There were only two weeks between Tussey mOUnTaiNBACK and Antelope Island. I had done barely any running at all between pacing 45 miles at Lean Horse Hundred the end of August through the 36 miles I ran at Tussey.
What would happen during Antelope Island?
During Tussey mOUnTaiNBACK, I felt an ache in my ITB. It went away as soon as I stopped running. I got a massage one week after the event. It loosened up tight areas and felt good. I have the best massage therapist.
I did absolutely no running at all between the two events on purpose. It was risky,… some would rightly say foolish… to run two ultramarathons so close together with such little training. I was begging for an injury.
I realized that no run done in the two weeks between Tussey and Antelope Island would have any benefit in regards to performance, training stimulus, etc.
My only hope of finishing Antelope Island would be if I rested and fully recovered.
I hoped on race day, I wouldn’t experience a flare of my ITB or any other injury. I knew it was very foolish to run ultras only two weeks apart with essentially no training other than running in events.
However, I had difficulty getting my heart and mind back into training and running regularly again. I finally decided that I would just start signing up for races.
At some point I hoped I might be inspired to start more formally training again… or I would end up injured.
I hoped for the former but I was well aware that the injury was possible… even likely. Ultramarathoners may be tough but we are not invincible.
I decided to take a chance anyway and see what would happen.
However, as I was registering on line for Antelope Island, however, I accidentally clicked on the button to register for the 100k instead of the 50k.
“WHAT the!?!? I don’t want to do the 100k! I only want to do the 50K!!!”
But try as I might, I couldn’t “un-click” or change my registration from the 100k to the 50k.
Whether I wanted to or not, I had unintentionally registered for Antelope Island 100k!
I had thought about talking to the RD (Race Director) to see if he would let me drop down to the 50k race. I am sure he would have. But then I was also curious to see how far I could go.
I decided I’d rather take the chance in having to drop out of, or “DNF” the 100k maybe even at the 50k mark then to drop down to the 50k race- just so I would be able to say that I “officially” finished the 50K distance. I’ve run many ultras before and don’t need to prove anything to anyone, or to myself.
50k would still be 50k no matter whether it was “official” or not. Of course, if I was able to make it farther in the 100K than 50K, that would be even better.
I got to see ultrarunning buddy Lisa Nicholls and meet friend Adrienne Rochat. It was great to meet Adrienne and to catch up with Lisa. I hadn’t run many races in 2011 and so I had not had the chance to see many of my ultra-running friends this year as I was able to in years past.
You know there are not very many of us crazy-ultrarunning folks out there. After a while we all get to know each other and become friends. There are even fewer who are slow back-of-the-packers like us.
There is something about mutually-shared hardship that brings people closer together.
The night before the event, a snowstorm came. Several inches of snow fell.
I realized that going the entire 100K would be unlikely but nevertheless I still decided to start out with the 100K runners. I would have a little bit more time than if I started later with the 50K runners.
The race began in the dark.
I wondered out loud, “What kind of fool drags themself out of bed to run in conditions like this? And we even pay money to do it. We must be crazy.”
Several of us chuckled. It is true.
I saw the line of headlamps trail forward in the dark.
I love running with others who have a similar pace. It’s a time to catch up and to talk about important stuff such as what is the meaning of life (if there is a meaning), how to solve all the world’s problems and so on.
One thing I’ve found is that out there on the trail, people with different or even completely opposing viewpoints are often able to express them without the venomous exchange that too often occurs in other venues.
I guess its just hard to argue your position too strongly when you’re huffing and puffing climbing a mountain.
Maybe that’s what our politicians should do?
They should run an ultramarathon… and then share a beer or two afterwards. They still won’t agree but at least they’ll be a little more polite in expressing their opinions.
Very soon, however, I left Lisa with some other ultrarunners. She had the Javelina Jundred coming up and was hiking/jogging the 50K as her last taper run before that event.
I didn’t intend on being anti-social.
It’s just that I felt cold!!!
Brrrr! I was shivering!!!!
I needed to move a little bit more quickly to warm up in the cold darkness of the pre-dawn. And so I moved out at a faster pace for the first several miles.
Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake of Utah and is a state park. I had run here before at another event put on by the same RD a couple of years ago. This race would take us to parts of the island that we did not go previously.
Slowly the sun came up. There was cloud cover and snow falling, making for some beautiful scenery. The going was slow.
I ran with another runner for a short time. Suddenly, we noticed there were no other human tracks and the snow had not been brushed off of the sage.
We had missed a turn!
Fortunately we had gone only a few hundred yards, past that turn off and were able to find it after 10 or 15 minutes.
I tripped over a rock and fell. Hard.
Normally I would duck and tumble myself out of it. But I fell so suddenly and so hard, I landed with my right arm outstretched. It felt as if my shoulder was about to dislocate. Almost. But then it slipped back in.
I hate that feeling of almost-but-not-quite-dislocating your shoulder.
Other than the wind being knocked out of me, otherwise I felt OK. I got up and began running immediately. It all happened so suddenly I couldn’t tell if I was injured or not.
I just wanted to keep moving because I was still cold.
The going was slow. Soon I was completely alone.
I could see no runners ahead of or behind me. I knew that I was not in last place. There were several others out there behind me.
I just couldn’t see any of them.
The ground was slippery, I could barely muster a slow slog without slipping and sliding.
There would be no 100K finish for me today.
I just couldn’t see going back out onto the course for a second loop- much of it in the darkness- under such conditions.
What if I went down and broke an ankle or couldn’t walk/run for any other reason?
I did have survival gear, fire-making tools, emergency food and extra clothing with me just in case. I knew I could survive a night out in the cold. However, it would be a very long and unpleasant night out there waiting for search and rescue to come find me.
If I got lost and off the course, perhaps it would not be until the next morning when I was found. What would the point of that be?
I decided that I would try my best to make it at least back the start…. do just the 50K…. as I had originally intended. 31 miles would be just fine.
Despite the slow-going, the views were spectacular. I stopped many times to take numerous photos of the surrounding scenery.
“If I won’t be able to go the full distance today, ” I thought to myself, “well, at least I’ll get some great photos.”
There were some amazing rock formations on the southwest side of the island.
All non-runners and many road-runners who do more traditional distances have great difficulty wrapping their minds around ultramarathons and why we do what we do.
They have trouble understanding not only the ultramarathon distance itself, but also the difficulty of the terrain we run over and other challenges we face.
Many times in social situations I am introduced as a “marathoner.”
Then I must clarify: “Actually I’m not a marathoner, I’m an ULTRA-marathoner. Marathons are training runs for me. “
Then inevitably, any road runners present ask me, “So what was your time?”
Even though most ask this question out of curiousity than anything else, I consider “what was your time?” to be a personal question. . It’s not unlike asking someone how much money they made last year, or who they voted for in the last election. I might tell you what my time was if I want to, but don’t ask me if you don’t want to be rude.
Thus my usual answer to their question of what was my time is: “Oh my time you ask? Why I had a GREAT time!”
That usually makes them pause and think for a moment.
Although I do certainly pay attention to my times- if only so I don’t miss cut-off and get pulled from a race- for most ultramarathoners, our finish times are less important than are other factors. Every ultra is so different- even any given race can be very different year-to-year- it is difficult to compare one to another. Thus, our finish times are less important to us compared to many runners who run in road events.
Some of my proudest accomplishments took place during races with my slowest finish times. Often is not how fast you ran your race but how well you persevered and overcame obstacles encountered along the way.
A “personal best” means different things to different people.
Keep going and don’t give up. It’s a metaphor for life.
A couple of the first 50K runners came up and passed me.
I wasn’t alone after all!
I finally made it to the next aid station. There they had hot chicken noodle soup for us.
Now that hit the spot!
After I returned home, I showed some of these photos to acquaintances and co-workers. Some of them gasped at the difficulty of the terrain and remoteness of the aid stations.
They had absolutely no idea what it was that I was doing.
Unless you’ve experienced an ultramarathon on rugged trails during challenging weather conditions, I suppose it would be impossible to comprehend.
This is why I cannot explain why I do it to most people. If you must ask “why?” then I cannot explain.
This is also why I never want to be called a “marathoner” – I am not.
There is nothing at all wrong with running 26.2m marathons or for that matter any other road race… nothing at all. Its just that traditional road running events are extremely and completely different from what we ultramarathoners do. These events cannot and should not be compared.
We ultramarathoners don’t expect… and don’t want to be….. understood. We’d just like to be recognized for ourselves and not be thought of as “just another runner who runs marathons.”
Finally the clouds began to break up and the sun came out. The snow began to melt.
Now the slippery icy double track became a muddy single track hiking trail. As soon as I scraped off mud accumulating on my shoes, more stuck right back on. Not only was I slogging in the mud, I was now slogging with extra pounds on each shoe.
“Oh well, at least this is turning out to be a great training run!” I thought.
No matter how good or bad of a day you have, every ultra is training for the next ultra.
“Running ultramarathons is hard. But running them without training for them is even harder!” I thought.
I decided right then and there I would begin training more formally again and begin thinking about other races to run in 2012.
Another runner and I made it to the last aid station before the start and the 50k cut off. It was one of the aid stations where we could have a drop bag.
I rummaged through my bag. I didn’t remember what I had put into that one versus my other bag. I was very pleased to find the turkey hoagie sandwich I had put there early this morning. I said so out loud.
During races, I prefer to just eat regular food. A sub sandwich with a big bun and only a little meat has just the right amount of carbs, with a little protein and fat so it sits well in my stomach.
During a normal non-running day at the office, do I try to sustain myself on sports beans and gels? No I don’t.
Then why should I try to run a race eating such things? After mile 30 or 35 they don’t do anything for me but upset my stomach.
I usually run with a small backpack or Camelback on my back and a fanny pack on my hip. Today, I had on my fanny pack with two bottle holders. But I only had a bottle on one side; the other side was empty. I didn’t want to eat the entire sandwich right there. I wanted to nibble on it over the next few miles.
So what did I do? I stashed my sandwich into the empty bottle holder. It fit perfectly.
The other runners and volunteers laughed when they saw what I had done. “Hey! Look at the hoagie holder he has!”
I laughed at the funny sight I must have been running down the trail alternating with pulling that hoagie out, taking a bite of it and pulling a swig off of my water bottle.
Maybe I need to patent my “hoagie holder” for other ultrarunners? Maybe I should try to get sponsorship from a sub sandwich restaurant franchise?
We finally made it to the 100k start… and the 50k check point. We were about a half hour after the cut-off to be permitted to keep going.
The race director came up to us and very kindly said, “I’m sorry but we’re gonna have to pull you from the race. You missed the cut off time.“
“You said are going pull us?” I snapped back, “But you CAN’T!”
He looked puzzled for a second. He wasn’t sure what to say.
I continued, “You’re not gonna have to pull us because we QUIT!”
“There’s no way you can get us to do another loop!” I smiled, ” You couldn’t pay us enough to go back out there!”
Even if we hadn’t missed the cut off time and had been permitted to keep going, I just couldn’t see myself going out to struggle another 31 miles, risking more falls, a chance of injury and the possibility of spending a night outside.
Plus they had homemade buffalo chili and local craft beer to sample at race headquarters- now how I could I leave that? What would I have been thinking?
Because I did only 50K of the 1ooK event, however, it technically would be considered a DNF and not a 50K finish.
I already have plenty of 50K finishes. 31 miles is 31 miles- no matter whether it is “official” or not. Sometimes DNFing is the wisest decision.
“I DNFd so I could live on and run again another day,” is always a good thing to be able to say.
Take care my friends… and run on. I hope I will be able to see you at more events in 2012.
After crewing and pacing Alan 45 miles at Lean Horse the end of August, I was suprised by how rapidly I recovered. I was sore… but I was not as sore as I deserved to be given that I had not run more than 10 miles at a time… or even in any given week… since February.
Maybe I wasn’t as de-trained as I had led myself to believe?
Maybe it wouldn’t be as difficult to return to my previous level of fitness as I had thought?
If so, then my excuse, “well I’m so out of shape now, it’ll take me months to even be able to finish an ultra again. Why even bother training? What’s would be the point?“ did not apply to me.
Heck, what a better welcome back to ultrarunning than to pace a friend 45 miles to his first 100 mile finish?
After Lean Horse I intended to start running more regularly again… truly I did. But between increased hours at work, and a couple of presentations at national conferences I had to prepare for, September came and went with me only having run a total of three times. All of these runs were only in the 3 to 5 mile range. Certainly this was no where near enough for me to be able to think of even finishing an ultra.
Tim had been thinking of running his first ultra. He decided to run the Tussey mOUnTainBACK 50 mile in Pennsylvania in October. There was no way I could be ready for it considering as little training as I had done. But then I reconsidered. It would be good to see Tim again. In running Tussey, we could both remember and honor Chris.
Even if going the entire 50 miles under cut-off without injuring myself would be difficult, there certainly would be no dishonor in trying my best and getting as far as I could.
Tussey mOUnTainBACK 50 mile was also the site of the national 50 mile championships. The organizers promoted joining the USATF so one would be eligible to win awards. Besides the fact that I am a confirmed back-of-the-packer who would have no chance of winning anything (unless they started handing out awards for dead-last place), I also declined to join the USATF on principle.
For years the USATF had seemed to ignore ultramarathon and trail running in favor of road events. Only when ultramarathon and trail running became more popular, did this organization begin to pay them more attention. Many of us ultrarunners run for the experience- not for the competition- for too many years USATF simply hadn’t represented why I and many other ultramarathoners run.
I understand and respect how others may have opinions differing from my own. However, I have my reasons. I prefer to not give organizations money in membership fees if they do not represent or advocate for my needs.
Perhaps if I were faster and more competitive of a runner, I would feel differently? Probably.
Soon after Tussey mOUnTainBACK began, Tim and most of the pack took off. I settled in to my slow-easy, mile-covering, jog-shuffle.
How far could I go? I had no idea.
I knew that it was risky, maybe even stupid, trying to run a 50 mile race with basically no training. The risk of injury was high. I needed to take it easy and pay attention to the signals my body was giving me.
Rather than looking at this event as a race which I needed to finish, I looked at it as an opportunity to get my mind and heart back to running again.
I had nothing to prove- to myself or to anyone else.
No matter how far I got, it would be a nice jog in the colorful autumn woods of Pennsylvania.
I had another reason to take it easy. In only two weeks, I was signed up to do another ultra: Antelope Island 100k in Utah. Ultra-running buddy Lisa Nicholls had suggested I come out and run “just the 50k” with her and some friends. She was preparing for a hundred mile ultra at Javelina Jundred in Arizona and was planning on doing Antelope Island as an “easy” taper run/hike shortly before that race.
At first I had turned down Lisa’s offer. I didn’t think I would be able to run another ultra so soon after Tussey mOUnTainBACK. However, as I flew into Salt Lake City to make a connection, I looked over to see Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. I had run there in the past.
I thought, “What the heck, if I can run 45 miles pacing Alan on basically no training, I should be able to do 50k, after all, that’s only 31 miles. An easy jog.”
As was registering on line for Antelope Island, however, I accidentally clicked on the button for the 100k instead of the 50k.
“WHAT the!?!? I don’t want to do the 100k- that’s 62 miles! I only want to do the 50K!!!” But try as I might, I couldn’t “un-click” or change my registration from the 100k to the 50k. Whether I wanted to be or not, I had registered for Antelope Island 100k!
So here I was, running in a 50 mile race having done only three training runs in seven weeks- all 5 miles or less. Then only two weeks later I would be attempting 62 miles.
What was I thinking?
In addition to the 50 mile ultramarathon, there would also be a relay race. I must admit, my first thought was, “It’s going to be a real pain having all of those pesky relay racers and their crew in the way.”
I have to confess, that I soon felt differently. Tussey mOUnTainBACK was run on forest service roads, not the usual trail ultramarathon done on single-track hiking trails that I usually prefer to do. That meant that the crews of the relay teams could drive ahead to the staging areas to meet their runners. The teams shouted words of encouragement to me, played rockin’ music, and rang cow bells.
One young relay runner said as she passed me, “I want to be just like you when I grow up!”
“No , don’t be like me when you grow up…. “ I replied, “…try to be much faster!”
Later in the day, two other runners shouted, “You’re lookin’ good!”
“Really?!” I asked, “Do you really think I’m lookin’ good?”
They said in unison, “Yes of course you are! You’re lookin’ GREAT!”
“Oh well,” I replied,” I’m sure I’ll get over it soon.” That got a chuckle- of course there is always some truth to humor- most of all humor during an ultramarathon.
In the events that I do, most of the time I am alone . I don’t get cheered as I was at this race.
And yet, even as a back-of-the-pack ultrarunner, here I was getted cheered on and encouraged. Some of the relay runners were even telling me that I was their hero.
And you know, I really enjoyed it.
OK, I changed my mind about those relay runners. It was kind of nice having them and their crew around. They didn’t turn out to be as “pesky” as I expected they would be.
Around mile 20 to 25 my right knee started hurting. It was my iliotibial band. I had suffered ITB injury some years ago, which prevented me from running much for 6 months. The last thing I wanted to do was get sidelined by injury just as I was getting back into running. Plus, I had Antelope Island coming up in only two weeks.
I slowed down and took it easy. I arrived at mile 25 slightly behind cut-off time. The race official said that if I was doing well, he didn’t absolutely have to pull me. It was up to his discretion. I told him that other than my knee, I was feeling good. If I must DNF at a race, I also explained that at least I’d like to go further than a traditional 26.2 mile marathon distance. Call it ultramarathoner pride.
So he let me go. I thanked him profusely.
I began running on the other side of the road. My knee started feeling better. Sometimes the slight slope of one side of the road is enough to flare ITB; moving to the other side if done soon enough can sometimes fix it.
I sped up a little. At mile 31 I looked at my GPS watch and to my surprise, I saw that I had just run my third fastest 50k time ever- despite having to go slow because of knee pain earlier. Amazing.
But I also realized that unless I wanted to beat up my body, it was unlikely I would make it to the finish under cut off.
No problem. I was only here for a nice easy training run in this beautiful autumn forest of Pennsylvania. The colors of the leaves were glowing reds, yellows and oranges.
In the Black Hills we have coniferous Ponderosa Pine forest. We get a brief flush of gold from the pockets of Aspen trees but it is nothing like the variety of colors of hardwoods. Having spent many of my younger years in the eastern deciduous woods, the aroma of fallen leaves along this gravel road in Pennsylvania brought back a flood of memories. Of time with Chris and other pleasant times decades in the past.
Then suddenly without warning, tears began filling my eyes. I tried to brush them away and ignore them.
“I’m an experienced ultramarathoner. I only cry during 100 mile races not shorter distances!” I thought, “Why am I crying?!?!”
Then I understood why I was crying.
At every race I had ever run with Chris, he would finish hours ahead of me. He would always wait for me at the finish line. Sometimes he came back out onto the course and run in those last few hundred yards with me. I always looked forward to seeing that smile of his.
I had just realized that he’ll never be there waiting for me at a finish line ever again. I won’t be able to see his smile or hear his words of encouragement. It made me very sad.
More tears fell.
I finally arrived at the 36 mile aid station, my tears having dried up. I was feeling good but still past cut off time. The race officials asked if I was aware that it was past cut off and I said that I was. I explained that I would stop running and drop from the race but only if they insisted I do so. On the other hand, if they’d let me go, I’d have no problem continuing to run further.
Because I was feeling and looking good, they did call in to race central to see if they could allow me go. The answer was negative. Apparently last year they had some runners get lost on the course, make a wrong turn and end up being out after dark. So this year they were not going to be flexible with cut off times.
Ironically, after making me stop, they had some difficulty finding someone to drive me back to the finish.
“OK here’s the deal. I’ve dropped from the race, so here’s my number, ” I joked, ” Don’t you all worry about finding me a ride. I will find a way to get back to the finish on my own. In fact, I think I’ll just jog there- it’s only 14 miles. It won’t be a problem at all… “
But they wouldn’t allow me to do it. So I had to stay and watch the last few relay teams come through.
One of the most frustrating things about being a back-of-the-packer is that often you can be having what you consider to be a good day and yet you can still be forced to stop- all because you happen to run slower than the rest of the pack.
Now I completely understand and I agree with stopping a runner because they are having medical issues- no matter what their pace. Mental status changes, uncontrolled vomiting, dehydration (or overhydration), physical injury, heat exhaustion and hypothermia are all valid reasons to force a runner to stop.
I also undertand why on more isolated remote events, it is necessary to be strict on cut off times from the stand point of safety. Race organizers can simply not take the risk of having to call search and rescue out to find a runner at 2 or 3 AM in the mountains or wilderness.
Finally, from the standpoint of the volunteers, it is unreasonable to expect them to wait for hours and hours for the last straggler or two to come in. The volunteers have already given up so much of their time. There does come a time to say “enough” and for the race to be over.
However, today none of these rationale seemed to apply.
Although I was slow, it was not because I was having a bad day or medical issues. I was slow, but I always am. It was a little annoying to be made to stop, and then be forced to sit there for another 30 minutes and watch the last half-dozen relay teams come through. The cut off times, you see, were only applied to the ultramarathoners and not to the relay racers.
If all of the relay teams had come through- then of course it would have made sense to stop us last few straggling ultrarunners. I’d have no problem with that. The volunteers would have been ready to pack up. But the volunteers had to be there anyway until the last of the relay teams came through- why not let me keep going?
As for having to stop me because of the potential for getting lost, that also did not make sense to me. There were still hours of daylight left and this was only a road race. Even if I would not be able to make it the full 50 miles before dark, why not let me make it as far as I could and pull me at the next cut off (mile 42)?
Getting lost in the mountains could be serious. However, if someone got lost on a road race, what’s the worst that would happen? You’d drive out in your car to find them. When we run trail ultras, the potential for getting lost is all part of the experience. That’s why we carry basic survival gear and also flashlight or a head lamp- even in events where one is not expeccting to be out after dark. One can never be too careful.
Of course, back-of-the-packers are no more likely to get lost than those running at the head of the pack. Slower runners have more time to pay attention to our surroundings and to follow the tracks of the pack running ahead of us. Indeed, sometimes it is the front runners who get turned around. They have fewer or no tracks to follow. By going as fast as they do, speed goats might not see a marked turn or side trail they need to take.
At the 3 days in Syllamo multiday stage race in Arkansas in 2010, the runner who got lost and stayed out all night was in fourth place at the time he missed a turn and got off the course.
However, it’s very bad form to argue with race officials- so I didn’t.
What I did do however is make sure the race officials knew full-well how good I was feeling. Despite being slow, it doesn’t mean I was having a bad day. I was slow because that’s just how I normally am.
I offered to help them pack up their tables and supplies. They told me I didn’t have to, I could just sit down and rest.
“I’m not at all tired,” I told them, “after all, I only ran 36 miles today- not 50.”
I just couldnt’ sit there and watch. I’d volunteered at other events, if they weren’t going to let me run anymore, I might as well be of some use and help them out.
Plus I could rub it in…hint, hint, hint… I’m not at all tired because you all made me stop!
They did finally get me back to the finish where I saw Tim. He’d had a great race- it was his first 50 mile ultramarathon and he did it in: 9:11:59. I was proud of him. I know Chris would be proud too.
I have no doubt that had the race officials permitted me, I would have made it the entire 50 miles. I would have finished after the final cut off which means that I would not have gotten a finishers award- but so what? Medals and finisher’s awards are not why I run.
Despite my initial annoyance, in consideration that I had another ultra to run in only two weeks, it was for the best that they made me stop. 36 miles is a good training run. It certainly is nothing to be ashamed of.
Who knows what might have happened with my knee had I continued?
I was pressing my luck by even being out there with minimal training in the first place. What did I expect?
Over the next two weeks, I wondered: how would I do at Antelope Island?
"In the process of completely exhausting myself, I connect with an inner part of me ordinarily veiled by the everyday distractions of life. During that short time spent on a trail in the mountains, my life is reduced to its simplest terms. Most ultrarunners are people who find goodness and joy in difficult times, who see beyond the misery to the beauty of nature, and who truly realize the elemental and important aspects of life. Going for a run always clears my head... but running 100 miles distills my soul."
Keith Knipling - RUNNING THROUGH THE WALL