Stage Five – The Last Stand
Sierpe ➡️ Drake Bay
⬆️ 1767M ⬇️1770M
Another day, another early start. As I sat down for breakfast and looked down at my legs I heaved a sigh of relief – my legs, not too long ago covered in painful welts and hives had improved dramatically overnight. Although the skin was still mottled and red, the pain I had felt for the previous two days had finally begun to subside. Today is going to be a good day. At least that’s what I thought. As I went into my pack to take an allergy pill I noticed that I had picked up the wrong pack of pills. They were water purification tablets, and one was missing. Shit. It quickly occurred to me that in my slight delirium yesterday I more than likely took a purification tablet instead of my allergy pill. Shit, shit, shit.
Taken on Day Five…the rash started to subside by then thanks to the injection I received, but was still very uncomfortable
Not less than five minutes later I boarded the bus and settled into the knowledge that if I had in fact eaten that tablet, more than eight hours had passed with no side effects, so the odds were good that I would probably survive. The bus took us to our first crocodile infested water crossing of the day, this time by barge, and I eased into a slow start on what promised to be a long day. “OK Chris, this is it – if you finish today, you finish the race.”
The first few morning hours went quickly, and by the second aid station I started to feel a false sense of security that I was in the clear. You really think I would have known better by this point, but that’s the beauty of denial I suppose. Although the first climb brought us up 300M, it was gravel road, and relatively cool. The second climb would prove much more challenging. The route took us deep into the humid jungle, and with no water to cool down in, I settled into a death march up, up, up, over 400M and just when I thought I couldn’t handle one more step up, the descent began. Although challenging, the climb was gradual, and therefore manageable. The descent on the other hand was nearly vertical and we dropped to the bottom in less than 2KM. I am a lover of descent, but there is truly little to love when you find yourself going straight down a pitch with no footholds surrounded by poisonous plants and animals. With every step I took on the dry ground I couldn’t help but notice the life scurrying out of my way. Spiders, lizards, ants, salamanders and frogs galore. The only distraction from the life below was coming from the high treetops where sight unseen howler monkeys screeched to one another presumably about the crazy trespassers running below. Tired and dehydrated, the pool of water at the bottom of the mountain was almost too good to be true, and when I reached it, I threw myself into it’s depths and savoured the coolness on my skin.
Sweet, sweet relief
In my mind, this was it. With the two biggest climbs of the day out of the way, how much harder could it get? Leaving the third aid station with Kim, we set off on the gravel path in good spirits. Although humid, the jungle offers shelter from the sun, and now exposed to the elements, I felt my energy evaporating into the atmosphere. After pushing a climb back into the jungle, I found myself once again alone, with only howler monkeys screeching above me for company. I continued onwards, in solitude, and soon came upon a runner in distress. Ultra-running presents many challenges, but often, it is the little things that make us crack. In this case, the distress came from one stubborn fly that flew around the runner’s head, causing a nervous break. I had been there before, so I got it. After being assured that he was OK, I quickly moved on, nervous that if I stayed too long, I too, would be sucked into the Pit of Darkness. Spirit’s down after my encounter, I slowed, willing Kim to come back and longing for some positive energy. A crack of a branch and rustle behind me brought me the relief I was looking for, and we stuck together from then on.
Leaving the jungle again, we stepped into the sun, and worked our way towards the beach. The sun was inescapable, and with no rushing water to cool our bodies, we endured onwards dreaming of an opportunity, any opportunity, to find relief. I am not too proud to say that at one point I even considered cooling myself in a cow’s mud pile. I didn’t, but desperate times sometimes lead to desperate measures and I was only staved off by the distant sound of waves. We were getting close.
A small row boat took us across an inlet to the last aid of the day, and with the volunteers dutifully looking for incoming crocodiles, and sharks, we carefully waded in the shallows – finally, relief. With 10KM left in the day we took off, and after a quick detour back to exchange my poles for ones that actually belonged to me, we went giddily forward. Just as the first KM’s of the day breezed by, so did the last, and soon we were back on the beach running towards the finish. As the sun began to set in front of us, we ran in the final meters of the day, with our dutiful photographer (my Mom) cheering us on the entire way.
Just. One. Day. Left.
Stage Six – Coastal Experience “Victory Loop”
⬆️ 613M ⬇️613M
The morning brought mixed feelings. This was it. The end. Everything I had been working towards. In 22.5KM it would be over, and I had a hard time processing exactly what that would mean for me. As we readied our gear and made our way down to the beach, I looked at my Mom and steadied myself. We set-off surrounded by school children serenading our departure. 22.5KM to go.
Getting ready for the day ahead
Our start line was lined with local school children cheering us on
We climbed through the town of Drake Bay and towards the river. As we splashed through the river, my Mom ecstatic at being a part of the experience, I struggled to stay positive. I wanted to be done, but I also wanted it to never end, how could this be possible? With photographers capturing our river romp I put a smile on my face and surrendered to the present – for the meantime. The river rewarded us with a waterfall, and with the help of volunteers, we made our way across, up, and over to the other side. It was beautiful. Clear of the river, we carried onwards on a gravel road towards a lookout of the bay. We were almost half way; how did that happen?
My Mom and Kim splashing in the river, I wasn’t far away, photos by: Hilary Ann
Waterfalls and look-outs galore!
The morning went quickly, and soon we were at the only aid station of the day sipping from freshly shaved coconuts. “I could have really used this the other five days”, I thought to myself. As we progressed down the beach, drawing ever-nearer to the end, I could taste the finish line and the beer that waited for me.
Best aid station ever!
The afternoon took us along the coastline, weaving in and out of the trail that lined the beach. It was gorgeous, and as we cooled our skin in the many river outflows along the way, drawing ever-nearer to the end, my anxiety began to creep up on me. It was incredibly special running with my Mom, on what was her longest run ever, and I felt so thankful that she was able to share the experience with me, but I felt the overwhelming need to leave everyone behind and finish alone. This was a very complicated feeling, and I was nervous about how my Mom would take it. Would she think I was ungrateful? Would she think I was abandoning her? As the 20KM mark came up on my watch face I realized it was now or never.
And so, with my Mom’s blessing to leave her with the group we spent the morning with, I ran.
I experienced a lot of different emotions during that final effort, but pushed through it all, hyper-focused on making it to the finish. As I passed other runners, and shouted apologies for not stopping to take pictures with them, my eyes filled with tears in anticipation for what I was about to do. I remembered what my step-dad told me before I left. He said, “no matter how slow you go, you can always run the last two kilometers and feel like a winner,” and that was exactly what I was about to do.
Racing to the finish, solo
Breaking out of the trees and onto the beach I could see it. The final arch that signified the end of one of the biggest adventures of my life. The arch drew me in, and as I continued down the beach, it took everything that I had to keep a smile on my face. It’s hard to describe what finishing felt like. I was happy, sad, overwhelmed, energized, and exhausted all at once. Basically, I was a wreck and unable to process anything but one person heading down the beach towards me.
Not sure how to feel, taken seconds after crossing the finish line, photo by: Hilary Ann
This was a big day for my Mom too, so I went to meet her and did the final 50M with her hand in mine. I then sat down. And I didn’t get up for a long time. I had just accomplished the biggest challenge I have ever worked towards, and suddenly I felt empty. The pure ecstasy I felt when crossing the finish line was waning, and the toll of the race began to creep in.
Running my mom to the finish line, photo by Hilary Ann
The rest of the day was spent celebrating with beer, local entertainment, and awards, and I took it all in. All of this, every bit of it, the people, place, and the race, would all be gone with the morning sun, and then I would be back on my way back home, alone. As the sun dipped out of sight and I lay my head down to rest all I could think was “what now”?
Courtenay and Dayna from Run Like a Girl were such supporters during the race, couldn’t have done it without them. Photo by: Hilary Ann
This is the last post of a three part series on The Coastal Challenge – thank you for reading!