“It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” -J.R.R. Tolkein, “The Fellowship of the Ring”
I had just under twelve miles of trail left to cover, and had just finished running through the fourth roadside aid station in the 2016 Grand Traverse Mountain Race. My knees feel as though I had just stolen them from a 90 year old great-grandfather. With an incredible mental effort, I persuaded my body back into the steady loping rhythm I had adopted over the last 29 miles. The pain and stiffness of regaining this stride after a brief pause for food is incredible, and the resulting stream of swear words was fortunately muffled by the handfuls of pretzels and gummy worms I was stuffing into my mouth.
Five hours earlier, in the darkness immediately before dawn, I was already running. Chatting light-heartedly with teammates, I had no clue of the ordeal I had just started. Thinking back on that moment now, it may as well have been years ago.
Just a few very long miles ago, I was running at over 12,000 feet in elevation, hunched over to brace against a biting wind and blinding snow, listening for the all too close cracks of thunder as I fought to get back below timber line. Having packed as lightly as possible, my only clothing consisted of super light trail shoes, shorts, a t-shirt, a baseball hat, and a pair of cheap plastic sunglasses. At the point I thought I would not be able to continue, the sun broke through the clouds, the wind calmed, and I heard a ptarmigan go “chuck” somewhere on my stretch of the alpine. With that, my will to compete returned.
Over the next dozen miles, I discovered levels of pain and discomfort I did not believe existed previously. The slightest uphill grade in the trail completely humbled my ability as a runner, rendering me to a slow, painful shuffling walk. In the end, I found my way to the end of the road, crossing the finish line in Aspen, 40.7 miles and just under 7 hours after leaving Crested Butte that morning.
I stepped onto the road, kept my feet, and was swept into an adventure of the ages.