Greenland 50-k 2010




The day started out sunny and warm- nothing at all like the hot, dry windy conditions of 2008. Later in the afternoon, it even got a bit chilly. 

After running two back-to-back 50-plus kilometer runs in Arkansas in March, I was optimistic about how I might do at this race.

In 2008, I bonked and I bonked hard.

Part of it was that I had recently relocated from Wisconsin to South Dakota. I had not yet had enough time to acclimate to altitude.


The other reason was that  I did not drink sufficiently and became dehydrated in the hot dry wind. 

I felt bad and thought seriously about dropping- but I made it with only seconds to spare before final cut-off.

Despite my extremely slow time, Greenland 50k 2008 had been one of my proudest performances to date.

When everything seemed completely hopeless, somehow, someway, I dug deep and found a way to finish.

Dead last (or second to last) still beats a DNF anyday!  

Haliku and I were running the 2010 Greenland 50k as a training run for the 77 mile Laurel Highlands ultra coming up in June.

Still, even though I wasn't planning on running fast, I was hoping to improve my time compared to last year.

Perhaps I could drop my time by an hour or more?

I have finished 50-k's in the 6:30-6:45 range before. Breaking 7 hours would be a reasonable, but not impossible goal.

The Greenland 50-k consists of loops around the trails of the Greenland Open Space. There is also an 8 mile and a 25-k race. 

As usual, the short distance runners started out like speed goats. I hung back with the sloggers, having learned the hard way what can happen by starting out too fast.

One criticism of this race is that the food provided is pretty meager- a few cookies, M&Ms, bananas and potato chips. Those who are used to the well-stocked buffets of  other ultras are advised to come prepared with their own supply. 


Having run Greenland 50k in 2008, I came prepared with turkey sandwiches, Boost and other sustenance.

I would not go hungry this year.

Slowly the pack drifted apart.  I intermittently ran with several other runners. One of the enjoyable parts of ultrarunning is the opportunity to run with other like-minded souls. Although we enjoy the solitude of a solo wilderness trail run, it is fun to run with others sometimes too.

Although I felt strong, I was surprised to see my heart rate increase dramatically every time I tried to speed up or maintain my pace. At one point I was lighteaded and dizzy as if I was going to pass out. My HR was in the 190s.

I had no choice but to slow down and begin walking more. I did not want to get an SVT or other cardiac arrhthymia because of stubborness. That would be dumb.

It was extremely frustrating.

Every time I tried going faster, I could not. My legs felt strong, my stomach was fine, I wasn't dehydrated or out of calories and my mind was willing- but my heart rate would go up dramatically.

Finally, with only one more loop for me to go, Haliku caught up with me as he ran the final few miles in to his finish.

He was surprised to see that I was walking. Dejected, discouraged and frustrated, I told him what was going on.

It seems that as well as the rest of me was doing, it was the altitude that had caught up with me. Although 7,000 plus feet is not high, I have a congenital condition that prevents me from maintaining the cardiac output that others are able to. There is no cure and no matter how hard I train, there is no way around it. It's just how I'm made. I'm not alone, about 5% of the population has it.

As long as I can remember, most others have been faster than me. Even as a child, the fat kids could outrun me across the playground. It was embarrassing. I never knew why, I have always been more easily out of breathe than others, even those obviously out of shape than I was.  

Now as an adult in the health care profession, I finally know the reason.

A cardiologist recently asked me, "Do you have exercise intolerance?"

Not sure of how to respond, I said, "Well sure I do, after I run 50 miles, but doesn't everybody?!?"  

Before one race not long ago, and much to my chagrin, one of the front of the pack runners made an off-hand comment to me. Not realizing that I was a back of the packer, he said that back of the packers are in the back of the pack because they simply do not train hard enough. He insinuated that slower runners are simply lazy or not as committed to running. Although there is some truth to back of the packers running less overall mileage, there is no amount of training that can overcome innate genetic or physiologic limitations. Training can improve the performance of everybody- but no one can outrun or train themselves out of their genetics.

Many, if not most ultrarunners could train less than I do and still finish far ahead of me. Some do.  It's not fair but life is not fair. 

Nevertheless, I realized during the last few miles of this run that I've been in denial about this for a long long time. You might say that beginning running ultramarathons was in part related to being in denial about my physical limitations. Despite how tough I'd like to think I am, I'm only human. I'm not invincible.

That is one of the points of running ultramarathons: to discover our limitations, whatever they may be, stare these limitations in the face, not let them them get us down and then go on.

"Well, there's no point beating myself up or being angry about something that I cannot control," I thought. 

It would be ridiculous for me to be upset about not being able to be a competitive body builder, given my ectomorphic body habitus.

It would be just as absurd to be mad about never being able to make the Olympic marathon team.

Thus it also makes no sense to be frustrated about any other limitations I was born with.

It is as it is, I am how I am, and that is how it is.

As discouraged as I was, I knew in my heart that I shouldn't be. It certainly could be worse. At least I can run/walk and I can go pretty dang far at that. Even if I will always be slow and probably will always struggle at altitude, I can go farther than 99.9999% of the population can.

Maybe I'll never be able to do Leadville or run any other high altitude ultra? That's too bad, as I've alway dreamed of doing some of them. Oh well, there are plenty of other ultras I CAN finish and I WILL.

As I walk/jogged more than ran those final few miles, my mood changed over from frustration and anger to acceptance, and even gratitude.

"Get over it," I told myself repeatedly. Negative thoughts are non-productive, not only during a race but in life in general.

"Get over it!" is a phrase that at times would be good for us all to heed. 

Rather than focusing on what I cannot do, I will focus on what I can control: train smart, pace myself, eat/hydrate correctly, avoid negative thinking, keep a positive attitude and so on. 

Every one of us runs races for our own personal reasons. Some run competitively, to make the team or win the race. Others run for a personal best,  to qualify for a big race or to place in their age group.  Some run to lose weight or to support a cause they believe in. Then there are yet others, like me, who run only to finish.. Every reason to run is as valid as any other. 

I crossed the finish line not feeling all that badly physically. However, I was only 12 minutes faster than 2008. Not much of an improvement. Oh well, at least I wasn't in last place.

I have finally accepted that I will always be slow. I'll stop comparing myself to others.   My races will always be struggles against the cut-offs. But damn it- I still can finish an ultra. Yes I can. I'll keeping running these crazy insane races that defy logic as long as I possibly can.  I have accepted that finishing, simply finishing for me is success.  If I can finish before dead last, then so much the better.

And finally,  for any of you naturally speedier runners who might look down on us back-of-the-packers or think we're lazy, I respond with the following:

Unless you're winning or placing- well then you're getting exactly the same finisher's medal and race tech shirts I do!

To finish is to WIN!

Laurel Highlands 77 miles- here I come!!!

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11 responses

  1. Awesome race report! I just checked Big Horn's entrant list to see if we could meet this year. Sad you won't be there! I will be trying to finish to do what I love while battling chronic illnesses (Addison's, hypothyroid and worst, migraines). We've all got our reasons for doing what we do! I've finished last before the cut off at Bear 100 and it was much better than DNFing or finishing after the cut off. There's no shame in DFL!! It's a finish and an accomplishment!!

    May 30, 2010 at 7:27 pm

  2. [esto es genial]

    May 31, 2010 at 7:05 am

  3. Wee

    Bro, Great challenge, Strong spirit! You've made it!

    May 31, 2010 at 7:15 am

  4. Yes, Laurel then Lean Horse then ????

    May 31, 2010 at 9:49 am

  5. I did make it and that's what counts! Thanks!!!

    May 31, 2010 at 9:55 am

  6. It would have been great to meet.
    I will definitely be doing Bighorn again but not this year. Haliku invited me to come do Laurel Highlands with him; it is 77 miles this year instead of the usual 70.5 miles because of a detour. Now how could I pass that up?
    Laurel Highlands is only a week apart from Bighorn so there's no way I could do both. Maybe Bighorn next year?
    Hey, Bear 100 is one of the tougher mountain races- possibly tougher than Bighorn? If you finished that you should be proud. DFL is better than DNF!!!
    Folks look at me and see a tall thin young guy (Hah! Who am I kidding? Maybe I'm "thin and young" for an ultramarathoner. But 40ish is not young by most folks standards and I'd be considered fat if I was a 5k'er).
    Before they see me run, er slog, they probably assume I'll be in the middle of the pack at least. On my occasional really good days I am. What they don't see is on the inside. I don't tell most folks, plus I think I've been in denial about it too. It doesn't bother me one bit while doing "normal" activity. However, running fast or at altititude I get out of breath easier and quicker than many others, including some who don't run. That's really frustrating and not fair but that's simply how it is.
    At least in ultras, slow and steady can still finish a race as long as the mind is strong and the heart willing. I've "beat" many runners who were faster and in much better physical shape than I was, by sheer determination and perserverance.
    Good luck, keep running and I hope to meet you at an ultra some day!
    PS You'll do great at Bighorn!

    May 31, 2010 at 10:16 am

  7. That runner who said "back of the packers are in the back of the pack because they simply do
    not train hard enough" is simply ignorant, if not mean-spirited. There's a range of performance based on how well we are prepared, but there's a whole range of performance based on our genetics, as you mentioned. We all are subject to the bell curve of natural ability. I think I am right in the middle, stinking average. I can do OK at ultras because I train hard and study the sport. But I can never, never beat someone in the upper third of the bell curve. Many elites cruise ultras at my 10k race pace, a pace I could never hold over longer distances, even if I devoted all my waking hours to training. You, evidently, are biologically in the lower half of that bell curve, and I'm glad you can come to some acceptance of that fact, and still be darn proud of your efforts. I have my running heroes, for instance, Helen Klein. She did not start running until age 52, yet holds 75 world records. I also think of a woman named Amy who does not look like a runner. She is shaped like most middle-aged women, i.e. pear shaped. Yet I watched her struggle through a race in spite of the fact she did not have a runner's body. She was determined to finish. The suffering was evident on her face. I admired her tenacity, because it was obvious she was putting out a whole lot more effort and experiencing a whole lot more discomfort than the front runners. So even though she is slow, she is a hero to me.So, congratulations to you, the fact that you love running is much more important than being able to keep up with the Scott Jureks and Dean Karnassases of the world.

    June 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm

  8. I think it's great you do the ultra distances. However, I do have a problem with how your attitude. Much llike you felt you were disrespected by faster ultrarunners, you disrespect those that choose to run their races on the road for any

    June 11, 2010 at 10:02 pm

  9. Thank you for reading and commenting!
    But if you've read my other posts… I do think you have it completely wrong about how I feel towards non-ultrarunners.
    I do not look down or disrespect anyone who runs (or walks) shorter distances or on the roads.
    I think anyone can be an "ultramarathoner" in spirit and heart. I truly believe that. Even if you've only run a 26.2m or a 5k or you've never run at all.
    "Ultramarathon" is as much a philosophy as it is a distance. It is a metaphor for life.
    The day will come when I am unable to finish these ultra-long distances because I will be too old and too slow. I'll have to move onto something else then. But I will always be an ultramarathoner.
    The people whom I poke fun at or criticize are those who are full of themselves, those who look down up on others (these people are everywhere and not only in the running community).
    At one of my two 26.2 mile road marathons, we were on an out and back loop. The walkers were struggling in their own way just as many of us runners ahead of them were. Some were overweight and even obese. Most certainly did not have the "look" of someone you would expect to be doing a marathon.
    I overheard a woman say: "I wish they would keep all of these walkers off the course!"
    I promptly interupted and told her: "I'm an ultramarathoner…We walk all the time and we're damn proud of it! If walking is what it takes to finish then walking is a sign of being smart- not something to look down on!"
    Then while she watched I made a special point to cheer on each and every one of those walkers.
    It is the sort of attitude of that lady which I frown upon. Having run in both worlds, such attititudes are more prevalent in the road running rather than in the ultrarunning world. To be sure there are many many road runners who are absolutely not like that woman, who are humble, kind and supportive; it's just that I've such snobbishness more in road races than trail races.
    On the other hand, I've met a handful of ultramarathoners who were full of themselves- we look down own them even more than road runners with an attitude- as it's the reason why many of us left road racing in the first place. Most of these people don't last long in our sport which requires humility, self-knowledge and introspection.
    If you read the writings of many others who road raced before moving up to ultradistances, you'll find that I'm certainly not the only one who has this perception.
    For those who don't like the trendiness and subtle as well as not-so-subtle elitism of road racing, I urge you to try trail running or ultrarunning. You don't have to be an elite superathlete or have super-human fitness. You merely need to have the dream of doing it.
    We welcome anyone interested to our small somewhat eccentric family with open arms! And that family definitely includes walkers!

    June 13, 2010 at 8:27 am

  10. Then BlackHills100 (next June)?

    July 9, 2010 at 12:21 am

  11. It looks like others are ahead of me….
    I have thought,…er… dreamed of a race across the Black Hills. I love Lean Horse. I shall always love it. That will be true whether slow-jogging me with the congenital heart defect will ever be able to finish the entire Lean Horse Hundred or not.
    But a "real" trail race up (or down) the Centennial Trail #89 where I train and run is what I have always dreamed of.
    I'll be there… matter if the inaugaral race will be 3, 30 or 100 runners. Count me in…
    I also have dreamed of running a circle around the Black Hills over several days. Not as a race. Just to do it.
    However, my wife saw a bumper sticker on a car a couple of weeks ago for the Sacred Hoop 500 mile run. It looks like the the Lakota have already been doing a circle around the Black Hills now for 28 years. I respect what and why they do what they do. I also understand why it would probably would not be for a washichu such as I.
    Nevertheless, I'm deeply inspired by it.
    Mitakuye Oyasin

    July 10, 2010 at 1:18 am

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