Thursday, May 1, 2014

When I am closest to Death.....



 
If you like this Blog, you might like my book:

Quiet The Noise On Amazon.com



****** Note to readers, this is a write up of the 2nd longest race I have ever done, so......this might be the 2nd longest blog ever.  You have been warned, reading this without multiple aid stations, a crew, proper nutrition and hydration is not recommended! *****


When I am Closest to Death…..

Preparation

My “A” race of 2014 was to be “The Georgia Death Race (“GDR)” on March 15th, 2014 (I didn’t need to take 4 years of Latin in high school, which believe or not I did, to notice the significance of this date!)

Really?  A race with “Death” in the title falling on the “Ides of March"?

 Please do not let me end up like Julius Caesar.

This race was, around, 68 miles in length.  A point to point trail race, from Vogel State Park to Amicalola State Park in North Georgia.

Oh yea, with, around, 35,000 – 38,000 feet of elevation change, depending on who measured it.

A simple run in the woods. 

Ultra Sign up predicted my finishing time around 21 hours, I think.

My training for this event was going well until we had some staffing issues at work that  added so many contact hours to my normal 50 hour week that I really didn’t think I could prepare enough to safely finish this race. 

You know, the race with “Death” in the title?

So, I emailed the race director – Sean “B”, (who, btw, has the enviable nickname of “Run Bum”) and told him my situation and asked if I could defer my entry to 2015.

He said no. 

He said I could do it.    He told me it was a strength race and I had “strong quads”.  He was totally BS’ing me and I knew it.

I listened to him.

I also listened to “Silent Bob”, my running partner for this race  who felt the same about his training and that we would just treat it as a “nice day in the woods”.

I listened to him also.

He was wrong. 

So, my preparation was way less than ideal.  Since my time was limited I focused on quality runs during the week, hill repeats on local trails and lots of old school heavy leg training.  -- I actually only got up to the mountains 2x in the lead up!     My biggest week in terms of miles was around 50 – I saw others complaining that they had done only “multiple weeks of 70+”.  I am normally way behind most in terms of volume but for this race that was not a good idea.

2 weeks before the race I did the hardest hill repeat workout I had ever done – 8x up and down Kennesaw mountain, 25 miles in 5 hours and felt great the whole time.  Actually could have easily done 10x but didn’t have enough time.

I knew this was good, but no where near enough training.  At least it helped my confidence a bit and that was good.

My thought was that my long history and base and the fact that this race was so brutal it would lend itself to my strength, which is, well, strength.

I was sort of right.

I also figured I have never done something so scary with so little physical preparation so my feeling was the severity of the race would make me rely more on my spirit and God’s strength instead of my own, pitiful, physical weakness!

I was totally correct.



Race Week

The week leading up to this race was very strange.  I was totally off my game spirit-wise and as far as structuring my taper -- my “new” process of my biggest week 3 weeks out, followed by a big reduction in volume 2 weeks out, followed by an actual increase race week -- I did not follow this at all.

I was allowing all the chatter on Facebook, and inside my head, to really get a hold of me.  I did my biggest week of training, then I was so worried about being fresh for the race, I cut my volume by 50% 2 weeks out and only did 2 treadmill runs the week before, a reduction in about 90% of my max volume.

Not a good idea psychology wise.

I also started prepping my drop bags on Wednesday (race was Saturday) instead of my normal Friday morning routine.

Another bad idea – I thought it would alleviate some anxiety the day before the race since everything would be done. All it did was extend the normal OCD checking and re-checking bags, questioning my decisions, etc. for 3 days instead of one.

I was really setting myself up.

Wednesday night I got a light massage on my legs which felt good.  Blatent foreshadowing here, I had been having a small, nagging pain in my right hamstring for weeks before this and my therapist (“Jayme V”) remarked “what is this” when she pushed over it!

What is this” from your therapist 3 days before a race like this is sort of like your heart surgeon saying “oops”.

To add to this, something about the position of the massage, or how I slept, or the stress, or all of the above but I woke up Thursday with my famous “Carnac” neck problem I get about 1x a year.  We call it “Carnac” in my family cause you look like a robot when you have it, you have to turn your whole body to see over your shoulder, it is really fun driving! 

Sidenote: who is “Carnac” anyway and why do we use that name to refer to a robot?  Something from a 1970’s cartoon I am sure, more fun not to really know!

So, now I am icing my neck and taking Advil every day (I like to wean off before a race so it will work during the event) and adding more worry to my already anxiety ridden, noise filled mind. 

Really puts the theme of my books into perspective.  What is ironic about this specific  noise is that most of it was caused by the very event that I use to quiet said noise! 

My thoughts about this went something like this:  “how am I going to carry a 70oz water back pack, and all the required equipment for 20-24 hours with a jacked up neck”.  Also, “how will I be able to turn around if I need to, or see next to me, when I cannot move my head”. 

To, to sum up what I had going on the days before the race:

1. Trained about 50% of what I would need to finish this race safely.
2. Jacked up hamstring.
3. Jacked up “Carnac” neck
4. Long standing Achilles injury
5. Not really into it motivation-wise as I was starting to realize I really enjoy the “shorter” stuff more, and get out of it what I am looking for, and have much more time with my family and for my career(s).

Perfect race preparation.

I prayed on it, gave it to God and tried not to think about it anymore.

Friday before the race I (one of the only smart moves I made) I moved my early morning clients so I could sleep in a bit.  When the alarm went off, I felt good to have gotten sleep, but my neck was killing me and I entertained thoughts of not doing the race.  I quelled these noises and got to work around 6:30am (yes, that is sleeping in when you own a fitness studio) and worked till about 12. 

The nervousness and anxiety was really high all day, driving up with “Silent Bob”, while normally pretty calming, was another bad choice.  Had nothing to do with him, he is very laid back and easy to travel with.  I just normally do much better before big races if I drive alone and stay alone.  I have learned this but for some reason didn’t apply it to this race.

This is really the theme here.  I signed up the a challenge even harder than my 100 miler, and did not take it seriously or think it through at all. 

I think part of this was I had a really weak “why factor” in doing this race.  I was doing it because I was having a tough time bringing my 3rd book to a close.  My thought was that a big race like this, especially one with “Death” in the title, would provide good material and closure for a book.

That, I was correct about.

However, this “why factor” was no where near powerful enough to make me take this race seriously.  It was like I was almost setting myself up for danger, suffering, etc so I could write about it?

Also, more on this later, I had been struggling with the really long distance stuff around this time.  I had some of my best, favorite, runs in the 6 months leading up to this race and they were all between 11 and 25 miles.

With my mind on all of this, it is no surprise I was a mess psychologically going in to the GDR.

So, back to Friday.  We got up to Vogel State Park around 3pm, it was a beautiful day, and, again – I could not relax or enjoy it at all. 

I was not in the moment, I was not enjoying myself (although I am sure others did not see this, I can fake it pretty well) and I was not excited about the race.

I was just plain scared.

Now, normally, that is a good thing and I look forward to it – I really do believe that doing something that scares you makes you feel more fully alive. And, more importantly, at least for me, makes you rely on your Heavenly Father for strength more.

So, maybe this was all part of it?

So we made dinner early and then walked (actually drove about 20 feet, funny) over to the mandatory pre race meeting. 

I never, ever like pre race meetings, or expos, or anything the day before a big race that involves being around a lot of people who are racing the next day.  The ambient nervousness, and stress – can be cut with a knife and it does not help when you are anxiety ridden person such as myself.

I just wanted to run already!

It also didn’t help that, looking around, this was the toughest bunch of “runners” I had ever been around.  Over 50% of the men had full beards (damn, why didn’t I grow mine) and were wearing flannel shirts.  It looked like the night before a hunting expedition, and I felt like I was the prey!

Ironically, and I wasn’t the only one to notice this, there were more attractive women there than I had ever seen at an Ultra.  

And wearing nice, semi-formal clothes. 

And makeup.

And perfume!

What the???  Did I miss something in the race directions?

Surreal is the only word I can use to describe this room.  

On top of this, the room was very crowded, I was over dressed, I was too warm,  the meeting started late, and I was itching to leave.  I just wanted to get back to the cabin, get ice on my neck, eat an early dinner and go to bed!

Looking back, the one takeaway of this situation was a very nice, peaceful moment that was lead by one of the race directors friends who had us silence our minds for a bit (brutal for me when I am stationary) and suggested we "slow down and take it all in" tomorrow.  

This was awesome advice and I took it to heart!

Got out of there as soon as we could, ate dinner together – totally silent again, cause, you know, I was having dinner with “Silent Bob”.  I like to talk a bit while I eat, and I really like to talk when I am nervous but I could tell he was not only being silent, he is one of those people who does not talk when they eat so I tried my best to respect that.

In bed at 8pm (wake up was at 3am) and, of course, could not go to sleep.

I had a level of fear, and anxiety, that was bordering on a panic attack.  It was an actual, physical buzzing going on in my head. 

Finally, somehow, I fell asleep (I did a few decades of a Rosary and that really helped, Praise God and thank you, Mary!) and slept solid until 3am.

Up and at it.  Praise God, I woke up in a good mood (I suppose at this point we were finally ready to do something physical to quiet my chatter)  and was able to follow my normal race morning (big, long races) routine:

  1. Hot shower right out of bed to loosen up
  2. Eat a real meal (ate pasta with eggs, butter, olive oil and salt – worked very well, but the eggs caused some funny comments from runners behind me early in the race, lucky it was dark so no one knew who “dealt it”)
  3. Prep the body with as much “lube” as I can slather on.  No more information needed here as to specific locations of said “lube”.
  4. Check equipment
  5. Check weather (like it matters)
  6. Foam roll
  7. Check weather again
  8. Check equipment again.
  9. Bathroom for 3rd time.

Time to go!

The weather was excellent, it changed all week but it looked good – a tad hotter than I would have liked but still it could have been so much worse.  High 30’s in the morning, warmed up to mid 60’s and back down to mid 40’s at night. 

I was my normal self the morning of.  Cutting up with friends, full of energy, ready to go!  “Silent Bob” kept telling me he would stay with me all day, but I knew this would not happen and, actually, didn’t want it to.  I like having him around, and he makes me feel safe cause he is so much more prepared for mountain runs than I am, but I really wanted to stick to my pace, my race plan, and have time to enjoy the moment!

My plan was this, go out as easy as I possibly could, enjoy every moment I could, take pictures,  text updates to my “crew” (“Sweaty Rob, pacer from Pinhoti) and my family.. basically treat it like a race in terms of making the time cut offs (24 hours, btw) but treat it like a long training day in terms of pacing.

Off we go!


Miles 1-28.5

Best part of the race, physically, by far. 

Now, this might sound like not much of a stretch – duh, you are always going to feel better in the beginning of a race, but Ultra’s are strange animals.

People (myself included) can have miserable first portions, then rally at the end.  You can have a great start, miserable middle and great finish.  You get the picture – you just never know.  In fact, you can be feeling absolutely terrible, just trying to get to the next aid station to drop out, and then rally and feel like a million bucks, all in the span of 10 minutes! (more blatent foreshadowing)

In the words of a famous ultra-runner, who I haven’t a clue what his/her name was:  “it never always gets worse”. 

Make sense?  No?  Try an Ultra, you will understand.

The race started at 5am, and this was just after “Spring Forward” time change, so it was dark for about 2.5 hours in the beginning.   This was great, we were on a portion of the trail (the only portion, really) that I was fairly familiar with and a climb I really like and works well for my body:  The first 8 miles are, in general, 1 mile climb, 2 miles fun downhill (really held myself back here, more on this later) then a 4-ish mile climb from 2200 feet to 4600 (I think, I know I am close) feet to the top of “Coosa Bald” then 1 mile steep downhill to the first aid station.

Yes, I love that climb.  It has a perfect grade for my style of power hiking, it has a few breaks in it but not so long that it breaks your climbing rhythm.

Once everyone spread out a bit, I did my full Rosary, in the dark, by myself with just the trail and my headlamp (and God, of course) for company. 

I dedicated the Rosary specifically for those that cannot find joy in their lives. I prayed that God would just give them a “taste of joy”, just enough to get them excited and intrigued and maybe they could build on that!

You know you are fresh and tapered when you get to the top of a climb like this and you are sad it was over so quickly!

Got to Aid station number one, Mile 8, White Oak Stump and it was a blur.  Only thing I remember was how friendly the volunteers were and how great the small brownies tasted (I was doing no sugary treats for Lent this year, except during races – they are fuel at that point, not a “trigger food”).  Off to next aid station.

Pacing was right on at this point, I was still really holding myself back, trying not to go anaerobic on climbs and not bomb the downhills like I normally do.

After mile 8 I was pretty much in uncharted territory.  I had done part of the “Duncan Ridge Trail – The DRT” in a training run, but not much. 

I had heard nothing but warnings about it, however.

All the warnings were correct, if not subdued, compared to reality.  They say the the builder of the DRT did not know you could put switchbacks into a trail.

And they are correct.  The next 5 miles were tough, and only got tougher.

Imagine a climb so steep you can almost reach out and touch the ground in front of you, almost straight up the mountain.  So tough you have (at least I did) to take breaks cause you are breathing so hard, your legs hurt so badly and your lower back is killing you.  I cannot imagine how it felt for people who do not do core strengthening.

Then, when you get to the top, you can stop and enjoy the beautiful view (once the sun came up, which was magestic) and think – now I get to enjoy the downhill!

Not so much.

The downhills are the same pitch, so it is not the kind of downhill where you “let go” and “float” and enjoy the ride. It is the quad and toe crushing descent that is so steep you are “putting on the breaks the whole time” and cannot wait to hit a flat section (which don’t exist in this section, known affectionately as the “Dragons Spine”) or an uphill to give your quads a break.

Pair this with the fact that I was really trying to hold back, especially on the downhills (my only strength, besides pure, stupid determination) I think actually hurt me more later in the race.  

More on this later…..

Heading down to the next aid station we made a turn and did an out and back that I really liked. It was downhill all the way to the aid station and you saw a ton of people coming up, very inspirational as 99% of them returned my “you are doing great” with a “good job” or “so are you” as you passed them!


At mile 21.5 aid station, Skeenah Gap, we got treated to seeing a friend, “Sweaty Rob” who was coming out to do some minor crewing for us.  He has a cabin up close to here and took time out of his Saturday to help us out. 

Much appreciated.

At this aid station he just helped fill up our water packs and brought some treats (cold soda and Ensure) that they didn’t have at the aid stations.  It was good to see him, cut up a bit and get in and out of the aid station pretty quickly. 

Back up the hill we ran down, thought this would be really tough but it went by in a flash.

Bob kept dropping me on the climbs and I would catch and pass him on every downhill, just like every training run we did.  I was pretty confident as the run wore on he would make more and more time on me on the climbs and I wouldn’t catch him anymore on the downhills.  This was fine with me at this point, I knew he had way more potential than I did to put down a great time in this race so I didn’t want to hold him back. 

I was craving some alone time at this point anyway. 

The next 7 miles were probably where I felt the best in the race.  Bob dropped me on that first climb and I kept him in sight most of the next 2 up and downs (which were just as brutal as the 4 or so before mile 21.5 – this course can only be appreciated by doing it – I know you are thinking about signing up right now!).  We then hit a long downhill and I finally said “screw it” and ran at my normal pace down it, I felt fantastic!   

I had great music going, my legs felt awesome, the scenery was wonderful and I felt truly blessed.  There was a point where the song “Butterfly Kisses” came on my ipod and I totally, I mean, totally broke down thinking of walking my daughter Hana down the aisle one day.  It was an amazing, cathartic moment (I am not exaggerating here telling you that I was full on crying, not just a little sniffle) that I am glad I had (by myself, although I have seen plenty of people cry in Ultras so I don’t think anyone would have thought I was weird but I probably would have stifled it).

I spent the rest of this section thanking God for my family and praying to him to keep them safe!

By the time I got to the 28.5 aid station I was significantly ahead of Bob and got to see our “crew of one” again!  Now, for a first in any Ultra, or any race for that matter (except transitions in long triathlons)…..

I sat down! 

Yes, I broke my old rule of never sitting down in a long race until it was over. 

I decided to try changing socks and shoes at mid point (and re-lubing my feet) to see if I could help with my miserable blister problems.

Actually cannot tell you if it worked or not, cause I still got horrible blisters, but for all I know they might have been much worse if I hadn’t done it.

It actually felt great to sit down and I had no problem getting up so, experiment worked!

Rob had our section set up like a Nascar pit stop, we were changing while he got us food and drink, it was awesome!

We were told that there was a “long” 7 miles (what the heck does that mean, 7.999999 miles?) before the next aid station so we should fill up on everything we need here.

So I did.

Ensure
Mountain Dew
Fig Newtons
Pretzels
Gatorade
Boiled potatoes with salt
Maybe another brownie?
5 hour energy (didn’t need this, not sure why I felt I had to drink it).

Didn’t I learn my lesson in Pinhoti by eating too much at mile 27 and being sick the rest of the race?

Nope.


Mile 28.5 – 39.2

I know, you are wondering, why devote a whole section to only 11 “ish” miles. 

There is a reason.

This was the first time things fell apart for me during the event.

The start of the run out of this station was easy fire road so Bob and I jogged easy together until we hit single track and then split up a bit.  I think there may have been a small aid station somewhere in here – around 32.7, this is a pretty blurry section for, but what I do remember, I remember very clearly.

Also, somewhere in here we got to cross the Tocooa “swinging bridge” which is a long, high bridge over, you guessed it, The Tocooa River and it, well, swings.

I didn’t like it very much but the trail after it was very cool!  I was pretty hot at this point and the river looked awesome to jump in – probably not a good idea as it was probably 1 foot deep and I was 50 feet or so up!

After Bob and I split up, my stomach started to feel bad.  Then really, really bad – cramps, gas, you get the picture.

I figured I had to go to the bathroom and luckily I was prepared with TP. 

You cannot imagine how funny it looked seeing me go as far off trail as I could so no one could see me but not so far that I couldn’t find my way back – imagine explaining that one to my family.  Then taking off – food pack, back pack, ipod, shirt and jacket hanging off from cold morning. 

Whew, quite the operation.

All came out OK, as they say, and I felt much better.  Lost about 5 minutes but who cares.

Then, 10 minutes later I have the worst wave of nausea I have ever had in a race, thought I would puke right there. 

The next few miles were brutal, which really was a bummer cause there were some very runnable sections and my legs felt fine.  I can deal with some “I ate too many gels” sour stomach but this was brutal.  I prayed a lot and had a moment of acceptance, if God wanted this to end my race I was fine with it.  I didn’t need this finish line bad enough to endure 10 more hours of this.

It took me 3 hours to do 7 miles. 

You do the math.  The 8 miles previous to this took me just under 2 hours!  These were, absolutely, the longest and hardest 7 miles of my life.

 Until later in the race, of course……

Finally I get to the aid station and they ask me what I want to eat and/or drink.  At this point I realized I had not eaten a thing for 3 hours.  I had drank some water, but I think my body took over and shut down my stupid brain that is so afraid of bonking that I eat something every hour in these events.  It had to clear itself out!  I figure I didn’t bonk at all since I had so much in me, and also I was going so slow I was probably using mostly body fat for fuel anway.

Bonus of getting sick!

So, I still didn’t want anything and I ask the woman at the station if they have any ginger candies (these taste like crap but really do help nausea).  She says no and I am sort of upset.

Side note:  about 10 minutes out of the aid station I remember I packed my own ginger  candies that morning.  Ultra-brain is starting to set in!

She then makes a suggestion I have never heard.  They hand me a bottle of rubbing alcohol, to which I (still having a bit of humor in me) respond:  “am I supposed to drink that?  That will cure my sour stomach for sure, since I’ll be dead”.  They laugh (out of pity, I am sure) and say no…..

 just sniff it.

This is something funny about these races, you will basically do anything some stranger tells you if you think it will make you feel better.  Take pills you hope are Ibuprophen, or Tylenol, drink out of someone elses drink, reach into a vasaline jar that has been used by who knows, sniff on rubbing alcohol cause some stranger tells you too……

Guess what?

It worked!  They gave me a paper towel soaked in it and I carried it with me, looking like a total crazy person sniffing on a piece of paper for about a mile after the station.  I also ate some salty food (no more sweets for a while).   If a hiker saw me he or she probably thought I was sniffing Chlorform to knock myself out and put an end to my suffering!

Between the rubbing alcohol and the ginger chew I found, I was feeling back to 100% (well, as close to 100% as you can feel after 39 or so miles.  I was 10 or so hours into the race and feeling pretty good.



Miles 39.2 - 53

This section of the race I will call “friendship row”.  I went back and forth with a few of the same people earlier in the race, one was a new Facebook friend – David “R”, his running partner – Michelle “A”, another guy who I cannot remember his name but his nickname was something like “Hoka Joe”, I guess cause he was wearing Hoka sneakers and I suppose his name was Joe and a very prepared and fit looking guy who was obviously in my age group (grey hair) – “David C”. 

We didn’t really make any kind of decision but once the race hit some Fire Station Roads (FSR), we started running together.  David “R” was having terrible nutrition issues so it was a lot of walk and run, which I was fine with at this point.

Fun getting to know people on the trail, no one can ever get offended and most of the time, you are surrounded by very like minded (read: pretty out there, driven) people. 

I was still feeling very strong, and I was really surprised at this – my body was holding up way better than expected given my slack training. 

This group (most of the time I spent with David and Michelle) stopped at mile 45 to change shoes, etc and I waited a bit (had a lot of friends at this aid station so it was nice to catch up) but finally I had to head out, too much waiting and I was pretty sure they would catch me.

It was fire road, downhill right out of mile 45 – they said 3.5 miles downhill on FSR then 4 ish miles single track downhill to Jake Bull Aid station (mile 53) where I had a drop bag with another fresh set of socks waiting.  Also, my good friend Aaron “D” was manning this station and I was determined to show up feeling good enough to enjoy some of his great grilled cheese, and/or egg and bacon sandwiches that I could not even look at at mile 75 in Pinhoti.

Ran solo, feeling great, till I turned off the road onto brand new single track.

More foreshadowing here, there were a ton of flags showing you where to cut off the road onto single track. 

You could not, even I could not, miss them.

Once I got on this single track I was really having fun – it was brand new cut trail, not technical at all, with a nice easy down pitch – my favorite.  I was actually running this section and making up nice time I lost with the tummy “issues”.  The sun was setting, the forest was beautiful, I was feeling high on life and blessed.

Until I see a few runners stopped at a turn talking.

Never a good thing. 

We are social animals, us ultra-runners, but we normally only stop at aid stations, or if something is really wrong.

Turns out no one had seen a race trail marking flag for about a mile.  I was having so much fun and there didn’t seem to be anywhere else to go so I wasn’t looking for flags – besides there were people I could see in front and behind me.

A couple of us decide we must have missed a turn so we turn around.  This really, really sucks in any race, but especially in one this long, when you are feeling so good.   My intuition (which, btw, was correct) was to follow the people who kept going but the race director was very clear at the meeting “if you don’t see a flag within 2/10 of a mile, turn around”.

So we did.

I ran back 11 minutes (about a mile cause it was easy running) and then saw a group coming my way, we were correct after all. 

So I turned around, lost about 20 minutes, probably 1.5 - 2 miles, but it took me a few miles to let go of the frustration.

Prayer and spirit came in very handy here.  I prayed for God to give me peace and assure me this small “speed bump” was part of his plan.  By the time I saw the guy who was supposed to mark this section, I was not upset at all.

A good lesson here as well.  You could see it written all over this guys’ face (same guy who told us to “take it all in” during the race meeting) that he was very upset this had happened.  He was sincerely apologetic, not defensive at all, not making excuses (turns out mountain bikers pulled the flags, not the race directors fault) – which diffused the situation immediately. 

A lesson I seem to need to learn over, and over, and over.

After I saw him, I really got into and enjoyed the rest of this downhill into Jake Bull.  The light was amazing, you didn’t need your head lamp yet, and the trail remained new and cool.

Came into Jake Bull feeling good!

Well, let me qualify “feeling good”, I had horrible blisters, my legs were trashed, everything hurt, but I was still able to run and was in great spirits!

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until here that I realized I had not felt my “Carnac” at all and my long standing Achilles injury / pain was non-existent!

Perhaps it was the blisters, severe ITB pain in both legs and a right hamstring that was getting worse and worse by the minute that distracted me from my “normal” aches and pains? Perhaps it was the mega doses of Advil?  Perhaps the overdose of Endorphins?

Didn’t matter, I was still “feeling good”!





Mile 53 – Finish

So, here it is, “only” 15 miles from the finish and “feeling good”. 

Nothing can stop me now, right???

I roll in and scream at Aaron to let him know I am feeling good.  Grab a chair and my drop bag and being the process of changing socks again.  Aaron was great, got me soup, grilled cheese (amazing), mtn dew and filled my water while I changed.  Like my own personal crew.

We had a joke all week going on Facebook that I would have a boxing match with another of our buddies, Brad “G”, at this aid station (no idea how this started) and that we would be throwing peanuts at each other we would be so weak at this point.

Brad was not there, so Aaron threw at peanut M&M at me.  It hit my hand.  It hurt.  It was pretty darn funny (to us, I am sure it is just plain stupid to you).

Actually, my feet were starting to go numb (a good thing) just before this so I think that giving them a break and changing socks might not have been a good idea cause they hurt like crap when I started running again, but who knows.

Anyway, by this point “David C” and I had become running partners, same pace, same age, same age kids, etc. so we fell into a good pace and conversation together.

The other parts of our "friendship" crew took off before us, we saw them a bit throughout the next 15 miles but, again, it is pretty blurry.

We leave the aid station right onto pretty nice single track, it now gets dark so headlamps go on and we are both running pretty well.  I had a huge blister on the heel of one foot, and about 1 mile out of the aid station I felt it pop and drain, sweet relief!

David was in better shape than me as far as run training (training for multiple 100 milers, has done UTMB, in lottery for Western States, wants to do Badwater, did the Death Race last year in 18 hours, etc.).  – he is pretty typical of most ultra runners I know, I do significantly less miles and definitely race way less than most.

And I am totally, completely, fine with that! 

Anyway, the single track heads out onto road (actual pavement) in a very, very rural area (Nimblewill Gap road, I have actually ridden on this years ago on my road bicycle) and I was still “feeling good”.  Better than David at this point, he had to tell me to slow down (imagine that) and take walk breaks, which, again, I was fine with.

At this point it was good to have a partner.  There comes a time where (for me, at least) my music and solitude actually become grating and I crave some human company, even if we don’t talk. 

Kind of like life.

We both know we have a fairly easy, rolling uphill followed by the longest climb in the race – NimbleWill FSR.  I am not sure how long the actual climb is but I know it is a “very long” 9 miles from Aaron’s aid station, which was actually mile 52, to the last Aid station at mile 61. 

I would guess 5 miles?  Maybe 6?  Someone knows, but I really don’t care, all I know is it was long as...... you know.

As we start this climb, David is really not doing well.  He has to take multiple breaks, stomach bothering him, no energy, has to sit down a few times, etc.   I am ok with this and take the opportunity to stretch my legs which were starting to tighten up even worse.

Then we both start to slow down.

A lot.

Then the pain in my right hamstring becomes almost unbearable.  I try to stretch it, take more Advil, take salt in case it is a cramp on top of the injury I started with.

Nothing helps.

It is one of the worst pain (outside of my blister pain in my feet, which is very painful but I can deal psychologically with because I know what it is and I know it is temporary and will go away a few days after the race is over) I have ever felt in a race, or training.

At one point I told David to go ahead, I was walking with my leg sideways at this point to put less pressure on it.  I told him I didn’t think I could go on, I would hobble to Aid station 61 and drop out.  I really thought I might be doing permanent, or at least long-term, damage to my hamstring.

He said he would not let me drop out.  He also reminded me that it was mostly downhill after mile 61 and the stress would switch to my quads and off my hamstrings and calves.

It really is incredible the bond you form with people you have just met when you are both at the very edge of your physical, mental and spiritual self. 

I prayed a lot during this climb.

I slowed my pace to about 1mph and somehow, it started to ease up a bit. 

Praise God.

The rest of this climb felt like it took 12 hours.  There were these stupid signs on trees (that I am sure seemed like a cute, funny idea when they put them up) that said – “only a mile to go” (when there was over 2), “pizza in ½ mile” (total lie), “you are almost there” (big lie), “you are there” (very obvious lie). 

It really sucked.

However, this is what I asked for right?  I knew I was not prepared for this physically.  I was blessed to run strong for over 50 very tough miles and then I had to rely on my spirit and the good Lord to take me the rest of the way.

Interesting that I tend to suffer through these points solo, and this time the Lord put David in my world (and me in his) to rely on each other to make it to the end. 

We both supported each others down moments in this climb and made it to mile 61!

7 miles of mostly downhill to the finish!

With legs that were barely working!

They had hot soup (it was getting cold) and coffee (which I declined, but should have taken) at this station.  Spent as little time there as possible and headed out for a brutal 7 miles.

I knew I was done running at this point, my hamstring was allowing me to walk but running was out of the question. 

David actually perked up and felt better after this aid station.   Must have been the coffee.  He got faster and very talkative.  

I didn’t like this.

I do remember one line I thought was pretty funny.  I told him that “I liked you better before coffee.  And I didn’t like you very much then.”

We laughed that in the span of 6 or so hours we had gone from the giddy stage of dating, marriage and honeymoon right to the old couple who tolerates each other cause they need the other person but really don’t like them very much. 

By the way, he was the woman in this relationship. I hope he is reading this and laughing right now!

The rest of the race was survival.  No gels.  Barely any drinking.  Shuffling on the uphills, slow walking the flats, hating the downhills. 

Lots of prayer time.

Lots of funny stories between David and I (at least I thought they were funny).

Finally with about a mile to go I knew he was itching to go and I knew I would make it, I was going so slow I told him to go ahead.

Bastard took me up on my offer and beat me by 3 minutes.  And he was in my age group!

I walked (no running even at the end) across the finish line, got my coveted rail road spike (no buckles in the Death Race) and headed into the warm shelter to sit down!

I felt a huge wave of relief spiritually to have finished.  However, I actually felt worse physically when I stopped moving.

Silent Bob was there (he had finished 2 hours ahead of me, amazing) and he was anything but silent.

The one time this guy decides to be talkative and I am ready to die and don’t want to chat at all.  Too funny.

Kept asking me if I wanted anything, all I wanted was hot soup and they didn’t have it.

I just wanted to go to bed.

I thanked God for getting me to the finish safely, gave everyone I ran with a big hug and headed off to change out of my wet, disgusting clothes.


Immediately Post Race

Now things got really, really scary.

I got up to walk over to the bathroom to change (about 50 meters away) and the minute I stepped out into the cold, I started shivering.

I don’t mean a light shiver.

I mean a total body convulsion, hands, legs, body, head, everything.  I couldn’t even walk. I had to take a few steps and then clench my fists and will my body to slow down enough to start walking again.

It was absolutely horrible and so scary.  Someone asked me if I was ok and I could not even answer my teeth were chattering so badly.

I have never felt so out of control with my own body before.  All I could think about, and pray about, was that I had not done some permanent damage to my thermoregulatory system.  I also prayed for and could not imagine people who live every day without control of their bodies. 

Such an incredible trial those people live with daily.   Once I started running again I vowed to dedicate a lot of my Rosary’s to those people.

The 50 meter walk to the bathroom was almost harder than the Dragons Spine or Niblewell Climb, definitely more scary. 

On top of this I had immediately (when I finished) developed a deep cough that sounded like I had pulmonary edema.
This sport is so healthy, isn’t it?

Finally I made it to the bathroom and the minute I hit the heat (thank the LORD it was heated) the shaking subsided.  Enough that I could change my clothes, that was not an easy task as well!

I was actually sitting in the bathroom, scared to go outside cause I thought it would hit me again.  Like a little kid afraid of the first day of school.

Actually more like someone who has been beat up, having to face his attacker again. My prayer and sympathy now shifted to those that have been repeatedly tortured, what I was going through was tough but nothing compared to what they had to endure.

Finally, my thoughts and prayers went to Jesus.  I imagined that my self-imposed trials are a mere 1/1000000 of the pain he endured for us sinners.  It makes me cry to think about it.  I am so, so not worthy but he did it anyway. 

Thank you.

I finally forced myself out of the bathroom, and while the shivers came back, they were no where close to as bad as the first time. 

During the race I had a goal once I knew I could break 20 hours to make it back because there was a bus back to the start at 20 hours (1am) and the next one wouldn’t be for 4 more hours (5am).

Side note:  it really shows you how my focus for competition has completely changed.  This is the first time I mentioned a time goal (and this was only to get back to our cabin quicker) and I didn’t even know my finish time (ended up being 19:29, 10th in my Age Group, 68th overall – 200 signed up, 111 finished) until a few days later.

We had a very, very nice bus ride home, could actually stretch my legs out.  I was in so much pain I could only sleep for 5-10 minutes at a time but it was so nice to not move and just rest for 90 minutes on the drive back.

Then I realized we would be dropped off about ¼ mile from our cabin.

Now, this is really, really funny.  An ultra marathoner who just ran 70ish miles (with the turnaround) and 35,000-38,000 feet of elevation change in 19 and ½ hours is afraid of a ¼ mile walk.

I just didn’t know if I could walk, and also was so afraid the shivering would start again.

My hamstring was killing me. 

I was scared.

It was 2:30am, almost 24 hours after I had gotten up and this was not a euphoric, wonderful, “my race is over and I have accomplished something special moment”.

I almost asked Bob to go get the car and come and get me, but somehow I made it back to the cabin.
I am not exaggerating (cause I timed it) that it took me over 15 minutes to walk ¼ mile.  I really wish someone had filmed it, I bet it looked like a combo of a zombie from “The Walking Dead” and an 95 year old man going for a walk at the old age home. 

I immediately got into the shower and turned the water up to as hot as it would get.  I was still freezing, it was so bad that I had to keep turning my body in the shower because whatever part of my body was not being hit by water would freeze immediately.  Not to mention how wonderful the water and soap felt on my fantastic blisters and chaffing……

Getting out of the shower was the worst, I was so sore I could barely dry my body and covered myself with 3 towels to make it back to my room – put on every bit of clothes I had and got under the covers.

And absolutely, completely, could not sleep.

My body was in so much pain that every movement hurt.  I would get semi-comfortable and then the pressure of my foot on my leg, or just the sheet on my foot or leg, would cause me to move again. 

So much fun.  I kept telling myself these are the prices we pay for pushing ourselves to places beyond the “norm” and it was all worth it.

I wasn’t very convincing.

Finally fell asleep around 7am and slept until 11am, leaned over (thank the Lord my phone was right next to my bed) and called for a late check out cause I knew it would take forever to get out of the cabin!

Praise God again that Bob was with me and doing so much better than I was.  He packed the whole car (it would have taken me all day to do it myself).   Once the 12th round of 800mg of Advil hit, I started feeling a bit better and we drove to Dahlonega for food. 

I was really looking forward to a good meal, I figured I burned about 15,000 calories the day before and ate about 4000 so I had a bit of a deficit.

And, of course, the windy roads made me sick as a dog.

Luckily it went away immediately when the car stopped so I got to enjoy a yummy Italian meal (I was actually craving a big salad, weird) and headed home.

Once I entered my house I noticed something that I had never encountered before once returning from one of these events.

A very non-excited family, not interested in the talk of my weekend at all.

In fact, they seemed even a bit mad, or unhappy with me.   This was very powerful to me, and I chalked it up to how unprepared I was for such a hard race.  I think they (especially my wife and I am sure the kids fed off her energy) were really worried about me hurting myself in this race.  And they didn’t even know about the convulsion episode after the race was over, decided to wait a bit before dropping that “gem” on them!

I suppose the word “Death” in the race didn’t help things.

Anyway, looking back, this also could have been coming from my spirit and energy – I just didn’t prepare or set myself up, or my family, for this event like I normally would.  I had all the stress and worry, but really none of the joy leading up to a big event that I normally had. 

Lesson here, still working on what it is. 


Moving Forward

Even only one month after completing this race, most of what I remember about the week after was the soreness.  More than normal because I definitely injured my hamstring so it was not just high level DOMS. 

Not surprising at all given my training.

My overall lesson and takeaway has to do with preparation.  And this is a great metaphor for life as well.  I decided to do this race as a spiritual challenge (accomplished) and a way to close out my 3rd book (accomplished). 

However, given my body’s response after 50 miles, and how my family viewed me when I got back, I had some regret about going through with this – and that is very, very rare for me.  Not horrible regret, and it is tinged with thankfulness that I was able to get this powerful lesson without permanent damage.

Competing in these extreme events are important to me and they really do bring me closer to the Lord.  However, how I felt trying to walk to that bathroom after the race scared me.

It still scares me, writing this one month after the race.

I know that for some of my ultra brothers, this is no big deal, and they have dealt with much worse.  But I really don’t care, this is about me and my reaction to this event.

Looking back at big events such as this, I like to see certain things; goals accomplished, lessons learned and application of such lessons to the future.

Sometimes I am successful in applying the lessons I learn to training, competing and life.  Unfortunately, most of the time I am not.  They really are not long lasting lessons, they are more like emotional responses immediately after finishing a long and tough event. 

Like a drug addict who keeps almost hitting rock bottom and saying they are going to change I continue to do the same thing over and over.  Now, granted,  I keep things pretty much under control (in my terms and using the ultra community as a benchmark, granted, might not be such a reasonable way to see how you are doing) but I still did this race when I knew, in my heart, that physically I should not.

It sounds very romantic, strong, tough etc to say you are going to compete even though you know you are not ready to “test your spirit” but I don’t want to feel like I did at the end of that race ever again.  If I can help it, of course – sometimes no matter what you do, how well you are prepared, these things happen.



Summing it up

Instead of ending this blog like my previous after my previous long races, saying what I plan on doing, I will end by saying what I will NOT be doing. I am not going to say that I will never do an ultra marathon again.  I am not even going to say that I will never do a 100 mile race, or stage race, or timed event again. 

This is just not realistic.  These events have become a part of me and are not going away, just yet.

I cannot explain this to anyone who has not done one, but it is not even about the finish (for me) at these things, in fact most of the time that is anti-climactic.  Sometimes it is just the small moment of coming into an aid station, in the middle of the night, 15 or so hours into a race and seeing those amazing volunteers is something that I absolutely love and crave and makes all the sacrifice worth it! 

As in many areas of life, it is the community that keeps me coming back. 

That and other things, of course.

I will say, that I will do my very best to be as prepared as I can be when I attempt anything over 3-4 hours in length.

Making this commitment will, hopefully, self correct the rest of my life around this sport.  In other words, if I am working too hard, or having other challenges (bad, OR great) that pull me away from training – that is where my energy should be at that given moment.  I should not, and will do my best to not, compete in events I am not ready for.

Conversely, one of the things I saw at the “Death Race” that was sad and non-motivating to me, was some other competitors who just saw this as another race.

No big deal.

Tough, but not so tough that they won’t be back training in a day or so and doing a 100 miler the next weekend.

Really.

Don’t get me wrong.  I would absolutely love to be in such fabulous physical shape and be able to recover so quickly that I could do one of these every weekend.  I just don’t want to be jaded and unappreciative of the challenge of these races and training. 

Of course, I could have been totally mis-reading the sad and non-appeciatative faces I saw in the hut after the finish line.  They all could have been suffering and totally appreciating how freaking hard this thing was.   Maybe they just looked jaded, when really they were just exhausted!

God has blessed me with so much.  One thing that he has always given me was the ability to step back and look at myself objectively.

For a little while at least.

He has also given me an almost unsaitable drive to self analyze and look at areas of myself that I can still improve.   

There is a place for all levels of competition in my life, depending on the season of my life.  Ironically, I need running to be able to see what the season is and how long, and difficult, those events need to be. 

So, I end this blog with no predictions.

No plans.

No grand statements that I will “never” do this, or “definitely” do this.

No race schedule

Just an overall appreciation for the gifts God has given me and the commitment to follow his lead whenever I can hear and see it. 

And never, ever stop searching for it when it is not clear.

Which is often.

Praise you, dear Lord for all you give me and my family.