The smiles were never forced and rarely forgotten, although once 18 miles were under my belt I found that they had to be at times forcefully remembered. Despite the hurt and blur of it all these middle miles were likely the most notable, because it was here I pushed through the drawl of weaknesses revealed. The incredible doses of elevation proved both climbing and falling to be strong suits of mine—I was even deemed Strider during this race as a result—resumed running, however, is where my legs turned to jello and fault was found.
“It’s all downhill from here,” taunts race director James Varner as nearly 300 runners slog up Mt. Constitution Road. In the middle of this pack traveled Alyson Drake, Brandon Drake, Meaghan McCluskey and myself. After four miles of pavement many runners began murmuring that they thought this was [supposed to be] a trail race, but to me pavement seemed the perfect steady, non-technical warm up. Soon enough we hit the apex and all turned to descending single track. Few hit the brakes. Passing the first aid station was a literal blur as Brandon and myself cruised on toward the lakes region. It was an honor to run with Brandon for so much of the race. With nearly every person we encountered he would say, “super day!” The lakeshore came alarmingly close to the trail in several areas and at these times miniature sloughs were squish-squashed across. However, to our surprise and delight, the course was overall quite dry. Joyous exclamation and heel claps were witnessed upon the arrival of the Pickett aid station. In less than one minute we were refueled and cruising downhill again, but after we had gone through the rollers and reached Cascade Falls I began to fade a little. Up until this point I had playfully and thoughtlessly ran at Brandon’s general pace and I had begun to pull back into my own rhythm. This adjustment took greater tolls on my psyche than I had anticipated, but then again this very struggle is my favorite to overcome.
The clang and clamor of a cow bell indicating the third aid station could be heard in the distance. What a blessed sound this was each and every time. Rounding a corner revealed wild applause and I was soon met with the highlight of the course—two youngsters stood at the entrance with arms extended—mustering what little strength was left I ran full force to give them proper high fives. Later I was again encouraged by them atop Mt. Constitution, but first I had to endure the dreaded power line road. Switching between multiple mountaineering techniques I made fast progress on this leg of the course, luckily without my inner quads seizing up as they had done earlier in the day, and although I agree it was daunting, it was by no means the crux for me. Actually, easy as it seemed, what came next was one of the greatest struggles for many runners. The back and north side of Constitution is a solitary, dark landscape of immense beauty, but confidence markers were few and far between. Under the dim canopy of dense evergreens it was easy to daze off and forget if you passed an intersection and payed any attention to course markers. What felt like an hour before I saw the flicker of blue from another runner’s jacket ahead of me was likely closer to fifteen minutes, but it was enough to make some people turn back to ensure they were on route. Little more thought than that it simply needs to be done goes into the final climb; it is your only way back.
Participating in a race has never been a high priority in my life, that is why this was my first, period. To my delight it didn’t feel like a race whatsoever, but instead a group of friends out for a long run. The camaraderie was incredible and inspiring, both on and off the course, and this is what will have me coming back for more weekends on slick bridge crossings, pummeling slopes, hairpin transitions, and the littlest hill at mile 30 that wells up the greatest hatred you never knew you had, because by mile 31 strangers have become brothers and sisters.