The war began with tipped-over-portajohns and an ominous forecast for lightning with all the accompanying rain and torturous thunder. The volunteers were the warriors to prop the still-functional-for-survival johns back up, set up canopy tents as evening barracks, and got the inevitable battle rolling. The race bag issued an epic helmet of glory to all of the runners: a trucker hat with the Bad Marsh logo of the sunset that the runners would soon be adamantly chasing.
The troops were warned of the road crossings, dreaded hill, and impending doom that was heat exhaustion. They had come prepared, gathered, volunteered, and drafted from all over the South and beyond.
The orange course markings would become quite the hard find in the night vision that the running soldiers would soon possess. But that was only a small shred of their worries. Four o'clock sharp (aka 1600), and they were off to battle, like a pack of wild dogs chasing down a meal of highly satisfying Swedish Fish. Their fangs would drip red from their newly found plunder.
The first lap brought a cluster of runners and race numbers, like the front lines armed in Kevlar, blurry in passing. Hydration packs storming with salty sea waters bobbed down the trail like destroyers taking over the oceans of the navigable world.
The element of sweat had not yet peaked, but there was still clearly a brutal heat and humidity present. It was to be expected, of course. But thank the (only) 90 degree heavens that the longest heat streak in the history of Georgia had ended a few days ago. The rain was a welcome ration to feed and fuel the spirits of this infantry.
Laps continued. Runners dropped. The remaining troops busted out the MREs like swamp lions rising from an afternoon nap. Chips and salsa, cookies, Coke, PBJs, watermelon, and chocolate cake washed down with Gatorade greener than lime-tinted watercolor paint in a 4th grade art class kept them moving and surviving.
Half marathoners began to finish. More of them finished than had started. The above 100% finish rate had arisen out of the difficulty of the 27 and 31 mile distances. People were dropping distances like sandflies.
There were heat cases. And vomit. And chills. And peak season for aforementioned quantities of sweat. And dehydration. And casualties. We sent out the medics and handled things with the encouragement typical of anyone with a red cross on their shoulder. The troops were finding out their limits.
A few hours in, and concerned runners raced to the aid station checkpoint yelling, "Man Down!" Apparently one runner was laying facedown on the trail telling his fellow warriors to continue without him. We sent a tank in his direction. Over a mile is no cake walk when you are zapped of energy, endurance, electrolytes, and emotion. He called it quits and agreeably headed back to rest on the camp chair stretcher.
Later, a mighty woman warrior came to take the overall win, and the first place man of victory was minutes behind her. He was not taking the aftereffects of battle with total relief and physical triumph. He was feeling sick and the cramps had set in like bullet wounds. And you will never guess what happened next. The man who had been eating dirt rose from the trail grave, got out of his chair, and marched over to him, coaching him through his bouts of heat-induced nausea and misery. It was brotherhood in the shirtless flesh.
Hours passed, darkness fell, and the peaceful moon planted itself like a monumental white flag in the night sky. Troops were on the mend, and battles were being concluded and won. They cheered on their comrades and threw a welcome home celebration of 'Merican Mountain Dew and Jelly Beans of Justice.
Sixty-eight pairs of human feet had taken off like a blazing cavalry that day, and only thirty pairs had completed the full journey, but everyone had played a valiant part in winning the war. One man had conquered his 315th ultra-battle. And many fought their first. They had tested their astounding limits of strength...a test which would prove to be great training for the next battle.