It started on Friday, December 21, at around 7:15 PM. As Chris Martin dubbed it, we were embarking on the first annual "Shortest Day - Run Long" event on the new TARC 100 mile course. The plan? Run through the night and complete two laps of the 25 mile course, finishing before the sun rose on the 22nd. Unfortunately, those eastern Massachusetts grizzlies thwarted our efforts.
This story necessitates a bit of background. My birthday is December 24th (and, despite what everyone thinks, I've always enjoyed having my birthday the day before Christmas. I owe much of this to my mom, who made sure I had a "special" day every year (and continues to do so)). For the past several years, I have sought to celebrate my birthday with a "big" run. It started four years ago by running from my folks' house in Waterbury, VT up to the old log cabin (built by my parents) where I grew up at the base of Camel's Hump in Duxbury, VT. I had been battling an injury, but survived this 20-miler with no issue. The next year I was too injured to run, and then last year, Liz suggested I run from our place to New Hampshire to meet her and the boys at a Burger King off the highway. This 37-miler ended with me unable to walk the last 8 miles, and hitchhiking on a back road in rural New Hampshire, with the temperature hovering around 5 degrees. I couldn't run for over a week after this. So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached this year's birthday run. Naturally, given my proclivity for hurting myself on these runs, I decided to be conservative this year and run through the woods, overnight, for 50 miles.
Improved judgement aside, what made this year different than the previous three was that I decided to make it a social gathering. I've been rather fortunate over the last couple of years to become friends with a great group of people through running. So, about two or three weeks before the "birthday" run, I sent out an email to those crazy folks who live near me with two options for the run. Plan A was to start at a reasonable hour on Saturday morning, running the 50 miles and getting home before dinner. Plan B was to put the kids to bed, meet up at 7:00 PM and run through the night. In a demonstration of their foolhardiness, Plan B was the unanimous pick from all those involved. So it was that I found myself, on the longest night of the year, making Ramen noodles and stuffing them into my kids' thermos, and dropping them off with homemade "Ginger Balls" (recipe available upon request - they are actually quite good), Coke, water, and energy gels at various points in the woods of Weston, MA. 50 miles or bust!
Friday morning, I faced a bit of a dilemma. It was supposed to rain very hard. My bike was at school. I wanted to get as much sleep as possible, knowing I would be running 50 miles overnight, but, alas, after many crashes on my bike, I am truly scared of riding in any sort of inclement weather. So I ran the 7.5 miles to school (more miles, more smiles!), and even managed to stay dry. The dry weather did not last, and for several hours that day the skies unleashed a deluge. Liz and the boys kindly picked me up at school, and in the time it took them to drive from Arlington to Charlestown, the skies cleared and the sun came out. I merely laughed at the emails and texts I had received throughout the day concerning the night's run, asking things like, "Is this thing still on?" or "Any second thoughts?" Pah! 50 miles or bust!
Of course, I was the last to arrive at Burchard Park. The other 7 guys were ready to go: C1 (C-uno), C3, Huss, McBuffie, Anthony, Jeff, and Justin. I was truly amazed that these guys were willing to run through the night. I at least had winter vacation to look forward to - I could sleep in and take naps as I wished. These other guys all had regular work to return to, and Jeff and Justin both have young kids at home! Yet, they were all there, and after waiting for about 20 minutes to speak with the Weston Police (to ensure our cars were not towed), we started out into the cold, dark (and rather wet) woods.
The miles themselves passed fairly easily (although by 22 miles C3 was complaining of cramps, and, not to be outdone, C-uno said he was on the verge of a heart attack. Sandbaggers.). The trails were wet, but the weather was pretty mild (several folks were running in shorts), and I think we were all a bit relieved that we were not facing the rain from earlier in the day. I managed to keep us (mostly) on track (a feat I am rather proud of given the circuitous nature of the course), and the time was punctuated by a lot of flatulence-based discussion (funny how the conversation of eight grown men is not much different than the conversation of my 4 and 6 year old boys. I think the main difference is that the 8 men can produce a much higher volume of methane than the 4 and 6 year old.), the occasional Superman fall, a run in with, what I thought to be, some sort of blood thirsty cult/pagan worshipers (turns out it was just some Weston residents out celebrating the winter solstice with candles. What were they thinking? Out in the woods in the middle of the night!), and C1 trying to turn this into a biathlon by swimming through one of the stream crossings. Still, we managed to finish the first loop about 2 minutes before midnight, at which point we all held hands and comforted each other before the impending Mayan apocalypse, and, when that failed to materialize, swore to never mention the tears we had all shed in fear. Some folks said goodbye at this point to either embrace their families, avoid cardiac emergency, and/or try to capture at least a few hours of sleep. Four of us remained (Justin, McBuffie, Anthony, and myself - all who happen to be running 100 miles at the Double Top 100 on March 2 in Georgia). After a wardrobe change by the other three (seriously, it was like something out of a Broadway production, with changing pants, shirts, jackets, and probably shoes and undergarments too).
The pace picked up the next 4.5 mile section and when we got back to the cars, Justin was ready to fall asleep (the dude has a 6 month old, and as a teacher in Grafton, wakes up at 4 every morning. Hard-nosed), so he made the reasonable choice and called it a day (night?). Justin had been the first to say "50 miles or bust" so a bit of the steam was taken from my sails. Although I felt gfine physically, mentally, I started thinking that the next 20 miles were going to take us at least 4 more hours, and I wasn't getting home much before 6 AM. So, when McBuffie, Anthony and I reached the next aid stop 2 miles later, I was rather happy to see three enormous grizzlies there, snacking on our vittles. Anthony or McBuffie had not run that fast all night, as they both hysterically fled into the woods. Being the calm, incredibly tough person that I am, I stood to face the grizzlies alone (do not concern yourself with the fact that at this time of year bears are hibernating or the fact that grizzlies tend not to live east of the Mississippi outside of zoos). I dispatched of them quickly, saving my prized "Ginger Balls" (considered by many to be the source of much of the night's flatulence) and then ran back into the woods to gather my two companions (their shrill cries made them easy to track). After this unexpected ursine encounter (and after calming both Anthony and Michael down), we decided it would behoove us to return to the cars and call it a run. I stopped the clock at 33.6 miles, a figure I was pleased with, as I turned 33 a couple of days post-run.
And so it was that I managed to survive a birthday run injury free (in the 5 days since, I've been in Vermont and have managed to run up a mountain (albeit slowly, in some deep snow) and run from my folks' to my sister's, a back road journey of 25 miles (into a headwind, which froze my eyeballs and water bottle). But the birthday/overnight run was quite memorable as I also got to share some good miles with some great friends. Perhaps we have hit upon another great TARC tradition, the "Shortest Day - Run Long" (SDRL), which may grow to have a DRB-like following. Afterall, the course is equally as confusing and, as of the first running of the 50 miler, there is a 0% finishers rate. Registration for next year's run will be open soon. The fee will be a bottle of Gas-X.