I began to fade just after midnight. About 55 runners remained, most of them sleepy. My left knee had tightened up, making jogging painful. Our only pleasure came every 10 miles when we were hugged, washed, and fed by our enthusiastic crew. They clapped vigorously as we approached their aid station, then lied and said we looked great. We shuffled out of the tent feeling proud and rejuvenated.

By 2:30 a.m., at mile 75, I was exhausted; we had been running for 20 hours. Those gently rolling hills had grown to rugged mountains, and our lazy 13-minute pace had morphed to a grueling 20-minute grind. The 30-hour cutoff was beginning to seem a difficult goal. I struggled to stay awake, questioning my decision to enter this race. "Runners are so stupid!" I yelled out loud, hoping one of them would hear me.

I was frustrated and angry with Farouk. Why is he repeating the same story? Why can't he leave me alone? And then, as he sped ahead, Why doesn't he wait for me? Each time I squatted to remove gravel from my shoes, I found myself dozing off, ready to take a nap in the ditch, until I heard Farouk in the distance calling, "Anna? Are you still there?" Answering him was like having to answer the phone in the middle of a deep sleep. Farouk earned his keep that lap, causing me to move forward when the gravel road could easily have felt like a feather bed, offering rest and a moment's ease in pain. The word "endurance" took on a whole new meaning.

We made it to the 80-mile mark at 4:45 a.m. My left leg couldn't bear weight unless straight, my feet were swollen beyond my shoes' capacity, and our pace had slowed to a painful 22-minute mile. Farouk was in worse condition, and his spirit was broken. "Anna, I really don't think I can go 20 more miles," he said over and over, finally declaring his intent to quit.

I had a million good reasons to stop at that moment, yet the humiliation I imagined at quitting, with dozens of friends and well-wishers awaiting our results, was motivation to continue. I ordered a bedraggled Farouk to get up.

The next 10 miles were our slowest yet, although as the sun rose, so did our spirits. The aid stations offered bagels and cream cheese, cheerful assistants, and ice water to soak our hot feet. In the hopes of a functional knee, I abandoned my no-drug rule for an Advil. We pushed hard, Farouk power walking as I swung my left leg in circles to avoid bending it. We finished our ninth lap by 8:40 a.m., and with one lap to go, bright sunshine, and fresh socks, we headed down the trail. The likelihood of an official finish was slim, but like most marathoners, we had abandoned earlier goals in the hope of simply completing. Our buddy Russ was asleep in his cabin, having finished third in 21:17.

Suddenly, without warning, I felt an explosion in my left shoe, followed by shooting pain. I squealed and hopped, aware that I had popped a large blister. The toe box of my Sauconys filled with liquid. As I recovered from the shock, my right foot followed. I was paralyzed. "Just ignore the pain!" Farouk com manded and marched on. I called ahead to him to keep up the pace, that I would try to catch up. My feelings of annoyance and frustration at this most faithful partner had faded, and I felt proud thinking Farouk would finish his first 100 miler in time.

I stumbled along alone, with a single runner behind me
, battling the clock. As I approached the 96-mile mark at 11 a.m., I thought of my friends and family cheering me on. My husband and children who had weathered four months of weekend absences. I thought of my crew who had stayed awake all night, of my running partners at the finish line ready to celebrate.
I remembered old advice about "digging deep" in the final lap of a race, about finally discovering what you are made of. I could hear myself explaining to incredulous running friends that ultra marathons are 95 percent mental, that if you're willing to keep going you'll win. "What's to lose?" I thought, and I started to jog. Gingerly, at first, then with more confidence.

Suddenly, I became a new runner. The aches and pains of moments before simply vanished. My legs felt loose, my feet were springy, and my heart was light. I sailed down the hill, spotting Farouk a half mile ahead. Trying not to push my luck, I walked quickly up the hills, eager for the crest so I could run again. My legs had a mind of their own.

Those last miles were a complete surprise. I grew stronger with each step, infused with the joy of my new gift. Never had four miles been such a blissful expression of what it means to be alive, to be a runner, an athlete, blessed with a strong and healthy body. I was drawing on the energy of a community of supporters. We were running this race. Sprinting in long, sure strides, I came upon the finish line, greeted by this community of excited well-wishers, both present and in spirit, cheering wildly for a hard-fought victory, 39th of 42 finishers. Farouk followed moments later, delirious with joy over a triumph he had at one time abandoned. Keith had finished 10 minutes earlier.

Twenty-nine hours and 40 minutes after a lazy and gentle start, our race came to a close. Twenty-nine hours and 40 minutes of hope, work, bonding, agony, endurance, recovery, and self-discovery. As the memory of my pain fades, I am left with the deep satisfaction of a race well run. As I return to the "real" world, I am reminded that the Umstead 100 is not so far from the event we call life, an event requiring determination, made richer with support and companionship, and where self-discovery is the intention, even if it hurts a little along the way. *

Anna Newcomb Bradford lives with her husband, fellow runner James Snyder Bradford '84, and three sons in Vienna, Virginia, where she is a social worker at Inova Fairfax Hospital. In 2000, she was awarded the Golden Show Award by Runner's World for motivating and training ultra marathoners in Northern Virginia. She is the daughter of Mariette '56 and the late Anthony Newcomb '57 and has three Obie siblings.

--by Anna Newcomb Bradford '84
Photo by David Brooks

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