To begin at the beginning....I ran TA for the first time in 2009. It was a 5:07 suffer-fest, but even I sat at the finish all sore and defeated I was already thinking about coming back again and doing it better. In 2010 I was busy growing a human, so it was decided that 2011 would be the year.
As I started the training cycle that year, the ulcerative colitis I'd been battling for four years really decided to start playing mean. I was sicker and sicker all the time and on higher and higher doses of Prednisone that we're doing nothing to help me. Finally, in March, a surgeon at Cleveland Clinic told me I wouldn't make it to May in any condition to run a race, so I gave in and scheduled my colectomy. From March to October, I adjusted to life with an ileostomy and got back into training and ran an awesome half at Columbus with a 20 minute PR. It was amazing and I couldn't believe how strong I was now that I wasn't sick all of the time. A few days later, I went in for surgery #2 which was a bunch of crazy reconstruction stuff so that they could eventually hook my innards back up and get rid of the ileostomy. This recovery was really difficult with complications and I came into the new year extremely weak but committed to starting training.
In January I had my third and final surgery. I was now all back in one piece and felt ready to get to work. After about four weeks of recovery, I started training only to find I was incredibly exhausted after each workout. I would eventually find out that my illness at the end of the year had left me extremely anemic and deficient in some key vitamins and things. I was ordered to take an extra month off from running which was mentally very difficult for me to do after waiting so long to get started. I managed to listen to my doctor though and finally got to start training in earnest in the latter part of March. I squeezed in as much as I could without overdoing things and managed to work in one 11 and 12 mile run toward the end. My fitness came back pretty well, all things considered, and I felt pretty confident heading down to Georgia.
The trip down was mostly uneventful and I was so happy to meet up with folks at the pasta dinner since I missed that the first time. We took the newbie with us and THG pretty much adopted him on the spot and spent a good part of the dinner walking around with him on her hip. Jasz, OT, wsd, and Cookie Monster were all there and it was good to see them again. Brney was there, too and it was my first time meeting her. She couldn't have been nicer or more adorable and the newbie was instantly smitten with her.
I woke up Saturday morning and just wanted to puke because I felt so nervous. I was afraid I would get lost. Really afraid. I also had no idea if I would be able to keep up with my hydration and electrolyte needs now that I didn't have my colon. I hadn't really been tested in these kind of conditions yet. I figured there was only one way to find out and I would either finish and it would be awesome or I would be carted off by medics and it would suck. Down to the lake and a good bit of time milling about and waiting for the start. We got our pre-race instructions and off we went. I almost instantly realized my shoes were way too loosely tied and my feet were sliding around like crazy just with the camber of that initial grassy area around the lake. I figured I had better fix that now or I would be really sorry in an hour or so. The same thought process cropped up when I saw some port-a-potties at the start of the campgrounds. Once all that was taken care of, everyone was gone and I was alone. I would basically run alone for the rest of the race, and I knew it.
As I got to the trail portion, there was instant up and I switched to a walk. Then, it seemed like everyone in the race came spilling down the hill toward me. Lots of encouragement, including a high five from Brney, but it was all just another reminder of how damn far behind I was already. I knew this was going to be largely about me and my own head and prepared my mindset for the rest of the journey. I started thinking then about Relentless Forward Progress, a book about trail running that I've yet to read but I love the title. I just kept telling myself that whether it was a run, scramble, or walk I just needed Relentless Forward Progress and to keep moving and make it happen. A lot of this loop was kind of jumbled together in my mind, but I definitely remember the fire break. It really is where giant bulldozer type things roll through and carve out a path. It was not created with runners in mind whatsoever. The ground was crazy tilty all over, rocks were abundant, and oh my god some silly steep hills! At one point I kept thinking this is what it would be like if Becky's Bluff and a bulldozer somehow had a baby. I keep hearing rumors that this section was only a mile, but I don't believe it one bit. There was also some really nice trail in these sections and I found a lot of the first loop to be really fun. Even the firebreak was fun except I knew the bluff was still to come.
At the halfway stop, I ran into txredd and she really pepped me up a lot and helped me get geared up for the second loop. I was struggling with feeling low fueled and also starting to have some calf spasms. I took my time at this stop making sure I got a full gel in and more salt stick with some extra water. Then I was off for the red loop which meant it would soon be time for the bluff.
I had to laugh reading Bama's report about comparing the "memory" of the bluff to what happens to moms after childbirth. I told my husband that exact same thing on our drive home! I was in the hills leading up to the bluff and somehow I had totally forgotten that this wasn't actually it. As I was thinking I was almost done and it wasn't as bad as I remembered, I saw the dreaded sign and realized I hadn't even started yet. I wanted to cry! I kept reminding myself about the Relentless Forward Progress and started the climb. I did have to stop briefly at some points, but just long enough to take a couple of breaths and get moving again. It really was easier to keep moving than to try to keep from sliding/rolling back down the damn hill. Right around the time where I really just wanted to die, I caught a glimpse of wsd and knew I was at the top! Yes! I was so happy to see him! We shared a hug and he took a great picture for me and I was on my way.
The remainder of the course is a good bit of downhill which should be an awesome thing. However, my right knee decided this would be a good time to start feeling like someone was shoving a flaming hot ice pick under my kneecap with every.freaking.step. The pain took my breath away at points, but I had to keep moving since I lack the powers of teleportation. A nice volunteer stopped me to ask me if I was ok and if I needed to drop. Oh god was I tempted, but I have yet to DNF and I couldn't emotionally handle the idea of not finishing. I decided I was going forward until/unless I couldn't anymore and off I went. I lost a lot of time here and there was a point where I knew I wasn't going to make my time goal and that really brought my mood down. I also started beating myself up over how I had to be crazy to think I was going to train for a full when I couldn't even run this half without blowing up. There was a window of time in here where I kind of got delirious and everything looked really bright and weird. I don't know how to explain it really, because I wasn't dizzy or anything, I just was in a weird place mentally. I found myself thinking a lot about my training group at home during this time, and I knew I had to finish no matter how bad I might be hurting right now. I finally kind of snapped out of it and remembered how hard I had to fight to even start this race and that these were crazy conditions that had nothing at all to do with what my marathon training would be like. I ran along the flats and small uphills, and winced my way down the downhills. I finally popped out of the woods and realized I was almost there!
Coming down the road, I could see the bridge and then I could see my husband and the newbie standing there waving at me. I got choked up there, but had to push that feeling down and keep going. Onto the bridge, quick hi to my guys, and then on to the finish. I can't even explain the feelings that swept over me. I was euphoric to have conquered this whole process. I survived, I did it, I am still strong enough to do the kinds of races and things I want to do despite all I've been through. I really can do anything and in that moment I knew it as sure as I've ever known any single fact. I got a hug from Brney and ended up crying all over her, but she was sweet about it. Before long, I was up in the cabin having downed some ibuprofen, taken an ice bath, and passed out in bed. The little rest did me good and I was ready to go for the remainder of the evening's activities.
I'm waiting for the official times to post, but I believe I have a 47 minute PR, maybe 45. Amazing! To me, this course was tougher than the traditional one so I am really proud of what I was able to do. I had 4:20 for a watch time and, though I missed my goal to come in under four hours, I know that was the very best effort I could put in on that day in those conditions so I am satisfied. I am also really happy that my body stood up to conditions as far as hydrating, electrolytes, etc. I had some calf cramping, but not enough to stop me and lots of other folks had the same so I feel ok about it. I feel much more confident going into my training cycle for the full knowing I've endured this tough race and held up pretty well.