It was a dark and stormy night… Wait, wait, wrong type of story. Rather, it was a chilly morning, which turned into the first beautifully sunny, warm Saturday of Spring. The kind of day that makes everyone want to doff their winter coats and go for a walk in the woods. Which was just what 1SG, McIntyre, and I set out to do, albeit Marathon style.
The town of Bitche, France, is famed for the huge Citadel that rises above the town, built on top of an equally huge natural rock formation. We skipped the Citadel tour, but there were many more rock cliffs scattered throughout the hills, so we were entertained with monoliths suddenly rising above our heads and appearing around bends in the trail. At one point, a few extra gummy bears prompted McIntyre and I to scramble to the top of one to get a better view. Probably due to the great weather, there were a ton of people walking the marathon, more than on some shorter trails at past Volksmarches. We leapfrogged a bit with a man sporting spandex with diamonds on the legs, and although we tried, we could never catch up to him. The main topic of the day was about which would end first, the trail or my stash of gummy bears, which always got pulled out during those moments when the hills seemed never-ending and the checkpoints far apart.
The 5k,10k, & 20k trails branched off at regular intervals, and as we looked at the map at the various checkpoints, one extra trail always caught my eye…the 50k. The moment of truth came at the 6th control, when we had to declare whether we were walking the 42k or the 50k. In a flash of insanity, I mumbled “funfzig (50)”, and then wondered what misguided motivation could have caused me to say such a thing and add another 5 miles onto a marathon. My companions were of clearer minds, and selected the 42k without a second thought.
The trails branched soon afterwards, and I handed my jacket to McIntyre and took off onto the 50k with the promise not to kill myself. We agreed to meet up after the trails converged, and they continued on what I came to think of as “The Shortcut”. My first moment of satisfaction came when I ran past the diamond-wearing spandex man on a hill and never looked back. What followed were 5 miles of peaceful pine forests and sunlight filtering through the trees as I ran under them. It was the solitude that moved me, and the empty trail before me that urged me onward. I concluded along the way that this would be one of my favorite marathons of the year.
When the trails finally converged, there was no sign of life on “The Shortcut”, so I figured that they were ahead of me somewhere. I kept running up a long hill and joined up with the 10k at the 9th checkpoint, where the guys manning it jokingly motioned me to slow down to get my card stamped, then collectively sighed in relief and whistled, at seeing the big “50” already on my card. I just grinned and took off running again, and this time got lucky enough to see friendly faces only a couple of minutes down the trail. My grin got even bigger when they handed over the few remaining gummy bears they had saved for me.
In the middle of a marathon, we inevitably ask ourselves why we are attempting such a feat, and swear never to do another. But by the end of it, even though we are tired and hurting, we start to remember the camaraderie, the beautiful scenery, the funny moments, the fresh air, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with doing something that few people even attempt. It will be those memories that stick with me, long after the aches in my muscles fade away