setting in with full force. Fortunately, as the light began to
slowly appear, and the first birds began to sing, Michelle broke out the camp stove
and coffee, and we felt just a little more normal. 

As the morning went on, we could see that our goal of 180
miles was possible.  We had just
enough time to do it, but it required the last of us to run pretty specific
times, something we weren’t feeling too sure about given our current state of
exhaustion and muscle fatigue. 
Abran needed to run about 21 minutes, but a cushion would be nice.  That meant that Michelle and Deanne and
I had to run hard in order to give him a chance. 

I guess it’s the camaraderie of a team that makes us rise to
the occasion when we are called to do so because all three of us ran faster
than we thought we could and faster than we actually needed to, which allowed
Abran to finish up with an impressive last lap.  At just a couple of minutes to 10:00, nearly 24 hours before
we had begun, we had run 180 miles. 

By the time the clock had run out, most people had packed up
and left.  The award, or lack
thereof, was a little disappointing and anti-climactic.  I think a smashed penny from the train
track with a hole drilled in it and piece of string would have served pretty
nicely as a medal, but for some reason, we didn’t get any.  It was a little irritating, but after a
week, I’ve realized that I have several shelves covered in trophies and medals,
but I don’t have any other course records.  Besides, we know what we ran, even if other people don’t,
and in the end, that’s all that really matters. 

*I’m at the beach so I don’t have access to my photos from
the race.  Those will be posted
next week.

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