Sophie before the Wheels Came Off!

The Ring 2004: "It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn"

Or, as Brian McNeill wrote about his experience at Laurel, "(Yet) Another Friggin’ Growth Opportunity"

by Sophie Speidel

As I prepared for this year’s Ring, I tried to be ready for just about anything the Ring would throw at me. I trained on the course, during the day and at night in the pouring rain. I ran 1 loop of TWOT ["the Wild Oak Trail"] the same week of CBB ["Catherine's Big Butt 50km"]. I did hill repeats and speedwork. And I did lots of long runs. So, even though I was well-rested and healed up after a summer of hard training, I was not prepared for what hit me after 48 uneventful miles of the Ring…but, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Chris Scott, Sophie, and Anstr Davidson at finishLet me just start by saying that Anstr and Chris put on an incredible run. From the Margarita-loading and porno-gourd party at Jalisco’s on Friday night, to the incredible spread at the aid stations (including quesadillas, cold fruit, olives, chicken noodle soup, hot dogs, and spiked Mountain Dew), to the hot chocolate, coffee, and warm congratulations at the finish, it was truly an amazing event. Even the weather was perfect. The volunteers made every runner feel special…so much so that I spent a grand total of 120 minutes at the six aid stations, despite Chris’ and Keith’s attempts to kick me out.

So what happened? After 13.5 hours of great trails, easy running, and no blisters, the wheels came off, and the bottom dropped out…and all because the sun went down, and it became my bedtime.

Now, this was a run of “firsts’ for me, no question: My first run longer than 54 “Horton” miles; my first run beyond 10:25; and my first all-night run. I had prepared for the distance and the trail with many training runs on the course, and I had read up on my blister prevention techniques. But I didn’t even consider how I would respond to sleep deprivation. (Big mistake). As soon as the sun went down, my internal clock started to slow down and all I wanted to do was sleep. Gary Knipling had cheerfully volunteered to accompany me from Edinburg to Woodstock, since I was alone and not psyched to run alone in the dark…but little did we both know he would be accompaning me for the next 20 miles until the bitter end, mostly because he was concerned I’d sleep more than run. You see, every 25 minutes I would beg him for “just 5 minutes” of sleep on the trail…and, being Gary, he always relented and gave me 15. I slept on anything…weeds, road, dirt…and it always perked me up, but not for long. So, our 22-hour pace gave way to 25-hour pace.

Gary and Sophie at the finishI could not have finished the Ring without Gary helping me stay alert, positive, and focused. As the sun came up at Signal Knob, Gary and I shared favorite quotes about dawn (in true Gary fashion, we listened for owls, watched for bears, and were really getting into nature at this point). My favorite is “It’s Always Darkest Before The Dawn” which turned out to be the best metaphor for my Ring experience. As for Gary’s favorite quote, let’s just say that it’s “R” –rated…ask him.

The Ring was unquestionably the most difficult endurance event I have ever experienced…and the most satisfying. As is typically the case with ultras, I emerged more self-aware and self-confident as a result of this humbling experience. Not only did I learn a lot about preparing for 70+ miles on the trail and about what happens when I waste time at aid stations (that “there’s no way in hell that you will catch Mike Bur” according to Chris), I also learned that I am so fortunate to know such unselfish ultrarunning friends. I am forever grateful to the special volunteers who helped me finish in one piece, especially Gary, Mike Broderick (crew, pacer (shh), and cheerleader), Anstr, Chris, Keith Dunn, John Dodds, Tom Corris and his daughter Chelsea, Greg Power, and Scott Mills. Thank you all.

Now, why didn’t anyone tell me about NoDoz?

Some of the lovely ladies of the Ring outside Jalisco's the night before. (L to R): Margie Hughes, Sue Johnston, Deb Pero (already a Ring member), Sophie, Dru Sexton, and Sue Thompson.

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