May 25, 2013 by trailcats
Is this the hardest thing you’ve ever done? On a 55-mile trail race (run/hike/limp) with ~19,000 feet of vertical gain, lasting 19.5 hours, including a rainy night on a primitive trail…it’s fair to have that conversation.
It wasn’t the distance…this came a couple of months after our first 50-mile trail race at Lake Martin–~10 hours to finish (8.5 for Holly) including walking the last few cranky miles. It wasn’t the wet shoes…the last few 50k trail races (Cheaha and SweetH2O) had river crossings and wet trails for most of the 30+ miles. I was getting cocky about being able to run in wet shoes without incident. But somehow on the Cruel Jewel what seemed manageable became miserable.
There were the normal challenges of a long run (and hike and then trudge), and both Holly and I weren’t bothered by some of the chronic aches we’d been recovering from. Holly had even rested for about 10 days before the run to let her possible stress fracture calm down. My IT never even chirped, though I did fight off a calf cramp at mile 17. After stretching it out I was fine, if not worried for the next 35+ miles.
My problem was foot agony. Steep descents make for sensitive toenails, including several that will turn black and fall off in the next week or so. All-night rain led to wet soggy feet and some major blisters. A cool blister I sometimes get is in a crevice down the middle of my feet as my wide feet bunch up in too-narrow shoes. In hindsight, I realize better preparation could prevent the foot agony (ie change shoes at drop bag, double socks), but the last 20 miles were extremely painful. Each step hurt, and stopping to rest was pointless since the pain wasn’t going anywhere.
Holly was right there with me in agony. She was willing to quit at some of the earlier aid stations, but the friendly volunteers gently nudged her back out onto the trail. We were falling apart, and moving really slow. The night went much faster than I expected, since it took longer and longer to cover ground to the next aid stations. Holly pointed out that at 19 hours it would be twice as long as she’s ever been moving at one time.
We’ve each been in more pain, and pushed ourselves hard before, but something about a slow, agonizing trudge makes it feel like the hardest thing we’ve ever done, in terms of the most sustained perseverance to overcome physical challenges at one time.
With this definition, it was an easy call for Holly as the hardest thing she’s ever done. I had to think about a couple of similar trials. My 50-mile rim-to-rim-to-rim Grand Canyon trudge had similar foot agony and took 20 hours, too. Last summer I had to carry a friend’s overweight backpack in addition to my overweight backpack when he got altitude sickness in the High Sierras and we had to scramble down the mountain to the car.
These painful trudges make me think of the Bataan Death March, or the forced marches from the Nazi concentration camps. This overnight trudge was painful but insignificant compared to what many others endure. My suffering was a voluntary weekend getaway, with the finish line reward of a pizza buffet, cold brews by the fire pit, and no alarm to wake us up when we finally passed out.
And after all that, I still think the hardest thing I’ve ever done is not wetting myself looking for a public restroom after an afternoon of imbibing at the town square in Sienna, Italy. Are there really no bathrooms in the entire town?
What is the hardest thing you’ve done? What do you do to avoid blisters?