I wrote this in 2013, but finally decided to publish today. It took place at the 2013 Pinhoti 100, but it’s not a race report. You can learn more about that race HERE. Thanks for reading, and happy trails!
I said I’d never do it again, this 100 mile thing. Add that to my list of Neverending Nevers; I also have a dog that sleeps in my bed, an overpriced car payment, a stupid-amount-of-coffee addiction, and–crap–I may have actually worn pajama pants into Target last month.
Of course all of that means nothing to you fine people, but to me, it’s a solid amount of proof that I–quite ferociously–devour my words.
In 2012, I vehemently shared that I was “done with hundreds for awhile” and that “I could only run one again if I had a good reason to.”
And I would love to tell you all that I had an insanely good reason to run Pinhoti 100, but the truth is, I didn’t. I guess I was just hungry to taste the pain. Craving an adventure? I don’t know. I truly just felt like I needed to get out there.
Shortly before the race, and with very little training, I pulled the trigger and signed up.
A week or so before the big day, I started cooking up an idea. I asked my Dad if he’d be interested in helping my husband, Dan, crew me. I knew with my lack of prepation for the event, I would need a lot of support to run another 100.
To my surprise, Dad agreed, and even volunteered my little brother to join in. We decided that Dan would crew me the first 50 miles or so, then my Dad and brother would come later in the game and help pull me to the finish.
The thought of Dad joining me at the race became what I was looking forward to the most– almost more than the race itself. Dad had only ever witnessed one of my ultras. It wasn’t a pretty one, and truthfully, I don’t think he understood the whole ordeal. In fact, he’d asked me on more than one occasion why I kept doing the darn things. I never had a great answer other than “I don’t know. I guess it’s just good for the soul.”
Regardless, he agreed to be there to support me, and I was motivated to show my Old Man just how great these crazy things could be.
Listen to the Music…
The race started early in the morning, well before sunrise, deep in an Alabama forest. It was dark, damp, and there were runners everywhere. The start gun went off, and people were moving quickly –faster than my under trained legs needed to be going. When we all filed onto the single track trail, my nerves finally took hold of me….Ohhh gosh I’m so out of shape…I stepped aside and let what felt like hundreds of people pass me.
After the crowd thinned, I got moving again and just relaxed…I’m not here to race this thing. I’m just here to just spend a day in the woods, and hopefully snag a finish… I kept reminding myself.
Over the next few hours I coasted, moving forward with the goal of seeing Dad at the forefront of my mind. I found a rhythm and stuck with it. That rhythm just so happened to be to the tune of some sweet southern rock in my headphones, and I loved every minute of it. The weather was perfect. The trails were winding. Life was so good
Dan took really good care of me. The aid stations and volunteers were amazing. It all just flowed, and that flow remained the entire first half of the race. By the 50 mile mark, it was dark, and I was ready to tackle the next half of the monster that lay ahead.
But what goes up…
Somewhere between mile 50 and 60, I’d finally hit a wall. It was dark again, the soreness was kicking in, and I was not running as fresh as I had been.
I finally made it to the aid station I had been working towards– the one that had my Dad. Mile 60.
There was a huge crowd of people there meeting with their runners. I was a little disoriented with all the running I’d done. I looked around, but couldn’t find my family. I was disappointed, and went to find some food instead.
But everything changed when I heard a familiar voice behind me.
“Oh my gosh! Dad! You guys made it!” I suddenly felt alive, and revived. My Dad, my brother, Matt, Dan… They were all there!
“Dad!” I said, hugging my father around the neck, “Thanks so much for coming!”
“Hey sweetheart! You ready to knock the rest of this thing out?”
“Heck yeah I am!” I laughed. “Just forty little miles left.”
We devised a quick plan to survive the night ahead– Matt, and Daniel, would take turns running with me. My Dad would drive the car to the aid stations, and take care of my nutrition and gear needs.
My brother and husband took turns pacing me late into the night. Without their support, I wouldn’t have been able to make it as far as I had.
When I reached the 85 mile aid station, I was finally feeling all of the miles. It was the lowest I’d felt the entire race. It was 4 in the morning. I was cold, drenched in sweat, sleep deprived, and my spirits were low.
I grabbed some snacks while the guys were busy getting my stuff together for the next stretch of the race. The car was parked far away. I figured my dad must have been sleeping in the car. So for the first time that day, I sat down by a fire.
I dozed off for a millisecond when I felt someone shake me. I looked up, startled, and found Dad hovering over me.
“Ready to run?”
“Dad! Hey! Ha ha. Yes, I suppose I need to finish this thing.” I said, trying to peel myself out of the chair.
“Well, let’s get it done! Do I need to bring water or anything?”
“Wait…Dad..you’re coming with me?! The next aid station you can get back into the car is like 9 miles away.”
“Of course I am coming! If you’ll let me!” he laughed.
I suddenly found a new burst of energy, and a hope I hadn’t posessed a minute earlier.
My Dad—a nonrunner, in his late fifties, with knee replacement surgery, in hiking boots nonetheless–wanted to run with me! … I was in disbelief. He wanted to do that for me?
I felt loved. And the feeling motivated me to do my best over the next painful stretch.
We started off with a slow jog down a wide jeep road. It was so late in the race, that no one else was around. It was just Dad and me, quietly moving under a blanket of stars. I was thankful.
But I don’t think he knew just how thankful I was…
My Dad has always been incredibly kind and loving towards me. However, I haven’t always been the same to him. Over the short (almost) 30 years I’ve been alive, I don’t think there is anyone on this planet I could have let down more. I was a good man’s wayward daughter. I’d spent my young life littering a preacher man’s clean reputation with my drug use, school failures, teenage pregnancy, and horrible decisions. Despite all that, he never treated me unjustly. He always loved me, and firmly stood by me through it all….and I never felt like I deserved it.
Him being by my side– as I struggled hard to reach yet another finish line–brought all of those feelings back, and it hit me hard.
“Thanks for doing this, Dad.” I finally said behind happy tears, “It means a lot to me.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, sweetheart!” He said between labored breaths.
Not wanting the next 10 miles to be heavy on the heart, I quickly changed gears to a lighter subject as we continued jogging.
And I Ain’t Got No Worries, Cuz I Ain’t in No Hurry At All…
“Hey, you would’ve liked the music I was rockin’ to earlier in the race, Dad. I listened to a full Doobie Brothers album.”
“Ha! No kidding?! Which song is your favorite?” he wondered.
“Long Train Running’, but any time I hear Black Water I think of you.”
“Well I built me a raft, and she’s ready for floatin’…” Dad started signing.
I joined in, and together we ran and sang.
And in that moment, everything was perfect. I had completely forgotten that I was over 85 miles into a trail race. I didn’t even care. We just ran, and walked, and bonded. We shared our thoughts on everything: Music, life, my kids, God, politics, the past–we shared it all. The conversation wasn’t raw or forced, but it came so naturally. The way it only can when it’s just you and another soul moving together in nature. No distractions. Just real life.
We laughed a lot. We cried a little. And after a couple hours, together we watched the sun rise up through the Alabama forest.
“This sure is beautiful. I can see why you like to do these things now.” Dad said quietly.
I couldn’t agree more. It wasn’t just the sunrise. It was more. I hadn’t felt this close to my father since I was a little girl. With every mile covered, Dad would remark just how surprised he was that I was able to move so well, how much fun he was having, and that he was proud of me.
In those hours, I felt like I wasn’t a child the man resented, but rather a woman he loved and respected. I knew that even if the whole race had been a disaster, or I’d failed to reach my goal of finishing, it was all worth it. Because at mile 93, I was already so complete.
But all good things must come to an end…
As we approached the 94 mile aid station, Dad finally said, “I honestly didn’t think you would be running this much so late in the race.”
I knew he was suffering. Of course the stubborn man wouldn’t admit the obvious, but I could tell our time together was coming to a close.
“Why don’t you let Matt come out with me, Dad.” I suggested.
“Well, my knee and feet hurt pretty bad, but I’m good to keep going with you if you don’t mind me slowing you down. I want to be there with you when you finish.”
I looked at my dad– tattered blue jeans, boots, and holding a little empty bottle of water. He was covered in sweat, and worn down from more miles of running than he’d ever done in one shot, “Trust me, Dad, you’ve done more than enough for me today.”
He insisted he could accompany me to the finish, but I refused and suggested he wait for me at the end instead. And with that, he finally relented. We hugged, snapped a picture, and parted ways.
Finishing Just To Finish
My little brother, Matt, jumped back in to push me the last few miles of the race. The mood fell back into the familar giddy running rhythm I love, and together we made our way towards the end.
I was moving, but I was no longer eager only to cross the finish line. I realized over the time I spent with Dad that the race was never about the finish line in the first place. Ultras rarely are for me. They’re about so much more, and that’s why I could never stop coming back to them.
The race was about the time I got to spend with the people I love. It was about being alive; about really experiencing life in the moment for everything it was. Raw, and unfiltered. I was completely filled up with love, and happiness. And honestly, I could have stopped dead in my tracks a few miles short of my 100 goal and been fully satisfied.
Yet, I didn’t stop. I crossed the finish line of the Pinhoti 100 with my little brother by my side after 27 hours and 38 minutes of moving, straight into my family’s arms.
It was my fourth 100 mile race finish. I felt proud, and glad that I’d met my goal. 100 miles of effort….one whole hundred… It was an accomplishment for sure. But deep down, I knew that it was more than 100 miles. For me, that day, it was really about nine.