by Rob Carroll, RD
“What the hell?” was the only sentiment I could muster as we sat staring blankly through the early morning darkness at the very large tree blocking our path. I had planned for many contingencies; this wasn’t among them. Dennis Deane has been helping at our events since the very first one. Together we have worked through any number of race day snafus, but this one left us, well, stumped.
The tree stood between us and aid station #2. To our right was a thick expanse of woods, to our left a 30-foot drop-off. It was pitch black and we were pulling a trailer filled with supplies. We stared at each other, and then back towards the tree. Suddenly Dennis exclaims, “Holy crap! I have my chainsaw in the back!” What are the chances? We had the tree sawed up and were on about our business in a matter of minutes.
This year I thought a lot about that tree, and about the connection between it and ultra events.
Our event is grueling. With nearly 2,500 feet of climbing per loop, for a total of 16,000 feet for our 100-mile, our event can be humbling, to say the least. It has a way of bringing down even the toughest and most experienced runners. If something as simple and natural as a tree could stop Dennis and me from reaching our goal, should it be a surprise that the daunting climbs on our course impede so many runners en route to theirs?
Isn’t it also true that Dennis and I couldn’t have moved that tree with only our physical and mental prowess (substantial as those might be)? There was something else at work there, which seems to be at work in all 100-mile events. Luck? Serendipity? Karma? A higher power? Fate? Whatever you call it, it is the coming together of all the right elements at just the right moments. Much like the way the stars aligned for Anne Lang and Nicole Burt, our second and third female finishers EVER in the 100-mile. Or how Brandt Keterrer crushed his own course record, winning the 100-mile in 19:38.
What about the fact that we DID persevere? We moved the tree and got it done! Many of our runners did the same. They pulled together everything strong, smart and awesome inside themselves. They used their finely tuned wits and superbly trained bodies and made the enormously difficult dream they had taken on a reality! One of our runners took a face-plant and sent a tooth flying. A couple folks took a wrong turn after a group of hunters thought it would be funny to yank down a handful of markers. Several runners finished their races with bloody legs from falls. Every one of them was smiling and happy in the knowledge that they pushed through an extra layer of difficulty.
After we moved the tree I immediately made a note for next year: add chainsaw to supply list. It’s a reminder that even after we moved the tree; even after that obstacle was overcome, we may have to conquer it again, and again and again. Isn’t this, too, like ultrarunning? Do we train our minds and bodies to accomplish these amazing things, and then simply stop? Of course not! We learn from our adventure so that next time we will be even better equipped to deal with the challenges that come our way. This makes me think of Michael Semick. Our 100-mile race has been rough on him two years running, but he’s already planning for next year.
As Dennis and I removed the tree we laughed. We laughed in that pure, easy, joyous way children often do. It was fun, after all. Again I think of the similarities. How often in ultras are we faced with obstacles at which we can’t help but laugh? As our runners crossed the finish line this year I was acutely aware of how many were laughing and crying at the same time. Our women’s winner Anne Lang had an entourage of family and friends cheering her to her first 100-mile finish. She was sobbing and laughing as dozens of familiar faces swooped in to hug her. Their own weeping and laughter blended with her own, and even the RD was shedding some tears. These are the moments I live for in ultras.