Race morning started with a gut-punching 3 am wake-up. I prepared my usual race morning breakfast of oatmeal and coffee while my nerves and anticipation began to kick in. The morning was jet black, and a rain-soaked wind stirred about. After checking and loading the gear, Hannah and I drove to the race at 5 am.
Upon arriving, I found myself gathering with other bleary-eyed runners for check-in. It was quiet, but I could sense the anticipation — electric energy lingered in the damp air. Despite the early hour and sour weather, I was incredibly grateful to have Hannah, my Mom, Dad, and sister all there to cheer me on. With my shoes tied, headlamp on, and pack ready, I huddled with the other racers at the start. The bright glowing red clock hit 6 am, and we were off.
The rain continued as we entered the woods, our headlamps straining to pierce the all-consuming darkness. My senses heightened, adrenaline pumping as my legs warmed up and my breath quickened. I splashed through streams and dodged trees. The only sounds were the pounding of my footsteps and the white noise of rain. Nocturnal creatures watched from the black void, their eyes glinting like polished gems as I passed.
By the hour mark, the rain had receded, and the sky began to lighten, casting a deep gray hue over the woodlands. I caught up to a group of runners and stayed with them briefly before pushing on. Despite feeling fresh and energetic, I fought back the urge to launch into an aggressive tempo, knowing that hours of running still lay ahead. I focused on staying relaxed and calm, allowing myself to sink into the trail’s rhythm.
I entered the first aid station around mile 12, where Hannah and my family helped me stock up on water, gels, and gear. Then, I continued to follow the white circle blazes that marked the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST). The course consisted of two out-and-back sections, with the center portion serving as the start, midpoint, and finish. The terrain of the race was challenging, with undulating hills and low areas that had formed into muddy pits. I did my best to keep my shoes dry, but with the addition of crossing flooded creeks, it was a losing battle.
Mile 17 marked the first turnaround, which gave me a chance to see how ahead the leaders were. I was in third place with about a 20-minute gap behind first and second. This discovery was a slap in the face, but I was reminded that a lot could change throughout an ultra race. A successful ultra-marathon involves carefully balancing pace, hydration, electrolytes, and calories. And although mistakes can be made, they aren’t without time-extending consequences.
I passed over the marathon distance and was settling into a good rhythm, with my mood and energy levels still high. I rounded a portion of the trail that overlooked Falls Lake and noticed a runner ahead. As I got closer, I realized they were one of the two leaders. I eagerly picked up my pace and passed, giving some words of encouragement, he gave a slight nod, and I caught a glance of his fatigue-etched expression.
Soon, I was back at the starting line and about to begin the second out-and-back portion. Hannah and my family helped me refuel, restock, and cheered me on, giving me a much-needed mental boost. I was told the gap from the lone leader was now 15 minutes as I set off.
My watch buzzed, indicating another mile split. I had just passed mile 33, and I came head-on with the fact that I was now running farther than I ever had before. In unknown territory, doubt crept into my headspace, tossing uncertainty amongst the other fatigue signals. I’ve dealt with this sneaky devil before and immediately took to defensive measures — obsessive optimism. I slapped a smile on my face and took a quick look around at my surroundings. The day was becoming more beautiful by the minute, and the sun peered through the thinning clouds, pouring golden light over the budding trees. ‘Wow, I feel great. What a beautiful day.’ became my mantra, functioning as a mental restart cycle. My words persuaded my brain, and in turn, my legs listened.
I entered familiar trails that carried years of fond memories, from training in high school to re-discovering my love for running and trekking with friends. The burning fatigue came in waves, and I reached the final turnaround about 8 minutes behind the leader. My head had two main motivations: getting to the finish and catching first. The last aid station was at mile 45, and a large group of my family and friends surprised me with signs and cheering. Feeling weighed down by the accumulating fatigue, this sight sent a jolt of energy through my bones.
I was in survival mode, trying my best to carry momentum over the hills and remaining mud pits. I kept my head to the horizon, hoping to catch a glimpse of the leader. I was reaching the final miles of the race, and all I imagined was passing through the finish line and resting. The last section of the race contained a half-mile stretch of road, followed by the final bit of trail. As I got onto the asphalt, I caught a glimpse of the leader ahead. Roughly 400 meters ahead, he was painfully close but too far for me to reach before the finish. Regardless, I moved my legs as fast as possible, draining the last ounces of my energy reserves. Striding through the finish, I completed the 52.5-mile race (the course was long) in 8 hours, 30 minutes, and 32 seconds, with only a minute behind the leader. We both broke the previous course record by over 30 minutes.
I felt a rush of joy completing my first 50-mile race and having family and friends there to celebrate. I was happy with how I paced the race and kept up with fueling. It felt bittersweet knowing how close I was to the leader, but as time passed, I replaced that feeling with gratitude. I’m thankful to be able to do this crazy event and complete it. That being said, this race was a massive team effort, and I wouldn’t have had such a successful race if it weren’t for Hannah, my Mom and Dad, Ashley, Preston, Justin, and Fadi. Everything from the cheering to helping me stock up on fuel, I am so grateful for the support.
So what’s next?
I have no clue, but one thing is for sure, I still love running out in nature. From feeling the sharp morning air to the warming sunrise, the temperamental flurries, and the rushing rain. Cruising trails with friends or soaking in the serene stillness of the woods. It’s all wonderful, and it’s all centered around one thing:
Loving the process.
After all, having run 50 miles, I was right back where I began.