Prairie Spirit 100 – Belief

PS4Where do I begin in terms of trying to recap and capture the moments of this past weekend?  It still seems surreal at this point and almost like… did I REALLY do that?  Going in to last weekend I was worried, but didn’t want to show it.  Due to the hectic schedules of everyday life my 50 mile long run leading up to PS100 had been almost a month out and I had only gotten one 50 miler in which left me a little nervous.  But riding up to Ottawa with David…. I didn’t want to let on that I had any inkling of doubt or concern.  I had learned the hard way with Rocky Raccoon last year that it could be a killer if there was doubt.

Friday evening after dinner David and I sat down and tried to map out a plan that was reasonable and was well thought out.  In 2014 I had finished PS in 23:23:00 and that included several very long aid station stops.  So for this year David and I talked and deciced.. lets get serious in the aid stations – get in, get what I need, and get out.  I had seen Derek do this with laser like focus at Mark Twain 100.  Additionally in 2014 my HR spiked later in the day when it got warm to well in to the upper zone 3s.  So this year the plan was to start out under control and never let it get ahead of me.  Keep the HR at or below 150 until at least mid-afternoon when it warmed up.

I didn’t sleep all that well Friday night, which is what I expected.  So Saturday morning I was even more nervous but again… didn’t want to show it at breakfast with everyone around.  Had I put in enough mileage and had I done enough in the past few weeks? Justin seemed to be at ease that morning and I sure wished I felt the same.

When Eric Steele counted us down and we kicked off at 6am, I stayed towards the back half of the pack going out.  It was going to be a long day and no reason to worry about getting in front of everything right off the bat.  As we headed out the 2 mile out and back on asphalt, we got a little rain …. great… this is going to change things if it does this all day.  Luckily it stopped about 15 minutes in.

The plan was HR at 150 or less no matter what the pace felt like or was.  So… I only focused on HR.  By the time the sun was coming up the pack had spread out enough that I could only see a few folks within throwing distance and I assumed behind me was about the same.  Your mind can play funny tricks on you at this point… making you wonder… am I really falling behind the pace and should I pick it up?  Nope … HR 150 or less… gotta keep telling myself that.

Rolling into the first aid station at mile 9, I felt pretty good and my HR had maintained about 148 with a pace that had actually sped up as I ran.  It is incredible to see all the IRC folks at the aid stations and David, Derek, Jeff, Chris, Lindy, Kerri, and Kathy were all right there as I came in and jumped in to see what I needed.  David and Derek refilled my handheld while I checked in and very quickly grabbed a few bites in the tent.  I was in and out in probably less that a minute and on to the next stretch.  Gary had come in right in front of me and was looking good and Justin was a little further ahead of me going out of the first aid station.

Trying to eat, drink, and run is not easy and after I was about a quarter mile down the trail and had everything swallowed, I looked at my HR and it was up to 155.  Crap!  So I knew it would be key to get it under control quickly and one of the best ways I found was to close my eyes and concentrate on breathing.  If this had been a true trail that had any technical section at all, or one that wasn’t so straight you could almost see from start to finish this would have been problem.  Luckily – straight as an arrow and soft chat to run on let me almost doze off for a few minutes at a time and then open my eyes and verify that I was on path and… the HR was pretty solid between 147 and 150.

What does 100 miles look like in Kansas...

The next couple of aid stations went pretty much the same.  The only noticeable change was as I was coming into the 25 mile aid station at Garnett, I was running along with my eyes closed focused on my breathing when I hear – “Are you OK?”.  I open my eyes and don’t see anyone… finally I focus on a guy laying down on the trail taking pictures.  “Yep … I’m OK… just doin a little sleep running” I say.

By mid-afternoon the temps had risen enough that it started to affect my HR.  The solid 150 had turned to 155-157.   As I came in to the 33 mile aid station I told David and Derek that it was creeping up and I was trying to keep it down as much as possible without falling off pace too much.  I had slipped about 4 minutes behind based upon what I was holding earlier in the day – but nothing to get too excited about yet.  The next two stretches are the WORST mentally for me.  There are no stops with any food or people for over 9 miles and then the next one is a little over 10 miles.  Those don’t sound like a lot but when you are 33 miles in and have been staring down a straight and narrow path with unchanging scenery for the most part … it seems like forever!

Coming into mile 42 aid station I again had fallen off pace by about another 4 minutes, but the HR was staying right in the 155-157 range so I felt like I just needed to hang on for a few more hours and it would start cooling down.

By the turn-around point, I was more than ready to have some company.  Coming in to Iola and getting to the aid station I realized I was quite a bit ahead of last years time and was feeling considerably better than I remember feeling last year at this point.  In line with the rest of the aid stations, David and Derek quickly got me what I needed and pushed me out the door to get back on track.

Having Derek made all the difference in the world.  It was probably the first time I had spoken more than a couple of words at a time all day outside the aid stations.  The thing about picking up your pacer is that even though you come in to the aid station tired and dragging, once you get back out with your pacer you feel a new sense of energy and your pacer pushes you to get the pace back up.  It is still warm enough that my HR creeps up so we end up having to slow down a bit and walk during a few stretches to get it back under control.

About four miles out from the next aid station we see a camper go by on the highway honking and I realize it is my wife Sharena, her friend Jennifer, and the kids, so it helps to convince me to pick up the pace a bit to get to the next aid station.  As we roll in I see them on the horizon and it is incredible to get in to the aid station and get a hug from them.  David said we were actually ahead of schedule at this point and I was about 45 minutes ahead of last year.  I still feel OK at this point so after a few minutes talking to the family Derek and I are back out for the next 9 mile stretch.

The next stretch Derek and I chat quite a bit and enjoy the daylight that we were losing at this point.  The temps had cooled down enough that at the last aid station I had changed into a long sleeve shirt and with the winds gusting it could be a little cool.

When we hit the aid station at mile 70, the family was there again and I remember the potato and ham soup – it was fantastic.  I had been using Tailwind pretty much all day up to the turn-around point and had switched to ice water at the turn-around.  The ice was such a relief even though it was getting pretty cool out – I am an ice chewer so having plenty of ice along the way served as a comfort item as well as hydration but it did get quite a few strange looks when Derek asked the aid station volunteers for ice when they were all in coats at this point.

We got in and out of this aid station pretty quickly and grabbed the headlamps as we were heading out.  The sky was incredibly clear and no lights to pollute the view for miles.  It was so clear that we ran for much of the next few stretches just by the moonlight.  During this stretch we started passing folks a little more frequently and the pace felt a little quicker.

This is the point in the race where my head got a little fuzzy.  For whatever reason I thought the next aid station was only 6 miles when in reality it was about 8.5 miles.  So by the time we hit 6 miles I was anxious for more food and a break.  But… mile 6 came… then mile 7 … then I start trying to do the math in my head.  Derek tells me no that is another mile or two and I argue… it cant be… the next stop is the 25 mile turn-around for the 50 milers so it has to be off somewhere.  Derek reminded me… there was a 2 mile out and back that we did to begin with that would make the next stop 23 miles to finish.  Dangit!!!!

When we get in to the Garnett aid station, I am grouchy that it took so long … but we caught David by surprise because we were early coming in.  Thats a good feeling.  David tells me that we are way ahead of last year and kicking butt.  I grab a bunch of food here.  Oreos, pretzels, a no bake cookie, a ham sandwich, vanilla wafers and peanuts – it was all SO good.  Chris, Derek, and Lindy all work to get me a dry shirt, swap headlamps and more ice.  This is the aid station I have been looking forward to all day – less than 25 to finish so at this point… even it I completely fall apart, I know I will finish if I have to walk the last 23 miles.

When we roll into the next aid station again earlier than expected.  Its a little after midnight at this point but Sharena and the kids are there and I quickly give them a kiss and grab a few things at the aid station and notice that David is not around.  But I don’t want to take any more time than necessary so Derek and I start heading out.  I asked Derek if everything is OK with David since we didn’t see him before we headed out and he says yeah… he’s all good.   Within a few seconds I hear someone sprinting up behind us and it is David.  I figure he is catching up to send us off with a push.  Instead, Derek slaps my on the shoulder and says – Ok dude… I am handing you off…. It took me a second to figure out what was going on.   David tells me that Derek felt like I needed a fresh face to push me a bit.  So … David is pacing now?… Yep.. cool… whoa… wait a minute… this is gonna hurt!

David is great … wants to keep the conversation going and is joking and keeping me distracted.  We go a couple of miles and I say I need a break for a minute to catch my breath.  But he says no more than 2 minutes and we are back at it.  The pace has picked up from when Derek was with me… but I expected that.  We continue to steadily pass folks.  Each time.. both Derek and David have this killer instinct that when they see the glow of a headlamp in front… the pace automatically ticks up a bit until we get even with them and after a few friendly conversations… we are off in front.

We roll into the last aid station.  I grab a quick bite and pretty much dart out of the tent almost missing my family … but I give them a quick kiss and we are down the trail for the last stretch.  During the last stretch we had picked up the pace by almost a minute per mile.  We start out and before we get a quarter of a mile David tells me that I am kicking butt,  I should finish with at least a 2 hour PR, and that a time around 21:12 is going to be incredible!….. But…….  a finish of 20:59 would be even better.  I try to do the math in my head… there is no way… that would be picking up the pace by… well I can’t make the numbers work in my head.  David looks over at me, smiles and says… so it’s up to you… you are at an incredible spot… you have an incredible opportunity to make it even better… but you are gonna have to push straight through these last 7 nonstop and at a faster pace.

It’s at this point in a hundred miler where you want desperately for your mind to figure things out but in reality… nothing makes sense or works logically.  All I know to do is trust David that he knows what he is talking about.

I look down a few minutes later and we have cut another minute off our pace and I feel like my lungs are going to flop out of my mouth.  But my HR tells me I am going to be OK.  It still doesn’t get above 152.  A mile ticks off, and I think to myself I am not going to be able to hold this pace!  Another mile and by this point I am starting to think about the pace and with only 5 miles left, David is right … we could break 21 hours.

At this point in the race I am running the fastest I have run all day.  My legs feel like lead, and my lungs are on fire but I am gonna keep it up until I can’t go any further.  I almost dread seeing the glow of a headlamp in front of us.  David at one point says… uh oh… do you see that… I immediately say – nope… I don’t see nothin.  No good… we are picking it up again.  Another runner and we are off in front again.

We finally get to where I can see the lights of Ottawa again and I35 that we run under to get back to the finish.  From I35 there is just about a mile left but… it is all asphalt.  If you want to loathe asphalt and become a trail runner for life… run on the trail all day then spend the last mile on asphalt.  It becomes the devil lapping at your feet.  With less that 3/4 of a mile left, I see a runner with a dim headlamp.  I am hoping that David isn’t paying attention.  Distract him… ask him how much further.  David does say that he thinks his calculation may be off just a bit but quickly sees the runner ahead.  Dangit!!!  He chuckles and says “Lets go!”.

The last half mile really seemed like it would never end!  Both because I feel like I have nothing left but more importantly with the distance being off somewhat from what we had calculated I knew we were going to be close.  I did not want to have wasted that effort for the last 2 1/2 hours only to miss getting under 21 hours by minutes.  So the last stretch is faster than I feel like I can go.  Finally we turn the corner to get back to the finish and I see the clock… 20 hours 58 minutes.  David and I make it under the banner a few seconds later and all I wanted to do is be off my legs and just lay down on the ground.

A few minutes later I am up hugging the family getting pictures and heading inside the building for some warmth.  Now it is getting cold.  There is an awesome photographer that has a station set up inside for pictures and after we get that taken Derek comes up and whispers to me – Great job man!!!  And… did you realize… you finished in 7th place?  What?!?!?!  That can not be…  I mean yeah… I made up some time today over last year and we picked up the pace over the last 13 miles… but I am a middle of the pack guy…. I don’t finish in a single digit place… something has to be wrong!  I go check and there it is… my name in black in white.. 7th place!!

Belief is not something you can learn, it is something you have to experience to fully accept.  Leading up to Prairie Spirit, I was worried that I might fail, I might let folks down, and I might not even finish again.  Had I put in the time, the miles, and were they REAL miles to count towards this again?  Belief is also something you can’t have taken away after you experience either.  Now I may never again have the type of day I had at Prairie Spirit this year… but one thing is for sure … I will never lose the belief that it is possible!

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To Justin and Gary – It was an awesome journey and I am proud to have been on it with you guys and to see you holding that buckle at the end!  I can’t wait to see you at the next one where ever that might be!

To Sharena and the kids – THANK YOU for putting up with the crazy training, the early mornings and late nights on the treadmill, the tired and grouchy times afterwards and before.  You guys mean everything to me and I appreciate your support more than you will ever imagine.  And to Jennifer and Emily – thanks for chauffeuring my family half way across the plains in the Winnebago and for standing out in the cold to cheer me on through all hours of the night.

Thanks to Kerri for some really incredible photos of day as well(which is where 2 of the photos in this post came from)… appreciate you helping document things so that we can go back and remember the day!

To David, and Derek – you guys are one of a kind!  You gave up a weekend that took you away from family, ballgames, kids, and your normal life commitments to help me achieve something that I wanted, and more than that – you helped give me the belief that I needed.  For that I am extremely grateful!!  To Jeff, Chris, Lindy, Kathy, and Kerri – you guys made this an experience that I will never forget and are truly some of the most awesome people I have met!  The IRC is incredible – I can guarantee you there is not another running club that has the support and amazing people that we do in this club.

PS3

 

Patience

Slow Down!I recently saw a friends post on Facebook with a picture that said “Why is patience a virtue, …. why can’t – Hurry the f*#! up – be a virtue”. This made me laugh probably more than it should have but it definitely hit home.  It has been 9 weeks since I ran anything over a couple of miles.  Plantar Fasciitis has bitten me once again and it doesn’t seem to want to play nicely this time.

After Prairie Spirit 100 at the end of March I haven’t logged too much distance to speak of.  I was able to pace my niece in her first half marathon in April and was able to participate in the Kansas City Triathlon in May.  But after Kansas City, my left heel got really angry.  I have dealt with PF a few times before and know how serious it can be if you try to just run through it so after it flared up full time after the Kansas City Tri – I decided to just shut the running down completely to let it calm down and rest.

That has been 9 weeks ago now.  Since then I have gotten to a point where it was no longer hurting at all once I got out of bed in the morning and not hurting at all during the day.  So I threw in a short 2 mile run to test it and felt great during the run, but the next morning when I got out of bed it was like it was almost taunting me by reminding me that I couldn’t force it and it would heal when it was time to heal.

So I have waited….. and waited…  I was also convinced to try acupuncture.  Now those of you that know me, know how cynical I can be of these alternative treatments and the mumbo jumbo you can read on the interwebs.  That also should show just how desperate I am to get beyond this flare up.  Immediately upon my first visit with the chiropractor who also does acupuncture – wanted to get me fit for some orthotics.  I almost walked out then.  But I explained that I have been running for several years and since making the switch to a zero drop shoe 2 years ago have not had a single issue and felt like this was just a build up of the beating I took getting ready for the 100 miler.  So she agreed to never mention the orthotics again and I have gone through 5 treatments of acupuncture so far.

Does acupuncture work…. I don’t know yet…. the jury is still out.  The heel seems to be getting better but I am not sure whether that is to be attributed to the acupuncture or just giving it extended rest.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that those tiny needles can really do anything except poke holes in me but… it does seem to be getting better.

Since May I have forced myself to spend all of my workout time cycling and swimming which honestly is probably a good thing in the end.  I hate swimming… but I am getting more and more comfortable in the water and seemingly am getting marginally faster.  Cycling is OK and I have been making some decent improvements in speed as well as my hill climbing.  One thing I am learning is that nutrition on the long bike rides is yet again a totally different animal than an ultra.  I still need to work on that aspect.  So I have probably spent more time on the bike and in the water in the last two months than I have collectively over the past two years but…. it is keeping me placated.

For me running is more than a workout, or a bucket list goal, or a way to lose weight.  I have found over the last few years that running is who I am and without it I tend to be very moody, grouchy, and at times depressed.  Throw in to the mix some drastic life changes that have happened over the last year with my responsibilities work-wise, and it can easily turn into a spiral of a full fledged pity party.

I recently read the Esquire article on Lance Armstrong and what his life is like now.  Now whether you love Lance or you hate him – no one can argue that the man had a passion for cycling and competition.  Since his ban from any sanctioned sport – his passion in life has been decimated.  I am not here to say we should feel sorry for Lance,  he cheated and then he lied about it.  But his passion in life and what made him who he is  – is now gone to the point that he can’t even compete in local 5K races.

What does this have to do with Plantar Fasciitis – well nothing.  But reading the article I identified with Lance in that my life and my family’s life has had some rough changes over the past year and none of them are ones that we really had much time to prepare for. Waiting on this PF to go away and the fact of not being able to run seems to compound that level of frustration even more.  But… in the bigger picture… 2 months is not that big in terms of not being able to run.  More importantly it is teaching me patience.  My coach and acupuncturist have cleared me to start with SMALL runs… 1/2 mile and then inch it up a little each day…. Not what I had in mind … but hopefully moving forward.

A couple of years ago, I would have and did just bulldoze through these type of injuries only to end up injured longer.  So for now, I am keeping my “Eye On The Prize” as a friend of mine likes to say.  With work, and with running…. All I need is a little patience

Finish What You Started

PS100It’s been three weeks now since Prairie Spirit Trail 100- MY FIRST SUCCESSFUL 100 MILER and I am still on a high from that weekend… though that could be the meth motel we had to stay in… but thats a whole other story.  Where do I begin… Ok Mile 1.. I am running…. hang on that will take too long…

My DNF at Rocky Raccoon really affected me much more in the weeks after the race than it ever did that evening or even the day after when everyone else was finished and wearing their shiny new belt buckles.  I kept telling myself I was fine and that I did what I could and it was what it was.  But … that nagging voice in the back of my head was driving me crazy that I had let the variables of that day get the best of me and I had my first DNF.

Within the first week back it weighed so much on my mind that I started looking at what other 100 milers there were that I could get on the schedule this year.  There were a couple in the Fall that might work… but that would put me training the bulk of the miles in the summer heat and these 100 milers had tons of elevation and …. could I even do it if I couldn’t finish Rocky after training in the cool winter.

Then I saw Prairie Spirit Trail 100 in Ottawa KS.  It was roughly 6 weeks out and… last year they ended up canceling it before everyone finished due to a crazy snow storm.  It was flat, not technical at all… and best of all … only 4 hours away.

My plan… take Rocky as a training run and continue with the long miles.   But this time… I would keep it quiet in terms of what my goal was and when.  After all, I had failed pretty spectacularly at Rocky and had a ton of people that were tracking my progress.  I didn’t want to do that again.  So… I would plan on training and ignoring the questions of why I was still putting in 40 and 45 mile runs on the weekends.  The plan for race day… well not sure that you can actually call a plan… I was just going to drive up and run… and not stop until I was done or dead.. No crew.. No pacers… no one to be there in case I failed again.

Two weeks before race day though I started getting nervous… maybe this plan of no plan wasn’t the smartest thing.  So I inconspicuously sent David Murphy and Jon Wilson a FB message and asked if either of them needed long run for their 100 miler training.  The response… what’s going on and when.  After telling David that my plan was no plan… he said he would have to get back with me.  A few days later he said he was in.  I figured David could just run what he wanted to with me and he certainly had the experience to help me when things got tough.  A week later David sends me a message that he had things planned out and had a pacer to come along and he was going to crew.  This was one of the coolest things anyone has ever done and he went all out… planning it, organizing  it, and prodding me to get detailed with a race plan.

March 29th 5am in Ottawa … after stopping at the convenience store because some Idiot forgot to pack deodorant I put on the secret sauce… and by secret sauce I mean Secret …. strong enough for a man but ph balanced blah blah blah…. I smelled purdy.  Next we roll into the starting area and I gather my things to launch into my second panic… my headlamp is GONE.  I had it at the meth motel but it is nowhere to be found.  David steps in again and gives me his headlamp and says he will go back to meth-land and find mine.(it was never to be found again).  Not exactly the start I had hoped for but nonetheless I am ready. Temps are in the mid 30s – PERFECT!!  As I am waiting to line up I get to meet another Idiot – Tara who was at the race last year and was pulled off the course at mile 93 I believe.  Really cool to meet her and then it is time to go.

My no-plan plan at this point… try to start slow and stay in Zone 2 the whole day.  When I had told David my plan the night before he response… hmmm….(looooong pause)… you might even want to try upper Zone 1… 100 miles is a long way. The first few miles things are fresh, and everyone is excited to get the day going.  I meet and talk with several other runners and get to know them.  Heart rate is steady lower Zone2… pace is 10-11 minute miles. Life is good.

As we head into the first unmanned aid station the sun is coming up and the headlamp can come off.  I am feeling pretty good even though my heart rate is higher than I want – but I am sure it is just the excitement of the day. PS100-1The first aid station that is manned is a little over 9 miles in and I by the time I come in to it I have warmed up enough to lose the shell and gloves.  David and Derek are waiting and it is great to have made it to the first aid station and most importantly – BREAKFAST.  I planned on using GenUcan and supplementing with some real food at each aid station.  My plan is to swap between water and GenUCan at each of the manned aid stations.  After getting a couple of meatball sliders and some fruit I roll out of the aid station in pretty good shape with my pace about where I wanted it.

The next segment to the next manned aid station my heart rate starts to climb a bit and it gets into zone 3.  I am a little concerned since my plan was to keep it in Zone 2 the entire run regardless of what pace that had to be.  The day is starting to warm up so I just tell myself it is my body getting used to the temps and it will settle down.  When I come in to the next aid station it is again a relief to see friendly faces and David and Derek tell me my pace is tracking perfectly… so I ignore the higher heart rate for the time being and get some food.  David had stopped and gotten some Gatorade since the last station and with a nice cup of it and soft taco I head out down the trail “walking with a purpose” as Mr. Horton spoke of.

After walking and eating from the last aid station my heart rate settled back down for a bit.  But after a few miles it is still tracking back towards zone 3.  By time I hit the next aid station at mile 33 my heart rate is steady at mid-zone 3 and even trending to upper zone 3.  When I see David I tell him I am concerned about that and he tells me to walk some if I need to to get it under control. This next section between aid stations gets a little tough.  The sun is up and shining in full force on a pretty much wide open trail so there is little to no shade.  I didn’t remember sunscreen…. crap…  oh well nothing I can about it now.

Throughout the day I had seen a couple of young kids with a group in front of me.  I had assumed they were with that group and were just going along with their parents.  After talking with Adena(very nice runner that I spent several hours running with, behind or in front of) she said they were actually registered and running the 100.  I really couldn’t believe it! As I am getting closer to the next aid station around mile 40 or so, I catch up with one of the kids and he seems to be struggling some and is entirely by himself.  After talking with him he tells me he is 11!!  I can’t go off and leave him so we walk a bit and then run slowly for a bit until we finally get to the next aid station and his parents are there.  I hear him telling them that he thinks he is done but he is still considering going on.  As I am leaving David and Derek tell me to keep the pace up because daylight is burning and I slipped a little on pace.

This next stretch I seem to settle in a bit more comfortably.  My heart rate is now back down into the upper Zone 2s and occasionally low Zone 3.  The turnaround is at mile 52 and the last 3 miles coming in seem to take FOREVER.  It doesn’t help that most of the last 3 miles are all on asphalt.  You never realize how crappy running on the roads is until you run on the trails and then have to cross a section of asphalt.

I hit the turn-around point at 11 hours and 20 minutes or so.  I have been sort of dreading the turn-around a bit because I am not sure what to expect after picking up Derek as a pacer.  I am afraid that I am going to be worn out and he is going to be miserable running this slow.  But I am happy to sit down and change socks and get some more food.  David tells me to get some “rocket fuel” AKA Coke.  I gotta tell you I don’t normally drink Coke but I have never tasted anything so good!  David and Derek are going through final plans and they agree to stick to a consistent 15/3 run/walk plan for the return trip.

As Derek and I leave I am feeling pretty good.  I even have a little more energy and pick up the pace from before I had a pacer.  Derek keeps in check with me in regards to pace, heart rate, and how often I am taking my Enduralytes.   He also asks if I am pee’ing regularly and I actually am doing much better than Rocky.  It has only been a few hours since I last pee’d.  Between taking Enduralytes from the beginning of the day and drinking a full 22oz of water between aid stations I am doing pretty well hydration-wise.

We make it to the next manned aid station and I could see my family as I was coming in and that was HUGE!!  With Rocky being so far away they did not make the trip down but with this just being about 4 hours – they drove up Saturday afternoon with Jennifer and Emily  to cheer me on.  It was great to hug my kids and wife.  David tried to get me to down a bit of GenUcan… but I was DONE with it… after a mouthful … I spent the next 5 minutes thinking I was going to send it all back up.  Derek and David helped me get some ginger ale and potatoes and we set off for the next stretch with me wondering if I was going to hurl.  David assured me that it would pass…. what does this dude know… oh yeah.. he has a drawer full of belt buckles. Sure enough about 10 minutes down the trail I was feeling much better and back to normal(as much as I could be normal at this point).

By this point it was dark but weirdly enough the trail seemed light enough that a headlamp was not completely necessary so Derek and I ran without it for about an hour or so.  We continued the 15/3 run-walk strategy and the pace was pretty consistent.  The funny part is that my heart rate is now staying CONSISTENTLY in upper zone 1 and lower zone 2. I kept looking to see the lights of the next aid station.  I knew it should be close but man it seemed like every light we saw turned out to be someones porch light or just random lights that never got any closer.  Finally I heard Derek say that David is right there… I honestly couldn’t even tell what he was talking about.  But as we got closer I heard David say that our pace was awesome and that we came in ahead of where he thought we would have been at this point.  Tara was coming in right in front of us as well so it was cool to see her again and see how she was doing.

These AWESOME hats got comments all night - Thanks to our amazing PRSFit teammate Ellen!!

These AWESOME hats got comments all night – Thanks to our amazing PRSFit teammate Ellen!!

Before I had left the last aid station I had told Sharena that a blueberry smoothie sounded awesome and when I came in to the aid station, David had a chair waiting for me and Sharena was there with the smoothie.  It tasted fantastic but at this point it had gotten cold outside and I was shivering after sitting for just a few minutes and drinking the smoothie.  David got my shell again to help with the cold and as I was sitting there he said “Ok we have talk about the elephant in the room”.  and I thought what the crap is he talking about.  You are making good enough time that you have a shot at a Sub-24.  I looked up at him like he was crazy!  No – really … all you have to do is finish a 50K in less than 8 hours and you are there.  That didn’t seem too tough… but I still had 31 miles left to go.  I had not seriously entertained a sub-24 at all for this race after Rocky Raccoon – I just was determined to finish.

Getting up out of the chair and back on the trail was brutal.  My quads were screaming at me and I felt a pretty significant hot spot on the bottom of my right foot.

Derek was patient and told me to walk it out and slowly try to pick up the pace.  After about 5 minutes I was able to get back to a slow run. It was during this next stretch that I got grumpy.  My legs were definitely feeling it at this point and it seemed like hours to get to that 3 minute walk.  It also seemed like Derek was getting faster and faster.  At one point he was encouraging me to pick it up and keep pushing and I looked down at my garmin and we were ranging between 11:50 and 12:15 minute miles and I finally just said “LOOK I CAN’T KEEP THAT PACE RIGHT NOW… seriously you have got to stop.  Derek immediately backed off and kept encouraging me to just keep moving forward and that we were making good time. As we rolled into the next aid station David was standing at the trail head waiting.  His first words – DANG you guys picked up the pace!  It was a shot in the arm but I just wanted to sit down for even a couple of minutes.  David set up a chair outside the train depot where they had food prepared.  He and Derek warned me it would probably not be good to go in to the warmth and then try to get back out in the cold so I just sat outside and he and Derek got food for me.  BACON… they had BACON!!  Between the bacon and the coke… I could have slept in the chair and the cold for the rest of the night had they not pulled me up and pushed me forward.

I know... gross.. but this is what it looked like later

I know… gross.. but this is what it looked like later

Getting started again this time was unbelievably tough.  My right foot had developed a blister that I could feel the fluid in with each step.  My quads were almost locking up as I tried to plod forward and by this point I felt like I had been hit with a sledgehammer in each quad.  Derek was great again to keep me moving forward.  The one comment that he made that I think I am going to incorporate into all of my ultra distances is – “It’s gonna hurt regardless at this point so you might as well just move forward as fast as you can”.  And he was absolutely right… it didn’t make any difference to move slowly or to just walk, each step hurt and if it was going to hurt I might as well be running.

During the next stretch of the trail it was after midnight and it got extremely quiet.  There were fields that farmers were burning off in the distance and you could see an orange glow for miles.  Far off you could hear coyotes howling.  At one point I got so fixated on my shadow from the headlamp that I freaked out and jumped a bit because the glow from my jacket seemed like something was heading toward my head.  There was a german shepherd that came flying past us and I think Derek and I both jumped as he flew by.  He would end up sticking with us all the way to the finish line.  He would fly past us and off into the woods and then we would apparently pass him because he would do it again every 20 minutes or so. This was probably the roughest stretch of the whole day.  I had one more manned aid station to go through… roughly 15 miles or so to finish and I wanted so badly to be in bed.  I tried intermittently to close my eyes and run and probably could have drifted off.  However on each side of the trail it had a huge 15 foot or so drop off that I was afraid I would slip off of if I didn’t watch.

The last manned aid station I decided(with encouragement from Derek and David) that I would not sit down at.  It just hurt too much to try to get going again to risk it.  After a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches and several glasses of coke we left on a mission to get in under 24 hours.  I should have about 30-45 minutes to play with but you just never know what will happen.  David was going to call Sharena who had gone back to the motel with the kids and let her know I would be coming in soon and would see them all there.

It felt really good to leave that last aid station knowing that I had less than 10 miles left.  Each mile that went by and the garmin beeped seemed like an eternity.  I could start to see some of the lights of Ottawa and that helped to pull me forward.  I dreaded the last 2 miles because I knew the asphalt was coming.  We finally made it to the  stretch where the trail turned to asphalt and it was brutal on the legs.  Running on the chat trail for the majority of the time seemed like pillows compared to the asphalt.

When we were within a mile of the finish I could hear the noise and see the lights but just couldn’t seem to go any faster.  When we finally got back to the finish line and I stumbled across the clock was at 23 hours and 22 minutes.  David was there hollering for me, Sharena and even all of the kids were there jumping up and down.  Eric Steele the RD came over and presented my buckle to me and took pictures.  I remember mumbling something about being grateful to David and Derek but not until I got home and saw the video of it did I realize just how much I looked like Fred Sanford at that point🙂

After getting into the morton building and sitting down I finally noticed the german shepherd had come in with us.  He just walked right up to the food line and acted like he was supposed to be there.  We sat for a while and I was freezing but it felt sooo good to sit down.  Derek found a seat and after a bit was asleep with his head on the table.  When we finally got up to leave I could barely walk and David had to help me to the van.

100 miles is a LONG way and through the journey I learned an incredible amount about , my incredible crew and pacer,  the ultra running community and probably the most about myself I have ever experienced.  Running ultras is a whole different animal and one that honestly I found out that I love.  It goes beyond pace, distance, elevation and the statistical elements.  It is something that goes deep to the soul and a community that just seems to understand without ever saying a word.

Almost three weeks have passed and I have had time to lick my wounds, tell the tales, and most importantly reflect on that day.  There is something to be said about spending 24 hours alone with your thoughts, testing your physical limits, and finding your mental limits.  But more importantly it makes me incredibly thankful and humbled to have had incredibly awesome folks like David and Derek, who at the drop of a hat jumped on board to help me accomplish it.  Those are the type of people that are really one in a million to find!!  And to my family who endured and continue to endure the training schedules and put up with me being exhausted and fanatical about these goals – THANK YOU… I know it is not easy but I definitely appreciate your dedication to me and these crazy ideas!

Fantastic Crew and Pacer!

Fantastic Crew and Pacer!

My family there to greet me at the finish line at 5am in the cold morning

My family there to greet me at the finish line at 5am in the cold morning

PS100-5

DNF

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Drop Bag area at Dogwood start/finish

Not since I started running with my first road 5K in high school have I ever had a DNF(Did Not Finish).  I have had several DNS(Did Not Start) due to injury, family commitments, or other issues.  But… a DNF??? Never!  Rocky Raccoon got the best of me and would change that in a matter of 17 hours and humble me in a way that I could have never imagined.

There was a lot of build up to this race with it being my first 100 Miler and even more excitement personally for me to toe the line.  Having 3 other teammates from PRSFit all through the training and all meeting in Huntsville also added to the hype with a lot of our team all tuning in to Facebook for updates and pictures.

We all met Friday morning at the trails to get a few miles in and catch up with everyone and shoot the all important IRC Trail Inspection Video   Last year was my first year to run the Rocky Raccoon course and consequently my first IRC Trail Inspection Run.  This year was awesome because there were tons of familiar folks there.  I was cool to get to meet Chris and Dane in person since we had been exchanging messages on FB through training to help compare progress, encourage, and just discuss the race.  Of course it was great to catch up with David and Jon from IRC again and all the Idiocy on the Trail Inspection Run.  However I think the coolest part of the whole weekend were the teammates that traveled HUNDREDS of miles just to support, crew, and pace for us – really blows my mind!  And all of them were truly great people and fun to be around.

Some Idiot before the start

Some Idiot before the start

Fast forward now to Saturday morning, 5am and we are all standing the pitch black dark and nervously chatting about the upcoming plans for the day.  The morning just had an eerie feeling to it.  I assumed it was just nerves and that once I got going that all would settle down.  But overall the air just felt heavy and still.  It was almost 70 degrees and the humidity was pegged at 89%.  We gathered for a group picture briefly before we all settled into our relative places in the start line.  The start was still 5 minutes away but I was already sweating… must be nerves…

The time ticks down and then we are off.  It is a neat feeling to be a part of over 500 runners all lined up in the pitch black dark, all with a headlamp bobbing through the Texas woods.  I made the mistake(or maybe not) of lining quite a ways back at the start line with the thought that I wanted to go out fairly slow and easy since it was going to be a long day.  Coach had told me he wanted me to shoot for the first 3 – 20 miles loops to be around 4 hours each since he felt like that would match up nicely with my training pace and give me a full 12 hours for the last 40 miles and still be sub-24.  12 minute miles… I should be Ok with that.  Starting further back though has left me behind quite a few folks though that are starting out slower than a 12 minute pace.  In fact a mile in and I am over a 13 minute pace.  Not reason to panic… still a long day ahead and since the first 3 miles are largely single track… I settle in and pass when I can but accept the slower pace and even think this may help force me to take a slower approach.

By the time I reach the first aid station(Nature Center) 3 miles in, I already and sweating enough that it is running down my forehead.  I am set on water, and it is still early so I don’t stop at the first aid station and instead take the opportunity to move ahead of some of the folks to get back to a target 12 minutes pace.  It is still dark enough that I need to keep the headlamp and as I cross the road I look down at my Garmin and my pace is better BUT  my heart rate is in the mid zone 3 range.  I assume it is just because of the excitement of the start and because I worked a bit to get ahead of some folks after the aid station.

By the time I got to DamNation aid station, I am able to lose the headlamp and am really thankful since I am sweating so bad that my hat is already soaked with sweat and losing the headlamp gives me a little relief.  The loop around DamNation is 6 miles and the longest stretch between aid stations, and consequently has a 3 mile section that is completely new to me since it was not part of the 50 miler last year.  I had heard that this section can get tough later in the day because of all the roots and it has some of rolling climbs in it.  So far so good… except dang is it HUMID and I am worried that I am still consistently in mid zone 3 and even mid zone 4 on the climbs!!

When I come back around and hit the last aid station at Park Road, I am completely soaked with sweat and it is only a little after 9am.   I see Adam and it’s always a great feeling to see your crew and talk briefly.  Not matter what the discussion – it always gives me a little pick me up to see familiar faces.  He jokes that I am sweating pretty heavily already.  In fact my hat is so soaked it is dripping and my shirt and shorts are soaked to the point they are both sticking to me.  Not good for this early in the morning!!

I came back into the start aid station(Dogwood) almost exactly 4 hours in, and all of the PRSFit team is at our tent by the start line cheering us on as we come in.  Coach asks as I come across how it is going and I tell him that I am REALLY concerned that my heart rate has not been below zone 3 at all except when I walked while getting water refills at the aid stations.  He tells me to relax for a few minutes and see if it will calm down.  This works well because I am heading over to change.  Last year I figured out that a complete change of clothes worked wonders in keeping the spirits up after each loop.  I get new shorts, shirt, and socks, and switch to a headsweats visor.  Coach gives me a banana and tells me to eat one there and at the next aid station to see if the added potassium will help lower the heart rate.  He also wants to make sure I am staying on top of my electrolytes since the heat and humidity are bothering me.  A few minutes later and I back out on the course.

The second loop I do stop at the Nature Center and get a banana and chat with Adam briefly – still pretty concerned that heart rate is not changing much at all.  He makes sure I am taking the electrolytes and I am off.  I am still sweating pretty badly and about half way in between the aid stations hit my first low point mentally.  I am about 24 miles in and am sweating buckets, my heart rate is crazy, and I am starting to feel tired.  This is too early for this!

I haven’t ran with headphones in almost two years but I learned last year at the 50 miler that many runners used them on these longer runs to help pass the time.  So I dig those out of my Spibelt and amazingly the music gives me a great burst of energy.  Weird…. didn’t really expect that.

As I come into DamNation again I refill on water and get my ziplock bag of GenUcan out to try to mix for my fuel.  I tore  corner off the ziplock bag and spend about 2 minutes trying to figure out why the powder will not move in the bag and into my handheld.  Finally I realize that I am not holding the bag of GenUcan but rather the bag that has wet wipes…. I think that is weird that it took me that long to realize what was going on.  A volunteer called out to me and asked if I needed any electrolytes since everyone was needing them at this point.  I told her no that I had my own.  About a half a mile later I finally remember to take those electrolytes and look down at my handheld and realize that they are not there… the zipper was unzipped and the pouch is empty!  This means that for the next hour or so I will not have any electrolytes… I briefly think about going back to DamNation… but think that would be worse so I chance it and keep going.

The second loop around DamNation is rough, I end up walking a lot of the rolling uphills and even some of the flats.  I keep thinking that maybe this will help lower my heart rate.  No such luck and by the time I get to the uphill stretch coming back to the DamNation aid station I end up walking almost the last quarter mile coming in to it.  A incredibly nice volunteer at DamNation met me before I even got to the aid station and asked me what was wrong.  I wasn’t sure how she knew… and said… what??  She said that I didn’t look good and wanted to know what going on.  I told her that I just had NO ENERGY and that it was WAY TOO EARLY TO FEEL LIKE THIS!  She told me that it was because of the heat and high humidity and that it was already affecting a lot of runners.  She asked if I was eating anything because she thought I really needed calories and got me some food(I don’t really even remember what it was now).  She refilled my water bottle, gave me some electrolytes and told me to hang in there and just keep moving and that later in the day there was rain coming in ahead of a cold front and once it got there I would feel 100% better.  Leaving DamNation I felt a little better and picked it up and started running again.

Before I could get into Park Road though I hit another really low point.  I saw Dane, Chris, and David several times during the first two loops and by the second loop everyone seemed to be struggling but still moving… but I was quickly slowing and feeling like I had made a HUGE mistake in thinking I was up to for this.  There is a LONG stretch up uphill jeep road and I was alternating walking and a slow run.

When I got into Park Road aid station, I expected to see Adam but he wasn’t anywhere that I saw.  At first I thought it was weird but after looking at my Garmin I realized that I had slipped almost an hour and 45 minutes off of pace up to this point and realized that Adam must have thought he had missed me and had gone on back to Dogwood to catch me at the end of the loop.

I finished up the second 20 mile loop in about 6 hours(I think).  However when I came back in I didn’t see anyone in the PRSFit tent and Adam wasn’t anywhere around.  Weird!  I went on back to my drop bag and started changing again and it felt great to just sit down.  Adam came running over and said that everyone was in a panic that I had DNF’ed.  I laughed and figured he was joking.  Apparently he wasn’t.  Bib number 279 and dropped on the first loop and they had transposed the numbers –  I was bib 297.  Adam said that Sharena was crying thinking that something bad had happened and everyone was worried where I was.  He got everyone updated and after was seemed like a really long time – pushed me to get back out on the course.  I was really worried at this point because my pace had dropped so much and told him I would go ahead and take my headlamp because at this point it was after 4pm this next loop would be slow.  Adam and Coach both told me that I needed to take my jacket with me because once the sun set it would get really cool out.  I repeatedly said that I didn’t think it would ever get cool enough for me to need my jacket since I was already sweating through the newly changed clothes.  After several times arguing I finally agreed to wrap it around my waist and take it.

By the time I got back to Nature Center I had soaked my shirt and when I saw Adam I told him to take the jacket… there was no way I was going to need it.   At this point my heart rate had stayed mid zone 3 consistently but now it was creeping into zone 4 with the exception of when I would walk.  Going out on the DamNation loop was tough. I was struggling to keep my head and shoulders up and it just didn’t seem like I had the energy to even lift my legs.  By the uphill section I was starting to realize that a sub 24 hour finish was pretty much gone and then the frantic calculations started trying to figure out how much time I had to finish within the 30 hour cut off.  I could definitely tell I was getting a little loopy at this point because I spent almost 30 minutes trying to figure out what the pace would have to be to beat the cutoff.

It got dark about halfway around the 6 mile stretch and I fired up the headlamp.  With about 2 miles left on the loop I was at what could be best described as a slow shuffle interspersed with a lot of walking.  I just remember thinking that was the longest 6 miles I had ever traveled.  When I came back in to DamNation -Jon and Ellen were there waiting to trade off pacing responsibilities for the other guys who were already out on there 4th loop.  They talked to me and for the life of me I can’t really remember what it was about but I ended up sitting in a chair and Ellen got me several cups of ginger ale to help with the nausea and because I hadn’t drank much of the water between the loops there.  Jon got some food for me and I tried to get a bit of that down nothing was helping in terms of appetite.  I do remember Ellen asking me when the last time I had pee’d.(amazing what you will talk about with others while out on a trail run).  Man… I realized I hadn’t peed since early in the second loop around 11am that morning.  It was now some time around 9pm I think.  I remember them saying something about needing to get more fluids and ginger ale.Coach Jeff came back in from pacing David and sat down and asked me what was going on so I tried to recap everything.  I am pretty sure he said the same things about hydrating, electrolytes, and getting some calories in.

From DamNation I left with a little pick-me-up and was able to run a slow shuffle for about the next mile but by the time I hit the jeep road again I was back to a walk.  That was a very long, lonely and depressing 2 mile stretch that led me back to the Park Road aid station.  I kept thinking that I needed to try to pee and that if I could that I would feel better if for no other reason than the mental side of it.  Each time I stopped and tried I felt like I needed to but nothing would come out.

When I got to Park Road, Adam was there and I sat down in his chair for a minute.  He told me that I didn’t look good and I confirmed that I was not doing well.  It seemed like I sat there forever with neither of us saying anything.  I finally got up and started out for the last 4 mile stretch back to the start.  At this point there was no running at all, just a slow shuffle/walk.  At some point I am not sure if I stumbled, rolled my foot, or if it was just the accumulation of the day’s miles, but my right foot got to the point where it hurt to put weight down on it.  I wondered just how long it would take me to get those 4 miles.

At just a few minutes past 17 hours of total time, I crossed back over the finish line and collapsed into someone’s chair under the main tent.  I remember the heater being on and wondering why in the world there was a heater on when I was still sweating so bad.  Adam came over and asked how I was doing and I sat looking at my Garmin trying to do the math in my head and finally realized that it had taken me 7 hours for the last loop and with 13 hours left, I was not going to realistically be able to get it in before the cutoff unless I was able to go back out running.  I told Adam that at this point I didn’t want to have him go out as a pacer with me on the 4th loop to just end up walking it and coming back in another 7+ hours.

I was defeated and done.  I turned in my chip to Joyce and she couldn’t have been any sweeter!  She told me that it had been a very tough day for a lot of folks and to not be discouraged.  I told her I would be back.

The next morning I finally was able to pee and it scared the crap out of me that it came out almost black(sorry for the details).  That has never happened even during races during the heat of the summer.  Around lunch all of the PRSFit/IRC group met for lunch and I really didn’t even want to show up.  I have never … NEVER not finished a race.  My right foot was now at the point where I was really worried about it.  I couldn’t put any weight on it and there was a large red swollen area along the area just below my ankle bone.  It was great to hear from Dane, David and Chris on how they had finished up and congratulate them on a superb job.  But I felt like I had blown it and let a lot of people down, myself included.

Fast forward now a week or so and I have had time to reflect on that day over and over.  I am still very disappointed but I can honestly say that I don’t feel like I left anything out there on the course or could have pushed forward any further.  With the combination of the dehydration and the foot it just wouldn’t have been a good outcome.  I learned over the past week that this year there was the highest amount of DNF’s(43% DNF) at Rocky since the race started.  While that does help at the surface, I still should have been prepared for the weather, the dehydration and a fueling plan to account for anything.

The last post I had leading up to Rocky centered around “Never Give Up”.  I feel like I didn’t hold up my end of that bargain on February 1st but I am determined that I am still not going to give up!  I am determined to Finish What I Started!  Stay tuned….

 

Never Give Up!

RR100One week from now I will be in the middle of the woods on a trail in the Huntsville State Park in Texas(Hopefully not in the pouring rain as it is forecasted right now).  I will most likely still be in good spirits and feeling good about the prospects of the day.  How that will carry over throughout the day – remains to be seen.  But one thing I am committed to is – Never Give Up!

This last year has been tough and taught me a lot about mental focus, priorities, and I think most importantly – what it means to strive to be the best husband, father, and the best person I can.  This last year certainly has not been what I nor any of my family were prepared for in the slightest and in short – it has turned our “normal” completely upside down.

On May 31st 2013 at about 4:00pm my Father-in-Law, Gary was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer that had metastasized to his liver.  This diagnosis finally came after months of fighting no appetite and nausea, and a couple of years of struggling with a worsening back pain.  He had seen MULTIPLE doctors, had bone density scans, X-Rays, MRIs, neurological test, a slew of difference drugs, and finally an ER doctor was the one who nonchalantly walked into his exam room and said – well we found your problem – you have CANCER.  From there – it all seems like  time was on fast-forward and an ongoing string of lows with a few glimpses of hope thrown in.

Gary was one of just a couple of men that I can say really made a HUGE impact on my life.  We live just 1/4 mile away from their house, and I worked with him on a daily basis for the last 15 years, and spent a majority of our time with him for the last 20 years.  Gary was a great businessman that was responsible for too many contributions to our community to count.  More importantly as we have come to find out after his passing – he helped many people that we never even knew about or the situations.  But more importantly than any of the business accomplishments or community contributions, his dedication to his family was most amazing.  Even though he may not have agreed with directions or decisions – you always knew that Gary was there to support you in any way he could.

The biggest lasting impression that Gary left with me was his determination and positivity.  Gary never knew the concept of giving up.  From starting out in a tiny little farming community of Lockwood Missouri and working on the farm, to his All-Star football days, to privately developing Shepherd of the Hills Expressway to relieve traffic, to helping me and my wife get through infertility struggles to realize the 3 most amazing kids we could ever ask for – Gary never even considered the idea of giving up on anything.  Thats what I will always remember about him and what I hope to someday be able to achieve.

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So a week from today when I toe the starting line at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Ultra – Gary will definitely be there with me.  In fact, he has been with me throughout the last 6 months of training – there in the back of my mind, the voice in my head that kept pushing me.  A year ago, I ran the Rocky Raccoon 50 Miler and when I collapsed in the chair just beyond the finish line I said that I would never run that far again.  2 years ago I said I would never be able to run over 5 miles on a treadmill – I would just have to get outside to run farther than that.  Yet over the past 6 months I have spent more time on a treadmill than I would have ever thought possible, and… I have ran several 35 milers, 45 milers, and even a 50 miler… all on the treadmill.  On each of these runs as well as quite a few of the 10-12 milers I had the thought wanting to give up – after all… I really didn’t HAVE to finish these runs or even follow through and actually run the 100 miler at Rocky.  I mean it really is kinda dumb… 100 miles, through the woods, through the night, in the cold… I mean really … what is it going to hurt to just give up on a silly thought I had that I wanted to run a 100 miler.  Then… in the back of my mind… I can hear Gary saying -That’s ridiculous – keep going! And I did and I didn’t give up even when the boredom was about to drive me crazy on the treadmill or when my legs just didn’t feel like they were going to keep going.

So next weekend that’s exactly what I am going to keep first and foremost in my mind – Never Give Up!  Will I be able to finish 100 miles? – Honestly I really don’t know.  50 Miles is the farthest I have gone in a training run and I felt completely drained at the end of it.  To top it off, the forecast is calling for 70% chance of rain Saturday and Sunday and temps in the mid 60s.  I also have never run more than a few hours by headlamp.  Running with a headlamp is completely different.  After a few hours you sorta start to get a tunnel vision effect that focuses on the beam of light and not the surroundings.  Rocky Raccoon has lots of roots that tend to jump up at you as you get farther along and I ended up trying to pound  a few of them into the ground with my face a couple of times last year.  So… will I be able to finish it next weekend?  I really hope so.  But one thing I can say is that I will Never Give Up.

Gary lost his battle with Pancreatic Cancer on October 31st 2013, but it was not because he gave up.  He fought harder than anyone I have ever heard of or seen all the way up to his last day.  He and my Mother-in-Law are tougher than nails and incredibly inspiring to have fought so hard and kept the determination that they were going to get through it.  Next weekend is just a silly race for fun and ultimately makes no difference.  However Cancer SUCKS and finding a cure is a HUGE race that we all need to fight through and NEVER GIVE UP on!  I have not had the time to really organize a way to support that fight – but my buddy David Murphy who is also going to be running at Rocky and has helped me through the training,  has been fighting this for years and has helped raise tens of thousands of dollars.

 I ask that if you read this – DON’T GIVE UP – click on his link and make a donation(even if it’s just a dollar) to his Relay for Life page to help the American Cancer Society beat cancer.  

Enjoy The Miles

GrannyGranddaddy

Granny and Granddaddy at their house several years ago

This past weekend as we were traveling through where I was born and spent the first few years of my life, I had a a chance to reflect on my childhood, the major events of my life, the bits and pieces of what makes me who I am.  My granny passed away about two and half years ago and for the first time in 50 years my Granddaddy has been alone after having her by his side each and every day for the last 50 years.  Since then he has had a tough time adjusting to life on his own, the reality of being by himself, and ongoing health issues.  So when he said that he was moving to live in Colorado with my uncle, I was not surprised and actually feel like it is the best thing for him.  However that means he is leaving his home of the last 50 years and all the things that made it his “Home” with my granny.  We knew that this would be a visit that we could not miss on our way through.  What I didn’t really realize was how tough it would be for him as well as me.

We spent the day with Granddaddy and my Aunt Dianne and went to my Great Grandparents home in Oakman AL.  This was the first time I had been to their house since my Great Grandmother died over 22 years ago.  Theirs was a grand southern home on a hillside in the country.  The house actually served as the post office back in the civil war and held years and year of memories to more people than can be counted.  For me it was the basis for every Christmas morning memory as a child.  I can vividly remember the hardwood floors and the creaks they would make as you walked on them, the upstairs bedrooms that had the sloped ceilings that you would hit your head on if you sat up to quickly in bed and the magic of coming down the stairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa had left.  I also remember great summers in the house with cousins, staying up playing spoons, and sitting out on the front porch with my Great Granddaddy talking for what seemed like hours.

CorryHouse

Old Corry Home in Oakman AL

The old house is now in bad shape.  No one has lived in it in over 20 years and looking at it with the broken window panes, and deteriorating foundation is sad.  It solidifies that the grandeur of the house is gone and is nothing but memories now.

As we made our way back to my Granddaddy’s house I realized that I was most likely spending the last few hours in his house since the plan is to sell it once he moves to Colorado.  I was very close with my grandparents as a kid.  I spent several summers with them and in that very house.  I have very good memories of both of them and the time we spent there.  I know the house like it was my own.  That evening I found myself walking through with my aunt to see if there was anything I wanted out of the house before they sold it and the enormity of the change hit me squarely in the gut.  The finality of it was closing in and what I had really just taken for granted as a pillar of stability in my younger years was closing the book on those times as memories of the past.

With each running event or triathlon that I train for and complete, there is a period immediately in the days after when the finality of the event hits me.  The race is over, the medal is hung on the wall, the race report is finished and then there is a void.  This was particularly true with the 50 miler I wrapped up last month and it lasted longer than normal.  I guess it was a bigger event – or a larger milestone or whatever.  I normally bounce back pretty quickly and get another goal on the calendar or shift focus to one that is already on the calendar but inevitably there still tends to be a void even if for a short period.  The realization that all of the early morning swims, the long runs in the rain, the bike rides in the heat all have peaked for that event and are done and the event is over and now just a memory.  Oftentimes during the training, I get bored with the long runs, or the swims are tough on a tired body or the bike up all the hills of SW Missouri get really tough and I tell myself I can’t wait to have these out of the way and just get to the race.  Then the race is over and I miss the training.  It’s kind of an endless self-feeding cycle.

As a husband and father, I also tend to get stressed out with the schedule of never ending places to be or low on patience when the kids are tired and whiny or fighting with each other.  I tell myself – I really just want to get through this week and make it to the weekend so that we can have a day off.  Then the weekend comes and there are games to go to, dance practice to hurry off to, church to get up early for and we breathe a sigh of relief on Sunday evening and think … man I am glad that weekend is over.

What I hope to try to keep in mind(at least with a focused effort) is that I need to stop and enjoy this!  Soon it will be over and I will be saying that I really miss it.  And while I can always add something else to focus on to the calendar or schedule… it will not be the same.  With each week, with each ball game, with each swim, run, bike and race… it moves each of those into the memory category.

I will miss my Great Grandparent’s home as well as my Grandparents home even more now as the years go by. I will miss spending time at both of these and the people that shared them with me.  Ultimately the houses just are the container of the memories of the experiences with the people there.  I will miss the people the most… the houses just are a finalization of the time periods held within them.

I hope I can stop and slow down in all of the aspects of my life and realize I need to enjoy the miles – and realize the race is just the point where the miles turn into memories.

I wanna be an Ultrarunner

IMG_3310Forward progress…. that’s what kept going through my head over and over this past Saturday.  I had planned for this race for almost 6 months, trained for it since last October and now I was in the middle of it with 33.67 miles down and heading back out for my last loop.

In April of 2012 David Murphy had inspired me to complete my first Ultra race at the Ouachita Trails 50K.  After the race I talked to him and Charley about what would be a good 50 Mile race as a first and they both suggested Rocky Raccoon since it was relatively flat compared to the trails around where we live and because it was a really well organized and well supported race for a first 50.

So in October I threw out the idea to my buddy Adam to see if he would able and interested in helping crew me for my first 50 Miler.  He of course said I was nuts and asked where it was.  When I told him Rocky Raccoon in Huntsville Texas he just shook he head and laughed it off.

Adam and I hit the road for the 9 1/2 hour drive to Huntsville on Thursday.  The plan was to get into Huntsville that evening and have a day to relax, get familiar with the Huntsville State Park, get a short run in on the trails and be there in plenty of time for packet pickup and the race briefing.  Friday morning we were set to meet David, Jon and Stephanie for a easy run on the trails.  They had all ran Rocky previously and knew what to expect.  I on the other hand really had no idea.  David and Jon had helped get me prepared in the weeks leading up that while it is a relatively flat 50 miler, there are some hills and to make sure I had some hill training in(not really a problem around SW Missouri).  I had also heard the crazy stories from last years race in which almost 2 inches of rain fell on the morning of the race it was a huge mud fest.  So it was nice to get out on the trails to see what was coming and it was a great way to calm the nerves a bit with David and Jon’s antics on the trail.

We ran to what would be the first aid station(Nature Center) and back – just a little over 6 miles.  As we were coming back in, Coach was waiting at the trail head after just flying in from CO.  Another teammate Tanci had picked him up at the airport and met us.  Coach only had 20 minutes on the schedule for that day with emphasis on getting off of our feet ASAP…. just keep quiet and don’t tell him :)…. leave it to David to screw that up and blab to him that I had just ran 6 miles instead of 20 minutes… Luckily Jon distracted him with his wisdom about milking cows for ice cream with hay(the video helps explain this better)

The race briefing that evening was pretty cool.  It was crazy to see all of the people that had signed up for the 50 and 100 milers and quite honestly pretty intimidating.  There were some serious looking ultra runners there and all I kept thinking was… “Man, what have I gotten myself into… I am  no where near the level these folks are”.  But the really cool thing I have found about ultras is that everyone is really friendly and encouraging… and based upon the hands of the fellow first time 50 milers in the group – it was cool to see that this was a great group of runners!

4am came really early Saturday morning – especially after not being able to go to sleep until after midnight even with going to bed at 9:45(nerves!!).  Adam and I picked up Coach at his hotel and headed to Huntsville State Park to see David Murphy and Jeff Jones off on the 100 miler and to make any last minute adjustments for the start of the 50.  The 100 milers kicked off at 6am still in the dark and after they started all you could see was lights bobbing through the woods.  The nerves were getting high for me at this point as I watched the seconds tick off waiting until 7am for the 50 miler start.

I lined up in the group and as the start was counted down my heart rate was already pushing zone 2 before we even took a step.  After a mile or so I settled in behind a couple of guys from Houston that had just ran the Houston marathon and had on a whim signed up that week for the 50 miler when some cancellations opened up some new spots.  Neither had been on a trail run before and it was nice to calm the nerves talking for a bit.    I was holding a steady lower zone 2 through the first aid station and felt great as Adam caught up with me at the AS.  I quickly moved on out of the aid station an on my way to the DamNation section.

This part of the trail was new territory for me and for the most part it was much of the same – pretty easy going trails as long as you picked your feet up over the roots.  My pace was holding steady in the 10-11 mile/mile range at a lower zone 2 HR.  I was surprised to find Coach tucked into the woods as we rounded the corner coming up to the next aid station.  He said my time looked good and told me to keep track of everything I ate and how much I drank on each loop to communicate to him.  I also met David Murphy, and Jeff Jones going out of the DamNation aid station as I was coming in – they were both looking strong.  I came into the DamNation aid station and just needed a refill on my water and took some Enduralytes on out to make the loop around the dam and back to DamNation AS.

The loop back around was had a section that you run along the edge of the lake that is pretty much completely exposed with no tree cover… I was already worried about how this would translate later in the afternoon when the temps were supposed to get in the mid 70s.  I made the loop back around and in and out of DamNation pretty quickly.  The next stretch of the course would turn out to be the roughest section of the entire loops as the day progressed.  This section consisted of quite a bit of jeep road sections that were a steady uphill with a straight shot that just seemed to go on forever even though it was just a few miles.

As I came in to the Park Road aid station, Adam was there waiting with some GenUCan and after re-applying some BodyGlide to keep the chaffing under control, I was back out for the final stretch back to Dogwood aid station and the end of the first loop.  After I left Park Road, I realized that I should have taken a few more Enduralytes while I was stopped.  Being the ultra-coordinated runner that I am, I decided I could get those out of my pack and take them without missing a step.  2 seconds later I was laying face first in the dirt with a nice coating of sand all over my arms and neck to help convince me maybe I was off my game today in terms of coordination.  Nothing hurt.. other than my pride so onwards we went.

IMG_3330I met Jon Wilson as he was heading out for his second loop when I had about a mile or so left to go on the first loop.  I finished up the first 16.67 mile loop in 2:58 – which was much faster than I had anticipated.  I knew that the aid stations could kill my times if I lingered too much.  I also knew that with the temps as warm as they were I would need to keep fresh dry clothes on a much as possible.  I had planned separate shirts and shorts for each loop to help with that and I changed as quickly as possible to get back out on the trail.  I opted to leave my feet alone since there was no noticeable issues at this point.  It made a WORLD of difference to start out the second loop completely dry!

The second loop was pretty uneventful.  I had a few “near-misses” because of getting lazy and not picking my feet up but I never went down.  As I had the loop around DamNation the second time, I started to get the first inkling of being tired.  I had kept telling myself that I was already on my second loop which meant I was that much closer to just having one lap left.  However when I crossed the 25 mile point it kinda sunk in, that while I had been telling myself that I was close to just having one lap left to go, I really was just now half-way through… and had half of the distance to go….

The jeep road section back to Park Road seemed even longer this trip.  At this point my pace had slowed considerably.  With the uphill section and the monotony of just looking at a never-ending straight line I was down to 12-13 minute pace.  Seeing Adam as I came in to Park Road was a shot in the arm I needed!  I tried to down more GenUCan but ended up having to take it with me and carry two bottles to help get it all down.  The last 3.4 miles going back to Dogwood this time seemed longer and I seemed to be halfway just stumbling along.  At one point on the last little uphill section I looked up and thought to myself – That’s weird… it looks like that woman is running with her top down…. …no… wait… she IS running with her top partially down…. wait… looks like she has suction cups on her breasts…. hang on… I am losing it and getting delirious.  At this point I kinda had a moment of panic wondering what I would do if I got incoherent and wasn’t sure how to fix it.  Then as she was getting closer I could hear the rhythm of a pump working.  Ok.. so I am either about to lose it mentally or I am in the company of some really hard core runners – so much so that they can run either a 50 or 100 miler, pump breast milk, and not miss a step on a rooty course.  It was only later in the evening while talking to Jon Wilson that it was confirmed that I was not delirious since Jon told a similar recount.  Kudos to the hard core runner that let nothing stop her progress!!

I finished lap two in 3:48 – almost an hour slower than my first loop.  I had also crossed over the threshold of the longest distance I had ever run.  I changed shorts and shirt and then decided I should probably change socks because I was getting a hot spot on the ball of my right foot.  After taking my socks off I was amazed at how much sand I had on my feet.  I really couldn’t tell just running.  I rinsed them off good and put on dry socks and told Adam to keep the duct tape handy as I may need to use it if the new socks didn’t help the hot spots.  I grabbed some PB&J sandwiches, chips, and bottle refills and was off for the final loop.

I’m not gonna lie – it was TOUGH to convince myself to go back out on the last loop.  I just kept telling myself that I was on the LAST lap.  Funny the mental games you play with yourself🙂.  The last loop was pretty brutal and kicked my butt.  Up to this point, I had run all of the first loop including all hills, the second loop I ran about 90% of it and walked a few of the uphill sections for a break.  The last loop was a constant battle internally of whether or not I was on an uphill section that I could convince myself was OK to walk.  As I left Nature Center aid station for the long stretch around DamNation I told Adam I needed to take my headlamp because it could be a really long time before I made it back to get it.

Turns out I would have been fine.  I made it back to the Park Road aid station with sunlight to spare.  It was awesome to see Adam again again and he was great to tell me that I was just a few miles away from hitting a new goal.  I left out of Park Road at basically a catatonic shuffle rather than a run.  I had hoped to finish between 10 and 11 hours.  I knew coming into the last aid station that I was going to miss that by a bit but still felt like my secondary goal of finishing in under 12 hours would be easily within reach.  I kept pushing and with about a mile left the sun sank enough that the headlamp became necessary.  It’s weird the way the headlamp kinda gets you in a tunnel vision environment and how surreal everything feels at that point!

IMG_3336I came up the last uphill section that left about 1/3 of mile to go and pushed to get back to an actual run instead of stumble.  I could see the lights of the Dogwood aid station and it hit me that I was actually finishing!!  As I crossed the finish line at 11 hours and 35 minutes  there was a wonderful lady handing out medals and the best hugs you can imagine.  I was soaking wet from sweat, salt crusted to my face and arms and I am sure smelling like death baking in the sun and she wanted a hug…. I though you are one crazy lady and just basically laid my shoulders against her.  She said – That’s not a hug – give me a REAL hug… I gotta admit that was a great feeling to finish up the race with someone truly proud of each and every finisher and undeterred by the raw effects of 11 1/2 hours on your feet sweating and trudging along.

IMG_3339I collapsed into a chair after that and Adam helped me get comfortable and off my feet for a bit.  It was still quite a while before David would be done with his 100 and I desperately wanted a shower and clean clothes.  Adam drove me back to the hotel so I could shower, change and get something to eat.

We headed back to Hunstville State Park around 9:30pm and caught up with Jon Wilson who had also grabbed a shower and some hydration.  The plan was to stay out and watch David come in.  It was really amazing to see the 100 milers coming in and changing for cooler temps and getting fresh batteries for the headlamps and watching their strength as they headed back out in the cool pitch black night.  David ended up crossing the finish at 1:37am and a total time of 19:37 hitting his goal of a sub 20 100!

This was one of the toughest events I have ever participated in.  Jon Wilson said it best when he said “It’s gonna hurt, then it’s gonna hurt some more, and then when you think it’s getting better.. it’s gonna hurt even more”.  My feet hurt like they never have before, my legs hurt even when at a slow shuffle, my arms and back hurt…. but it was the greatest feeling ever!  No one can quite explain it to you – you just have to experience it yourself!

So this makes my second “Ultra” event.  When I finished the 50K back in April, I for whatever reason didn’t really feel like I was a true Ultrarunner.  So I thought the 50 miler was my entry into the exclusive club.  After finishing the Rocky Raccoon 50… I still don’t feel like I am really an Ultrarunner.  So to answer the question I have heard several times in the past week – Are you going to do a 100 miler next??  Yes… yes I would love to have Rocky be my first 100 next year.  But… chances are that even with that I still wont feel like a real Ultrarunner.

What will it take?  I really don’t know.  I do think that Adam summed it up pretty well though when he said that what was most inspiring thing was not the crazy fast runners that looked like they were floating along each loop.  Don’t get me wrong – I hope to be able to run it like those guys some day.  However to see the folks(some in their 70s) that lined up at the start of the day on Saturday, knowing full well that they would be pushing it to finish in the 30 hours before the cutoff…. but yet loop after loop had the mental toughness to head back out with a smile on their face.  The ones that did not look like your typical runners…. either bigger, older, slower… whatever the case – they went out with the attitude they were going to finish .. not matter what.  That’s what its all about!!

To all of the Tejas Trails team, the volunteers, the crewing folks, the aid station teams, and everyone that helped make this event possible – THANK YOU!!  A HUGE thanks to Adam for giving up a 4 days with his family and leaving his wife at home with a newborn and his 3 year old with the flu to come down, walk miles on end, handle my sweaty dirty clothes, refill water bottles, and always keep pushing me to help me cross the finish line.  And a HUGE thanks to my wife and family for putting up with all of the training and hours of running to get me to this point!  This was one of my favorite events I have ever participated in and it is because of all of their efforts that made it that way!