Brent and I seem to have developed a bit of a pattern in racing together.
(1) Something happens at the start of the race. We’re not totally sure what this ‘something’ is, and I suspect it changes from race to race. But generally, it’s not a good something, and it invariably leaves me feeling anxious, out-of-breath, and ill-equipped.
(2) Somewhere between hour one and hour three, I feel my chest contracting and my voice faltering. Around this time, Brent usually asks how I’m doing. And when I attempt to answer, I cry. I always cry.
(3) We feel like we’ve reached an impasse, and try to figure out what’s not working. We come to the conclusion that maybe we shouldn’t be racing together. We hug.
(4) We continue on our way, pretty sure that this will be our last adventure together. And then something shifts. It may be immediate, or it may take another hour, but suddenly, the mood changes. We start clicking. And we end up having a solid – and generally successful – rest of the day together.
Such was the case at Saturday’s Michaux Memorial Day 12-hour ROGAINE
. This was essentially an ultramarathon, with map and compass navigation thrown into the mix. At 11 AM on the dot, we were handed a US Geological Survey map from the 1950s. It had pre-plotted checkpoints on it, more than enough to occupy the competitors out for the 24-hour event, and we had one hour to figure out our course and get our gear in order.
At 11:59, the race directors organized all participants – 52 teams in total competing in either the 6, 12, or 24-hour event – into a group photo. A minute later, we were off.
Brent and I set off on a counter-clockwise course on the western side of the map, hoping to clear the most technical terrain during the daylight hours and give ourselves a chance to nab a few easier points after the sun set.
Sticking close to script, I struggled for the first two hours, trying to find a rhythm, trying to get out of my head, trying to remember why we had chosen to do this to celebrate our anniversary. It was after the fourth checkpoint that Brent asked me whether I was okay, and a few moments later that the tears began to flow. We took a short pit stop, tried with little success to figure out why we weren’t working well together, and Brent suggested that maybe it was time for us to consider retirement.
“Maybe we should just bag this today,” he said. “This isn’t fun, and it’s not the way we want to celebrate our life together.
“No,” I insisted. “We should keep going. This may be our last race together. Let’s at least try to finish it.”
I wavered on this sentiment half an hour later, but by that point, Brent was in hot pursuit of checkpoint #5 and not interested in thinking about much else. Fifteen minutes after that, the winds shifted. I was back in the game. We were working well together. We were having fun.
This isn’t to say that the rest of the day was easy. We went through our first of several creek crossing 20 minutes into the race, and from that point on, the bottoms of my feet were gradually withering away. Travel was slow as we spent 2/3 of the day winding our way in, around, over, and through what some might have considered impenetrable thicket – tree branches and overgrown ferns and dense bushes and grabbing thorns and ankle-biting logs for miles and miles on end. Between the heat and the humidity, each of us consumed upwards of 250 ounces of water, enough to keep us just barely hydrated.
But when we found ourselves on roads and trails, we moved better than we’ve ever moved together before. We breezed through all of the flats and downhills, and alternated between running and trekking at regular intervals going up. Brent towed at points, but far less than usual. And more importantly, we both had a good time. Together.
As we came into the finish at 11:15 PM, I was encouraged by the realization that – aside from the screaming feet – my body felt strong, and I knew that I could have run several additional miles with ease.
In the end, including all of our bushwhacking, we covered 30 miles in 11 hours and 15 minutes, ticking off about 15 of those miles in three hours. I took off my shoes to discover three dying toenails and expansive blisters covering the entirety of the pads of each foot. Brent, who wore shorts instead of tights, suffered from a maze of scratches winding up his legs, and we both saw that our shoes had been dyed fluorescent green by some unidentifiable pollen that dripped from the thicket.
We ended up in second place in the coed division, and second place overall in the 12-hour race. We were rewarded for our efforts with an apple pie and a loaf of blueberry streusel bread, both homemade Amish delights.
We made it to our hotel at 1:30 AM, and awoke this morning pleasantly surprised to find that neither of us was sore from yesterday’s adventure.
How did it stack up as an anniversary celebration? Well, it was memorable, for sure, and maybe a nice metaphor for a marriage. To finish successfully, you have to support each other and challenge each other. You have to communicate effectively, and be comfortable in the silences. You have to pay attention to your own needs, and be mindful of your partner’s. You have to know when to follow, and when to take the lead.
And are we retiring? I guess only time – and the next race – will tell.