The strength to keep going

This was not my race to run, and when I approached the team van near the end of it and saw the physical pain written all over their faces – I was both relieved and jealous I hadn’t been a part of it.

This race falls into the category of “insane.” When I asked veteran runners of the team I was keeping up with if this was more difficult than a marathon, they couldn’t answer.

This was a 211-mile journey, starting in Virginia and ending in Asheville, N.C. The race was along the Blue Ridge Mountains (meaning a very, very hilly journey.)

Kevin’s brother-in-law Alex invited him to run with the group, and Kevin invited me to run. I wanted to do it so bad. Every fiber of my body was screaming at me to do it. To experience that amazingness – running at all hours of the night, enjoying the sun rising and setting, to be part of a team … But he told me the team was asking everyone to run at a 9- or 10-minute-mile pace. That is my pace when I am running just a few miles on relatively flat ground. I feared I couldn’t keep up that pace in the mountains, and especially not after running 25 miles. So I declined, and instead I suggested he invite Chris, who seems to have more endurance than me during our runs together.

So the 3 of them joined the team of 3 others and they got ready for this adventure. They slept in a van between runs. Their 6-person team seemed tiny compared to all the 12-person teams out there. That meant each member ran 6 times, and the larger teams only ran 3 times each.

I could see the difference as I stood at the finish line waiting. I saw the larger teams rushing in, several of them showered, most of them energetic. I saw the smaller teams limping in, slowly, painfully. But they never quit.

Chris had the last leg of the run, and he texted me earlier in the day saying he was anticipating getting in at 2:54. We (Jeff, Mom, Dad, me) arrived at 2:20 just in case. 2:20 turned into 2:50, and we turned the cameras on and stood at the right position to get the team coming in. 2:50 turned into 3, then 3:15, then 3:20. No Chris. Jeff took the Jeep to look for him. Kevin and the rest of the team hobbled off to look for him on foot, to ask other runners if they’d seen him.

A few minutes later, Jeff called. “He’s ok,” he said. “He’s really close. At a stoplight. Taking a little break.” Turns out his muscles had been cramping up, so badly that not only could he not walk, but he was sitting in a driveway holding his exhausted legs.

We all sighed with relief, and sure enough, a little while later, there he was. Running – albeit slowly, but running! – and as he turned to the finish line, his 5 teammates joined him and mentally carried him across that threshold. He managed to stay standing for a picture or 10. He attempted to smile but it was really an arduous grimace. Then he collapsed.

At that moment I knew he’d learned something about pushing his body beyond what the body thinks it can handle. About mind over matter. About finishing what he started. He was in pain. They all were in pain. But they all did it. I understood exactly what Mom meant when she turned to me later and said, “I couldn’t help but tear up when I saw Chris sitting on the ground, in all that pain.”

Some water, some rest, a couple of massages later, and we are sitting at a restaurant enjoying beer and burgers and hearing all about their adventures. And what I kept hearing throughout the conversation – “next year.”

Even with all that pain, they couldn’t wait to do it again.

Maybe next year I’ll join them. Maybe.

The team at the finish line