I am exhausted and in pain now. I know running Ultra is painful, but I just tend to forget how painful last Ultra was and still end up signing for a couple more. I can feel the twinge of soreness in my achilles tendon and I dare to break those nasty blisters. I'd decided that I would rather leave the room lights ON and go to sleep instead of making an attempt to get up and turn it off. 
3:18AM, Oct 16th, I forced myself out from the bed at this God forsaken hour to hit the shower. Race starts at 5:00AM. I decided to start along with my friend Diane, two hours prior to official start time. My ambitious goal was to get the 50 miler under 10 hours and run until 7:00PM to get a 100K. Little did I knew what was in store for me for the rest of the day.

It was very cold that morning that one could see their breath. I wasn't expecting it to get this cold. No long sleeved shirt and no gloves. About 20 runners took off, into the fog, into the darkness. Not knowing where you are running at times is a bliss. I could hardly see anything ahead of me and that included the elevation as well. The first few miles were quiet hilly until we reached Kohls from where we ran towards Percy priest dam and back to the start line. Running that long wooden bridge along Stones river has always been my favorite course. While running back towards the start I saw the runners who started at 7:00AM. There were many faces that I could recognize. Dallas Smith, Josh Hite, Mike Melton, Mike from Bartlett, John Titjen and more. By the time I got to the start line which was mile 16 now, my hands were completely frozen and I had to take Angela's help, another awesome runner and a good friend, to even open a can of coke and the cap of the water bottle.

The sun was up by now and I headed my way towards Shelby Bottoms. The course was great and the course directions were marked pretty clear. There was NU written all along the intersections. It was a pleasant surprise when the arrow turned right detouring from the pavement to a dirt/grass trail. The grass drenched in early morning dew, with trees covering both sides of the trail, it felt like running in the wild. That's when the unexpected happened. I landed myself in a small ditch which was camouflaged by the covering of grass and I really twisted my ankle and felt a sharp pain shoot out from my Achilles. I walked a bit and when I felt good I started running again. The grass trail was winding through all along the course until a few miles short to the Shelby Bottoms Aid station.

It wasn't until after crossing the Pedestrian Bridge, mile 26, that my feet started hurting from the earlier ankle twist. It was getting hotter but nothing unbearable. Running along the Cheatham lake reminded me that it's the Purity 10K course which I ran earlier this year and I ran the purity 10K just for the unlimited ice cream after you finish. I saw the turn around point for 60K and 70K and was eagerly waiting to approach the 50 Mile turn around point. Mile 31, finally I made it to the turn around. Now all the way back to the start in addition to a small loop to the finish line.  

Mile 33, piercing pain hit my achilles and even running a 13 min pace was becoming impossible. I was well in time until now for a sub 10:00 and decided to take it easy and walk till the pedestrian bridge but when I reached mile 37 I lost all hopes and the goal was just to finish. A doc at the aid station looked at my leg and after examining my feet he said that my feet is swollen and it's going to be difficult but when I insisted to continue, he decided to splint my achilles which offered very little support. It was still painful but at least helped me keep moving. Prolonged walks on the hot pavement, my Vibrams couldn't hold it, and ended up developing blisters. At mile 40, when I reached the aid station I had nothing in my mind but to quit. Should I drop down to 40 mile and finish the race, running another 10 miles in this situation was something too daunting. While my body was waging a battle against my mind, I decided to keep moving on the course so that I will not have a choice but to continue to the finish line.

Soon I hit the grass/dirt trail. The same course which I loved running earlier that morning was looking like a crazy demon waiting to devour my leg as soon as I set my feet on it. My feet and blisters didn't like the uneven surface and it started hurting like hell. What would have taken an hour on a good day took me about 2 hours to cross that section. When I found a shady spot, I just crashed and the crazy pain caused my eyes to tear up. I just wanted to lie down there all day. Somehow I gathered myself and decided never to stop until I hit the next aid station.

The aid station at mile 45 came to my view and it felt so good sitting on a chair for a while sipping chilled coke. Angela, my friend, decided to pace me for the next 5 miles. She was such a God-send help. I was glad that I had someone to talk to as I was getting bored talking to myself for the past 10 miles. The volunteers cheered me up even as I got up on my feet to run the last 5 miles. On the last section of the course, I met Julie, the Vol State Queen who won the race this year. Man, what a women. A great inspiration. While looking for the turn around point, to my horror there was another dirt/grass trail section that I had to cross. By now, it was excruciating pain and I so wanted to give up but I didn't come all the way to give up at the last moment. Not today. Reached mile 49 and was back to the same aid station and from there it was a hill, a bridge to cross, and another hill. That's right, a hill right before the finish line.

(Yards before the finish line. You can see my splinted right feet)

The sight of the finish line was gorgeous. At that point of time, to me, the finish line was the most expensive strip of land that I wanted to set my feet on, an object of great desire, a beautiful girl friend to embrace (I'm single though..haha). 

I guess I was in a state of hallucination by that time. The crowds cheering helped me to sprint to the finish line. I endured unbearable pain for the last 4 hours just for this moment. Now, I am not usually dramatic but not sure why I did this, but after reaching the Finish, I got down on my knees, fell to the ground and kissed the finish line. I finished. 12:08:55

I have no regrets for not finishing it under 10:00 hours as planned earlier. It just felt so awesome to finish this race. It was a nasty sight when I removed my Vibrams. Removed the splints and applied some blister band aids offered by a runner. I couldn't even move to collect my finisher mug. All I wanted was rest and sleep. I dozed off for a good 15 minutes until a volunteer woke me up to hand me my finisher mug. 

Peperoni pizza and chili felt heaven after that long grueling day. Had a little cultural exchange conversation with the race photographer Stacey Irvin, who I realized later, is an award winning photographer and her work was splendid. Diane had to drop down at Mile 40 after developing really bad blisters but she was there at the finish line with a wide smile and some cow bells cheering up every runner crossing the finish line.

Back in my room, I realized that I am not going to get any sleep tonight. I didn't dare to break those blisters. I drank some chocolate milk, took some Tylenol and didn't even had the strength to turn the room lights off. Though I had all the reasons to drop out of the race, all said and done, I was glad that I could finish this race, may be not strong, but I finished. This race definitely tops in my list as the most painful race that I have ever run. Reminded me of the Team 413 quote.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13)


sushma said...

WOW!!!gr8 bro...congrats...so much determination needed to complete the race with hurt achilles...you rock!!!!

Siri said...

Amazing to hear the triumph despite odds loaded against. High determination.really great achievement and congrats.

Amanda said...

Way to go Naresh! Can't wait for the Monkey Marathon. I hope I can keep up with you. God Bless!

Jason Hibbs said...

Great job...I think you relayed your experience quit well in your story...I felt I was the one that went through that hell, then I remembered I get tired just walking to my car :-)
Congrats...and take a break...you earned it!

Thiyagarajan said...

congrats naresh.. really a great achievement. Keep running and writing :)

hema said...

Proud of u Naresh..What determination ! Keep rocking :)

Ravi said...

Either you are crazy or one tough cookie!

Hats off and a bow to you for your amazing feat. Reading your post transmits the pain and effort you went through.

Congrats and all the best and more strength to you for your next run.

Sree said...

Perseverance really pays and you stand a testimony to it. All the very best in all your endeavors, Naresh. You deserve a praise for writing this as well :).

cherie said...

I, too, have trouble sleeping after an ultra. After Javelina, I had every reason to drop out, and walked much of the last 40miles. Well, not tons but a lot. Anyway, I was in SO much pain...but I finished. And that was sweeter victory than anything else!