After the usual spotty quality of sleep the night before the race, Amanda and I drove to the state park and got there in plenty of time to set up our things on Amanda's tarp. (She is so smart to think of bringing a tarp, to keep the ants off her things, and so generous to share it!) I had brought Tailwind pre-mixed into water bottles, but I miscalculated, thinking that I could drop off my drop bags the morning of the race. Turns out that wasn't the case, so as we teachers say, I had to "adjust and modify." Not a big deal, as the aid stations were very well stocked.
Amanda and I took one last trip to the bathroom, and by the time we came out, Rob, the RD, was already counting down for the race start. We hopped into the chute and took off. It was only dark for about half an hour. My favorite thing about the course was the width of the path, making it easy to pass and be passed. The usual "conga line," which is my least favorite part of trail races, was totally nonexistent.
Once the sun rose, I started looking left and right for alligators. I had joked with people that my goal was to see an alligator, but it was actually the truth. As a native Minnesotan, alligators are a very exotic concept, and I felt like seeing just one would make my day. In the first stretch of the course, there were swampy/wet areas on both sides of the trail. At first, I was just seeing logs that were alligator-shaped, and then I started to notice what I was 81% sure were alligator heads. But, as my family would say, these sightings were "unconfirmed." Then, all of a sudden, I saw a huge alligator. Over the course of the next nine hours, I'm pretty sure I saw a hundred of them. Big ones, baby ones (so cute!), all of them looking very content as we ran past.