Anatomy of My First AT Marathon

Prior to my accident, running a marathon was almost a weekly endeavor. If you have read any blog about the AT you know the terrain is challenging and unforgiving.

Unlike my past races, my first marathon, 26.2 miles, on the AT came with little warning and just happened. Like everything else out here on the trail.

We awoke at Groundhog Shelter to depressing rain. Some of us were protected by the three-sided structure with a sleeping platform that had a severe slant toward the middle, causing all of us to roll on top of each other during the night. The unlucky few who couldn’t fit braved the storm in tents, sleeping in puddles formed by the draining mountain.

With the rain and poor forecast we slept in waiting out the rain. With no sun in sight we finally packed up camp and left at 10 a.m.

By 2 p.m. we had reached our final destination for the day to an empty shelter perched on top of a mountain with a beautiful waterfall. Being the first ones to arrive we picked ideal tent sites with a firepit. After a short, easy 13-mile day, our spirits were bright and looking forward to a casual night around the fire.

The last hiker of our group stumbled into camp around 2:30. He announced a family friend was meeting him in Hot Springs with a new, waterproof tent and needed to push on five more miles to get to town in time.

After 13 miles, this proposal bumped our day to 15. Not too bad considering we had already had 20- and 23-mile days in the past two weeks. Despite a little soreness we all packed up and moved out.

This same hiker had a friend joining us for a couple days. After only a couple miles of the bonus five, he basically dared us; challenged us to see if we could do a marathon getting us to Hot Springs. If we were successful, he would pay for a hotel room for all of us. Being cheap adventure seekers that we are, our eyes lit up and we took the deal.

Only 15 miles completed by 3:30, we signed up for a grueling marathon that included 4,000 feet of climbing and certain night hiking.

Someone, who we will not name and no longer allow to do basic mathematical equations, told us we should be there between 8 and 9. Yeah, right.

The sun fell and the half moon rose. We broke out our headlamps and started running. The former racer in me said the sooner you get to Hot Springs, the sooner the pain will end.

After 16 miles we recalculated and realized the error in our math. Our new ETA became 10:30 p.m. At this point we started running down mountains and frantically lengthening our strides up the climbs. At night you can’t see the top; only the three feet in front of you.

Before the real pain started our minds started playing tricks. Phantom bears and other creatures were pressuring us to carry on. The hiking group started to sing to ward off any wildlife in our immediate surroundings.

One by one we were caught by intense gravity checks pulling our feet out from below us. By the time we saw the lights of Hot Springs we were crawling with the last ounces of energy. Snacks were gone, too close to stop for a meal. Some resulted to eating dry ramen on the run. Water bottles were missing any amount close to drips.

Our marathon ended with us rolling down the hill into town. Upon arriving a local announced every restaurant was closed and nothing existed within 30 miles of the trail. Luckily we caught the tavern with its lights still on. No food services, but after sharing about our first marathon they kept the taps open for us to celebrate.

An AT marathon is no joke. It reminded me of my first race when I limped home afterward. But we couldn’t be happier. We came to this trail with hope of pushing ourselves and testing our comfort zones. We did just that and found our trail legs along the way.

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Comments 2

  • Steph : Apr 22nd

    Love it – way to push!! HOORAY


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