Another month has started and we move another step closer to the big day for Lilyan’s Run. July this year meant traveling South to the Georgia hill country and visiting US Army Ranger Camp Frank D. Merrill. Merrill’s Mile was advertised as a flat, smooth 1 mile track nestled in the woods. Oh what lesson’s we learned!
When we first arrived to the Camp I was fearful that we might be about to relive the past as a very strong thunderstorm was moving through. We waited out the worst of the wind and then walked across a bridge to see what the course looked like. It was a narrow oval with straightaways that were almost 1/2 mile long and sharp hairpin curves at each end. The inside of the track was about 30-40 feet wide and dotted with canopies and tents of participants, some that had not fared so well in the recent storm. We had hopefully planned better this time and brought heavy blocks to anchor ours.
We set up our site in the rain, first our canopy, then two sides and even a tarp for the floor. Chairs, a table and a cot for Ladonna to nap on during the night, we were in business. Now to start learning what The Mile had to teach.
Lesson # 1– A multiple hour, middle of the night run should be approached with adequate rest before hand. I know, I know, that sounds like something that I should have already known but I guess I didn’t. Last year at Oak Ridge I had napped some during the day and knew that I would be only doing 26.2 miles. This year at Oak Ridge we had Mother Nature ending it all after 15 miles. But Merrill was different. I had worked 175 hours in the 13 days prior, gotten up early, driven to Atlanta, hung out at the Airport and then ridden to the Camp. By race time I had been up for 14 or 15 hours with little rest prior and Ladonna was already saying how tired I looked.
At about hour number 3, during a passing shower, I missed the turn at the far end and found myself running towards the woods. I woke up enough to turn back and get to our canopy where Ladonna was napping on the cot. After taking my shirt off and drying off I was ready to learn the next lesson.
Lesson #2– When you are absolutely exhausted, there is no such thing as a quick nap. I stumbled over to the cot and started to lay down. When Ladonna asked what I was doing I told her it was raining again and I was going to lay down next to her for about 10 or 15 minutes until it passed. It seemed like a couple of minutes had passed and I started to get cold, I unzipped the sleeping bag and draped it across us and curled in next to my warm wife. For some reason I woke up and peered out to see if the rain had stopped, it had and it was about 3 1/2 hours later.
Lesson #3– Sleeping like a log and not moving is great in your own comfy bed; doing it on a small, folding one person camp cot with two people not so much. Especially when you are wet and the temperature has dropped and it’s damp from the rain. I started back on the trail and felt the stiffness throughout my body. As I started to run I never could get rid of it all and my fastest mile post sleep was about 90 seconds slower than my average before. Lesson 3a would be when waking up from said sleep, hit the caffeine THEN. I did 2 laps and did a double espresso shot, slept in the chair for 15 or 20 more minutes, awoke with more stiffness and trudged on.
Lesson #4– It is very lonely in the middle of the night even when others are around. Merrill’s Mile is dark. Very, very dark. There are no street lights, no buildings to cast light from their windows and with the clouds, no stars or moon. Just dark. Everyone had headlamps on and a few of the camp sites had a flashlight or lantern but otherwise just black. Whenever you pass someone or they pass you there is a brief instant out of the corner of your eye you can catch a glimpse of face. If you turn to look at them or they at you someone gets blinded so that only happened once or twice. With no facial recognition there was little or no conversion, almost everyone was in their own bubble and silence prevailed. I like to think of myself as strong but in the middle of the night, despair started to seep in. It’s easy to see why many give up in the last hours of night during timed events. Oh, and as batteries started to lose their potency, it really was darkest before the dawn as I noticed several lights dimming more and more. (We had brought multiple headlamps and were on the second one by then.)
Lesson #5– What a difference the sun makes. Just as I was starting to think it would never arrive dawn exploded across the Mile and I do mean exploded. One lap there was nothing but fog and bobbing lights, the next I could see people and by the next the fog was gone. Everyone started talking all at once. People shouted across the track at friends they had not talked to in hours, everyone spoke as we passed. I found myself joining in… the sun had arrived, the night was over and we were going to make it!
Lesson #6– Everyone really is there for each other. At some point during the night I had noticed a runner acting strangely and stopped to check on her. She was cramping badly and several of us made sure she was ok. That is normal, to be expected. But beyond that, in this type of event, we really are there for each other. We all had our own goals and we all helped each other reach them. The 12 hour overall winner slowed to encourage me for a while to make sure I would reach my goal. She shouted congrats as Ladonna and I were leaving, calling me the Ultra Man. A 48 hour runner, over 23 hours into his own race, sped up to pace me as my time was almost up. Several of us took turns staying with another young man who was carrying a flag and trying to force himself on. Almost everyone shared advice, time, even supplies with each other. Someone even shared their wagon with us to ferry our stuff.
Lesson #7– There is still a lot of training to go to be ready for Lilyan’s Run. I woke Monday after sleeping almost 12 hours and though I felt better much of the soreness remained. I ran a 5 K that night and really felt it. After working a 24 Tuesday I did a 10 K Wednesday. While I did better than Monday, I still wasn’t back up to speed. In 3 months I will have to do 4 days straight of long distances and tough climbs and descents. I need to push harder, run longer, get in better shape.
Lesson #8– Speaking of climbs and descents, never believe it when someone tells you a coarse is flat. Merrill’s Mile might look flat and on the first few laps might seem flat but it is NOT flat! Over the race my Garmin recorded over 2250 feet of climb. Sure it might have only been a small climb each lap but it adds up!
Lesson #9– The best inspiration comes in the smallest packages. Just after I got home from the Mile I got a great reminder why I’m pushing myself. Ashley sent me a video of Lilyan, pushing herself and walking without her walker!! If this sweet girl can do that, she deserves everything I have. That’s the reason for Lilyan’s Run, to push beyond what I thought was possible to raise money and awareness about Cerebral Palsy.