Saturday night I participated in my first Xterra event, a half marathon trail run at night. This was so much fun and it was so hard. The last time I ran this distance was 30 years ago when I was a teenager. And that race was on roads which I don’t care to do anymore. I had been preparing and following good training protocol for this distance. The race started and I made sure I was somewhat in the front. A lot of runners really take off too fast at the start of a race and die out too soon. I held a nice pace and sure enough I started passing runners a mile into it. I came across a group of 3 runners whom I had recognized at the starting line as potentially good competition. I’ll call them ‘Teenager’, ‘Bob’, and ‘Mike’. I ran with them for a while but seemed the pace was a little slow for my liking so I advanced on an uphill. Yes, I was taking a risk because there was still a lot of mileage to go. I went anyway. As I advanced into the full moon horizon I could hear a runner behind me. Out of the three guys one of them stayed on my tail for several miles. I was feeling great as we were plummeting down hills and really moving over the rocky trail. I was having the time of my life. It dawned on me that I was enjoying this so much because I wasn’t alone. Being alone may be good in training, but not in a race like this when you are moving faster than normal and pushing your limits. After a few miles we started having a conversation of where we lived and such. I’m not a young guy anymore but Bob was older than me which was very impressive. We crossed the river with about 4 miles to go. We both commented on how much that river took out of us. It was then when I hit a wall. I couldn’t keep our pace and Bob moved forward away from me. Bob had more in his tank than I did. I was now thinking ‘how am I going to finish the last 5k?’. I was now alone. The full moon was bright so I turned my headlamp off, kept running and just reveled in the moment. I knew there was a hill I had to climb next that led to the ‘lookout’ aid station that had water. I just needed to get to the top of that hill and hang out there for a while before traversing the last part of the race. I was losing it. My body was doing weird things which was causing me to lose my footing. I got to the lookout. Water never tasted so good. It was great to hang out with the ‘lookout girls’ (aid station volunteers) for a while and stare at the full moon. At that moment another runner appeared begging for water as I had. It was ‘Mike’! One of the three runners I had passed several miles ago. I was very happy to see him. I closed up my water bottle and we took off downhill. He stated he was glad to see me and how it was so amazing that you run better with somebody at your side. I never really realized that until that moment. It just does something for your psyche which affects the rest of your body. We had intermit conversation as we barreled the last 3k of the race. Lots of grunts and appropriate words. It was not easy. He was falling. I was falling. The trail was gnarly as can be. But this was so fun! It would have been quite different if I was stumbling through this alone. We got to the last stretch and Mike had more in the tank than I did. I couldn’t keep up. It didn’t matter at that point. I trotted to the finish line on my own and finished in the time that I thought I would. But I was hurting. That last 3 miles did me in. I think people do these tortuous races to see what they can really handle. It really teaches you a lot about yourself. Those last 3 miles I was in such disarray that I didn’t care about anything. Not running. Not music. All I could think about was my wife. Talk about perspective. Those 2 guys helped me greatly. I’d like to think that I returned the favor. What I took from this race was that the bond you make with complete strangers who are on the same journey with you is a very powerful thing. The human connection is strong. You can’t do this alone and why would you? What fun is that? I had the time of my life with Bob & Mike. I hope to see them on the trail again soon.