I was now running a marathon. I grabbed the cheapest camalbak I could find, new socks, and a bunch of energy gels. My group was in disbelief but supportive of my sudden descision or in better terms my sudden insanity.
Getting out of the city took longer then we had planned but once on the highway we made it to our motel by dusk. Hopping out of the expedition we could see the summit of bear mountain looming over us in the distance. The altitude we could feel it already was going to be our biggest obstacle. Throwing our bags down on dingy mattresses we headed down a winding road to the only building with lights on for 15 miles. Here in the narrow tavern we stuffed down some extra calories and chugged multiple glasses of water. The locals stared shamelessly and incredulously at our neon colored shoes, high socks, and bandanas. Uneasy more so because of the early morning task then the gazes over draft beer mugs we headed back to our room.
Dead silent. The three of us remained lost in our heads for the better part of that first hour of the morning. Silently we all began dressing, preparing, and packing for our journey. This was everyone’s first real race. We were all stubborn and had decided months before that our first real race would be a full marathon. That decision weighed on us that morning drowning us in silence. I bore the heaviest doubt. Thoughts raced through my mind. What the hell was I thinking? Could I even run a mile? What if I get pulled of the trail? F*ck my life. When all my gear was finally on I was the first to leave the dark motel room and step into the dewy upstate New York morning. All thoughts ceased. It was too early for birds but the subtle sounds from the surrounding woods put my mind to rest. I stood taking it all in, wanting nothing more in the world then to live a life as a trail runner. I made my way over to the front motel front office where they were serving a continental breakfast spread. In a little corner of the room, pop tarts and bagels were layed out next to coffee and an orange juice machine. I grabbed a plain bagel from the measly selection and munched on it. Once my group had taken their shares we ran to the expedition and started toward bear mountain.
It took us some circling but we finally found a parking lot filled with roughly thirty cars. Across the field in front of us, there was an opening tucked in neatly between two towering mountain ridges, there we could see the tops of the red inflatable finish line. The atmosphere once we reached the tents was indescribable. The energy was so thick you could practically see it above the anxious group of runners. We stretched for a few minutes taking in the entire scene. I laced up my old neon green nikes and made my way to the starting line. The sun was creeping over the tree line, rays of gold illuminated the emotions on the faces of the runners around me. My anxiety I’m sure could be read by the others as I waited, heart pounding. There was some form of a speech given, I could only hear muffled words over the pounding of my heartbeat. As the starting gun was risen in the air, a wave of extreme calm came over me. I heard the gunshot as if I was the one firing the pistol, my feet reacted, my chest settled, and the old familiar feeling of release washed over me.
Within the first five minutes I settled in the middle of the pack, pacing myself, unsure of what my capabilities would even be. My group had hit the first part of the run hard and were well beyond my eyesight in front. My lungs were not fighting for air, I talked in length with a few runners around me. The most intriguing runner, was running a marathon in all 50 states, New York was 48! The trail became intense at mile 8 with steep inclines and even steeper declines, I could feel my weak muscles start to ache as my feet desperately searched for even footing among the jagged rocks. I made it to my first of five aid stations. There were multiple runners sprawled out, trying to stir up enough strength or will power to go on. I was feeling surprisingly nimble. I grabbed a handful of saltines and started off again. As I ran up I saw one of the members of my group, Nick, leaning against a tree, clearly he was not in good shape. I tugged his arm, recognition and comfort filled his face. Wordlessly, determined he raced up behind me. Mile 14 my phone died along with my mile tracker. My companion nick was slowly growing more and more weary. I hit a flat stretch of the trail and really took off. I sped up next to a man with long hair and short shorts, oh and no shoes! This man had a thin slab of leather strapped to his feet by one little string. I could feel the blisters forming on my own feet and asked him how he was holding up. He engaged me with banter about why he was running with only a thin sandal, my mind wandering away from his story and too the function of moving my legs. At this point I was really concentrating to just keep moving forward. The man had to stop to fix his sandals and I yelled goodbye to him and hurry up to nick. The middle of the race was either dumb luck or intense will power. Nick and I made it through without getting pulled of the trail. The final aid station was probably the worst for both of us. He took of into the woods a few yards, threw up gel packs and protein drinks, the staff rushed over to him. Meanwhile I decided I needed bandages on 20 blisters that had riped open on my feet, worst idea ever. Taking of my shoes, bandages on, then putting back on my shoes was literally the worst thing I could have done. As I stood up it felt like 100 daggers were stabbing my feet. I made my way over to Nick, he said he would finish but he would have to go slow, I wished him good luck and started out again. I passed more people at this stretch of the race then anywhere else. With each step my feet received a brutal stab, but I pressed on willing myself to finish. I ran the last two miles like the last two miles of that ruck. Turning the corner and out of the woods I could see the finish line 50 yards in front of me. With Bear Mountain conquered behind me I threw my arms up, crossed the finish line, and collapsing in the grass. Laying on my back I quickly reflected on the past few hours, 8 hours and 16 seconds to be exact. I had completed my first marathon. I wouldn’t be able to walk for two days. But I had run.