by Matt Gray
Mile 49: The atmosphere of this lap is completely different . . . dusk has passed, stars are out, and the bobbing headlamps of my fellow runners glow across the entirety of the course. The air is crisp and cool compared to the earlier heat. And my second wind is in full force, at least as far as my energy level goes. I attempt to run the entirety of the final lap, but my legs are so sore at this point I must slow to a walk for a little bit.
I pick up my speed when the meadow comes into view . . . the course goes around the perimeter of this meadow, loops around a small lake, and crosses the finish line. At each 90 degree turn, my stride increases. For having run 50 miles, I'm in a sprint by the time I reach the lake.
The red numbers on the timing clock appear as I round the last corner. I begin hooting, hollering, and releasing a primal grunt . . . I didn't mean for this to alert everyone at the finish line and the first aid tents that I'm coming in, but it does. I was just so elated to have completed the race, I guess I instinctually wanted everybody else to join me in my celebration.
I'm soon surrounded by my family, the official race photographer, (she takes a picture of my "oh good, those are really gross" feet), and the race director. A cool frog trophy is handed to me along with a 50.25 sticker and a race medallion. I'm all smiles at this point, at least that's what I'm feeling. I think there are very few sports where the person in tenth place is as happy, if not happier, than the victor. The motto of the Tevis Cup Horse Race, (in which Gordy Ainsleigh ran the first known ultra on foot as part of a competition), is: "To Finish Is To Win." I had won, and it felt damn good.
Lesson 6: Have fun. Sure, every stride, lap and mile weren't "fun." But overall, the entire day was absolutely incredible. The lessons I learned, the people I met, the community that formed, and the pride of completing the race with the help of my wonderful crew, is most certainly what I would classify as fun. For future runs, I think it's possible to have even more fun, with additional training, smarter fuel choices, and more mindfulness practice to keep my head in the right space. It's all about the smile, always . . . and letting everyone know that you're crossing the finish line . . . you deserve it.