Today I was once again reminded why I love the trail running community so much.
It was 4:30pm. Virtually everyone who had camped at the start/finish line had packed up their tents and left. The 30-hour cut-off for the Haliburton Forest 100 Mile ultramarathon passed four and a half hours ago. Roxy and I were hanging out near our tent and enjoying the gorgeous afternoon outside to make up for lost time after spending most of our summer in the hospital.
But you did it! You finished!
Out of nowhere, we heard some cheering and horn honking coming from near the race start/finish line. We looked down the road and saw an older man with hiking poles shuffling along towards the finish line with a huge smile on his face. Roxy and I started clapping and cheering him on. He looked over and yelled out, "I guess I'm a little late!". And we yelled back, "But you did it! You finished! Congratulations!". More people started cheering and more horns started honking near the finish line. This man received an ovation of a lifetime for an incredible achievement. He kept going long after the cut-off and he never gave up. He persisted and he finished the 100 mile race.
The support and respect that this man received at the finish line reminded me why I love this community so much. There is an amazing level of support for fellow runners. While running a race in Japan in April, I saw runners fall, and there was always several runners there immediately to check on them and to help them back up. In an ultramarathon, when you are down, someone is always there to pick you back up.
Birthday in a California Hospital
When I was in the hospital in California in June after my freak health incident and surgery, the Auburn trail running community paid me a visit on my birthday. Knowing that spending your birthday in a hospital 4,062km from home is no fun, Craig Thornley, the race director for the Western States Endurance Run brought in about 15 runners to pay me a surprise visit, bringing many thoughtful gifts and cards for me. It was one of the most touching moments of my life and I will be forever grateful to these wonderful people for making me feel at home on my birthday. Although it was my first time meeting all of them, they felt like good friends whom I had known for years.
Over the years I have competed in dozens of road running races and two triathlons, and I had never experienced such a warm community like this before. When I was a spectator to an Ironman 70.3 event in May, the athletes were coming out of the water to transition to their bikes and nobody in the audience was clapping or cheering them on. The spectators only clapped when they saw their friend or loved one. In an ultramarathon everyone seems to cheer for everyone. It's an inclusive event where everyone seems to be in it together.
Bongo drums and cowbells
One moment I will never forget is running alone in the woods in the middle of the night at the Bromont ultramarathon in Quebec in 2017. After several hours of only hearing the sound of my feet stepping on branches and dirt, I was feeling groggy, in pain and having thoughts of quitting the race. I approached a cabin in the middle of the woods with about 100 people gathered outside. When they saw me approaching they started cheering for me, with several bongo drums and cowbells. I don't think I had ever experienced such an enthusiastic welcome before. I had never felt more humbled and motivated in a race than that moment where it seemed everyone was looking out for me and wishing me luck on my race. Any thoughts of quitting the race quickly dissipated at that point.
I have been competing in ultramarathons for less than 2 years now and I have already been fortunate enough to meet some of the most amazing, caring people that I have ever met.
2018 Western States
When I ruptured my esophagus in the middle of the woods at Western States in June, I was barely able to breathe and I had a lot of pain in my abdominal area. My friend and pacer Mark Green gave me his shoulder to help me get to the nearest aid station for help. Once we arrived, Dr. Andy Pasternak rushed to call an ambulance for me using a HAM radio, since there was no cellular coverage there. At the same time, Andy's wife Dr JoAnn Ellero, had tears in her eyes and was feeling a sense of helplessness, because she knew that I needed to get into the OR ASAP and that there was nothing she could do for me in that moment except comfort me and tell me everything is going to be okay.
Dr. Andy and Dr JoAnn visited me in the hospital after my surgery and I gave JoAnn an emotional hug and thanked her and Andy for saving my life.
These are the types of people you meet in the trail running community. I wouldn't trade this for anything else in the world.