Oh my goodness...jump and then run a 50k! Okay, I think I'll do that!
Runners ready?? Start your watch and climb aboard the airplane for the ride up to 13,500 feet where you will leap out of a moving plane to begin your run. The 120 mph, 2 mile (approx 10k feet) free-fall will last 50 seconds before you pull the parachute on your tandem skydive and quietly and calmly float (3,000 feet) back down to the safety of earth. Upon landing you will immediately climb out of your parachute and begin running to complete the world's first ever "Skydiving Ultra"!
Although I tried not to even think about the jumping part of this race, as the day approached, my time to think about it was coming to and end and the doing it was getting real. Tick tock goes the clock, and before I know it, it's Friday and I'm driving to Clewiston, Florida. Even on the drive, I still didn't think much about the jump or run and that's just the way I like it. However, my family thought about it much more about it than I did...poor things, they worry about me far more than I worry about me :)
Arrived in Clewiston Friday afternoon, met a friend at the Skydive Ultra start and finish, checked into hotel and then went to the Tiki Hut to check in for the race. The start and finish is very, very close to the small airport where we will be skydiving - what a perfect place for a jump and run. It's flat and beautiful! I still haven't really given the skydiving part much thought and when I have thought about it, the thoughts provided me with the smallest amount of angst. One of my dear friends made shirts for us to wear. They were lime green (lymphoma color), had a tortoise with a parachute on the back and my mantra of "Choose Joy" on the sleeves. When she showed these to me Friday night, I was speechless and almost brought to my knees with adoration for the heart and sould she put into these shirts. I have the most amazing friends! AMAZING! So very thoughful and so very significant to me. My two other friends finally arrive and one is jumping and running and the other is crewing for us.
When we arrive to check in for the run, there was so much energy and electricity in the air. Many runners and it looked like the running group took up almost half of the restaurant. So much excitement, nerves, tension, and joy all rolled into one. We met several runners and sat down at a table and ordered dinner. We all introduced ourselves and quickly started talking about running and if we have shared any runs together (and we did by the way). The trail/ultra running community is just like extended family. There has never been an event that I have gone to where I felt like I wasn't sitting down with lifelong friends, it's very comforting knowing that no matter what happens on the trails, there will be someone there to lift you up (figuratively and literally). The bond that occurs during these races is unbreakable. Anyhooo...fast forward to Saturday morning, JUMP and RUN time.
When we arrived in the parking lot (we stayed in the Clewiston Inn and did not camp), the 100 milers were dropping from the sky. As Eric, the RD states, "the plane is pooping" and he is 100% correct. As the jumpers come out of the plan, it really looks like the plane is pooping jumpers. Ack...they are up pretty darn high and it finally sinks in that I will be doing that soon!
This race was so well organized and every detail was accounted for. The RD sent out several emails before the race and provided specific instruction for both the jump and the run, he answered every question and made it so easy. There was also an awesome DJ at the race, so fantastic and motivating to hear the music and any announcements during the day.
We heard the call for the 50k'ers to check in at the hangar and I quickly realize that this is getting real! We go to check in and with such great surprise, my friend who was only there for support and give us what we needed decided, at the very last minute, that she would jump with us only if we could all be on the same plane! This actually made me cry a little. I was so excited and it has really been an emotional past few months, so when she committed, it just blew me away. Tears of joy and screaming at the Manifest! Love her for doing this by the way! I now have four of my friends jumping and we are on the same plane! We are having such a good time and we meet our tandem instructors. I think the Skydive folks thought we were a bit crazy, but we laughed and joked and got serious when we needed to. We get fitted for our flight suits and step into our harnesses. Still laughing and having a great time. Our skydive instructors are fantastic and are laughing and joking with us. Such great energy. I truly believe that you attract people that have similar interests and energy. Only positive vibes coming from us and the excitement is building as our names get closer to the top of the board. Our instructors check in with us several times and provide great instruction. The one friend who signed up to jump at the last minute appears to have reservations, but she's marching on with it. We are escatic that we will all be together on our first jump!
To make a long story shorter...we are on the plane and continue to be excited about what's about to happen. We all can't wait and I start to get the itch to get this going so I can run...as we board, I realize that I'm last for my group, which only means that I go first! The tandem instructor (who was top notch and the best) conducts a final check and we scoot forward. Before I know it I am out the door and I'm FLYING!!!! Once my mind and my body synched, it was the most fabulous experience I have every had. The free fall, the turning, the opening of the chute, the sights, sounds, smells, all of it - was fantastic! I can't put into words what a wonderful and life changing experience it was. From the opening of the door on the plane to the landing in the drop zone, it was all fantastic. As soon as I landed, I knew that I wanted to go again, but I first had a 50k to run!
My other friends landed and once we all screamed and hugged, we immediately decided that if we could, we would do it again before we left Clewiston. Once we gathered our gear and purchased our next jump tickets, I couldn't wait to thank the RD for this life changing experience. Poor guy, probably thought I was some crazy lady wanting to hug him and thank him for all he did!
We ran to our cars, changed into our running shoes, put our timing chips on and off we went. The course is almost a lollipop, figure 8, a little more than 4 miles on each side where at the end of every 4 or so miles, you are back to the main aid station and parking lot. We used our cars as our personal aid station and had help from several awesome people. While this run is flat, there is also no cover, and for much of the time, we are running in sugar cane fields. I thought it was beautiful and I loved every stinking second of it! I was always looking in the irrigation ditches for gators, but didn't see any. I did run OVER, yes, OVER a water moccasin and did the screaming snake dance for about 3 minutes. Still makes me giggle - you had to be there. I love running and especially love running with people that share the same passion as I do. Can't describe it.
I also love running races where there are loops because it allows you to see everyone (yes, I love many things), the 100 milers to the 10k runners. It was fantastic watching and cheering everyone on. I make it my purpose to always cheer on fellow runners, no matter what. They don't have to respond or say anything back, I know they've heard it and that's all that counts. Just another reason why I love this community! Love, love, love the ultra runners and trail runners! This race was fantastic, everything was taken care of and, while I am not opposed to porta potties or the woods, this race had real restrooms! After the race, we were able to relax and cheer on the other runners. I was also able to do a little planning for my 100 miler in March. Again, I am so very thankful and grateful for all my friends and what they do for me. They are unbelievably supportive and I am continually humbled by their actions.
I am in awe of all the runners and so proud of each and every one who is able to not only have the courage to start, but also finish their desired distance! I met so many beautiful and wonderful people during this weekend! Oh and by the way, we ended up jumping three more times on Sunday! YES, you are reading that right, THREE MORE TIMES! LOVE IT and everyone needs to do this at least twice! Twice because the first time you aren't really aware of the beauty that surrounds you and the second time you are so much more aware of your surroundings and what a beautiful world we live in. My goal for the race next year is to jump solo! :)
The Sky is Not the Limit
The smell of fresh air
The sound of the wind
The sun reflecting off the wing
The sound of nervous laughter
The excitement is building
The whoosh of the door
The wind rushing in
The waddle to jump
The trust, the fear, the unknown
The moment you jump, the exhilaration
The freefall, the wind in your face
The beauty, the curvature of the earth
The clouds feel like dew drops
The sun in all its splendor
The mind and soul are at peace
The slight tug of the harness when the canopy opens
The feeling of weightlessness
The floating like a feather to the ground
The beauty of the world
~ Susie Q
Yours in running, health and joy,
Susie Q, xoxo