So, it's been a week since the Georgia Jewel (http://www.georgiajewel.com/Site/Welcome.html), a beautiful 35, 50 or 100 mile run in the North Georgia mountains. Your choice of distance! Since I live in flat Florida, I opted for the 35 miler. I chose that distance for many reasons and initially felt that I was "copping out" because I was "only" doing 35 miles. Others asked me why are you only doing the 35? and then some asked why would I even think about doing something like this? My journey to the Jewel was full of surprises, but nothing was going to stop me. I registered for the Jewel in March and was eager and couldn't wait to experience it! My main reason for doing this was to prove something to myself - I had to prove that nothing would stop me. While training for this run, I missed about 5 weeks of running due to a few medical procedures and my thoughts during that time were not on running.
Anyhow...back to more exciting things.
I arrived Thursday late afternoon and race is on Saturday (9/27). I drove up from Tampa and left my family behind. The drive took about 9 hours and I loved every second of it. I am so very fortunate that my family understands my need to do this and the reasons behind it. I checked into the host hotel and was eager and anxious to get started. I craved being the in the forest, couldn't wait to get on the trail, craved being away from phones, email, demands, appointments, etc. I had dinner with a longtime friend and her family Thursday evening. Organized my nutrition and race items for an early Saturday morning start (5:30am). Triple check my headlight and made sure I put 3 extra AAA batteries in my backpack, just in case.
Friday arrived and I volunteered to help arrange and double check the aid station bins and sign in the 35 milers. Couldn't wait. Karen (RD) and I went through each bin and made sure contents where there, sorted the Georgia Jewel hoodies into the appropriate sizes by race (35, 50, 100) and we were ready for the runners to arrive. The runners arrived and there was a change in the air. Excitement, angst, nervousness, but mostly excitement. So many tremendous athletes checking in, so many stories, so many wonderful crew members and fabulous support for the runners. I am in awe of all the athletes and what they will accomplish in the next few days. Even though I wasn't able to train as much as I would have like leading up to this race, I cannot wait to start and give it my all. I decided against driving around to see any of the aid stations available by car as I wanted to be "surprised" and ensure that nothing diminished my experience. I didn't want to know what to expect, I knew I just wanted to get out there. What an honor to check in so many wonderful runners! I met so many wonderul runners at the check in and couldn't wait to see them on the trails the next day. There was a race briefing about 5:00 and the room was buzzing with excitement and everyone was ready! Dinner, double check of gear and bed time is up next.
Alarm is set and I get up at 3:30am. Gels, water, electrolyte tabs, race vest is double checked and number is placed on my running shirt "Living a Dang Yes"! Coffee drank, lucky pancake is eaten, gear double and triple checked. PBJ sandwich put in my vest and I'm ready to go. Head to starting area about 1.3 miles away (you want to drive there and not walk, I promise you!).
100 milers start at 5am. I am honored to be able to watch them begin their journey, it's fascinating to me. 50 milers are bussed out for a point to point run and the 35 milers start at 5:30 for a out and back run. I have heard many things about the Rock Garden and that's one of the first sections we run on. I was told to be happy that we start in the dark so we can't see what we are running on! The race starts on an asphalt road that leads into the trails. The road feels like it is straight up and I decide to not push it and just be okay with a very slow run/hike up the "hill". I kept thinking wow, this is pretty dang steep, can the trails be any steeper? I figure it out pretty quickly. The Rock Garden wasn't so bad, it's dark outside and all the runners get into their comfortable pace, at that point in time, I don't understand the hullabaloo of the Rock Garden, but I tell myself that I'm sure I'll understand it on the way back! I find out later it was a blessing I couldn't see it at the start of the run. Make it to the first unmanned aid station at about mile 5. It's been up and down and my fellow runners are spectacular! I meet Theresa, Erica, Paul and so many others.
Theresa, Erica and I end up running very close to each other almost the entire race. At about mile 8, Theresa was about 50 feet in front of me and we were on the ridgeline so we are able to do a little running and less climbing/hiking. I see her "dancing" and brushing herself off. I rush to ask her if she fell, she quickly gets out "no, hornets" and zap, I've run right into the same place she was. She is getting stung and trying to brush them off and I'm getting stung trying to get them off. We run out of that space and take a quick inventory. How many stings? are you allergic? We both had about 7 - 10 stings each and neither one of us had been stung before so we had no idea how we would react. We both thought of the Hunger Games and luckily didn't hear the "cannon". We had "only" four miles to the first manned aid station (about mile 12). Theresa texted her husband as he would be at the next manned aid station (mile 17.5) and asked if he could get something for the stings. I had about 10 stings, several on my arm, and those little buggers flew up my running shorts so my arse was stinging too! Theresa had about the same number of stings and was just as uncomfortable as me. I stll apologize for any cuss words that Theresa heard on the trail! We ran into the 12 mile aid station and I took some Advil, ate an orange and was on my way for "only" 5.,5 miles to the next aid station. It's finally getting more light out and I am fully able to see the beauty of the trail. I am in heaven, it is beautiful beyond words. Surely a sacred place.
I am finally alone with my thoughts. This is the part of running I crave ~ the thinking, the sorting out, breathing the fresh air, the beauty of the trees, the leaves, the sights, sounds, smells. All of it, every stinking bit of it. The pain, the tears, the struggle. It's my therapy. I need to run. I need to be there, alone with my thoughts.
Erica and I find each other on the trail. We are ascending one of the "hills" and we are almost to the top. Erica tells me that when we get to the top, find a rock and place it on the pile. We get to that spot and I find my rock and place it on the pile. Erica moves ahead and I tell her I wanted to take a picture. I place the rock and have moment to say a prayer for those represented by my rocks. There are several 35 milers on their way back to the finish. This is exciting because it only means we aren't that far away from halfway mark! I catch up to Erica and we begin descending the switchbacks on the way to the half way mark. Erica was an awesome running partner. She had trained on the Pinhoti and was able to give me many tips and hints on our journey. I'm thinking this is great, then Erica reminds me (while I'm in my blissful thoughts) that we have to run back up these! As we get closer to the turn around and the awesome aid station I start to think about a PBJ and an orange and down I go. I fall about 100 yard from the aid station. The aid station volunteers were fabulous. Erica gave me two tangerines, I had a PBJ and the aid station worker poured hydrogen peroxide on my leg and hand. Theresa's husband gave me "After Bite" for my hornet stings and off I went. It was grueling...I didn't want to go back UP those switchbacks, but that was the only way to the finish. After the many hornet stings and my bloody knee and hand, I felt drained. This section was a real mental struggle for me. It was one foot in front of the other, one step forward - dang would I ever get up this? I starting measuring the ups,downs, and the streams to the next aid station and quickly got out of my funk. I also thought about how lucky and fortunate I am. Yes, I am fortunate. Can't run this far without thinking about the last several months and where it has brought me. Would I change anything? No, I wouldn't. I'm a different runner now.
I catch up with many at the next aid station, Theresa and Erica are there and we almost all set out again at the same time/pace. We trade the lead off and on for several miles and Erica prepares me for what's ahead toward the end. Puke Hill, The Wall and The Rock Garden. I'll never forget what she said, "Just when you think it ends, it doesn't, it just keeps going". Words with such wisdom attached! This really helped my mentally get over and through those obstacles. Theresa and Erica move up ahead as I have conversations with myself while climbing "The Wall". For me, that was the absolute craziest and most difficult part of the run. It just didn't stop! Whew...when it did, I WAS SO HAPPY TO SEE THE ROCK GARDEN!! I knew that once I got through the rock garden it was essentially downhill from there. Throughout the entire race, I couldn't help but think about the 50 and 100 milers. I was in awe that they could/would attempt a course like this. They are amazing athletes and I have so much respect for them! The race directors, Karen, Jeremy and Don did a great job of making the experience worthwhile! Thank you so very much for the awesome aid stations and the well marked trails!
There were several miles where I ran for myself. I had to prove to myself that despite my diagnosis, I could still run. I could still complete an ultra. I could finish. I can and I did!
I believe that eating right, running and having a positive attitude can heal many things ~ mind, body and soul.
The Georgia Jewel was a journey of many steps for me. One that gave me the confidence to know that having cancer, any type of cancer, doesn't mean life ends, it means life begins. It's a journey to something greater, something more profound than I've ever experienced before. I am grateful for my journey and thank you all for sharing it with me.
Continue to keep the faith, train, run, eat clean and live a YES life.