“Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt, in the suffering involved, not in the victory itself.” Mahatma Gandhi
Before the race:
Running 100 miles is a rite of passage for ultrarunners.
I have dreamed of running 100 miles for several years. Since I started running ultramarathons a few years ago, I have finished numerous 50-ks and 50-miles and even a few 100-ks. Based on what everyone has told me, I should now be ready to finish a 100 mile race.
However, I had tried….and failed…. to finish 100 miles twice before.
At Lean Horse 2008, I became hypoglycemic and dropped in Custer at mile 64 Harbach Park.
At Lean Horse 2009, I felt strong early in the race but suddenly ripped a tendon just before mile 50. The pain was so severe, I could not weight bear and had no choice but to drop at Buckaroo. It was very discouraging because I truly felt I could have done it that year.
Would this year’s attempt be different?
I felt well. There were no nagging injuries or other things for me to worry about. I had been training hard since January and had run in several ultras this year.
I ran 65 miles at the 3 Days of Syllamo in Arkansas in March and finished the Greenland 50-k in Colorado in April.
At Laurel Highlands 77 mile in Pennsylvania in June, I was pulled 53.2 miles due to missing a cut off by a few minutes. Despite my consternation at being told to stop just as I was starting to feel better and move faster, I knew in my heart that had they let me go, I could’ve made it the entire 77 miles. The day was hot and humid; 50% of the starters dropped. I did not drop, I was pulled. There is a HUGE difference. Only a few days later I had minimal muscle soreness. I know I could’ve gone farther.
At the Northfork 50 mile in July, I dropped at 50-k because I decided I preferred a cold beer rather than 20 more miles of suffering in the heat. I wasn’t concerned, after all Northfork was only a training run.
Why beat myself up so close to my main event for the year?
All of this gave me confidence that my training was going according to plan; I would be ready for Lean Horse Hundred in August.
Physically, I knew I was as prepared as I possibly could be. However, the question I had in the weeks before the race: Will I be mentally ready? As race day approached, of course those demons of negative thought and doubt entered my mind.
I asked myself, “Will I be able to do it? Have I trained enough?”
“Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a 100 miler… running 50 miles and 50-k ultras are nothing to be ashamed of,” I thought, and so on.
I rapidly shut those thoughts out. They did me no good other than to defeat me from attaining my goal before my race has even begun.
“I WILL do it this year. I will NOT give up, no matter what!” I repeated this to myself over and over in the weeks before the race.
“I’ve put enough miles in this year, now it’s my turn to use the fitness achieved from all of my hard earned training. It’ll be like withdrawing money from a bank account. I know it will be hard but I will do it, no matter what.”
I promised myself that even if (when?) the situation appears hopeless, I would keep going, even if I have to walk those last 50 miles. I was not going to start my race planning on a second-half 50 mile death march but on the other hand, I would not let anything, other than a medical or personal safety issue make me stop.
“This year will be my year!” I exclaimed.
Friday August 27th- Day before the Race
“If the word quit is part of your vocabulary, then the word finish is likely not.”
- B.G. Jett
I was glad to see many friends and acquaintances registered for the race. This year there would be more runners from South Dakota than we’ve ever had before! In previous years, there had been only 3 or 4 of us. It is nice to see the number of “local” runners growing.
Ultramarathoners are a small tight-knit group of folks (how many crazy people like us can there be?). After a while, we all begin to know each other. We’re really like one big family. OK, maybe, we’re a little bit strange of a family- but we’re a family. The family of ultrarunning includes not only the actual runners, but also race organizers, volunteers, pacers, crew, our families- basically anyone and everyone who has had contact of any kind with ultrarunners and the sport.
At the pre-race meeting I was relieved to learn that unlike at many events, cut offs at Lean Horse would be “soft.” That means that excepting medical or other safety issues, I wouldn’t be told to stop just because I’m slow.
This was a great relief to me.
“I might not make it in time to get a buckle, but I’m going to make it no matter what,” I told myself.
Struggling to make cut offs always causes me great distress during races. I’ve been pulled many times due to missing a cut off when I was sure that if I had been allowed, I could’ve gone the entire way. Sometimes, I rushed to make cut offs such that I did not spend sufficient time eating, drinking and refueling at aid stations. I ended up bonking which might not have happened had I taken more time and thought about what I was doing.
Many front and mid pack runners have a “cushion” such that they can stop to regroup, even for a few hours, and still finish the race. We back-of-the-packers unfortunately do not have that luxury. Everything has to go “perfect” if not and we get behind, there’s a strong chance we’ll be pulled due to time.
Now I do understand why some races must be strict about their cut offs. Many ultramarathons are run over remote terrain. It comes down to an issue of safety and logistics:
How long should search and rescue be available?
How long should volunteers be expected to wait up for us slowpokes? Volunteers work many unpaid hours; they cannot be expected to give even more time than they already do.
Nevertheless, it has been frustrating and stress-inducing to struggle to make cut offs at almost every ultra I run.
I am and always have been slow. As a child, even the fat out-of-shape kids would often beat me racing across the playground. It was embarrasing. I was the slowest or second slowest runner on my high school cross country team.
And yet, despite my slowness, I have always loved running. I love the feeling I get when the miles float on by, the feeling of being part of nature, and the feeling as if….almost… I could run forever.
It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I discovered that I have a medical condition I was born with which prevents me from going fast. At higher rates of speed, I become much more breathless than most people. When my heart rate goes up, it becomes even worse. No matter how hard I train, there is no way around it.
Once one of my physicians asked me, “Do you have any exercise intolerance?”
Unsure of exactly how to answer that question, I replied, “Well sure, sometimes I am exercise intolerant.”
“You do? Please tell me about it…” he asked me sounding somewhat concerned.
“Well after about 50 or so miles, I get exercise intolerant… but then doesn’t everybody?” I explained.
He shook his head and smiled, “I don’t know what to say other than I think you’re crazy! But you’re better off than sitting on the couch sedentary and gaining weight like everyone else.”
Even though I’m slow, however, I happen to be extremely determined (just ask my family). When there were setbacks along the journey of my life, I did not give up. I kept going, I kept trying. It amazes me how far I’ve come in my career and in my life in general, simply by not giving up.
And so too it has been with my running.
I might not be able to finish every race I start but I can finish many of them. In ultramarathoning, unlike footraces of other distances, I am not looked down upon because I am slow and run in the back of the pack.
Speed is way overrated. To be sure, the fastest runners at shorter distances will be the fastest at ultra-distances. However, what counts even more in ultras is your mental attitude; other skills are also essential to learn, such as taking care of your feet and how to eat/ hydrate after many hours on the trail.
On occasion and even despite my physical limitations, I’ve “beat” (I put “beat” in quotes because really, we’re not competing against anyone but ourselves) other runners who were much more physically-fit and better trained that I was. It was simply because my mental attitude, at least at that race, happened to be where it needed to be.
I am slow. It is just how I am. I’ve finally come to accept it. So what. There are worse things to be than slow.
As the ultrarunner saying goes, ”To finish is to win.”
Saturday August 28th- Race Day!
“We take these risks not to escape life, but to prevent life from escaping us.”
- Submitted to the Run 100s website by Scott Crabb
In past years, race day was hot and dry. Although temperatures were predicted to be warm, they were cooler than they could’ve been.
I knew that if I had any chance of finishing, my only hope would be to go conservatively and finish just squeaking by the final cut off time. I have finished at least two other ultras with less than a minute on the clock. I wasn’t intending to cut it that close but was planning on doing whatever it took.
This year, Chris “Haliku” Pruchnic again came up to pace me from Denver. He is my best friend and basically a brother to me. He ran an excellent race at Laurel Highlands 77 mile earlier this year. I hoped that this year he would actually get to pace me, instead of me dropping out at mile 50 or several miles after.
My crew would be my wife and soulmate, Jeanne, and my son Nathaniel age 9. They worked together like the best NASCAR pit crew: organized, cheerful, efficient. They were exactly what I needed to keep me moving forward.
“With a support team like this, how could I fail?” I thought, then I cautioned, ”there are many ways to fail if you’re not careful…”
I asked Jeanne and Chris to promise me that if I was falling off my predicted race pace they were not to tell this to me. If I realized how far I was falling behind, that might be enough to put me in a negative mind set and convince me to give up. My main focus was to be relentless forward motion. No matter how slow I got or how bad I hurt, I must keep moving forward. If I hit a bad spot and had no choice but to stop and regroup- so be it- but it wouldn’t mean I was giving up for good. If I got into a negative race-ending funk, “there’s no hope now, I might as well quit!” I asked them to kick me in the butt until I got out of it.
There have been past races where I did give up. In hindsight, I could’ve gone farther, perhaps even finished. I would not let this happen to me to today.
DNF is not an option!
If I finished past final cut off time of 30 hours I realized that I would not get a buckle. However, whether it’s done in less than 30 or not- 100 miles is still 100 miles. I decided that I’d rather take an unofficial finish than to convince myself I have no chance and give up somewhere earlier.
“Do whatever it takes but don’t give up,” I repeated.
The race started as it always does at 6 AM behind the Mueller Center in Hot Springs. We slowly drifted off through town towards Argyle Road on to the Mickelson Trail beyond.
I’ve made it to the 50 mile turnaround and beyond in past years. How far would I make it this year?
“You will go ONE HUNDRED miles- no less!” I promised myself.
As the packed drifted off, I settled in to a nice and easy 15 min/mile fast walk pace. In past years, I had started off too quickly only to pay for it later. Many seasoned ultrarunners tell those new to ultrarunning to hold back, try to run the first half the same or slower than the second half.
For someone who is already exceedingly slow, going even slower without actually stopping is not easy. However, I had learned a great deal about pacing myself at previous events.
Just before reaching Evan’s Plunge, Hot Springs’ water park, Chris and Jeanne pulled up. Chris kindly suggested I try to go a little bit faster during the cool temps of the morning. There was no way anyone could dissuade from my plan, I stuck with a 15 min/mile fast walk with jog breaks.
”I’ll need every bit of energy and strength later on- I don’t have a problem hanging out with the slow old guys…” I thought to myself, “I’m a slow young guy!”
I refused to let a foolish mistake of “trying to make up as much time early so I have a cushion,” cause me to DNF yet again.
Been there, done that.
Slowly the sun rose and the temperatures warmed. It was turning out to be a sunny beautiful western South Dakota day.
The first few miles from Hot Springs and then on Argyle Road were rolling hills. Although none of the hills was particularly steep or long, on the way back after 84 miles they would be.
There were several runners I knew. I really was glad to see all of them. In some ways, races are like family reunions where runners can catch up about the news of friends and acquaintances. The main difference is that the reunion goes on all day and all night and the buffet tables are located about 4 or 5 miles apart.
There was Dave Elsbernd from Oregon. I had met him at Lean Horse 2008 and kept in touch ever since. He was here to run 100 in under 24 hours, so I didn’t see him for long during the race.
I saw both Loren Janke and Alan Rickel from South Dakota, whom I had met at Bighorn 50 mile last year and seen at Lean Horse 2009. It was good to see them. I even jog/walked with Alan for a time.
Tom Gladfelter was here from Illinois. I met him earlier this year at the 3 days of Syllamo in Arkansas.
Keith Happel was here from North Dakota running the 50 mile again. He asked me how I was doing and how I had recovered from my injury last year.
It was good to see that Ben Clark from North Dakota was back. I didn’t get much a chance to talk with him- he was much faster this year!
There was Jim Newton from Texas whom I ran with last year. It was good to see that he was back: “We’re both going to do it!” I said.
I also got to meet Mike Joyce in person. We had known each other through my blog but not in person; it was nice to put a face to the name. Mike was running his first ultramarathon. He’d only done marathons before. Heck, why not go big the first time? There are plenty who have finished their first ultramarathon which was a 100 mile race. No matter how it goes, valuable lessons will be learned.
Of course, there was Ulli Kamm. I see him at lots of races; at every one he is handing out info on Lean horse. He even tried handing out Lean Horse info to me when we were at Northfork, until I reminded him that it’s my hometown race and where we first met. He must be Lean Horse’s biggest fan. Ulli is amazing because he’s done hundreds of ultras and has finished every one of them by walking. At Northfork 50 I had the pleasure of jogging along with him the first ten minutes or so. His fast-walk pace was under a 14 min/mile. I simply could not keep up going up a hill and had to back off the pace. I cannot imagine the focus and concentration it takes to maintain that sort of pace for hour upon hour.
Someday when I grow up, I’d like to be an ultrarunner,…. er,…. an ultra-WALKER like Ulli!
Before the race began I also saw Teresa Verburg, Bob Whay, Chris Stores and also met Ryan Phillips- more of us local South Dakotans. Teresa had finished Lean Horse 2008 but DNFd last year. Bob is another back-of-the-packer like me whose tried and failed to finish Lean Horse before.
Gosh, I hoped this year would be their year too!
Holley Lange was here from Colorado. I can’t remember where I had met her first, maybe the 24 hours at Laramie? Since then I had seen her at several ultras and volunteering at Northfork 50 a few weeks ago. I was glad to see her. She had tried and failed to run 100 miles before.
I told her, “This is the year that we both run 100 miles! I know we can do it!”
I thought, ”Wouldn’t it be great if everyone I knew finished Lean Horse this year?” There wasn’t much time to think about how everyone else was doing, I had my own race to run.
As we headed west, I saw a fat and juicy grape lying on Argyle Road. I seriously thought about snatching it. Lucky for the ants, it was early in the race. I wasn’t hungry at that moment so I left it.
Yes, I admit it, I’ve been a trail scrounger before when I’ve been desperate.
At one ultramarathon, I was bonking and so hungry that I picked up a lemon cookie someone had accidently dropped and ate it. It tasted Oh-so-good. A witness just shook their head.
Outside of races some people have the “five second rule” for picking up and eating food that’s dropped to the ground.
Well in ultras, we have the “five hour rule.”
As long as there aren’t obvious bite marks and the ants haven’t gotten to it too much (a few can be brushed off), why let perfectly good food go to waste? This is especially true when you are bonking and need calories. Of course the reality is that the trans-fats in that lemon cookie were probably more harmful to me than anything the cookie could’ve picked up from sitting in dry leaves on the forest floor.
At Argyle Road Aid Station mile 16.6, we finally got onto the Mickelson Trail. Temperatures were warming quickly but I was grateful they were not as hot as 2009.
I told the aid station volunteers, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning! I might be in dead last place, but DFL beats DNF, right?” I was joking about the being “in dead last” part but I was absolutely not joking about making it back tomorrow morning.
I kept my steady 15 min/mile pace. I mostly fast-walked with some jogging breaks to use different muscles. On a few of the downhills I let my legs stretch out a bit and jogged a 11 or 12 min/mile but was careful to not use up too much of my strength and energy. I would need it later in the race. The first half of an ultra should be easy, so easy that it feels as if you could go on forever (in a 100 mile race, you practically will!).
Lime Kiln to Buckaroo- Miles 20 to 50
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”
- T.S. Eliot
I was surprised to make it to Lime Kiln Aid Station at mile 20 feeling good. I felt so good that I was a bit nervous.
You can see Jeanne and Chris standing to the left of the trail in the lower photo above. Without their assistance and support, it would’ve been difficult if not impossible for me to succeed today. Crew members run their own ultramarathon of sorts, driving up ahead to meet their runner, all the while catering to their needs and demands.
“I feel almost too good,” I told Jeanne and Chris. “I just went 20 miles and yet I barely feel warmed up.”
“Am I going to get injured this year? When are the unforseen obstacles going to come?” I worried.
There’s no point stressing about that which has not happened so I rapidly re-focused on to the task at hand: eating, drinking, moving forward, not giving up and finishing this race.
I made it to Pringle at mile 24 still feeling well but finally realizing, “By golly, I’m actually running an ultra today! This is the real deal-it’s not just another a training run!”
Last year, it was so hot, runners had already begun to drop. I was glad to not see any of my friends in the chair out of the race here. I ate, filled my water bottle and Camelback and went on my way.
A little girl offered me: “Do you want a gel?”
“No thanks!” I replied.
For some reason, energy gels do not sit well in my stomach. Energy blocks or beans are fine, espeically when combined with real food. I’ve never had a bad experience with gels, but after mile 25 or 30 or so, they make be want to gag.
The next 12.5 or so miles to Custer are basically uphill. But every uphill must come down. I looked forward to coming down this steady incline in the cool of the night.
“I darn well better make it this far on the way back!!! No DNFing!” I chided myself.
At Carroll Creek Mile 30, Nathan asked to join me. It was a little too early for a pacer, but how can a Dad turn down a request like that? Nathan accompanied me only the short distance to the tunnel under the road where he got back in the car with Mom.
Along the way, we decided that if/when he is big enough and decides to run ultramarathons himself, it might be better if Uncle Chris was his pacer and Dad his crew, “Dad you are pretty slow,” he observed.
I ate yet another half of a turkey sandwich. During ultras, many of us prefer “real” food to energy gels alone. I’m no different. My food of choice is turkey and cheese on white bread. Although peanuts are fine and so is jelly, I’ve never been very particular towards both of them when combined together in a PB & J so I usually eat other things when given a choice. Other good foods I eat include cheese or mushroom pizza, chicken and noodle soup, bananas, cookies of any kind, small boiled potatoes rolled in salt and of course potato chips.
We still need carbohydrates to provide glucose and to keep from depleting our body’s glycogen stores. Once the body’s glycogen stores are used up, hypoglycemia results, otherwise known as “bonking” or “hitting the wall.” We need to eat approximately 100 - 300 kcal/hr during periods of extreme endurance activity. Even then, we finish our races in a caloric deficit.
I consume my simple carbs as blocks and jelly beans, but only if I have a “base” of real food in my stomach. I’ve found that I seem to be able to eat more consistently with less stomach upset if I eat something solid and then top it off with simple carbs compared to if I eat sugary-sweet foods alone. It’s what works for me.
In the past, I made the mistake of not eating until I was hungry more than once. That was what ended my Lean Horse 2008 race. I mistook my hunger-pangs for stomach upset. By the time I had realized my mistake, ten miles had gone by and I was hypoglycemic. If I had had sufficient time, I could’ve sat down for a half hour or an hour, ate and got back on track. However, I had no such cushion and mentally I was defeated anyway- so I stopped. I learned my lesson and learned it well.
Now I make sure to eat at every aid station and if I’m not hungry, take a little along in my fanny pack to nibble on along the way.
“It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.”
- George Sheehan
At Harbach Park in Custer at mile 36, Jeanne and Chris asked me if there was anything I needed, to which I replied, “I don’t know.”
They sat me down in the chair. “What would you like?”
“I don’t know…”
“Do you want anything to eat?”
“I don’t know…”
“Are you thirsty?”
“I don’t know…”
I was hot from the day. I needed a minute to cool down.
“Why don’t you try this…” I sampled some of the watermelon they offered me. It tasted good. So did the Gatorade and the potato chips.
One benefit of having crew is that they will remind you to eat and drink, even when you don’t really feel like it. Had I been alone, I may very well have not eaten or drank much at that aid station and paid for it later. Even if you are not hungry or thirsty, it is essential that you stay fed and hydrated. If you are not sure, try a bite or a sip. After that, you may find you are actually hungry and thirsty after all.
After a few minutes in the shade, I headed on my way. The ice under my hat felt good. I enjoy the part of the trail from Custer to Mountain Trailhead. It is where I come often to train. Just past the hospital is the high school track where I run intervals. I smiled. I was glad I didn’t have to do any speed training today. I know speed training is important, especially for slow pokes like me but I hate it.
On the east side of the trail, just a half mile out of Custer there are beaver ponds. I saw a mother duck with her four babies sneaking through the tall grass to get from one pond to another. They were as big as Mom. The only difference was their feathers were new, shiny and dark brown; hers were dull, worn and faded by the sun. Parents give much of themselves in raising their offspring. I do not know many parents who would say the result isn’t worth it.
Raising children- it’s another sort of ultramarathon.
I arrived at Mountain Trailhead mile 40.5 a bit off my pace. I started to get chafing in personal areas (no need for me to go into more detail than that). Another lesson I learned in the past is to address hot spots, chafing and blisters early before they become serious and potentially end your race.
My family was there waiting for me. After applying some sports lubricant, I refilled my water bottle and headed on my way.
I’ve found that the fluid that works best for me is plain old water. Sometimes I try a sports drink, mainly for the change in flavor and to increase palatability. I don’t have any particular favorite- I train with several brands to I can be flexible and tolerate whatever is being offered at any given race. I do try to avoid those containing large quantities of fructose. Some sensitive people have difficult digesting fructose during extreme endurance activity resulting in GI upset.
However, despite aggressive marketing to the contrary, there is no scientific evidence that one sport drink is better at ”replacing electrolytes” or preventing hyponatremia than another. In order for a sports drink to contain sufficient sodium and other electrolytes to replace those lost in sweat, it would be essentially undrinkable.
Exercise induced hyponatremia (low blood sodium) is a serious and potentially lethal medical condition duirng extreme endurance events. More than anything else, it is due to overdrinking of fluids. People who are predisposed to getting hyponatremia are those whose bodies for some reason do not shut off vasopressin (anti-diuretic hormone) causing excessive fluid retention. Factors that predispose include use of NSAIDs (Advil, Naproxen, Ibuprofen, etc) which is why I don’t take Naproxen until after the race.
Many runners take in salt caps and eat salty foods- so do I. If I crave salt during races, then it makes sense to follow my body’s signal, doesn’t it? However, the scientific data does not show that taking in vs. not taking in salt caps or salty foods prevents hyponatremia.
Hyponatremia- its all about the water- not about your salt intake!
To determine fluid status, pay attention to your urinary output. If you’ve peed within the last a few hours, then continue sipping fluids.
If you haven’t peed for some time or worse yet, you feel thirsty and/or dizzy and/or your pee is dark, then you’re dehydrated. You should immediately drink one or two water bottles (possibly more) and continue small frequent sips until you do pee.
On the other hand, if you’re peeing large amounts of crystal clear urine every 15 or 30 minutes- you’ve overhydrated. Stop drinking until it stops. Headache, confusion, abdominal bloating, excessive swelling and weight gain may all signal that you’ve overhydrated and become hyponatremic. If you stop drinking soon enough, you will pee out the excess fluid. If you continue drinking, the results could be serious. Rarely, it could be fatal.
For more info, I’ve written about exercise induced hyponatremia at my professional blog at the website of the medical journal Endocrine Today: http://www.endocrinetoday.com/comments.aspx?rid=41099#com and http://www.endocrinetoday.com/comments.aspx?rid=65774#com.
Just before the tunnel going to Crazy Horse Monument, several bicyclers stopped and asked me for directions. I thought it was ironic (and fortunate for them) that they picked me. Of the handful of other runners in sight, I was the only one who was a local and actually knew where they wanted to go.
As I started to head down the hill, I enjoyed the quickened pace but also thought about the inevitable “coming back up it” later.
Suddenly, about half way down the hill, a large back shape jumped out at me from under a spruce. I saw teeth and instinctively jumped to avoid them. A much smaller furry white animal rushed around the back. They began barking.
It was two dogs!
One was small, a fluffy white yapping furball. The other was much larger and weighed around 60-70 lbs. It was black with wiry long hair. Was it a Laborador-German Wire Hair Pointer mix?
The smaller dog barked and kept circling around trying to bite my ankles from behind. He was trying to distract me as the large black dog approached from the front. It’s amazing how after slowing down and feeling tired around 42 miles, I was instantly alert, ready to fight and defend myself.
“You lil sonovabitch! Stop it! Get away from me!”
Although I wasn’t worried about the damage that could be inflicted by the smaller dog, it pissed me off that he was purposely trying to get my attention so the big dog could make his move. I would have greatly enjoyed kicking that little ankle-biter several feet. However, he was too quick and dodged my leg every time I attemped to kick.
The larger dog, now he was as different question. He was the one who tried to bite me initially. I could see by his eyes and body stance that he was not the least bit afraid of me. Usually most dogs are cowards. They are usually bullies who wait for an easy opportunity and back down when their bluff is called.. To my surprise, when I yelled and stood my ground, these two dogs did not back down. They only tried harder.
Now this made me mad. It made me really really MAD. I have a hundred miles to go… OK at this point it was only about 58 more miles…. and here I was fighting off dogs.
I picked up a stick. Actually it was more of a club. Instantly- they turned and ran.
“So you’ve done this before- have you?” I thought. “You little mother-#$%#$%’ers!”
I was pissed. I chased them a few hundred yards down the trail shouting, screaming, and cursing. I yelled all manner of bodily harm I would inflict upon them if only they let me.
“I’ll chase you #$%$%#’ers all the way to Hot Springs if I have to!!!”
As we came down the trail, there was another runner coming the other way. He’d heard the commotion and picked up a stick of his own. As soon as the dogs saw that they were between two humans carrying sticks- they knew they were out-numbered. They turned off the the Mickelson onto a side road. I threw my stick hoping to hit the last one in the butt but they ran under a gate. Sadly, the stick harmlessly bounced off the metal pipe with a loud CLANG!
The other runner was wide-eyed, breathing hard and still grasping his stick. “Did they bite you?” he asked.
“Nah! But it was close. They’re lucky I didn’t catch ‘em!” I responded.
After a half mile, I looked at my GPS. I was running a 7:00 to 7:30 min/mile.
“Oh shit!” I thought, “I’d better slow down! The last thing I need is to use up all my calories and catecholamines now!” (Catecholamines are ‘stress hormones’. Remember, I’m an endocrinologist so my internal self-talk tends to be scientifically and medically accurate).
If you read some of my previous blogs you will see that I get chased,confronted by and/or attacked by dogs about two or three times a year. Dogs are no small problem here. South Dakota is second to Alaska in number of human fatalities from dog attack. I’ve heard of people who have been crippled and who no longer can run due to dog injuries.
Normally I carry pepper spray when I run. Of course, why would I carry such protection in a race? I left my pepper spray out of my fanny pack to cut on weight.
What were the odds of dogs ambushing me during an organized event? There were 150 plus other runners and yet they select me out of everyone else to ambush?
What the heck!?!
I made it to Oreville aid station at mile 45.2, still breathing hard and still mad about the dogs. Jeanne and Chris wisely calmed me down. I still had over 50 miles to go and needed to save every ounce of energy for moving forward- not being angry about dogs.
One strength as well as weakness that I have is that I am extremely passionate. My passion can be a good thing when it is enthusiasm about something positive. When I am happy, I am not just happy; I’m exuberant. When I am sad, I am not just sad, I am the deepest shade of blue.
My passion is also the foundation of my determination. It’s good to be stubborn if you are stubborn about fighting to do the right thing. I’ve always been one to try to do the “right thing” whatever it may be, even if it isn’t popular or easy or lucrative. Stubborness and determination is a good characteristic to have, no matter if I am fighting insurance companies on my patient’s behalf- or struggling to finish an ultramarathon.
However, if I’m not careful my passion can be a detriment when it is directed by negative emotion, such as anger or frustration.
Self knowledge comes only with time and experience. I’ve become much better at controlling my emotions than I was in the past. However, when discussing a thwarted canine attack- it’s hard to remain calm!
Before I left, I also saw Bob Whay resting at the Oreville Aid Station. I never saw him again after that or heard how his race went but I was sad to not see his name on the list of finishers. He’s slow like me. He’s tried running 100 miles at least as often as I have and certainly deserves to finish as much as me or anyone else.
I saw Holley Lange who was having muscle cramping and would drop. “Darn it!” I thought, “Holley has started enough of these 100 mile ultras- she should be able to do it!” I am convinced that as long as she keeps trying some day she will.
I jogged the last few miles to the turn-around enjoying the cooler temperatures. At the exact place where I tore my tendon last year, I felt a dull ache. It was in the same place and at the same level as last year.
“What the heck? This can’t be real, I can’t be getting the exact same injury in the exact same location as last year,” I thought, “This has got to all be in my head!”
Sure enough, after a few hundred yards my pain disappeared entirely. It WAS all in my head! Our minds are very strange, aren’t they?
“They say the first half of a hundred is physical and the second half is mental,” I thought, “Well, I guess I’m going to soon find out if that’s true!”
Buckaroo to Carroll Creek- Miles 50 to 70
“In ultrarunning, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”
- Al Bogenhuber (from Run 100s website)
At Buckaroo just past mile 50, Chris joined me.
Last year this is where I dropped out. In 2008, I made it to Harbach Park at mile 64.I really did not want to let Chris down this year, nor did I want the efforts of my crew to again “be wasted.” I know they didn’t see it this way. They didn’t think that when I DNF’d in the past, their time was “wasted.” However, when you have such a great support team as I do, you want to succeed- for them as much for you.
“I WILL do it this year!”
Before we started to head back up that 3 plus mile slow hill to Crazy Horse Monument, I joked with the aid station volunteers: “I’m in the home stretch now! Hot Springs is a-calling me! I’m going to make it this year!”
Instead of pacing me all night, Nathan spent the night with friends. Before he left, he gave me a big hug and said, “Dad! I know you can do it Dad! I know you can! I love you!” His words gave me strength through the night and into the next morning.
It was only after the race that I found out after he had left Nathan confided with Jeanne: “Mom, I don’t know if Dad’s going to do it this year, I just don’t know, Mom.”
Just before we got back to Oreville Aid Station, I saw Alan Rickel. He was obviously struggling. I said, “Don’t give up!” I don’t remember what he said but it was obvious he was going to drop. I was sad to see that. That morning I was sure he was going to do it. I know, I just know in my heart that someday he will make it!
I didn’t have much time to think about what everyone else was doing for long. Soon I would have my own issues to face.
The sun set; the trail became dark. I was grateful to have Chris pacing me. It made the miles seem shorter and the night seem less dark.
Along the way I had some unusual GI symptoms. I started having some abdominal bloating. I felt slightly nauseated. The only thing that relieved my symptoms was releasing this gas build-up. I belched and burped for over 20 miles before it stopped. I have no idea what caused it. Was it the watermelon I ate earlier? That was several hours previous, so I didn’t think so. Odd.
At Harbach Park in Custer at mile 64, the aid station asked me how was I doing to which I replied: “My feet hurt, I’m tired and I really stink- but other than that I’m feeling great!”
We sat down, ate and drank a little. There were some other runners who had been doing well earlier and had been ahead of me in the pack. I was surprised to now see them at the aid station ready to DNF.
Some had blisters. Well, so did I. In fact, I was afraid to look at my feet for fear that what I saw might convince me to stop too. Although I am not superstitious, there was so much negative energy and dejected attitudes amongst the other runners, I was worried that some of it might rub off on me.
I told Chris, “We need to go….”
As we left, the aid station volunteers asked me one more time: “How are you doing?”
I replied, “Slow and determined, that’s how I’m doing. I’m gonna make it no matter what!”
”Your toughness is made up of equal parts persistence and experience. You don’t so much outrun your opponents as outlast and outsmart them, and the toughest opponent of all is the one inside your head.” – Joe Henderson
As we headed south out of Custer, we saw the sign marking the 65 mile point. I touched the top of it with my fingers as we passed.
The farthest I have ever gone before was 65 miles.”I’ve now entered territory where I have never been before,” I thought to myself. “No matter how bad I feel, I shall not stop until I make it to Hot Springs.”
I knew full well that it would be all too easy to convince myself to stop for whatever reason by rationalizing, “Well, maybe I DNF’d but at least I went farther than I ever have before.” I’ve dropped in past races thinking such thoughts before.
“No! This time you will go the full hundred miles!”
There had been rainstorms earlier which had soaked the trail and some of the other runners. The rain had missed us, I suppose it’s not always a disadvantage to be slow, is it?
A large tiger salamander scurried across the trail.
Along the way to the next aid station, Chris mentioned that he was having problems with his quads cramping. Earlier I had half-jokingly mentioned that instead of running with walk breaks, I was walking with jogging breaks.
Actually it was true.
Chris is a fast runner; he usually finishes strong in the front-of-the-mid-pack (or should I say in the back-of-the-front-pack?). Unlike me, he doesn’t spend much time in training or racing at an extended fast-race-walk pace. Walking uses different muscles than does running. That is why taking walk breaks during an ultramarathon is a tactic which is considered a sign of being intelligent rather than a sign of weakness as it might be viewed in shorter distances.
Chris decided it would be better to drop at the next aid station and join Jeanne in crewing me to the finish. This, I think, was really eye-opening for both of us.
I am slow…. really really slow. Certainly I’m much slower than Chris. Had I been able to go faster and actually run, he would have paced me the entire second half. However, I knew that my only hope of finishing would be to take it easy and pace myself for a 29 to 30 hour finish. I had trained for exactly what I was doing: fast-walk pace with jogging/slow running breaks when the terrain permitted and I felt able.
It still amazes me that I was able to “out-walk” my pacer whom I could never have kept up with had we been running. The human body, and it’s ability to respond to training is amazing.
Before we arrived at Carroll Creek, I starting thinking and even saying out loud, “Gosh, I am tired. I am SO tired.”
I started to worry about my chances of finishing considering how completely and totally exhausted I was beginning to feel.
My legs felt like dead weights; my feet were beginning to hurt.
Onward into the darkness we pressed.
Carroll Creek to Argyle Road- Miles 70 to 84
“The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost
We arrived at Carroll Creek as the aid station volunteers were packing up. Several other runners who’d decided to drop were sitting quietly with blankets wrapped around them.
I tried some chicken noodle soup. Mmmm… it was good! Then they offered me a grilled cheese sandwich. I wasn’t sure how well my stomach would tolerate it. I took a few bites…. it tasted good. I ate an entire sandwich. Sometimes the simple things, such as a grilled cheese sandwich can really hit the spot.
As I prepared to head on, the aid station volunteers warned me that the Pringle aid station would close and pack up at 3AM. I looked at my watch; there was no chance I would make it there in time.
“Thanks but no problem!” I told them, “I have my own personal aid station, my crew will drive up ahead to meet me…thank you! I’m gonna make it! You’ll have to throw a rope on me to make me stop!”
Before I left, they mentioned that there were a few other runners behind me. Some were planning on dropping, but one they said, #101 looked strong. “Hmmm, I wonder who that is? Could it be Jim Newton?”
No one knew who #101 was, only that he was looking strong and was about 15 minutes behind me.
I shuffled southward. The temperatures grew colder and patches of fog fell upon the land. The grilled cheese gave me new-found energy but the effect was short-lived. I began to feel tired… very very tired. I looked over and saw a bench on the side of the trail. On a sunny warm day, it might have been a nice place to take a break.
I thought, “Maybe I should lay down, just for a few minutes, it would feel so good to take a nap and get off of my feet, only for a few minutes…”
Rapidly, I pushed such thoughts out of my head. I’d be cold, stiff and hypothermic in no time.
“You have many more miles to go. You won’t get there unless you keep moving forward.”
My feet hurt. I had blisters on both of my heels. I thought the pain was unbearable but then my plantar fascia started to burn. It was excrutiating. It was like someone was scraping the bottom of my feet with a pocket knife. It was as if the soles of my feet were punctured by a hundred needles with every step. The pain from my blisters still was there but my plantar fascial pain was so severe- it made my blister pain seem minor in comparison.
I started crying from the pain. “How can I possibly go on while I’m suffering in so much pain?”
I hurt so bad, at one point I was no longer crying… I was sobbing. A stream of tears fell to the ground. I felt small and vulnerable and weak and helpless.
“Why did you choose to do something like this?” I thought out loud, “Who you think you are? Why the hell are you out here in the middle of the night trying to go one hundred miles? I’m so stupid! I’m an idiot!”
Now I don’t consider myself a particularly religious person. I’m not one of those folks who go to church every Sunday. When it comes to what my personal beliefs are, I usually hold those cards very close to my chest. I don’t readily share my personal beliefs with others. I have many friends of a variety of religious beliefs (some with none at all). I respect all of them.
Who am I to judge someone else when I don’t know the answer’s to life’s mysteries myself?
On the other hand, having cared for people dying at the end of their life, I believe that there is more to our lives and to the universe that we fully understand. I have seen things for which there is no logical explanation. I guess rather than calling me religious a better word would be spiritual. I feel more humbled and awe-inspired when I’m amongst creation out in the natural world than I do in a man-made building. For me, going up into the mountains or the desert or the forest is the greatest and most beautiful cathedral there is.
Nevertheless, I also believe that if there is a higher power, it doesn’t typically intervene in the petty small lives of us mortals. I don’t often pray but when I do, it is usually out of thanks and gratititude rather than any kind of special request.
If there is a benevolent power who might just possibly answer our prayers, I’m not about to waste my prayers asking for things that are unimportant in the grand scheme of the universe.
And when it comes down to it, most of what us humans stress and worry about is pretty unimportant.
At this point I was in so much agony, however, I didn’t know what else to do.
I started praying to God or to whatever creator or higher being there might be. It was not a request to send help. Rather I prayed, “Please enable me to see hope where there is futility, to be strong when I feel weak, to keep going and not give up when all appears lost.”
I thanked whatever or whomever might be listening for all the good things in my life, of which I knew there are many.
I asked to never forget these good things and to never ever take them for granted.
I prayed to myself and I prayed out loud.
Slowly, I started feeling better. The pain was still there and it was still excrutiating. I finally realized that no matter how bad I felt, how miserable the blisters and plantar fascial pain made me feel- the pain from them was not lethal.
“The pain from blisters and plantar fasciitis never killed anyone,” I reminded myself, “even if it makes them feel like they’re going to die.”
“You told everyone before the race that you wanted to go 100 miles so bad, you would do anything to finish. Anything!?” I asked, “Is that true? Would you do anything? If your answer is ‘yes’ then you’d better keep going.”
“Stop feeling so sorry for yourself!”
Overhead the stars sparkled. They were beautiful and ignored my misery.
I saw several well-known constellations including Ursa Major (Big Dipper) and Cassiopea. To the south west I saw a lesser known constellation: Ophiuchus. Translated from Greek, it means “serpent bearer.” Ophiuchus is a large but relatively dim constellation. Only in the dark skies of western South Dakota and other places far way from the light pollution of large cities can Ophiuchus be easily seen.
According to legend, this constellation represents the healer Asclepius. He learned to heal the sick and the secret of immortality after observing one snake bringing another healing herbs. To prevent the entire human race from becoming immortal under Asclepius’ care, Zeus killed him with a bolt of lightning but later placed his image in the heavens to honor his good works.
Asclepius is the Greek God of medicine, healing and physicians. His rod interwined with a snake subsequently became the symbol of medicine. Although Ophiuchus is not the brightest or most dramatic constellation, as a healer myself, I have always liked this group of stars.
“It would be nice if you could heal some of this foot pain for me,” I hoped, “but could you please tell Zeus to keep any stray lightning bolts to himself tonight.”
Jeanne and Chris were waiting for me at the White Elephant parking lot. Not an official aid station, it is a great place for crew to stop and wait for their runner. I pounded on the car window. Finally I opened the door and they woke up. Once they did, they moved quickly to get me everything I needed and sent me on my way.
Along the trail towards Pringle, I saw another runner sitting by the side of the road. I asked if he was OK. He said he was and assured me his ride was on their way.
A little bit further, one of the volunteers stopped in their car to check on me, “Is everything was alright?”
I told him I was OK.
That was a lie.
In truth I was suffering in extreme pain and exhausted. However, I was as “OK” as I could have possibly been at that time of night.
At Pringle Mile 76 I sat down, ate some, and changed shoes and socks. Despite being told that Pringle would officially be closed after 3AM, there were two volunteers there recording our numbers and asking if there was anything we needed. Aid station volunteers are heroes in my opinion. They certainly didn’t have to wait around for slowpokes like us to come shuffling by, but there they were.
While I sat down, I saw another runner come through. It was number 101! Before I could get up and find out who it was, he was gone.
I asked, “Was it Jim? Was it Jim from Texas?” No one knew- they only knew it was number 101- looking strong. I hoped that it was Jim. We had run together for a time last year and both of us had DNf’d. It would have made me happy to know he was plugging along in the darkness ahead of me.
I thought about trying to catch up just to find out who it was and wish him my best. However, my severe foot pain soon put an end to that.
I thought about trying to catch up just to find out who it was and wish him my best. However, my severe foot pain soon put an end to that.
I slowed back down to my fast-walk with shuffle-breaks.
“Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you.
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
-But who is that on the other side of you?”
-TS Eliot, ‘The Waste Land’
I was alone in the darkness.
The shuffling of my feet and my breaths were the only sounds. There were only a few crickets chirping in the distance. The temperature dropped to where even they went to sleep.
Suddenly, I realized I was no longer alone. Someone…or should I say… SOMETHING had joined me. I turned around to look at it, but nothing was there.
“You’re tired, your mind is playing tricks on you…” I thought.
Out of the corner of my eye.. I thought I saw something. It was more of a shadow than anything real. I turned to look at it again but instantly, it disappeared. After a few dozen yards, I swear, there it was again.
If I didn’t look directly at it, I could almost see it… almost…but not quite.
My mind was clear; I wasn’t delerious. I felt completely “with it.” I knew that logically what I was experiencing could not really be happening. Normally I am a rational, logical person. In my line of work as a physician and clinical researcher, I have been trained to be skeptical. I’m not someone who believes in ghosts or other entitities. I don’t usually think there is a spirit world trying to contact us. I’m not one of those “new-agey” types.
However, as impossible and illogical as it was- all my senses told me that I was not alone.
The closest I can describe what I felt: Have you ever walked into a dark room with the lights off and knew there was someone else there?
Maybe when you were a child playing hide-and-seek?
And then you discovered that there actually was someone was there?
I cannot tell you what it was. It is difficult to put into words. I sensed the presence of some kind of entity that I could not actually see. It felt as real to me as if another person or being was walking next to me. It seemed to prefer being located either next to me, just off my right shoulder, or immediately behind me. I stopped walking and heard extra footsteps that were not my own.
I jogged again and then I stopped again, just to prove to myself I wasn’t imagining it. The extra footsteps were really there. I couldn’t believe it!
”Tom! Now hold it together! This can’t be real! It’s got to be a hallucination!”
I’ve seen things at other races that weren’t there. Logs that look like bears but which turned out to be only logs. The light of fireflies playing tricks on my mind… making me feel as if I was going “warp-speed” as on Star-trek when I most definitely was not. However, every time I realized these were hallucinations which couldn’t be real, they always disappeared.
Not so with this.
Try as I might- it just wouldn’t go away. Every time I tried to get a better look at it, it would move rapidly out of my field of vision. Even more than footsteps that were not my own or shadows out of the corner of my vision, I sensed a presence. I could not tell you if it was man or woman… or even if it was human. It had two legs, that I knew. Whatever it was, it was bipedal based on the occasional sound of its footsteps.
I know, I know, all of this sounds crazy. That’s exactly what I thought at this point.
Finally, more annoyed at myself for not being able to force this thing out of my mind, I spun around. The entity again moved out of my vision. It refused to allow me to get a good look at it. It moved far out into the darkness, just outside of the beam of light from my headlamp.
I knew it was still there, but I just couldn’t see it.
“OK, hallucination, fatigue-induced creation, entity, spirit, ghost, guardian angel or whatever the hell you are… I don’t have time to argue with you, I have over 20 miles to go. You can come along with me if you can keep up. I only ask that you stay next to me where I can keep track of you and won’t be distracted by looking around to see where you are.”
I turned and started jog-walking south again. Within a few moments, it returned to it’s place right next to me.
It said not a word.
“You’re not much for conversation, are you?” I observed, “Well, then I guess I’ll do the talking for both of us.” I spoke with it about many things but it was a one-sided conversation.
“If you’re going to be with me and not say anything, could you at least do me a favor and watch my back for mountain lions?”
It felt very old to me. Not old as in frail and weak- but old as in possessing deep wisdom, knowledge and power. I felt that it was there to help me. I wasn’t scared. I never felt that it had any malicious intent or ever meant to harm me. Instead of being afraid, I felt safe. Very safe and very strong.
How could I not feel safe and strong? How often does one have their own personal guardian spirit pacing them?
An “ancient benevolent presence” would be the best way for me to describe it. Once I realized it was there to offer support and encouragement, I appreciated its presence. I enjoyed it’s company.
The stars continued to twinkle overhead. In addition to the other constellations, I saw a frequent friend on night-time winter runs, Orion, the hunter, rising in the east. Tonight I had two friends with me, Orion in the sky and my spirit pacer by my side. ”Soon winter will be here, Orion,” I thought, ” I’ll get to see you every time I run.”
In a couple of hours, the eastern skies brightened and dawn came. The stars slowly disappeared one by one. As mysteriously as it had arrived, the presence also vanished.
I was glad and relieved to see the sun rise. I thought to myself, “You’ve made it through the night! You’re gonna make it!” However, I was sad to see the presence go.
“Now I’m all alone again…” I missed having it accompany me.
I arrived at Lime Kiln mile 80 to find everyone asleep. I woke up Jeanne and Chris again and sat down in the chair. All of the aid station volunteers were asleep in their tent. They must’ve had a long night. Not wanting to disturb them, we signed my in time and my out time ourselves.
Chris and Jeanne asked how was I doing, “Just fine” I replied. Although my spirit pacer had already left me by the time the sun rose, I didn’t mention it to them. I was tired and my feet hurt but otherwise I felt OK.
I didn’t want them to worry.
After the race I told them about my experience. They said that when they saw me at mile 80, I seemed completely lucid and coherent. That is how I felt, tired but clear and lucid, not delerious or hallucinating as one should be when they’re seeing things that cannot be there.
“It’s not far now,” I reassured myself, “I only have twenty more miles to go. I can do that!”
Rather than counting up every mile I went and thinking, “My gosh, I’ve gone 80 miles I’m getting really tired,” I starting counting down the miles. Instead of thinking about how much farther I had to go, I thought about how few miles I had left. Instead of going uphill, I tried to imagine myself going downhill.
It was purely a mind game I was playing, but it’s what got me through.
Argyle Road to Finish- Miles 84 to 100
“Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic.”
- Tim Noakes MD
I arrived at Argyle Road aid station as the volunteers were packing up. They offered me food and drink; I refilled my Camelback.
I slurped down a cup of tomato soup… it was delicious!
They remembered me from yesterday promising that I would see them again no matter what.
I told them, “I was joking about the ‘being in dead last’ part but I guess that’s how it turned! But DFL is always better than DNF!”
Chris and Jeanne arrived, I dropped off my fanny pack, water bottle and some unneeded gear with them. Soon I was on my way. I was planning on seeing them again somewhere along Argyle Road.
I did some quick mental calculation. I had only 16 or so miles to go. If I could somehow dig deep and do a 15 min/mile, I would be able to make it to the finish just squeaking by the 30 hour final cut off. I started running 11 – 12 min/mile downhill and 15 – 16 min/mile up hill.
In all my pain and misery, I previously had given up on the possibility of making to the finish in under 30 hours but now there seemed to be hope. “I might be able to get a buckle after all,” I thought.
I maintained this pace for the first several miles… then before I made it to the Morph aid station, I was surprised to find myself completely out of water. I had thought aid would be sooner and trying to go light, I did not fill up as much as I could have.
The sun was steadily rising with every hour. I had no choice but to slow down.
I made it Morph aid station mile 90 and sat in a chair. I started eating and drinking and soon felt better.
One of the gals asked about my flute. Last year and at some other events, I bring a small 5-hole Native American Flute to play at night and keep me company. She remembered me from last year (a few other runners did also) It’s as if I have my own personal I-pod that doesn’t require batteries. However, this year I was so focused on finishing, I decided to not waste even one breathe on anything other than moving forward.
I ate, drank and put ice under my hat. I found out that Chris and Jeanne had driven home to get Nathan so he would be able to witness my first 100 mile finish. They would come to meet me up ahead as soon as they returned.
Hydrated and feeling better… I started running again more quickly. In only a few miles, however, I started getting blisters between and on the tips of my toes. As tiny as they were, they hurt worse than any of the other much larger blisters on my heels and other locations.
My second pair of shoes I had switched into were not as large as I should have had for this late in the race with my feet swelling. I also realized that when I changed my socks earlier, I only switched my outer cushion sock but not my inner layer Injinjis. After hours and hours of running, the perspiration had soaked the sock, resulting in blisters in places I’ve never had them before.
I had to slow way down to a slow shuffle by the side of the road. There was no way I could move faster, my blisters hurt so much. I usually carry a small blister kit but left it out of my fanny pack this race, assuming that I’d have access to my foot care kit, every time I saw my crew. I regretted that decision but there was nothing I could do about it. I’m not sure it would have made a difference at this point anway.
Tears filled my eyes again, once I realized there was no chance of me finishing under the final cut off of 30 hours. They were as much tears of frustration as they were tears of pain.
“One hundred miles is still one hundred miles,” I reassured myself, “No matter how long it takes you.”
“You wanted a buckle, you wanted it really bad you did. But really, what is a buckle? It’s just a piece of metal, it’s only a token to represent your accomplishment. Other than that, a buckle is nothing,” I tried to console myself, “No you don’t need buckle to mark what you did… you will know it in your heart. That’s what counts…”
Still, I was sad and frustrated that because of blisters and foot pain, I’d finish past cut off. “Just keep moving forward, you’re going to make it no matter what.”
I turned off of Arygle Road just past mile 95. I saw a Subaru driving up. It was Jeanne, Chris and Nathan.
I was overjoyed to see them!
I pulled off my shoes and switched socks, however, when I tried to put my shoes on again, I found that me feet hurt so much, I just couldn’t get them back on my feet. Finally, I decided to put on my crocs for the last few miles of shuffling.
Chris joined me for the last few miles. As we came through Coldbrook Campground mile 96 the aid station volunteers offered words of encouragement.
I told them, “I’m last but not least! The few, the proud, the DFL! Someone’s got to do it, it might as well be me!”
“Yes, but you’re last in a ONE HUNDRED MILE RACE!!! You inspire us!” they responded, “Good luck! It’s not far now!”
As we headed south, I told Chris, “You know, after you left last night, I found another pacer for a while…” Before he could ask me, “You did? Who was it?” I explained that my pacer wasn’t exactly a ”who?” but rather a “what?”
I described to him what I’d experienced. Only somewhat to my surprise, he recognized exactly what it was. “It’s called third man syndrome.”
Apparently ”third man syndrome” or “third man factor” is a phenomenom of an unseen benevolent presence that some people experience during survival situations or times of extreme endurance activities such as mountaineering or running ultramarathons.
“Third man syndrome? Really?” I’d never heard of it before.
Nathan decided to join us the last couple of miles. I really appreciated that. As we slowly made our way through town, I couldn’t believe that I’d made it.
It was surreal, almost like a dream. “I’ve tried so many times before and failed… now here I am. This can’t be happening…can it?”
Slowly we approached the finish line. I saw Dave Elsbernd, who walked out to greet us. He had succeeded in his goal of running 100 miles in under 24 hours.
As I approached the finish line, tears filled my eyes yet again.
Tears of pain. Tears of relief. And more than anything, tears of joy.
I was determined to do it… no matter what, and I did.
I hugged Jeanne, Nathan and Chris- without them I don’t know if I could have made it.
My finish time was 30 hours, 36 minutes. During that entire time, I didn’t stop more than ten minutes. Apparently word had gotten back before I did that I was extremely determined to finish. Yes, I was. I was willing to do whatever it took. That included enduring blisters and severe foot pain.
Of the 159 runners who started, 94 finished. I’m proud to say that I was 94th. Last but not least.
I was glad to later find out that runner #101 who finished ahead of me was indeed Jim Newton.
Great job Jim!
Jerry Dunn race director walked up to congratulate me. Then to my surprise, he offered me a finisher’s buckle.
I started crying again and tried to turn it down: “I can’t take it… I don’t deserve it! It took me more than 30 hours to finish!”
To which Jerry replied, “Well, I think you do… you just went one hundred miles!”
He didn’t have to ask me twice. I took the buckle and gave him a big hug (I must’ve smelled pretty bad at that point!) I gave hugs to everyone else who would let me. I didn’t expect a buckle but was overjoyed beyond words to be given one.
“Last is just the slowest winner.”
- C. Hunter Boyd (from Run 100s website)
I still could not believe that I actually did it.
I went 100 miles.
On my own two feet.
This was the single most physically, mentally and emotionally difficult thing I have ever accomplished. It is hard to put into words how gratifying and rewarding of an achievement this has been for me, especially after having tried and failed two times before.
It would have been difficult for me to succeed in this accomplishment without my crew. Without the support and encouragement of Jeanne, Chris and Nathan, there was a strong chance that I might not have made it this year too.
I am SO thankful to have had them along.
I’d also like to express my deepest gratitude for what race director Jerry Dunn has done for me. I’m not only talking about him deciding to give me a buckle even though I finished well past final cut off time. That was generous and kind. He absolutely didn’t have to do that but he did.
However, what I’m even more grateful for than my buckle is that Jerry gave me the chance to do it at all.
At around mile 64, I started falling behind cut-off times. Had cut-off times been strict as they are at many other races, I would have been told, “Sorry, you’re too slow, you missed a cut-off, you need to stop.” I would have been pulled as I have at many other races. I would have never had the opportunity to discover if I could actually make it one hundred miles or not.
Allowing me the chance to see how far I could go, even despite my slowness, was the most tremendous gift I could ever have been given. I can’t think of many other events where I would have been allowed to go on.
Although us back-of-the-packers run a different race and run for different reasons than faster runners, achieving our personal goal is just as important to us as it is for anyone else.
Jerry gets us. He’s a runner. He understands runners and how important each of our individual journeys are to all of us, even those of us who run in the back-of-the-pack, including those of us who finish in dead last place.
Then, even though I finished well past final cut-off and I know that I technically shouldn’t have, I was given a finisher’s buckle too. I can’t believe it. Most other races would not have given me a buckle. Many wouldn’t have even given me a posted finish time. I’d have been told: “We’re really sorry, event though you went the whole way you’re still technically a DNF….”
Jerry is awesome as a race director; as a result Lean Horse is awesome as an event.
I will wear my finisher’s buckle proudly. It’s the buckle I never expected to get.
“A presence, to some an ‘angel’, a Third Man, joined them during their extreme struggles, a being who, in the words of the legendary Italian climber Reinhold Messner, ‘leads you out of the impossible.’”
-John Geiger, “Third Man Factor”
As for my experience with the “presence” or guardian spirit, I still don’t know what it was nor do I completely understand it.
Perhaps I never will.
Perhaps I’m not supposed to.
After the race, I looked up “third man syndrome.” Incredible. I’d never heard of it before but this is exactly what I experienced.
The first documented written account of this phenomenom was by Sir Ernest Shackleton after his ship, the Endurance, was trapped and crushed in the Antarctic ice in 1916. During their difficult and harrowing escape, Shackleton and two other men sensed the presence of an unseen being, someone or something which they could not see but which offered them hope and encouragement. Shackleton described it as such: “I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.”
Later, TS Eliot used Shackleton’s account of a presence on a polar expedition in his poem, The Waste Land, which I quoted above. TS Eliot changed the fourth man to third man and the phrase stuck. Hence the name “Third man” even though in my case, it was actually a second man or a second whatever.
Since then, there have been hundreds of reported cases, all strikingly similar. The phenomenom has been reported in ship-wreck survivors, alpine mountaineers, pilots, astronauts, extreme endurance athletes and even a survivor of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.
John Geiger wrote a book about this phenomenom ”The Third Man Factor.” It is a good read, balancing the spiritual and the scientific explanations, while being respectful of each. An excerpt of this book is available here: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3120/is_8_81/ai_n35631723/ I highly recommend it.
It is incredible how similar, how identical my experience was to that of others. Even the little things, such as typically being located just behind me or off of my right shoulder, I could not have made up had I tried. Had this not been such a positive experience, the similarity would have been eerie.
When I tell others about my experience, they usually either nod politely but incredulously- or they tell me, “Well, you must have been very tired. It must’ve been a hallucination.”
I try to explain to other that it was more real than any hallucination. “I know what hallucinations are like, I’ve had them before.” Hallucinations are disorienting and disconcerting- this was not like that. It was the opposite.
Others tell me, “Gosh, that sounds really creepy…”
We all occasionally experience the unpleasant sensation of something watching us. That is a scary, unnerving sensation. However, my experience was completely unlike that. Besides feeling more vivid and more “real,” the presence of this entity, whatever it was, was reassuring and empowering.
I wasn’t afraid. I was comforted.
Most Native Americans and other indigenous peoples have some sort of vision quest ceremony. One goes out away from others into the solitude of nature for days without water or food. By doing so, one might find greater understanding of the oneness of all things and gain knowledge of the Spirit-That-Moves-In-All-Things. Those who are deemed worthy experience a vision. A messenger may come to them in the form of an animal, a dream or a guiding spirit. The Lakota call the vision quest, hanbleceya or ”Crying for a Vision.” Black Elk described his vision quest as “lamenting.”
As I was out there suffering in the middle of the night, I didn’t realize that while I was crying out in pain I was also quite literally crying out in prayer. I never expected to receive any kind of vision or assistance but somehow I did.
I cannot prove that what I experienced truly happened. I completely admit that it could have been created by my mind as a way to reassure me and to get me through a particularly tough part of the night. I concede that just because I believe in something does not make it true.
On the other hand, just because I cannot prove something does not mean it doesn’t exist.
What if there really are spirits out there ready to help us, if only we were willing to let down the veil of reality?
What if they’re always there, it’s just that we can’t see them normally because our conscious brain doesn’t let us or they don’t let us see them unless we need them?
Whether it was my imagination or it was real, I do not know. What I do know is that it was the closest to a revelation, an epiphany, that I’ve ever had. I needed help from 3AM to dawn and that’s what I got.
Even if it was a creation of an exhausted mind for which there is a rational neurocognitive explanation, however, that doesn’t make it any less miraculous or beautiful. Scientists have identified which part of our brain creates the emotion of love which we feel for others. Just because there is a neurophysiological explanation for the love I feel for my family and friends- it doesn’t make that emotion any less real, any less beautiful, or any less wonderful. And so it is the same with this guardian spirit, entity, third man or whatever it was.
I wonder: if I am ever again in a time of need, will I again be able to summon this benevolent presence? I hope so.
My experience reassures me that whatever hardships I may face in the future, there is hope that I might not have to overcome them alone.
This knowledge and reassurance is the greatest gift I could have received.
Some people get tattoos to commemorate an important event. I decided to shave. Before the race, I promised Nathan that if I succeeded, I would shave off my beard and trim my hair short. As you can see, it took twenty years off my age. Jeanne had never seen me without some sort of facial hair.
The responses I got at work were interesting:
“So did you get new glasses?”
“Did you get a haircut?”
There were several other comments that made me chuckle…
Of course I kind of like wearing a beard so I started growing it back immediately. Since growing my beard a few years ago, I’ve gotten lazy when it comes to shaving every day. I’d rather trim my beard once a week than shave it every morning.
Frankly, it’s also just plain dangerous for me to have a sharp instrument in my hands at 4AM before I’ve had any caffeine. I’m not a surgeon, don’t you know?
Some have asked me, “Will you ever do 100 miles again?”
That is the same as asking a woman immediately after an especially painful and difficult birth, “So.. are you ready to have another child?”
My answer is: “Of course I’ll do it again; after all, I’m an ultramarathoner! But please don’t ask me right now because I really don’t want to think about it….”
Indeed, I’ll try to run 100 miles again and next time I’ll try to do it in under 30 hours. I realize that it may be physically impossible to finish some of the more difficult mountain 100 mile races in under 30 hours. I will always have that congenital condition that keeps me from going fast, no matter how hard I train, or how bad I want to do it. There is no way around it and I can’t do anything about it. It’s just how I am.
I can, however, control my attitude, my mind and my sense of determination.
Even if I’ll never be a fast ultrarunner and I’ll always battle to make the cut-offs, there are many other events for me to attempt: timed 24 hour races without any cut-off times beyond the final one, loop events and/or multi-day adventure races. Even though I’m slow, there will certainly be many opportunities for me to challenge myself in the future.
Plus, there is nothing wrong with running 50k’s and 50m’s, now is there?
I’ve experienced what it is like to run ultras, maybe I should start giving back to the sport by volunteering at a race?
Maybe it’s now time for me to experience an ultramarathon from the other side of the aid station table?
As I think about my experience and what it means to me, I cannot forget all of the others who’ve tried- and thus far- who have not yet succeeded. I know exactly how they feel because I used to be in their shoes. If I was able to do it, then they can too. I know they can. It would give me great joy to pace and/or crew others so they too could experience what it is like to run 100 miles.
Do you dream of running 100 miles? Are you unsure if you’re up to it? If you believe you can, then you can and you will. Come out to run with us.
Have you tried and failed before? I’m sure next time you’ll do it. Yes, you WILL. I look forward to witnessing your success.
Run on and run well.
May you have no difficulty finding your own “third man” in your time of need…
See you next year!
So after being pulled at Laurel Highlands at mile 53.2 because of missing a cut-off by only a few minutes, what does an ultramarathoner do?
Well, an ultramarathoner finds another race and registers for it!
I found one, the North Fork 50 Mile in Colorado. Indeed, the evening I registered, I was feeling so good that I registered not only for the North Fork 50 Mile but also my local hometown ultra, the Lean Horse Hundred.
This year on July 17th was the first running of the North Fork 50 mile and 50 kilometer races.
Proceeds of the race were to benefit the North Fork Volunteer Fire Department who had battled several past forest fires in the area.
Being about 6 weeks before Lean Horse and also located not far from where Haliku lives, we both decided to do this race.
It would be a nice training run.
The race was almost entirely on single track with an alittude range of 6700 to 8000 ft.
Several forest fires had burned in the area before. Although much of the trail were in Ponderosa Pine forest remniscent of home in western South Dakota, there were large deforested area devoid of shade.
The temperatures were forecasted as being up to 90 to 100 degrees by the afternoon.
Haliku wisely decided to drop down to the 50-kilometer race. 50 mile entrants who dropped down to the 50-k before the start of the race would get credit for being 50-k finishers. 50 mile races who dropped at the 50-k point during the race would be DNF.
I, on the other hand, decided to try running the 50 mile "because it would be better to DNF the 50 mile than to finish the 50k knowing I could have gone further."
I have used this logic at many other races. "Better to go as far as I could" than to run a shorter race I know I could finish instead.
Hey, I never said I wasn't stubborn, now did I?
I chose to take the early start. The race directors kindly allowed us back-of-the-packers to start an hour early so we would have a better chance of finishing before cut-off.
I started out for a few minutes with the legendary Uli Kamm. Uli has finished hundreds of ultramarathons, all of them walking. His walk pace was amazing- I could barely keep up at a fast jog! Soon he left me as I found my own race pace.
As predicted the temperature heated up quickly. It wasn't long before I wondered of the wisdom of my decision and decided that Haliku was the wiser of us today.
The aid stations were well stocked and organized. At one aid station, I even saw a volunteer who I recognized from previous ultras. It was Holley Lange. I had met her at several previous ultras and was glad to hear she was coming up to run Lean Horse this year.
Although this was the first time North Fork was run, the race directors had previous experience directing other ultras before they moved to Colorado.
Then I heard a familiar whistle.
It was Haliku!
He had started an hour after me and was making good time. There was no way I could keep up and I left them to go on their way.
I started to feel the heat. At one point I was so dizzy and lightheaded, I had to sit down in the shade. I hadn't peed for a few hours, "I must be dehydrated, " I thought. I drank both of my water bottles and most of my Camelback too.
In a few minutes I felt better and got up. The shade was tolerable but as soon as we entered the open areas, the heat rose up from the ground and burned our faces as if we had opened an oven.
I ran with a couple of other runners before settling in with Bill who is retired and who runs ultramarathons all over the country.
As usual, we talked about many things, running the meaning of life, previous ultramarathons run and so on.
After the race he told me a story about the Arkansas Traveler 100 mile ultramarathon a few years ago. It was the same hot weekend that the Chicago 26.2 mile marathon was cancelled due to heat and yet there in Arkansas a 100 mile ultramarathon race was not cancelled.
As the saying goes, "Any fool can run a marathon but it takes a special kind of fool to run an ultramarathon."
Bill usually travels to the race course weeks ahead and trains there. Thus he was well acclimated to the heat. He saw many very fit athletes drop during the day and felt confident that he could keep going.
Then as night fell, runners put on the their head lamps and were stunned to see copperheads lying across the trail. Copperheads are venomous snakes that usually are extremely well-camoflaged when lying in dry leaves during the day. However, at night and by head lamp – they glow (I never would have known that).
The snakes did not move or make any attempt to get out to the way. Instead the runners had to jump over them.
To this day if you ask anyone who did Arkansas Traveler that year about the snakes, their eyes get big and they have a story to tell. I'm sure no one fell asleep while running that night.
In ultramarathons, you see it is not only about who has the best time, who won or who placed but also about who had the best story.
Jumping over copperheads all night while running a one hundred mile race during the hottest day of the year…. Well, I certainly don't have a story to beat that.
Not yet, I don't.
The 50 milers and the 50-k runners ran together for the first 20 miles.
At about 30 miles there is a T-intersection. The 50-k'ers turn right to their finish and the 50-milers turn left for another twenty mile loop.
As I approached this intersection, I thought hard about what I wanted to do.
My analysis basically came down to this:
- Turn left = 20 miles more of needless suffering in the heat.
- Turn right = you will be done in a few minutes and will be soaking your legs in the cool river while drinking an ice cold beer.
Hmmm… what a tough decision, this is. The main question was: would I be OK with DNF'ing for no good reason other than wanting a cold beer?
I decided that I would be OK with DNFing for cold beer. After all, this was only a training run. No sense beating myself up before my main event, the Lean Horse Hundred in several weeks, right?
At the 30 mile intersection there was a volunteer directing the runners, she pointed Bill who was running the 50-k to the right. As a 50-mile runner she attempted to direct me to the left.
But I argued with her. I explained to her that I didn't want to keep going, I wanted to stop.
I discussed with her my rationale as succinctly as I could:
- Turn left = suffering
- Turn right = cold beer
At that point she looked at her watch and said "it's too late anyway, you're now past cut-off".
I looked at my watch and saw that I was exactly 26 seconds past. While I was spending time rationalizing my decision, the cut off time passed.
"Well, heck, no problem. I'll turn right then!" and I smiled.
I thought that telling people that "I struggled valiantly all day and missed a cut-off by a few seconds" sounded much better than "I stopped because I was a wimp who wanted a cold beer."
Of course, now you all know the true story. And you know what?
I'm OK with that.
The cold microbrews were great; better than 20 more miles of needless suffering…
Lean Horse Hundred here I come.
Humidity sucks. No doubt it does.
The day was humid and steamy, even before it had begun. My glasses began to fog before even a few hundred yards. "This is going to be a tough day," I thought. Slowly Iet the pack drift off in front of me.
Haliku and I were running the Laurel Highlands Ultramarathon, one of the oldest continuously run ultramarathons in the United States. It has been run continously even longer that the famous Western States 100 (that race was cancelled one year because of wild fires).
The event is run on the mostly single track trails of the Laurel Highlands in western Pennsylvania. In most years, Laurel Highlands is a 70.5 mile race. Unlike many events which are multiple loops or an "out and back", this race in unique because it is one of a handful that are one way from start to finish.
This year the distance is closer to 77 miles because of a detour due to a bridge being out. Six plus extra miles than usual but exactly the same registration fee- now how could Haliku and I pass that up?
In the sport of ultramarathoning, there are few races between the 50 mile and 100 mile distance, only a handful of 100-kilometer events and almost no events between 62 and 100 miles.
Thus the Laurel Highlands 77 mile Ultra is a good choice as a training race for those of us aspiring to be 100 mile finishers.
To my western adapted eyes, the forest was a wonderland of vivid emerald green complete with Ostrich ferns growing chest high.
Mountain Laurel, the namesake of the trail bloomed in groves. It is the state flower of Pennsylvania.
As trails go, the Laurel Highlands Trail is relatively "civilized" with cement obelisk markers at every mile and bridges over the many streams.
The first few miles were up hill, most of which I would fast hike. Eventually the trail reached the top. From then until the finish, it was a rolling up and down 70 or so miles.
As most of the Appalachian Mountains, it was essentially a long ridge running south to north .
I do not do well in high heat and humidity and took special care to make sure I was hydrating and eating properly.
In ultramarathons, if you have GI issues which you cannot solve, this will result in the end of your race.
No fuel (or fluids) = no go.
I started passing other runners early in the race which surprised me. This usually doesn't begin happening until at least mile 20 or 30.
I came across a man from Colorado who had finished this race twice before but who told me he was going to drop at the next aid station.
I told him not to give up yet; it's too early. Take a break, sip some fluids and put some ice under your hat but don't give up now.
He pointed to his head, "I know it's all up here, but I just don't want to go any farther."
I came across a hand written sign "Construction Crossing."
The trail crossed a muddy four wheel drive road and on the other side was another sign that said "End of Road Work."
Somebody thought they had a sense of humor.
Of course, I admit that smiled when I saw it. I even took picutres.
It's good to see the light side of what we're doing. There are times when that is difficult.
The day slowly began to warm.
The air became thick with humidity.
I continued to pass other runners. At each aid station, there were more and more who had decided to drop.
In turn I was passed myself by Don Halke and a group of other runners. it was too hot for me to try to keep up with them. Haliku and I had met Don the evening before. He is impressive given that he has a history of coronary artery disease.
At one aid station, I had to wait while one of the volunteers, an elderly slow-moving man very carefully and also very SLOWLY filled the five canisters of another runner who had gotten there before me.
For back-of-the packers like me, time is of the essence and every minute counts. I try very hard to not waste too much time at aid stations. Every second at an aid station is another second closer I come to missing a cut off and being pulled from the race.
I asked if I could please just fill my own Camelback from a water cooler under the table not yet being used.
A lady (obviously not a runner, she was morbidly obese) immediately cut me off and told me, "No! He'll get to you! You'll just have to wait your turn!"
I bit my lip and thought about continuing on without filling up. I decided against it because the aid stations in this race were farther apart than in other races. I didn't want to later have empty water bottles and be forced to make the decision of trying to tough it out to the next aid station vs. drinking out of a stream with Giardia.
After several minutes (which felt like thirty) they finally got my Camelback and bottles filled.
I left that aid station before that other runner did. He was still sitting in the chair where he was when I had arrived. He ended up dropping at that aid station. He never needed all those bottles which I had to wait patiently to be filled before my own.
I don't want to sound like I am criticizing aid station volunteers, because I'm not. They volunteer their time and weekend for no pay and little recognition. Without them, our sport could not exist. In my eyes, they are heroes, particularly for waiting around for slow back-of-the-pack stragglers like me.
However, I have found that aid station volunteers who have had at least some experience what it is like to run an ultramarathon are much more understanding about our needs (and yes, I apologize, sometimes our demands) of those of us out there struggling on the trail. I think all ultrarunners should volunteer at races because of this reason.
I am certain that if that aid station volunteer had also been a fellow ultrarunner, she wouldn't have acted as so much of a water cooler Nazi. I might have gotten out of that station a few minutes sooner.
At every turn of the trail there is another challenge or problem to solve. No point griping about that which is past. I soon would have other issues to face.
We came through an area which was a downhill ski resort. I tried to imagine how nice and cool it would be had we come through this area in the winter time.
We entered the welcome shade of the trees again.
I started to get a headache and a little nausea.
"I must be getting a little dehydrated," I thought, recalling that it had been a few hours since I had peed. It had only been a trickle at that.
I emptied both of my water bottles and took sips from my Camelback.
"Now I could use an aspirin or naproxen.." I thought, "too bad I don't have any in my fanny pack.".
Then I looked down and saw a plant familiar to me.
It was Wintergreen or Gaultheria procumbens, also known as Tea Berry.
This small evergreen plant contains the wintergreen tasting methyl salicylate- simlar chemically to aspirin and one of the ingredients in Peptobismol.
Besides taking away the foul-taste of sports drink and dried saliva out of my mouth, methyl salicylate has anti-inflammatory properties. The indigenous people used wintergreen to treat a variety of fevers, aches and pains.
I smiled to myself, "I might not find a naproxen tablet on the trail but here's the next best thing!"
I picked a few sprigs and chewed on them slowly. None of the other runners or volunteers noticed the greenery I was chewing on- or maybe they did and they didn't say anything.
Before consuming any type of edible or medicinal wild plant, however, it is essential that proper identification is made.
The plant on the left is Wintergreen.
The plant on the right is a young Mountain Laurel- which is inedible and actually moderately poisonous. If large amounts are ingested (ie a belly full) it can even kill.
As you can see, the plants look similar. Given the refreshing scent and flavor of Wintergreen, it would difficult to confuse the two, especially after you put Mountain Laurel in your mouth. It would taste bitter and you would spit it out. Unlike Poison Water Hemlock or an Amanita mushroom of which even a small taste of either could be deadly, a taste of Mountain laurel wouldn't be a large enough of a dose to be harmful .
Whether it was placebo-effect or real medicinal properties of the herb- soon I felt better and just in time. The day was getting hotter and I was getting more miserable.
It's funny the ways we try to disassociate to deal with the pain and fatigue.
I try to live in the moment and not think too much about the hardships I face. I try to see the bright side of things. That can be very difficult at times, such as when dry-heaving by the side of the trail.
I think about all that I have to be thankful for: my family, my friends, my health, my career and simply being alive on the planet Earth.
It really is a privilege to see the world from one's own two feet. There may come a day when I no longer can run as far as I do. I try to appreciate and savor every run I go on now- short or long.
In today's race, I knew I would have to pay attention and focus. I would have to associate. If I disassociated for too long- say more than 15 or 20 minutes- I might ignore signals my body was giving me such as have a drink, try to eat a little or pay attention to that hot spot on your heel, you might need to stop and do some blister prevention.
It was hard doing more associating than disassociating.
Every time I did my "full body system check" which is a mental check of my entire body head to toe, I became suddenly became aware of how bad I was feeling.
It would have been easy to stop. It would have been the intelligent thing to do.
But from previous experience, I knew that my suffering was only temporary and quite literally was "all in my head." My brain doing its job of self-preservation well. It was simply making sure I didn't do anything too stupid or irreversable. My suffering was simply another challenge to overcome.
"If it were easy, everyone would be doing this," I thought, "No one every died from feeling bad." I pressed on.
The trail was marked with yellow blazes.
From out of no where I started humming, "Follow, follow, follow.. the yellow blaze trail…" to the tune "Follow the Yellow Brick Road," from the movie "The Wizard of Oz."
It got me a few more miles down the trail.
I never said we ultrarunners were sane, did I?
Usually the Laurel Highlands trail goes over the Pennsylvania turnpike. This year and possibly future years, the bridge is out. Because of this, the race took a six plus mile detour on asphalt.
It was this section that everyone agrees was the most challenging of the race.
The pavement baked in the heat of the afternoon. There was little to no shoulder and vehicles did not slow down so often I had to move over to the sloped side of the road for safety.
"Gosh, this really sucks," I thought. "I could have chosen a little less arduous sport to take up in my mid life, such as golf. Why did I have to pick ultramarathoning?"
There had been a runner slowly jogging behind me for a couple of miles. Eventually he fell so far behind I didn't see him any more.
Then, in the late afternoon I was given a reprieve. A thunderstorm darkened the sky and completely drenched me.
"Aaah! That's much better!" as I threw up my arms in relief.
With newly found energy, I started running more quickly, hoping to make up all of the time I had lost during the heat of the afternoon.
I got to the 44 mile aid station where food, beverage and dry clothes awaited me in my drop bag.
I exclaimed to the aid station volunteers, "In the rain I feel reborn like a freshly watered flower!"
Of course I then qualifed my statement: "But if I'm a flower, I must be a skunk cabbage."
They all laughed.
I turned off the road and back on to the single track. Now this is the kind of running I Iove!
I HATE pavement!
As the sun went down, I started moving more quickly. Still I saw no other runners. I wondered where they all were. They couldn't be too far behind me. Would they catch me?
None of the 20 or 30 or so other runners who I had passed I ever saw again.
I came across all kinds of unique and interesting fungi earlier in the day.
I even took a few pictures as above.
There's nothing that makes fungi grow than water and humidity.
I noticed that the Russula species were particularly large (photo to the left). Russula are a common family of mushroom.
Some Russula species are edible; but others are mildly toxic, usually GI symptoms. Because it is hard to distinguish between the various species, I avoid them.
You know, some people smoke "happy weed" or eat mushroom buttons so they can hallucinate and enter another reality.
Instead, we ultramarathoners run all day and all night until we see things that aren't there.
So which of us is crazier?
Slowly the sun began to set.
Then, out of the darkness two runners approached. One passed by and the other hung behind me. I asked him who he was.
"I'm the trail sweep!"
"The trail sweep?!? But I can't be in dead f'n last place, can I?" I asked somewhat incredulously, "Where are all the other runners I passed during the day?!?!?"
"Oh them?" he replied, "They all dropped out."
"Well that's not fair. I worked so hard to pass them and then they all go and quit. Wimps! Get 'em back out here!"
I was glad to have company on this part of the trail. Despite having headlamps, the trail was hard to follow in the dark. Two sets of eyes are always better than one.
We shared our stories of what else… previous races, our thoughts on the meaning of life and why we run. It made the time pass by.
I arrived at the 53.2 mile aid station hungry, ready to eat, drink, fill my Camelback and go on my way.
But then the aid station folks said I would have to stop and hand in my race number. I had missed the cut off by only a few minutes. It's really bad form to argue when you are told you have to stop, so I obliged.
Nevertheless, it felt very strange to be pulled from a race despite how good I was feeling. Indeed, it was the best I had felt since shortly after starting that morning.
I got a ride to the finish. Now usually back-of the-packers like me do not get to watch the other runners come it to the finish. So after eating my fill of soup and chili, I watched and cheered as the others jogged in.
Haliku finished well up in the pack. His finisher's award is a wooden obelisk with a number 77 on it. If any of you subscribe to Ultrarunning magazine- his race report is in the August issue.
Out of the 116 starters, only 50% of us or 58 finished.
In my mind, I know, I just know I could have made it the full distance if only I hadn't gotten pulled. I was among the last few to not finish.
Had they let me go on I know I would've made it the full 77 miles. I KNOW it. I felt great. Not enough to be pulled or to DNF.
But could I have made it before final cut off?
There's no way to know now. More than likely I would've been pulled at the next checkpoint. Even less likely maybe I could've made it past that one checkpoint but still finished the race after final cut off.
That's one of the frustrating things about being a back-of-the-packer… everything must go right.
If something goes wrong for someone else further up in the pack, they have the time to take a break and regroup. Their finish time might not be as good as it possibly could have been but they have a cushion and can still finish.
We back-of-the-packers don't have that luxury.
Oh well. That's just how it goes sometimes. Race conditions aren't always perfect. Some obstacles can be overcome; others not. I run too many of these races every year to feel bad or regret how I did at any one of them for long.
The next event is always just around the corner. The way I look at it, no matter how an event goes: every ultra is training for the next one…
Did I learn something in the process? If my answer is "yes" then the race was a success.
For about a week after the race, I was ecstatic, almost euphoric about how I did. Yes, I was a DNF- so what?
What matters is that I DID NOT GIVE UP. I was pulled, I didn't give up or drop- there is a HUGE difference. I did the best I could under the circumstances. It might not have been enough to finish but is still nothing to be embarassed or feel bad about. I wasn't alone, half of the runners did not finish. I went farther than most of them.
I ran basically two traditional 26.2 mile marathons back-to-back on a really hot and humid day mostly on single track hiking trails. That is nothing to be ashamed of.
It's nothing to be ashamed of at all.
Run on, my friends, run on!
When I'm asked by a road runner after a race: "So what was your time?" my response is always: "My time? Oh I had a GREAT time!!!!" They usually look at me incredulously, not sure of how to respond.
The post below is so hilarious and true I just had to put a link to it here. It is about road running from the point of view of a trail runner. Barry is a friend of Haliku's whom I've not yet met in person but whom I feel as if I already know. I felt exactly the same at all of the few road events I've ran.
We trail and ultra runners are a small close-knit family. Enduring great pain and overcoming impossible obstacles brings people together. We run WITH others, NOT AGAINST them. Elitism, arrogance and bravado are frowned upon. Show us what you can do, don't tell us. Actions mean more than words. That includes not only how fast you run but also your attitude and how you treat others. Ultramarathoning is as much a philosophy as it is a distance.
That is why some of those more well-known "ultramarathoners" who write books and always seem to be on TV are viewed suspiciously by many in the ultrarunning community. All of the elite ultramarathoners I know are among the most humble, supportive and generous people I've ever met. These are the true heroes of the sport, not those with book deals running high profile events scrambling for media attention.
There are so few of us trail/ultra runners that after a while, we all begin to know each other. If we don't, then odds are we have a mutual friend in common. When one of us does something great, we share their joy; when one of us is lost, we mourn.
Many of us run for similar reasons. For us it's all about the journey and what we learn from the experience. Having a great story to tell is an added bonus. Trail running and ultrarunning IS NOT and HAS NEVER been about the goody bag, being trendy, how you look or trying to show off to others.
As trail running becomes more popular and commercialized- I worry- will it lose it's soul and become trendy like road racing? That's doubtful, its simply too challenging for the faint of heart and those following the crowd. Going mainstream is even more unlikely to happen with ultramarathoning.
As the saying goes: "Any fool can run a marathon, but it takes a special kind of fool to run an ultra."
What is most ironic is that for many of us, trail/ultra running not even all that much about the "running." Don't get me wrong: we wouldn't do it if we didn't love it. However, for us running is a tool to reach that which we seek- not an end unto itself.
Whether in first or last place, every ultra finisher is a winner.
Check out Barry's blog, I'm still chuckling about it:
"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."
Long before I was an ultramarathoner, even as a child, whenever I needed time to think, I searched for the quiet solitude of the wild places. I guess I have always been an ultramarathoner at heart, even if I didn't know it.
However, as I described in my previous post- Greenland 50k 2010, I've slowly and finally come to realize that I shall never be the ultramarathoner I dream I'd like to be.
I've been in denial about it for several years. Then I bargained with myself: "If you only trained harder, you won't be so short of breath when you run fast or go high." Realizing that the medical condition I have is congenital and there is no way to train myself out of it, I was angry, discouraged and sad.
"It's not fair!" I thought.
Nevertheless, I realized I must find a way from such negative thought and move forward towards acceptance.
The five stages of coping are:
Although usually applied to situations of severe grieving and distress, such a death of a loved one, when facing one's own death, a failed personal relationship, the loss of a job, facing a chronic illness and so on- this process can apply to a variety of situations in which any form of loss occurs.
There are many morbidly obese people whom I see in my medical practice every day who say "I can't" when it comes to trying even minimal exercise or controlling their diet.
"You can't or you won't?" I sometimes wonder to myself but would never ever say out loud. I rapidly force such thoughts out of my mind. My job is to coach, advise, help and support- never ever to judge or criticize. .
With time, training, and dedication, I know a number of them could eventually outrun and outperform me, if only they had the initiative to begin and the self-discipline to stick with it.
However, I do need to point out that there is the occasional patient who does begin and succeed at changing their lifestyle- it is extremely inspiring. It makes what I do for a living worth it.
Some of them even thank me. I reply, "No thanks are necessary. You did all the work. All I did was point out what you already knew."
I was overweight once too. Not a lot, only about 35 lbs. Indeed that is one of the reasons I started running 8 years ago, never imagining I'd eventually be running ultramarathons. Losing weight and keeping it off is hard.
It's not fair for someone who truly wants to and enjoys exercise have physical limitations, while there are millions and millions of others who don't bother even trying, but then life is not fair.
Finally at Greenland, I realized that I must eliminate such negative thoughts and accept the situation.
"Get over it!" I told myself over and over. "Stop whining and get over it!".
Facing limitations and overcoming them, that is what ultramarathoning is all about.
Every single one of us have limitations, whatever they may be and no matter whether we admit them to ourselves or not.
To be honest, I cannot say that I've actually lost anything- I've always been dreadfully slow- so technically I never had "it" to lose.
Still, the loss of a dream is still a loss, even if it is a far milder loss than any other possibilities.
So needing both a training run AND time to think, I did what any trail runner does:
I went for a long training run in one of my most favorite local places to run here in western South Dakota: the Black Elk Wilderness.
I initially considered running a circumnavigation of the Black Elk Wilderness, that would have been about 24 or 25+ miles. But we recently had had a heavy snow the week before, making trails muddy and streams filled higher than I'd seen before.
I started out intending to run the full loop around the Wilderness, wth Laurel Highalnds 77 miles only 4 weeks away, it would have made an excellent training run. We were soon to leave on a 12 day trip to Alaska, during which I would do minimal running, so I needed at least one last long training run before that race.
The trails were wet and slippery. I was glad that I wore my INOV-8s instead of my Vibram Five Fingers.
Those VFFs would have been cold!
Most streams you can find a way across without getting your feet wet.
Some of the streams were mid-calf or just below my knees. Expecting wet terrain, I had preventively taped my feet to avoid blisters as I do before every big race or difficult long training run. Despite soaking my feet early- no blisters!
We had had a heavy 6-12 inch snow only a few days before. With rain and warmer temps, most of it had melted.
Gosh that water was cold!
All around me were signs of spring, melting snow, blooming wildflowers, and singing birds.
I saw Bearberries both blooming and with red berries from last year.
It is rare for there to be both edible berries and blooming flowers on the same plant, the exception being some types of domesticated everbearing strawberries.
Bearberries do not taste very good- they're dry, floury and only slightly sweet. But they are the only berry available during cold months of mid-winter and early spring. They will keep you alive if you're lost in the mountains and starving. Smashing them seeds and all against a rock will provide even more nutrition than chewing and swallowing whole.
Another past use was as Kinnick-Kinnick- a non-tobacco, non-nicotine containing dried herb smoked by indigenous peoples.
Another source of Kinnick-Kinnick is the Red Willow or Red Osier Dogwood. It grows along streams in the Mountain West and Far North. We have some of it here but I didn't see any today so I wasn't able to take photos to post here.
I also saw blooming Pasqueflower- the state flower of South Dakota.
Onward I jogged. I wish I could post the sounds of running water and smell of wet ponderosa pine.
You'll have to come out here to experience it yourself someday.
I finally came to a crest where I saw "George and the Boys"in the distance staring back at me through the mist.
It was Mt Rushmore- with past presidents George Washingtion, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt- carved out of solid rock.
Despite the Black Hills being a well-known tourist destination, sometimes I forget and am surprised when I come around corner to see sights such as this.
I was also surprised to see a staircase built out of logs- I was about 10 miles into my run and 5 miles from any road.
I jogged on and came to a trail intersection which I've taken before but not since last year.
I couldn't remember which was the way around the Black Elk Wilderness and which cut back across the middle.
I didn't bring a map because I had run here before and thought I knew the trails.
Oh well. I took the spur I had never run before.
When in doubt, I usually take the trail less traveled by or which I've never taken before…
If it didn't turn out to be the correct one, at least I would get to see some new territory.
As I ran up a hill, I came across some hikers. They didn't have a map either but assured me that I was on the correct trail to get to where I intended.
Soon, however, I realized they were wrong too.
Because I was only a mile from the next trail, I decided to keep going and save the circumnavigation for next time.
It was good that I did.
For soon I would discover how much snow was left in the higher altitudes.
As I climbed, the trail got wetter and snowier. The snow was wet melting slush.
At one point, for every step I took, I slipped back 6 or more inches.
I looked at my GPS: I was walking at a 22 min/mile pace.
Now that is SLOW, even for me!
My feet were soaked- but the rest of me was warm. On days like this, one needs to be prepared. My pack weighed 20 lbs. Not only did I have food and drink but also an entire change of clothing, a warm jacket, wool hat, mittens, and dry pants, as well as firemaking tools and space blankets.
I never forget than I am only a broken ankle or wrong turn away from being forced to spend a night out.
This time of year, hypothermia could set in in only a few hours, especially in a fatigued runner with sweat soaked clothes and ice water drenched shoes.
I've never had to use my survival gear yet, but I'll never be caught out in the wilderness without it. When it comes to the human condition, nature may not care one way or the other- but it can be unforgiving of foolish mistakes.
Then I spotted movement and gray hair in the trees. Despite how tired I was getting from trudging through the now, I was instantly alert and awake.
There are mountain lions here.
I am always more aware than I might be were I slogging on the side of a road or sidewalk. Although no mountain lion has ever killed a human here in the Black Hills, I didn't want to be the first.
It turned out it was two mule deer does. I saw them before they saw me.
After watching them browse for a few minutes, I needed to press on.
I didn't want to scare them so they'd crash off into the trees.
I began speaking to them quietly and calmly.
They looked in my direction, concerned and curious but not frightened.
I began moving slowly, avoiding direct eye contact, looked at the ground and walked diagnally.
I tried to act as if wasn't interested in them and was planning on walking past them as if I had never seen them. This ploy has worked for me with other animals countless times in the past.
They turned, stopped and calmly watched me pass by.
It is amazing the sixth sense animals have regarding your intentions. Had I been out bow hunting instead of trail rnning/hiking, they would've ran off, sensing danger immediately.
Instead, somehow they knew that I meant no harm. For that I was rewarded with some great photos.
As I passed by, I continued to speak to them quietly. I told them what pretty girls they were and reminded the to keep a better eye out for mountain lions.
Had been a large hungry feline instead of a slow tired human, who knows what might have transpired?
Although the deer did not know (or care) what the words I said actually meant, I believe animals are able to sense our intentions by our body language, general demeanor and behavior.
I smiled as I ran the last few miles down hill to my car. I was grateful for this day, for all days in the past and those days yet to come.
Although today was not the easiest run or best weather, I was able to see and experience what most people never do.
Without a little rain and snow every now and then, how are we to appreciate the sunny clear days?
I am speaking this literally in reference to the weather but even more so as a metaphor of our lives. As much as we would like to have control over what happens in our lives, there is much outside of our control. We need work on that which we can and accept that which we cannot.
I've come to accept that I am and I will always be a back-of-the-packer. Still, there is honor and pride in that.
Almost anyone who is able to walk has the potential of finishing a 26.2 mile, 50 mile or maybe even 100 mile race. They might not do it quickly but they could still finish. However, most will never even try because they do not have the discipline, desire or insanity to do so.
"Dead f'n last" is always better than "did not finish."
Of course, even worse than either of those two is: "did not even try."
So I am slow. So what? And who the hell cares other than me? There are worse things to be.
I know I have much to be thankful for: my family and friends, my health, my job and so on. That realization alone has made the process of acceptance easier. I really should not complain- and I know it full well too. As things in life go, being slow is a little minor inconsequential thing.
I'll keep running these crazy ultras as long as I can. Hopefully that will be a long long time. I fully intend to be that 80 year old guy out there shuffling along in dead freakin' last place.
If there ever comes a time where I cannot possibly officially finish any ultra under cut off, well then I start volunteering at aid stations.
I might ever consider running some more shorter races such as 26.2 marathons (God forbid! Can you imagine me doing that!?!). I'll continue to run/hike my own personal ultramarathons on the mountain trails. At least there will never be any cut-off times in those solitary races against myself. I have all the time I need.
Until then, there you'll find me with a smile on my face (most of the time) slogging along somewhere in the back-of-the-pack. My name might be at the very bottom of the list of finishers printed in Ultrarunning Magazine- but there you'll find it all the same.
Take care, enjoy those trails and run on…
The day started out sunny and warm- nothing at all like the hot, dry windy conditions of 2008. Later in the afternoon, it even got a bit chilly.
After running two back-to-back 50-plus kilometer runs in Arkansas in March, I was optimistic about how I might do at this race.
In 2008, I bonked and I bonked hard.
Part of it was that I had recently relocated from Wisconsin to South Dakota. I had not yet had enough time to acclimate to altitude.
The other reason was that I did not drink sufficiently and became dehydrated in the hot dry wind.
I felt bad and thought seriously about dropping- but I made it with only seconds to spare before final cut-off.
Despite my extremely slow time, Greenland 50k 2008 had been one of my proudest performances to date.
When everything seemed completely hopeless, somehow, someway, I dug deep and found a way to finish.
Dead last (or second to last) still beats a DNF anyday!
Haliku and I were running the 2010 Greenland 50k as a training run for the 77 mile Laurel Highlands ultra coming up in June.
Still, even though I wasn't planning on running fast, I was hoping to improve my time compared to last year.
Perhaps I could drop my time by an hour or more?
I have finished 50-k's in the 6:30-6:45 range before. Breaking 7 hours would be a reasonable, but not impossible goal.
The Greenland 50-k consists of loops around the trails of the Greenland Open Space. There is also an 8 mile and a 25-k race.
As usual, the short distance runners started out like speed goats. I hung back with the sloggers, having learned the hard way what can happen by starting out too fast.
One criticism of this race is that the food provided is pretty meager- a few cookies, M&Ms, bananas and potato chips. Those who are used to the well-stocked buffets of other ultras are advised to come prepared with their own supply.
Having run Greenland 50k in 2008, I came prepared with turkey sandwiches, Boost and other sustenance.
I would not go hungry this year.
Slowly the pack drifted apart. I intermittently ran with several other runners. One of the enjoyable parts of ultrarunning is the opportunity to run with other like-minded souls. Although we enjoy the solitude of a solo wilderness trail run, it is fun to run with others sometimes too.
Although I felt strong, I was surprised to see my heart rate increase dramatically every time I tried to speed up or maintain my pace. At one point I was lighteaded and dizzy as if I was going to pass out. My HR was in the 190s.
I had no choice but to slow down and begin walking more. I did not want to get an SVT or other cardiac arrhthymia because of stubborness. That would be dumb.
It was extremely frustrating.
Every time I tried going faster, I could not. My legs felt strong, my stomach was fine, I wasn't dehydrated or out of calories and my mind was willing- but my heart rate would go up dramatically.
Finally, with only one more loop for me to go, Haliku caught up with me as he ran the final few miles in to his finish.
He was surprised to see that I was walking. Dejected, discouraged and frustrated, I told him what was going on.
It seems that as well as the rest of me was doing, it was the altitude that had caught up with me. Although 7,000 plus feet is not high, I have a congenital condition that prevents me from maintaining the cardiac output that others are able to. There is no cure and no matter how hard I train, there is no way around it. It's just how I'm made. I'm not alone, about 5% of the population has it.
As long as I can remember, most others have been faster than me. Even as a child, the fat kids could outrun me across the playground. It was embarrassing. I never knew why, I have always been more easily out of breathe than others, even those obviously out of shape than I was.
Now as an adult in the health care profession, I finally know the reason.
A cardiologist recently asked me, "Do you have exercise intolerance?"
Not sure of how to respond, I said, "Well sure I do, after I run 50 miles, but doesn't everybody?!?"
Before one race not long ago, and much to my chagrin, one of the front of the pack runners made an off-hand comment to me. Not realizing that I was a back of the packer, he said that back of the packers are in the back of the pack because they simply do not train hard enough. He insinuated that slower runners are simply lazy or not as committed to running. Although there is some truth to back of the packers running less overall mileage, there is no amount of training that can overcome innate genetic or physiologic limitations. Training can improve the performance of everybody- but no one can outrun or train themselves out of their genetics.
Many, if not most ultrarunners could train less than I do and still finish far ahead of me. Some do. It's not fair but life is not fair.
Nevertheless, I realized during the last few miles of this run that I've been in denial about this for a long long time. You might say that beginning running ultramarathons was in part related to being in denial about my physical limitations. Despite how tough I'd like to think I am, I'm only human. I'm not invincible.
That is one of the points of running ultramarathons: to discover our limitations, whatever they may be, stare these limitations in the face, not let them them get us down and then go on.
"Well, there's no point beating myself up or being angry about something that I cannot control," I thought.
It would be ridiculous for me to be upset about not being able to be a competitive body builder, given my ectomorphic body habitus.
It would be just as absurd to be mad about never being able to make the Olympic marathon team.
Thus it also makes no sense to be frustrated about any other limitations I was born with.
It is as it is, I am how I am, and that is how it is.
As discouraged as I was, I knew in my heart that I shouldn't be. It certainly could be worse. At least I can run/walk and I can go pretty dang far at that. Even if I will always be slow and probably will always struggle at altitude, I can go farther than 99.9999% of the population can.
Maybe I'll never be able to do Leadville or run any other high altitude ultra? That's too bad, as I've alway dreamed of doing some of them. Oh well, there are plenty of other ultras I CAN finish and I WILL.
As I walk/jogged more than ran those final few miles, my mood changed over from frustration and anger to acceptance, and even gratitude.
"Get over it," I told myself repeatedly. Negative thoughts are non-productive, not only during a race but in life in general.
"Get over it!" is a phrase that at times would be good for us all to heed.
Rather than focusing on what I cannot do, I will focus on what I can control: train smart, pace myself, eat/hydrate correctly, avoid negative thinking, keep a positive attitude and so on.
Every one of us runs races for our own personal reasons. Some run competitively, to make the team or win the race. Others run for a personal best, to qualify for a big race or to place in their age group. Some run to lose weight or to support a cause they believe in. Then there are yet others, like me, who run only to finish.. Every reason to run is as valid as any other.
I crossed the finish line not feeling all that badly physically. However, I was only 12 minutes faster than 2008. Not much of an improvement. Oh well, at least I wasn't in last place.
I have finally accepted that I will always be slow. I'll stop comparing myself to others. My races will always be struggles against the cut-offs. But damn it- I still can finish an ultra. Yes I can. I'll keeping running these crazy insane races that defy logic as long as I possibly can. I have accepted that finishing, simply finishing for me is success. If I can finish before dead last, then so much the better.
And finally, for any of you naturally speedier runners who might look down on us back-of-the-packers or think we're lazy, I respond with the following:
Unless you're winning or placing- well then you're getting exactly the same finisher's medal and race tech shirts I do!
To finish is to WIN!
Laurel Highlands 77 miles- here I come!!!
There is a great advantage in training under unfavorable conditions. It is better to train under bad conditions, for the difference is then a tremendous relief in a race.
After training all winter, race weekend finally arrived. It was the first event of the season and I was unsure what to expect. The usual questions and apprehensions passed through my mind:
Had I trained enough? Probably not, it's hard to get up to run at 3AM when it's below zero in a Janurary blizzard. Of course, do ultramarathoners ever feel we've trained enough?
Would I get injured? I hoped not. To be injured early in the year might mean missing most of the 2010 racing season. Now THAT would annoy me!
What would it be like to run multi-day stage race? I expected I would be tired and sore… but on the other hand, I've attempted to run farther without taking any break at all. Having an evening off between stages to eat, sleep and recover should make it easier than trying the entire distance all at once.
Would I bonk? If I did, when and how bad??? I was sure I would bonk, probably sometime during the 50 mile race on day two.
But when would it happen? Mile 40? Mile 20? Mile10?!?!?
Would I be able to work through it and keep going? Or would I be weak and give up?
Realizing that much was out of my control and there was no point worrying about that, I decided to focus on that which was, including my mind-set, my gear, eating and resting each night and so on.
Besides being the first event of 2010, this was to be a race of two other firsts for me: my first time running in Arkansas and my first time running a multiday stage race.
Although running the entire race would be a great confidence booster for another 100 mile attempt later in the summer, I promised myself that I would not try to do it at the expense of injury.
I had nothing prove; this run was primarily to be an early season training run for me. Any accomplishments beyond that would be appreciated but not expected.
3 days of Syllamo is a multiday stage race on the trails of the Ozark National Forest in northern Arkansas. The total distance to be run over the three days was 150-kilometers or 93 miles. The start/finish and race headquarters were located at the campground near Blanchard Springs Caverns. The first day's stage was to be "only" 50 kilometers. Barring injury or other unforseen circumstances, I knew that I would have no problem finishing it, having run countless 30+ mile training runs and races before.
3 days of Syllamo is a multiday stage race on the trails of the Ozark National Forest in northern Arkansas. The total distance to be run over the three days was 150-kilometers or 93 miles. The start/finish and race headquarters were located at the campground near Blanchard Springs Caverns.
The first day's stage was to be "only" 50 kilometers. Barring injury or other unforseen circumstances, I knew that I would have no problem finishing it, having run countless 30+ mile training runs and races before.
The main challenge would be to hold back and go even slower than I might normally go (if that's possible for slow poke me!). Every time I felt myself trying to keep up with the pack, I reminded myself of what it would be like to run 50 miles the next day.
As this was training for future 100 mile attempts, I tried to stay as close to my 100 mile race pace as I could.
Slowly the pack drifted off and I let them go.
The key to success to anything, not only running, is knowing one's limitations and accepting/working beyond them. I don't have natural speed, I never have and never will. Of course, I can work through that and try to train so I will be less slow than I am.
What I don't have in speed, I try to make up in attitude and mental toughness. When others are giving up, I try to see the bright side and keep going. Situations are rarely completely hopeless. We might not be able to control the weather, the trail conditions or the anatomy and physiology we have inherited- but we can control our attittude.
I am certainly not perfect in this. I'm only human. I need to keep working on my attitude and outlook just like everyone else.
Some days I'm more successful in achieving this state of mind than others…
This was my first time seeing Arkansas from my own two feet. There is no better way to see and experience a place than to run or hike over and through it. The only way that comes close is riding over it on a horse. My friends who bike say it their experience is similar.
In our haste to get from point A to point B, too many of us miss the sights along the way. The purpose of running, or any journey, is not only getting from one place to another but also what we see, learn and experience along the way.
You could say that in many ways, ultrarunning can be a metaphor for life
One thing impressed me within only a few miles: this is really big wild and scenic country.
I admit that as a western trail runner, I'm a bit of a "snob" thinking that big and rugged country like this exists only in the western half of our continent. Although the highest points in this race may not be all that high in total elevation, the constant up and down made for slow and tough going.
The total elevation gain/loss over the three days was over 24,500 ft. That's as much as many of our mountain ultramarathons out west.
Yes, there is no better way to see and experience a place than on your own two feet!
The area and race is named after Syllamo- a Creek Indian who was tolerated by the natve Shawnees. He roamed these parts in the 1800s. Syllamore Creek was one of his favorite hunting grounds.
I floated quietly and silently down the leaf-covered trails. The only sounds I heard was that of my own beathing and the call of an occasional pileated woodpecker.
I wondered: how many times in the past had stone age hunters traveled quietly down these trails as we do today?
Anybody can be a runner… We were meant to move. We were meant to run. -Bill Rodgers Occasionally I'd glimpse other runners through the trees. For the most part, however, I was completely alone. I enjoy the conversation and camraderie of running with other like-minded souls, but I also enjoy the solitude too.. In true ultrarunner fashion, I hiked the hills, jogged the flats and ran the downhills.
Anybody can be a runner… We were meant to move. We were meant to run.
Occasionally I'd glimpse other runners through the trees. For the most part, however, I was completely alone. I enjoy the conversation and camraderie of running with other like-minded souls, but I also enjoy the solitude too..
In true ultrarunner fashion, I hiked the hills, jogged the flats and ran the downhills.One thing I realized during this race: I'm strong in the rocks.
Although I may not have the natural VO2 to ever be fast, running in the rocks, particularly running downhill is more about skill than it is about physiology. I found myself passing many runners on the downhills.
I train on the steep rocky terrain of the Black Hills of western South Dakota. Running in the rocks is nothing new to me. There is a technique to running fast in the rocks. It involves moving your feet quickly and lightly. I never commit fully to a footstep until I'm sure that my foot can be safely and firmly planted. Rather than looking down to where I place each and every single step (such an intense level of concentration would exhaust you in no time) instead I keep my head up, look further ahead on the trail and already have my next three or four steps in mind.
If one foot placement doesn't work out, a rock I've stepped on rolls or my ankle gives way- I don't place all my weight on that step but instead I "float" on through the next step and the one after that. In this way, I've learned to blast down though the rocks more quickly than many others can run on an open flat trail.
Of course, the only way to acheive such skill is by practice, practice and more practice.
Unfortunately, in extended flat sections, I am caught and passed by others with a faster natural cruising speed. It is impossible for me to stay with them for long without bonking. Too soon I'm left behind.
Oh well, we each have our strong points and our weaknesses. The challenge is recognizing and learning to work with them.
We had several stream crossings.
Another thing that surprised and impressed me was the clarity of the water. I previously had thought such crystal clear water existed only in the Rockies or other high mountians. Another western trail running snob's misconception was laid to rest.
The water was ice-cold. Many of these streams are spring fed trout streams. We spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find a way across without getting our feet wet. Soaked feet in a trail race can later result in blisters. We try to keep our feet dry whenever possible. As I do before all of my races, I preventively taped my feet. Since doing so, I have had few problems with blisters.
How would my feet hold up after being soaked in stream crossing and a few day of running?
I would find out soon enough.
Finally we approached a stream with only one way to cross it- we had to wade straight on through.
Brrrr! that water was COLD!
The rocks were slippery and I came close to falling a few times.
My shoes were soaked and full of water. Amazingly, after a few miles most of the water was squished out of them and they were only slightly moist.
It was here where I started running with Sherry from Texas. I had met her briefly last year at the Lean Horse Hundred.
She is very chatty- even more so than I am- which says a lot!
After a while, I gave up trying to put in many words edge-wise and simply let her ramble on about past races,ultra-people she knew, bonking, getting lost- the usual topics ultrarunners talk about.
Sharing a converstaion is one way to take your mind off the pain and fatigue. Similar to starting a conversation with a stranger sitting next to you on a long plane flight-without realizing it several hours have gone by un-noticed.
Before you know it- your run is almost done!
We passed many caves and unusual rock formations. Had I not been running an ultramarathon, I would have stopped and spent some time exploring them. If I ever come back to visit without running, maybe I will.
Soon the sun began to sink towards the horizon. Sherry said we'd better get moving faster.
I told her to go ahead without me.
The final cut-off for the 50-kilometer stage on day one was 9 hours. I told Sherry and several of the other runners- only half-jokingly- that any finish time faster than 8:59:59 meant that I had gone too fast and hadn't stuck to my plan of holding back to save a little for the following days.
I was running all alone again.
Doing some quick calculations in my head, I expected a finish with about a half hour left on the clock.
"Perfect." I thought, "There's no need to push it; I've got plenty of time and might as well take it easy. I'll need whatever I can save for the 50 mile stage tomorrow."
As I jogged, I noticed things I hadn't seen on the way out that morning.
"Hmmm… that white rock," I wondered, "strange why I hadn't noticed it before."
And "why didn't I see that crooked tree this morning?"
It was then thatthe realization came to me that I'd made a wrong turn!
I programmed my GPS to help me find the way back to the start/finish. It told me that I had run an extra mile off course!
Oh #$%#$ #%$#!!
I had been taking it easy all afternoon because I knew I had a comfortable 30 minute cushion. Now because of neglecting to pay attention to trail markers- I might not even be able to make it under before cut off and I would officially be a DNF!
As soon as I recognized my mistake, I sped off not wasting any more time.
Fortunately, the last mile and half was almost completely downhill. I sprinted a 8 to 9 minute/mile- difficult for slow poke me to maintain on any day- but even harder after having just run 30+ miles!
I entered the campground and looked at my watch- only a three minutes left and a half mile to go!
I dug deep and gave it all I had. My legs cramped. I gasped for air. My heart was pounding so hard- it felt as if it would rip out of my chest. I entered the meadow and saw the last few dozen yards before the finish. The other runners who had already finished started cheering.
Up ahead, the time clock turned over to 8:59:00!
The gal who was the timekeeper was no where near the clock. As soon as she heard the crowd sheering, she looked up and saw me. She started running for it.
"I'll sprint right on past her if I have to!" I thought, "but I'm gonna make it under 9 hours no matter what!"
As the crowd realized I had less than a second before cut off, their cheers grew even louder. I made it in 8:59:11! I will never get a chance to be cheered for placing but I sure can get some shouts for finishing with only a second on the clock!
I had been joking about trying to finish as close to final cut off as possible. I never intended to cut it so close.. The most amazing thing is that this is not even my personal record for closest finish before cut-off. That record stlll goes to Greenland 50-k in 2008 when I finished in 7:59:25 with only 35 seconds to spare before the eight hour cut off..
After getting congratulated and catching my breath, I went to calorie-load on the pasta dinner. I also enjoyed a couple of cups of Fat Tire Ale from the keg that the race director had thoughtfully gotten for us.
To my surprise, Sherry and a few other runners finished a few minutes later. They to missed the same turn I did. Unlike me, it took them a few more miles before they realized their error. They ran an extra 5 or 6 miles instead of extra 2 miles as I had.
Even though they'd run the entire distance and then some, because they finished after cut-off they were officially considered DNF (Did Not Finish).
I slept fitfully. Morning came quickly. I was stiff as expected.
"It's going to be hard to get moving today," I thought.
Despite how I felt, I purposely did not take any Aleve or other NSAIDs because they are strongly associated with hyponatremia, especially in slow back-of-the-pack runners like me. Death during an ultramarathon is exceedingly rare. When it does occur, the most common cause is cerebral edema due to dilutional hyponatremia.
I made sure to fill my stomach at breakfast. I would need every calorie I could later.
I had no idea what to expect during day two, the 50 mile stage. After having run 33 miles the day before, I expected that I would bonk or "hit the wall" today, perhaps several times..
The question is: when would it happen? And what would I do when it did?
I wished that I'd not needed to push it so hard those last few miles to make the cut-off. yesterday That was energy-spent that would've best been kept in reserve for today.
Oh well, the past is in the past- no sense worrying about it now.
In the pre-dawn darkness, we gathered and put on our headlamps.
Race director explained the out-and-back course. He advised us to be careful and pay attention to trail markers. If at any time we didn't know where were were, we should stop and if we were still on the trail- backtrack until we knew where we were. If not, or if we were injured, then we should stop and wait for help to come find us.
These important words of advice should best be heeded as we would all learn later.
To my surprise, I had woken up that morning with a blister on the outer part of my right heel and a hot spot in the same location on the left. I usually never get blisters. Oh well, if it's not one thing then it's another.
Using supplies I had in my foot care kit, I'd applied Spenco 2nd Skin, cut mole foam to fit over each blister, and taped over them with Kinesio-tex.
Right now they felt perfectly fine. But would my handiwork last all day?
Beside running in the rocks, another strong point I have is that I don't mind- indeed, I enjoy- running in the dark. Part of it is because I train in the dark all winter and part of it is that I'd rather run when it's cool at night than on a hot sunny day.Where some might only see something to complain about or a challenge that must be overcome, I try to focus on the positive and whatever there is to be grateful for. .
The pack drifted off again and again I let them. I was now in DFL- dead flippin' last- place.
"There'll be plenty of time to pick up stragglers later," I knew, "I've got all day. It'll be easier to keep track of the other runners if they're all in front of me and I know where they are."
The light slowly came across the land.
Today's stage was over even more rugged terrain than yesterday. We followed the stream, alternating between running along the stream bed and then going up to the tops of the bluffs above them. There were many switchbacks and up-and-downs.
Only three miles from the start, I caught up with Sherry. She was not looking so good. I guess the previous day had caught up with her.
She made a comment about being out of the race because she missed the cutoff yesterday.
I tried to be upbeat and said, "But today's a new day! Yesterday doesn't matter!"
Neverthess, she would soon drop. So much of our success depends on our attitudes and mental. If you believe- then you can, within reason of course. The opposite is true too. I'm absolutely sure she could've physically gone farther than she did, had she really wanted to.
I know well how that story goes, having been there too many times myself.
The scenery and views were amazing. They helped take my mind off the fatigue and stiffness from the day before.
I caught up with another runner- Brad Bishop. He is one whom I would consider among the elite. He had been hoping on finishing in the top ten but now his knee was bothering him and he was hobbling along.
I slowed and walked with him. He warned me that our pace was too slow and we'd never make the cut-off times if we continued as we were.
I told him, "No problem, this is only a training run for me. I never turn down a chance to go slower anyway."
Brad warned me that we he's tired and feeling sorry for himself he starts telling some really bad jokes. True to his word, he did just that. He told some real groaners. I don't what was worse- his jokes or the fact that I laughed at them.
The trail ran along limestone bluffs and cliffs over looking the stream. Occacionally, we had to squeeze between rock formations.
One wrong step and over the edge you'd go. I paid extra special attention to where I put my feet. As slow as I was going, it wasn't hard.
Soon we reached the 9 mile aid station (41 mile station on the way back). I was hungry and my stomach was growling. I ate some boiled red potatoes in salt, a half a banana and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drank it all down with some HEED sports drink.
Now that's much better!
I prefer turkey and cheese sandwhiches when running to peanut butter and jelly- but I was hungry enough that I didn't care.
Beggars shouldn't be choosers anyway.
Brad saw some other faster runners he knew. He was feeling better. He thanked me for pulling him out of a rough spot and went ahead to run with them. .
No thanks needed, others have done the same for me. I'm only glad to return the favor to whomever needs it whenever I can.
He took off rather quickly. I was impressed by his rebound. But that's how it is when you're ultrarunning. One minute, your'e ready to give up and all hope appears lost- the next you're running again as if nothing ever happened.
After many hours and miles on the trail, I've learned that such ebb and flow of how you feel is normal and to be expected. Just don't let the bad spots get you down too much and enjoy those good moments as fleeting as they sometimes can be- and you'll make it to the finish. .
To quote one ultrarunner when asked how he was feelling during a race: "Right now? I'm feeling GREAT! But I'm sure I'll get over it soon!"
The stiffness and pain from the day before slowly went away.
It had taken me almost ten miles but finally I was feeling like running.
I even passed a few runners, again by blasting on by them in the rocky downhills.
Of course, as soon as we entered flat terrain again- many of the runners I'd passed earlier caught up with and passed me.
At least no one caught me on the downhills or the uphills!
"Now if only I were able to maintain cruising speed on the open sections-now that would be something!" I daydreamed.
The aid stations were located 4 to 9 miles apart. Some were fully stocked- others were unmanned and had only water and sports drink. Each was a welcome sight.
As the saying goes: an ultramarathon is like any other all day and all night party- the only difference is that the all-you-can-eat buffet tables are spread out every few miles!
Experience has taught me how important it is to just keep going, focusing on running fast and relaxed. Eventually it passes and the flow returns.
Before today, I'd wondered when and where my previous day's miles would finally catch up with me. Well they finally did at around mile 20. I started seeing some of the front runners. They'd already made it to the 25 mile turnaround and were well on their way heading back home. They all told me , "Lookin' good!" "Keep it up!" or other words of encouragement. I knew I was not looking good at all. However, I sincerely appreciated their kind words all the same. In ultramarathons, we run with and not against other runners. The elite front of the pack runner today could be the one struggling in last place tomorrow. Unlike shorter distance races, big egos never get you very far out there on the trail. I was tired. I had no energy to go any faster than a walk. Other than that I didn't feel too bad. My hydration status was fine- I wasn't dehydrated- I was simply out of fuel. Expecting it and recognizing it when it happened made it easier to accept. I ate some Clif Bloks and Sports Jelly Beans. I felt better but the effect was only temporary. I needed some real food. The next aid station would be at mile 24.
Before today, I'd wondered when and where my previous day's miles would finally catch up with me.
Well they finally did at around mile 20. I started seeing some of the front runners. They'd already made it to the 25 mile turnaround and were well on their way heading back home.
They all told me , "Lookin' good!" "Keep it up!" or other words of encouragement.
I knew I was not looking good at all. However, I sincerely appreciated their kind words all the same. In ultramarathons, we run with and not against other runners. The elite front of the pack runner today could be the one struggling in last place tomorrow. Unlike shorter distance races, big egos never get you very far out there on the trail.
I was tired. I had no energy to go any faster than a walk. Other than that I didn't feel too bad. My hydration status was fine- I wasn't dehydrated- I was simply out of fuel.
Expecting it and recognizing it when it happened made it easier to accept. I ate some Clif Bloks and Sports Jelly Beans. I felt better but the effect was only temporary. I needed some real food. The next aid station would be at mile 24.
4 miles is not far but it's far enough when you are bonking and borderline hypoglycemic.
I came upon the race photographer maybe a mile from the aid station.
You know it's very embarrassing to be walking at the same pace as a non-running photographer. "Oh well, at least I'm still on my own two feet and moving." I tried to think positive..
On the trail I saw a lemon cookie someone had dropped. I love lemon cookies.
"Gosh that looks good," I heard myself thinking as my mouth watered.
I was extremely tempted to pick it up and eat it. You know you are bonking hard when you're seriously thinking of trail scrounging food others have dropped. I told the photographer what I was thinking. He told me to hang on and not to worry, the aid station was only a couple of hundred yards ahead.
"Heck, I'm not doing too bad. At least I'm not thinking of eating stuff with someone else's teeth marks or footprint on it!"
"Heck, I'm not doing too bad. At least I'm not thinking of eating stuff with someone else's teeth marks or footprint on it!"
At the aid station I refilled my bottles and ate some boiled potatoes, chicken broth with noodles, more peanut butter jelly sandwhiches, potato chips, a couple of cookies and some other stuff. Gosh, I WAS hungry! I put extras in my fanny pack for later.
I didn't begin running immediately but I did feel much better. In a few minutes, I could even muster up a slow jog.
"At least I know I will beat the race photographer now! "I smiled.
It always amazes me how a little nourishment can turn things around so quickly and completely..
At the 25 mile turnaround, there was a sign with a "code word" on it which we were advised to remember. On the way back, we were asked by the aid station volunteers what it was so they could document that I'd made it the entire way before turning around.
I took a picture of it for future reference, in case I bonked again and forgot. You never know what might happen during one of these races.
It was around here I caught up with Brad again. He was not about to rally this time. Nevertheless, I was and am still impressed by how far he'd come despite how poorly he'd looked this morning.
Before I left him, he encouraged me to go on.
"If you can run a 12 min/mile," he encouraged, "then you can make it to the 32 mile aid station before cut-off."
"I know," I responded, "but if I do, then they'll just make me keep going."
"Yeah, but that's the point!" he said.
When you think you've gone as far as you can- in reality you've went only about half as far as you possibly could.
As I slogged (slow-jogged) on, I thought about his suggestion to push it. If I made it past mile 32, when and where would the next cut-off be? Mile 41?
I didn't relish the idea of struggling to make the cut-offs all afternoon. Unconsciously, perhaps even a little on purpose, I slowed down to a more comfortable pace. If it was going to be a struggle to make it before cut-off then what would be the point?
I immediately recognized the self-defeating thoughts for what they were. Such self-talk within one's mind is normal during ultras.
It gets progessively worse and worse as the hours go by….
- Should I quit or should I go on?
- Maybe if I stop for a few minutes and eat, I'll feel better and can keep going, don't you think?
- It's not so bad- you can still make it if you take it easy and pace yourself.
- Wouldn't it be easier to quit? You could be showered and sleeping in your bed by now.
- Why are you doing this to yourself anyway? Isn't this supposed to be fun? Well, it isn't.
- What made you think you could even do this? What does it matter? Who even cares?
- MUST….. KEEP…. MOVING…… FORWARD……
- This is SO stupid! You are stupid.
- You're not really an ultraunner. Look at yourself- you shouldn't even call yourself a runner!
- Admit it- you totally suck! If you had any sense you would STOP!
- Stop right now!
- Hey you! Yeah you! I'm talkin' to you! S-T-O-P!!!!
- Are you even listening to me?!?!?!
Don't laugh. This kind of conversation with one's inner voice really happens.
Once at another race, I met a runner sitting in a chair at an aid station crying and saying out loud to herself, "Why am I here? I shouldn't even call myself a runner!"
She was saying this after just having run over 40 tough miles in the heat. "Not a runner? You made it this far despite all that happened- why you're a HELL of a runner!"
She definitely had hit a rough spot. But to think herself as not being a runner? Absurd!
Of course, it's easy to recognize this when it's happening to someone else. When it's you who is the one in a funk, it's hard to look beyond it and realize that it's only your mind trying to get you to stop. You should't blame your mind. It'is only doing it's job.Your mind is only watching out for your safety and well-being.
Only by fighting negative self-talk and the ever increasing urge to stop can you have any hope of going the distance.
Today, however, I decided to not fight it and just give in. I didn't feel bad- I only didn't want to go anymore and was ready to stop. .
I know, I know.
Giving in willingly to such thoughts without hardly a fight is what a quitter does, isn't it?
At that moment, I also realized that this was a training run and that's it. It did not make any sense to me beat myself up for only a training run.
Another (and maybe even the real?) reason I was so ready to stop was that I was getting tired of boiled potatoes and peanut butter jelly sandwiches.
I craved real food.
For the last two days I'd been salivating over the thought of eating some of that delicious smoked barbeque I'd smelled the other day in town.
Eat now- or in several hours?
My decision was an easy one. As I entered the 32 mile aid station, I saw several others who had been cut.
I was not alone.
Great! They're already packed up and ready to go. I won't have to wait before we go!
The sooner we leave, the sooner I can EAT!
After gorging myself on smoked brisket, pulled pork and a rack of ribs, I went to the start/finish where I could cheer some of the other runners. I was still hungry and decided to eat some of the red beans and rice they were serving.
Two dinners in the same evening- how could I complain? I was GLAD I stopped early.
Although I would have liked to have gone the entire 50 miles on day two, I was completely satisfied with my performance. Going 65 miles in two days over rugged country is nothing to be ashamed of, especially for an early season training race.
In hindsight, I suspect the reason why I had such an incedible urge to stop was because I was calorie-depleted and needed to eat.
That night, I slept soundly and well. I don't know if it was because I wasn't worried about having to do only 20-kilmeters on the last day, because I had a full stomach or a combination of the two.
Although I was stiff tired the next morning, I'd resolved to do the entire distance. The cut off was very fair: if we could run, walk, limp, hobble or crawl at a 29:20 min/mile pace or faster than we could do it.
The handiwork I did on my blisters the day before had survived intact but now I had new blisters on the tips of my toes. I've never had blisters on my toes before but then I've never run in a multi-day stage before either. After attending to them, I was ready to go.
"If anything," I thought, "I'm certainly learning about blister management during this race."
As I drove to the race start/finish, however, I knew that something was amiss. I saw sheriffs vehicles driving around and a few forest service rangers on four wheelers. As I parked and got out of my car, I saw a helicopter circling overhead. My heart sank.
"That can't be good," I thought to myself, "someone must be still out there on the course."
Sure enough, one of the runners was missing. Mike from Illinois was in 6th place when he checked in at the mile 41 aid station. I had actually met him the day before.
To give you an idea of how well he was doing, as he arrived at mile 41- I was back at mile 32 dropping out of the race.
The day had warmed and he had only 9 miles to go so he switched from a long sleeve tech shirt to a short sleeve shirt. Planning on finishing hours ahead of sunset, he carried no headlamp or extra clothing.
But he never made it to the finish.
Some of the runners ahead of him said he was right behind them and then he disappeared. The search began at 2AM with rangers driving up and down where trails intersect roads but there was no sign of him. A helicopter was brought in with thermal imaging but failed to locate any warm bodies.
At the time when the 20-k was to begin, one of the assistant race directors asked what we wanted to do. If we wanted run we could, it would not be in the search area.
No one was eager to run.
Someone suggested we volunteer to assist in the search and rescue efforts if needed. "It would be difficult to gather such a physically able group of people up for the task." he observed. We all agreed- the 20-k on day three was cancelled. Anyone who was willing was encouraged to join in the search.
As the search and rescue organizers explained to us the process and what we were expected to do, I thought to myself:
Either the helicopter's thermal imaging has failed to locate a warm body because there isn't one anymore. The part of the trail he was lost on went past some steep cliffs. One wrong step and you'd fall to your death into the creek below
Or, the alternative possibility was that he got lost and instead of having enough sense to stop and wait, he kept going. If that was what happened, then by now he must be miles away and out of the area where they are searching.
We hoped it was the latter but we were not optimistic.
Finally the search and rescue crew finished by telling us: "You all need to know that it's possible that the genteman is deceased. If you're not OK with the possiblity of finding him like that, let us know, please back out now."
No one did.
We were driven to various points along the nine mile section and organized into search parties. The plan was for us to walk slowly in a line on either side of the trail and mark with plastic tape where the edge of our search was.
Quietly, I requested to have a position at the edge of the trail or between the trail and the cliff. Although I'm a really slow runner, I have a skill which is rare nowadays: I am very good at reading tracks and animal sign. I usually don't tell very many people about this because chances are they'll think I'm even more strange then they probably already do. As a child and young man, I spent much of my free time in the woods following wildlife and learning to read the stories they left behind.
Having an eye for such things could be a very useful skill to have on this day. . If someone had left our section of the trail on purpose, or by accident, I might be the one to notice it. A scuff mark, shifted pebble or a few misplaced leaves might be the only clue of where he had went. However, once others had walked over the area, it would be impossible to distinguish between them..
As we searched, I pointed out the sign of deer, turkey and even squirrel. I even found a old pig skull.
However, there was no human sign off the trail- other than our own.
Near the edge of the stream, I saw what appeared to be otter tracks. I asked one of the others if he knew if otters lived here.
He said, "No I don't think they do- but there are lots beavers."
"I know, I've seen lots of beaver sign- but these tracks looks like where an otter came out of the water this morning- it doesn't look like a beaver." I replied, fairly sure of what I'd observed.
Some of the search area was straight up and down cliff faces, impossible to safely pass through without ropes. In other places the greenbrier and cane (a tall native type of wild bamboo) was so thick, you couldn't even see others in your search party only ten feet away. If someone had come in here, you'd never see them unless you were right on top of them.
Finally, we met up with another search party coming in from the other direction. We regrouped and started to head back. Then a call came in over the radio:
The runner had been found!
He was alive and he was OK!
Wonderful! We were all so relieved!
As we headed back towards our vehicles, the guy whom I asked about otters met some local canoers. He asked if they knew if otters lived here.
They replied, "Yes! Actually we have quite a few. Sometimes you can even see them on the streambank playing with their babies."
After speaking with them, he jogged back to our group, and made a point of telling everyone the entire story.
Then he smiled in my direction: "It looks like we've got a regular Daniel Boone here!"
I grinned. I might not and never will be a fast runner- but there are other useful outdoor skills to have besides only running fast!
When we got back to the search and rescue headquarters which was at the Blanchard Springs Caverns Visitor Center, we finally were told the full story of what happened:
Somewhere along those last 9 miles, Mike took a wrong turn. Instead of stopping and backtracking back to the trail he should have been on, he kept going forward, hoping to find something he recognized.
That was mistake number one.
As I mentioned, this is big wild country, an easy place for a man to lose himself. In other places, after a mile or two one would eventually come out to a major road or somewhere populated. Not in the wild Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.
As the sun began to set, he began to get worried. He had on only a short sleeve shirt and shorts. The night time temps get down below freezing this time of year. The weather was gray and drizzly Hypothermia was a real possibilty. He kept moving to keep warm.
The trail even passed across an old jeep trail. Instead of stopping or taking the jeep road, he continued to follow the hiking trail. That was mistake number two. Had he stayed on that road, one of the forest rangers would've found him late last night.
Finally in the dark, he lost the trail completely. Crawling on his hands and knees to avoid accidentally falling off a cliff, he finally did something intelligent. He piled together a bunch of leaves and crawled inside it to stay warm. Although he did not get much rest, at least he didn't die from hypothermia.
The next morning when there was again enough light to see, he started out again. He heard the helicopter. At one point he even could see it circling. However, it was searching in the area where he had been the day before- not where he was today.
Finally, some of his friends were driving the back roads when they spotted him walking slowly. He had gone ten miles completely out of the race area.
He was tired, cold and hungry- but he was alive!
All of us were thanked for our efforts. No problem and no thanks were needed. Had it been one of us out there, we know that he would've gladly volunteered to search for us without a second thought just as we had for him. . We ultrarunners are a small, close-knit and eccentric family. We run with others- not against them. A lot can happen out there in the wilds. We watch out for each other.
As I reflected on the race and the search efforts, I realized that you'd never ever hear of something like this happening at a regular 26.2 mile marathon or any other road race.
Can you imagine? One of our runners is lost and maybe even deceased!?!?
This situation reminded all of us why we do what we do. Ultramarathoning is not only about the running. Indeed, the running is probably third or fourth on the list of why we do it. If it were only about the running we could simply run for a day on a track to see how many miles we can get in- at least that would eliminate the need for search and rescue and blisters from pebbles in our shoes.
Maybe that is why we keep coming back for more? To have the privilege of seeing and doing things that few others ever will?
Ultramarathoning is of course about the running but it is even more about the camaraderie, experiencing nature on its terms, and discovering our strengths and weaknesses (and being OK with them).
Most important of all, it is about never ever giving up, no matter how dismal or how hopeless the situation seems.
This experience reminded the rest of us to continue to be grateful for the important things in life: our family and loved ones, our health and our well-being, the privilege of sharing the company of like-minded souls and being able to see places that few others get to see.
Great is the victory, but the friendship of all is greater.
The last few days, our friend Tim was visiting.
Yesterday, he, Nathan and I went for a 5.6 mile hike up the south ridge of French Creek just off the wildlife loop in Custer State Park.
It was exactly what I needed. With an ucoming race, it was good to get out and stretch my legs however the last thing I wanted was to twist my ankle or another injury so close to a race.
It was beautiful but clouds and fog prevented us from seeing any bison or other large animals. They had been around as old tracks were everywhere. Hair was on the trees where they had passed by. Nathan even found two bison vertebrae. But there were no signs of more recent activity.
I've been training off and on for the 3 Days of Syllamo all winter. Even so, I still haven't come to the realization that this coming weekend I will be running 93 miles on single track trails of the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas.
Running a multi-day stage race will be an all new experience for me. I have many many questions:
- What will it be like to run 50 miles the day after running 50-kilometers?
- How well will I be able to rest and re-load my calorie deficit in the evenings between each stage?
- What will the weather and terrain be like?
- How well will my body hold up after three days and 150-kilometers?
- Will I be able to run/hike the entire 93 miles in three days or will some unforseen reason cause me to DNF or DNS one or more of the days?
I will have the answer to these questions soon enough so there's no reason to worry about them now. Right now, I need to focus on last minute logistics such as planning my race pace, packing my gear and my drop bags.
Unlike other races I've run, I actually have limited information on the number and location of aid stations. I like to know such information before the race because it helps me know how fast (or slow) I am doing based on my pre-race plans, what to put in my drop bags and so on. I can create a pace chart to refer to when determining how close I am at achieving my pace goals during the actual race.
Oh well, I suppose, I'll have to rely on my GPS and more general sense of how I'm doing instead of planning this event out as obsessively as I've done for some other events.
No problem… with all the unknowns, it'll be just that much more of an adventure, right?
I do know some things about the event:
First Stage 50-k: starts Friday at 9AM with a 9 hour cut-off at 6PM. That's only a 17:25 min/mile pace.
Heck, I could hike the whole 31 miles at that pace!
In order to save something for the next day- I think just might!
Second Stage 50-mile:
starts Saturday at 6AM with a 14 hour cut off at 8PM. I need to do this at a 16:48 min/mile to make it to the finish before cut-off.
That would not be a problem if I were just running only the 50 miles, but how will I fare after 50-k the day before?
Will I be able to go the distance or will I need to drop?
I'll find out.
Third Stage 20-k: starts Sunday at 9AM with a 6 hour cut-off at 3PM. That's only a 29:20 min/mile. Barring severe injury, by golly I'll walk or crawl these dang last 20-kilometers if I have to!
The total elevation gain/loss will be 24,500 ft or in the words of the race director: "As much as I could find!"
As for drop bags, they will be available at:
- 50-k: miles 13 and 24
- 50-m: miles 9, 18, 32 and 41
- 20-k: no drop bags.
The information provided about the number and location of aid stations is sketchy. We're only told that aid stations will be 4 to 9 miles apart and stocked with a variety of hot/cold food and drinks. The energy drink will be HEED.
As I said above: the less you know = the greater the adventure!
This is an early season event so I have no idea how my body (and mind) will do. If things don't go as well as planned and/or I have to drop one or more of the stages, so be it. I consider this more of a training race than a "main" event. It'll be good training no matter how it goes. My expectations are only to try my best and just not get injured. I'll have plenty of other opportunities to run well coming up as long as I'm not side-lined with an early season injury.
Nevertheless, if I can do the entire 93 miles in 3 days it will be a great confidence booster for any future attempts at running 100 miles in under 30 hours.
How will I do? I shall see!
No matter what- it's all good!
Last week, I needed to put in a twenty mile run.
With my strep throat and recent travels for business, I haven't been able put in any long runs over the past couple of weekends. It is difficult finding time to go long during the week; there are only so many hours in the day.
So I got up at 3:30 AM to put in 10 miles.
As I ran by starlight and my headlamp, I was serenaded by our local coyotes. This time of year the coyotes start pairing off and determine territories. They certainly put on quite a show for me for the entire 2 hours. At one point they were so close I could hear their feet as the ran over the hard crust of snow. Wild song dogs!
Then, I got off work early and put in another ten mile run so I would have a total of twenty miles for that day. Putting in AM and PM double day runs allows you to put in your mileage in way that is a little more friendly towards one's schedule.
I don't do double days runs because I like it. I am certainly not a running addict (yes,I know how crazy that sounds coming from an ultramarathoner). There are many other things I'd rather do than run twice a day or get up to run at 3:30 AM in a cold, dark Feburary morning. However, I do know that if I am to continue to run ultras without injury, I must put in the training. Sometimes, AM and PM runs are the only way to do that, especially on a week day.
I could hear coyotes during the evening run but they were not as close or as vocal as they were that morning. About 2.5 miles from home, sudddenly I saw the brightest red-orange eyes glowing in the light of my headlamp. I'm used to seeing animal eyes reflect in my light. I can recognize what deer, rabbit, horse, domestic house cat, skunk and even wolf-spider eyes look like when reflected in my light.
But these eyes were different. They were larger and brighter than any I've ever seen before. It was if they were lit from behind by their own light source. I walked off the road and into the pines to get a better look at what they were.
As I approached, I could see it was definitely not a deer. The back was round and the neck too short. Then it got up and I knew exactly what it was. A silouette of a long tail stretched out behind it.
It was a cougar!
Many of our neighbors and acquaintances have seen mountain lions but until now, not me. Some have even seen them peering in their windows and sitting on their decks (the two photos on the left are from a friend in Wyoming).
I've seen the tracks and heard the screams of mountain lions but never seen a live one in person. It always surprises me how many others can be so lucky so often.
If anyone were going to see a mountain lion, wouldn't you expect it to be someone who spends many hours running on trails, at night and in the early morning?
Apparently me staring at her with my bright headlamp and then walking towards her, made her uncomfortable. She got up and cooly, non-chalantly, walked off slowly as only a cat could do. It was as if she was trying to say, "I don't like you
coming towards me but I'm really not afraid of you."
I waited until I could no longer see her before I turned to move away myself. I looked behind me and watched my back trail often to make sure she didn't try to follow.
When many people sight a mountain lion, they claim they are huge. This one I didn't think was all that big. Based on comparison to dogs which I know the size of, I'd estimate that maybe she could have only been 70-90 lbs at most, perhaps smaller.
I swear that I saw some dappling on her coat, which if it was true, means she was a kitten. Of course it was hard to see int he dark, even with my head lamp, so that might have been my imagination.
Still, even if she wasn't all that big, I wouldn't want her stalking me without me knowing about it!
What a great experience. I love living here!
The 3 Days of Syllamo are coming up in less than two weeks. Am I ready? As ready as I could be but running a multi-day stage race is a new experience for me so I do not know what to expect. I'm planning on doing the first 50-k stage very conservatively (ie hike most of it). Then I'll make sure I calorie re-load that evening before attempting the 50-mile stage the following day.
As for the 20-k stage on Sunday? If I'm still walking and not injured, I'll do it however I can. I'll even crawl if I have to. However it goes, it'll be a great early season training adventure.
Finally, in case any of you are questioning my sanity: I wouldn't ordinarily walk up to a cougar in the dark.
I just couldn't pass up finding out whose those bright beautiful red eyes those were. I happened to be carrying some protection in my fanny pack which gave me extra confidence. Had I not had that with me, I would've stayed on the road and wondered about what I'd seen.
Run on- but watch for big red eyes reflecting in your headlamp!
Yesterday, I went for a long run. Before I set off, I wasn't sure how far I'd go, I hoped for at least 20 miles.
That day was overcast with no wind and the high temperature would be 43. We haven't had temps that high for almost two weeks so it felt like a heat wave.
Only a mile from our house a neighbor parked her pickup on the road. She opened her truck door and her black lab promptly charged me.
He didn't stop, despite my yell. He kept coming, barking and growling. As he jumped on me with mouth open and teeth bared, I kneed him HARD. He grunted as my knee connected with his soft underbelly. Then, he fell back about six feet with the wind knocked out of him.
Lucky for him, he was smart enough to jump up, turn and run back to his owner. Had he decided to continue, I might have had no other choice but to take it up to a level 4 response. (level 1 = strong words or yelling, level 2 = throwing rocks or spraying pepper spray, level 3 = physically defending oneself, level 4 = well, l'll just say that after a level 4 response, no dog ever repeats their behavior again).
The owner then proceeded to yell and berate me for "beating up her dog."
I yelled right back and told her "What the #$%#% was I supposed to do?! Wait until he bit me?!?!?!"
She then apologized. She admitted her dog is kind of a bully (no kidding!) and said he can tell when people are afraid of him (Well, he certainly didn't read me correctly, I wasn't afraid of him).
What kind of stupid dog runs towards a person growling with teeth bared and jumps on them ?
A bully who hasn't had anyone teach them that running full speed towards someone growling and then jumping up with teeth bared is never acceptable. I have no problem with a dog standing at the end of his driveway letting me know that it is his territory and I should not enter. I also don't have a problem with a dog coming up to politely smell me. But I do have a problem with unprovoked attacks.
I've been chased, nipped, bit, attacked and treed by many dogs in my life. Long ago, I promised myself to never allow myself to be bullied or attacked by any dog or pack of dogs ever again. Of course, I now also run prepared, in the event that I have no other choice but to defend myself.
Anyway, after she apologized, I apologized too (though I think she didn't deserve my apology) and we introduced ourselves. There are better ways to meet the neighbors than after kneeing their dog when it charges you.
I continued my run. At Ghost Canyon, instead of turning left and heading on my usual route towards Mt. Rushmore, I turned right towards the town of Keystone. Playhouse Road is rolling through the Black Hills National Forest with many switchbacks, much altitude gain/loss and practically no shoulder. Fortunately, there were few vehicles.
I saw a HUGE female golden eagle swoop low over the trees. I stopped running and watched her glide silently. The wingspan of golden eagles average over 7 feet in width.
What a powerful, beautiful majestic bird!
Seeing this eagle, I was both inspired and humbled. I thought to myself: "No matter what else I see or experience today, being out here and seeing her has made my run worth it."
As the eagle disappeared over a ridge, I said quietly under my breath: "Mitakuye oyasin" and continued my run.
At highway 40, I turned east and headed home. A few miles from home, I called Jeanne and Nathan to tell them I was on my way.
Finally, as the sun set low on the horizon, I walked the last half mile up our snow covered drive. I looked at my GPS: 24.3 miles. One good run!
This morning, I have only a few areas of trace muscle soreness, but nothing that will keep me from our day's chores: cutting firewood.
It is amazing what the human body can accomplish with training, time and dedication. Only 6 years ago, I would have been extremely sore and had trouble walking after only 10 or 12 mile run. 24 miles is now a nice relaxed weekend jog for me. I could do it again today.
Run on and run well!
I've been back running for a couple of weeks. So far, so good. My tendon burns slightly when I stretch it in certain positions. Otherwise all feels OK but I haven't run over 5 miles yet. My plan is to do slow 3 to 5 mile runs only for this first month I'm back and then slowly move back to my usual distances as tolerated over the winter.
I haven't made any decisions on which ultras I'll do next year. It all depends of it this tendon injury is really behind me or I will be forced to deal with it next year. I hope not! At the very minimum, I'd like to attempt the Bighorn 50 mile and the Lean Horse Hundred again.
A friend/co-worker suggests we try a 3 day multi-day 150-k stage trail race in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas: 3 Days in Syllamo. My friend is a marathoner whom I've been trying to convince to move up to "real" distances. Based on his marathon times, when he finally does, he'll finish hours and hours ahead of me. He has a few friends from Missouri who run it every year.
This event is run on trails over three days: 50 kilometer, 50 miles and 20 kilometers on March 12, 13 and 14th. The 50k has a 9 hour cut-off, the 50-mile a 14 hour cut-off and 20k a 6 hour cut-off.
Even if I must stop early or am unable to run one of the days, it'll still be a nice early season training run.
On the other hand, if I am able to run the entire 93 miles over three days, it'll be great training for doing 100 miles in less than 30 hours later in the year.
They limit the runners to 100 but as far as I know, it does not fill up quickly. There are only 4 registered right now.
Does anyone care to join us?
After my torn anterior ankle tendon at mile 50 during Lean Horse in August, I intended to take off about six weeks from running entirely to allow everything to heal. My sports med doc was very reassuring and didn't think it was that big of a deal. Just take some time off, if it hurts then don't do it and when you're healed, you can start running again. In the meantime, you might want to think about other sports such as biking or swimming.
"That is all excellent advice," I thought but I also wondered: "how many other patients do you have whose next goal is to run one hundred miles?"
During the last six years I had not taken off more than 7 to 10 days from running. "Who knows what other overuse or degenerative injuries there might be lurking around the corner?" I thought, "It's the off season, what better time to take a break?" Taking some time off would be good for me.
At first, it was difficult for me to not run. Running is an important part of what I do. It is a time of queit reflection where I let the stresses of life fall away, like the golden leaves from a quaking aspen in an autumn breeze. I missed my time of relaxation, meditation, escape and communion with nature.
To avoid feeling too sorry for myself for not being able to run, I devoted my free time into other acitvities which I had neglected. I spent time with my family. Jeanne, Nathan and I cut and stacked firewood. They joined me on trips to Tucson, Arizona and then to Casper, Wyoming.
We threw an Oktoberfest party. I wore lederhosen and sang Bavarian beer-drinking songs (Photo above). Friends emptied almost all the beer from my kegs. So much the better; it's fall and time to start brewing beer again. One of my other hobbies beside ultrarunning is homebrewing. I can't make more beer until I have space to keep it. I appreciate when friends rise to the occasion and help make space in my kegs to store new beer.
We went to a friend's barn dance and I got to jam with other musicians. That was very insipiring. I hadn't played much the past year. Hopefully I'll get to play with others more often. I play guitar, harmonica, claw hammer banjo, ukulele-banjo, Native American flute, and sign/yodel old time folk music of the American West from about 1840-1930. My nurse's mom has lent me her violin so I could start learning how to play. I'd always wanted to play the fiddle.. now I am. The songs were pretty scratchy but I'm already improving. I don't have any desire to be at the level of a concert violinist, I only want to be able to play a few old time fiddle tunes around the campfire with friends.
During these last weeks, I did not write anything on this blog because no one wants to read a long drawn out whining post: "This sucks. I'm injured and I can't run" I avoided reading or commenting on other's blogs- not because I wasn't interested- but because I did not want to be reminded of all the things others are doing while I can't. I'd end up feeling even more self-pity.
Just as I was ready to start running again, I came down with bronchitis. After three weeks of coughing and right before the remnants of that was almost gone, I then caught a cold. I was frustrated and dejected. "This sucks!" I thought. Well, there's one thing I could be thankful for: at least I was sick without it being before any upcoming major races on my calendar, unlike how it had been so many times in the past.
"I'd do anything, just anything, if I could even go only ONE mile," I thought to myself. It's funny how humans, myself included, take so much for granted, including our fitness and our ealth. We don't realize what we have until we lose it.
Yesterday was sunny with clear blue skies, a mild beeze and a high temp of 74 degrees. Even though I still have a trace of cough and reactive airway, I just couldn't stay away from running any longer. It has been almost ten weeks since I've run more than a few hundred yards. If I had to stop and walk back home, so be it. I wasn't going to put off returning to running any longer.
I put Ruby on a lead and my Vibram Five Fingers on my feet. We padded slowly, silently down the gravel road. It was Friday afternoon and we saw only a handful of vehicles. We saw deer, horses, cows, wild turkeys and one other jogger (rare here in the rural Black Hills of South Dakota). The vanilla aroma of fresh-cut ponderosa permeated the warm afternoon air where wildfire suppression crews had been thinning the forest.
I would have loved to run on a trail instead of a road but thought I'd better not push it. I only expected to go a mile or two and see how I feel. The first mile I coughed and coughed and coughed until finally the remnants of post-bronchitis mucous were gone. Running clears my airways even better than a nebulizer treatment. My legs felt well if not strong. The area of injury felt tight but there was no pain. Every few hundred yards I thought about turning back but felt so good that we kept going. At mile 2.5 we finally turned back.
Today, I have few minor tight spots in my hips and calves. That's no surprise, given that we ran 5.1 miles and it's been almost ten weeks since I had gone for a decent run. I will take it easy the next couple of months before I think about races for next year. It would be foolish to push myself too far, too soon and then end up re-injured.
Perhaps a short ultra such as a 50k or a 26.2m trail marathon in March/April might be possible? I have no idea how well I will recover my fitness and whether that tendon injury is truly gone.
I have plenty of time to think about future races. I'm just glad that I'm running again. My only goal now is to simply keep running without injury. Ultramarathoning is all about persistence and taking the long perspective on things. This philosophy applies during races themselves, during those up and down times between races, as well as to life itself.
Enjoy the seasons of running and of life, my friends.
Float softly and quietly down those forest trails.
Run well and run strong.
“Don’t give up… no matter what happens…
DO NOT give up!
You can do it and you WILL do it!”
I repeated this phrase to myself over and over, the entire week before Lean Horse.
This time, my third time, would be the charm. As long as I didn’t make any stupid race-ending mistakes, this year I would finish. I have run more training runs and ultramarathons over 50 miles than I can easily recall. There are only a handful of races in the 50 mile to 100 mile distance. The next step is to do a full one hundred.
“I’m ready. I will do this,” I thought, fully convinced that I would.
The Day before Race Day
Jeanne, Nathan and I headed down to Hot Springs on Friday. At registration, we were told I was the runner who lived closest to the race. There were a handful of other South Dakotans, but we live on the eastern side of Custer State Park, only an hour away.
I hoped that might give me some sort of advantage on race day. I was realistic and knew that any advantage would be minor. If anything, knowing every foot of the trail would make it easier for me to give up and stop, when I realized exactly how much farther I had to go.
At the pre-race meeting, race director Jerry Dunn made a point of telling us that cut-offs were "soft." What he meant that if we got to an aid station 15 or even 30 minutes past cut off time, we would be permitted to go on, the exception of course if we had to stop because of safety or medical reasons.
For a back-of-the packer like me, that was very reassuring. Making cut offs causes additional anxiety for those of us bringing up the rear. The only cut off that would count would be the final 30 hour cut off in Hot Springs noon Sunday. If we finished after that time, we would technically be given a DNF and would not recieve a buckle but our time would still be posted as an "unofficial" finish.
I promised myself that no matter what happened, I would keep going. I would not start to play the negative mind game in my head: "There's no hope of you making it by cut off anyway, you might as well quit."
Even if I could not make it to Hot Springs by noon Sunday, I fully intended to go 100 miles, even if it took me 31 or 32 hours. My family was crewing for me, they could follow along and bring me food and fluids, even after the race officially shut down.
Jeanne joked and told me that the car was in Hot Springs and it was up to me to get there. I was off of work Monday so I could take as long as I needed to.
We stayed at a house that had been converted to lodging by the owner. It was nice to not have someone the floor above you pounding heavily after they came back to their room intoxicated late at night or noisy kids running up and down the hall.
Chris "Haliku" drove up from Denver. Just like last year, the plan was for him to pace me from the 50 mile cut off on. He'd had some ankle and knee tweaks and wasn't sure he'd be able to go the entire 50 miles. However, by the time he would pace me, my running would be his walking.
All I needed was for him to not let me give up during the night. If I made to dawn, I knew I would finish.
The Fall River ran behind the house. Jeanne and Nathan enjoyed tubing down some of the rapids while Haliku and I arranged our gear. I preventively taped my feet as I now do before every big race. Since learning how to do that, my experiences with blisters have been minor.
The Fall River ran behind the house. Jeanne and Nathan enjoyed tubing down some of the rapids while Haliku and I arranged our gear. I preventively taped my feet as I now do before every big race. Since learning how to do that, my experiences with blisters have been minor.
I highly recommend the book "Fixing Your Feet," by John Vonhof as required reading for every ultramarathoner, adventure racer, fast-packer and long distance hiker.
Saturday- Race Day!
I awoke refreshed at 4AM. I had slept well not tossing and turning through out the night as I had before many big races in the past. I slept peacefully because I knew I in my mind and my heart that barring any unforeseen circumsances: I could do it.
If for some reason I did not, oh well, DNFing is not the end of the world, I've done it before, there would always be other chances.
I'm not planning on stopping ultramarathon running any time soon. I plan to be that 80-something year old guy winning my age group because there is no one else left in my age group (or at least placing second in my age group after Haliku).
After eating my usual pre-race breakfast of whole wheat waffles with lots of syrupm Haliku and I headed down to the race start at Mueller Civic Center.
Slowly the other runners gathered. I saw many other runners from previous ultramarathons. Teresa Verburg from Rapid City who had run her first hundred miler at Lean Horse last year. She is still the one and only woman from South Dakota to have finished Lean Horse. She was back for more this year.
We ultramarathoners are a tight-knit small community. It's always nice to catch up before, during and after the race.
The announcement was made and we all gathered outside. The weather was predicted to be hot, the mid-90s.
There's no reason to worry about that which is out of my control, I thought.
Elise from Montana was nervous. She had run only three 26.2 mile marathons before. This was her first 50 miler. I told her not to worry, she would do it.
"Just take it easy in the heat, hydrate and don't forget to eat- you'll do it! We all can do it!!!"
Suddenly, the race was on! We were off!!! One of the most difficult challenges of running and completing an ultra is holding back for the first half of the race… in a 100 miler, that constitutes concentrating on running as slowly and easily as possible for 10, 12 or even 15 hours. "Hold back so you'll have something to draw from later in the race when you really need it." I tell myself over and over as the pack drifts away. It is a lesson that I continue to focus on and re-learn. I took it easy, walking for the first five miles even before I ran a single step. I started out walking with a couple from New Jersey hiking the 50 mile race, Ned and Laura Gardner. They were long distance hikers, not runners. Unlike many shorter races where walkers are sneered down upon by runners, we ultra-thoners welcome walkers with open arms. After all, every ultra-runner includes walking breaks as part of their race tactic. Many times we are grateful when we are even able to walk. Every step forward is a step closer to the finish line we believe. Going 50 or 100 miles on your own two feet is still 50 or 100 miles, no matter how you got there. On Argyle Road I left them behind and caught up with a few other runners. I jogged with Holley Lange from Colorado whom I had met at Greenland 50-k and the 24 hours at Laramie, last year. We stayed together for quite a while. Then I met and ran with Mike Haviland from California. I met him last year at the Kettle Moraine 100-k. He is a past Badwater finisher but made an impression on me at Kettle Moraine when he passed out right as I was talking to him. I remember thinking to myself, "If a Badwater finisher is passing out during this race because of heat and humidity, what the heck am I doing here?" It turned out it was due to a medication he was on, one notorious for causing low blood pressure after standing, and in some people, fainting. After the medication was stopped, no more problems. I was very relieved that he passed out because of a medication and not because of something I said. I have been accused of boring people to….well you know… The day began to warm up. I was surprised how fast the pack had headed out. Many runners who usually run at a similar pace as I do, took off. Starting out too fast was a mistake I made last year which I promised myself I would not repeat. "They're going to pay for it later, " I thought. As long as I stuck with my average 15 – 16 min/mile as long as I could, I would be able to finish and still have enough of a cushion later if I needed it. Finally we were on the Mickelson Trail. I began to see the fifty milers on their return trip. I saw to Keith Happel, an internist from Bismarck, ND that I know. I told him "Lookin' good!" He looked strong!! Then I saw Chris Stores, one of us local ultrarunners-bloggers from Bell Fourche, SD. He looked strong too and I wished him success. Right before the 24 mile aid station at Pringle, I saw Elise who also was looking good, with a smile on her face, well on her way to her first 50 mile finish. I wished every one of those fifty milers well and continued to head north. "Lookin' good" "Run on!" "Nice work!" "Good luck!" "Keep on going… you can do it… just one step in front of the other!!!" That is one of the best things about ultrarunning, we run with instead of run against each other. We're very supportive of other runners, no matter if they're the elite or the very last place finisher. It's all about getting out there and doing your best. It was then that I started passing some of the other hundred milers. I passed Bob Wray, another back-of-the packer like me. He works for Fed-Ex and is from Rapid City. He always stands out in a crowd because of the patriotic American Flag colors he wears. I met him last year at the 50 mile turnaround and again this year at the Mystic Mountain trail race. Bob didn't look too good. I think he mumbled something about starting out too fast. I encouraged him to not give up, take some time to rest and rehyrate at the next aid station if necessary but don't give up. I didn't see him again after that. At every aid station I put ice under my hat. At one aid station, they had no extra ice so one of the aid station volunteers pulled out some red ice from the sports drink for me to put under my hat. Beggars cannot be choosers, at least my sweat tasted sweet after that! I started out drinking only about one bottle of sports drink (HEED or SUCCEED Amino) between aid station, or about one per hour. I took one SUCCEED! salt cap per hour. Then, in the heat of the afternoon I switched to plain water only- two water bottles per hour, with some additional water from my Camelback if I emptied my water bottles before the next aid station. Even though I lost my appetite from the heat, I forced myself to eat. I was not about to repeat the same mistake I made last year. For some reason, I cannot tolerate energy gels after about mile 30 or 35, they make me want to gag. I've found that "real" food I tolerate better. I settled into a pattern of taking a half a turkey sandwich and/or banana at each aid station. If I couldn't eat it rght there, I would nibble on it so that it was gone before the next aid station. Sports Jelly Beans and Clif Blocks eaten a few at a time, after eating some real solid food, I did fine with. I met Jim Newton from Texas. We flip-flopped all afternoon, alternating between who was in front and who was behind. At one point between aid stations, his crew offered me some ice to put under my hat. A simple deed like that is appreciated more than any words can express. Despite being from down south, Jim was struggling with the heat as we all were. I stuck with my conservative pace. I convinced myself that if I could focus on fast-walking as fast as I could slow-run, then why bother running? I maintained my 15 min/mile average pace through the day, relaxed in knowing that I only needed an 18 min/mile overall average to finish before final cut off. Last year at this point, I was averaging a 12 or 13 min/mile, much much too fast and part of the reason I bonked so hard later in the night. My crew, Jeanne, Nathan and Chris "Haliku" met me at each aid station. A chair was set out for me. Jeanne gave me a towel soaked in ice water to wipe the salt and sweat from my face. What a treat! They filled my water bottles, put ice under my hat and replaced my food supply. They asked what I needed but didn't allow me to dawdle. I past many other runners simply because I was in and out of the aid stations faster than they were. Some of the volunteers remarked how fast and efficient they were: "like a NASCAR crew!" I had the best crew EVER! With support and a crew like this how could I possibly fail? Now if only I could be as fast at running as my crew is at crewing! At Carroll Creek Aid Station, I felt a little dizzy and trace of nausea. "I must be getting dehydrated," I thought to myself. As soon as I arrived, I drank an extra water bottle and took two salt caps which seemed to settle the problem. I believe that during this race and the training leading up to it, I've finally learned how to eat/drink while not upseting my stomach over long periods, incuding the afternoon heat. Nathan decided to join me. The next aid station would be Harbach Park in Custer at mile 36 or so. Since I was mostly walking or jogging slowly at that time, I encouraged him to come along. Even though the temperatures was now 93-94, he stayed with me the entire way. Jeanne stopped with the car every time the trail came near the road to ask if Nathan wanted to stop. She was worried he would hold me back. Each time he paused before answered, "No, I'd like to go with Daddy. I can do it!" He fast walked the entire 5.5 miles into Harbach Park without whining or complaining. I'm so proud! Someday, perhaps sooner than I will be ready for, it may very well be me who is the pacer and crew while Nathan runs his first ultra. We've talked with him trying a 5-k or a children's fun run sometime. I refuse to push him into doing something he is not interested in or not ready for. He has his entire life to decide what it is he likes to do and what he is good at. Too many parents push their children into too many activities too soon. It results in the opposite from what is desired- a strong dislike rather than passion for that activity. Holley came in to Harbach looking tired and dizzy as I was getting ready to leave. I told her to not give up yet, drink and rest before she made up her mind. As I headed out of Custer, I saw the front runner, Akos Konya, jogging effortlessly on the return trip. Amazing! I love out and back races because we get to glimpse the winners and front runners as the pass by us on the return. On the way up the hill to Mountain Trailhead (mile 40 or so), I met a gentleman I had met at the Javelina Jundred last fall. Ultrarunning really is a small world. We talked about creation, the universe, science, religion, God and medicine- some pretty heavy stuff. Conserving my energy, I actually let him do most of the talking, which anyone who has ever run with me will be sure to tell you, is usually not my style. The next mile and a half to the entrance to Crazy Horse Monument is relatively flat. I went for a short time with a young man from Minot, ND: Ben Clark. At age 18, he was an anomaly. The average age of ultrarunners is around 55. On Monday he would be starting in college, with plans to study mechanical engineering. If he is able to run a 100 mile ultra at age 18, who knows what he will be able to accomplish if he sets his mind to it? I wished him well as he jogged on. Soon we were going downhill and I was able to pick up speed. The three or so miles past Crazy Horse Monument are all downhill on the way out….and all uphill on the way back. I had already promised myself that I would walk every single step up that hill on the return trip. What's three miles out of a hundred? As the sun set, the temperature cooled down. I felt good. I began to see more runners on the way back. One woman asked, "Are you Chris's brother?" "Yes, I am!" I answered. It was Joyce, a mutual friend of two of other running friends of mine, Jarom Thurston and Lisa Nicholls. Chris had met Jarom, Lisa and Joyce last year when they were running 24 hours at Boulder. Joyce ran strong and fast. She was well on her way to a sub-24 hour finish. As I ran down the hill, I man on a bike caught up with me, Raj. He had seen the Native American Flute I was carrying and was curious. I had played it earlier in the day. However now that the wind had picked up, I held off until night fell because the wind would steal away my notes. Raj's wife, Anu Singh was running her first hundred miler being paced by their friend Rajeev Patel. Rajeev had given me a hug of encouragement at the race registration the day before. They had been conservative during the heat of the day and now passed me making up for lost time. Raj and I spoke about the Wakan Paha Sapa or sacred Black Hills and how running, at least for me, is as much of a spiritual endeavor as it is a physical one. I explained how this place is sacred to the Lakota and many other nations. As they went on their way, I told him to not forget: Mitakuye Oyasin- We are all related. Others told me how strong I looked. I thanked them and agreed. I felt strong; but pushed such thoughts out of my head. Ultras are run one mile, one foot step at a time. It is risky to get overconfident and count your buckles before you've finished. Just before Oreville, I started to feel a dull ache in the front part of my lower leg. It didn't hurt that bad, only a minor annoyance I thought. No big deal. I kept running and ignored the slight discomfort. As I approached Buckaroo aid station I told everyone "I see you again in a few minutes!" It was only a half mile out to the 50 mile turnaround and back. Suddenly, only two hundred yards from Buckaroo, I felt a severe excrutiating pain inside my leg, as if it was ripping open on the inside. I could not bear weight and almost fell flat on my face. I limped back to Buckaroo, frustrated and upset. I tried running and again I almost fell flat on my face due to the pain. What was it? I had no superficial pain or swelling. It was all deep inside. The pain came on so suddenly and without warning, I was deeply concerned that it might be a stress fracture. Whatever it was, there was no way for me go on. I know a woman who ran 40 miles on a stress fracture to finish a 100 mile race, I wasn't about to let that be me. It was hard for me to stop, since I felt so good otherwise. My stomach had held up, I was still able to eat and drink. My legs felt strong, other than the pain inside my right lower leg.It was as if I had run only 20 miles instead of 50 miles. I knew I had at least another 20 or 30 miles in me before it would have started to get really hard. What would have happened then? There is no way for me to know. I was upset about stopping so early but trying to go on but the only option that made sense was to stop- so I did. We drove back to Custer and Harbach Park. Chris was itching to run- last year I DNF'd on him just before Harbach Park. Now the year he wasn't going to be able to run or walk a single step! We thought that perhap we could catch Joyce or some other runner who needed a pacer and Chris could run with them. Joyce came in running strong and Chris went with her. For a moment, he was unsure if he'd be able to keep up with her. Holley was still there. She had dropped in the afternoon after I had seen her but had not yet found a ride back to the race start. We gave her and another runner, Don Gibson from Georgia, a ride back to Hot Springs. It turns out that Don had passed me with another runner the final two miles of Strolling Jim 40 mile this spring. Ultramarathoning is such a small community! Sunday- The Day After After a good night's sleep, we had a good breakfast and went down to the Mueller Civic Center to see the last of the runners come in. Many of the runners I had been running with were now finishing in 28 -29 hours. "I could have been one of them," I thought sadly, "Oh well. There will always be next year." I have no idea who this lady was, but she had her foot out for all of us to see and others were taking pictures, so I did too. It hurt me just to look at it! I looked at the race results and saw how the others did: Unfortunately, I was not alone in DNFing; many of my friends and new found aquaintances ended up DNFing as well. No one from South Dakota finished the 100 mile race this year: As we drove home, I thought about the race and my reason for DNFing. Making it to mile 50 feeling strong and having survived the heat is not something I should be ashamed of. Many much stronger and faster runners also dropped., I was certainly not alone. Still I felt sad. I knew I had it in me to make it the full hundred. I knew I did. And yet after all of my hard work and training, something sudden and completely unexpected happened which forced me to stop. Post Race Week The pain in my leg was tolerable with walking but I was still anxious that it would be a stress fracture. Stress fractures can be deceiving. As the pain goes away, one may be tempted to begin running again when that is exactly the wrong thing to do. Where a stress fracture in the foot might take only 6 weeks to heal, one in the tibia could take 8 to 12 weeks or more and a pelvic stress fracture as long as 6 months. If it were a stress fracture, and I could not run for three months, I'd be a basket case. I went to an orthopedic surgeon/sport med doc Tuesday. Dr. Papendick was very nice and did not tell me I was crazy for running as far as I do (even if he may have thought it). An x-ray may not show any abnormality for 3 weeks, until bone remodeling begins. We decided to get an MRI. It proved to me why I had the feeling of something literally ripping apart inside my leg. I was relieved to learn I don't have a stress fracture. I have a tear or partial tear of one of the tendons on the antero-lateral portion of my lower tibia. It won't take as long as a stress fracture to heal. Its only a minor tendon, not an essential one such as the Achilles. So what did I do wrong? Nothing that I can tell. Sometimes things like this just happen. If running ultramarathons were easy and finishing was guaranteed, then everyone would be doing them. In hindsight, I did feel some minor point tenderness at exactly the same location where the tear is after my last long run, the 42 miler I did a month ago. I am sure that was the beginning of it. The pain went away in a couple of days so there was no warning how serious of an injury I would experience later. I'm glad that it happened at the beginning of the off-season instead of in the spring. Hopefully with time and rest, I'll be back as strong as ever. Some Final Thoughts Even though I was and still am upset about not finishing or even going farther in distance than I ever have before, I have much to be grateful for. I seem to have finally discovered the secret to staying hydrated and being able to eat during the heat of the day. I may still battle stomach problems in the future. However, with this run I have proven to myself beyond a doubt that it is possible for me to go far under difficult conditions while staying hydrated and well-fed. I also did well in pacing myself conservatively but perfectly for the conditions. Not too fast and not too slow. I don't know what would've happened at mile 70 or 80 but I do know I did a good job pacing myself so I could get there. In my heart and mind, I now truly believe, more than ever, that 100 miles is within my grasp. Yes, it is. Next time- and there will definitely be a next time- might be the time I succeed. If not, then as long as I learn and grow from each experience, it will be worth it. I know I will finish 100 miles someday…I CAN and I WILL. At the post-race ceremony, I looked around and realized, I was among friends. If anything, this race has proven to me that there is much more to ultrarunning than running. We all start every race intending to finish. Ultrarunning, however, is more than buckles, place or even finishing- quite simply it is about the people. We may all run for different reasons and at different speeds but we are all in this together. These are my friends, this is my tribe. In this group of people, I include not only other ultrarunners but also my family, friends, crew, volunteers and everyone who makes what we do possible. Any of you who read this- runner, walker or a little of both…. don't be afraid to come run, jog, shuffle, hike or walk with us. What you do for a living, how fast or slow you are, your age, your gender or your ethnicity, how many races you've run, how many you've finished and how many you've DNF'd- none of that matters. With open arms, we welcome you all to join our family of ultrarunning. Mitakuye Oyasin….
Suddenly, the race was on! We were off!!!
One of the most difficult challenges of running and completing an ultra is holding back for the first half of
the race… in a 100 miler, that constitutes concentrating on running as slowly and easily as possible for 10, 12 or even 15 hours.
"Hold back so you'll have something to draw from later in the race when you really need it." I tell myself over and over as the pack drifts away.
It is a lesson that I continue to focus on and re-learn.
I took it easy, walking for the first five miles even before I ran a single step.
I started out walking with a couple from New Jersey hiking the 50 mile race, Ned and Laura Gardner. They were long distance hikers, not runners.
Unlike many shorter races where walkers are sneered down upon by runners, we ultra-thoners welcome walkers with open arms. After all, every ultra-runner includes walking breaks as part of their race tactic. Many times we are grateful when we are even able to walk. Every step forward is a step closer to the finish line we believe.
Going 50 or 100 miles on your own two feet is still 50 or 100 miles, no matter how you got there.
On Argyle Road I left them behind and caught up with a few other runners. I jogged with Holley Lange from Colorado whom I had met at Greenland 50-k and the 24 hours at Laramie, last year. We stayed together for quite a while.
Then I met and ran with Mike Haviland from California. I met him last year at the Kettle Moraine 100-k. He is a past Badwater finisher but made an impression on me at Kettle Moraine when he passed out right as I was talking to him.
I remember thinking to myself, "If a Badwater finisher is passing out during this race because of heat and humidity, what the heck am I doing here?"
It turned out it was due to a medication he was on, one notorious for causing low blood pressure after standing, and in some people, fainting. After the medication was stopped, no more problems.
I was very relieved that he passed out because of a medication and not because of something I said. I have been accused of boring people to….well you know…
The day began to warm up. I was surprised how fast the pack had headed out. Many runners who usually run at a similar pace as I do, took off. Starting out too fast was a mistake I made last year which I promised myself I would not repeat.
"They're going to pay for it later, " I thought. As long as I stuck with my average 15 – 16 min/mile as long as I could, I would be able to finish and still have enough of a cushion later if I needed it.
Finally we were on the Mickelson Trail. I began to see the fifty milers on their return trip.
I saw to Keith Happel, an internist from Bismarck, ND that I know. I told him "Lookin' good!"
He looked strong!!
Then I saw Chris Stores, one of us local ultrarunners-bloggers from Bell Fourche, SD. He looked strong too and I wished him success.
Right before the 24 mile aid station at Pringle, I saw Elise who also was looking good, with a smile on her face, well on her way to her first 50 mile finish.
I wished every one of those fifty milers well and continued to head north.
"Keep on going… you can do it… just one step in front of the other!!!"
That is one of the best things about ultrarunning, we run with instead of run against each other. We're very supportive of other runners, no matter if they're the elite or the very last place finisher.
It's all about getting out there and doing your best.
It was then that I started passing some of the other hundred milers.
I passed Bob Wray, another back-of-the packer like me. He works for Fed-Ex and is from Rapid City. He always stands out in a crowd because of the patriotic American Flag colors he wears. I met him last year at the 50 mile turnaround and again this year at the Mystic Mountain trail race.
Bob didn't look too good. I think he mumbled something about starting out too fast. I encouraged him to not give up, take some time to rest and rehyrate at the next aid station if necessary but don't give up.
I didn't see him again after that.
At every aid station I put ice under my hat. At one aid station, they had no extra ice so one of the aid station volunteers pulled out some red ice from the sports drink for me to put under my hat. Beggars cannot be choosers, at least my sweat tasted sweet after that!
I started out drinking only about one bottle of sports drink (HEED or SUCCEED Amino) between aid station, or about one per hour. I took one SUCCEED! salt cap per hour.
Then, in the heat of the afternoon I switched to plain water only- two water bottles per hour, with some additional water from my Camelback if I emptied my water bottles before the next aid station.
Even though I lost my appetite from the heat, I forced myself to eat. I was not about to repeat the same mistake I made last year. For some reason, I cannot tolerate energy gels after about mile 30 or 35, they make me want to gag. I've found that "real" food I tolerate better.
I settled into a pattern of taking a half a turkey sandwich and/or banana at each aid station. If I couldn't eat it rght there, I would nibble on it so that it was gone before the next aid station. Sports Jelly Beans and Clif Blocks eaten a few at a time, after eating some real solid food, I did fine with.
I met Jim Newton from Texas. We flip-flopped all afternoon, alternating between who was in front and who was behind. At one point between aid stations, his crew offered me some ice to put under my hat.
A simple deed like that is appreciated more than any words can express.
Despite being from down south, Jim was struggling with the heat as we all were. I stuck with my conservative pace. I convinced myself that if I could focus on fast-walking as fast as I could slow-run, then why bother running?
I maintained my 15 min/mile average pace through the day, relaxed in knowing that I only needed an 18 min/mile overall average to finish before final cut off.
Last year at this point, I was averaging a 12 or 13 min/mile, much much too fast and part of the reason I bonked so hard later in the night.
My crew, Jeanne, Nathan and Chris "Haliku" met me at each aid station. A chair was set out for me. Jeanne gave me a towel soaked in ice water to wipe the salt and sweat from my face.
What a treat!
They filled my water bottles, put ice under my hat and replaced my food supply. They asked what I needed but didn't allow me to dawdle. I past many other runners simply because I was in and out of the aid stations faster than they were.
Some of the volunteers remarked how fast and efficient they were: "like a NASCAR crew!"
I had the best crew EVER! With support and a crew like this how could I possibly fail? Now if only I could be as fast at running as my crew is at crewing!
At Carroll Creek Aid Station, I felt a little dizzy and trace of nausea. "I must be getting dehydrated," I thought to myself. As soon as I arrived, I drank an extra water bottle and took two salt caps which seemed to settle the problem.
I believe that during this race and the training leading up to it, I've finally learned how to eat/drink while not upseting my stomach over long periods, incuding the afternoon heat.
Nathan decided to join me. The next aid station would be Harbach Park in Custer at mile 36 or so. Since I was mostly walking or jogging slowly at that time, I encouraged him to come along. Even though the temperatures was now 93-94, he stayed with me the entire way.
Jeanne stopped with the car every time the trail came near the road to ask if Nathan wanted to stop. She was worried he would hold me back.
Each time he paused before answered, "No, I'd like to go with Daddy. I can do it!"
He fast walked the entire 5.5 miles into Harbach Park without whining or complaining.
I'm so proud!
Someday, perhaps sooner than I will be ready for, it may very well be me who is the pacer and crew while Nathan runs his first ultra.
We've talked with him trying a 5-k or a children's fun run sometime. I refuse to push him into doing something he is not interested in or not ready for. He has his entire life to decide what it is he likes to do and what he is good at.
Too many parents push their children into too many activities too soon. It results in the opposite from what is desired- a strong dislike rather than passion for that activity.
Holley came in to Harbach looking tired and dizzy as I was getting ready to leave. I told her to not give up yet, drink and rest before she made up her mind.
As I headed out of Custer, I saw the front runner, Akos Konya, jogging effortlessly on the return trip. Amazing! I love out and back races because we get to glimpse the winners and front runners as the pass by us on the return.
On the way up the hill to Mountain Trailhead (mile 40 or so), I met a gentleman I had met at the Javelina Jundred last fall. Ultrarunning really is a small world. We talked about creation, the universe, science, religion, God and medicine- some pretty heavy stuff.
Conserving my energy, I actually let him do most of the talking, which anyone who has ever run with me will be sure to tell you, is usually not my style.
The next mile and a half to the entrance to Crazy Horse Monument is relatively flat. I went for a short time with a young man from Minot, ND: Ben Clark. At age 18, he was an anomaly. The average age of ultrarunners is around 55. On Monday he would be starting in college, with plans to study mechanical engineering.
If he is able to run a 100 mile ultra at age 18, who knows what he will be able to accomplish if he sets his mind to it? I wished him well as he jogged on.
Soon we were going downhill and I was able to pick up speed. The three or so miles past Crazy Horse Monument are all downhill on the way out….and all uphill on the way back. I had already promised myself that I would walk every single step up that hill on the return trip.
What's three miles out of a hundred?
As the sun set, the temperature cooled down. I felt good. I began to see more runners on the way back.
One woman asked, "Are you Chris's brother?"
"Yes, I am!" I answered.
It was Joyce, a mutual friend of two of other running friends of mine, Jarom Thurston and Lisa Nicholls. Chris had met Jarom, Lisa and Joyce last year when they were running 24 hours at Boulder.
Joyce ran strong and fast. She was well on her way to a sub-24 hour finish.
As I ran down the hill, I man on a bike caught up with me, Raj. He had seen the Native American Flute I was carrying and was curious. I had played it earlier in the day. However now that the wind had picked up, I held off until night fell because the wind would steal away my notes.
Raj's wife, Anu Singh was running her first hundred miler being paced by their friend Rajeev Patel. Rajeev had given me a hug of encouragement at the race registration the day before. They had been conservative during the heat of the day and now passed me making up for lost time.
Raj and I spoke about the Wakan Paha Sapa or sacred Black Hills and how running, at least for me, is as much of a spiritual endeavor as it is a physical one. I explained how this place is sacred to the Lakota and many other nations.
As they went on their way, I told him to not forget: Mitakuye Oyasin- We are all related.
Others told me how strong I looked. I thanked them and agreed. I felt strong; but pushed such thoughts out of my head. Ultras are run one mile, one foot step at a time. It is risky to get overconfident and count your buckles before you've finished.
Just before Oreville, I started to feel a dull ache in the front part of my lower leg. It didn't hurt that bad, only a minor annoyance I thought. No big deal. I kept running and ignored the slight discomfort.
As I approached Buckaroo aid station I told everyone "I see you again in a few minutes!" It was only a half mile out to the 50 mile turnaround and back.
Suddenly, only two hundred yards from Buckaroo, I felt a severe excrutiating pain inside my leg, as if it was ripping open on the inside. I could not bear weight and almost fell flat on my face. I limped back to Buckaroo, frustrated and upset. I tried running and again I almost fell flat on my face due to the pain.
What was it?
I had no superficial pain or swelling. It was all deep inside. The pain came on so suddenly and without warning, I was deeply concerned that it might be a stress fracture. Whatever it was, there was no way for me go on. I know a woman who ran 40 miles on a stress fracture to finish a 100 mile race, I wasn't about to let that be me.
It was hard for me to stop, since I felt so good otherwise. My stomach had held up, I was still able to eat and drink. My legs felt strong, other than the pain inside my right lower leg.It was as if I had run only 20 miles instead of 50 miles.
I knew I had at least another 20 or 30 miles in me before it would have started to get really hard. What would have happened then? There is no way for me to know.
I was upset about stopping so early but trying to go on but the only option that made sense was to stop- so I did.
We drove back to Custer and Harbach Park. Chris was itching to run- last year I DNF'd on him just before Harbach Park.
Now the year he wasn't going to be able to run or walk a single step!
We thought that perhap we could catch Joyce or some other runner who needed a pacer and Chris could run with them. Joyce came in running strong and Chris went with her. For a moment, he was unsure if he'd be able to keep up with her.
Holley was still there. She had dropped in the afternoon after I had seen her but had not yet found a ride back to the race start. We gave her and another runner, Don Gibson from Georgia, a ride back to Hot Springs. It turns out that Don had passed me with another runner the final two miles of Strolling Jim 40 mile this spring.
Ultramarathoning is such a small community!
Sunday- The Day After
After a good night's sleep, we had a good breakfast and went down to the Mueller Civic Center to see the last of the runners come in. Many of the runners I had been running with were now finishing in 28 -29 hours.
"I could have been one of them," I thought sadly, "Oh well. There will always be next year."
I have no idea who this lady was, but she had her foot out for all of us to see and others were taking pictures, so I did too. It hurt me just to look at it!
I looked at the race results and saw how the others did:
Unfortunately, I was not alone in DNFing; many of my friends and new found aquaintances ended up DNFing as well. No one from South Dakota finished the 100 mile race this year:
As we drove home, I thought about the race and my reason for DNFing. Making it to mile 50 feeling strong and having survived the heat is not something I should be ashamed of. Many much stronger and faster runners also dropped., I was certainly not alone.
Still I felt sad. I knew I had it in me to make it the full hundred. I knew I did. And yet after all of my hard work and training, something sudden and completely unexpected happened which forced me to stop.
Post Race Week
The pain in my leg was tolerable with walking but I was still anxious that it would be a stress fracture. Stress fractures can be deceiving. As the pain goes away, one may be tempted to begin running again when that is exactly the wrong thing to do.
Where a stress fracture in the foot might take only 6 weeks to heal, one in the tibia could take 8 to 12 weeks or more and a pelvic stress fracture as long as 6 months.
If it were a stress fracture, and I could not run for three months, I'd be a basket case.
I went to an orthopedic surgeon/sport med doc Tuesday. Dr. Papendick was very nice and did not tell me I was crazy for running as far as I do (even if he may have thought it).
An x-ray may not show any abnormality for 3 weeks, until bone remodeling begins. We decided to get an MRI. It proved to me why I had the feeling of something literally ripping apart inside my leg.
I was relieved to learn I don't have a stress fracture. I have a tear or partial tear of one of the tendons on the antero-lateral portion of my lower tibia. It won't take as long as a stress fracture to heal. Its only a minor tendon, not an essential one such as the Achilles.
So what did I do wrong?
Nothing that I can tell. Sometimes things like this just happen. If running ultramarathons were easy and finishing was guaranteed, then everyone would be doing them.
In hindsight, I did feel some minor point tenderness at exactly the same location where the tear is after my last long run, the 42 miler I did a month ago. I am sure that was the beginning of it. The pain went away in a couple of days so there was no warning how serious of an injury I would experience later.
I'm glad that it happened at the beginning of the off-season instead of in the spring. Hopefully with time and rest, I'll be back as strong as ever.
Some Final Thoughts
Even though I was and still am upset about not finishing or even going farther in distance than I ever have before, I have much to be grateful for.
I seem to have finally discovered the secret to staying hydrated and being able to eat during the heat of the day. I may still battle stomach problems in the future. However, with this run I have proven to myself beyond a doubt that it is possible for me to go far under difficult conditions while staying hydrated and well-fed.
I also did well in pacing myself conservatively but perfectly for the conditions. Not too fast and not too slow. I don't know what would've happened at mile 70 or 80 but I do know I did a good job pacing myself so I could get there.
In my heart and mind, I now truly believe, more than ever, that 100 miles is within my grasp.
Yes, it is.
Next time- and there will definitely be a next time- might be the time I succeed. If not, then as long as I learn and grow from each experience, it will be worth it.
I know I will finish 100 miles someday…I CAN and I WILL.
At the post-race ceremony, I looked around and realized, I was among friends. If anything, this race has proven to me that there is much more to ultrarunning than running.
We all start every race intending to finish. Ultrarunning, however, is more than buckles, place or even finishing- quite simply it is about the people.
We may all run for different reasons and at different speeds but we are all in this together. These are my friends, this is my tribe. In this group of people, I include not only other ultrarunners but also my family, friends, crew, volunteers and everyone who makes what we do possible.
Any of you who read this- runner, walker or a little of both…. don't be afraid to come run, jog, shuffle, hike or walk with us. What you do for a living, how fast or slow you are, your age, your gender or your ethnicity, how many races you've run, how many you've finished and how many you've DNF'd- none of that matters.
With open arms, we welcome you all to join our family of ultrarunning.
Next Sunday by this time (11 AM) I hope I will have already finished, or perhaps will be shuffling through the last couple of miles of the Lean Horse Hundred. I've started two previous 100 mile races but never made it past 64 or 66 miles.
I hope this year will be my year!
I'm putting together my drop bags and making sure my foot care/first aid box is fully stocked. My family will be crewing for me. Haliku is coming up from Denver to pace me. He's doing this even though he knows that by the time he does, my running/shuffling pace will be his walking pace.
There will be no reason for me to fail other than myself, my mind and my own mistakes.
As the ultramarathon saying goes: "If you have done 26.2 miles, then you can do 50 miles… if you have done 50 miles, than you can do 100 miles!"
Having done several 50-60 mile runs, I am beyond ready to move up to doing… er, FINISHING…. 100 mile races.
Barring unforeseen circumstances such as coming down with an acute illness this week, or doing something dumb during race day, like not eating or drinking enough- there is no reason why I will not be able to do it.
Of course, being able to and actually doing are two vastly different things.
I am less nervous than I have ever been before. Actually, I'm eagerly looking forward to this adventure.. and it will certainly be a grand adventure. Bring it on! Let's git 'er done!
I know that unexpected things can occur, indeed I expect that unexpected things will occur, but no matter what happens I will keep moving forward. There will be times when I will be exhausted, completely dejected and will want to stop. I know to expect them so I will be ready for them- but won't let them make me give up.
Before every DNF, I try to ask myself, "How will you feel about this in an hour after you've stopped and are riding in the car back to the hotel? You'll probably feel much better and as if you could've kept going. You'll regret DNFing all year until you get another chance next summer."
Although I might be happy simply going further than ever before, I am not going to even think about that. If I start telling myself, "Going at least 70 or 80 miles would be OK," then it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and that will be as far as I get.
NO! I will go the entire 100 miles this year! Not 70 or 80….
I know all about starting 100 mile races, now I just need to be confident that I can do the entire race. I have deep foundation of endurance built from all my previous races and training runs. I have run over 50 miles several times and know what to expect. The real challenge of finishing 100 miles will be continuing through that second 50 miles.
However, as another saying goes: "When you think you have gone as far as you can possibly go, you're actually only half as far as you could get." The mind is weaker than the body.
I've got my pacing chart put together to let me know when I am going too fast or to slow (and when the cut-offs are). I am already planning on walking the entire last 2 1/2 miles up the hill before Crazy Horse Monument so I don't bonk like last year. It's only 2 1/2 out of 100, I can afford to do that.
After about 1 mile south of mile 64.5 aid station in Harbach Park in Custer, it's almost completely downhill until the finish.
The cut-offs for Lean Horse are soft- if you look like you're going to make it, then they'll let you go. They'll be packing up all afternoon in Hot Springs and won't pull you unless you need to be pulled because of safety or medical issues. This year, Jerry Dunn the Race Director is making a special effort so that all 25 first time 100 mile attemptors will finish. I will be among them.
As long as I don't do any avoidable mistakes, or simply give up, I can do it. After all, to finish 100 miles by the final cut-off of 30 hours, you only need to average 18 min/miles. That's only a easy walk for most of us!
This time, my third time will be the charm! I CAN and I WILL do this!!!
What will it be? ONE HUNDRED MILES……or DNF?
NOT! NO DNFs for me!!!
One way to get psyched up about running an ultramarathon is to watch a movie about running an ultramarathon.I recently watched Massanutten- Two Runners, 100 miles.
As per the description at ZombieRunner:
"What kind of person runs 100 miles just for fun?
The answer to this question lies within the documentary Massanutten: Two Runners, 100 Miles, filmed at the 2006 running of the Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 (MMT) ultramarathon, near Front Royal, Virginia. The MMT gives participants 36 hours to run the 100 mile course, ascending 19,000 feet on roads and rocky trails. The two runners referenced in the title are Gary Knipling, 62, a gregarious 9-time finisher again taking on the MMT, and Kerry Owens, 43, a steadily improving competitor returning for her third run.
By following these personable runners throughout the course, the film emphasizes the social aspects while capturing the unique spirit of ultra-running. The idea is not to downplay the difficult nature of the sport but to show the many other facets of these long distance events – the participants' jovial camaraderie, mutual respect, and lasting friendships, and their enjoyment of the rigorous challenge. Other films have focused on the grueling task and the agony of the runners. While these elements do exist, the whole experience is another thing altogether. Although the race tests the runners mentally as well as physically, they support one another as they share its highs and lows.
Gary and Kerry, along with numerous race volunteers, pacers, and crews, reveal the true nature of competition in a 100 mile race, making this documentary a realistic picture of an event that outsiders can hardly imagine and participants come to love. "
This video might not be as "slick" as some of the other race documentaries I have watched. Still, I liked it. I thought it gave an authentic view of what it is like to be an ultramarathoner. The only way to get a better experience is to become an ultrarunner yourself, or perhaps be a volunteer.
It's available at ZombieRunner for $20.00
Her name is Ruby. She has red hair, freckles, and is very cute. Ruby loves to run with me, no matter when or where I go. If I'm not careful, she'll even kiss me on my lips.
Jeanne doesn't mind when we run together, if fact she encourages it. As you can tell by the attached photos, Ruby is not human. She is our 4 month old red Australian Cattle Dog or "Heeler."
We lost our beloved Jake, a red/blue heeler in December. Our hearts were deeply saddened, but it was time. He was twelve. The last six months he was failing from liver failure.
At the very end, I could see the frustration and embarrassment in his eyes for us having to help him with even the most basic activities, like getting up to go to the bathroom. This was a dog who in his prime could jump into the back of a pick-up truck with the tail gate up. He would unquestioningly take on any opponent I told him to, four legged or otherwise. When I was away on business, I knew my family was safe with him sleeping at the foot of their bed.
Fortunately, Jake passed quietly in his sleep. We never had to take that one last trip to the veterinarian.
I'm sure the feeling of helplessness and loss of control is the same with humans. Getting old sucks.
Australian Cattle Dogs were developed to herd large wild aggressive cattle in Australia. Weighing about 30 – 60 lbs, they are a mid-sized breed; neither too small or too large. They are known to be highly intelligent and fearless in the face of danger. They are fiercely loyal to those they love.
They also have a stubborn independent streak, useful when working in the outback away from the direction of their master. Ruby definitely has inherited this type of personality. Because of this, Australian Cattle Dogs require firm but understanding training. They are not for people unable to be the "alpha" of the dog/people pack. Timid personalities should get another breed.
As one acquaintance told me: "A heeler will be the best dog you've ever owned, or the worst…. there is no middle ground." I think that's true.
Bred to be able to jog tirelessly for hours at a time droving cattle, they are perfect for people with active lifestyles. Jake used to love when we'd go horseback riding or packing up in the mountains. When I look at Ruby, I see many of the mannerisms we used to love in Jake. It makes me sad and miss him; but happy that we have another in our lives.
I have had only a very few dogs whom I could speak English to like another human and have them understand most of what I was saying. Maybe not every word, but at least the meaning. I'd tell Jake what I wanted. Most of the time he had an idea of what I was asking. If he didn't understand, I'd show him and then he knew forever.
I hope Ruby will turn out that way also.
You know you have a true running partner when they watch videos of ultramarathons with you. Even my family won't do that unless I make them (and I've an extremely understanding family).
I've had many dogs look at the TV before. Perhaps they were curious about other animals or dogs. This usually lasted only a few minutes before boredom set in and they moved on to something else.
As I sat and watched a video about the Massanutten 100 mile trail ultramarathon in Virginia, Ruby laid on my lap and watched the entire movie intently. She was very interested in the parts that had humans running. I've never had a dog watch an entire movie with me.
We've just started doing some short runs together. Keeping her hydrated is one concern. Whenever I have ridden horses, worked cattle or run with dogs, I make sure we pass near a cattle water tank or stream to drink and cool off. Working dogs are so driven and focused on the task at hand that if you don't stop and remind them to drink, they quite literally may go until they drop.
However, in the arid Black Hills sometimes good water can be hard to find. As you can see in the video above, the water in my Camelback will hydrate both of us!
It'll be nice to have a friend come run with me. There are mountain lions here. Having another pair of eyes and a sensitive nose to watch my back is reassuring. Although there hven't been any mountain lion attacks on humans here unlike California, I don't want to be the first.
So far, we've only gone on 3 to 5 mile runs. She is still a pup and her joints, bones and connective tissue have not fully developed. Soon, she will join me on 10, 20 and even 30 mile runs. I won't be able to keep up with her then.
She's a good dog!
In addition to this personal blog on ultrarunning, I also maintain a professional blog on the website of the medical journal: Endocrine Today. Occasionally, my personal and professional interests intersect and I get to write a post about extreme endurance activity from a medical perspective.
I recently wrote a blog post at the Endocrine Today site reviewing the causes and treatment of exercise induced hyponatremia from a physiologic and medical perspective
For many years, at least through the 1960s, runners were advised to not consume any or very much water during runs. As the negative effects of dehyration were realized, the pendulum sung the other way and runners were encouraged to "Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!" without understanding that it might be possible to get too much of a good thing.
It wasn't until the mid-1980s and several deaths during and after marathons and ultramarathons that the potential dangers of too much fluid intake were recognized. Taking in more water than can be excreted results in hyponatremia or lowering of blood sodium (ie salt). In it's mildest form, exercise induced hyponatermia results in bloating, swelling and frequent urination. At it's worst, severe hypontremia can cause confusion, seizure and even death.
At first medical personell were unaware of the dangers of hyponatremia. When a runner was confused or collapsed, they automatically gave them intravenous fluids, assuming -incorrectly- that they must be dehydrated. After several deaths, it was realized that the IV fluids actually cause more harm than goodin many cases. Indeed, the IV fluids may have been the direct cause of several deaths by worsening the overhydration and hyponatremia.
Despite how well-informed runners now may be about the dangers of over-hydration and low blood sodium, I am surprised how many medical personel at races do not understand the implications of exercise-induced hyponatremia and how to manage correctly.
We must remember however, that most of the EMTs and other medical staff at races are not runners or endurance athletes themselves.
Puzzled and surprised…
That's how I feel about my performance at the recent Bighorn Wild and Scenic 50 mile Trail Run.
I was very much looking forward to seeing the Bighorn Mountains again. When we lived in Wyoming, they were among my most favorite places to visit. A well-kept secret, the Bighorns are less popular of a destination than more well-known Wyoming mountain ranges such as the Tetons, Wind Rivers and the Absarokas. However, the Bighorns have it all: solitude, scenic views, wildlife, wilderness areas, trout streams, meadows of wildflowers, and miles of hiking trails- without the crowds.
We left home Friday morning. At the pre-race registration I was surprised by the number of other runners. This was because there were four races going on that weekend: 100 miles, 50 miles, 50 kilometer and 30 kilometer.
My family and I ate pizza and pasta at Ole’s Pizza house in Sheridan on Friday evening. It was nice having them along on this trip. When I go to many of my races, I often travel alone. Although I enjoy making new acquaintances and seeing friends, I always miss having my family with me.
The bus from Sheridan to the race start left at 3:15 AM, so there wasn’t much sleep for me that night. Of course, many believe that the sleep you get the night before a race is less important than the sleep you get the week before. As long as you are already well rested, one night of less sleep is not a problem.
I felt optimistic about the race. Over the past few months, I had trained hard, running my long runs in the Black Elk Wilderness and doing intervals up and down Harney Peak in the Black Hills to train for the downhill portions of this race. I wasn’t sick with a cold or bronchitis; the weather was going to be good. Although the elevation was going to be as high as 9,000 ft, I had done a large amount of my training at 6,000 – 7,000 ft.
My two previous ultras this spring: the 44 miles at the Antelope Island Buffalo Run in March and the Strolling Jim 40 mile run in May, gave me confidence in the depth of endurance to draw from. However, I knew that I would need every bit of it. Some say that the Bighorn 50 mile is as tough as some 100 mile races.
I never got to find out but the part I did see was very rugged and beautiful.
Our bus missed the turnoff for the race start. Even though that resulted in our race starting a few minutes late, it allowed us to see how close we were to the other side; only a couple of miles.
We really were about to run across the Bighorn Mountain range.
The race started at the Porcupine Ranger station. The Hundred milers had already come through earlier that morning.
For the 50 mile race, we had a final cut-off of 15 hours or an average of 18 minute/mile- which is the same pace as for many 100 mile ultras. Some of the cut-offs were adjusted however based on the terrain. For instance, our first cut-off was 5 hours at the Foot Bridge Aid Station at mile 18, or just over a 16 min/mile pace.
A gentleman sang a nice version of the "Star Spangled Banner" and then we were off at 6:07 AM.
We were only 7 minutes late, despite the bus getting lost.
Soon the sun was in our face as we headed east. We were just under 9,000 ft and there were still patches of snow a couple of feet deep.
We all tried hard to avoid wet marshy and muddy patches but it was an impossible task.
I tried to jump one stream but miscalculated and found myself thigh-deep in ice-cold water. That woke me up! If only someone had been video-taping the expression on my face as I hesitated a second before jumping out of the water.
Now that I was so baptized, I didn't care about keeping my feet from getting wet.
They were soaked!
I ran through the muddy areas kicking up mud all over me and nearby other runners. One girl lost her shoe and scrambled around trying to find it. Soon we all were wet and muddy and laughing at ourselves.
What kind of nut pays to run fifty miles in mountains losing shoes along the way?
We ultrarunners do!
I saw a few ultrarunners I had met at previous races. It was good to see them and meet some of their friends. Ultrarunners are a small, supportive, and tight-knit community. After a while we all get to know each other. If I don't know someone, chances are they know someone I do.. The Bighorn Runs are run through the wild and scenic Bighorn Mountains. Many of the aid stations are not accessable to vehicles and must be packed in on humans or animals. At one of the aid stations, the volunteers were still chuckling. They had llamas and the hundred-milers coming in the previous night has asked if they were really there or only a hallucination.
I saw a few ultrarunners I had met at previous races. It was good to see them and meet some of their friends.
Ultrarunners are a small, supportive, and tight-knit community. After a while we all get to know each other. If I don't know someone, chances are they know someone I do..
The Bighorn Runs are run through the wild and scenic Bighorn Mountains. Many of the aid stations are not accessable to vehicles and must be packed in on humans or animals.
At one of the aid stations, the volunteers were still chuckling. They had llamas and the hundred-milers coming in the previous night has asked if they were really there or only a hallucination.
Slowly we descended into the valley of the Little Bighorn River. I could see the canyons that lie ahead.
These valleys around us are the calving grounds of elk. I saw plenty of sign and tracks but no elk. I'm sure they were watching us from a distance
The scenery took my breath away and it wasn't the altitude. I love the mountains and the Bighorns especially.
I felt a sense of deep gratitude for the privilege of being able to be here and witness this beauty.
Soon we came to another aid station.
The volunteers saw my flute and asked that I play tune for them which I promptly obliged.
The volunteers saw my flute and asked that I play tune for them which I promptly obliged.
I had taken out my flute a few miles earlier and played a few short songs.
After my experience playing my flute at Javelina Jundred and the postive response from the other runners (and at least one curious coyote), I've decided to make carrying my flute a tradition during my races
I won't ever make a name for myself as a back-of-the-pack runner but I might as well serenade everyone with my music!
Just call me Kokopelli!
Suddenly, around mile 10, my lower gut started aching.
The ache became a sharp pain and then a constant knife-like cramp. With every step, it felt as if that knife was being thrust deeper and harder.
It was excrutiating.
I had never experienced anything like this before. It was not upper GI. I had no nausea and didn't feel like vomiting.
No, this was much lower than that. I had used the bathroom before starting the race that morning. I thought my blowels were empty. Maybe not so I went into the trees with hopes that if I went the bathroom all would be better.
Nothing came so I feebly attempted to run again.
If I walked, I could tolerate the pain- but just barely. It was constant rather than in spasms. Running downhill was the worst of all as my tender insides bounced around, They felt as if they were slapping painfully inside of me with each step.
I thought that perhaps if I ran faster something inside me would loosen, I'd get an urge to go to the bathroom and all would disappear- to no avail.
After gritting my teeth suffering in pain at a faster pace for 30 minutes, all seemed completely hopeless. I gave up and jog/walked as best as I could bear.
I had no idea what had caused this pain but there seemed to be no way to run through it. .
All around us the meadows were in bloom.
Despite my misery, the beauty around me was not missed. If anything, my forced slower pace allowed me to spend more time observing my surroundings and taking photos.
I took some photos of the yellow-sunflower-like blooms of the Arrowleaf Balsamroot.
Afterwards, I saw a tiny baby grasshopper perched on one of the flowers. I took a few close-ups.
Had my race been going better, I would have missed much of this as I sped past in a blur.
The trail was well marked with strips of orange fluorescent tape. Some years, the elk eat much of the tape within 24-48 hours.
The trail marker pictured above was tied to the rib of an elk skeleton. I wonder what type of individual had a sick sense of humor to do such a thing?
He/she must have been another ultrarunner.
We had several more stream crossings. Slowly the canyons wall narrowed towards us. The rush of the water became louder and the stream became a river.
The temperatures warmed up. I was glad when we entered the trees.
I kept thinking, "I must be in last place," but just when I was absolutely convinced I was, someone else came up from behind.
One woman thought the cut-off was at 10:30 AM and believed we had already missed it. I told her, "No, it's 11 AM, if you push it you can still make it."
She sprinted off never to be seen by me again. She must've made it because I never saw her at any of the following aid stations.
.We entered deep pine forest. I appreciated the shade. But my gut still hurt and I just could not pick up the pace. A guy I met on the bus, Wayne, came up from behind and we jogged together for a while before he too pressed on.. I caught him again only a short distance from the foot bridge aid station. We looked at our watches: it was almost 11 AM. Even if we pushed it, there would be no way to make it before cut-off, change into dry socks and shoes, refill our water bottles and be out of there by 11AM. We decided to take it easy and walk to Foot Bridge.. However, we were very surprised when we found it only a few hundred yards away.. Still, the time was 11:18AM. We thought we had missed the cut-off by 18 minutes but because we had not factored in the 6:07 AM start, we actually had missed it by only 11 minutes. Nevertheless, even had I made it to the cut-off and had time to do all I needed to, I'm not sure I would have gone on. The next vehicular access would have been at mile 34.5. Struggling 16.5 miles with severe GI pain of unknown cause was nothing I looked forward to. Still, it was embarrassing to stop at mile 18 of a 50 mile race. However, ultrarunners see the good in all things. There is always a silver lining, if only you know where to look. I saw Larry whom I had met at Antelope Island 50 mile in March. It was good to see him again although not because he dropped at the same aid station I did. I got to speak more with Wayne Not Afraid Sr. It turns out that we have run in many of the same races. We both run more for the experience than anything else. I don't know why we haven't met before. He is from Crow Agency, Montana and at 55, is the oldest member of his tribe that's a runner. However, he's gotten his family and others in his community into running. I hope I get to see him again! I called Jeanne and left the following voice mail on her cell phone: "I've got some bad news and I've got some good news: I'm not tired- so we can all do whatever else we want today- together." As expected, my symptoms vanished as soon as I stopped running.. The following day, on the way vack to home, we stopped at Devil's Tower National Monument. It was free day so timing could not have been more perfect. Had I run the full 50 miles, or even struggled on the next aid station at mile 34.5, I doubt I would have had the energy or desire to stop. But since I had only gone 18 miles, I wasn't tired at all. Devil's Tower is an igneous intrusion. Hot magma approached the surface- but never erupted. As the surrounding surface crust eroded away, the tower remained. The site is sacred to indigenous peoples. Their myths of it's creation often involve a giant grizzly bear trying to get at people or children with the earth rising to protect them. The sides were carved by the grizzly bear's claws.
.We entered deep pine forest. I appreciated the shade. But my gut still hurt and I just could not pick up the pace.
A guy I met on the bus, Wayne, came up from behind and we jogged together for a while before he too pressed on..
I caught him again only a short distance from the foot bridge aid station.
We looked at our watches: it was almost 11 AM. Even if we pushed it, there would be no way to make it before cut-off, change into dry socks and shoes, refill our water bottles and be out of there by 11AM.
We decided to take it easy and walk to Foot Bridge..
However, we were very surprised when we found it only a few hundred yards away..
Still, the time was 11:18AM.
We thought we had missed the cut-off by 18 minutes but because we had not factored in the 6:07 AM start, we actually had missed it by only 11 minutes.
Nevertheless, even had I made it to the cut-off and had time to do all I needed to, I'm not sure I would have gone on.
The next vehicular access would have been at mile 34.5. Struggling 16.5 miles with severe GI pain of unknown cause was nothing I looked forward to.
Still, it was embarrassing to stop at mile 18 of a 50 mile race.
However, ultrarunners see the good in all things. There is always a silver lining, if only you know where to look.
I saw Larry whom I had met at Antelope Island 50 mile in March. It was good to see him again although not because he dropped at the same aid station I did.
I got to speak more with Wayne Not Afraid Sr. It turns out that we have run in many of the same races. We both run more for the experience than anything else. I don't know why we haven't met before. He is from Crow Agency, Montana and at 55, is the oldest member of his tribe that's a runner. However, he's gotten his family and others in his community into running.
I hope I get to see him again!
I called Jeanne and left the following voice mail on her cell phone:
"I've got some bad news and I've got some good news:
I'm not tired- so we can all do whatever else we want today- together."
As expected, my symptoms vanished as soon as I stopped running..
The following day, on the way vack to home, we stopped at Devil's Tower National Monument. It was free day so timing could not have been more perfect.
Had I run the full 50 miles, or even struggled on the next aid station at mile 34.5, I doubt I would have had the energy or desire to stop.
But since I had only gone 18 miles, I wasn't tired at all.
Devil's Tower is an igneous intrusion. Hot magma approached the surface- but never erupted. As the surrounding surface crust eroded away, the tower remained.
The site is sacred to indigenous peoples. Their myths of it's creation often involve a giant grizzly bear trying to get at people or children with the earth rising to protect them. The sides were carved by the grizzly bear's claws.
We walked around the base of the tower and later through the prairie dog town.
They barked and whistled at us.
It was nice to spend some extra time with my family. They enjoyed not having to wait until my race was over at 8 or 9PM, then me being tired and grumpy the next day.
As I said- there's always a silver lining…
Once I got home, I thought more about my gut pain and DNF some more:
Why did this happen?
Is there anything I could have done to prevent it?
Will it ever happen again?
What is most worrisone for me is that without knowing why it happened, there's nothing I can do to keep it from occurring again.
Not sure of where to look- I consulted Tim Noakes' bible on all things running: "The Lore of Running."
He spoke of various reasons for lower GI pain and loose stools while running: lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, fructose consumption. I ate a bite of creamy spinach past the night before but doubt that could be the explanation.
Then there was mention of "cecal slap" where the colon gets irritated on running downhills, especially after running a prolonged and steep uphill. It sure sounded like what I had. The downhills definitely hurt worse than the flats. My bowels did feel as if they were slapping around inside me.
I've raced and trained on uphills and downhills and had never had this happen to me before.Some believe that food in the gut can make this worse. I did eat a breakfast but exactly the same as I normally do. They suggested avoiding breakfast entirely to see if symptoms improve.
That sounds fine for a 5-k or even a marathon, but I cannot contemplate starting an ultra on an empty stomach. However, if this recurs I may have no choice but to not eat breakfast and instead eat a hearty meal the night before.
Also, anti-spasmodics supposed to help but I'd prefer to avoid meds if possible. There is no way to know for sure how medication will react in a body dehydrated and exhausted from running an ultramarathon. For example, NSAIDs (ibuprofen and naproxen) are asociated with a higher risk of hyponatremia.
What would an antispasmodic do? No one knows.
Strange. Whatever this was, I hope it is a one time freak occurrence and I won't have to worry about it ever again.
The most annoying thing about this all was not that I DNF'd but that I was forced to stop before I was ready. I knew that there were miles of scenery out there I never got to see. I wish I didn't have to wait an entire year before I get another chance.
But I shall be back. This is a race I will plan on doing again- no matter if I finish or not.
As perplexing as this all is, I don't have too much time to think about it. Lean Horse is coming up in only a couple of months.
Below is the trailer for the documentary "Dancing the Bear." As per their description:
"The ancient tradition of long distance trail running continues in modern times, stripped of its mythology but still potent as a transformative event.
The Bear 100-Mile Endurance Run is the backdrop for the story of two women and their emotional journey through southern Idaho's Bear River Mountain Range. Pushing their bodies to the limit, they strive to accomplish the impossible, to run 100 miles of wild mountain trails in less than 35 hours"
Although it may be on the fringe right now, going long has been a part of human history ever since we first got up on two legs to hunt/gather our food, run away to safety and stay in touch with our neighbors. For many of us, ultrarunning is as much a spiritual endeavor as it is a physical one. There is something primal about running all day and all night through difficult terrain and under impossible conditions.
This is an inspiring video; another to keep in the library and watch before an important race. For non-running friends and family, this documentary confirms how nuts they already know we are; for ultrarunners, it reminds us of why we do what we do. The DVD is available for $21.95 at my favorite on-line running store: ZombieRunner.
Hmmm….this sounds like a race I might want to attempt someday…. another ultra to add to my wish list.
It's been over a month since I ran the Strolling Jim 40 mile Run on May 2nd.
The last few weeks have been very busy with work and family committments. I've spent most of my time these last few weeks going to work, preparing for several upcoming lectures, with my family, doing chores around our property and training for the upcoming Bighorn Wild and Scenic Trail 50 mile ultra.
So I didn't get around to downloading photos or writing my race report until now.
We arrived to Tennessee a few days early and enjoyed spending time with my family who live in the Nashville area.
Strolling Jim is run on the rolling country roads surrounding the town of Wartrace, TN- located about 1 hour and 15 minutes south of Nashville.
I am a dedicated trail runner and was not sure what to expect from running so far on pavement. I still remember the excruciating pain after running in my last last long road race, the Chicago Lakefront 50 mile in Fall '07.
I hoped to not have a similar experience, especially with Bighorn coming up only a few weeks later.
Tennessee and the southeast had been having severe thunderstorms and rain all week. There were widespread flash flood warnings. The route of the race had to be detoured due to the road being flooded.
We started in a downpour and were soaked within a half mile.
I remember thinking, "If only this rain would stop!"
Then after it did, wishing "If only it would start raining again!"
We do not get such humidity where I live in the Black Hills. It made the for lush plant growth and verdant scenes but was difficult to run in.
This is the 31st year that Strolling Jim was run. It is a friendly, informal event. I know many ultrarunners in the upper Midwest and also Colorado/Rocky Mountain region. However, there were no names on the entry list that I recognized. This is an entirely new ultrarunning scene.
No matter, I looked forward to making new acquaintances and contacts in this region of the country.
The organizers were excited to have me run in the race. In the 31 year history of this event, I was the first entrant ever from South Dakota. They told me I had no choice but to finish. I told the not to worry- I would finish no matter what. I would finish unless something unexpected happened, such as getting run over by a truck.
I might be slow, even need a cattle prod, but after all this was only a 40 mile training run!
One thing this race is known for, the inspiring, encouraging phrases painted on the pavement by Race Director Gary Cantrell.
Gary is also known as the RD/founder of the infamous Barkley Marathon. Since that race began in 1986, only 8 runners out of about 700 have finished within the 60 hour cutoff. It takes a sick and twisted individual to invent a race like that.
Of course, all ultramarathoners are sick and twisted…some Barkley runners continue to return year after year, knowing full well they have absolutely no chance of finishing.
What kind of person runs in a race like that?
This race has a low registration fee. Because of this, there is minimal aid, primarily gallon milk jugs of water every few miles. If you're like me and need specific nutrition and fluids during your ultras, a crew is essential.
Fortunately, because this is a road race your crew can meet you anywhere along the course. Nathan and Jeanne did an outstanding job keeping me going and not spending too much time getting what I needed. I could not have finished without their assistance.
They were awesome!
The scenery was beautiful but soon the humidity caught up with me. Only five people passed me but I noticed that they all had southern accents. There is something to be said for training and acclimating for race conditions.
"Isn't it great how cool the weather is today!" one runner said.
Sure. Easy for you to say, I thought. But he was right, it could have been much worse. The sun could've come out and it could have been hot and humid. Nevertheless, for me the humidity was challenging.
I wondered what is worse: vomiting in the dry heat of the Arizona desert as at Javelina Jundred last November or struggling to keep going in this humid-jungle they call Tennessee now?
Oh well, as the saying goes: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger…
On the way back towards Wartrace, we entered the "Walls." These were several rolling hills in a row. This was one part of the race that I was prepared for. The hills were very similar to those I train on daily. The only difference was the humidity and the pavement.
I met up with another runner who had passed me earlier: Sarah. I prefer to run with others who have a similar pace as I. I'll even slow down to stay with another runner. Others have done the same for me, I do the same for others when it is my turn.
Sarah wasn't feeling too well. Her stomach had turned. I know only too well how quickly that can happen.
Fortunately for me, despite the humidity sowing me down, my stomach held out. I only had a twinge of nausea that dissipated after taking an electrolyte cap and drinking fluids.
Sarah and I ran/walked together for the remainder of the race. She suggested I go on but I didn't really want to. Race conditions had forced me to slow down. I could have taken off on my own and finished before her and probably a couple of other runners but I didn't care. It was nice to have an excuse to go slower.
So what if I finished sooner?
Running ultras are all about going the distance and not so much about our times. I felt it was more important to stick with someone else as so many others had done for me at other races in my times of need. Now was my turn. I'd gladly do it again.
Because of the flooding, the course had to be re-routed onto a more busy highway. It added a couple of mile to the race.
I would have preferred to stay on quieter back roads. However, I run ultramarathons not triathlons. I didn't relish the idea of fording or swimming floodwaters.
Sarah told me about the tradition of soaking your feet in the cold waters of the fountain at the race finish. The last few miles, I looked forward to it. Unfortunately, the fountain was drained for repairs- no foot soaking for me today.
Maybe next year?
My finish time was closer to that of a fifty mile rather than forty mile race but no problem. My hydration and nutritional intake went according to plan and I avoided GI issues. Despite race conditions I was not used to, I finished anyway and that's what counts.
My brother David, his wife Gina and my nephew, baby Elek came to meet us at the finish.
Before the race, I told him that watching an ultramarathon is like watching the grass grow. Afterwards, I told him that in my case- watching the grass grow may indeed be faster…
A week off from running and then it is back to training for my next ultra: Bighorn Wild and Scenic Trail 50 mile race in June.
Run well, my friends, run well.
This is funny and not far from the truth…
"Brooks knows we'll go the extra mile for running, but little did they know we'd go the extra 120 miles. In this video, they followed us around one of Carls ultramarathon training sessions. The results speak for themselves, as long as you are fluent in exhaustion-induced gibberish."
A common question I am asked: "Do you run the entire way?"
"No, of course not! Why the heck would I do that? It would hurt too darn much and I wouldn't get there any faster!!!"
Road runners of short distances who are unfamiliar with ultrarunning sometimes sneer when they hear that. It is as if they consider me less of a runner because I walk on purpose and am proud of it.
How ignorant and foolish they are!
Many, if not most, ultrarunners intersperse walk breaks with their running. Unlike shorter distance races where walking may be seen as a sign of weakness or failure, in ultrarunning taking walk breaks is a tactic and sign of intelligence (and there are very few things about ultrarunning that are intelligent!). There are some ultramarathoners such as Ulli Kamm, who walk the entire distance and finish before many of the runners. Even the elite walk at times during races.
Taking walk breaks allows us to use a different set of muscles from those we use when running. This prolongs endurance and minimizes delayed onset muscle soreness. A walk break is a perfect opportunity to drink or eat, or catch our breath while tackling a hill.
Jeff Galloway popularized the use of planned walk breaks in mainstream events such as marathons. However, walking has always been a part of ultramarathoning. Once they get over the stigma of walking, many very average runners are surprised to discover that they are able go distances they never before could've imagined, and with less pain at a better overall pace.
Welcome to the world of ultrarunning!
Our mantra is: "Every step forward is a step closer to the finish line! Run, walk, or even crawl if you must, but no matter what: keep moving forward!"
However as simple as this technique sounds, there are many questions:
- What it the best ratio of running to walking?
- At what pace do you need to run and walk in order to finish within our goal time?
Some choose to walk all the uphills and run the flats and downhills. In a hilly race, that tactic works well. I've used it many times. I am still amazed when I power-walk uphill past runners who would normally leave me in the dust in a flat race.
In races without hills, we instead divide our running and walking by time. Some prefer a 5 minute run to 1 minute walk ratio; others believe 25 minutes running for every 5 minutes walking is better.
In my own experience: running over 10 minutes is too long and walking less than 2 minutes is too short. In longer races, or when I am struggling, I may walk as much as 50% of the time until I find my second (or my 5th or my 15th) wind. Everyone is different. Finding your own best run/walk ratio comes with experience.
Then too, every race is unique. Weather, altitude, humidity, fitness all dictate how we should pace ourselves. If I am not sure whether it is time for me to begin running again, I look at my heart rate. If it has not come down to <120-130, I'll continue walking until it does.
Often late in a long race I feel fatigued and don't feel like running again. However, if my heart rate has come down, then I know it is time to start running, even if I don't really want to (as if I can call what I do late in a race to actually be "running").
Out of curiosity, I made my own Ultramarathon Run/Walk Pace Calculator in an Excel format to compare various race strategies, paces, ratios of run to walk and so on. Unable to post that here, I found someone elses* running/walking pace calculator online and modified it for my own needs. I converted the Excel formulas over to HTML and embedded it below.
Have fun playing around with various ratios, times and paces of running to walking while still finishing your event within your goal time.
Don't forget to add extra time for bathroom breaks, stopping at aid stations, BS'ing with volunteers, changing shoes/socks, fixing blisters, removing toenails, dry-heaving, avoiding wildlife, getting lost, hallucinating, etc.
*I must give credit where credit is due. The basic design and HTML of this calculator was created by Scott Glazer. I used his calculator as a starting point and added/changed a few things for my own needs.
There is no better way to get psyched up for a race than to watch a running movie. This coming weekend I will be doing Strolling Jim 40 miles in Tennessee. It'll just be a training run before my main spring race: Bighorn 50-m in mid-June. My left ITB is still a bit tight after Antelope Island Buffalo 50-m so I'm going to take it easy.
On the advice of an ultrarunning friend, I recently acquired "The Long Run." It is available from ZombieRunner.
This movie is about the Comrades Marathon a 90-k race in South Africa, the largest ultramarathon in the world by number of entrants (12,000+). The movie is about an aging running coach, a Namibian female runner and the complex relationship that develops between them. Although the movie was slow at times, I thoroughly enjoyed footage of the location and 1999 race.
It amazes me the number of runners and large crowds cheering on the Comrades participants. All of the ultras I have ever run in have had at most a couple of hundred runners along with a few dozen volunteers and family members on the sidelines. Though I enjoy the small informal non-commercialized atmosphere of most races I do, a large event like this might be fun to do too.
Not this year nor the next but someday, I'd like to do Comrades.
Anyone care to join me?