“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!
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!
"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…
This week has been a tough one. One of my patients died of terminal cancer. She was only in her mid-thirties and left a husband and four sons behind.
Although most of the cancers I manage (well-differentiated thyroid cancer) have an excellent prognosis, this young woman had metastatic adrenal cancer, which has a 5 year survival rate of less than 1%. I rarely have patients die from cancer. The fact that she was so young and a kind and genuine and good person, made it even harder.
Words cannot express the sorrow I feel for this family's loss.
Although I know that everything that could have possibly been done, had been done- I cannot help but wonder:
Why did this have to happen?!?!
Why do some people abuse their bodies and get away with it while others have horrible tragic things happen to them through no fault of their own? It is sad, unfair, and makes no sense, but then again too often life is sad and unfair and makes no sense.
Needing some time to think, clear my head and ponder the meaning of life and death- I decided to go for a long run.
Last weekend, Haliku came up for a visit. We ran 20 miles from home, over Peter Norbeck Highway to Keystone where Jeanne and Nathan came and got us. Then we had had an Arctic blast mid-week with temps down to -18 F. Now the following warm spell with temps in the 40s' F felt like a heat wave.
I hadn't run all week and was itching for a long run.
I decided to run over Norbeck Highway again and if I felt good, continue on from Keystone to home.
Only two miles from home, I spotted tracks in the snow. They were the tracks of a cougar!
Also known as mountain lions, pumas, panthers or their formal scientific name Felis concolor, there are estimated to be between 200 and 300 cougars in the Black Hills. Despite this, they are secretive animals and rarely observed. Many who have lived here their entire lives, have never seen one.
Nevertheless, many friends, neighbors and acquaintances have stories of mountain lions they've seen. I've lived here for over a year and despite being in the outdoors for may hours and miles, I have never seen a mountain lion or it's tracks. We did hear one screaming in our canyon around this time last year.
As a runner, mountain lions make me nervous. Most of the time lions ignore humans, but there are occasional runner taken by cougars every year. Even though I carry protection, if a cougar really wanted to get me, I know that I probably wouldn't know until it was too late.
Of course, the reality is that I am much more likely to be in a motor vehicle accident on my way to work or even be run over by an irate dog owner in their mini-van than I am to be attacked by a cougar.
Look closely at the tracks and note the lack of toenail imprints.
Felines rarely reveal their toenails in their footprints which helps to distinguish their tracks from canines such as dogs or coyotes.
Cougars are very territorial. Adult males will kill any juvenile males they find in their territory. All potential territories in western South Dakota are thought to be occupied. Because of this, mountain lions with DNA linking them to the Black Hills have been found as far away as Iowa and Illinois.
Amazing animals… they have been reported to travel 100 or more miles in a day.
Hopefully, some day I will be able to do that myself.
If not in 24 hours then at least 100 miles in 30 hours or any time before cut-off!
One of the reasons I enjoy ultra and trail running so much is that it allows me to experience nature up close and often on more intense terms than I would otherwise.
- If you want to run for speed, a PB or to qualify for Boston or any other road race: then stay on the roads.
- If you want to experience something and learn more about yourself: go run a trail ultramarathon.
Unfortunately, with the onset of winter, I'm forced to run on the roads until the trails open up just like everyone else.
It was turning out to be a beautiful sunny cloudless warm day.
I saw a red tail hawk flying overhead but it was too fast for me to get a photo.
After seeing the mountain lion tracks, I decided to take a picture of every other set of tracks I saw today.
Besides being much smaller than the mountain lion, note the toenail imprints in the fox track, confirming he (or she) is a member of the dog family and not a cat. I also saw a set of rabbit and mouse tracks but they were older and not as clear as these.
After an hour, I took in some Sport Jelly Beans….. with caffeine.
For some reason, after about 30 or 35 miles I just cannot stomach energy gels. Even before that, they make me want to gag. I have heard that if you take energy gels with more water that should not happen. When I tried that, however, it didn't seem to matter.
Sport Jelly Beans and Clif energy blocks do not seem to cause me the same stomach issues. I do not know why I can tolerate them and why I have such an aversion to energy gels.
What works for me may not work for others and vice versa. Since I've found a hydration and nutrition system that now seems to work, I've no reason to change it.
I run by this rock often and wonder about it each time. It is as tall as a two story house.
Native Americans believed that rocks had spirits just as did the plants and animals. Often unusual or unique rock formations were attributed with special powers or had stories behind them.
I wonder: was there any such story told about this rock?
Onward I ran, taking rest breaks as I walked up each hill. Short distance runners think walking is a sign of failure or weakness.
How foolish they are!
Ultrarunners look at walk breaks as being smart. Even the elite include occasional walk breaks as part of their race strategy. Every step forward is a step closer to the finish line. Walking uses slightly different muscles, allowing running muscles to get a break. Alternating running with walking enables even ordinary runners can go extraordinary distances.
It was around here I had good cell phone reception and called my Mom and Dad who live in Tennessee. Surprisingly, their high temperatures were actually lower than ours was today.
I tried to rub it in and again reminded them that the Black Hills are considered by many to be the "Banana Belt of the Midwest."
They pointed out the frigid sub-zero Arctic temps we had only a day ago.
I was forced to admit, "Well, OK, I guess it is a frozen banana!"
Last year there was no road maintenance and this road was closed.
For some reason, this year the gates are still open and the road is continuing to be plowed. I enjoyed the solace of running on a closed snow covered road last year. However, running on a plowed road this year is certainly easier than in the snow.
Even though the road was open, I only saw a total of 3 vehicles between here and the intersection towards Keystone; two from Iowa and one from Wisconsin.
I suppose they were trying to get away from the cold!
I felt a small ache in my stomach and thought: "I'd better eat something."
In the past, I have misread such a signal as my stomach being upset instead of being hungry. Now I understand my body better. Such self- understanding can come only with experience.
One nutritional supplement I consume while going long is Boost. One bottle is 240 calories and contains 41 gm carbohydrates along with 10 gm protein and 4 gm fat. More mixed nutritional intake during ultra-endurance activities including a small amount of protein and fat seems to be easier on the stomach than pure carbohydrate. For short distance events, 26.2 mile and 50-kilometers or less, carbohydrate alone is fine.
The Chocolate-flavored Boost is my favorite. When it is partially frozen into a slush, it actually isn't too bad. Unfortunately, today it wasn't partially frozen.
After a trudge up hill that seemed to last forever (3.1 miles to be exact), I finally made it to the top.
This section of Hwy 16A is called the Peter Norbeck Memorial Highway. It is known for its multiple switchbacks, tunnels, pigtail bridges and scenic views of Mt. Rushmore.
If any of you ever take a trip to see Mt. Rushmore, I highly recommend taking this side trip.
The split in the road above reminded me of the words from Robert Frost:
"Two road diverged in a yellow wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by… and that has made all the difference."
This phrase continues to be a metaphor for my trail running and to some extent, for the choices I have made in my life in general.
I took the the left fork, the one that says "Do Not Enter" primarily because last week Haliku and I took the other one.
I saw a large old Ponderosa pine growing up along a cliff face. Her bark was split by two previous lightning strikes.
The Ponderosa in the Black Hills and the rest of North America are being attacked by an infestation of mountain pine beetle.
I some areas, 90 – 100% of trees have been killed. There are many theories as to why this is happening: global warming combined with extended drought, wildfire suppression, too many thick stands of trees all the same age, part of the natural life cycle of pine forests of the west and/or all of the above.
Whatever the cause, it is sad to see so many trees dead and dying. What will happen to this weathered old tree, survivor of who knows how many years and at least two lightning strikes?
There is no way to know, just as there is no way for any of us to know what lies ahead for any of us. We're all mortal, starting the day we're born, whether we'd like to remember that or not.
An engineering marvel, and at the time, a feat thought to be impossible, the pigtail bridges are worth seeing.
Two of the tunnels were built so that Mt. Rushmore would be framed in the distance as you passes through them.
There are many views of Mt. Rushmore from the Peter Norbeck Highway.
As the sun approached the horizon, temperatures fell. It was time to change my hat to something warmer. My son no longer wears his Sponge Bob Square Pants hat, so I snagged it for my own use.
It matches perfectly with the bright yellow flourescent colors I usually wear when running in the winter.
I faced the hat backwards so passing drivers could see Sponge Bob smiling at them as they passed by.
Soon I was on the main road heading the couple of miles into Keystone. A couple of passing cars honked, waved and smiled.
I guess they were Sponge Bob fans too!
As I entered town, I looked for an open gas station or convenience store. Almost everything was closed for the season. I find it interesting how busy such towns can be during the tourist season and how dead they are in the off-season.
Finally, at the eastern edge of town, there was a small convenience/general store that was open.
The lady in the store said: "Nice day for a ride!"
She was curious when I told that I actually wasn't riding a bike but had just come almost 20 miles over Norbeck Highway on foot. Unlike many people, she didn't tell me I was crazy, even if she thought it.
I bought a few bottles of Gatorade to refill my Camelback. Gatorade is not my favorite sports beverage to consume while ultrarunning. It contains too much fructose which can cause GI upset in some individuals. But beggars cannot be choosers. I was happy to get what I could.
I also bought a turkey sandwich on white bread which tastes- oh so good- when I'm out running but which I would almost never eat when I'm not.
I accidentally spilled some of the contents of my Camelback on the floor. I apologized profusely and helped her clean it up. "After 20 miles in the cold I get kind of clumsy!" and I apologized again.
She was very kind and said "no problem, don't worry about it."
She was interested in starting to run again with her dog and wondered how she might best get back into it. I gave her some tips such as not doing too much too soon and trying alternating walking with running until she is sure she is able to run longer without injury.
It is advice that I should have followed myself when I started running again 7 years ago but which I did not. If I had, I might have avoided some of the overuse injuries I experienced back then. Unfortunately, sometimes the best way for us to learn something is to make the mistake ourselves.
It was nice and warm in that store and I enjoyed sharing running stories with her. However, if I was going to make it home tonight, I needed to get going. I had 14 more miles ahead of me, and most of it would be in the dark.
I thanked her and headed on.
I passed the place where Jeanne and Nathan picked up Haliku and I last week. Could I make it all the way home on my two feet?
I actually felt good and was pretty sure I could, even though I knew it would be a cold, lonely and dark night. I had my cell phone with me, just in case I needed Jeanne and Nathan to come rescue me, as they have in the past and am sure will do again in the future.
Just at the edge of town, a dog barked at me from the other side of the road. It was brown and looked like either a pitbull or a boxer cross. It started coming towards me. Another white and brown dog was in the road with that dog and barked and ran towards me too.
I was on the sidewalk. A SUV backed out of the driveway across the road and blocked me from seeing the brown dog. I could still hear him barking at me. I did not hear them reprimand or call off that dog but it remained on the other side of the vehicle.
However, the white and brown dog continued to approach barking and growling. A car pulled into the driveway right beside it. The driver opened their door, left the door open but they did not get out and said nothing.
Was it not their dog?
Or was it their dog and were they sitting in there, laughing at me, and waiting to see what would happen?
Owners sitting and watching me have to deal with their mean dog while they laughed has happened to me before, more than once. I couldn't tell. I was preoccupied with the dog and it was too dark to see anyway.
I shouted firmly back to the dog: "NO! Go home!!!" several times but he refused to back off.
The snow between the sidewalk and the road was two feet deep. It was much too deep for me to risk getting bogged down in if I had to take evasive action. I was right where the sidewalk met the driveway.
"Just a couple of steps and I'll be out in the street with a little more room to maneuver," I thought.
As I attempted to do this, however, the dog ran to the street side, cut me off, blocking my escape, and keeping me cornered on the the sidewalk. He was still growling and showing his teeth only a few feet from me.
"Wrong move, dog," I thought, "well if the owner or whomever is in that car is not going to do anything, then I guess it's up to me to get myself out of this."
I pulled my pepper spray out of its holster and unclipped the lock. One little quick squirt in his face and immediately he stopped barking. He ran off to the porch of the single wide trailer that was his home.
I started running again but was careful to keep my backside in view, just in case that pit/boxer or whatever kind of mix it was had also decided to come after me. If necessary, I would have no problem giving him some education in proper dog behavior too.
The next two miles went by quickly. It's amazing what a burst of adrenaline can do, even after twenty plus miles.
As I ran down Highway 40 towards home, a mini-van approached and slowed down. A woman yelled at me, "What did you spray my dog with!?!?!"
"Oh just some pepper spray, it'll wear off soon," I responded.
"Why you %^&^*&!, it got all over my kids, you #$^$ (&*!"
I jumped right back at her, "What the hell am I supposed to do, let your dog bite me! It's against the law to let your dog roam and terrorize the neighborhood!"
She started shouting profanities at me: "You're a $%^^*^&^%! you F&%^%^*!"
Then, the minivan door shoved open. A teenage kid with his shirt off started yelling obscenities at me. He made motions as if he was going to jump out of the minivan. He tried to look as if he was going to lunge towards me.
"Don't do it, kid, for your own good, just don't do it, " I thought to myself.
Another thought also came into my head, "You know, if you're trying to look tough kid, you should probably put your shirt back on." He was thin and scrawny. Had he and his mother not been threatening me with obscenities, the picture he made would've been funny. He probably would not have liked it much if I'd started laughing at him at that moment.
However, I must not have been very intimidating myself, considering I was in tights and wearing a Sponge Bob hat. Nonetheless, I would have defended myself if I had to, even after running twenty-two-and-a-half miles. Of course, I probably would not have had to get physical, one squirt of pepper spray would've changed his attititude too- just as it did for his dog.
Lucky for him, he stayed in the minivan.
The woman drove ahead, pulled into another road and then turned to come back at me. As bad luck would have it, when they had caught me I had just run onto a bridge. I didn't have enough time to get off of it as they turned around and came back. The woman sped up as she came towards me. She moved her vehicle onto the shoulder on my side of the road.
Was she trying to run me over? Or just trying to scare me?
If she was trying to run me over, would I need to jump over the edge and off the bridge?
I might break a leg or hip and that water would be deep and cold, but it still would be better than getting run over.
Without any more hesitation or thought, instantly I lunged across the road to the other side. I was ready to jump off the bridge. To my relief, they stayed on their side of the road and yelled more obscenities as they passed me speeding up.
I thought long and hard about phoning this episode in to local law enforcement.
I'd done nothing wrong by pepper spraying the dog and was within my rights to defend myself. I was on public road/sidewalk. The owner was breaking the law by letting an aggressive dog run free.
Instead of doing the right thing and taking responsibility for the situation, this wonderful citizen and role model of a mother teaches her children how to act another way: do not take responsibility, blame others for the consequences of your own poor decisions (letting your aggressive dog run free) as well as how to interact with other people (run them down with your minivan and shout obscenities at them).
Incidentally, for other local runners who must deal with mean dogs, this morning I looked up the state statutes for South Dakota and found:
40-34-14. Vicious dog defined. (1) Any dog which, when unprovoked, in a vicious or terrorizing manner approaches in apparent attitude of attack, or bites, inflicts injury, assaults, or otherwise attacks a human being upon the streets, sidewalks, or any public grounds or places;
20-9-8. Right to use force in defense of persons or property. Any necessary force may be used to protect from wrongful injury the person or property of one's self, or of a wife, husband, child, parent, or other relative, or member of one's family, or of a ward, servant, master, or guest.
Several weeks ago, I was attacked by another dog who jumped on me with teeth bared. I had to knee him in self defense; there wasn't time for pepper spray. Even so, that owner also yelled obscenities and berated me. If these owners are so dang fighting mad about me pepper spraying or kneeing their aggressive dogs, what would they say/do if I did something a little more permanent? I would be within my rights of self defense from a vicious dog.
No thanks, pepper spray does exactly what I need it to do.
I cannot remember how many times I've been chased or attacked by dog or dogs. I refuse to run scared. Now, with a large canister of pepper spray, I don't have to be afraid. If the dog refuses to back down with words, then pepper spray is the next step. Pepper spray hurts, but the effects it has are temporary with no long term harm. As for the woman's kids, that's too bad they touched the dog and maybe gotten some on themselves. However, it all could've been avoided had the woman not allowed her aggressive dog to run free in the first place.
The problem is not dogs but the people who own them. The owners don't properly restrain or teach their dogs any manners. Too often, they sit back and laugh as their dog bullies you. When you are forced to defend yourself because you have no other choice- now they suddenly become fighting mad. In their eyes, it's always your fault, not theirs. Of course, in the eyes of the law, they would be liable for any damages incurred. The dog could potentially be euthanized. But as I said, it isn't the dog's fault, it's the owner's.
Pepper spray works and it works well. I've never had a dog threaten me a second time, although a few bark like crazy from their front porch as I jog by.
"Bark all you want dog- just don't you ever chase me down this road again!" I think.
Now if only I only I could find away to keep the dog owners from chasing me down the road cussing me out in their minivans!
In hindsight, I suspect the person sitting in the car saying nothing while the dog threatened me was probably her teenage son. He probably enjoyed seeing his dog stop me in my tracks. I did not get a good look at the driver of that car so there is no way to know. I wonder, did he tell his mom that part of the story? Even if he had, would it have mattered? What a tough scrawny young punk his mom is raising him to be.
Anyway, it took more than a few minutes for me to calm down after this and quite a while longer as I debated calling local law enforcement, just to let them know of the situation and perhaps issue a warning to the owner.
Of course, if I did call them what would I tell them? That she tried to run me over? But could I really sure that she tried to run me over? Was she instead only trying to scare me by driving fast right next to me? There was and is no way to know, unless I foolishly instead had chosen to face her down on my side of the road to see what would happen.
I'm glad that I'm smarter than that.
Darkness fell quickly, as it always seems to do in mid-winter. I ran along Highway 40 by the light of my headlamp. There was no moon and the stars shined bright. I felt very much alone. Only an occasional car passed. Most of the surrounding terrain was Forest Service land for at least 5 miles. There were few houses in sight.
In my mind, the episode was over. The dog had learned his lesson; the owners probably not- but it was over. However, the more I thought about it, I more I thought that I had better let someone know. What if that woman had called her boyfriend and he and some friends were coming to find me right now? There were no back or side roads for me to get off the main highway. I would be an easy target. They could leave me by the side of the road bruised and bleeding or even worse. No one would ever know what had happened.
I called and left an extended voice message documenting the entire incident on Jeanne's cell, just in case something happened to me and law enforcement needed to know where to begin looking.
The last twelve miles of my run were cold and dark. Deer occasionally ran off into the trees. One snorted nervously at me several times.
I saw a set of tracks that looked different from the others. I stopped to look at them more closely. I couldn't believe it!
I've lived here almost two years and have never seen a cougar track.
Now I see two different sets of tracks in the very same day!
Part of the explanation, I think, is that we had bitterly cold weather for a few days. Now with the warmer temperatures the lions are out and hunting.
"As long as they're not out hunting me!!" I thought.
Between my previous episode earlier and thinking about mountain lions now, my mind started playing tricks on me. Every motion in the trees I thought was a mountain lion, every pickup truck that approached from behind I worried would be the woman's boyfriend and his buddies.
It is interesting what happens to your mind after 30 or so miles, especially after dark. In longer runs, it only gets worse.
Soon I turned off onto the gravel. "Only 3.5 miles to go! I'm almost home!" I thought. I called Jeanne and told her to put the sweet potatoes in the oven and get the ribeye steaks out of the 'fridge. "We're eatin' red meat tonight!"
I was relieved to be off the asphalt and away from imaginary angry boyfriends hunting me down in their pickups.
Soon, I became apprehensive about imaginary lurking feline predators.
I looked skyward and saw the dark night sky filled with stars. We have very little light pollution here in western South Dakota. To my left, in the south, I saw Orion, the Hunter, my favorite of all constellations. Orion has been my running partner on countless early morning and late night winter runs. With him looking over me, I finally felt strong and safe.
Yes, one distance and fatigue-induced delusion replaced previous ones.
As I dug deep and found my last bit of energy to finish up the last few miles of my run, I saw a set of eyes reflecting in my headlamp. Suddenly, whatever it was dropped to it's belly in the middle of the road.
What was it?
I looked more closely and was greatly relieved to see a golden retriever lying in the middle of the road wagging her (or his) tail nervously.
"Puppy! You need to go home! You can't lie in the road where someone will run over you!" I said.
She (or he) ran off 50 yards but then came back and lie down again. It wagged its tail nervously on the other side of the road as I passed. "Oh puppy, you need to go home!"
Now this is the kind of canine interaction I don't mind!
Despite all of the numerous photos in the first half of this run, I have none for the latter half.
The reason is that most of that second half was run in the dark. Although there would have been beautiful scenic vistas to be photographed during the day, there is not much to see at night by the light of a head lamp.
The photo above I took in our driveway to give you an example of what the last 14 miles in the dark looked like.
As I went the last mile up our road to our home, tears began to fill my eyes and fall into the snow.
I had tears of sadness for the patient whom I had lost earlier this week. I had even more tears of sorrow for her family who must now go on without her. I still don't understand why unfair horrible things happen to some people. I expect I never will.
And then I also had tears of joy, humility and gratitude for my family, my friends, my health, my profession and for all the good things in my life, of which there are many.
Life is such a blessing. It is a gift, really it is. Most ultrarunners are spiritual and introspective people but you do not need to be an ultrarunner or to be religious to believe life is a gift.
We must always make sure our loved ones know how we feel about them. We must live every day to the fullest and as if it will be our last. We don't know when the gift of life will end and we will never get another chance.
As I walked up to the front door of our cabin, I shut off my headlamp. I looked at my GPS to see what it said.
34 miles. Wow. I was tired but not that tired.
Wanji inyanka waste. One good run.
Mitakuye oyasin. We are all related.
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.
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.
You'd think I would have learned after my experience at the Lean Horse Hundred.
No way! I rested and then promptly started looking for my next ultra. A good place to start is Stan Jensen's Run 100s website. The best way to recover after a DNF is register for another one!
I found that on November 15th they will be running the Javelina Jundred in the desert outside of Phoenix. It is run on a 15 mile loop in McDowell Mountain Park. The Javelina Jundred is known for its party-like-atmosphere and has a reputaton for being a very friendly 100 mile ultra for first timers.
Other benefits include a 100-k "wimped out" award for those who do not make the full one hundred but go at least four loops. There also are awards for Best Ass, Best Costume (male and female), First Virgin (first 100 mile completed at Javelina Jundred), Most Memorable Perfomance (called the 'Geri K'), Top Team (best two person team), Youngest, Oldest and Dead Last.
If I am able to finish 100 miles, I think that the "Dead Last" award might just be for me!
There are only two cut-offs: 28 hours before starting the last 9 mile partial loop and 30 hours to complete the full 100 miles. Finishers after 30 hours will still get a posted "unofficial" time.
After running two marathons in two weeks as training, I feel ready.
Am I crazy? You bet! Will I ever learn? Probably never!
OK, so I dropped at the Lean Horse Hundred at mile 64.5.
Before everything went to shit… I was actually having a great race. Some of the other runners even told me so. They said I looked strong. My pace was right on target. But then everything went wrong. It was my fault and I know it. In hindsight, I messed up nutrition-wise and I should have known better.
But rather than admitting that this DNF (Did Not Finish) was my fault, what I really need now is a good excuse!
Before the race, some of the other runners and I chatted. The weather conditions were ideal and the course was straight forward, making getting lost unlikely. That meant that if we DNF'ed this race we would not be able to use two of our favorite excuses: bad weather and getting lost.
We joked that before any race it is a good idea to have a few possible excuses in your back pocket to use for DNFing, just in case the need arose. That conversation and my subsequent experience got me thinking of all the excuses I have heard. A couple of these I made up myself, most of the others I borrowed. A few I took from postings I read on Kevin Sayer's UltRunR site.
Here they are, in no particular order:
- The weather was too hot.
- The weather was too cold.
- The weather was too humid.
- I couldn't stop throwing up.
- I misread the race application. I thought it said this was only a 10-k, not a 100-m. WTF!?!
- The aid station volunteers didn't fill my water bottles correctly.
- I got dehydrated.
- My feet hurt.
- I got blisters.
- I fell……hard.
- I was peeing blood.
- I started out too fast.
- I started out too slow.
- My crew told me my pet/family member died.
- I got lost.
- My pacer was too fast.
- My pacer was too slow (that would NEVER EVER happen to me!).
- The race director did not mark the course well enough.
- Some SOB @$$#0!* stole/moved the trail markers!
- My costume wasn't cool enough (see Javelina Jundred).
- My headlamp batteries went dead.
- There was a tornado/earthquake/blizzard/hurricane/forest fire/hail/severe thunderstorm/flash flood/ mudslide/avalanche/sand storm/other natural disaster.
- The aid stations ran out of food.
- The aid stations didn't have the right kind of food.
- My pacer didn't B!%&^ slap me when I really needed it!
- I couldn't eat.
- I ate too much.
- I got tired.
- I didn't train hard enough.
- I was overtrained.
- I pooped my pants which caused chafing.
- My nipples started bleeding…ow.
- I realized I wasn't going to win (for those elite among us).
- I realized I wasn't going to finish (for everybody else).
- I missed a cut off.
- Cut offs? What cut offs! I don't care about no steenkin' cut offs! You jes' go an' try an' stop me!
- I didn't drink enough.
- I drank too much and got hyponatremic
- I stopped peeing.
- My blood sugar got too low.
- I passed out.
- I had a seizure.
- I didn't want to die.
- I thought I was already dead..
- My handler/crew/pacer threatened to divorce me.
- They didn't have the right kind of sports drink.
- I didn't want that buckle after all.
- I got hypothermia.
- I got heat stroke.
- I got kidney failure and needed emergency dialysis.
- My quads were shot.
- My heart rate monitor told me I had no pulse.
- I sprained my ankle.
- I had a headache.
- My stomach hurt.
- I tripped on a rock. There was bone sticking out.
- A branch poked me in the eye.
- My pacer forgot to bring the cattle prod.
- The cattle prod batteries went dead.
- I lost too much weight.
- I gained too much weight.
- I didn't use the right run/walk ratio.
- I had a run in with a: cougar/bear/moose/rattlesnake/mean dog/mad cow/bees nest/skunk/ porcupine/hippopotamus/other wild animal.
- The course was too hilly.
- The course was too flat.
- It just wasn't my day.
- A bunch of ultra-groupies kidnapped me and and held me hostage against my will.
- I had a cold/stomach virus/flu/strep throat/bronchitis/giardia/pneumonia/malaria/other illness.
- My crew made me stop.
- My crew forgot to show up.
- My drop bags fell off the truck.
- The cut off times were unfair.
- Life is unfair.
- I wasn't acclimated to altitude/heat/humidity/other conditions.
- I got pulled for medical reasons.
- The race director and volunteers packed up and went home.
- I ran off a cliff.
- I started hallucinating.
- I decided that it wasn't fun anymore.
- My plantar fasciitis/stress fracture/iliotibial band syndrome/other old injury flared up.
- It was so hot, the soles of my shoes melted (see Badwater).
- My toenail(s) fell off.
- I ran out of toenails to fall off.
- I decided that golf or bowling sounds like a helluva lot more fun and a lot smarter too.
- I stopped to have "just one" beer and couldn't get going again..
- Actually, despite what I told you yesterday, this run was only for training. That's right. I never really intended on finishing anyway.
- Honestly, I was just a crying punk-ass baby and I couldn't suck it up.
The most popular ones always seem to be the ones in which you blame someone or something else, never yourself. Let me know if there are any I overlooked or which you think I should add.
In truth, I had a great time at Lean Horse this weekend. So much so that I cannot wait to do it again. Too bad I have to wait an entire year. But I do need a little time to digest all of my experience (and to replace my severe calorie deficit) before I write a more detailed intellectual and inspiring post about it.
In the meantime, I'd prefer to dream up new excuses for DNFing!