Monday, October 22, 2007
Firstly, very firstly, I need to post a thank you to a very special crew indeed:
Ann , Renee, Jen, Dave, Liam, and Steph: If it hadn't been for you, my sad, sorry ass would have been aimlessly digging through drop bags, spilling much-needed water bottles, overlooking specific food needs, and generally whining a helluvalot more than I needed to.
Ann and I drove down from LA on Friday, picked up my sister, Renee, who'd flown in to San Diego, and headed to our cabin, which was about 25 mns from the start/finish.
We immediately drove to the start/finish after changing clothes to test out my sprained toe on part of the race trail: After 15 minutes, I declared, "Feels great!", thinking that the swelling in the toe at the end was a result of keeping it immobile for 6 days and finally, now, stretching it out.
We whipped up some pasta, shared some gut-wretching laughs (not that my guts weren't wretching already), and hit the sheets around 10pm. Tossing and turning, I awoke about every hour on the hour until the wakeup at 4:15, when we puttered off to the start in the dark.
I found Bud, my 100 mile running hero (20 years at it) at registration, met his pacer Garret (a 20 year old, 2hr 35mn marathon runner) and pinned on my number. The air was dry. DRY. And I live in a desert, so you know I'm not f*cking with you. I knew I'd have to keep ahead on my fluids during the daytime portion (one loop of the 20 mile and one loop of the 30), figuring I'd hit 50 miles in about 12 hours (6pm). There, I'd pick up my first pacer, my girlfriend Ann, and head off into the night with her.
I couldn't believe it: I stood toeing the line at my first 100 mile run. I was thrilled and scared sh*tless. LIterally, and I knew eventually, I'd be squatting somewhere off the trail, but before I knew it, we were off into the mountains, as Paul, the RD, yelled "GO!", and someone responded, "Mommy!"
I hung with Bud and Garret and planned to for the entire, first of two 20 mile loops, to keep my pace. We ambled along comfortably, laughing, Bud and I catching up, Garret terrified at this, his first run on ANY trail, trotting into the growing sunlight, like well-tuned bicycles.
At aid stop 1 (Sunrise Aid Station), I handed my crew my headlamp and noticed the growing winds as we crested the ridge. Bud had heard gusts were supposed to swell up to 50 MPH on Sunday morning in the Cleveland Mountains -Santa Ana winds: Hot and Dry. My lips were already chapping, even beneath tons of balm, so I figured by noon, we'd all be pink faced.
As always, the next miles came and went without much event, save for watching my step as I sprained my toe 6 days prior, and this course was ROCKY. In fact, some parts were so littered with little boulders that we were slowed to walking even downhill portions. I kept this in mind for the nighttime loops and pressed on to the end of the first 20 loop ahead of Bud, and ahead of my estimated time of 5 hours...DAMN! I was at 4 hours! I had to shift gears and slow down.
I'd run the next 30 mile loop once already with Bud, and I knew the tough uphills were to come, and there they were. We were reduced to walking, the lot of us, but spirits were still up, as we crawled and slid over fallen, burned out trees that had tipped over in only the last 3 days due to the wind storms.
It dawned on me, now at hour 6, that I hadn't peed in 3 hours, yet I was downing over 20 ounces/per hour and keeping up with electrolytes.
I met another runner, Sean, a Cincinatti cop originally from Boston, who I clicked with immediately (read: potty mouth, ironic humor, and...did I mention potty mouth?) on that stretch, but I left him behind at the mile 25.8 aid station as I downed copious amounts of water and electrolyte drinks and took off towards the BIG climb of the race.
I passed another runner, Bob, who was in from Cincinatti too. I asked if he knew Sean, and he said they were buddies, but his quads were killing him. I quizzed him about what he'd been eating, taking in, and it all checked out, so I pushed ahead, hooking up with another runner, B.J., a lawyer from San Diego. He was planning on listening to the USC/Notre Dame game in a few minutes, and this was also his first 100, so we talked strategy, nutrition, hot spots, the works, but he needed to slow, and I felt great, so again, I pushed ahead to the 50k aid stop, where I'd see my crew for the first time.
Then I realized I was still an hour ahead of my planned arrival.
I had shifted gears but hadn't slowed down.
At the aid stop, I met my sister, Renee and Steph for a pit stop, who treated me to a bottle filled with Perpetuuem and the news that 4 runners had already dropped. I admitted that the course was FAR tougher than the elevation profile had dictated, and they laughed, as I'd just done a 50k in 6:30. As I refilled and readied to go, Sean, sitting a chair and eating, who had somehow passed me (I have NO idea where), said, "Let's go!" and headed up the steep climb. I chased after him as I saw Bud and Garret coming up to the aid station. I yelled, "Hurry the hell up!", to which Bud responded, "Get a move on, Candyass!" (a cherished phrase we bark at each other at every ultra we do together when one of us lags behind).
Sean and I shifted into granny gears and climbed into the thinning air - well, for sea-level dwellers like us (6000 ft) - and talked about Boston, Chicago, being Irish, being a cop, being a runner, and just, being. Talking really passed the time, but I STILL hadn't peed (onto hour 4 1/2 of not going), so I kept pushing fluids, getting a little bit more than nervous about it, but shaking it off, knowing that stress was NOT the solution.
I stopped to empty some pebbles from my shoes when we met up with another runner, and Sean and he pressed ahead as I banged my Brooks out and tried to calm down about not urinating. Did I already mention: IT. WAS. DRY. I took some deep breaths and relaxed, trying to take in the moment. Winds were picking up, and 2 miles of downhills were ahead before the next aid stop, where I promised myself to sit for 10 mns, drink 40 ounces of water and eat, before hitting the next climbs.
The downhills were steeper than I remembered from my training run, and FAR rockier. Again, I was reduced to walking stretches, for fear of banging my toe or just plain slipping and busting my @ss. I stopped to try and urinate, and did, but it was a short attempt and appeared dark. I thought maybe I'd hear Bud and Garret shuffle from behind me, but before I knew it, I was climbing to the mile 36.5 aid stop and my drop bag.
Sean was sitting in a chair at the stop, drinking and eating, and said he was "brown" as well (pee-wise). I told him my plan was to sit and drink too, and before I knew it, B.J. came walking in, saying he'd covered some hot spots and that USC was ahead at halftime.
I guzzled fluids, ate, and then saw Bud and his pacer wander in. Garret limped over to me and plopped down, saying that his STRESS FRACTURE was hurting. WHAT?!? It turns out he's had a tibial stress fracture the last few months and was just seeing how far he could go, but this was the end. I told him that he had more guts than I as Bud refilled his bottles and congratulated him. Bud came over and took him by the arms like a son and said he was sorry they would go further, but he was "damned proud" of him. Had I not been so emotionally exhausted, I know I would have teared up as we said our goodbyes and headed up the long uphill ahead.
It was like we were reliving 5 weeks back when we'd done this loop in training. Bud is not only an ultra running hero to me, but as a human being as well, as his heart is the largest and most open I've ever known, and his willingness to share his feelings and knowledge are nearly unsurpassed. We never ran out of conversation as we climbed and dipped, crawled over more fallen trees (my response to sliding my butt across one: "Think of all the sweaty @sses you're about to rub yours on"), and floated down the rocky descents.
We arrived at Sweetwater Bridge aid stop (42.8) as I told him I had to sit and drink more, as I STILL had no urge to "go". Ann, Renee, and Steph all tended to my needs without pause as I sat and took down more and more ice water and electrolytes, trying to figure out what element was missing from the balance. Everything else felt GREAT on me: Strength, mentality, the works, but not having gone to the bathroom in nearly 7 hours yet drinking non-stop was beginning to concern me. I told Bud I'd see him ahead and to get to his lights, as nightfall was coming and his lights were at the next aid station.
In a chair behind me, a younger runner named Jonathon began to puke all over the place. His crew member, his father, said that this is normal protocol for him, but Jonathon looked miserable. Conversely Sean, from earlier, had just downed a McDonald's cheeseburger and fries and told me to meet him at the halfway point in 7 miles, and to look out for Bob (who was complaining to me earlier about muscle fatigue): "The guy's a MACHINE. He does this every time - complains about being tired, and then passes half the field in the last 40 miles."
Sure enough, Sean rolled out and a few minutes later and in rolled Bob, looking just fine. I checked out with the aid workers and followed him and Jonathon up the trail, who was still looking mighty green.
We stuck together, as the next aid was still 7 miles away, and darkness was going to descend soon. Jonathon couldn't keep any food down at all, and Bob, who was now quite chatty, kept the conversation going. It looked like Sean was right: Bob was going to be just fine.
I'd switched from 2 handheld bottles to my Nathan pack, which gave me 2 liters of water plus one handheld of Perpetuuem. I knew I HAD to pee soon, or something very bad could potentially go wrong. Mostly on my mind (and also Bob's) was keeping Jonathon moving. He already knew he was cooked and that he'd drop at mile 50, but he had to make it. As I began asking him about his training, I found out that, not only does he run 100s all the time, he'd just run a sub-40 hour at Badwater! He and Bob both concurred that this course was tougher and more technical than Western States (which they'd both run many times), which didn't surprise me, as thoughts of 2nd loops of the 20 and the 30 seemed ominous, particularly in the dark.
Jonathon continued to dry heave, and after darkness swooped in on us, I felt that all too familiar twinge:
I HAD TO PEE. BADLY.
Everything was light-colored and strong, and suddenly, a weight lifted from my shoulders. I felt steady, alert, and prepared to tackle the night, knowing my crew was waiting only 2 miles ahead.
The pace was slow due to Jonathon's condition, but neither Bob nor myself were leaving him. We sloughed in the final mile to the 50 mile aid stop, having to traverse stepping stones across a creek, where I opted to just dash through, as I had spare shoes and socks awaiting me, and we charged Jonathon in, as he screamed victoriously and, frankly, very sarcastically, as all he wanted was to crash and pass out.
My crew emerged from the darkness, dragging in tow a surprise guest! Our friend Liam, who'd decided to see why in the hell I do these runs. Before I knew it, I was in my chair, and Liam was pulling off my gaiters, filthy socks, and shoes. Unbelievable. I downed soup and got my night gear strapped on. Bud had passed through only 15 minutes ahead of me and told my crew that he'd see me on the trail - he wanted company as this 100 was more about survival than anything else.
As the winds cold whipped across the 50 mile point, I was ready to tackle the darkness.
Ann was dressed in her cold gear and headlamp, and I called to Bob beside me, "Hey, want company?!" He excitedly replied YES, and, as I was still somehow 30 minutes ahead of schedule, I stood, dashed off to the shadows for another pee (yeah, it's all about the pee, isn't it?) and stated, "Let's go!"
We power-walked the steep to warm up my legs to the applause of onlookers, and I introduced Bob to Ann as the canopy of stars covered us. My left I.T. band was stiff, so I told Bob to run ahead if he'd like and we'd see him in a few. Off he jogged, and damn, if his buddy Sean wasn't right about his stamina.
My I.T. had only started bothering me after I stood out of my chair, so I figured it just needed blood flow and a few good stretches. Ann and I marvelled at the skies, the trails, the weird wonder of 100 miles of running as we wound up switchbacks towards my second stop at Sunrise Aid Station, ironically, now after sunset.
That's when I began to realize that my I.T. wasn't loosening. In fact, it was worsening. I theorized that it was likely I'd been unconsciously favoring my right foot (the one with my sprained toe), and I now felt the repurcussions. I stopped and stretched, but the pain grew with every step. Dammit! I feel GREAT! I thought. I began walking the flats and downhills, but no matter what my course of action, the pain grew more intense, to the point I was nearly walking stiff-legged on downhills.
With 40 miles to go, I didn't see this making for a very enjoyable night.
Ann and I agreed that at the aid station I'd get it massaged in my chair, walk around, stretch it, and asess, but as we saw the lights grow closer, I was wincing in pain. I found myself saying, "When the hell are those lights going to get closer?!", imagining a chair and some pressure on my knotting band.
As we trotted in, my crew cheered, as did the enthusiatic and slightly drunken aid workers. They pointed me to a chair by the fire, but I told my crew to pull it away , as I didn't want to be drawn in by the warmth. I still had a chance of going on.
My sister massaged my I.T. with The Stick™, and Steph applied Icy Hot to it, but nothing was working. I could feel the bunched up mass of tendon on my thigh, and it stung when I even put a finger on it.
All emotion left me, and I thought about the moment: Was it worth hobbling along to the next aid station (6 miles)? Was pressing forward another 6, 12, 20, or 40 miles to the finish worth not running for another month, two months, or six? I know enough about anatomy to realize that this injury could be made MUCH worse by pushing it.
"What's the mileage at this stop?" I asked one very helpful worker.
"Just under 56 miles."
"Good," I said, "this is my 56 mile PR."
And with that, the clock reading 9:20 PM, I offically dropped from my first 100.
And I felt great about it.
Steph pleaded with me, telling me I'd trained 3 years for this, to keep going, Relentless Forward Motion, DO NOT QUIT! My heart warmed as I saw what she wanted: I'd told my crew to not let me drop if I complained about being tired, scared, afraid, exhausted, but this? This was different: My mind screamed yes! My entire body screamed GO!, but my I.T. just plain screamed, YOU AREN'T GOING ANYWHERE, JACKASS. I'd already rehabbed an I.T., and it took me away from 3 months of running and enjoying the woods and mountains.
There would be another 100, because, in my heart, I was on my way to taking this one down. My I.T. band had other plans this go 'round, but there would be another 100.
I hugged my crew and thanked them, hobbling to the car. During the drive back to the cabin, my mind and heart took solace in how fresh I felt; strong, alert, and alive. Winds pushed the car back and forth along the two lane highway, and after I showered (seated on a plastic lawn chair and scrubbed clean by Ann - I'm sure it looked pathetic), I lay down on the mattress, knowing I had put out my all and had plenty to spare, but, as in cycling, you can't keep riding on a flat tire.
Post Script - We stayed an extra night in San Diego, and, when we checked in to our downtown hotel, news of fresh fires engulfing the very race course began pouring in! In fact, the strong winds had built up and, as of this moment, are still sending many areas of Southern California up in flames. Truly humbling news, and it puts into perspective everything that I went through those last 5 miles.
50% of the field dropped this race, and by the final cutoff time of 1:00PM Sunday, people were being evacuated from the area.
Bud finished the 100 miles in 28:30 or so.