|photo by matt stebbins.|
you bound past fields of wildflowers, gawk at spectacular views, and jabber with agreeable people.
for a first-50k (or any 50k, really) you couldn't draw it up any better.
until you get to the last five miles.
that's where the lovely and amiable and hospitable course turns vicious and beastly and mean. here's a comment from a 2013 participant...
"I cried climbing that last hill last year. Luckily I was wearing sunglasses when Glenn Tachiyama snapped my photo at that point." ~ melody mândrean coleman
it's not that the hill is steep, though it is, or that it ascends thousands of feet, which it totally seems to do. it's that looking up at it after already having run 25 miles is so visually intimidating that you just want to stand there and say, "oh, no. no, no. hell, no." that, and "are you f*cking kidding me?"
but of course you didn't come this far to be turned away, so you fix your eyes on the trail and you climb.
meanwhile, the runners who summited the hill before you are now bombing back down the trail past you. yes, it's an up-and-back. so, you step off the trail to avoid a mass casualty incident, then try to get back into some sort of climbing rhythm. sidestep-resume-repeat.
when you finally get to the top, there's a little temporary sign stuck in the ground that says, "runners turn around here." it seems woefully anticlimactic, but absent other options, you tap the sign, turn, and head back down.
the fight against gravity at this point is a life-and-death matter. gravity wants you to go down fast and awkward, regardless of the impact on your face and bones. your brain feeds back, "uh, this could get ugly quick if you're not paying attention," while your quads look for an opportunity to mutiny.
that's when the cramp started. inside my left leg, running from the knee up to the groin. there's never a good time for a cramp like this, but running a steep, rocky downhill is a particularly bad time.
a cramp like this and catching a toe on a rock simultaneously? muy no bueno. the adrenaline rush at that moment was eye-popping. maybe it was that, or just blind luck, but for whatever reason the trail gods saw fit to allow me to stay upright rather flying-flailing-falling many feet down the slope.
"whoa," i said, mostly because there was nothing much else to say.
the cramp became manageable just about the time the trail spit me out onto the road at the bottom of the hill.
at this point runners might be forgiven for thinking, "okay, this has got to be the finish, right? i mean, no one puts the finish line another mile and a half away after a hill like that."
they'd be wrong.
after an interval that feels like but is not quite forever, you're back on the trail that takes you to the finish line, where you high-five race director james varner and hold that high-five for at least a couple seconds before letting go, because it feels good and in its own little way, important.
the sun mountain 50k is a brilliant event put on by rainshadow running. if you're in the market for such things, this venue, and james's events in general, are not to be missed.
i'm tired today, but not destroyed. turns out my readiness for a 50k was enough after all. going forward, though, it would probably be wise to have a little more training cushion than "just enough, but not one step more."
sun mountain 50k