That's exactly how I feel about this year's Hungerford Games 50 mile, and part of the something wonderful was me to come in dead last in the race. And I couldn't be happier about it, and not just because of the saying DFL > DNF > DNS.
Serendipity #1: Rick, Andrea, Bill and Jan walked into the hotel at exactly the same time I did. I held the door for them.
I had a vague sense that we were probably going to be leaving at the same time, but I stopped by Running Lab and chatted and shopped, and I visited rest stops pretty frequently to stretch my legs, and I just let things happen. It worked out perfectly for me to join up with them for dinner, packet pick up, and a look at the course to see what it would be like.
Well, dinner left a little to be desired, but that happens. At least, I didn't pay for my choice nearly as much as I should have. No GI issues at all, and considering I chose barbecue, it may qualify as a minor miracle in itself.
Serendipity #2: As I got back from dinner and was walking in to the hotel, my running buddy/coworker Megan bumped into me. She was inspired, I guess, by my Woodstock 100 mile experience to see if this ultra marathon thing might be something fun. It turned out that she and her boyfriend Ian were on the same floor, one number up from me- though halfway down the hall. The hotel had a few... curious feature that made me think it was put together by a committee.
Serendipity #3: Megan and I started off the race slowly, and in the first few minutes met up with Cami, who seemed to want to run about our speed. We struck up a conversation and chatted though the usual preliminaries over the first few hours. It turned out that Cami's father, sister Jamie, and nephew Sam were there to support her, and this played a big role in me being able to finish the race.
It seemed, for whatever reason, when I drank the water at the aid stations I would feel sick. When I didn't drink their water, I didn't have a problem. But it was a high 70°s and a 50 mile, and that's a pretty tough combination to try to go through without any sort of fluids (I didn't even try the Heed; it upsets my stomach even when the water it's made from doesn't).
Jamie, though, was able to refill my bottles from water she had on hand when we met up, which was often enough to keep me from getting heat stroke; or even really suffering from more than mild dehydration. I stuck with Cami for dear life- not just because of the water, of course. Good conversation makes the miles fly by, even when they're tough, through sand, hilly and occasionally horrible.
The heat got rough, but we got through it. A tear in my shoe let in enough sand to build a sandcastle, but these things happen. My right achilles tendon began to act up, and my compensation probably caused a muscle in my left knee to freak out. I wasn't able to fully extend my knee for the last 15-20 miles of the race. All part of the game.
The sun went down, and neither one of us had a light. So we kind of finished the 30-45 min of the race by feel and starlight. The scariest moment was a slight rise about 20-30 feet before the finish line that neither of us saw; we both had to seriously work to keep our balance. Easier said than done after over 13 hours plowing through sand. But we crossed the finish line together (though I tried to be slightly behind I could be the official DFL).
A lot of things had to turn out to make this race the truly wonderful experience it was; the hard parts helped define the truly glorious. The weather, though hot, was wonderful. The course was absolutely beautiful, perfect timing for the fall colors; well marked out but with its own challenges. We had to walk much of the last loop, but it wasn't half so much as I walked at Woodstock. And, of course, the people who help you through.
I'll end with a picture of Cami and myself at the end of the race, after night had fallen (Megan was feeling strong; she finished 20 minutes before us).