In 2014 I attempted my first 100 mile foot race. As the goal for this year is to finally get this done, I wanted to post the thank you note I wrote to friends and loved ones who supported me on that first journey. When I finally get this done, it will be their love and support that gets me there.
Since August 25th I have gone the marathon distance or further 8 times. 30 miles+ 6 times. This all happened while entering the busiest time of my professional life. And something truly strange started to happen to me.
I started feeling tired.
And that is what this was all about. That's what any of this endurance BS has been about: where is my limit? I don't tend to get tired, or have hang overs. My brain very rarely shuts down. As Jenn Shelton puts it:
"When I'm out on a long run ... the only thing in life that matters is finishing the run. For once my brain isn't going blehblehbleh all the time. Everything quiets down, and the only thing going on is pure flow. It's just me and the movement and the motion."
I wanted to know where and when I would break down It turns out that training for a 100 mile run, trying to tackle 80 hr weeks with travel schedule, and still out drink my peers is about all I can take.
The training was difficult, but welcomed. The nature of my job has me switching a lot of gears on a minute to minute basis. Many days I will work on issues in over 5 states, and some of those days I will actually travel to 5 different states. Knowing that I've got 1 or 2 hours every work day where I will do the exact same thing was/is a comfort.
My biggest stretch of a week was about 80 miles. I knocked out 98 miles in 8 days once because of how the scheduling fell. What was awesome was going out for those hard slog of 30+ mile runs, and then bouncing back the next day and being able to, pretty effortlessly, run 13 or 15 miles.
My taper weeks were completely miserable, from a race prep point of view. They were seriously fun from a quality of life point of view, though. I had a three week stretch where I slept in my own bed exactly twice (no comments from the peanut gallery, please). I raged in swinging towns like Austin, Vegas and Schenectady. Got down in San Francisco, and also Albany.
The night before flying to Phoenix for the race I flew back from Milwaukee, landing at 11pm, and then flew out at 8 am the next morning. This meant I didn't get a chance to think, rather, stress about the race.
This was the team:
Shaun and Chipp -- assholes, race participants
Matt, Yung Hae, Tom, Fan -- saints, pacers
We landed in Phoenix. We waited for our checked bags, which for Chipp consisted of practically every item of running equipment he owned. Seriously.
This was not entirely due to Chipp's neurosis. This high that day could easily have been 100 degrees, and the low easily 35 degrees. That requires a lot of different gear.
We got a minivan (look, I am not saying I am going to immediately purchase a minivan, but I am not not saying that either). We got some pretty hole on the wall mexican food, which i always screw up my order because I am too afraid of not doing it right. Turns out burro and burrito are two different things. I took french in school.
Then to REI, where Tom, Chipp and I each set new records for the least amount of money we have spent during a visit to REI.
Then we headed to the hotel. Which was on Indian land, which meant a casino, which means lung cancer.
We did a short run on part of the course, after which I felt like I had been sucking on cotton balls for about half an hour. Did you know that Arizona is dry as fuck? Then it was to dinner and an early bed.
In the morning we would head to the airport to fetch the ChoStoners and then eat at OverEasy, the Guy Fieri approved pre-ultra breakfast of champions diner. We ate at this joint before our Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim, rim job in May. I had the exact same thing again. A full plate of Pumpkin Bread French toast, roughly 75 sweet potato tots, jalapeno cheddar biscuit topped with sausage, sausage gravy and two poached eggs.
I am disgusting.
We did some grocery shopping and then played a few rounds of the game: Halloween or Arizona? Where one need guess whether the attire was to celebrate all hallows eve, or just a fact of living in the most fucked state in the entire union.
From here we would retire to the hotel and nap. We then grabbed packets, and then checked out the tent we rented by the starting line.
It was only then that I got excited about all this. I just hadn't had the time to think about how huge a day this was going to be. Standing at the startline I got it. nd I was immediately ready to start. I was about to break my 100M virginity.
The morning of the race was a lot like the whole lead up to the event. Everything cobbled together and hurried. The organizers were dealing with a record turn out and the shuttle system was pretty fucked. A long line meant we had to stand around for a bit and google what to do itf we were bit by a tarantula, rattle snake or stung by a scorpion [Tarantula, you're probably fine. Scorpions too, as long as it isn't a bark scorpion, but I wouldn't know the difference, so I guess I would just freak out. If you are bit by a rattle snake you should probably stop running.]
We got to the startline about 10 mins before the gun. And I honestly don't remember if there was a gun or not. The race just sort of starts.
And that's the thing about these events. I have enjoyed my ironman experience, for the most part. But I just can't take all the bullshit around it. It seems too forced. It is up to you know how big, epic, grand the event is. They don't pour it on in some forced excitement way. If you aren't excited, humbled by the enormity of the event on your own, you probably shouldn't be here.
The first few miles were slow and cramped, but good. I probably would have gone out at 7 min miles because of all the energy. Being herded like cattle forced me to chill, enjoy the sunrise, chill out.
The ultra-community is a pretty weird bunch. There are a lot of 'celebrities'. People who everyone in the race would know full well, but if you rought them up in normal conversation everyone would say, "Who?". This race featured two of the more unique celebrities in the sport. One is a giant of a man, Gordy Ainsleigh, who we'll get to in a bit, and the other was Catra Corbett.
Catra is pretty unmistakable. https://www.google.com/search?q=catra+corbett&espv=2&biw=1455&bih=714&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=TORbVOvGA9OqyAT8vYGIBg&ved=0CCUQsAQ
She has a lot of tattoos, piercings, and is usually in a pretty funky get-up. This year she wore a full cupcake costume. She isn't particularly fast, but her story of fighting addiction and the volume of races she does is impressive. At the outset Chipp and I were running with her trailing just a few feet behind. And then this interaction happened:
Creepy Dude: Hey You're Famous!
Catra: I don't know about that.
CD: You're all over the website.
CC: Yeah. I guess.
CD: Hey. You were in my dream the other night.
CD: I dreamt I was stuck in quick sand, and you were a butterfly, but it was my friend's voice and you floated by.
CC: I like to think I would try and help.
Ultrarunners are some seriously disturbed people. I would not bring your children to these events.
The first loop continued pretty easily. It didn't get too hot and we moved through the aid stations quickly and easily. Then, at about mile 12 a remarkable thing happened that I will never forget.
A big man, with flowing silver hair, shirtless came lumbering along at a great clip. He was moving great, faster than me, and his presence ... well, was exactly that. A presence. It was Gordy. The leaders had just flew past us in the opposite direction (racers reverse loops every lap) and Gordy was quick with a remark:
"Was that the suicide squad?"
For those who do not know Gordy, check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordy_Ainsleigh. He didn't carry any water or food. He just kept running. He would bow out after the first lap to catch some ZZZs. Everytime I saw Gordy again, he had at least two or three women running with him. He'd head out for his final lap somewhere around 8 am. Before setting out, he took a bottle of water, and then for about 5 minutes just pound supplements, or some dried fruit. We still have no idea what he ate. At 68 years old he finished in 29 hrs 11 mins. He's a western states qualifier now, and yes, the founder of Western States needs to qualify. No free passes to anyone, not even the godfather of the sport.
The first loop finished with spirits high. This would not last. By mile 20 I was dry heaving. I was, to this point, surviving on mostly sugars from Gels and sports drink. My stomach was in active rebellion. And then a magical thing happened: Fresh Avocado. I took down a whole one at the Aid Station furthest from the start, Jack Ass junction. That avocado was the single greatest thing I have eaten in my entire life. We were off again and sailing.
Chipp and I stayed together all the way through about 35 miles, when, the heat started to get to me. I stopped for an ice pop and Chipp motored on. I would see him starting is reverse loop as I was about a half a mile from the aid station.
I pulled in to mile 45+ at headquarters in pretty good shape, but more worn down than I wanted to be. I grabbed my ipod, and some provisions and set out. The first aid station out was about 1.5 miles in. It was swarmed with bees. I took down some ginger ale and pretzels and kept trying to feed my greedy gut. I tied my shoes and saw that my laces on my right shoes had snapped. I tied them off at the top and started out. I was concerned. Things looked bad.
The sun was getting lower in the sky and I was worried about the coming night time. I put on Arcade Fire, Reflektor. And pushed through some of the most inspired, enjoyable miles of my entire life. "Here comes the Night Time" came on right as the sun was setting. "It's Never Over" had new meaning. "Supersymmetry", with the moon at it's apex, turning off my headlamp and letting the elements guide the way.
I didn't know if I would finish the full 100. But it no longer mattered. Being right there, at this point of my life, the last two years being as uncertain and difficult as anything I've yet encountered, but still moving, still smiling, still enjoying everything around me. Pushing myself, knowing the full weight of a lifetime of relationships at my back, and new ones still to be made; all of them creating some love and kindness. This is what made the run special. No announcer telling me this was special. The event being special in its own right. I won't trade this feeling for any finisher buckle. Testing the limits. Not taking limits for granted, actually going out and doing the work to find them. That's all I can do. And I was there and then fully and completely proud of myself, and grateful for the opportunity to be alive.
I glided into the last aid station on the loop, and smiled, "Hey!? What's everyone doing out here?" "Waiting for you!"
The aid workers at these stations were absolute heros. They were the nicest, kindest people I can think of. They weren't just nice, they were earnest and sincere about getting us the things we needed when we needed them. Cranky, tired runners can be something of prima donna's. They can be demanding and expectant. Not one worker complained to me the entire time. I will absolutely be volunteering at one of these events in the future.
Still joyful at my turn around I bounded down the hill, and then I tripped. Two approaching runners immediately rushed up to great me and offer aid. It was a skinned knee, and not the greatest, but I was fine. Blood would be pouring out of the knee for the remainder of the run. But there was no long term damage. A mile later I pulled into the aid station and, was greeted by Chipp and Tom (Chipp's pacer) heading out. Chipp was surprised to see me. I felt good about heading out.
I grabbed a bit of food and changed my shoes. And grabbed my super excited pacer Yung Hae. And we pushed to the first aid station.
In hindsight I think I pushed the 4th loop too hard. My legs got tired before the rest of me did. I also needed to eat some real food. The problem was that my gut was starting to turn on me. I just felt totally bloated and unable to keep pushing things into my stomach. This has a feedback loop effect, where the less things you can get down, the weaker you feel, the weaker you feel the hard it is to keep a positive attitude and think about getting things down.
Nonetheless we caught Chipp and Tom at the first aid station and hiked/ran with them for a few miles. Finally, all of the above, plus the fact that my core temp never dropped during the night time caught up to me and I was reduced to a walk, and a slow one. Cho and I walked, for the most part, the rest of the way into Jack Ass junction. There was a full blown party going on at that camp, and it was a little bit obnoxious. it was too loud and too much.
To build my spirits I tried dancing a bit, trying to shake the pain my hips and legs. It worked for a bit. I ate more avocado and chips. I tried getting drink down, including water and Ramen.
We'd push on for a few more miles, when finally my spirit would be fully and completely broken. I am now embarrassed to say that I turned into something of a petulant 5 year old. "I don't want to do this anymore." I said more than once. "I just don't want to be on this trail. Every single step hurt at this point. I could barely walk and when I tried to run, pain would hit me so hard that I would be literally gasping for air.
My brain at that point went to: I need to lay down when we get to camp. And I never recovered from that.
For her part CHo was such a wonderful helper. She never once gave up on me, and kept on with, "But you are doing this right now".
I had half wanted to see a rattlesnake badly and half not wanted to see a rattlesnake badly. In equal parts. Half of me was pretty happy when we saw one, and were generously warned that the rattler was there by a runner just ahead of us. Fortunately it was a small one and one not interested in being on the path. We would also hear a pack of Coyotes, hollering wildy in the distance, which had obviously just gotten ahold of something for supper. I was glad their guts were doing better than mine.
I pulled in JJ headquarters and went into sleep. I said I would take only 30 minutes. I never got back up. Sleeping in my race clothes for a few hours. Waking up shivering cold, I put on a hat and some fresh attire and went back to sleep.
Chipp made it back in and I forget what time it was. He had Tom and Matt as pacers. He would swap out to have Fan join him for the last loop of 9 miles. He was going to do it. I was really proud. I thought about trying to get back out there, but my body just didn't want to go.
Deciding to pull from the 100 mile and take my 100 KM buckle wasn't that hard. And I have absolutely no regret about it. This wasn't about going the hundred mile distance, it was about finding my limit. I found it. I know I could make it 100 miles. But I also know that I can't make it 100 miles, work 70 - 80 hr weeks in a job I love, and maintain meaningful relationships with my friends. That other stuff is really important to me. I could have finished that 100 that day. It would have taken me another 9 hrs. 9 hrs I got to catch up on sleep, watch other runners, catch up with my friends. That was worth it.
Thank you, once again, for playing your part in building me up to even think I could be capable of something like this. I'll have new limits to test soon enough. I look forward to finding those limits together.