By Doug Bennett
I can run 32 miles. I do that almost every weekend for my training runs. This may sound like an odd thought to be having upon arriving at the mile 68.5 aid station. But before we get to that, a little about me.
When I first started running five years ago, it was at the age of 47 after a lifetime of sedentary behavior. I hadn’t done much other than occasionally walk a golf course, and it showed. I was almost 200 pounds and couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded and sweaty. I had a fairly significant knee injury when I was 16 and a doctor once told me that lateral sports would be my enemy for the rest of my life – no skiing, tennis or running.
Eventually I chose to disregard my doctor’s diagnosis and began running out of boredom. First a mile or less on my dusty, lonely treadmill and then two miles. The skies didn’t open, the ground didn’t swallow me and I could actually run without pain (other than the normal runner soreness). I joined a running club, started training and ran the Boston Marathon in 2017. In the back of my head were the trails and ultra marathon distances—50k, 50 mile and that big, mean, ugly bastard at the back of the bar, 100 miles.
In November 2017 at the age of 51, I attempted and failed at my first “hundo.” In the weeks leading up to the race, people would say things like, “So I hear you’re planning to run a hundred miles,” and my response would inevitably be something along the lines of, “That’s the plan.” In hindsight, these responses were an indication that I was giving myself an out, and deep down I knew that quitting was an option.
This year I headed back to beautiful Folsom, California. What was going to be different this time? Physically I was right where I needed to be but more importantly, my attitude was different. I knew that I would finish. Short of the medical staff at the race pulling me to save me from major injury I was going to cross the finish line. When people asked me about my race I would answer that I was going to run Rio del Lago, not that I would “try and run it,” or “see how it would go,” but that I was going to run it. Plain and simple.
As the hours went on, from 5 a.m. at the start through the first 19-mile loop, I felt really good. Tired yes, but good. I had one low spot during the race at the aid station where it went to hell last year. This year, I was emotional at the same spot. I never contemplated quitting but I did think about sitting down and resting. With my pacer’s gentle encouragement, I snatched up my stuff and moved towards the aid station 68 miles in where I had quit the previous year. The positive attitude eventually caught back up to me from wherever I lost it, and off we went together.
So, on we went to the aid station where after each step that I took would be a new distance PR. Then I heard myself say, “I can run 32 miles. I do that almost every weekend for my long training runs.” I used that mind game for the rest of the race. Look how much I’ve achieved already. And I only have to run another 25… 18… 10…
At around 4 a.m. in one of the most remote parts of the course, my pacer was casting around his headlamp and quietly said, “I see yellow eyes. What is that?” I looked over and could see a low, blond animal looking at us from around 40 yards off the trail. “That’s a mountain lion.” The cat wasn’t looking aggressive at all, if anything it looked bored. It was just standing there looking at us as if to say, “What are all of these smelly, skinny humans doing scaring away my deer?” This was an experience that if I had quit at mile 68.5, I would have missed. On we went past sunrise to the finish line, and the buckle that I wanted so badly. For all the people who supported me during my journey to complete this race successfully – thank you.