Saturday February 20th, 2016- the morning sky breaks as the temperature climbs into the 50’s. It’s not a typical February day in Arkansas and it’s not the typical weather for the morning of the Sylamore Trail 25/50K. Not to say that the weather has never been warm and sunny, but with many of the previous years starting in ice and snow with sleet still pelting from the heavens, 54 degrees seemed like a godsend.
The line of runners at the creek where many of us in the mid to back of the pack often stand shivering in the cold waiting for those in front to brave the cold water and get up the steep incline on the other side moved ahead smoothly. There was no slippery ice on the bank or up the steps to get out. While the water was thigh deep, it wasn’t unbearably cold, in fact most of us were already thinking how good that cold water would feel on the return trip. I fell into step at the back of a train comprised of my usual weekend running partners wondering how long I would last with them. I was looking forward to seeing Joe at the Blanchard aid station. You see, it would be the first time in a very long time that I knew I could count on having his attention when I got there and the thought made me smile. As promised, there he was to ask how I was doing and if I needed anything. Seeing him without a camera lodged in front of his face and having him focused on me was enough.
As Misty and I made the climb up from Blanchard, we chirped the birdsong of the run – “good job, good job” and heard it echoed back to us time and again. We were faced with the faster 25K runners coming back at us on their return and were able to cheer on our friends who were working to break PRs since the trail was clear and dry. I guess I should not have been surprised to see Christophe Block coming at me before we reached our halfway point. He was doing the 50K and was already on his way home. Yes, he finished the 50 faster than I finished the 25. I give credit to the Speedo and the mustache, and the fact that he is just plain fast and works very hard staying that way.
On the return trip I knew I needed to change something. My feet were slipping inside my shoes and I thought I would change socks and tighten my laces. Usually I have to stop and just handle things like that. This time as I skipped into the aid station I could ask Joe, “Please get me a salty potato and a PB&J while I change my socks, thanks.” Despite the sustenance and the fresh socks, I began to feel the bonk coming on with about 4 miles to go.
After crossing the creek I finally started to feel better and managed to run part of the hill to the road and all the way to the finish line, where Joe was waiting. He asked me what I needed, helped me get my shoes off and handed me a cold beverage. You see, that rarely if ever happens. My story isn’t about the race this time, it’s about relief. It’s about having that most important person there and present just for me. It’s about how it feels to enjoy the day and the weekend without pressure to find words to type or to hurry home to treat 1500 photos and try to find just 4 or 5 we love before going back to work on Monday. It’s about not rushing 3 hours home so we could be at another event the very next morning, but getting to stay another night and enjoy good company and a relaxing hike on the way home. And for those who have heard the story a hundred times of how the Sylamore changed our lives when Joe and I hiked it on our first backpacking trip together, you can keep falling asleep while I tell you that there was nothing better than getting to claim him as my own again for my day on the trail. Love is still alive and well on the Sylamore.
Thank you, to each and every one of you who came up to tell us that you understood where we are at. You are still our family and we aren’t going away. Thank you for being supportive and telling us how much you’ve appreciated what we tried to do. Thank you for offering to step in and help. The spring has uncoiled a little bit, the load is lighter and the love has room to grow again. Thanks for helping me love the trail this weekend.
Oh, Joe did take a few pictures while waiting for me. You’ll find them here.