The Longest Day - Page 6
We both run pretty much every step up a tough climb to 49, and I come into the aid station about a minute behind Sullivan. And, to my unending surprise, Kaburaki is in the aid station as well. We're out of there in a hurry, with Kaburaki and Sullivan and their pacers jockeying, and me alone about 20 yards behind. We're tightly packed all the way up to a lush meadow at the top of a rocky climb, which signals the start of the final downhill of the race, then Kaburaki puts the hammer down and is gone.
When we hit the downhills I catch Sullivan. I flip my lights on after a half mile or so, and do some of the best tired running of my life down to the river, but don't even catch sight of Kaburaki. Crossing the famous No Hands Bridge, with just over three miles to the finish, I start to get a bit paranoid about Sullivan making a push and catching me on the final climb, so I turn my light off and run by the moonlight for about a mile.
Finally, I get to the climb up to Robie Point, the last aid station, and have to turn on my light. I remember reading another WS contestant Andy Jones-Wilkins' insightful and often hilarious blog before the race, where he relayed advice from Tom Nielsen, one of the most experienced and accomplished runners around, that, "In the end, you need to race every step like there's someone three minutes ahead of you and someone three minutes behind you."
Sure enough, a light appears behind me. I expect it is Sullivan, and hurl myself up the hill. I am running really hard, stronger than I feel should be possible at this point in a 100-mile race. But the man behind me is stronger still. It turns out it's not Sullivan, but rather Jez Bragg, and he passes me doing about seven-minute miles up the steep road out of Robie. I stick with him for about 200 yards and then I am done. I tell him nice job, and let off the gas before the carburetor explodes. At the finish, Jez actually apologizes for passing me so late in the race, but I don't begrudge him. He is clearly stronger than I am, and has earned his finishing place.
I run the final 1.3 miles of paved road through the town of Auburn to the Placer High School stadium, and lay down what feel like is a 50-second 300-meter finishing sprint around the track (video evidence on YouTube will prove that I was quite a bit slower than that). Unlike the other three guys in my finishing pack, I don't break down crying and mumbling incoherently in Japanese, or cheer and jump around wildly and hug people, or sprint madly around my little daughter to the finishing line trying to break 17 hours. All of us deserve to celebrate (and Kevin tells me later that his daughter forgave him immediately), but for some reason I just don't feel much emotion.
Even now, almost a month later, I feel strangely numb about the whole experience. All I know is that I ran my absolute hardest and never let up for almost 17 hours, and that has to be worth something.
In the end, the top five were Koerner (16:25), Kaburaki (16:52), Bragg (16:54), Halekas (16:56), Sullivan (16:59). My Patagonia teammate Hal Koerner brought it with a vengeance, defended his title and is clearly the man at the 100-mile distance. The rest of us had a battle for the ages, and forged new bonds of respect and friendship from the shared experience.
Will I be back? During the race, I swore to myself that I would never put myself through such torture again. But we know how those sorts of vows tend to end up ...
This article appeared in our October 2009 issue.
Jasper Halekas is a space physicist at the University of California Berkeley. He accidentally started running six years ago, and hasn't been able to stop since.