I listened to my footfalls and felt my lungs and heart pumping the air and blood through me. The watch had beeped again and I knew I had less than three minutes of climbing to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. “Casey Jones” popped into my head but I’d changed the tune to, “No one ahead, no one behind….”
Then I heard it. The low rumble of an SUV pulling around the bend, the headlights swinging around to once again illuminate the path in front. "Awww, yeah!" I heard from behind me. I smiled and fought to keep from looking over to look at my vanmates at the risk of twisting an ankle or veering off the trail. So, I tossed a wave and picked up the pace to try and keep their cheers alongside me for as long as possible. "You're killin' it!" "We'll see you soon!"
The ground pitched underneath me. My legs turned over faster and my limbs tingled from the adrenaline rush of seeing our van. I’d hit the top and began my descent, which took me under a tangle of branches silhouetted against the sliver of moon that had broken through the clouds.
Orion’s belt blinked in front of me and the moon lit the low lying mist that crawled along the corn rows. A red light flashed off in the distance and I had to rein in my instinct to go after it and chalk up another kill. I hoped it might be a Ragnar directional sign or the coveted “One Mile To Go” marker. Instead, I watched it climb the darkness ahead of me that signaled one thing: another hill to tackle. I took a swig of water and girded my nerves and my legs to pick away at yet another one.
Instead of slowing down, I pushed away the feeling of fatigue that started to seep into my quads and accelerated up and over the incline. Keep it neat, I said to myself as I sailed down the backside. I overtook the flashing red light and got a nod from the other runner.
My watch beeped for the ninth time and I knew the light ahead had to be “One Mile To Go” in this 9.1 mile leg. I’d said not to count on a sub-60 finish since I already had one for my 9.4 mile route six hours earlier... that was flat. I decided, however, to let this one happen by feel and not look at my watch as I went.
“One Mile To Go” flashed by my hand lamp and I let go an audible “Come on!” and surged. I overtook four more runners before seeing the cluster of reflective vests, flashlights, and vans at the exchange. “What number!?” an orange vest cried out.
“2.4.9.” I managed between breaths.
“249 coming in,” she said into the walky-talky.
I unraveled the slap bracelet from my wrist, straightened it, then gunned it for the finish. At last, I could rest…if only for a moment.