They say, in life, we often see crossroads where one direction means success, the other failure. But how do we know that? It is a gamble. Often, we do not know what lies ahead, unless we take that step.
That is how TARC 50 turned out for me.
June 7, 2014 was going to be my 3rd attempt at a 50-miler. I was determined to have this attempt a success, having DD’d (dropped down) to a 50k at Badwater Cape Fear in North Carolina in March.
I signed up for TARC 50, after having spectated at the inaugural TARC 100 last year, when the husband ran it at its old course in another part of Massachusetts. I figured it would be nice to go back to the race. Last year was my first ultra immersion as a spectator and I did like the experience. Plus, it was only 20 minutes off Boston, which is one of my favorite places in the country.
So off I travelled with my friend and running buddy, Talisa, on Friday. This would be Talisa and my 3rd race together. We’ve run The North Face Bear Mountain 50k in May 3rd and Dirty German 50k May 18th. Nothing proved nicer than going out of town for a race with her.
This time, however, we picked up another runner, Bradford; a runner uprooted from Florida to Croton-on-Hudson, NY. The 3 of us drove up to Weston, Massachusetts, where we would meet 2 more runners, Jess and Brad.
Soon we arrived in Dedham, where our hotel room was (yes, 5 of us shared one hotel room, on the premise that Bradley would be running 100 miles overnight Saturday, anyway, while Jess paced him, so we would have more space Saturday night after the race). Thankfully, we would find out that our hotel sat right beside a Chinese restaurant and was right across a Whole Foods flagship store. That was convenient for nutritional purposes.
After checking in and a quick late lunch, we went to packet pick-up at the Hale Reservation where the race was taking place.
It was low-key. I liked that. I screamed for Otto, the only other good, close friend Talisa and I know, who was running the race. No sight. We would eventually see him at WF later that day and wish each other a good race the next day. Otto was also running a 100 and this would be his 2nd TARC 100. He ran the “mudfest” last year, too.
After doing flatKat, which has now become a “tradition” for me, where I’d lay my “attire” and essentials and take a photo, we finally decided on getting rest. Talisa and I shared a bed, Jess and Brad shared a bed, and Bradford slept on the floor.
Now when I said “rest,” I must have been delusional. Because sleep never came. Or barely came. Despite Talisa giving me a pair of earplugs, the snoring session Bradford performed that night was unbearable. I since, then, made a note to self to screen future hotel roommates for snoring.
And just when I thought I finally dozed, I heard noises of people getting ready for the race. I estimated the max amount of sleep at 2 hours.
Already a rough start to a day that was going to be spent running 50 miles and I know myself to be less functional with sleep deprivation.
I forced myself out of bed and got ready. I put my usual Asics split shorts on, my Asics Trail WhippAss singlet, my pink polka-dotted C3 Fit compression sleeves, IceBreaker socks, Hoka One One Stinson Trail shoes, and UltrAspire hydration vest.
Days prior, I had bought a Garmin Fenix 2 watch but being that I have not used it in a race, I decided to wear that along with my Garmin 620— just in case. I was stoked wearing the Fenix 2 with the promise that it will last 50 hours.
After some breakfast with left-over plantain and bagel and coffee with almond milk that I brought from home (yes, running vegan, I learned to be self-sufficient with my hotel breakfast), we headed out. Thankfully, since becoming vegan, going to the bathroom prior to a race is no longer an issue. That was taken care of earlier on.
At the race start, we gathered by the lake in Hale Reservation. Since it was June, it was a little nippy but comfortable enough. It was predicted to be upper 70s on race day and I knew it was not going to be long until I start shedding off my singlet and my visor.
I placed my plastic box drawer of nutrition in one of the grassy sections by the lake. In it were some Hammer Vegan Bars, Vega Bars, MacroBar, and some SL and S-Caps.
The lake was beautiful and the water at that point looked pristine. I could’ve really just stayed there and watched the runners run, instead. But a job had to be done.
After a few selfies with Talisa, gun finally went off (or was it the yeti with the gun?) and we all headed our merry way out of the beach into a section that would serve as the trailhead.
Just as I predicted, 2 miles into the race, I had to stop at a race marker and take my singlet and visor off. At the upper 70’s, it was too warm for me. I figured, I would be able to come back for them later in the race.
The 50-mile race was 2 loops of 25miles. Race description of the 50 showed minor elevation. I have run part of the course when I was in Boston in April and I figured, this race could not be so hard. Days prior, however, I was a little apprehensive, realizing this was my first trail 50-miler. The other 50-mile race I ran was in a towpath. Flat as hell. Not that I know hell is flat. The TARC elevation profile, as described at the sign-up website, somehow, did not bother me. Or so I thought. After all, the course was described as “friendly” for those new in ultra trail running .
Well, I had fun. Until it dawned on me how technical the course was.
There were so many— and I mean, so many— rocks and roots. Rocks and roots. Rocks and roots.
It actually reminded me of Bear Mountain 50k. No seriously, it was a mini-version of Bear Mountain spread in 50 miles!
This is how I liked to describe it: the elevation was not “bad elevation” but they were steep when they were uphill.
I also remember a section with really loose gravel but was really quite steep. And there were climbs that required some hands. Like one of those in Tammany or Bear Mountain that would be like climbing rocks, leaving you cursing a bit or being swarmed by mosquitoes because you’re going too slow. But as in any uphill, the hard work is often paid off with breath-taking views when you reach the top. This was no exception.
It was like that.
And then you hit the Aid Stations. Very well-supported. The first AS even had the vegan/gluten-free option (aka avocadoes and oranges side versus the pretzel or bread side, duh). Talisa would laugh at the memory of that AS with the gluten-free option.
Then there were some mud, but not TARC 2013 mud; just enough mud to get our feet wet and dirty.
Eventually, I finished the first loop. I decided to sit on a bench at the AS to apply some Trail Toes. Then a cramp hit me. And I never had leg cramps ever. I figured, however, that might have just been from sitting and rubbing my feet. Yet I screamed. It was painful. Some friendly AS volunteers helped me. That was very comforting. Something I love about the trail slash ultra running community. People are just there for you.
However comforting that was, I did not stay long on the chair. The husband had already inculcated in me that notion “beware of the chair.” I left the AS. I was confident I was going to finish sub-13 hours at that point, having had the eye-view of the course at this point already.
I went about my way, passed mile 27 and saw my visor and singlet still intact. Passed the same AS’s along the way and intermittently, Talisa and I would take turns passing each other. However, she is always fast at coming in and out of Aid Stations.
Halfway into my 2nd loop, I was still confident I would actually finish at sub-13. I was going to be happy with that. I am not a fast runner so there isn’t any delusion of grandeur there. Days before, I actually was being talked into by the husband about finishing sub-12, but I wasn’t sure about it. I thought I was capable but you always maintain the cliche “I just want to finish.” But of course, deep inside, you have your own secret mission.
But then, exhaustion started kicking in. Still my mind was set on a sub-13 finish. Or faster.
Of course, a bummer of a text would come from the husband, who would tell me, I am “predicted” to finish around 14:33 or something, and that really dampened my spirit and for a while, made me cry. What a motivation!
I pushed on. Yet the inevitable darkness would fall and although I had my Petzl headlamp on, I would slow down, especially on those uphills with rocks and roots.
My time would further drag and I reevaluated my goal to finishing just slightly under 14 hours, rather than my earlier target of finishing sub 13:30. (Yeah, I have this crazy thing in my head where anything over half an hour on a given hour “would not count.”) And yes, that shit was kinda hard.
So one foot after the other, taking some walks at this point to prevent nasty falls. I was comfortable and I was optimistic to finish under the cut-off despite losing the battle on the secret mission. I was focused and determined—- until, I reached mile 48.5 or 49.
There, I lost track of a trail marker and lost 2 other runners that I intermittently ran side by side with, passed or get passed by (I would later find out they were Annette and Gwen, who I am now Facebook friends with).
But I wasn’t alarmed. At least, not at that point. I thought I still had over an hour until the 15-hour cut-off and I was only over a mile, at most, away from the finish. So I navigated through the darkness, with only my headlamp as my guide. Once I tried to scream for help, saying “hey, I’m lost.” I saw some headlamps from all sorts of direction but no luck.
So I ran and raced, walked and raced, now with the cut-off haunting me. I finally found a marker and threaded that path. Sighed a sigh of relief. Ran on. Then I reached an uphill, which I sort of suspected that was not supposed to be there. Yet I continued and followed the markers.
When I finally hit a flat land that would take me to a right turn on the coursel, that’s when it hit me.
I was lost.
I was on my way back to the mile 45 AS.
It was then that my world started to crumble. I looked at my watch. It was now 14:23 into the race. It registered 49 miles. My mind was racing.
Then another sound dug the hole for me. My watch gave me the signal “Battery Low.” What the fuck?! What happened to 50-hour battery life Fenix 2 ads promised?
I think I died at that moment.
For the first time, I couldn’t decide on what to do. And I am mostly decisive.
And I did, for the first time, something that I have not done before. I paced few steps to the left, few steps to the right. I did this over and over and over.
And I did what I often do. I called Dylan, my friend and “little brother.” Of course, I think he was drunk again.
I explained the circumstance. And even as I’m doing this, I was pacing left and right. I literally didn’t know what road to take. I would just take a few steps left, few steps right.
I was facing a grassy, flat section at this point. Right meant DNF. Left meant DNF. Right meant going to AS 45, declaring DNF, and asking for a ride back to the AS. Left meant taking the same route where I was on twice before, attempting to find the finish with the prospect of getting lost again, and, of course, not making to the cut-off.
I tried to make myself cry. And I couldn’t. So I hung up and I did what was logical at that point. I walked the longest one or two-mile walk ever to an AS.
Nearing AS 45 (for the 3rd time that day), I was hallucinatory. Or paranoid. I saw a man in a spotted cow costume. And for a while, I wasn’t sure why he was there. I wondered if he was a psycho with a machete out to kill me.
I would learn his name was Chris Agbay, a runner volunteering at the AS. He and another runner would volunteer to pace me back and I remember saying over and over that there was no point running to the finish as I would not make it to the cut-off.
For some reason, they assured me not to worry about the cut-off. I didn’t understand that but one of them said the RD was not implementing a really strict cut-off.
Still I decided on a DNF. My first DNF. Chris drove me to the start/finish. As I neared a quasi-suicidal state where I asked myself the question why I DNF’d a race one mile from finishing.
I was disappointed. I knew I had put my 100 percent into that race and I was this close to finishing.
At the start/finish AS, I saw Bradford, who was already comfortable and clean.
However, for some reason, after talking to him I decided to walk up to the tent, where the RDs would be and told them what happened. How I would not find the trail maker on that final route to the last AS.
For some divine intervention or something, Bob would ask me how far I was from finishing. And he would ask me, too, if I am still up to running 1 mile.
I didn’t quite get what he meant. He had to clarify if I wanted to “finish” the race and I could do 1 mile.
“And I’ll be a finisher?” Duh, what a stupid question to ask. He said yes. What does one say to that? Oh, hell, yeah! I tried to show him my watch to prove how far I’ve run but, perhaps, under the unspoken honor code that exists in ultras, he took my word for it.
So off I went with Chris, pacing me in the last one mile that would seal my fate as a TARC 50 finisher.
Time 15:55. Fifty-five minutes over the supposed cut-off that was now down the drain. But who cares? That’s the beauty of ultras. Unless you are elite or competitive, the spirit is in finishing. And so I did.
Talisa would finish shortly after. She had gotten lost, too. And so did many other runners. In and around the same area where I had started to get lost.
There were lessons learned. One essential point is to never give up. Or maybe I did when I declared a DNF and hopped on Chris’ Audi. But then, I guess approaching the RDs at finish was still, somewhat, a testament of some hope lurking in the background. And it paid off. With some faith and perseverance.
My time was poor. But then again and again, I am not an elite. I could not even run a track 8 years ago. So I went home happy. Poor time. But happy, happy trails.