Those of you familiar with Melissa's character know she's sweet, mild mannered, and never-ever says bad words. All that is out the window in Part 3 of her Lean Horse saga where she "swears like a sailor" at the no-seeums that swarm and choke her breath and seize her mind. The cheers of "first woman" ring through the darkness and confirm that she is indeed "winning it for the women". She struggles on with a sore back and swollen feet. An ice-cold Coca-Cola and a fresh pair of Hokas revives her sagging spirit and she continues on into the darkness realizing at mile 75 she's a full two hours ahead of her time last year. Part three takes us up to mile 80.3; the hardest is yet to come.
It's a good day to be alive,
The rain had stopped so I just carried the poncho looped on my belt. I was feeling warm and didn’t need it. After running a mile or so, I decided to put the poncho down near a trail marker. I planned to pick it up on the way back. After all, carrying unnecessary gear just makes you more tired. I folded it and put it next to the mile 96 marker (I wasn’t at mile 96 but the trail is longer than what we were running). I continued on for just short of a mile. Surprise! It started to rain. I thought momentarily about going back for my poncho – but I just couldn’t do it. Doing two extra miles when the rain could possibly stop? Nope – not this girl (good thing….because it did stop). I continued on uphill until I reached DMTM which was mile 49.3. At that point, you had to run .7 of a mile past and then turn. I decided to not stop on the way out, but stop on the way back. It was here that I also decided to plug into my headphones. I needed a little boost (mentally) from my music. I started to wonder about my placement. I hadn’t seen any women for a while (not since the cow incident).
I checked my watch at the 50 mile turn-around, I had been running for just over 10 hours (averaging 5 miles an hour for 50 miles). I thought (momentarily) how nice it would be if I could keep it up for the next 50 miles and finish in the 20 hour range (momentary thought!). It was way too early to be thinking about my finishing time. I wasn’t ready to pick up my head-lamp yet as it was only 4:00pm and it wouldn’t be dark until 8-9pm. I stopped for a few minutes to regroup, get some food and talk with David. He said he wasn’t sure, but he thought I might be the first or second women. I saw a woman as I was leaving the DMTM, but she hadn’t done the out and back so would be at least a mile and a half behind me. I continued on, happy to be on my way back now.
Still feeling good (except for my stupid shoulder) I ran the 6 miles back to Nahant. The weather was warm and it looked as though there would not be the downpour I feared. It was nice to finally see more people on the course as I made my way back. I saw people I had run with earlier on. The wonderful thing about ultramarathons is that just about everyone would say something to you in passing, ”good job”, “looking strong”, “way to go”. These are words I’ve heard before, but are meaningful all the same. The strange thing about this race was I was also getting the words, “first woman!”, “there she is!” and clapping. It was something I wasn’t all together used to. Slowly it was sinking in that yes, I could be the first woman. On my way before the turn around, I had counted maybe 12 people on their way back, but I hadn’t seen any women. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t anyone (people can be missed if they are off in the bush to take care of some business), but I knew I had to ask David at the next aid station if he could find out for me.
As I ran through the valley, I encountered more people with more encouraging words. It felt strange to get that extra attention. It is not that I didn’t appreciate it – it made me feel quite special – but there is always that part of me that questions my worthiness of warranting such compliments. Why should I get extra merit just because there wasn’t another woman faster than me here today? I certainly wasn’t going to be the fastest finisher – the lead male was at least a few hours ahead of me. As I ran, I worked through some of what was going on in my head. I finally concluded “Accept the compliments dummy”. Even though I wasn’t going to be the fastest female to ever run this (far from it) – today I was winning the women’s side. And if that fact could help me keep going at a quicker pace and finishing this race faster than last year – it was a good place to be and I should use it. I knew that my friend Christine would be telling me that I’ve worked hard to get to this race and if I was in first place for the women, I needed to keep working to maintain that place.
I met David in Nahant (mile 56.6) and asked him if he knew what place I was in. He said he was pretty sure I was in first and I told him I was pretty sure I was too. I refueled and refilled my bottles. It was getting a little cooler and I put on one of the shirts I was wearing earlier. David had hung it out of the car window as he was driving and it was now dry (awesome thinking!). I knew my next drop bag was in Rochford and I would have to pick up my head lamp there. I estimated that I would get there sometime after 6pm. I wouldn’t need it yet, but the next drop bag was at Horse Creek which was mile 75. Last year I got to mile 75 at midnight and had a good 4 hours of dark! David mentioned that because I had a crew (him), I could pick up my head lamp anytime, he would just have it in the car with him. It really was so nice having a crew! So David would get my head lamp out at Rochford and have it in the car with him until I needed it.
I was starting to feel a bit down at this point (physically). My trap was still hurting (despite A535 reapplication at every aid station). The trail from the DMTM to Nahant and Nahant to Rochford was a little long and the people I had been seeing were getting sparse. Two miles before Rochford, surprise, I see David! He was running out to meet me. When I saw him, I thought “good! I’ll be at an aid station right away”, but David told me in about 20-25 minutes we would be at an aid station. I got a little upset and said, “Why did you run so far? When I see you it is only supposed to be a few minutes to the aid station!!” Poor David! Here, he was trying to give me more company and in turn I got upset because I wasn’t close to an aid station! I apologized and thanked him for coming out that far. I did mention though, if I could, just come out a mile (just for my mental sanity). We laughed at how funny the mind works. At Rochford (mile 62.7), we got out my headlamp and I made sure that David PROMISED me that he wouldn’t get lost and not meet me at the next aid station. I also got out a small mag-light and put it in my running pack (just in case he did).
Onward to Gimlet Creek (mile 66.3). I liked knowing that my next aid station was only 3.6 miles away. I was still feeling the effects of my shoulder and my chest muscles were hurting as well. I hadn’t had a coke for awhile and it was making me a little grumpy. David (true to his word) came out of Gimlet less than a mile away. He asked me if I could have anything in the world right now, what would it be? I thought it was a strange question, but I responded, “I would give my left arm for a coke right now. Why?”. He just said, “no reason, just wondering”. As we approached one of the many wooden bridges, what did my wondering eyes did appear? A Coke at the foot of the bridge….in a pile of ice. I actually had to stop and laugh! I asked him, “How did you know?”, he replied that he, “just knew.” I was so happy chugging that can down. Gold star for my crew!
At the aid station, I put on a long sleeved top as it was getting later and a little colder. It was close to 8:00 and getting dark. I got my head lamp from David and continued on to Mystic (mile 70.5). I was a little sad that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the beauty I had seen as I came through the first time, but I knew I would still be able to listen to the creeks that ran along side the trail and the waterfalls. The area around Mystic was a little cooler, so I kept up my pace so I wouldn’t chill.
As I was running by the beautiful creek I had admired on the way out the most horrid thing happened. As twilight set, out came armies of bugs! Not large mosquitoes, but little “noseeums”. Those pesky tiny bugs that go up your nose, in your mouth and in your ears. They were everywhere! I ran along waving my arms back and forth in front of my face like a madman! I must have looked insane! I’m don’t have a “potty mouth” but suddenly I was cursing like a sailor. These things were relentless. I contemplated quitting, but even if I did, and I stopped, they would swarm. There really wasn’t any way out of this hell but through it. Luckily the aid station was close and I saw a headlight bobbing toward me on the trail. It was David. Man it was so nice to have someone to rant to! As I vehemently described to him this hell that I was experiencing, he talked me down and told me to turn off my headlamp. The light was drawing the bugs to my face….duh….again, glad to have the sense of someone else. After running for over 14 hours straight, sensibility leaves. David also lifted my spirits by reminding me that once it was dark, the bugs wouldn’t be a problem. Horse Creek was the next aid station and David said I was doing great. I was feeling good after leaving the aid station. My back pain was letting up and it was actually a nice change to be now running in the dark.
Just outside of Horse Creek (mile 75.3) I saw a headlamp bobbing towards me. I could see David when he was further away now because of the light. I told him that I really missed running with him when I was going through the tunnels. They were very creepy at night and would be a perfect spot to REALLY scare someone. I think, had the tunnels been closer to the aid station, either David or I would have probably done that to each other. At Horse Creek I had my drop bag. It was around 10pm. I was pleased with my time. Last year at mile 75 it was midnight. I was ahead of last year’s time by 2 hours and feeling much stronger. I contemplated switching my Nike Pegasus shoes for Holkas. Holkas are very spongy shoes. I had done a training run in them during the summer.
The good thing about having David there was that if I didn’t like how they were feeling, I could switch them at the next aid station, he would just carry them in the car. So, upon David’s insistence, I switched up my shoes. Wow, they made my feet feel like they were wearing pillows. I didn’t realize how sore my feet were until I put on the Holkas. Instant relief! I knew, at this point, I had 25 miles to go. Even if it took me 8 hours, I would still get my sub 24 belt buckle. This was my “B” goal. “A” goal was to finish the race, “B” goal was to finish before 24 hours and “C” goal was to finish faster than last year (23:49). I was feeling great. I was still in first place for women and all of my goals were still within reach. I did have to remind myself that now it was going to get harder. The longer you go, the harder it is. Although I thought to myself, last year I actually picked up my pace in the last 16 miles. I left the aid station feeling confident. On to High Country and mile 80.3!
To be continued in part four.