Lean Horse Hundred 2010

 

“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.

No quitting!

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.

Amazing!

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.

My situation felt completely hopeless.

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 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.

Big mistake.

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.

We slowly made our way into Hot Springs. The hard and hot pavement hurt my feet.

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.

  

After the Race

“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.

“The hundred miles demands much but the rewards it bestows are great.” -Unknown

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!

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9 responses

  1. Chris Stores

    Huge congratulations, Tom! It was good to see you again and exchange some nervous chatter before the race. I was thrilled when I saw the official results and your name was on there. Third time really is the charm!

    September 27, 2010 at 8:35 am

    • It was great to see you as well. Take care and run well!

      October 2, 2010 at 10:15 am

  2. Congrats on the finish! DFL isn’t so bad, huh?

    🙂 Dusty

    September 27, 2010 at 11:13 am

    • Thanks! I’ll take DFL anyday! If I can do it, I know any runner/walker can do it.

      October 2, 2010 at 10:15 am

  3. Pingback: At the Lean Horse 100 as Pacer and Crew | Haliku's Adventures

  4. Well written as always. This one took me a few sessions to reach the end! Congrats again.

    September 29, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    • Writing this was like running 100 miles- it took a lot of time (in my case, an exceedingly long time) and gave me much to think about.

      October 2, 2010 at 10:14 am

  5. Barry Reese

    Truly, truly an inspiring read, just as you are an inspiring individual. It’s taken me a while to get my head around 100 miles but it looks like I’ll make my first attempt in the coming months. This post will be with me every step of the way.

    Thanks Tom. Hoep to have beers sooner rather than later.

    Barry

    October 15, 2010 at 8:45 pm

  6. Michael

    I really enjoyed this! Thank you for sharing!

    November 5, 2010 at 1:19 am

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