5:34am: Go time! We all started trotting off up the road with an awareness not to miss the 1st turn, as the 3:36 group had. Four guys took off, I made sure I was moving well but relaxed- it was the start of a long day. Weaving in and around following the trail I hung with Steve who knew the trail well. He'd not yet ever made the challenge parameters and wanted to make it this year. I hung with him, but he stopped to relieve himself and I kept going.
Only a mile in and I was already alone, oh dear. I paused and grabbed my Map #1. It was actually very helpful and I held it in hand as I kept moving on the trail. The trail opens to the road where 3 full sized trees were down and the lines also down a very different type of treacherous running. The road followed every curve on the map and then there was a left turn...somewhere... I saw the 4 guys that has taken off flying wandering around at the first available left turn, clearly that wasn't the right way. First mistake bypassed as I kept going and found the light blue Mason Dixon trail sign on the post at the next left. I shouted for the others and kept moving. I looked for blue and paused until I saw it at each turn. The number of trees down across the path in the section was crazy. It looked like someone had bulldozed the path. By 5 miles in I was soaked head to toe from the damp trees and grass, and covered in spider webs and already showing some decent scratches from the slippery branches climbing through the downed trees.
Still moving well, I was now hanging with the fourth guy who had missed the challenge parameters by 2-3 minutes 2 years prior, Thomas. He was determined... he said he needed to make sure he ran the runnable areas.. and this line stuck in my head... if thats what it took, I would do that. One misguided step after another we were often lost for a few moments but would pick up the trail again. Soon enough we caught up the the other guys, Bill, Nate and Keith. The trail was in fields and then back in the woods, the climbs were steep, hardly runnable but mostly short, so once you were close to the peak you kick back into the run. Conserving energy and moving smart.
I was now running just behind the top 3 guys and I was determined not to lose them as any mistakes made would be by them and I could take my time to look for the blue markers. This plan worked very well as I made every turn. Just about this time, after another wrong turn for Keith, I caught up to him again and we chatted as we trotted by the 2am starters and missed a turn, luckily only by about 100yards since Bill and Nate called to us. Bill and Nate had a crew following them around the course but each time they stopped I'd catch them again and Keith was headed far ahead of everyone and continued to make wrong turns costing him miles and time. The four us ran "together" off and on for miles. Through the field of prickers and then the field of Nettles. Our legs burned and stung and ached from the climbing.
At mile 15 I found Dave D. who apologized unnecessarily for his imperfect efforts to pace me... but I was just appreciative he'd come all the way up there and left me a cooler of ice and water bottle at mile 25. I told him he should still go for a run, the trail was gorgeous and thanked him again.
Mile 25, I fueled up. And asked Hunt (RD) if my camelbak could come along as my drop bags would. I hadn't trained with it enough and my shoulders were already beginning to cramp. So I chose to take off with my 20oz handheld alone for the next 13 miles. Hunt warned me this wouldn't be enough, but I had no choice, I couldn't keep moving with the bag. I drank conservatively.
For a lot of this section I ran with Keith, Bill and Nate had fallen back a bit. I took a hard fall which only really annoyed me because I was now covered in dirt. Not long enough later I took another fall slamming my left shoulder into the ground for the second time. It ached and bothered me, but I was unconcerned, but new I had to drop pace and get better control of my running. I dropped to a walk, shook off the trauma of hitting the dirt, and started back at my own pace. Keith was gaining distance quick, but I wasn't concerned. I felt ok about following the trail, I just had to stay smart.
And with 6 miles left till the next check point I was running short on water... It was only by chance I passed someone offering cold water to the runners... Just a nice person helping out...Man, did I get lucky and I knew it. I re-filled and took off for a lot of hot sunny hilly miles on the pavement.
My body temperature was cool enough, not overheating, but losing liquid fast and consistently thirsty. I was still being conservative as clearly this STILL was NOT enough. I knew Henry and Mimi had left water at the mile 32 spot which was coming up. So I chugged half a liter there and re-filled my bottle again. Which safely got me to Mile 38 checkpoint.
At mile 38 Hunt told me I'd still be close to the cut off at my current pace. I overall felt Great. My legs still felt mostly fresh, I was a little too warm, but manageable. I took in about 400 calories at this aid station and took off again. Figuring this section would be key. I felt good and I knew the last 12 miles would be Rough.. so if I could Move hard now, I could save up the time. So I did.
I moved hard where I could, I drank water and "borrowed" from Nate and Bill's crew for an extra bottle. I felt pretty good, just starting to feel a little worn. I had one more fall. I had just crossed the creek smoothly, shoes dry effortlessly when Whamp! My face was in the dirt before I knew what happened. A branch had punctured into my shoe taking me down. That was third hit on my shoulder, my shoe was ruined and my face was scratched. Ugh! I thought, I was literally just disgusted, I went back the creek and washing my hands off and kept running. I made a sharp right as my eye had caught a turn I was concerned Keith would have missed but he was no where to be seen. In no time I was hitting spider webs, I was the first person running here, Keith had definitely missed the turn. I missed the next one and lost 10 minutes wandering around but found it and was grateful I'd taken the time without wasting much energy.
Mile 46, what a sight... just as I was running short on liquid 4 miles too soon at the heat of the day Cathy, Robert and Rob were there. We filled my bottle and off I went. I took the trail and met up with Robert and Rob to run about 1/2 mile later. It was nice to have the company. They were bouncing along fresh and I was dropping off pace and they were pushing me. It hurt but I was glad. We got off course almost immediately. I was happy to have company and stopped paying attention pushing up a hill I would have walked had I been alone. Robert needed some info about trail markers, as he hadn't run much trail, but we were back on course within 5 min.
We got lost once more and Keith had caught up with us. I'd been wondering when he'd be back. He had probably run an extra 2 miles at the one turn he'd missed. We got back on track here and headed to mile 50 check point.
Hunt was surprised to see me, I was about 45-50 min ahead of his prediction. I joked with him, "You said I was close, and I knew I wouldn't be making up much time in the last 12 miles." He smiled and told me I'd be finished by 6:30pm... I said... "Maybe, we'll see... still shooting for 8:30" It was about 2:40pm at this time and the last 12 miles was predicted 4-5 hours. It was going to be hard.
It started off as nice running, better than a lot of the conditions all day. And then the trail abruptly ended at huge downed tree. It was difficult to guess but we climbed up the hill on the other side of the creek, No BLUE anywhere!! We spent 10 minutes wandering before committing the unmarked trail with down trees on the corner- where any markings may have been. About 300 yrds later the first blue mark!!! So exciting. My pacers caught up to me. (It was a hard concept for me, to not wait for ppl running with me.... but I was the one trying to finish... so It seemed like a good idea not to wait, still felt wrong).
The Last 8 miles... Wholly Mother of Mountain. The trail climbed endlessly... only it was worse than that, you'd peak and begin to descend and then climb endlessly again. Again, again, again. I thought it'd never end and although I knew better my mind was beginning to break down. Climbing up using hands feet and whole body effort at times, I knew once we got down to the bottom there was only one more climb... but this climb kept going. My pacers were wearing thin. Robert was moving strong, Rob was growing weary with the climbs after a hilly race early in the day. But it was good pacing with him behind me. At times I was brought to a momentary standstill to let my heart rate drop a little and the burn to lessen just enough to regain mental fortitude. If ever questioned "you ok" the answer was and would always be a strong YES, there was no question I was getting up this hill.... but I was getting bitter and angry as I felt the weakness in my mind growing as the pain exacerbated. My words had harsh edge to them and I felt awful that I wasn't being nicer, but I just hoped that Rob/Robert understood that it wasn't them and just the immense effort I was putting out that was costing me my usual kind tone.
Finally headed down, the down was treacherous switchbacks with loose stone, it was fun, but a struggle. At the bottom, Nate and Bills crew saved us all let us re-fill water once more at mile 60- since we had all run out.
A couple hundred yards later I saw Keith again, he was running the wrong way on a confusing section I'd gotten some info on from Henry the night before. I told him to "Stop running up the hill... go back down.. I'll show where to go."
He exclaimed that I was wrong and he'd tried this already. I ignored his comments as he was also truly angry about the being lost part of this run. He was tired and mentally wasted as well. But I knew he'd follow so I just kept moving. My pacers hung back with Keith and they all followed me. I just moved... this cliff needed climbing....now. It was the only thing between me and rest... I climbed hard. I was angry internally, the pain was immense the spider webs... well I was done picking them off, I had just over a mile or just under a mile, who knew, but I couldn't pick them off or wipe them off before another was strung across my face, arms, legs... I just let the strings stick. Just wiped for actual spiders. I climbed and climbed, this was the same as the last, some descent granting hope and then smashing the hope with another steep climb. And then the descent started.
This was insane, the descent meant climbing up (yes up to go down) over rigid boulders, I almost laughed from the crest of this hill, sharp downhills on both sides and I was moving between... crawling between boulders thinking to myself "who decided, when the Mason Dixon trail was created that this was an intelligent way to travel through this section?" I was Done, And the descent continued, My left foot slipped off the edge of the trail... I caught myself from one hell of a fall and slowed down even more. I couldn't afford to break now. Or rather I was unwilling to literally fall down the sharply descending hill of rocks and trees.
The Road!!! Halleluia! I saw Cathy, she asked where Robert and Rob were I said they were with Keith and she offered to run in with me the last 5 min stretch, I said Yes, that would be great! And 300 yrs from the end there was Henry who had dropped at mile 50....And then it was done. I collapsed into a hug with Henry and then the green grass covered embankment outside Shanks Mare Store was a wonderful place to more properly collapse. 6:30pm on the dot... go figure. Hunt was right! 12hrs and 56 minutes later, a new female record set and the first female to actually complete the challenge parameters. Very Amazed and happy. I got very lucky a lot, I have no idea how, but I'm grateful.
Keith and my pacers made it in. People arrived, And we had a pleasant gathering. Bill made it in and then closing in on sunset Tom made it with 20 minutes to spare and then Nate came in 14hrs 49 minutes.
Finishing in roughly 16hrs came Will, and Brigitte who I didnt't really meet unfortunatly made it in at 20:42 minutes.
(Congrats to All finishers, and heck- to All Starters! Way to go!! Recover quickly and I hope to see you soon!)
In no time it seemed I was on my way home. I met so many wonderful people. Mimi had dropped so I didn't even see her again. I drove Henry back to his car and topped a wonderful day with an Ensure. The gratitude is endless, but the longer my runs are, the more ppl there are to thank. If you so much as "liked" a comment about the race on facebook or offered a helping hand or friendly text or gave me a ride or gave me water or .... endless.. Well Thank You... you made this a Totally Awesome Experience!!
Recovery and prep work NJ Trail "Running with the Devil 12 hr run" July 21st!!!