The Worlds End 100k course is a work of unrestrained natural beauty. An aqua, flora, cathedral-esque, rugged elegance whose stoic poise waits only to ambush in deliberate and indiscriminate attacks. It seeks to lull, at times, one into accepting relative safety before launching its feral trickery once again, testing one’s belief in a celestial purpose.
In the miles before arriving at the sanctuary perched at High Knob aid station, 36 miles into the day’s engagement, I truthfully reflected on my drive to continue. I studied the balance of the course, considered the coming climbs and my commitment. I had heard that the 40s were difficult, but tolerable, and if I could reach Aid Station 11, The Gate, victory would be inevitable. Fuzzy math revealed that the next 20 miles would stand as a challenge but if I arrived at mile 55 with all my faculties, I could finish.
My wife, in great haste, rushed me through High Knob with a reassuring smile, fresh water and a few vomitous gel packets. In a nod to my original plan, she branded, saber-like, borrowed trekking poles, placed them in my hands, and wished me “good luck” in the most resolved manner she could. I had no time to disclose my reservations to her.
In complete isolation, the descent from High Knob was steep and treacherous before becoming more hospitable. But the alleviation was short-lived as the course turned upwards and another climb would commence.
It was here, ironically, where my devotion renewed. The sight of my children, who would be waiting for me at the end, pushed me on. I continued to break the course down into segments, identifying distances between aid stations and committing only to those distances before thinking broader.
Once arriving at aid station 10, mile 50, Brunnerdale, my spirits were lifted. I understood that there were two additional climbs before the course leveled out and past the final aid station at mile 58 there would be some welcome road and fire road running. There I planned to compensate for the slower trail portions.
Night was starting to close in as I left the aid station and a soft fog had sunk into the mountains blurring the trail. I remained alone in the forest aside from the occasional runner who would pass me or whom I would pass. Rain appeared. I switched on my headlamp.
Aid Station 12 at mile 58 was a welcome sight. Having lost tracking and timing ability when my watch battery failed at mile 55, I asked for the time. “9:10,” someone said. “You could crawl the the rest of the way and make the [midnight] cut-off.” I actually wasn’t sure if that was intended to be encouraging or a reflection of my appearance. But then my wife said I looked good, which was the conclusion I needed.
I didn’t crawl through the remainder of the race. Much of it was on wide trails and forest access roads. The passing rains and lingering moisture had left their mark on the ground turing the dirt into ankle deep mud, each step a resilient suction. The reflective tape signaling the trail pulled runners home to the finish. I imagined each step as a claw drawing me closer to completion.
Entering the final descent along Worlds End Trail, I could hear the echoing finish at the Cliff Pavilion. People welcomed other 100k runners with smiles even as the hours grew late and the weather cold and damp. My own children had fallen asleep a few hours ago, I would learn, and were dreaming in their car seats. I kissed them each when we were rejoined after settling back into our sleeping bags and tent.
2014 and 2015 were a difficult years for my family. We suffered the miscarriage of our second child resulting in a our decision to begin living our lives with increased purpose, hope, love and presence. We sold our home in Philadelphia and purchased one in Central Pennsylvania. Neither of us had jobs in our new town, but instead of living where work was, we decided no more would we place middle-class safety before bliss. We would live where we wanted and put our family’s happiness first. Running was put to the side for the time. We spent our weekends home searching and carving out a life without the clutter of modern living. After not running at all in the 2015, Worlds End became that much more special of an achivement and a welcome return to long distance running and, in essence, a new life.
In exhaustion, and after 11PM, I ate a beans and rice burrito and drank some water following a campground shower. I was satisfied with my 18:00 finish. I lay down on my thin backpacking sleeping pad before being soothed to slumber by the breathing of my kids as they drew in the untainted Pennsylvania mountain air.