I wake this morning in a dark room with a slight groggy feeling of dread, knowing well what must be done. As I shower, I turn the knob as hot as it will go, trying to get my core temp as high as possible, all the while knowing it won’t last. A half hour later I’m fully dressed with a hydration pack on my back standing on tired legs from last week’s back-to-back 20 milers. And then I’m off, running down the rural Idaho dirt road, with a faint light appearing from the ridge line to the east. 50 miles lay before me. Four 12.5 mile out-and-backs from the house down the Middle Fork Road and into the Boise National Forest along the half frozen Payette River. My first shot at a distance which over time my mind has begun to comprehend.
Soon the condensation of my breath gathers on my beard and quickly crystallizes from the sub-freezing temperatures, transforming the dark brown hairs into stiff white icicles. Two miles down the road, with Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Wooden Ships” in my ears, I glance to the left and see 30 elk occupying a pasture under the dim light. They begin to retreat at the sound of my footsteps, then stop, as they watch my slow running movement for a brief time before heading back into the timber. My mind is at peace. I’m ready for the miles ahead.
The first out-and-back goes smoothly, except I discover that the final 2.5 miles of my route are all to be run both ways on sheets of ice and gritty ruts which hurt the feet as well as slow down their cadence. Back at the house I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich my dad makes me. He was an excellent crew. I change my hat and jacket to lighter ones thinking it is much warmer by now. A half mile down the road I realize I was wrong, and find myself irrationally cursing the cold as well as all the cars now zooming by me. “How could there be this many cars in such a rural place? Can’t they just leave me alone? Unbelievable!” Despite my grumpiness, I get the 2nd out-and-back done, reaching the half way mark.
In the middle of the 3rd, as I pee on the ground, I get minor hallucinations while staring into the snow surrounding my feet. I shake it off and keep moving as my leg muscles now are showing signs of true fatigue, causing me to briefly focus on how many miles I have left, which sends me into mini panics of impatience. My dad meets me halfway down the steep hill which leads to the house and walks back with me, getting a read on how I’m doing. He gives me another peanut butter and jelly sandwich before sending me on my way.
The final out-and-back has my legs writhing in pain. I trudge on knowing that I will finish what I started. Out of nowhere I have a thought which bolts my eyes out wide and stops me from running in a genuine, full-fledged, oh-shit moment. Realizing how shot my legs feel at the 45 mile mark, I know that this is just a training run, and in a month I’ll be running the Rocky Raccoon 100. "How in the world am I going to get through THAT!?!" I tell myself I’ll figure it out later and for now, don’t think and just keep moving. And so I do, under a wonderful sunset making the ridge line look like it exploded in flame.
I return to the house at dusk, finished, having run from sun up to sun down, without a bit of emotion in me, strangely stoic and feeling like the 10 hours and 23 minutes behind me were just a strange dream, a passing hallucination in the white snow. I hobble around the house and devour a homemade pizza from my dad’s hands, before retiring to bed early.
I ran my first 50 miler today surrounded by the pine forests and mountain homes of Idaho. One month from now, I’ll wake up staring at the ceiling of a tent in a Texas State Park, somehow ready to do this all again…times two.