Lean Horse Hundred 2011
Saturday August 27th 2011.
Exactly one year after I had finally completed my own first one hundred mile race.
So much has happened in one year.
So much has changed.
Since February I had almost not run at all. I had not run 10 miles in any single run… I had not even run 10 miles in any single week. I had intended to begin running more regularly again but somehow I never got around to it.
There were so many committments at work…
I just didn’t have time…
There was that review article to write…
I had lectures to prepare for…
Why even bother training now? I was so de-trained, didn’t I realize how hard it would be to get back to my previous level of fitness?…
In truth, the main reason why I struggled to begin running regularly again was that I was still grieving. I just didn’t have the heart for it… or the heart for many things I used to enjoy. Running ultramarathons takes not only physical strength but even more emotional strength and mental determination.
I felt as if I no longer had any of that anymore. The strength, passion, determination, inspiration and enthusiasm that are an innate part of who I am- had all seemed to have vanished.
Then we lost Chris. Everything changed.
Now, I looked at volunteering not only as a way to give back but also perhaps ease myself back into ultramarathoning.
It could be a way for me to remember Chris and to honor all that he had done for me and had done for so many others.
If I didn’t have the strength or will to train to run an ultra- well there was absolutely no excuse for me not being willing to give up a day or two volunteering at local events.
If Chris were still alive, he would be kicking my butt for becoming such a couch potato this past year.
Jeanne and I volunteered at the first Black Hills 100 in June. We offered to also volunteer at Lean Horse Hundred in August.
Several of my friends were running Lean Horse again. I attended the pre-race meeting and admit that a part of me truly regretted not training so I could run with them. It felt as if everyone was about to embark on an all-day, all-night party …. and yet, I wasn’t going to be able to fully participate this year- all because I was out of shape and had not trained.
A friend whom I had run a few races with, Alan Rickel, was planning on attempting Lean Horse Hundred again. Like me, he was slow but determined.
Like me last year, he had attempted 100 miles twice before.
And also like me last year, he had failed each of those two previous times.
I told Alan,”I have no doubt that you have the capacity for running one hundred miles, I have no doubt at all. This year will be your year. ” And I truly and sincerely meant it.
From my own experience I had learned that the secret to finishing 100 miles was that which I had be told by another runner some years before:
Although I had replied, “yes, I understand..” after he told me that advice, I did not understand how true it was until I actually finished my first hundred mile race.
In hindsight I suspect that I could have run 100 miles sooner than I had. I didn’t succeed however because it was not until my third attempt that I finally believed I could do it.
My other two attempts at running 100 miles… I wanted to do it… I hoped I would do it…I planned on trying my best at finishing it… but I did not believe I could do it.
I told Alan these same words of wisdom and offered to pace and crew him to his first one hundred mile finish.
If he promised me he would not give up, I promised him that I would get him there.
As they say, DNF does not only mean “did not finish” but also “did nothing fatal.”
However, this was all for me his crew/pacer to worry about, not for Alan. His focus was to keep moving forward and to not give up….no matter what.
Relentless forward motion, one foot in front of the other….that’s what it takes to go one hundred miles.
Instead of starting at Hot Springs, this year Lean Horse was begun from the Minnekahta Trailhead on the George Mickelson Trail between Hot Springs and Edgemont. The new course would avoid runners having to run on the infamous Argyle Road twice during the event. Running once on the way back is enough.
Jeanne and I offered to volunteer at the Pringle aid station. Nathan helped too.
The plan was for me to stay there until mid day and then meet up with Alan to crew him until he made it to mile 50 at which time I would put on myown running shoes and pace him through the night.
Jeanne would later meet up with us and crew through the night and into the next day.
As aid station volunteers, our focus is all about the runners. We are there for them.
Having run many ultras before, it was easy for me to understand the kind of volunteer that ultrarunners need: supportive, efficient and encouraging.
Jeanne may not be a runner, but from having been around me (and from listening/putting up with me, and too often, my whining) she has learned how to be an awesome volunteer and dang good crew too.
As the runners started coming through, I again felt a twinge of regret for not training and not being among them.
Then I thought to myself, “you’ll have your chance soon enough, when you pace Alan tonight…”
Alan came through looking strong, he and our mutual friend Bob Whay were running together. After some time, I packed up my gear and headed down the road to crew him.
Having recently become active again in the Wilderness Medical Society, I wore my WMS hat and shirt. Crew and other volunteers started saying, “Hey there, wilderness medicine!” when I arrived at aid stations.
At Harbach Park in Custer, I pulled out a couple chairs, my cooler, foot care box , made a sandwich and waited. Steve Ochoa from Arizona, whom I had met at Javelina Jundred came in looking strong.
He was posting his status on the internet while he ran!
When crewing, it’s important to be efficient. Five minutes here and five minutes there… can be the difference between finishing or getting pulled from a race because of missing a cut off.
For slow runners like Alan and I, avoiding wasting too much time at aid stations is even more essential.
Alan arrived, I sat him down.
He was beginning to get hot spots so I taped those areas of his feet. It it better to prevent blisters than to suffer with them after they develop. Blisters should not be a reason to DNF but they can result in much suffering. In a 100 mile race, this can be hours and hours of misery.
I thought about taping his entire feet but in the interests of time, decided to only do a partial taping.
The day was warming up. On hot days, one often loses one’s appetite. But without fuel, eventually the body stops moving. I put a sandwich in his hand and told him to eat it now or on the way to the next aid station.
I had DNFd a couple of races myself simply because I didn’t feel like eating …or I forgot to eat… until it was too late. I wasn’t about to let this happen to my runner.
As soon as Alan came in to every aid station, I started my timer. Keeping close track of time was something I had learned from Chris when he had crewed for me.
A few minutes off of one’s feet can be good during the race… but not too long.
“Beware the chair..” as they say. Too often runners sit down in a chair, and that’s the end of their race.
As crew, I attended to my runner’s needs, refilled bottles, asked how he was doing, kept track of time… and then gently but firmly sent him on his way.
“Time to go! Run well! See you at Mountain Trailhead!”
Next I drove up to Mountain trailhead. Again I waited.
Other runners began coming up the hill. The Mountain trail head aid station is run by the Spearfish cross country team. I enjoyed chatting and visiting with the volunteers and crew of the other runners.
In the heat of the day, Alan and Bob had lost some time. Alan started having blisters form on the parts of his feet I had not taped. I should have taken the time to fully tape his feet at Harbach. My mistake. I took the time now. I couldn’t have my runner end up DNFing just because of stupid blisters! I would have considered it my fault.
Since learning how to tape my own feet, blisters have become a non-issue for me during races. It’s much easier however to tape someone else’s feet that it is your own!
Bob, however, was having problems with his knee. The heat had begun to get to him too. He was about ready to give up. We sent Alan on his way while I sat with Bob. I tried to be as positive as I could be and to encourage him.
No matter how bad one might feel at any given moment, it is possible in 20 or 30 minutes you might feel completely differently and even begin running again. It was a lesson I had learned myself the hard way, through quitting and DNFing at many races only to later realize that I probably could have gone further, maybe even much further…if only I had tried.
One of the other runners convinced Bob to not drop yet but try making it to the next aid station. I left to meet up with Alan at the next aid station. I did not get to see Bob again during the race. Unfortunately it would turn out that 2011 wouldn’t be Bob’s year either. He would end up dropping later.
Darn. I really believed that Bob could have done it too… Will he do it in 2012? I believe he can.
At the next aid station, Alan was looking stronger. The sun had begun to set and the temperatures had begun to cool. He made good time coming down off the hill past the Crazy Horse Monument.
Jeanne had dropped off Nathan and returned intending to crew Alan and I through the night.
At Hill City, the 50 mile turnaround, I changed into my running clothes and shoes. I got out my Camelback and fanny pack and put on my headlamp.
And I waited.
A few other runners decided to drop. I overheard them explain to their crew, the volunteers and other runners why they could not go on.
I said nothing but thought about what others had said to me, “When you think you’ve gone as far as you think you can, you’ve actually gone only half as far as you possibly could.”
I knew they could have gone further, had they wanted to. I saw it in their eyes. They were not quite as spent as they were trying to lead everyone to believe, including themselves. I think maybe on some subconscious level they knew they could have gone further too. As they explained and rationalized their decision to everyone, they also were attempting to rationalize it to themselves.
I can say this because I’ve been there, done that.
I continued to think quietly, “The first 50 miles of a hundred mile race is physical, the second half is mental.” It is true. “In order to run 100 miles. You must BELIEVE!”
Maybe they will be able to do it next year or the year after that? Only if and when they BELIEVE. They will not do it until or before then.
Alan finally arrived.
He had plenty of time to spare before the cut off. We started out of Hill City towards Hot Springs. He had gone 50 miles but he still had another 50 to go.
Slow and determined. You don’t have to be fast to go 100 miles; you just have to not give up.
As we headed south, I began to wonder: “How far am I going to be able to go? Twenty miles? Thirty?”
I was not sure how long I would be able to keep up with Alan. Even despite him already having gone 50 miles, I had practically not run at all in six months. When I got as far as I could, my plan was to jump back in the car with Jeanne and begin crewing again. The job of the pacer and crew is to get your runner to the finish line. If I couldn’t keep up as well as I would like, so be it.
As the sun set, dark clouds appeared overhead. It was a moonless night. Slowly the twinkling stars disappeared. We saw flashes of light. There was rumbling in the distance.
“One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand….” I quietly counted to myself. The lightning and thunder slowly approached.
Many parts of the trail are exposed. If caught out in the open by a lightning storm, there would be nothing we could do but keep moving until we came to shelter.
Having run this trail more times than I can remember, I did a mental checklist of every shelter, old barn or thick grove of trees ahead of us. There were few; and they were miles away.
At that moment in the dark, with lighting flashing around us, we felt very frail and vulnerable.
For a time, Alan and I separated ourselves by a hundred yards or so.
Our understanding was that if we were far enough apart, one of us might be hit by lightning, but not both of us. Whomever was not hit would try to do CPR on the other. It was all we could do.
Jeanne drove up ahead and waited for long the side of the road. In the event a storm had come directly over us, we would have a place to hide from the lighting.
The main storm crossed our path behind us near Hill City. Just as the northern sky began to become quiet, there new flashes of light and rumbling in the south and west. Although other storms approached, they all passed by us and none overhead.
Again I counted the time between the lightning and the thunder. Slowly the seconds grew longer. We were fortunate. The wankinyan oyate had decided to travel elsewhere that night.
I began to feel tired. My feet hurt. I wondered how long I would be able to keep up with Alan. But then I thought back to my own 100 miles last year and how bad I had been feeling at that point of my run. Alan had to be feeling at least as bad now as I had then. I was not feeling anywhere near as bad, so I kept going.
We approached the area where I had that “third man” or whatever that entity was who joined me last year. He (or she or it) was no where to be seen or heard.
I wondered, “What were you anyway? Were you my imagination, a fatigue-induced hallucination… or were you something more? Were you my guardian angel? Were you some kind of ancient spirit? Could you be here beside us right now , only we just can’t see you? Could you always be there with each of us all the time but you only show yourself in times of true need?”
Those were questions for which I did not know the answer, and for which I doubted I ever would.
I was impressed by Alan’s quiet strength and stoicism. He was certainly holding it together better than I had at that time during my own race.
Well, maybe, he wasn’t doing as good internally at that moment as he outwardly appeared to be doing. However at least he wasn’t shouting out loud and talking to unseen entities as I had.
Finally the sky in the east began to brighten.
I cannot describe the sense of renewal and rebirth one feels after running all day and all night into the next sunrise.
Still running, still moving, never ending forward motion.
With the sunrise, we both felt a renewed sense of energy and purpose. Barring unforseen injury, he was going to make it, only twelve miles to go.
Jeanne gave us some expresso on ice. Mmm… that was good.
But that feeling was short-lived. The sun became hot. Every pebble, every rock on the gravel Argyle Road we could painfully feel though the soles of our shoes.
We were struggling again.
Another runner was up ahead and he was struggling too. A mutual friend, Lisa Nicholls who had run the 50 mile the day before, went up to help him to his first hundred mile finish.
Jeanne met us every few miles to give us fluids and ice to put under our hats. I was tempted to jump into the car and become crew again. But I had promised myself I would stay with Alan until I at least got him off of Argyle Road.
We were far beyond any chance of making it to Hot Springs before the 30 hour cut off. I told Alan, to do it for himself, not for any buckle. I had finished last year 36 minutes past cut-off and yet Jerry had still given me one.
I told Alan to not think about cut offs, buckles, or the excrutiating pain and fatigue he was experiencing.
He was to focus on continued forward motion… nothing else.
Another thunderstorm approached from the west; the wind picked up. At least the temperature dropped a few degrees.
Only a few more miles to go until the turn off of Argyle and onto softer terrain. The last few miles my left knee began to hurt. I didn’t want to flare up my ITB as I had years earlier. But I didn’t want to leave Alan.
Finally, we got to the turn off of Argyle. It was time for me to get into the car. Alan had only 5 more miles to go. I knew he would make it now.
Somehow, despite running almost not at all for 6 months… not ten miles in any single run,…. not even ten miles in any single week… I somehow…. someway…. found the strength and determination to pace my friend 45 miles.
How did I do that? I still have trouble believing it.
During the night and following morning, I kept telling myself over and over, “you can do it, you’re only doing ‘half’ an ultra- not the whole thing- you’re doing the easy half, at night when it cooler. As bad as you feel Alan and the other runners feel worse. Don’t give up and keep going. ”
And so I kept going.
They say that it takes years to build endurance and years for it to go away. I realize now that is probably true. I am still a ultramarathoner, even despite being a detrained couch potato one.
Jeanne and I drove around to the north side of Hot Springs to where the course entered town. We were pleased to see some of Alan’s other friends had taken over pacing him through town the last 3 miles.
Unfortunately, Jeanne and I had to leave and couldn’t be physically be there when Alan crossed the finish line. Nathan was staying with some friends. We needed to pick him up. We also had attend to chores for our animals at home.
But we were there in spirit.
Alan did it.
And they even had a buckle waiting for him.
He cried at the finish line… just as I did last year and so many of us do the first time we go 100 miles.
One hundred miles. It is life-changing experience.
I was so proud. I never doubted, not even once that Alan could do it. I knew he could.
I think it was destined for the dead last place finisher from Lean Horse Hundred 2010 (me!) to crew and pace the dead last place finisher at Lean Horse Hundred 2011 (Alan!). In a 100 mile ultramarathon, ”last place is just the slowest winner.“
During and after the race, Alan thanked Jeanne and I profusely, ” I could never have done it without you.” But we told him, no problem, it was our privilege to do it.
It’s just what we ultramarathoners do. We help each other.
I couldn’t have finished my first hundred without the help of friends and family, so I help others now.
The only thing that comes even close to finishing an ultramarathon yourself, is to help someone else do it. In the future, if I’m not running in a race myself, I look forward to assisting with getting others across their own finish lines.
Run on, my friends. Take care and run well.