“That’s the thing with this sport, you have to know what you are getting in to.”
It was 7 am on Sunday morning, and Geoff was consoling our friend who got pulled from the 105 mile course after getting hopelessly lost in the woods at 1:00 in the morning. She wasn’t alone…out of the 11 people registered for the 100, 105 ,and 211 mile races…only one finished, and no one else even came close to earning a belt buckle.
Geoff was right, of course. Not all races are created equally, and it’s important to know what you are up against. Running one hundred miles is a daunting task, no matter how you look at it. It’s never an “easy” distance. But they are never quite the same. There are 100 milers run in circles on a track. There are 100 miles on road. There are 100 miles on well established, hard packed trails or gentle cart roads. There are race courses you choose because you know they do almost everything they can to give the runner the upper-hand: easy terrain that is promised “fast” or “beginner friendly”, incredible aid stations and support, generous cutoff times. There is nothing wrong with these types of races, in fact, sometimes I seek them out myself.
But then there is another category of ultra and trail running. The races that sneer at you with a look of “I dare you to even try”. The races that mock registrants for their poor life decisions with a welcome email full of warnings, and laugh when you question difficulty or “fairness”. The races that don’t promise you anything at all, except for an adventure…and possibly some blood and tears.
Swamp Fox Ultra falls into the latter category. A “choose your own adventure” self-supported type of race, where trail marking is minimal, and “trail” itself is up for interpretation.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this type of course was exactly what I needed.
Last summer I had planned to go run the Desert Rats stage race with a good friend of mine, Mikie. Unfortunately, when Knock on Wood ended with an appointment at a general surgeons office, I had to back out on our adventure. Mikie was still chasing her first 100 buckle, so at the time I promised to instead run the Swamp Fox 100 with her. It was a first year race, put on by one of our favorite South Carolina race directors, Chad Haffa of Eagle Endurance. Chad always offers “interesting” distances, and Swamp Fox was no exception. There was a half marathon, full marathon, 50K, 50 miler, 100K, 100 miler, 105 miler, and 211 miler. The difference between the 100 and 105 miler was that the latter simply ran to the very end of the Swamp Fox Passage (52.5 miles from the start line…so they claim) before turning around. It also came with 3 extra hours before the time cutoff, compared to the 100miler, so I convinced Mikie it would be worth the extra 5 miles.
Life…happened…as it tends to do. I can’t speak for Mikie, but I know that Geoff and I were NOT able to put in adequate training for this race, due to work, kid, and other obligations. I secretly kept hoping that Mikie, with other speedy road marathon racing goals on the horizon, would suggest that we drop our distance to something more reasonable. She did not. Not even with some coaxing. After sending her to the desert alone during the summer, I didn’t want to bail on her again, so there was no backing out. Ready or not, we were going to run 105 miles.
The Swamp Fox Ultra is a self supported race. RD Chad made sure it was well known that you were mostly on your own out there. Every 7 ish miles there would be water and Doc Scotts electrolyte drink, but nothing else. No food or calories of any type, no band-aids for your blisters, no Vaseline for your thigh rub, no one to wipe your tears away. Nothing. At miles 7, 14, 28, 35, and 52 (approximately) you could leave a drop bag, but only if you labeled it correctly and no random locals or trail users got to it first. Making sure you had everything you needed either on you or in your drop bags was the first logistical part of this race.
The second was figuring out where the hell you were going.
The route for the Swamp Fox 105 started on the Palmetto Trail at Buck Hall Recreation Area in McClellanville, SC. It then crossed over onto the Palmetto Trail, where we ran the 47 mile section of the Swamp Fox Passage that traverses across the Francis Marion National Forest. There’s some history to this trail, and if you’re into Revolutionary war stories, I recommend you check it out. The Palmetto Trail was built in 1968, long after the Swamp Fox himself was hiding among the trees waiting to ambush the British, and therefore, in theory, is a well established route. However, sections of the trail were clearly anything but “well traveled” or maintained, leaving runners to tackle pretty much every possible Lowcountry terrain you can imagine.
Friday afternoon Geoff and I packed the car, hit up Subway for a buy one, get one free “National Sandwich Day” deal (these random details are important), and headed to Buck Hall where we set up camp early. We were among the first to arrive, and we took the time to park our butts in hammocks and chairs respectively, and read our books in the early November sun.
Did I mention it’s still in the high 70’s here? It is. I miss Vermont dearly, but this sort of November weather is pretty amazing.
Any lingering stress I’ve had from the past few weeks immediately dissipated: I was in my happy place. Day gave way to night, our friends slowly started to trickle in. We sat around a campfire with newly made friends and old friends alike, discussing race goals, and telling war stories from races past. This truly is one of my favorite things about the trail/ultra community (besides the running, of course): you have an immediate, welcoming family, wherever you go. I was more relaxed than I’ve ever been before a race, which was pretty hilarious, considering I was planning on running over one hundred freaking miles the next day.
My new “norms” have reached an all time level of ridiculousness.
I sleep like a baby, and wake up to the sound of cars pulling in for pre race check in around 5 am. The hour between my alarm clock and the race start goes by fast. I had spent days nailing down my own aid station drop bags as well as my hydration pack and was as ready as I’d ever be, so I helped Mikie finish getting hers ready.
Before I know it, we are standing around Chad the RD listening to last minute race instructions. I SWEAR I was listening, I really was, but as the day progressed I’d realize that Chad’s words were processed through my brain similar to the words of Charlie Brown’s teacher: wah wah wah wah…
We take off running down the trail. The marathon, 50K, 50 miler, 100K, 100 miler, and 105 miler all start together (the 211 guy started the night before), but thankfully, it’s a small field. The front runners take off, and the rest of us maintain a more conservative pace behind. I lead the way as our Myrtle Beach crew follows. It’s still dark, so we wind our way through the forest in the beams of our headlamps, trying to not let the excitement dictate our pace. This section of trail is beautiful, even in the dark. We pass over a number of small bridges, and catch glimpses of the sun rising over the marshes of the Intracoastal Waterway. I’m reminded of the first…and last…time I ran these trails, nearly six and a half years ago. A friend of mine and I decided to gun for Marathon Maniac status, and decided to run back to back Myrtle Beach and Umstead marathons, so we figured we might as well get some trail running practice in. Back then, this was our closest option.
I smiled at how far I’ve come since. Today was going to be a good day.
The first stretch of trail ended on a dirt road that took us to Highway 17. With four friends behind me, I joked that this felt like a game of Frogger. We inched forward slowly, saw that we were temporarily in the clear, and sprinted across the highway yelling “ahhhh” like a bunch of little kids.
Safe in the woods once again, we fall back into our happy pace. We’re cruising right along, when suddenly we come to a fork in the trail. The ground is covered in orange spray paint with an arrow that points right…
…and an arrow that points left.
I look up and see runners much further down the trail headed in both directions. We all look at each other confused, except for Geoff. He tells us this is the out and back section to the first aid station. The rest of us swear this is the first time we’ve heard such a thing. I know I was paying attention at the pre race talk, why don’t I remember this? (Wah wah wah wah, Charlie Brown’s teacher…)
Mikie and I pull out our phones. We were instructed to download a course map to the “Map My Run” app for situations such as this. Both of us are fighting with the app and cannot get the damn thing to load. Minutes pass before a group of women come up on the trail behind us. “You need to go left”, one lady says, confirming what Geoff told us in the first place. He gives us one hell of a “I TOLD YOU SO” accompanied by some sort of snarky comment.
It’s 7:00 am. We’re already lost.
We follow the group of ladies down the trail, and quickly arrive to the first check in and drop bag point. Geoff and I had made a very rudimentary estimate of when we’d arrive at each check point, based on our estimated pace AND estimated location of each stop (these were never given to us in exact mile increments).
We’re 20 minutes ahead of schedule, which I expected. The first part of the trail was incredibly well traveled and easy to navigate (says the girl who already got lost), plus we are on excited, fresh legs. I refill my tailwind from my drop bag, use one of only three port-a-potties I’d see over the next 50+ miles, and we are on our way once again.
We spend the next 7 ish miles cruising right along and chatting. Our friend Sara, who is running the 50K, had recently finished her first full Ironman. We were discussing “M-Dot” tattoos (the “M-Dot”, for those unfamiliar, is the Ironman logo. It’s literally a letter M with a dot over the top of it) and realized that the trail markers we are following are a big white dot with a long white blaze underneath. An “I-Dot”.
Recapping ultras is time consuming, so let’s cut the chase. We run a lot. The course, at this point, is very runnable. There are times where I would have argued otherwise, but in retrospect compared to what we were going to face in the future? This section was incredibly runnable. We hit bag check/check point #2 without incident.
We run some more. We reach the 50K turnaround and say goodbye to Sara. This is the point in the blog post where I share all of Sara & Julie’s photos…because I didn’t take a single picture on trail. Blogger fail or finally learning to disconnect? You decide.
Run, run, run some more. We reach check point #3 at 10:50 am. We leave the comforts of the beautiful trails, cross a paved road, and enter what I can only describe as a giant, mowed path in the middle of very thick brush. I immediately start cracking jokes that THESE are the type of Chad Haffa trails I’m used to. There is a hand written sign hanging over the entrance to the path telling us to be loud, there are hunters in the area. I’ve conveniently already worn my hunter orange hat from the Copperhead 20K, but decide that maybe taking off my fox ears might be a wise decision. We sign in, refill our water, and head back out.
Running on grass comes with it’s own set of challenges. It’s wildly soft on your joints, which is nice, but also wildly uncertain underfoot. There are holes, roots, divots, and rocks all hiding quietly behind the grass, just waiting to trip you or twist an ankle. The tricky terrain forces you to change your running gait to more of a shuffle as to avoid planting directly planting your foot into a hole and landing on your face. The shuffle, while not immediately taxing, creates a whole slew of other issues, including angry feet that are now constantly sliding back and forth inside of your shoes.
Needless to say, “mowed field” is probably the most underrated difficult race surface out there. I can’t say that it’s my favorite. Don’t let the elevation profile of this race fool you.
We hit mile 26, and I tell Geoff and Mikie it is now time to start the alphabet game. Everyone takes turns naming a word that begins with a specific letter, and cannot repeat a word that’s already been said. Each letter corresponds with a mile (for example, “A” is mile 26, “B” is mile 27, etc.), and in theory this will get us through to the turnaround. We make it through “A” pretty easily, then become wildly distracted during “B” …we’re trying not to get lost. The mowed grass had given way to swamp, and at times it was hard to tell what was trail and what was swamp. The I-Dots alternated between freshly painted, clear trail blazes and “is that paint or is that just mold on a tree?” markings.
Geoff starts falling behind, both on the alphabet game and on the trail. He asks if we can walk just a little bit longer than our current 4 minute run/1 minute walk intervals. We all agree, we’re well ahead of schedule, and this section is tricky to navigate. We keep waiting to stumble upon the next check point, but it seemingly never arrives. All three of us have different GPS readings, varying up to a mile apart. No one knows whose distance is right, but it doesn’t really matter…there isn’t a checkpoint to be seen.
Eventually we pop out of the woods onto a paved road, and see the checkpoint on the opposite side. We all breathe a sigh of relief, everyone was ready for some real food. Geoff lays down on the ground and points out that his leg muscles and biceps are all spasming. He also points out that despite drinking a ton of water, he hasn’t peed in nearly 7 hours. This is clearly not good, but we are not ready to let him quit yet. So much can happen over the course of 100 miles. There are very high highs, incredibly low-lows, and everything in between. I’m hoping this is just a low for him and he’ll get through it.
We spend forty minutes (yes, 4-0) at this check point. We eat, Mikie does a full wardrobe change, I get eaten alive by mosquitos. But I’m still smiling. We commiserate with fellow runners at this checkpoint who have also been lost, and discuss all of the hunters and hunting dogs that have been encountered on the trail. Another note at this check point once again reminds us to be aware and be loud, it’s hunting season. Geoff eventually moves from supine position to seated, eats some cold pizza from his drop bag, and agrees to give one more section of trail a try to see if he feels any better.
Back on the trail again, we almost immediately see our first signs of hunters: two adorable coon hounds wearing giant GPS trackers around their necks (this is one of two points in the race where I regret not bringing a camera). Geoff sees them first and warns us “dogs on trail”. As most runners know, seeing strange dogs on a run immediately heightens your senses, as you never know if you are going to meet a friendly dog or an angry dog. These two were OVERLY friendly, and decided to happily tag along, following right by our side as we ran down the trail. I find myself torn with their presence; on one hand I was wishing that I had some dog treats…or at least some sort of treat I could share. I’m pretty certain dogs aren’t fans of Tailwind. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were men with guns hiding just around the corner, pissed that their dogs were lollygagging with some ridiculous runners instead of doing their job. Eventually there was the sound of other hounds howling off in the distance, and our two new friends ran off to join them. We were alone once again.
Geoff made it about 5 of these 7 miles before needing to slow down to a walk once again. It was pretty clear that he was done, but none of us would say it out loud. We just kept pushing forward to the next aid station. I don’t remember a ton about this section, which means it was actually runnable and we didn’t get lost. Eventually we stumbled upon bag check #6 at Witherbee Ranger Station. No sooner did we stop moving than Geoff said “Done. I’m done. I quit. Bananus” (Bananus is our running safe word, and the term for the very end of a banana. If you didn’t know, now you do. I also recommend having a running safe word if you run with your spouse. It prevents premature race quitting, and other potential marital and race issues.) I didn’t question him. Those of you who know my husband know he’s got a bladder the size of an acorn, and can’t even make a one hour roadtrip without a pit stop. So the fact that he has gone nearly 9 hours now without peeing has me concerned, and words like “hyponatremia” and “rhabdomyolysis” are floating through my head. He seems fine, but perhaps wandering around the remote swamps of South Carolina isn’t the best place for him to be right now.
I handed Geoff my phone to call Chad to come and retrieve him. Geoff assures us he’s going to be OK, and encourages us to continue on. I hesitate, but Geoff points out that we’ve both been strong, and tells us to go. Mikie and I geared up for the next stretch, it was an estimated 17 miles before the next bag drop. We eventually said our goodbyes and took off, about ten hours into our day. The half of a 5 hour energy caffeinated shot I had just taken kicked in and I felt incredible. I was running my mouth to Mikie about goals, dreams, and life in general, and we were cruising along at a pace probably much faster than we should have been.
The miles flew by. I felt amazing. I made a number of comments to Mikie about how awesome it felt to be at 45 miles in and still running effortlessly. In my mind, I started picturing how great the finish line was going to feel. How I’d cross the finish line with my arms in the air, probably crying, and give Geoff a huge hug. I pictured that awesome fox belt buckle, that I would wear proudly. It was all there, clear as day. I was confident…I had this.
And that’s exactly where I made my first huge mistake.
I’ve said it myself before, 100 milers do not give a shit about your plans. And 45 miles in is FAR too early to get cocky. My cloud 9 high came to an abrupt halt when Mikie and I suddenly stopped dead in the woods.
We had been following our I-Dots religiously. But suddenly, the I-Dots led us to a broken bridge over a damn. And when I say “broken”, I mean the sucker was lying sideways at a 45 degree angle and missing a few boards. (Note: this is the second moment where I really wish I had run with a damn camera.) “This can’t be the way”, I said out loud, and Mikie agrees. So we scouted around in all different directions, looking for more I-Dots. None were to be found, except for the one on the tree right next to the bridge…
…and the one peeking out from a tree on the other side of the bridge. There was also orange tape marking the trail, the same orange tape that we have been following all along, the orange tape that we were under the impression Chad had put out there for us to follow.
Now, I’ve spent many years doing a lot of stupid things. I’ve run obstacle course races across frozen ponds and retched swamps alike, crawled through trenches full of alligator snapping turtles, and even run through dark drainage ditch tunnels full of water under an interstate (that one was in the name of beer, on-on!). But none of that was ever done 10+ hours into a race, and this just doesn’t feel, dare I say it, safe?
I contemplate calling Chad, to make sure this decrepit bridge is actually something we are supposed to cross. But then I remember his 29.6 mile “marathon” I ran this summer, and the fact that he puts on a 211 mile race in June… in South Carolina… in a swamp, and realized he’d probably yell at me for being a giant baby.
Mikie crosses first, slowly but purposefully, and does not fall in.
I cross second, and also do not fall in. We’ve made it. We breathe a sigh of relief and start to run again. Not 50 yards later, we are at another dead end. This time, it’s a pond full of murky, black swamp water with a giant downed tree laying across. A snake slithers off the log and into the water. And on the other side? More orange tape and a tree bearing an I-Dot mark.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me” I say, equal parts amused and exasperated. For the first time all day, I briefly contemplate and question my life choices.
“How are we supposed to get across?” Mikie questions.
Instantly, my inner-former-obstacle course racer emerges, and I say “we’re going across”. Without even blinking, I hand Mikie my handheld water bottle and the flashlight I had just pulled out, and ask her to shove them into the back of my hydration pack. I’m fully prepared to scoot my butt across that log, and I need my hands to be free. I start walking down to the waters edge, when out of the corner of my eye I see a small, dry section of land to the left. I can’t even describe the relief I feel.
So Mikie and I set out to blaze our own course AROUND the pond, which includes me getting my foot stuck in some wildly overgrown brush. But we make it. I glance down at my Garmin after all of this mess, and notice we are currently averaging a 35 minute mile. This does not bode well, but I am confident we can make up time once we can actually run on real trail again.
Until we realize there is no more “trail”. There are the I-Dot marks, of course, but it appears no one has been on this section of trail in, well, probably forever. It’s getting dark, and we are bushwhacking from I-Dot to I-Dot. I’m beginning to get frustrated, and can’t believe we still haven’t stumbled upon check point #8. Briars and brush are tearing at my legs, but I’m powerwalking through them with serious purpose. I want OUT of this section, and I can sense a check point near.
FINALLY we stumble out of the woods to a paved road, and see our checkpoint across the road. My GPS is showing about 48.5 miles, Mikie’s closer to 50. We were told the turnaround was at 52 miles, but had come to believe it would be further than that. How much further was the big question. We refill our water and gear up with our lights, then continue on the course.
Less than 10 minutes later we stumble across Nathan, a very strong local ultra runner (he completed that aforementioned 211 mile June-South Carolina- swamp- ultra) who was coming back in the other direction. We stop and say hello, and I ask him how much further until the turnaround. Actually I believe my words were “Please tell me it’s not at like, 57 miles”. He assured me that it was closer to 53.5, which I was more than OK with. I then asked him what he thought of the crazy bridge and log crossing. He looked at me puzzled for a minute, and then said “ohhhh…you guys missed the detour? That section of trail is closed”.
Of course it is.
He proceeds to tell us how to take the detour on the way back, but it’s all gibberish to me. A bunch of lefts, a bunch of rights, nothing made sense but I just nodded and thanked him.
And then, my friends, my race went to shit.
It’s my own fault, really. I let myself get into my own head. I was pissed about missing the detour. I was worried about Geoff, and as much as I loved Mikie’s company, hated that I was out there without him. We are woefully and pathetically connected at the hip, that husband of mine and I. My quads went from being completely fine to suddenly screaming at me, the day was beginning to take it’s toll.
And I was so freaking sick of Tailwind.
But one saving grace we both had was knowing that our dear friend Paul W. would be at the turnaround check point. Numerous times he had promised to meet us there with his van, camp stove, hot tomato soup, and grilled cheese. Another familiar face, a cozy van to sit in for a while, and HOT, REAL food sounded like heaven. I had started to think that I didn’t want to go on, but I had hope that 15 minutes of the aforementioned reprieve from the trail would give me the mental boost I needed to go on.
Huge mistake number two came when I stopped eating.
How many times have I made this mistake 50 miles into a race? More times than I can count. And even in the moment, I KNEW that this was a huge error on my part, that I was falling prey to the 50 mile calorie wall once again, but I justified it by telling myself that in just a few miles I would gorge on tomato soup and grilled cheese, and all would be right in my world once again. I wasn’t going to stop eating completely…just stop for a while.
This section of trail made equally as little sense as the section before. It would go from being painfully over marked in areas that were already obviously trail, to completely unmarked in areas that looked like overgrown forest. We were turned around more than once, only to have to stop and regain our bearings, trying to find those damn I-Dots. To keep our spirits high, we’d occasionally yell out into the forest “PAUL! I want my GRILLED CHEEEEESE!”
It suddenly concerned me that, according to my watch, we were at 52 miles and still had not seen the 100 mile turnaround. This was not boding well for the promised 53.5 mile turnaround. Mikie and I convinced ourselves that we simply overlooked the turnaround. There was NO WAY we had gone that far off course. We see a highway ahead, and wonder if this is Highway 52, the location of the 105 mile turnaround, the location of my dear Paul and beloved grilled cheese. My hopes are high….and then I look down. Spray painted on the ground are the words :
100 mile turnaround.
*%$#^( )(@$^*. All the expletives. We both stare at the ground in disbelief for a few seconds, before emitting deep sighs and proceeding forward towards the road.
This highway is busy, even for nighttime, so we patiently wait to cross, while trying to figure out where the hell to go once we reach the other side. I finally see some orange tape dangling from some trees about a hundred yards to the left. When the time is right, we cross, and enter the woods again. Almost immediately spray painted on the ground, are some more letters. I’m having a hard time deciphering what it says. “50-RR–is that Y?” And then it hits me…
…it says “SORRY”.
I look ahead and see a massive, deep, puddle, with absolutely no way around it. We HAVE to go through it. I’ve now made it 52 miles blister free, with absolutely no idea of how much further I have to go until the turnaround. Call me an ultra-diva, but I don’t want wet feet. We stop for a few seconds to contemplate what we are going to do. I have extra socks in my pack, so I tell Mikie I’m taking my shoes off, walking across in my current socks to try and protect my feet from whatever might be in that puddle, and I’ll change them on the other side.
She agrees. We cross. Change socks. Best decision of the day. Continue on.
53 miles. No checkpoint.
“WHERE’S MY GRILLED CHEESE!”
54 miles. No checkpoint.
“I WANT MY DAMN TOMATO SOUP!!”
I’m moving as quickly as I can through the woods, trying to avoid falling on this gnarly, dark trail. I keep taking peeks at my Garmin and realize we’re barely crawling along at an 18:40/mile…but it feels so much faster. I’m trying to do the math in my head and realize that in order to beat the cutoff time of 3:00 pm the next day, we have to maintain this pace OR FASTER for the rest of the race…the race that we currently have no actual estimate of a true distance on. And it’s only going to get worse from here.
55.35 miles. I see a light ahead, and hear a familiar voice. “Is that Mikie? AND HEATHER!?” It’s our friend Chelsey, she’s as cheerful as ever. I immediately, however, notice that I’m only seeing one headlamp and one car. We come out of the woods to see her smiling face…and no one else.
No Paul. No tomato soup. No grilled cheese.
I sit down on someone’s cooler, put my head in my hands, and shed a few tears. I hurt. I’m tired. I just want a damn grilled cheese. I’m done. But I don’t want to say it quite yet.
(Note: Paul didn’t actually bail on us, but was instead assigned to a different aid station…the first one…50 miles in the other direction, after we had already passed it.)
Chelsey calls Chad to tell him we’ve made it to the turnaround. It’s 9:19 pm, it’s taken us nearly 15 hours to get here. We have another 19 hours to make it back, but the navigating at night is going to be significantly more difficult. Chad tells Chelsey that everyone else has dropped out of the race except for Nathan, the one we had seen a few hours earlier. He asks her to relay the message that if we had any doubt at all in our heads about going back out there, to not go back out there.
I tap out.
I feel like an asshole, I’m ditching Mikie again. But she is a strong runner, and she’s still in great spirits. Part of me knows I’d probably come out of this low, as you almost always do, but the other part of me doesn’t want to hold her back. I hurt far more than I should for 56 miles, and obvious sign of being undertrained. And if I’m being honest, an even bigger part of me just wants to crawl into a cozy sleeping bag with my husband.
Once I say the words “I’m done”, I feel a sense of relief. My heart just wasn’t in it any longer. You truly can’t fake one hundred miles.
So I spend what little energy I have left trying to gear Mikie up for what’s to come during the rest of her race. I give her my phone, which still has a full battery (hers was about to die). We make sure she has enough food, warm clothes, and knows where she is going. Nearly an hour later, we send her off down the trail, and Chelsey drives me back to camp.
When we arrive, I walk up to the campfire and Chad, and announce my DNF.
The rest of Mikie’s story is hers to tell, but it essentially ends with an emergency beacon and a rescue from the trail about 3 hours later. In the end, out of the eleven people registered for the 100, 105, or 211 mile Swamp Fox Ultra, only one person finished.
As with any DNF, there is always a roller coaster of emotions. I can’t help but wonder if I would have rallied from that low, and had another strong push (undoubtedly followed by another low, then another high…you know how it goes). I wonder had I stuck with Mikie if maybe she wouldn’t have gotten lost, and she would have earned her buckle. I wonder if I too could have earned that buckle.
But in the end, I didn’t do any of that. So instead, I choose to focus on what I did to.
And what I DID do was finish a strong 56 miles through a gnarly course.
I smiled my way across at least 48 of those miles.
I enjoyed a beautiful day out in the sun, on the trails, with people I love.
I took home a DNF instead of a finishers coin or belt buckle, and for the first time ever…I didn’t care. Because what I needed more than anything last weekend was a long run in the woods. An adventure. A reminder of how lucky I am to be able to do what I love. And I got all of that…and then some. The truth is, it’s not about the buckle.
And I feel so fortunate to finally have come to that point in my life that I realize it. So in the end? I may not have conquered the Swamp Fox, but the Swamp Fox didn’t win either.
I call it a tie.
RACE REVIEW (i.e. TL;DR )
If you want one of those almost impossible to fail races where all of the logistics are perfectly executed and laid out for you, the trail impeccably marked and highly runnable, with aid stations and cheerleaders galore…don’t run the Swam Fox Ultra.
If you want an incredible adventure through a gorgeous part of the state, a race that will truly challenge you physically and mentally, put on by an awesome race director and attended by a kickass community of ultra runners…sign up for Swamp Fox next year.
I’ll see you there.