Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"When The Wind Did Not Blow Her Way, She Adjusted Her Sails" Graveyard 100

One of my favorite quotes is "She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails"- Elizabeth Edwards (UK). This quote would resonate in the weeks leading up to the Graveyard 100, during the race, and post-race, as well. Graveyard 100 would be my third 100 mile race. My strength is running, not hiking or climbing, so I thought that this race may suit my ability. I mentioned this race to my two close running friends as we were all a few miles into the Cheat Mountain Moonshine 50 mile race and before I could justify why I wanted to follow a white line on asphalt for a 100 miles, they both said "Yes. That sounds good!". My husband decided to surprise me by signing up for the race just before it filled in October.

So, the four of us trained and peaked with a 47 miler four weeks prior to the event. Around this same time, we learned that our oldest daughter, Alexandra, would be performing in a dance solofest the same day as the race. This was such a heart wrenching discovery. Now, we were faced with decision of whether to run the race. There was no alternative, but to discuss this with her directly and let her make the final decision. Jason was struggling with severe knee pain and needed surgery. Alexandra's dance was dedicated to him as she chose a song that he sang to her as a small child. Jason chose to stay and sacrifice his potential 100 mile finish. Alexandra decided that I should run the race since I would see the dance later in May. So, this was our first adjustment in our sail.....but, this was such a tough choice.

My mom took her last breath a week and a half before the race. The hardest thing that I have ever done is to know that her final day on this earth was probably that morning and then to watch her take her final breath as I held her hand and assured her that everything would be ok. I was emotionally exhausted. I was running a bit too much during this time, in an attempt to deal with the stress, and strained my calf. So, now I was 2 weeks away from Graveyard, injured and exhausted.

My friends, Joe and Mary Beth, who were also running and Shauna and Matt, who would be crewing, all met and left Friday before sunrise for the trip to Kitty Hawk. The trip was smooth and the forecast looked perfect. We picked up our packet and saw how turbulent and raging the ocean appeared. We joked about doing a triathlon in that water. The pier where we had the pre-race meeting was moving a bit and it was making us nauseous, but not quite as nauseous as I felt after Brandon, the race director, announced that due to road washout south of Nags Head, the race may have to be an out and back. We would not know this until the next morning AFTER the race was underway. He was confident that there was a good chance that the course would follow the original planned route, but the decision would be made on race day. So, we all headed to our hotel to sleep as well as possible before a 100 miler and contemplated what to wear to start the race!

Matt and Shauna drove us to the start of the race at 4:10 am. The weather seemed mild and the atmosphere was light. We sang the national anthem (well, some of us did)and then we were off in the darkness. The three of us stayed together and shed our first layer pretty quickly. We found some nice port-a-pots on construction sites to use periodically. It seems funny how a port-a-pot can be such a welcoming sight! We arrived at the first aid station where there was still no word on the decision of the race route. A quick shirt change and some snacks and we were headed toward Kitty Hawk. Things were going great. Joe slowed down a bit and Mary Beth and I just chugged along chatting and laughing until we reached Kitty Hawk and veered left onto Route 12. Immediately, we were faced with a road full of clutter and debris. Most of the road was completely saturated with sand and water and smattered with wood pieces, tumbleweed, siding from houses, and various hardware that had been blown from the apparent storm of the previous days. Mary Beth and I hiked up some sand dunes to avoid water, but quickly I sank about a foot deep into sand and water and we realized that this was going to be an adventure. This is about the same time that Mary Beth checked her phone and received a text from Jason stating the announcement was placed on Facebook that the course would be changed to an out and back! We both had a few moments of despair (and a few curse words), but we quickly adjusted our sails and decided there were some positives to this decision (I think that we were delirious, because I can't remember what we rationalized at the time as positive, but somehow, we did!). We also decided at this point that we would move to the upper road to avoid the high water. This did add a little distance, but it seemed worth the effort to avoid the water and sand.

We continued to move well and make good progress and we found port-a-pots at the opportune times! We arrived at Aid Station 2 feeling strong, but with the worry of what the turn around may present. We saw the leaders coming back and it appeared that they were working very hard against the headwind. As we headed out toward Bonner Bridge, the wind intensified and it was obvious that the runners were facing a challenge contending with the wind. We turned around only to be blasted by the force. We had to secure our hats from being plucked off our head and carried away like a kite. It felt as if someone had a rope around our waist pulling us back as we tried to move forward. We would learn later that the wind was gusting around 25 mph. I felt as if I were fighting too hard and told Mary Beth that I had to adjust and go easy pushing into the constant blast. I told her that she may need to go ahead and not to wait. So, this was the agreement as we headed into Aid Station 3. The struggle against the wind continued for a few miles, but seemed to decrease as the sun was setting. This is also about the time that Shauna and Matt showed up with the best pizza that I have ever tasted. We inhaled the pizza and decided to run on the busy highway, in order to avoid the sand and water, for the final 6 miles into Kitty Hawk. It appeared dangerous at times, but we hoped that the traffic would take mercy on us and we trudged along. We ran most of this segment due an urgency to get off of the busy road. Soon, we were at the final Aid Station and we were still together!

I did the math in my head and thought that we definitely could break 24 hours and if we pushed on without falling apart, then a sub 20 hour finish was in our reach. We decided to do a 15 min run and then walk break as long as we could keep that going. Things started to get tough around mile 85-90. Our chatter decreased to "It's time for a walk break" and "I need to go whenever we see a good spot". Any time that I felt tired or wanted to walk early, I immediately thought of missing Alexandra's dance recital and that I had to make this run worth the sacrifice. I also reflected on my Mom's fight just to hang on to her final breath. There must be some of that fortitude that she left in me! We missed a water stop somewhere and we were both without water. Luckily, we barely found the next water stop and replenished. Now it was mile to mile and each one became longer and harder. We knew that we had to pass by the finish chute for the final out and back segment and were prepared, but we weren't prepared for how long it took to get to the end of that road! We turned and headed back toward the finish and ran most of the way. We crossed the line hand in hand and finished as a tie for the 3rd place woman in 19:31! We embraced and received our silver buckle and asked Matt to take our picture with Brandon, the race director, who adjusted his sails several times over the weekend, as well.

We were then off to get the crew car to Joe. Shauna had been running with him for several miles in the dark and now they were cold and hungry. We drove until we saw them. It just happened to be at the hotel where we had made last minute reservations due to not being able to get to our condo near the original finish line. Joe wanted us to get to the hotel and then he would take a break in the car. So, we retreated to our room while Shauna persisted in crewing.

I had the typical post race hypotension which led to a very quick shower and then a short break recumbent on the bathroom floor with my feet elevated. But, otherwise, I was just basking in endorphins over Mary Beth and I pushing ourselves as only two kindred runners could understand and then finishing so strong. I was also anxiously waiting for Jason who left right after the dance solo to drive all the way to the Outer Banks to see me finish. He wasn't going to make it since we had finished earlier than predicted, but I was still excited to see him ASAP. I was also waiting to hear from Shauna and find out how Joe was progressing. Needless to say, I did not sleep. I then received a message from Jason that he got a flat tire about an hour away from our hotel! He adjusted his sails, after there was no response from AAA, and changed it himself. He was back on the road! Shauna sent a message that Joe was progressing well and should be done in under 24 hours which was all of our original goal.
Jason made it to the room about a half hour before Joe and Shauna. They had just set the breakfast buffet out in the hotel lobby.
We slept about an hour or so and then woke up refreshed (that was sarcasm) and had breakfast before heading down to our comfy condo where we would recover and relax in Hatteras. We traveled about 10 miles when we learned from the realtor that the road was still closed and there was no way to know if it would open that day. So, we adjusted our sails once again. We chose to drive to Williamsburg and stay at a condo that my brother in law manages. We celebrated that night with a nice dinner, a few beers, and great company.

So, the Graveyard 100 experience overall was just a parallel to life. You adjust and make the experience as positive as it allows. Life would not be such an awesome story if your boat was always sailing on placid waters. Sailboats act in direct response to the wind and sea, which is forever changing.

A sincere thank you to Jason, Shauna, and Matt for crewing and supporting.Congratulations to Mary Beth on an inspiring first ever 100 miler and to Joe on his sub 24! A special note of gratitude to Jason, who is such a giving and caring husband and father. Thank to you the race director, Brandon, his family, and all of the volunteers who gave up time and energy to help the runners meet their goals. The Graveyard of the Atlantic tried to sink us, but we persevered! "Ready about" and "Hard alee"!

PHOTOS courtesy of Shauna McQuade, Matt Strickler, Mark Sillitoe, and Frank Lilley.