10…9…8… the crowd chanted. At zero, the air horn blared, and the stampede of runners charged down the hill towards what would be a long and grueling day as we covered 50 miles of trails around Lake Sonoma in Northern California.
Marching up a big hill near the start I couldn’t help but stare at the beautiful landscape that surrounded us. The orange and pink-tinged sky was just bright enough to illuminate the mountains in the distance. I was stoked to get to run in this area all day; I was going to be able to see a lot of it.
Once the course progressed off the roads and onto the trails, we quickly approached the shoreline of the lake and one of the coolest sections on the course. Lake Sonoma has an eerie green color to it and the section we were running in had quite a number of dead trees still standing in the lake that reached above the surface. They were bone-white and bare, bleached by the California sun long ago. Now add in the steam coming off the lake as the Sun came up, and you’ve got yourself a scene straight from a Scooby-Doo cartoon. I was waiting for zombies to rise from the depths of the lake and chase us down the trail.
Shortly after moving on from the Madrone Point aid station at mile 18.8, the leaders zipped past me going the opposite direction on their way back already, putting them at mile 31 of their race. I, a mere mortal, couldn’t comprehend covering terrain like this that quickly.
Proceeding towards the halfway point and turnaround, No Name Flat, I knew today was going to be a grind. After clearing a couple nasty 600+ foot climbs and already feeling ready to be done, I arrived at No Name Flat, greeted by my lovely girlfriend, a small army of friendly volunteers, and loads of aid station food.
After a good restocking on food and water, I readjusted my finish time expectations and headed back towards the finish with another 25 miles ahead of me.
More big climbs and the relentless rolling single track demoralized me further. I kept thinking about how maybe after this I’d find a new hobby. I was hurting a lot and every breath I took seemed to have less and less oxygen in it. At around mile 32, my pace slowed considerably as I battled a bout of dehydration.
At mile 40, I took out my headphones and turned on my favorite running music. For about 7 miles I was able to run pretty hard, relying on endorphins from my tunes to numb my legs and harden my resolve.
With just a few miles to go, I ran out of gas and running felt nearly impossible. I had to stop and lie down in the dirt a few times just to catch my breath. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so miserable in a race before.
Reaching the sign stating, “One mile until the finish!” brought on waves of relief and excitement. I was going to make it.
About a half-mile further, I caught distant whispers of the crowd near the finish line. The sounds grew steadily in volume as I trudged along. Eventually, my head popped out of the forest and I saw the finish in the distance. With one final push, I ran through the last section of trail and into the finisher chute, crossing the finish line after 10 hours and 10 minutes.