Nothing could contain my excitement for my 27 birthday miles with friends and strangers joining me. One of the huge factors in my ecstatic disposition was the unbelievable weather forecast! After a winter of regular blizzards in our state, it was such a lovely thought to have the promise of sunshine. Also, after my indescribably soaked luck of having a statistical average of 70% chance of rain for my events, I was more than relieved that we would not be plagued by any April showers for this one.
So our low-key, high-mileage group set out with a prayer for goals met and spirits soaring. One runner from CA made the point that he made it a bi-coastal event. Cowabunga! The temps were mid 60s and the darkness just as warmly welcoming. We entered the woods, maps in hand. And then came the wrong turns. The lead pack made a few mishaps while the rest of us stuck together at a comfy pace.
We could see a welcoming glow from waking houses on the other side of the broad, salty river's shore. We created a glow of our own, our headlamps marking out a seaside trail in the morning hours. As the twilight progressed into a sunrise, we clicked off our fake lights and entered the true light of delicious orange sun rays. We no longer looked straight down for obstacles to beware of, but we now looked up at the swaying moss on spring tree branches. We climbed 50-foot dunes, lined by mysteriously tranquil and twisted trees rooted in packed sand. We smelled the fresh scent of the faithful ocean waters, felt the breeze embrace the skin of our muscular legs, saw the beauty of another trustworthy sunrise, tasted the salt in the air, and heard the quietness of nature's trees while they allowed us to run past them on our swift journey. Sandy summits became an unpacked mess of fluff to ski and dance with on the way downhill.
Finally, we reached the boat ramp and water station at the trail's end. The bathrooms were locked, forcing runners to connect with nature in an even more primitive manner. We about-faced and congratulated one another in passing. (Note: Out-and-backs are a highly effective way to make friends!) With thoughts of how everyone was doing, I noted their distances. A woman now had earned first place and stayed steady and strong. The lost pack had become found, and were making up ground, yet, I still wondered if they could catch Claire. She surely had done her homework on studying the map, too, which helped a ton. We were going to hit each trail in the park anyway, but there are always a few iffy turns in races. Claire led on, with Logan closely behind. I was behind them by about a mile, and we three girls ran like the wind. The fast men were no match for us...because they were making up for lost time. Well, time was not really lost...but they were. :)
We retraced our steps alongside the mouth of the creek, seeing its entire beauty unveiled from the darkness we experienced earlier. It was perfect. Around mile ten, the air felt cool, fresh, and new. The day was not heating up like this week's 80 degree days of anxiously awaiting summer, and it wasn't plummeting like this week's 30 degree moments of Spring deception. It was simply adjusting for us as we started feeling hot and sticky. The next item on the list was "High Dune," a 70-ish foot phenomenon of the Virginia coast. Climbing it, I considered the park's name: First Landing State Park. First Landing. Good old John Smith in his clunky shoes meets Pocahantas in her highly effective leather running shoes. With my braided hair and running legs, I felt like this was my home of generations. Olde Virginia. I was its native. I sprinted down the hill, embracing the effect of gravity on my speed for the moment. It was time for the next trail.
On the loop trail, I noted some swampy sections. I thanked the Lord that there were no scary alligators that were going to be jealous of my birthday and eat me as a piece of cake of their own. I was glad that it was not hot enough for the rattlesnakes to be sunning themselves on the rocks. I instead heard the happy croaking of harmless frogs hiding behind perfectly-sculpted stumps in the textbook-picture swamps. I almost wanted to grab a few handfuls of dark chocolate mud and make war paint for my face and body. But I also wanted to come in under six hours. So, I trotted on.
I took a reverse route on the loop, as I often do when I am directing so I can see everyone's salty, smiling faces. It seemed as if they were having fun and going the right way! That is always an RD's dream and wish [birthday wish come true]! I dished out sincere "good jobs" and approached the next water station. By now, some dudes had passed me since I was tired and in need of the halfway-there shot of caffeine. Took it. It worked! I felt like a dinosaur dancing through mud puddles and my very own terrain, greeting other happy dinos out on the trails, and waving to friendly pteradactlys as they flew by. Now sure was a good time in history to be alive.
I entered the wide trail of happily-awake people on their walks and rides. "Morning." was the greeting by dozens of adventurers. It was just too perfect a day to be inside sleeping. I headed down the six-mile trail, knowing I would have to do it all again on the return trip. I was getting tired, and rightly so. Running farther than my weekly mileage made me wonder why I didn't train more. Then I remembered that I had a busy life and liked to sleep, so I told myself to deal with it. I was approaching the turnaround and had seen the other runners moving toward their destinies of greatness. But I was low on salt and felt like a total cramped-up, water-sloshing loser. I guess I would have to get over the mind games and run.
I turned around, seeing a wife and young sons run with their daddy for a bit. They were now un-lost and said they had run the extra miles assuming I had lied about my true age. Hey- that's a good excuse for being lost on a birthday run! My heavy legs flopped and trotted over loose sand. Walked. Ran. "Good jobbed" everyone else. I reminded myself to be thankful for everything I saw. I had food, a family, and friends waiting for me. I had a healthy body to cover 27 [aka 28] trail miles at any pace, let alone at a decent clip. So, what's the getting bummed out going to do for me? Nothing helpful. I was happy to be alive, running my age, with other people who cared enough to join me. I had received a million birthday wishes, and the runners all seemed to care more about my day than about their own race. It was a sweet blessing.
After listening to some hilarious messages from my thoughtful husband, I finally caught up to some friends who had cut the run short, not wanting to get hurt. They said I looked younger than 27, and thus, were running fewer miles on an executive decision. Smart runners! They knew just what to say! I chatted and walked with them for a mile, not wanting to choose running alone with exhaustion as opposed to walking and talking with cheerful friends. Finally, I decided to run off with 3 miles left and a 6 hour goal. I hobbled away.
The trail was still beautiful and cool and breezy and perfect. I had taken a few great pictures for the day and had every reason to love this run. I had seen beautiful bridges, calm waters, ancient trees, warm sand, cool breezes, kind people, happy squirrels, graceful birds, piney paths, and winding trails all morning. I struggled to the road, but struggled happily. I waddled to the finish to find the fast people waiting for me. I crossed the imaginary but much coveted finish line and heard the most-sung song in the world. "...Happy birthday dear Becky, Happy Birthday to you!!!!!!" Well, how is that for the best run ever? I blushed invisibly, my face already red from running for five hours and forty-three minutes. And thanked the group. And promptly ate Birthday Cake Oreos until I could count them no longer. I had a perfect day, an early start to make daytime miles seem less time-consuming, the friendliest surroundings in the universe, and my fastest ultra time. There's nothing but love in this birthday! Thanks everyone! And I hope you have an awesome birthday, too!
"Let us RUN the race that is set before us."
VA is for DINOS 27 miler was indeed born out of a love of dinosaurs, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and birthday cake Oreos. It also helps that the state of VA is shaped like a stegosaurus. This event will not be annual, but may happen in different lengths and states. Also note: you can start your own ultra! Anyone can! :)