A journey is best measured in friends, not in miles.
To begin with an explanation of ultra family needs to be given. Ultra family is the people and their families who attempt ultras but unlike many other race distances, there are so few individuals who dare test the limits, we are all repeat offenders who become one big old ultra family.
When I dove head first into the ultra world last year, January 2013, I fell in love with the distance and chasing it further. That day it was the hardest thing I'd ever done, but I have zero quit in me, so I struggled across the finish line. In Harbison Forest that day, I swore I'd never do another one, by the next morning, I had changed my mind.
There are peaks and valleys, swells, like in classical music, emotion builds, drops, stretches, broadens, shortens and then releases but in running it never ends, for me any way. In music it ends, as the piece is finished...in running you build, each finish line brings the search for the next...never an end point...always another start, almost like the renewing of a day at sunrise.
Delirium 24 Hour Endurance Race
Start: Saturday, February 8 8am
Finish: Sunday, February 9 8am
Hannah Gainey: Crew Chief
Team Howell: Pacers and Sherpas Extraordinaire
I embarked on a journey...a journey that would change my life, no doubt and maybe a few people who surround me were affected as well...my only hope.
For months leading up to Delirium 24, I did no less than 100 mile weeks, mileage spent on the road, with great joy. I love running so that time on the road is cherished and definitely not a chore. Most of the miles are done alone, no music, just the symphony under my feet and the melody in my head, or voices, depends on the day.
Running is my saving grace. Having been told about thirteen years ago that I'd never run again, as I was thrown on the oncology ward to die, I was in the grip of anorexia...a horrible, horrible disorder. I had done damage to myself through starving myself for long periods of time, stress had gotten to me. I had given up on myself. It's interesting what happened to make me fight again...I saw my chart..."failure to thrive" at 5'6" and 87lbs...those damn doctors had given up on me...what? They could not win, anorexia could not win...I had to fight, and dig deep to find that "no quit girl" who was broken and put her back together. And that is exactly what I did.
Friday, February 7th
Packet pickup done. dinner done. Off to sleep for the next 24 hours will be...wait for it...EPIC.
Saturday, February 8th
Best Day of My Life was my alarm. 6:15 am. bathe. get dressed. Coffee. Phone call. Get the hell scared out of me, call Greg. Head over to the race site...(((hallelujah chorus)))
Ultra Village is all a buzz...we are all about to embark on a journey, one into the unknown, one that we cannot help but return changed.
"Lose your mind, find your soul." Either you leave a piece of yourself on the course or you find peace within yourself throughout the course of the next 24 hours." I did the latter and actually, I found a bit more of my soul during that 24 hours.
We all started, all of us special idiots, those distance chasers, seeking something inside us that cannot be explained except by saying an iron will, staying power and the inability to quit. Training had been going on for months actually years as what we go through either makes or breaks us so our conditions form us to who we are, who we will become.
In a marathon, "the wall" is the dread point, in an ultra...I really don't think there is one...I haven't found it yet, though I'm not looking!
Here is my recollection of the day, it follows...most epic day of my life...so far any way.
The race started, 8 am sharp and you'd think an intimidation factor would be the clock counting backwards starting at 24:00 hrs., but no it is motivating, challenging and awe inspiring.
I was like a kid at Christmas. I was so excited to begin this journey into the Unknown, the uncertainty, that the smile on my face couldn't have been slapped off. Up until this point, I had never surpassed the mile 31.5, imagine that. And yes, really!
Honestly the first 50k was great, Greg joined me at some point and the real running began. I remember saying to him after passing the 50k mark, I've never been here before, and my grin broadened, then I said I felt great!
Somewhere in the mix I got a huge blister on my pinky toe, due to it having rained for hours and my feet getting wet. However in my mind it was sunny and 70 degrees, nobody was raining on my parade that day...it's mind over matter. So Greg, Other than a pacer and friend, company and distracter, encourager, he became a doctor, Laura, an assistant and Hannah, a gopher. We needed duct tape to fix the blister. He started to explain to me what he was going to do, I simply said fix it! And he did. Overcorrecting caused me another small one which we fixed too. (My only injuries from the race!!!)
Mile 50, I looked at Greg and squealed 10 hours and some change. And here comes 100k soon after but before that I said Greg, I just ran double marathons. I grinned from ear to ear, said all those hundred mile + weeks have paid off.
It got dark. Flashlights in hand, the motion makes me nauseas. So I walked, the mud was horrendous. Just keep moving forward. Greg is still walking, Laura and he trade off.
I switched to warmer clothes as the night got cold. 6hr finishers were off the course, 12 hr finishers were too, now the only few that remain is the ones of us who want to see what we are made of.
Lights remind me of fireflies, Blairwitch Project like, The Walking Dead... Anything creepy, that's it when you're on the trail, all through the night.
Fog drops at some point, it's cold. 5 shirts, two pairs of gloves, a beanie, a jacket with the hood up, wool socks. 18hrs and 24mins in to the 24 hrs, 71 miles under my belt, I was falling asleep on my feet. I came off the loop, Laura was with me, Hannah and Greg were standing by the fire pit. Greg asked if I need a break. I said yes. My mind was clear, I had had no stomach issues, had still been peeing, and was in no pain, I just was sleepy. No clue why!
I went down for a nap. 2:24 am. I got into my car that Hannah had warmed and I went to sleep. As I was trying to settle in, Hannah and I had a pivotal conversation.
I digress for a moment...
When I decided to sign up for the 24, she was as excited as I. At the mention her face would light up like a Christmas tree. Somethings as have been shared have been going on in our so have her the option out of going. Her response was that she had been waiting on this race as long as I had and she was definitely going.
During our conversation in the car, she said mom, you should do a 12 hour and race it. Next year that's what you should do. Then listen to what my baby girl said next...ready for this...she said she wants to sign up for the 6 hour in 2015 at delirium. I told her I'd do it with her. She asked if I thought she could do it, I said you can do anything you set your mind to. I was overjoyed. Honestly that was worth every bit of those 24 hours at Delirium 2014.
After sleeping for about two hours, Hannah asked me if I was ready. She said here's some orange juice, accompanied by a very stern drink it.
She asked you ready to walk mom? I said I can't quit Hannah. You're not quitting mom. I'll go with you. We grabbed the flashlight, she got her rain boots and she walked for four laps with me. Every lap getting me oranges, eat it she'd say, it helped you earlier.
We talked about the dog, about the barefoot runners, about what will make the next 24 better for her, there's a list by the way and at the finish she wanted to know when my next one was.
We walked and talked. Her fourth lap, she said mom the sun is coming up, I'm going to pack up camp while you finish up. You'll be ok right? I had two more laps to go and with the sun rising I knew I'd be ok. Sunrises restore life, a new day.
That little girl, was my saving grace. She was my rock when I needed her to be. And she was beside me during the toughest part of the race, the dark hours of 2:30 to 6:30. As I've told her many times, I couldn't do it without her.
I need to interject, I never stopped smiling. Even falling asleep on my feet, I was still happy and enjoying myself and never regretted having signed up for the 24hr distance.
I had three final laps as Hannah went to pack, team Howell assisted with the packing up and as I passed heading out on my third and final lap, I didn't stop. As I made the turn to head into the finish, I see Greg coming in from the finish and I was still smiling. The clock was down to 00:00:00, I looked at Greg and said I've got enough left to run it in, he smiled and said Hannah and Laura are at the finish. And I crossed that finish line, got hugged by my sweet girl who was smiling, my best girlfriend Laura, Duct tape Extraordinaire Greg, after Tim put my medal around my neck. Hugs all around.
And guess what...I was still smiling. 49 logged laps...83.07 miles in 24 hours with a two hour nap.
Then I smelled pancakes...made to order. Best pancakes of my life...
Hannah put her arm around me and said that the car was warm for me and camp was packed up. I said, gosh I smell. She said come on, I'll run you a bath.
Then she asked if I hurt. I answered no, I'm just sleepy. She smiled.
Best day of my life so far...
I have never experienced so much joy, ever. Runners high...to infinity and beyond on that best described as euphoria.
The human body is an amazing machine, the mind, powerful. Never backing down, will for sure insure your doing anything your mind is set to do.
Thanks to my crew for assisting me in reaching a goal that I had set. To all the supporters I had, especially the one who stayed up all night with me. Thanks to all the volunteers who were at the race and to Tim Waz who is a great race director.