Lean Horse Hundred 2009
“Don’t give up… no matter what happens…
DO NOT give up!
You can do it and you WILL do it!”
I repeated this phrase to myself over and over, the entire week before Lean Horse.
This time, my third time, would be the charm. As long as I didn’t make any stupid race-ending mistakes, this year I would finish. I have run more training runs and ultramarathons over 50 miles than I can easily recall. There are only a handful of races in the 50 mile to 100 mile distance. The next step is to do a full one hundred.
“I’m ready. I will do this,” I thought, fully convinced that I would.
The Day before Race Day
Jeanne, Nathan and I headed down to Hot Springs on Friday. At registration, we were told I was the runner who lived closest to the race. There were a handful of other South Dakotans, but we live on the eastern side of Custer State Park, only an hour away.
I hoped that might give me some sort of advantage on race day. I was realistic and knew that any advantage would be minor. If anything, knowing every foot of the trail would make it easier for me to give up and stop, when I realized exactly how much farther I had to go.
At the pre-race meeting, race director Jerry Dunn made a point of telling us that cut-offs were "soft." What he meant that if we got to an aid station 15 or even 30 minutes past cut off time, we would be permitted to go on, the exception of course if we had to stop because of safety or medical reasons.
For a back-of-the packer like me, that was very reassuring. Making cut offs causes additional anxiety for those of us bringing up the rear. The only cut off that would count would be the final 30 hour cut off in Hot Springs noon Sunday. If we finished after that time, we would technically be given a DNF and would not recieve a buckle but our time would still be posted as an "unofficial" finish.
I promised myself that no matter what happened, I would keep going. I would not start to play the negative mind game in my head: "There's no hope of you making it by cut off anyway, you might as well quit."
Even if I could not make it to Hot Springs by noon Sunday, I fully intended to go 100 miles, even if it took me 31 or 32 hours. My family was crewing for me, they could follow along and bring me food and fluids, even after the race officially shut down.
Jeanne joked and told me that the car was in Hot Springs and it was up to me to get there. I was off of work Monday so I could take as long as I needed to.
We stayed at a house that had been converted to lodging by the owner. It was nice to not have someone the floor above you pounding heavily after they came back to their room intoxicated late at night or noisy kids running up and down the hall.
Chris "Haliku" drove up from Denver. Just like last year, the plan was for him to pace me from the 50 mile cut off on. He'd had some ankle and knee tweaks and wasn't sure he'd be able to go the entire 50 miles. However, by the time he would pace me, my running would be his walking.
All I needed was for him to not let me give up during the night. If I made to dawn, I knew I would finish.
The Fall River ran behind the house. Jeanne and Nathan enjoyed tubing down some of the rapids while Haliku and I arranged our gear. I preventively taped my feet as I now do before every big race. Since learning how to do that, my experiences with blisters have been minor.
I highly recommend the book "Fixing Your Feet," by John Vonhof as required reading for every ultramarathoner, adventure racer, fast-packer and long distance hiker.
Saturday- Race Day!
I awoke refreshed at 4AM. I had slept well not tossing and turning through out the night as I had before many big races in the past. I slept peacefully because I knew I in my mind and my heart that barring any unforeseen circumsances: I could do it.
If for some reason I did not, oh well, DNFing is not the end of the world, I've done it before, there would always be other chances.
I'm not planning on stopping ultramarathon running any time soon. I plan to be that 80-something year old guy winning my age group because there is no one else left in my age group (or at least placing second in my age group after Haliku).
After eating my usual pre-race breakfast of whole wheat waffles with lots of syrupm Haliku and I headed down to the race start at Mueller Civic Center.
Slowly the other runners gathered. I saw many other runners from previous ultramarathons. Teresa Verburg from Rapid City who had run her first hundred miler at Lean Horse last year. She is still the one and only woman from South Dakota to have finished Lean Horse. She was back for more this year.
We ultramarathoners are a tight-knit small community. It's always nice to catch up before, during and after the race.
The announcement was made and we all gathered outside. The weather was predicted to be hot, the mid-90s.
There's no reason to worry about that which is out of my control, I thought.
Elise from Montana was nervous. She had run only three 26.2 mile marathons before. This was her first 50 miler. I told her not to worry, she would do it.
"Just take it easy in the heat, hydrate and don't forget to eat- you'll do it! We all can do it!!!"
Suddenly, the race was on! We were off!!!
One of the most difficult challenges of running and completing an ultra is holding back for the first half of
the race… in a 100 miler, that constitutes concentrating on running as slowly and easily as possible for 10, 12 or even 15 hours.
"Hold back so you'll have something to draw from later in the race when you really need it." I tell myself over and over as the pack drifts away.
It is a lesson that I continue to focus on and re-learn.
I took it easy, walking for the first five miles even before I ran a single step.
I started out walking with a couple from New Jersey hiking the 50 mile race, Ned and Laura Gardner. They were long distance hikers, not runners.
Unlike many shorter races where walkers are sneered down upon by runners, we ultra-thoners welcome walkers with open arms. After all, every ultra-runner includes walking breaks as part of their race tactic. Many times we are grateful when we are even able to walk. Every step forward is a step closer to the finish line we believe.
Going 50 or 100 miles on your own two feet is still 50 or 100 miles, no matter how you got there.
On Argyle Road I left them behind and caught up with a few other runners. I jogged with Holley Lange from Colorado whom I had met at Greenland 50-k and the 24 hours at Laramie, last year. We stayed together for quite a while.
Then I met and ran with Mike Haviland from California. I met him last year at the Kettle Moraine 100-k. He is a past Badwater finisher but made an impression on me at Kettle Moraine when he passed out right as I was talking to him.
I remember thinking to myself, "If a Badwater finisher is passing out during this race because of heat and humidity, what the heck am I doing here?"
It turned out it was due to a medication he was on, one notorious for causing low blood pressure after standing, and in some people, fainting. After the medication was stopped, no more problems.
I was very relieved that he passed out because of a medication and not because of something I said. I have been accused of boring people to….well you know…
The day began to warm up. I was surprised how fast the pack had headed out. Many runners who usually run at a similar pace as I do, took off. Starting out too fast was a mistake I made last year which I promised myself I would not repeat.
"They're going to pay for it later, " I thought. As long as I stuck with my average 15 – 16 min/mile as long as I could, I would be able to finish and still have enough of a cushion later if I needed it.
Finally we were on the Mickelson Trail. I began to see the fifty milers on their return trip.
I saw to Keith Happel, an internist from Bismarck, ND that I know. I told him "Lookin' good!"
He looked strong!!
Then I saw Chris Stores, one of us local ultrarunners-bloggers from Bell Fourche, SD. He looked strong too and I wished him success.
Right before the 24 mile aid station at Pringle, I saw Elise who also was looking good, with a smile on her face, well on her way to her first 50 mile finish.
I wished every one of those fifty milers well and continued to head north.
"Keep on going… you can do it… just one step in front of the other!!!"
That is one of the best things about ultrarunning, we run with instead of run against each other. We're very supportive of other runners, no matter if they're the elite or the very last place finisher.
It's all about getting out there and doing your best.
It was then that I started passing some of the other hundred milers.
I passed Bob Wray, another back-of-the packer like me. He works for Fed-Ex and is from Rapid City. He always stands out in a crowd because of the patriotic American Flag colors he wears. I met him last year at the 50 mile turnaround and again this year at the Mystic Mountain trail race.
Bob didn't look too good. I think he mumbled something about starting out too fast. I encouraged him to not give up, take some time to rest and rehyrate at the next aid station if necessary but don't give up.
I didn't see him again after that.
At every aid station I put ice under my hat. At one aid station, they had no extra ice so one of the aid station volunteers pulled out some red ice from the sports drink for me to put under my hat. Beggars cannot be choosers, at least my sweat tasted sweet after that!
I started out drinking only about one bottle of sports drink (HEED or SUCCEED Amino) between aid station, or about one per hour. I took one SUCCEED! salt cap per hour.
Then, in the heat of the afternoon I switched to plain water only- two water bottles per hour, with some additional water from my Camelback if I emptied my water bottles before the next aid station.
Even though I lost my appetite from the heat, I forced myself to eat. I was not about to repeat the same mistake I made last year. For some reason, I cannot tolerate energy gels after about mile 30 or 35, they make me want to gag. I've found that "real" food I tolerate better.
I settled into a pattern of taking a half a turkey sandwich and/or banana at each aid station. If I couldn't eat it rght there, I would nibble on it so that it was gone before the next aid station. Sports Jelly Beans and Clif Blocks eaten a few at a time, after eating some real solid food, I did fine with.
I met Jim Newton from Texas. We flip-flopped all afternoon, alternating between who was in front and who was behind. At one point between aid stations, his crew offered me some ice to put under my hat.
A simple deed like that is appreciated more than any words can express.
Despite being from down south, Jim was struggling with the heat as we all were. I stuck with my conservative pace. I convinced myself that if I could focus on fast-walking as fast as I could slow-run, then why bother running?
I maintained my 15 min/mile average pace through the day, relaxed in knowing that I only needed an 18 min/mile overall average to finish before final cut off.
Last year at this point, I was averaging a 12 or 13 min/mile, much much too fast and part of the reason I bonked so hard later in the night.
My crew, Jeanne, Nathan and Chris "Haliku" met me at each aid station. A chair was set out for me. Jeanne gave me a towel soaked in ice water to wipe the salt and sweat from my face.
What a treat!
They filled my water bottles, put ice under my hat and replaced my food supply. They asked what I needed but didn't allow me to dawdle. I past many other runners simply because I was in and out of the aid stations faster than they were.
Some of the volunteers remarked how fast and efficient they were: "like a NASCAR crew!"
I had the best crew EVER! With support and a crew like this how could I possibly fail? Now if only I could be as fast at running as my crew is at crewing!
At Carroll Creek Aid Station, I felt a little dizzy and trace of nausea. "I must be getting dehydrated," I thought to myself. As soon as I arrived, I drank an extra water bottle and took two salt caps which seemed to settle the problem.
I believe that during this race and the training leading up to it, I've finally learned how to eat/drink while not upseting my stomach over long periods, incuding the afternoon heat.
Nathan decided to join me. The next aid station would be Harbach Park in Custer at mile 36 or so. Since I was mostly walking or jogging slowly at that time, I encouraged him to come along. Even though the temperatures was now 93-94, he stayed with me the entire way.
Jeanne stopped with the car every time the trail came near the road to ask if Nathan wanted to stop. She was worried he would hold me back.
Each time he paused before answered, "No, I'd like to go with Daddy. I can do it!"
He fast walked the entire 5.5 miles into Harbach Park without whining or complaining.
I'm so proud!
Someday, perhaps sooner than I will be ready for, it may very well be me who is the pacer and crew while Nathan runs his first ultra.
We've talked with him trying a 5-k or a children's fun run sometime. I refuse to push him into doing something he is not interested in or not ready for. He has his entire life to decide what it is he likes to do and what he is good at.
Too many parents push their children into too many activities too soon. It results in the opposite from what is desired- a strong dislike rather than passion for that activity.
Holley came in to Harbach looking tired and dizzy as I was getting ready to leave. I told her to not give up yet, drink and rest before she made up her mind.
As I headed out of Custer, I saw the front runner, Akos Konya, jogging effortlessly on the return trip. Amazing! I love out and back races because we get to glimpse the winners and front runners as the pass by us on the return.
On the way up the hill to Mountain Trailhead (mile 40 or so), I met a gentleman I had met at the Javelina Jundred last fall. Ultrarunning really is a small world. We talked about creation, the universe, science, religion, God and medicine- some pretty heavy stuff.
Conserving my energy, I actually let him do most of the talking, which anyone who has ever run with me will be sure to tell you, is usually not my style.
The next mile and a half to the entrance to Crazy Horse Monument is relatively flat. I went for a short time with a young man from Minot, ND: Ben Clark. At age 18, he was an anomaly. The average age of ultrarunners is around 55. On Monday he would be starting in college, with plans to study mechanical engineering.
If he is able to run a 100 mile ultra at age 18, who knows what he will be able to accomplish if he sets his mind to it? I wished him well as he jogged on.
Soon we were going downhill and I was able to pick up speed. The three or so miles past Crazy Horse Monument are all downhill on the way out….and all uphill on the way back. I had already promised myself that I would walk every single step up that hill on the return trip.
What's three miles out of a hundred?
As the sun set, the temperature cooled down. I felt good. I began to see more runners on the way back.
One woman asked, "Are you Chris's brother?"
"Yes, I am!" I answered.
It was Joyce, a mutual friend of two of other running friends of mine, Jarom Thurston and Lisa Nicholls. Chris had met Jarom, Lisa and Joyce last year when they were running 24 hours at Boulder.
Joyce ran strong and fast. She was well on her way to a sub-24 hour finish.
As I ran down the hill, I man on a bike caught up with me, Raj. He had seen the Native American Flute I was carrying and was curious. I had played it earlier in the day. However now that the wind had picked up, I held off until night fell because the wind would steal away my notes.
Raj's wife, Anu Singh was running her first hundred miler being paced by their friend Rajeev Patel. Rajeev had given me a hug of encouragement at the race registration the day before. They had been conservative during the heat of the day and now passed me making up for lost time.
Raj and I spoke about the Wakan Paha Sapa or sacred Black Hills and how running, at least for me, is as much of a spiritual endeavor as it is a physical one. I explained how this place is sacred to the Lakota and many other nations.
As they went on their way, I told him to not forget: Mitakuye Oyasin– We are all related.
Others told me how strong I looked. I thanked them and agreed. I felt strong; but pushed such thoughts out of my head. Ultras are run one mile, one foot step at a time. It is risky to get overconfident and count your buckles before you've finished.
Just before Oreville, I started to feel a dull ache in the front part of my lower leg. It didn't hurt that bad, only a minor annoyance I thought. No big deal. I kept running and ignored the slight discomfort.
As I approached Buckaroo aid station I told everyone "I see you again in a few minutes!" It was only a half mile out to the 50 mile turnaround and back.
Suddenly, only two hundred yards from Buckaroo, I felt a severe excrutiating pain inside my leg, as if it was ripping open on the inside. I could not bear weight and almost fell flat on my face. I limped back to Buckaroo, frustrated and upset. I tried running and again I almost fell flat on my face due to the pain.
What was it?
I had no superficial pain or swelling. It was all deep inside. The pain came on so suddenly and without warning, I was deeply concerned that it might be a stress fracture. Whatever it was, there was no way for me go on. I know a woman who ran 40 miles on a stress fracture to finish a 100 mile race, I wasn't about to let that be me.
It was hard for me to stop, since I felt so good otherwise. My stomach had held up, I was still able to eat and drink. My legs felt strong, other than the pain inside my right lower leg.It was as if I had run only 20 miles instead of 50 miles.
I knew I had at least another 20 or 30 miles in me before it would have started to get really hard. What would have happened then? There is no way for me to know.
I was upset about stopping so early but trying to go on but the only option that made sense was to stop- so I did.
We drove back to Custer and Harbach Park. Chris was itching to run- last year I DNF'd on him just before Harbach Park.
Now the year he wasn't going to be able to run or walk a single step!
We thought that perhap we could catch Joyce or some other runner who needed a pacer and Chris could run with them. Joyce came in running strong and Chris went with her. For a moment, he was unsure if he'd be able to keep up with her.
Holley was still there. She had dropped in the afternoon after I had seen her but had not yet found a ride back to the race start. We gave her and another runner, Don Gibson from Georgia, a ride back to Hot Springs. It turns out that Don had passed me with another runner the final two miles of Strolling Jim 40 mile this spring.
Ultramarathoning is such a small community!
Sunday- The Day After
After a good night's sleep, we had a good breakfast and went down to the Mueller Civic Center to see the last of the runners come in. Many of the runners I had been running with were now finishing in 28 -29 hours.
"I could have been one of them," I thought sadly, "Oh well. There will always be next year."
I have no idea who this lady was, but she had her foot out for all of us to see and others were taking pictures, so I did too. It hurt me just to look at it!
I looked at the race results and saw how the others did:
Akos Konya: won the 100 miles in 16:46, amazing on any day but even more amazing given how hot the day was.
Keith Happel finished the 50 mile in 5th place overall at 8:54- strong work!
Chris Stores did the 50 miles in 8th place, 2nd in his age group, at 9:31- also strong work!
Ned and Laura Gardner, walked 50 miles in 16:28.
Ben Clark, the 18 year old from Minot, ND, went on the finish the 100 miles in 28:13. An impressive achievement.
Anu Singh finished the 100 miles with Rajeev Patel pacing her in at 29:13- congrats! I hope I get to see them again, they were all such a joy to meet.
Unfortunately, I was not alone in DNFing; many of my friends and new found aquaintances ended up DNFing as well. No one from South Dakota finished the 100 mile race this year:
Teresa Verburg stopped at Harback Park, she was probably the smartest of all of us. Why go on if you're not having a good day? We have nothing to prove to anyone but ourselves.
Bob Wray- I didn't see him after I passed him before Pringle. I assume he must have dropped there.
Mike Haviland was moving along when I last saw him but also was on the DNF list.
Jim Newton went on to mile 70 (I think).
Joyce Forier was well on her way to a sub-24 finish but ended up have blisters so severe, she had to stop at mile 70. Almost the entire parts of her foot was affected. Ow!
Two other South Dakotans, whom I met this spring at Bighorn 50 miles, also DNF'd: Loren Janke and Alan Richter. I didn't get a chance to find out what happened.
Micheal Porter from Bismarck, ND also was at Bighorn this spring and dropped at mile 70 I think.
As we drove home, I thought about the race and my reason for DNFing. Making it to mile 50 feeling strong and having survived the heat is not something I should be ashamed of. Many much stronger and faster runners also dropped., I was certainly not alone.
Still I felt sad. I knew I had it in me to make it the full hundred. I knew I did. And yet after all of my hard work and training, something sudden and completely unexpected happened which forced me to stop.
Post Race Week
The pain in my leg was tolerable with walking but I was still anxious that it would be a stress fracture. Stress fractures can be deceiving. As the pain goes away, one may be tempted to begin running again when that is exactly the wrong thing to do.
Where a stress fracture in the foot might take only 6 weeks to heal, one in the tibia could take 8 to 12 weeks or more and a pelvic stress fracture as long as 6 months.
If it were a stress fracture, and I could not run for three months, I'd be a basket case.
I went to an orthopedic surgeon/sport med doc Tuesday. Dr. Papendick was very nice and did not tell me I was crazy for running as far as I do (even if he may have thought it).
An x-ray may not show any abnormality for 3 weeks, until bone remodeling begins. We decided to get an MRI. It proved to me why I had the feeling of something literally ripping apart inside my leg.
I was relieved to learn I don't have a stress fracture. I have a tear or partial tear of one of the tendons on the antero-lateral portion of my lower tibia. It won't take as long as a stress fracture to heal. Its only a minor tendon, not an essential one such as the Achilles.
So what did I do wrong?
Nothing that I can tell. Sometimes things like this just happen. If running ultramarathons were easy and finishing was guaranteed, then everyone would be doing them.
In hindsight, I did feel some minor point tenderness at exactly the same location where the tear is after my last long run, the 42 miler I did a month ago. I am sure that was the beginning of it. The pain went away in a couple of days so there was no warning how serious of an injury I would experience later.
I'm glad that it happened at the beginning of the off-season instead of in the spring. Hopefully with time and rest, I'll be back as strong as ever.
Some Final Thoughts
Even though I was and still am upset about not finishing or even going farther in distance than I ever have before, I have much to be grateful for.
I seem to have finally discovered the secret to staying hydrated and being able to eat during the heat of the day. I may still battle stomach problems in the future. However, with this run I have proven to myself beyond a doubt that it is possible for me to go far under difficult conditions while staying hydrated and well-fed.
I also did well in pacing myself conservatively but perfectly for the conditions. Not too fast and not too slow. I don't know what would've happened at mile 70 or 80 but I do know I did a good job pacing myself so I could get there.
In my heart and mind, I now truly believe, more than ever, that 100 miles is within my grasp.
Yes, it is.
Next time- and there will definitely be a next time- might be the time I succeed. If not, then as long as I learn and grow from each experience, it will be worth it.
I know I will finish 100 miles someday…I CAN and I WILL.
At the post-race ceremony, I looked around and realized, I was among friends. If anything, this race has proven to me that there is much more to ultrarunning than running.
We all start every race intending to finish. Ultrarunning, however, is more than buckles, place or even finishing- quite simply it is about the people.
We may all run for different reasons and at different speeds but we are all in this together. These are my friends, this is my tribe. In this group of people, I include not only other ultrarunners but also my family, friends, crew, volunteers and everyone who makes what we do possible.
Any of you who read this- runner, walker or a little of both…. don't be afraid to come run, jog, shuffle, hike or walk with us. What you do for a living, how fast or slow you are, your age, your gender or your ethnicity, how many races you've run, how many you've finished and how many you've DNF'd- none of that matters.
With open arms, we welcome you all to join our family of ultrarunning.