As I mentioned in the previous post, 2014 included extreme conditions including heat, dust storms, extreme cold, sleet and heavy fog (in that order) 2015 presented even hotter temps but we were rewarded with a clear and relatively warm evening portion that culminated in one of the most breath-taking sunrises I have ever seen in my life. As you can see below, I was up to around 5600 feet but the entire valley below me was blanketed with a cloud canopy. After a night of calm, it was one of the greatest moments I've experienced so close to the finish line and made the 11 mile hike up worth every step.
The start of this race is really unique - we essentially form a group standing on what is left of the shore of the Salton Sea (which, if you've never heard of this place, look it up. Its history is fascinating, to say the least), listen to the national anthem, take a bunch of photos and then Chris sends us on our way, scampering through "sand" made from dead fish bones:
Much like last year, we traded stories about how life had progressed for both us and our families since we last saw each other at BW135 back in July. Those first 40 miles are the toughest in the course and true to form, several runners ended up dropping before they were over. Once we realized we were at the trail section which picks up at 40, we felt much more confident in our finish. Last year Todd was hit with a terrible heat stroke and ended up dropping at the end of the trail section. The 6 or so hours it took us to get through that was pure misery in the form of severe dehydration, vomiting and near collapse for Todd and frustration, fear and utter desperation for me. This year we arrived and he was in great spirits which meant I was too. And I was NOT disappointed in what happened up there....
The steep rocky climbs were like a homecoming - I love this trail. It's only 8 miles but it feels like 18. It climbs over 4k feet over that 8 miles so you can see how steep it is. The fastest teams get over it in just under 3 hours. I was hopeful we could come close.
We did great for about the first mile, then once again the wheels came off. Todd was struggling due to his (insane but awesome) weight loss, paleo-esque lifestyle. In dedicated form, he eschews most carbs, particularly the evil simple sugars. This is great for weight loss, terrible for endurance sports. And it hit him hard. After much pleading, whining and finally demanding on my part, my partner-in-crime agreed to eat all the sugary carbs I had and BOOM, he not only rose from the dead, he turned into a man with a mission. [Side note: I gave him the best simple sugars money can buy, from Skratch labs. Seriously, this stuff is amazing] We conquered the trail section in 3:29. I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING.
So off the trail we came and it was now the "easiest" and my most favorite part of this race - the last 31 miles. We paid homage to the ultra gods by getting our requisite Ranchetti photo:
As with all things, the dark times come to an end and the sun starts rising, a new day once again breaking on the horizon. Anyone who's ever done a race that goes overnight knows a lot about what I like to call "the dark place." It's the time between 1:30 or so and sunrise. The body and mind are at odds with one another, the former craving sleep so badly that it's palpable, the latter pushing pushing pushing to keep going, if only to the next aid station. To say it takes a lot of heart and soul to forge on is an understatement. It was for this reason I was so proud of Todd - as exhausted as he was, he kept going. I could see him falling asleep on his feet yet he kept moving forward. He had a hell of a tough day and was having a tougher night, yet he never gave up. It's those small moments of sheer pride and happiness I had for him and in that, I knew we would be ok. And we were because the sun rose and suddenly, not only would we finish, we were within the realm of possibility that we could break 24 hours. And just like that, we did. The fanfare of the finish line lasted just long enough for the runners behind us to come and steal it away, as is always the case in any ultra. But in the moment, we both basked in what we had done. We showed up, we worked hard and we were rewarded. In short, we accomplished what we came for and in that time, we grew a little more. The third time really was a charm.