9:31:50 p.m. (+14:49:19 since race start) Mile 19.4
The race ceased to exist. For a brief moment, it was just me and the sound of the generators. I felt at peace with the silence.
Then “the magic” happened. I rounded that last run, stepped over the timing mat and now I was headed home. I was on my way back to the finish line, to my family.
I passed people who were coming toward the turn as I was leaving it. I did what I could for them, for I have been where they are. I called out,
“You got this. There is still time. Hang in there.”
I knew that they were heading into the darkness that I had emerged from and would need all the encouragement I could get them.
The run course had “aid stations” every two to three miles. They are just tables staffed by volunteers who offered us, “The Walking Dead,” cups of Gatorade, Red Bull, Coke Cola and ice water. Waxy Dixie cups filled only 1/3 of the way. You don’t want to drink too much, or you will feel the liquid sloshing around in your gut like an aquarium full of fish.
For the first 13 miles of this run...
...I sipped water and grabbed pretzels. Hours ago, at mile seven, a spectator even offered me a beer.
(Which you took.)
Which I took.
(You didn’t chug it?)
No, I took a sip.
(Is beer a good idea at a race?)
It is, after all, carbs, but more than a sip might be a bad idea.
Like I said, an aquarium in your gut.
But after the mile 13 turn around I focused on hydrating based on the drink table layout.
First a sip of Red Bull, then a sip of Coke, and then a third of a cup of water to rinse my mouth as I passed through each aid station.
(Why Red Bull and Coke?)
Many triathletes like drinking Coke on the run. When I was a kid, if I had an upset stomach, my father, the pediatrician, would give me a tablespoon of Coke syrup. As an adult I learned why.
It seems that triathletes like Coke too. It gives you “sugars” for energy and it is easier on your stomach than water.
Like I said, too much water and you can feel like there’s an aquarium in your gut while you run.
(And the Red Bull?)
The caffeine helps too.
At this late hour, the volunteers were packing up the aid stations. Just another sign that time was running out.
My phone had been pinging and buzzing all day, but I resist the temptation to check my messages.
The last thing I needed was to lose focus and burn time on my phone...but there was one person who deserved an update.
I know my wife. Once she saw that I was slowing down she would begin to worry.
I opened WhatsApp, but there was already a message from her.
“Keep it up. I believe in u.”
At that point I was beyond tired. My feet hurt and I wanted to sit down, but her message kept me going.
10:02:16 p.m. (+15:20:45 since race start) Mile 21.4
The soles of my feet hurt, but I still managed to walk. I even managed a few 30 seconds runs.
Then I saw it. A mist on the scale of something out of Game of Thrones descended upon us in this valley before the turn and the hill up to the horse stables.
In the generator lamplight, the glow was eerie, almost angelic.
I turned off the long road of generators towards the long climb back towards the horse stables.
It occurred to me that I had stopped seeing people heading my way. This late in the race, anyone still headed in my direction would have been pulled from the course and disqualified. Branded with the dreaded, “DNF.”
(Do Not Feed?)
Did Not Finish.
In my mind I saw runners being stopped and told to get into the van. Some in relief that they could rest, others crying that they had failed. I knew that if I could find the strength to keep moving forward, I would be spared that 11th hour defeat.
As I started the climb for the final time, I received another message from my wife:
“How much farther?”
“U can do that in ur sleep come on.”
10:23:16 p.m. (+ 15:41:45 since race start) Mile 23
I made it to the top of the hill. Man, I hate that steep hill, but now I was just down the road from the horse stables. I was just 5k to the finish line. Normally, that’s just 28 minutes for me, but my legs were dead. It was the cruel irony of endurance sports. I was so happy to be this close and yet I was being forced to be patient.
I turned off the main road to enter the horse stables for the fourth and last time. As I walked the figure eight pattern, I bid farewell to the volunteers that had been serving drinks to the athletes all day. Now there were no more stops between me and the finish line that lay up the road.
11:15:40 p.m. (+ 16:33:09 since race start) Mile 25.8
With just a half mile to go, something caught my eye and I...
David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6.
He can be reached at [email protected]