After a quick celebration of SW’s birthday, we jumped into our van and drove off to the next exchange. I tried to sleep before my next leg, but that was a huge fail. Prednisone gives me insomnia anyway, so taking a little bit extra Saturday night wasn’t helping with the whole sleep situation. At least I could lay down in the horizontal to give my legs a break and rest my eyes for a few minutes. Laying down in the van, I could feel the rush of cool night air come in anytime the door was opened (which was often with all our transitions). The temperatures had dropped from the low- to mid-80s all the way down to the low-50s. It was chilly. It was almost hard to believe that only several hours before we were running shirtless and begging for water halfway through our legs, and now we were shivering prior the start of our legs, sporting hoodies, and cranking the heat in the van.
Next thing I knew it was 2:11am, and JP had taken off on his fourth leg. The volunteer working at the exchange informed us that he may have gone the wrong way, so we bolted out and went after him. We found him, running back in the correct direction, but he was flipping out (typical for JP, but expected for being so exhausted). We calmed him down, told him to breathe easy, and sent him off in the right direction. Even with all things considered, he crushed that leg. As I prepped for my own fourth leg, I seriously started question what I had gotten myself into. My teammates had already completed their hard legs and were moving on to easy and moderate legs, and mine were only getting harder. I was legitimately scared and worried my body was going to break down preventing me (and my team) from completing the race. But I refused, sucked it up, and decked myself out in my reflective vest and headlamp ready to take on the night road.
I set off on my fourth leg, and it was just as dark and cold as before. I went uphill for 0.5-miles, down for (a very, very steep) 2.0, around the corner and off for another 1.8. It was dark, very dark. I was exhausted and hadn’t slept a wink. I chugged along, knees screaming in pain, and in my peripheral vision spotted two eyes of a large animal staring at me through the trees. It wasn’t a bear or a deer, but something bigger than a house cat. My guess would be a mountain lion or coyote. Being all alone with no one around, my thoughts for the next five minutes consisted of how I would fight off such a large mammal. Fun thoughts to ponder around 3:30am alone in the wilderness of Vermont.
I finished my leg, and we had covered 140.8 miles. I was nervous, as I still had to complete two more legs with both being over 5.0 miles each, and both containing a 2.0-mile section of incline. I pounded a couple of Tylenol to the face to help me (and my knees) get through the rest of the race, but I wasn’t sure it was going to help. I just wanted sleep so bad. That’s all I wanted to do. I felt fine while resting between legs, but running just made my knees scream for mercy. I needed to try to rest up, although I only had about two hours or so before I started my fifth leg.
I remember somewhere around this time as the sky started to lighten up a bit, that I (being rather cranky) was becoming seriously annoyed with people who were racing on teams of twelve runners. It was nothing against the runners themselves, but it was because I was seriously exhausted (did I mention I was cranky?). They were running fast, smiling, and catching some z’s, something I was craving and yet unable to accomplish. I could remember thinking to myself, “Shut up, this is NOT fun.” I was also having some digestive issues from the stress of all of the running, so I popped an Imodium and two more Tylenol for my knees. Yes, I know this isn’t a great idea but I needed it to get through my next two legs. I also broke out my Zensa calf sleeves and CW-X shorts again (which were finally dry again from the previous morning’s monsoon) because I literally needed any help I could get.
The fifth leg. JP tapped me in, and off I went on zero sleep and having already covered about twenty miles. I was exhausted in every sense of the word. I had long hills of about 2.0 miles in length at 6:00am. I thought to myself yet again, “How is this fun?” But regardless I headed off. I had to do this for the team. It was insanely challenging, physically and mentally, but I chugged along at sub-9:00 miles and finished our fifth set of legs. Now I just had one more set. That was it. One and done.
I guzzled down a cereal bar, a roll with peanut butter, my morning meds, a Java Monster energy drink, a Gatorade, another Imodium, and one more Tylenol. I was scrounging for anything that could help me get through my next (and final) 5.2 miles, especially with the first 2.0 miles being straight uphill. I knew I had to just get to the top of that hill and then I could cruise down the next 3.2 to the finish line. I tried to sleep (yet again) but failed (yet again). So I pounded a Jet Blackberry GU (2x the normal caffeine) and next thing I knew it was my turn to run, and it was my job to finish the race.
After seeing all the guys beast through their last legs and finish strong, I decided to do the same. A team of twelve was about a minute ahead of us, but I was hungry to catch them. As I climbed the hill, I spotted the runner in the distance, and I knew after a few minutes that I was gaining on them. Up and up I climbed, checking my Garmin Forerunner 405 (great running tool) and cringing at the 9:15 pace at which I was crawling along. But at the same time, I was racking up the mileage and I knew that in just one more mile that I was going to be at the top of that hill and closer to the finish (and sleep). My teammates greeted me right over the top of the hill with blasting music, cheers, and a Gatorade, and they told me that the runner ahead of us was just 45 seconds up and totally within our reach. It was hunting season, and I was going to track them down. 2.0 miles down, 3.2 to go. Game on.
After crossing that final hill I knew I was going to finish the GMR with the rest of my teammates. That wasn’t even a question. I would have crawled across that finish line if I had to because I would never let them down. But I was moving, and moving fast. My pace was dropping from 9:15 going up the hill, to 8:45, then 8:30 and dropping. I was hauling, and quickly approaching the runner ahead of us. A 45-second lead soon became a 20-second lead, and on a small hill I finally passed them. My team was just up ahead of me and they all cheered. My 8:30 pace soon became 8:15, and next thing I knew I was down to sub-8:00. I was just over a mile away from the finish, and a side stitch had set in. I pushed through the pain and finally I passed into the school parking lot where I had only 0.2 miles to the finish. My teammates were all there cheering as I crossed the finish line. Our Hearts Will Go On finished the Green Mountain Relay 1st in our division of 6×6 Men’s Ultra Team (6 runners instead of 12), 2nd Ultra Team, and 5th overall at 25:10:16. Not too shabby.
I made sure to cheer on the runner I had passed on that final leg and congratulated him on a great run (which it really was) after he had finished. We grabbed a bite to eat and picked up our finisher’s medals. Then we cleaned out our van and packed it up again before heading back to Boston. The ride back was quiet and I (finally) caught some much-welcomed and much-needed sleep. We were proud of what we had accomplished. Not too many people will ever do what we just did. The experience was amazing, and I honestly wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Of course I’d like to thank to all the GMR organizers and volunteers (especially the ones at the exchanges at the early hours of the morning), and congratulate all the GMR finishers.
But most of all, I’d like to congratulate (and thank) SW, SM, WW, SK, and JP (and CR for being sucked into driving our asses around everywhere) for dominating out there. Job well done, boys.