It was the year I competed in 23 trail, mountain, ultra and snowshoe races throughout New England and New York. It was the year I finished first male (50-59 age group) in the Eastern New England Trail Race Series. It was the year I ran my first 50 kilometer and 50 mile trail races and qualified for the Western States 100 mile run. But none of these accomplishments are what made the year so special to me. It was a small, quirky, good-natured, tight-knit group of trail runners that made 2009 a year I will never forget.
I'm not even sure how it began, but somehow we all became very close friends. Maybe it was because we all ran the same races together or went on long training runs every weekend when we were not racing. Or maybe it was because our personalities just clicked. You know, sisters and brothers from another mother. Some things can not be explained. They just happen.
Some members of TUG running in the 2009 Stone Cat 50 Mile Race.
During 2009, we were spending so much time together that one person in our group suggested we come up with a name for ourselves. You know, sort of like a secret society but not nearly as sinister or mysterious. The name we agreed on was simple and fitting. Our group would be known as "The Ultra Gang" (TUG) and we were all "Tuggers". We were inseparable. Or so we thought.
Running for hours in the woods and covering great distances with my fellow Tuggers made me feel as though I was invincible. In fact, I remember thinking, "I will live to be 100 years old and I will be running ultras when I am in my eighties"!
I no longer feel this way.
I'm not sure if the others felt like me, if they ever thought they were invincible. I never asked any of them. I suspect in some ways they may have. But no matter what we thought at the time, we weren't invincible. We were, and are, merely human beings easily broken.
Several years have passed, and through a series of misfortunes, injuries, accidents, medical issues, and relocations The Ultra Gang is no longer together on the trails. Although we keep in touch and remain friends, the comradery we once shared is not lost, but certainly tempered. At times this saddens me, but mostly I'm happy and thankful for that special moment in time, that magical year never to be repeated.
And as the 2015 Groton Town Forest Trail Race continues, my feet move slowly over the red, yellow and green tapestry of fallen birch and maple leaves covering the trail. My mind again begins to wander. My pace quickens. Running seems effortless. Time is obscured. For a brief moment, I am transported back in time....It is 2009....
I am a Tugger, and I am invincible.