Why run 100 miles? Well, it’s really hard to explain. The reasons are buried deep inside me and seem clear, but those same reasons are very hard to put into actual words especially into coherent thought out sentences that would seem sensible to most people. When most people hear that you are planning to or that you did run 100 miles they get this look on their face that indicates they think you might be a little nuts. They generally are kind about it but express that they can’t understand why you would do that. It is even hard for other runners who share the same love and joy of running that you do to understand. How do you explain why you would do something that is so foreign to what seems to be the natural state of human existence? Why would you put yourself through that?
For me I think a big part of it stems from how I got started in running. I started running primarily as a way to get into shape after really getting out of shape, particularly after starting a very sedentary desk job. My goal was to run a 5k. Once I found I was able to run a 5k I began to wonder what else I could do. I found that there were 10k races and I trained for and ran a couple of those. Then I set my sights on running a half marathon. I found with more training and more running I was able to complete a half marathon. I don’t know if I would say I was enjoying running at this point but it gave me goals to aim for and strive for as a way to get healthier and fitter. What could I accomplish as a fitness goal?
I wasn’t happy with my finish at my first half marathon because I managed to injure myself doing something stupid (trying to itch my calf at the same time as I continued to run) and that lead me to limping across the finish line in some degree of pain. So I pretty quickly decided that I was going to run that race again. At the beginning of the next year I joined our local running club and began to go to group runs. As I met more and more of my fellow runners I began to enjoy running more and more. The more people I became friends with and the more I talked to them about running and the things they were doing in running the more it stoked my fire for running. FYI I you befriend an ultra runner there is a 90% chance you will eventually run an ultra.
I became increasingly interested in trail running and met trail runners. I became more and more inspired and excited by the wide variety of things you can do in running, especially in trail running. In trail running every race is different, every run can be different. Plus trail running married running with my love of nature. It was the perfect fit for me. In trail running there are a wide variety of races and each race is on a course that will be nothing like any other course you run on. Every race is a completely new experience and I found this even more inspired. It is something I love about trail running. I love new experiences. I generally don’t run the same race very many times, because I just like to do different things. Even if I love a race I may not run it all the time because I just want to do something new.
This growing desire to push myself physically to see what I can do and the inspiration of doing something new helped to grow my spirit in ways that I never knew possible. When I started running I didn’t even know an ultra marathon was a thing. All of a sudden shortly after meeting this group of amazing and adventurous people I was running one.
When you talk to people about the adventures they have had doing something you love and how they have challenged themselves and then you set it in a framework of something you already love like being outdoors it really just stokes this fire inside you and grows your passion and excitement for just doing things. Exciting things. Hard Things. Fun things.
Maybe this is the kind of fun that only runners understand but testing your body is fun. It is fun in a way that is not really easy to explain. Either you are someone who likes to test their body physically or you are not. Either you are someone who likes to challenge themselves or you are not. I would argue many of us if not most of us actually do like to challenge ourselves but we just don’t think of it that way. I never did before I started running. Think about all of the hard things you have done in your life, especially those things that you chose. You didn’t do them just to torture yourself. You did them for some higher reason. Some reason that seems unquantifiable. That is the same reason I do hard things in running.
As I got baptized in the fire of ultra running I became aware of the fact that I was able to do more than I ever thought I could do. When I ran my first half marathon I said I would never run a marathon, NEVER. To be fair I have never run a road marathon, but I have now run 6 marathon or longer races in 2 years. I have learned as I have become more experienced in running that the more I do the more I can do. You kind of have a mental shift from I could never do that to wow I actually just did that, what else could I do. That can be completing our first 5k or completing your first half marathon, or for me the biggest shift came after completing my first 50k. I think that is when my mind really began to think about what am I actually physically capable of doing.
Once my body confirmed to my mind that I could be on my feet for more than 8 hours in a very challenging race it opened up a new realm for me mentally. If you let your mind go there you will become fascinated by it and then it will take hold of you. I think people think about all the things they can do but they do not let their minds fully occupy that space, they don’t give their minds permission to truly think about what they could do if they put their effort into doing it. Running more than a 50k would not be easy but could I actually do it if I put my mind and energy into preparing for it? I began to feel like the answer was yes.
As I talked more and more with my fellow runners about running and became aware of the amazing events that happen all across the United States and the world for that matter and I became aware of the incredible elite athletes who win these events it was hard not to become inspired. But you know what is even more inspiring than that? More inspiring than the elite athletes are the regular every day people that compete right alongside the elites at these events. Sure they don’t run the crazy fast times that the elite athletes run but they finish the same races. They complete the same course cross the same terrain as the elite athletes. They finish the race. Knowing that so many other people actually do this thing called ultra running and that so many people run 100 mile races was incredible. How could I not put myself to the test when so many other people were doing it?
It really became less about could I do it as how could I do it and when would I do it.
You run 100 miles because you get this feeling inside that you are capable of more and you have a desire to find out exactly what you are capable of. You want to unlock that human potential. That is what drives it.
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Every time I take on new adventures I learn things. The bigger and more challenging the adventure the more you learn. The first time I took on an ultra distance run, I was alone on the Finger Lakes Trail, I learned a lot. Now taking on a much different more complex challenge I stood poised to learn even more.
When you set off to go on any type of adventure ideally you have a plan. You make the best plan you can to try to have the best outcome you can. You also try to think about what you will do if things don’t go according to plan. Think about back up plans and contingencies. I don’t think you want to dwell to much on that because you want to focus on being successful not dwell on possible failure or challenges. But at the same time you want to try to be prepared. It is a bit of a balancing act.
I think we all know that plans are great but they are only goo until you reach that first difficulty or obstacle that requires a change. Then a lot of the plan can get thrown out the window. You can try to stick to the basic concepts of the plan but specific details like pace and times can quickly become meaningless. It wasn’t long into my 100 miles that my planned for pace goal was pretty much out the window.
One aspect of my 100 mile journey that I found to be more of a challenge than I planned for was fuel consumption. For all of my runs and races that will take me longer to complete than a road half marathon I really prefer to try to eat actual solid food as opposed to gels and things like that. More specifically I like to try to eat whole foods. That is my preference. That is what works well in my body and how I feel myself on a daily basis as much as I can. I like the taste of the whole foods I have been using and they feel better in my body. They don’t cause me any issues.
What I learned is that as hard as running 100 miles is, it might actually be harder to eat 100 miles of running energy’s worth of solid foods. I thought I had a good mix of foods to use that would allow me a variety of tastes and nutrient combinations so that I would not get sick of my fuel and would have plenty of options. That was not really an issue. What it really came down to is that eventually you just don’t feel like eating or think about eating, because you feel like you were just eating. It really is something you have to mentally prepare for and maybe force yourself to do. I was not as focused on that during my race. It was easy to not think about eating because I never really felt hungry. I would just eat whenever it felt right while I was running and then grab an extra piece of food or more at an aid station. As it turns out that casual approach wasn’t quite sufficient for my body. It seemed that my two big crashes at aid stations were primarily due to not having enough calories/sugar in my system.
My take away from this valuable lesson is for next time, because lets face it as my friend said you know there will be a next time, even if I don’t know when it will be is that I will need to plan to use a combination of solid food so I don’t feel hungry like I need to eat and something more easily consumed without making me feel full or too full like gels or liquid fuel. This is something I have Ben thinking about although I don’t know when I will begin to experiment with it to se what works best for me.
I expected the night portion of the race to be a challenge, but I had no idea how hard it would actually be for me. Being in the dark for that long wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. What was hard is that during that period of the race that is when exhaustion really set in for me. I could walk but my eyes and my brain were ready to go to sleep. I could keep my legs going but often found myself staggering around not making much progress. It was a struggle just to keep my eyes open. Things may have been different for me if I hadn’t suffered through a really hard crash right before that point in the race where I could literally barely move, but it’s hard to say. I will need to think about strategies to help myself stay alert and awake. Taking more caffeine or something else to force myself awake will need to be tested.
I learned a lot about what the human body is able to overcome physically. If someone told me how I would feel at mile 65 or so I would have been pretty sure I would not finish. If you told me that 16 miles later I would have a very similar experience I would never expect to be able to finish the race. I would have thought it was impossible. I would not have thought that the human body could come back from being inoperable and in a state of being where I couldn’t even take a drink of water on my own and I would recover and run 35 more miles. I would have thought that if I reached that state I would have to drop out of the race. My crew taught me that you can get back into the race after such a low. My crew taught me something I could not have learned on my own.
On top of the physical recovery if you had told me prior to the race that I would experience that kind of situation I would not have been surprised if I would have quite. I would have expected to hit a very hard mental low, wondering how I would ever finish the race, even if I recovered physically I would have so many doubts about being able to finish once I was able to continue. But that never happened to me. My mind stayed strong. My mind and my will were able to remain focused onm the goal and determined to finish. Before you do something it is easy to say the words that you are not going to quite and tell yourself and others that you will finish no matter what, but you never truly know how you will respond to a given situation until ou are in it. So now I can tell myself I know how I will respond to that kind of pressure. I will stick with it and I will persevere.
You learn so much about yourself on this journey. You learn about your physical body and what it is capable of and what it is not. You learn what things cause you pain and what things are not as bad as you thought. You learn what you can endure. You learn about yourself mentally too. You learn where your fears and doubts lie. You learn where they start to creep in and how you can overcome them. You learn that you can push through more than you ever thought. You learn that even in the toughest time you can keep your mind in a good place.
You learn more about the value of friends too. I knew I had a solid support system and crew. I knew they would be there to cheer me on. I did not know they would volunteer to jump in and run extra miles with me and take care of other runners as well. Pushing themselves farther than planned even as I was pushing myself. I knew my crew would always be there with words of encouragement and support. I did not know that I would find them literally physically supporting me as my body shut down and I was on the verge of collapse. I didn’t know they would be called on to revive me physically and bring me back from the verge of having to drop out. I didn’t know they would be there to safe guard me. I didn’t know they would be there to push me and get everything possible out of me when I didn’t think I could give any more to this race. I knew I had a great group of people surrounding me for this 100 mile attempt but I didn’t know all that they would put themselves through to make sure I was able to accomplish my goal. I am eternally grateful to them. I literally could not have done it without them. They mean the world to me. There really aren’t words to express how much all the people who were with me at Pine Creek 100 mean to me.
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This year has been the most challenging year of running for me yet. Not because I set big goals for myself, I mean yes because I set big goals for myself, but also because of other struggles. Going into this year, after running only two 50k’s I decided it was time to push myself farther and longer. First I decided that I would take on a 50 mil race. Later I decided that this would also be the year I took on a 100 mile race. This all before I even ran my 3rd official 50k. I didn’t even wait to see how a 50 mile race would feel before diving in head first into the 100 mile pool. I put it all on the table early on in the year.
It seemed so….. Simple? I would train like my previous year for my 50k in May. That 50k would be my longest training run for my 50 mile race about a month after. The 50 mile race would be my longest training run leading into my 100 mile race two months later. The 50 mile race would also give me some experience at a new distance so I would have an idea of what to expect through the half-way point of my 100 mile race and that seemed like important knowledge to have.
Then life happened and all the plans and “simplicity” melted away. Like many runners I got injured with what turned out to apparently be hip bursitis. I ended up injured before I even got to the point in my year where I would run my 50k. So I tried to rest and recover as best I could and went into my 50k feeling under trained and nervous if I would even be able to finish. Worlds End 50k was the most painful and grueling race I have suffered through to date. I was in so much pain I walked the last 10 miles and almost every step of those ten miles caused pain in my hip. But I finished. I learned that if I had to I could tough it out and endure the pain as long as needed to cross the finish line. Not what I wanted from that race but a valuable lesson that would pay dividends later.
I had a month to try to get right physically for my 50 mile race. I got as much treatment and rest as I could and maintain my fitness for my 50 mile race. Finger Lakes 50’s 50 miler did not go as well as Worlds End. I was not in as much pain from my hip but it was hampering me, slowing me down and probably causing me to expend unnecessary energy. In the end being out in the heat and humidity of a July summer day did me in. I couldn’t keep up with the time I needed to move on to the third and final loop of the 50 mile race. But I did finish a 50k. The heat punished me. I was dizzy and wobbly on my feet at times. Heat exhaustion was hitting me hard. Then the rains came and I bounced back allowing me to finish in a decent time and feeling ok instead of suffering through to the end. Even though I wasn’t able to finish the 50 miles and gain the experience of feeling what 50 miles felt like I learned that I could bounce back from a physical low and keep moving on.
Training between the 50 mile attempt and my 100 mile race was not ideal but it was better than I had gotten any time since April. I decided that in order to reduce the impact on my hip I would focus on making sure I got in my long runs and decrease all other mileage. I ran regular 3 mile runs during the week and then a long run on the weekends. I was able to get in more long ruins during this time frame than any time since April and it included two 20 mile runs in the same week which I feel like were crucial to my physical preparedness and my mental preparedness. I knew my hip was getting better. I thought it would probably be an issue but not cost me the race. I was actually becoming more concerned about my long standing right ankle pain that tends to flare up with long runs, which seemed to be getting worse.
As the week of the race approached I was getting more and more nervous about it. Would I really be able to do this thing? Anxiety and fear were closing in on me. Was my training good enough? Would I be prepared? Was a physically strong enough? Was I mentally strong enough? I took the whole week leading up to the race off from running. I focused entirely on recovery and being as healthy as I possibly could be going into the race. I included a massage from Soul Ease Massage to help ensure that my hips and legs were in as good shape as possible. I am not sure you can ever feel relaxed when you have a 100 mile race looming.
If there was one secret weapon I knew I had to get me through this race, it was my crew. I was going to have a great crew, of my wife and my friends, out there taking care of me at the race. They would not let me fail.
The night before the Pine Creek Challenge my wife and I met up with two of our friends to camp for the night at the race location. We hung out. We chatted. I tried to relax. One thing we talked about is what to do if things don’t go according to plan. I had planned for this race more than I had ever planned or prepared for any other race or maybe even event in my life. I was organized. I had everything labeled. I had times for when I hoped to be in and out of aid stations. I planned for the best case scenario, even though I knew that the race was unlikely to play out that way. I knew what I wanted to happen and what I had in mid as more reasonable though still quite lofty goal for a first 100 mile race. I wanted to finish in under 24 hours. I thought that I had a good chance at making that happen as long as the first half of the race went reasonably well. I knew that a sub 24 hour goal was very likely not going to happen but it was the goal and it was really hard to think about anything outside of that goal. But we talked about just thinking about what is going ot happen if plan A doesn’t work out and plan B doesn’t work out and so on and so on. What do you do? How do you proceed? I think it was good to go through that mental exercise to just think that there are so many different ways that this event could unfold, none of which could be anticipated maybe. This perhaps is where experience would be valuable. If you have done this before I think it is easier to have contingency plans or at east to know what to do to get you back on track.
I sometimes have trouble sleeping before a race, but not usually too bad. I am also not much of a dreamer while I sleep. Well the night before my first 100 mile race was going to be different. I slept OK until about 4 AM when I was awakened by a nightmare. In this nightmare I had a full blown panic attack and completely shut down and was curled up in the fetal position in the tent and could not even manage to put on my clothes for the race. So, that resulted in me staring at the ceiling of the tent for an hour before my alarm went off at 5 AM and I got up and started to get ready for the race. I was not as anxious getting up and getting ready for the day as I thought I would be. There were the normal pre-race jitters but not anything major. I managed to not forget anything significant before starting. It was surprising to me that for the 6 AM start I still was going to end up needing my headlamp as I set out. I was not expecting that. We got to the start line. I kissed my wife and hugged my friends and then I set off on an adventure.
The start was hard. Not physically hard but mentally hard. My strategy was to go out at a 12 minute per mile pace, running a mile then walking 1 minute, much slower than I would go at any other type of flat run. The first bunch of people pulled away from me. Then another group of people pulled away. Then more people caught up to me and passed me. I kept trying to go slow. Eventually I seemed to essentially be alone on the trail. As I was alone on the trail I struggled a bit to stay out of my head. I began to think about all the things that could go wrong during this journey. I had to tell myself out loud multiple times to get out of your head. As the sun rose I stopped to take some photos along the way and used my GoPro while running some. I saw an eagle fly low along a swampy area and land in a tree, so that was a nice way to start off the race. It was 5.6 miles to the first aid station and I tried to go as slow as I could, but when I arrived my crew reported to me that I was still 5 minutes ahead of my planned pace. It was nice to get that first section over and see my crew though. The course is a multi out and back course to complete the full 100 miles and I was already at the terminus of one end so it was time to turn around and run back the other way for along time.
My crew got me out of the aid station without wasted time and I headed back the way I came. I needed to go slower. I took the time to use my GoPro more and take other photos. Run slower, walk longer to slow my pace. I got back to the swampy area and saw a great blue heron and snapped a few photos. I saw a few people with their dog and a woman with her camera and she said this is one of her favorite places to come for photography, so I made a mental note of that. She wasn’t kidding though because that bald eagle was still up in its perch on the large tree in the swamp. I tried to capture a few more photos of it. I might be the only one able to tell there is an eagle in the photos though because it is so far away. Eventually, I started to see runners from the other races of different distances happening on the same trail coming towards me on the trail. That made things a little more interesting on this return trip. I eventually got back to the start line where the next aid station was. I got some fuel and some hydration. Then waited forever some non-runner who decided to occupy the portapotty at the aid station, despite all the others available for spectator use, so that I could finally pee. That was probably the biggest frustration of that sort for me the entire race though, so I will call that a win.
Next was a 3.4 mile jaunt to the next aid station. I arrived at the aid station felling pretty good. Still going at what felt like the right pace. On plan. My hip wasn’t giving me any serious problems. It felt tight and maybe a little uncomfortable but not painful. My ankle was a little sore but nothing major. My crew made sure I had what I needed and got me going through the aid station without wasting too much time which is the goal. The next section would start the portion of the trail that really went through the valley.
The next aid station was nearly 8 miles away but I wouldn’t see my crew again for 16 miles. This 16 miles between seeing my crew again is one of the places I struggled most mentally. I had done marathon to 50k distances 8 times over the last three years. I thought I knew what to expect from it. I thought that on a flat course going the relatively slow pace for me that I had planned to go and was sustaining that the first 30 miles would feel relatively easy or at least not too hard. Maybe that was just being naive especially considering how my training had went. But during this 16 miles to the next time I would see my crew I really felt like I was struggling mentally. I felt like I was going slower than I wanted to when I was running and that I was walking longer than I wanted to to rest after each mile of running. My legs felt tired and sluggish and sore already. I really began to think that maybe I had gotten in over my head. If I was already feeling like this and it hadn’t even been 30 miles yet, what on earth was the rest of the race going to feel like?
One things that was a cool uplift for me during this 16 miles alone was seeing something I had never seen before. As I ran down the trail eventually I came to this spot where I saw someone had scratched out in large letters in the gravel the world snake with an arrow pointing to the left. I was instantly curious. Was someone just fucking with runners or was there really a snake over there in the rocks along the side o the trail? I had never seen a rattle snake in the wild but I was well aware of all the reports of snakes along this trail and the potential to see one. So I walked over to the side of the trail cautiously and looked at the rocks. Sure enough there was a rather large snake with a baby toy attached to its tail slithering underneath some rocks. I called back to a runner I had recently passed and let him know that there was a snake over here so that he could be aware and take caution. I did not get close to the snake or even try to get a photo of the snake. Those who know me are probably surprised by this. It was cool to be out doing something entirely new to me and see something entirely new to me as well.
After being a bit down physically and mentally it was a great relief to finally see my crew waiting for me a the Blackwell aid station. The aid station is half a mile before the turn around so I ran out to the turn around first as I dropped off my pack for my crew to refill. My first pacer of the day accompanied out to the turn around and we talked about how the race was going. Then I came back to the aid station and ate some food and got some extra hydration. I also took some Tylenol for my hip and ankle and had some bio freeze applied to my ankle. The first 30 miles had been harder than I thought they would be. That much was clear.
My pacer would accompany me the next 26 miles. We headed out to start the next phase of this journey. At least for this trip through the valley I would have someone along for the ride. WE talked quite a bit through the first 8 miles or so. We talked a lot about nature. I think I complained about all my grievances. I am kinda surprised my pacer didn’t just run off ahead of me or at least stay far enough ahead or behind that they couldn’t hear me anymore. This section started off strong. We ran 3+ miles without stopping for a walk break. Which was OK at the time because I was feeling strong. I didn’t actually feel like I needed a break after every mile which is how I had been feeling during the previous 16 miles. This run of 26 miles with my first pacer went OK. Not as well as I had hopped, but not as bad as it could have after how I felt during the end of the first 30 miles. I could feel myself slowing down some eventually. At times running much slower than I would have liked and at times taking much longer walking breaks than I would have liked. I stopped at the aid stations for extra food and hydration along the way. I had more bio freeze applied to the painful areas which seemed to be getting a little worse with more time on my feet.
At one point early on during this 26 miles with my first pacer we saw a group of people gathered up blocking almost the entire trail and many of them were over along the edge of the trail near the rocks. As we approached I knew they were looking at or for a snake. They were so close. I told my friend to get his camera out because there was about to be a Kodak moment. I don’t wish people harm, but these people were being dumb and unsafe. They were way too close they were essentially standing in the rock pile and had their phones out trying to get photos. They very easily could have gotten bitten and who gets blamed for that, the snake. Those kind of things really get me riled up. As we passed by I could see that there was a more light colored rattle snake among the rocks. Then shortly thereafter I saw a large almost completely black rattle snake out in the open along the rocks. It was the first time I was able to see the entire body of a rattle snake. It was quite large. They are amazing creatures and I am thrilled to be able to share a trail with them and pay them the appropriate respect they deserve by keeping my distance. I may be one of the few people happy to see a rattle snake on the trail, but I was secretly hoping to see one during the race.
Eventually my pacer were arriving at the 50 mile turn around aid station. The people running this aid stations had it going right. There were lights along the trail lighting the way. There was a fire. The crowd there was cheering so loudly. It was really making me emotional. I was getting choked up at all the people there cheering and supporting the runners out here like me. It is truly a blessing to be part of a larger community of runners like this.
When we arrived I took more Tylenol at the mile 50 turn around aid station and got more bio freeze. I don’t really remember much about this aid station, because I was too overcome with emotion from all the support from my crew, which kept expanding as more and more of my friends showed up over the course of the day, and the people at running the aid station itself cheering and high fiving. I changed my shoes here because I thought half way through a 100 mile race would be a good time to put on shoes with more cushion. My crew got me in and out of this aid station in good time. At this aid station I was picking up a new pacer, my best friend was going to run the next 9 miles with me.
It was really nice to be able to run part of this race with my best friend. We haven’t been able to run together much since early in the year. She may be my friend but she had no sympathy for my foolishness of getting myself into this race. She was going to make sure I stuck to my plan of running and then walking. She was not going to let me take it easy. She pushed me to run as much as I could and then told me when it was time to rest. I think I almost begged for a little longer time to rest at one point. I think she allowed me 30 more seconds to walk. Talking and sharing miles despite the slave driving was nice. I think the sharing of miles with friends is something you can only understand if you are a runner. During our 5+ miles together my friend informed me that our other friend who had been injured for the last month or more and not running was feeling better and may be running with me from the next aid station.
I arrived at the next aid station and fueled up. Got what I needed and was ready to head out. Sure enough my friend was ready to run with me. We headed out for the next 3+ miles to the next aid station. This might be one of the few ways that deviating from your plan can be a good thing. It was so nice to be able to share miles with my two running friends whom I have shared more miles with than anyone. Picking up a new pacer, an unexpectedly new pacer can only be good when it is your friend who you know would have wanted to be your pacer anyway, but due to injury wasn’t able to plan for it. She had been cleared to run just the other day and wanted to share some miles with me on this journey and it doesn’t get much better than that. She was not quite as much a hard ass on this section. I ran as much as I could but I needed longer rests, or at least I took advantage of my friend to get longer rests.
I arrived at the mile 65 aid station feeling pretty good all things considered. I enjoyed running with my friend that I didn’t expect to be able to share any miles with. I was in good spirits. I was tired but doing OK. The plan was to resupply water and food in my pack, add a warmer layer of clothes as it was now getting dark and pick up my new pacer. Then it happened. It felt like someone just pulled the plug on me and the power went out. I went from feeling fine and ready to go to crashing hard. I started to feel light headed and then nauseous. I thought I might throw up. My crew tried to keep me standing and get me some food. Then I started to experience things I had never experienced. My arms started to go numb and get tingly. My mouth started to get tingly. I was losing control of my body. It was shutting down. I was losing it. My mouth got number and number. I couldn’t feel or move my mouth or tongue. My left hand curled up into a claw. My hand was clenched and I couldn’t move it. My crew mates were literally holding me up. They got me seated and just started to literally pour sugar into me. Cups of Coke went in. My crew literally holding cups to my inoperative mouth and pouring little bits in so I could swallow. It was like being a helpless child being fed by your family. I couldn’t even drink from the cup if they held it to my mouth they had to literally manage to pour it in my mouth so I could swallow. I don’t know if I literally thought about quitting, but if I was going to it would have been here in this moment. There is no way I could have made it through this without them. My chosen family, My wife and my friends. This is why they mean the world to me. They would not let me fail.
My wife told me later that she had to walk away because it was too hard for her to see me like that and she didn’t want me to see her upset. At one point I looked at my inoperative curled up left hand and said “It’s the claw” making a Friends joke that probably only my wife would get, but she said when she heard that she knew I was still in there and that I was going to be OK. I think that is also when I knew I was going to be OK too. I was able to keep my mind right even in this lowest moment of what felt like at the time there would be no coming back from. My crew kept working on me. Getting more calories in me, more Coke to drink. Then I could slowly feel it. My body started to respond. I started to get the feeling back in my arms and my hand. I could actually use my hand. At one point I was able to hold a cup and I thought drink on my own, but apparently my face was still numb and I just poured Coke down my face. But it was OK. I am pretty sure I laughed at that. Eventually as my body recovered my crew got me some warm clothes. I put on a light long sleeve shirt and a light jacket. I put on a pair of wind pants. I put on a dry hat and a buff to keep my ears warm. I eventually regrouped and headed out with a new pacer.
Just reflecting on this moment in time makes me emotional. This was one of the toughest moments I have ever endured and I owe it all to my crew for getting me thorough. Literally propped up on the shoulders of my friends. Fed and clothed by my friends. Taken care of by my family. I owe the next 35 miles to them. If I did not have them there my day would have ended at that aid station and I would never know anything else.
After arriving at the mile 65 aide station in such good shape, leaving that aid station was not the same. I felt like I was barely moving. I could move but just had no energy. The next 16 miles till I saw my crew was going to be a very slow walk in the dark. Thank god for pacers. I don’t know how people ran in the dark, alone and tired. Thankfully my pacers worked to keep me engaged. We talked about Star Wars. There was line dancing. I think the best I felt was when we actually listened to Christmas music, Straight No Chaser, I actually had the energy to sing along with the music. It really helped lift my spirits at a time where I was moving way slower than I had hoped to. I eventually just got exhausted during this 16 mile section. I don’t know if was the normal kind of exhaustion that one would expect or if I was suffering more because of my crash at mile 65. But, I was struggling to not just fall asleep while standing up. My eyes kept closing. I was essentially just staggering down the path. Often not in a straight line. I am pretty sure that if I were alone I would have fallen off the trail, into the ditch or into the water. Thank god for amazing friends willing to walk miles in the dark with you and play ping pong with your body bouncing you from one edge of the path to the other to keep you safe. I felt like I needed to be on a leash. I eventually hallucinated that there was a huge wagon wheel in the middle of the path. Then I saw or at least am pretty sure I actually saw my first every flying squirrel in the wild. I saw something fly across the trail from the trees on the right and land in a tree on the left then climb up the tree. Not a good look due to it being dark, but I could only imagine it was a flying squirrel or another hallucination. Another tough part about this 16 miles was that my feet began to hurt. I could tell I was getting blisters on my feet and that was not going to be good. I thought that the shoes I changed into had caused the problem. I decided that I was going to change back into the shoes that I started with at the mile 81 aid station when I saw my crew again. We also decided while walking that I was going to try and take a brief five to ten minute nap at the aid station because I was just staggering around so much that I was wasting too much time and energy and not making enough forward progress and I thought that if I could just close my eyes for a few minutes I would recover enough energy to make much more substantial progress in the next phase.
I got to the mile 81 aid station and began to do all the normal things. Refresh food and water. Change shoes. Reapply anti chafe. Then it hit me again. My body started to revolt for a second time. As I sat in a chair I got light headed and nauseous. I started to lose feeling again. Me team sprung into action immediately getting me what I needed. They started to load me up with Coke again. They responded to my needs immediately despite what had been a long and strenuous day for them as well. They were right there to take care of me and get me out of this funk. They pulled me out of it faster than last time and with less severe symptoms. Then while wrapped in a space blanket I tried to fall asleep. Somehow the exhaustion that was overcoming me on the trail would not grant me sleep that I felt I needed. I had expected that I would close my eyes and instantly pass out, but it didn’t happen. I don’t know if it was the shock of the crash and then recovery but now my eyes wouldn’t stay closed and I couldn’t slep. Finally, filled with frustration I stood up ready to set out on another 16 mile trek through the valley in the dark. I knew I would have a pacer for this section but I learned to my surprise that my best friend would accompany for this 16 mile section. She knew I was moving slow and had gone fewer miles than anyone else that could pace me at that point so she joined me.
I think it was reassuring, when I was so low, to have someone on the trail with me that I had shared a lot of miles with. Someone who knew me well and could keep me going. We started out on a slow pace. Shortly after we left we saw the only other runner that remained behind me. He needed to push to make the cut off time at the mile 81 aid station and we encouraged him as he went by. Not too long after we saw him this same runner who was struggling caught me from behind and passed me with a huge surge, he had gotten another wind and was moving well. I was now DFL. I could accept being DFL as long as I finished. For a while as we moved down the path I actually almost reveled in the idea of being DFL. Early on during this stretch I was moving slowly but I at least felt more awake than I had previously even though I didn’t sleep. I don’t remember much about those first half dozen miles. I know that we were a little concerned about making the cut off time at the mile 89 aid station so we tried to speed up and when we finally arrived there id din’t even stop. I just essentially walked on through.
At some point during this 16 mile stretch my pacer could tell I was feeling better and she started to encourage me to pick up the pace some. We eventually could see the person who had passed me to leave me in last place. My pacer was like, oooh we can catch him. She encouraged me to move faster. We added some more very slow running into the mix. Honestly I am not sure I even wanted to pass them. Something in my mind wanted to just stay in last. There seemed to be more honor in being DFL than to be second to last. Or maybe I was just afraid that I would over take him only to be passed again. Eventually the mix of running and walking allowed me to pass him. But then we ran out of water and despite being well hydrated I was too afraid to push it with still a while to go until the next aid station. There was at least 3 miles and I was afraid of another crash which I could not afford this late into the race. So we dropped back to a walk and stayed ahead of him although he gained on us. It always seemed like we were farther away from that last aid station than seemed possible. Seeing a sign post for 1.7 miles until the aid station area was almost soul crushing. My pacer was critical to getting me through this tough section She kept me entertained with singing and dancing to music she played from her phone. It was slow going and would have been easy to get demoralized but she kept me uplifted. We decided that at the last aid station I would drop off my pack and pick up a hand held for the last 3.4 miles. Dropping of my heavy pack at the last aid station was something that never occurred to me. This is one of the many reasons yo have pacers. They will think of things you will not.
We FINALLY arrived at the aid station. I dropped my pack and grabbed a hand held and a gel. FYI, I didn’t even have a hand held at the race, it was one of my previous pacers hand helds. Have I mentioned how awesome my crew was for me. As I stopped at the last aid station briefly and ate some food I was once again overtaken by the person we had passed earlier. I was back in last. But I headed out on that last 3.4 miles anyway.
My pacer insisted I was going to run this last 3.4 miles. I was not so sure. But she pushed me anyway. She somehow knew what I had left to give to this race. I don’t know how she knew, but she knew. I sure as hell didn’t know. So, guess what? I ran. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty but I averaged around a 13 minutes/mile over the last 4 miles. I hadn’t run a 13 minute mile since mile 35. I am not sure how this was possible. I ran and took walk breaks. Somehow feeling pretty good. Walking just enough to give me strength for another push. My pacer took charge. She told me when to run and she told me when I could walk. It was starting to get sunny and hot as the morning sun continued to rise in the sky so we tried to run through the shady areas and walk in the sunny places. I didn’t try to over think it. I just listened to my pacer and tried to do what she was encouraging me to do. She believed that I could do this and somehow I was doing it. My legs carried my better and felt stronger than they ha at any point over the last 30+ miles. I don’t know how it is possible. When I left the last aid station I was last. I quickly passed the guy who had passed me again to put me in last. Then as we ran down the trail we began to see other runners up ahead. My pacer told me we could catch them. I had my doubts. She encouraged me to keep moving. Run to that tree and then we will walk, she told me. Then run to that post and we can walk. This strategy was working. We caught and passed multiple runners. I passed 6 runners in the last 3.4 miles. I can’t even imagine that being possible at the end of a 100 mile journey especially considering how dead I felt just a shot time ago. The only person we saw that I did not catch was the person who turned out to be a pacer. But that guy looked like he was a runner. He kept looking back at us and then speeding up like he was trying to keep me from catching up to him, so my pacer was like lets catch him. So I chased someone down the trail who wasn’t even technically in the race. But I guess whatever keeps you motivated right. I got to the final turn off the trail and up the gravel road to the finish line and could not believe how good I felt. I heard my crew start cheering for me. My family was waiting for me. I started to run faster and a little faster. My wife was there waiting for me. I was so happy to see her. She started running with me. I ran as hard as I could. I basically sprinted through the finish line with my wife by my side. It was amazing to feel that alive and have that much juice left in my legs after such a long journey. The energy that my family was giving me was amazing. Having them there for me right up until the end was amazing. I crossed the finish line and hugged my wife so hard. I cried. I was just completely overcome with emotion. My whole crew came and congratulated me on finishing this journey. Hugs and handshakes all around. I am so thankful for the person who took the picture of me with my finisher awards and my crew by my side. That is a memory I will never forget.
Thank you to the Tyoga Running club and my supporters on Patreon for helping me to make this happen.
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These are the words that echoed in my head during the last half of the Worlds End 50K. Completing the Worlds End 50K under good conditions is no easy task. This year was made even more challenging by an injury I sustained earlier in the year, which I just could not resolve. The injury continued to nag me especially on long runs. When I initially signed up to run this event again I was hoping for a challenging but enjoyable time out on the trails enjoying nature with no real time goal in mind. But as things turned out I got a lot more than that.
As start time for the race approached at 7:00 AM I knew that I was not 100% but that is all that I knew. I knew that I could run to some degree, but I had no idea how fast or how far I could run. I knew that at some point this journey was likely to become a struggle. The plan was to take the beginning of the race a little easier than I did last year in hopes that this would help prevent my injury from flaring up for as long as possible. The injury I was working with seemed to be some sort of muscle tightness in the hip/groin/glute regions. I could run for a time but then eventually on long runs it would become tight and painful. I was really hoping that the combination of a reduction in running, extra rest, and extra stretching and flexibility work I had been doing would allow me to go farther without the pain becoming too severe.
In the opening miles of the race I set off with two of my friends. We stayed together for a large portion of the beginning of the race. My legs felt pretty good. I was able to run pretty comfortably. I was going at a pace that I was pretty happy with. The worst thing that happened to me in the first part of the race was when we were scrambling over the rocks and I reached out my hand to push off the rocks , not because I was stumbling or falling or anything like that, just as an extra surface to push off of for some extra push up the steep rocks and I managed to jam my right index finger straight into the rocks causing some very significant throbbing pain that would last the rest of the race and is actually still aching now over a week after the incident.
Aside from the unforced error of smashing my own finger against the rocks all on my own. The first ten miles went about as well as I could have possibly imagined. A short while before the second aide station I began to feel the fatigue setting in around my injured leg muscles. I was still running with one of my friends and I told her my leg was getting fatigued and I didn’t think I could maintain this pace much longer. I was going to only get slower from here on out. We ran together a little longer then she decided she felt really good and was going to pass me while she was running that high, and I am so glad she did because she ended up having a great race and I would have hated to have held her back.
I arrived at the second aide station tired but in good spirits. It was the perfect time to see our crew, and they were fantastic the entire day. I told them how I was feeling and that I was probably only going to be getting slower from here on out into the race. It took me over 2.5 hours to get to the second aide station at mile 10 and considering how I was feeling things were going well. Being out on the trails for 2.5 hours and traveling 10 miles and only just now feeling that my injury was slowing me down but was not yet painful was a significant win for me. That was farther and longer than I had been able to go on any of my recent long runs without any pain or discomfort. I think that the constantly changing course terrain actually was a benefit in that. It allowed the muscles that are fatigued/injured to rest and recover to a degree while other muscles are more active over certain parts of the course.
I knew the next 9 miles until I saw my crew again was going to be tough. The 9 miles between crew able aide stations was probably more downhill than up. Under normal circumstances that would be welcome, but with my leg issues descending was a challenge. These nine miles were a mix of running and walking and as time went on it shifted ever more to walking with a little bit of running. In the past one of my favorite parts of this course was a steep and technical decent down to where the mile 19 crew access aide station is. I think that this time around I essentially walked down this descent. Due to my leg issues I think my descending times were probably even slower than my times on the flat sections. This was a challenging section of the course due to the obvious difficulty of the course itself plus my increasing soreness in my compromised leg muscles. I really enjoyed the section down by that water that eventually leads into the mile 19 aide station. I reached this aide station and was able to see my wife, who was part of our crew team. I told her I was pretty sure I was essentially done running the course. It would basically be a hike from here on out. My leg was too painful to sustain any significant amount of running. She asked me if I wanted to stop and I assured her that I didn’t need to stop. I could get it done it would just be slow and painful. I sat, chatted, reapplied SNB, and changed my socks and shoes, then ate some food. Putting on dry socks and shoes felt sooooo good. It was really an uplifting experience after all the wet and muddy conditions.
As I left the 19 mile aide station and began to climb I was really enjoying my nice warm dry socks and shoes. Then all to quickly it happened. A HUGE pit of mud, followed by more and more mud. I took more effort trying to keep my socks and shoes as dry as I could and avoid as much mud and water as I possibly could. This is not something I typically worry about during a trail run particularly a race, but with the slow pace I was going and was going to continue to go and how good it felt physically and mentally to have dry feet I felt it was worth the compromise in time to keep myself happy and as comfortable as possible. I was not in this to make a time goal of any kind at this point. I was in this to simply finish and to finish I need to maintain any high I could get for as long as I could get that high and dry feet were the best thing I had going for me at that point.
As you leave the mile 19 aide station you begin to climb. In my mind, because I hate climbing, this section was remembered as essentially a 3 mile long single switch backing climb with no break in it. There is a lot of climbing on this section of the course, but you do descend for a bit and you actually end up in this beautiful valley with a stream and many waterfalls. This confused the crap out of me. I did not remember this at all. Despite following the trail markers all the way I could not shake the feeling that I must have gone the wrong way. I was completely alone on the course. No one to ask if this was the right way. No memory of this section. I was afraid that somehow I had gotten onto some section of the 100k course or took a wrong turn and looped back around onto a part of the 50k course I already covered or something. I was becoming completely illogical. I essentially began to have some sort of panic attack. I literally ran back and forth on that section of course a little bit trying to decide if I should go back the way I came until I saw another runner to ask if I was still on course or until I got back to the aide station I had recently left. I was kind of freaking out. I had never felt like this out on a trail before and I had been on plenty of trails all alone before. I had to do essentially the mental equivalent of slapping myself in the face, and almost did the physical version, to try to get my mind to snap back and allow myself to think clearly. When I was able to regroup I made the determination to keep moving forward in the direction I had already been going. Keep following the trail markers and move forward. Eventually I would see runners or reach an aide station where either they would confirm my fears that I had gotten off course and I would DNF there. Or they would allay my fears and confirm that I was indeed on the correct path of the 50k course. Perhaps subconsciously I was hoping to DNF there so I could quit this journey that would surely become more painful as time went on.
One good thing that came from this heightened anxious state was that along with the anxiety came a flood of adrenaline that allowed me to run for quite a good little stretch. More than I had been able to do at any other point along that stretch. Eventually that faded and I was back to essentially walking and still worrying about where exactly I was, but I kept pushing forward. What really saved me here was my initial plan for this race, which was to capture as much of this race as possible on camera. I had two GoPro cameras, one hand held and one chest mounted, and I had my small Nikon camera in a pocket on my race vest. I harnessed these tools and took my focus off running and focused on photography. This is the only section where I actually stopped and took still photos using my Nikon camera. It really helped me to settle down once I took my mind of of the race and focused it elsewhere. There were so many gorgeous stream scenes and waterfalls in this area that I simply couldn’t’ stop to capture them all with my Nikon so I used my hand held GoPo to try to capture them on camera while on the move.
Eventually after one big clime I arrived in an area that I recognized and realized that I was approaching the mile 22 crew accessible aide station at Canyon Vista. I was so happy and tried to jog it in to the aide station. I was so happy to see my wife and her partner in crime on our crew at this aide station. I told her about the crazy adventure I just had through that relatively short 3 mile section of the race. I told her that in all likelihood I would finish in around the 10 hour time frame if I kept the pace I was expecting from here on out, essentially a walk/hike the whole last 9 miles.
This last nine miles of the race were the toughest nine miles I’ve ever covered. They were tough physically and mentally. One of the biggest challenges was my pace and what that meant for the “race”. I am not fast. I am a pretty solid mid packer. Getting passed by people is nothing new to me especially at the beginning of a race, but usually once I settle into a consistent pace I can sustain I generally run with the same group of people juggling back and forth in position when each person hits a pot that is their strength or where they feel good and can pass and then fall back. And you just keep shuffling around with the same people for the most part with the occasional person passing and leaving you behind. During this nine miles I was consistently passed by people and there was no catching back up to them and shuffling back and forth in position. They passed me and before too long were out of sight. This continued right up through the last few miles. It is just tough mentally to be falling farther and farther behind where you would have liked to be. What was really tough is when the time clicked by past the time that I finished last year and I was still nowhere near the finish line. That was very disheartening.
The next biggest challenge was a combination of my leg muscles getting increasingly sore and tight and all of the mud that was on the course. It was difficult if not impossible to even walk fast because of the mud and the slipping and sliding that it caused. It just caused increased pain in my leg. So anywhere I could not get good footing, everywhere, I had to essentially walk at regularly casual pace because if you tried to push off at all to propel yourself forward you slid in the mud and that caused pain in my leg. If the ground was stable I would have been much better off. The conditions of the course were conspiring against me.
When I began to hear the sounds that indicated I was nearing the sixth and final aide station I was a little relieved. But that relief began to fade as that aide station seemed to keep getting farther away like a mirage in a desert. I could hear the raucous fun that was being had at the aide station but it was taking forever to actually arrive at that aide station and my perseverance was running low. I just needed to get there so that I knew I was close to the end. I knew that once I got to that aide station there were fewer than 4 miles to go. Then it would just be a matter of time. Finally out of the woods emerged this mystical aide station that seemed to be intentionally evading me as I wound my way through the woods hearing the sounds of merriment and food awaiting. I filled up my water and ate some food and headed out along the trail to finish this thing.
Last year I hated this section of the trail because it is relatively exposed compared to the rest of the course. You get a lot of sunlight here. I was expecting that due to the warmer weather this year on race day I would hate this section even more. To my surprise this might have been the best section for me out of the last 9 miles of the course. It was warm in the sun but due to the fact that I was going much slower than anticipated I did not get overheated. Also, probably due to the fact that it is a wider more exposed section of trail the ground was much drier and firmer. This allowed me to walk at a faster pace. I could actually push off the ground without slipping and sliding. So I was essentially trying to compete in the speed walking/hiking portion of the race for me. It was much more welcome than the pace I had been going. Essentially my fastest times since the beginning of the race were during the last 3 miles. At this point I began to look at my watch and see what time it was and try to calculate how long it would take me to finish and see how fast I needed to go to finish in under 10 hours. Even when you are hurting and going slower than you want you can still set yourself goals. My goal was finish in under 10 hours now. That helped me push it through to the finish. It gave me that extra drive and motivation to keep pushing as hard as I was physically able to at that point. As I was moving down this relatively flat relatively dry section of trail I kept thinking about trying to run, but I also knew there was a big decent awaiting and then it was flat to the finish. I really wanted to be able to do something resembling running when I crossed that finish line. I decided to conserve my energy and conserve the injured leg muscles as long as I was able to make a decent pace that would likely get me in to the finish in under ten hours. I was able to hobble down that final decent and be in some sort of running like posture down that final stretch and across the finish line. Finishing this race felt so good. It felt so good to be done. This was the hardest thing in running I have done to this point. Just persevering to be able to finish any way I could. Being able to hug my wife after finishing and then going to sit in the water at the finish was the best feeling.
Aside from the actual physical pain the hardest thing for me was that I could not really enjoy the part of trail running that I enjoy the most and that this course provides a lot of. I love to run downhill. I love descents. Unfortunately the way my injury was manifesting itself was as a limitation to my muscles that stabilized and pushed off from the hip region of my right leg so I really could not run any descending sections aside from the first major descent, which I really enjoyed. The course due to the mud even made relatively flat sections tough and limited my ability to do much of anything there. So that really left climbing. I do not really like climbing. I am not bad at it. I just don’t enjoy it. It is probably my least enjoyable aspect of trail running. It really can wear me out and leave me drained for whatever comes next, which probably just means I need to dedicate more work to it. But as it goes climbing was the one thing that I was left with being able to do at any kind of pace I would have had under normal circumstances. The pain I was experiencing did not really manifest itself in climbing. Must be the muscles that I was having difficulty with were not as involved in climbing as other parts of running.
Let’s talk about the mud and water. This was the most extreme mud and wet course I have every run on. I ran a 25k where it rained essentially the entire time. I’ve run Sehgahunda 3 times including this year which most people seemed to consider the muddiest yet and I have called that race the most muddy until now. At Sehgahunda the extreme mud is essentially limited to specific areas you can anticipate. At this year’s Worlds End the mud and water was everywhere. There were very few areas where your feet could dry off and then even if that happened it was rigfhtg back into the mud and water. There was essentially no good footing until the final 3 miles of the race where at least by the time I go there the course had dried out some. The descents were made even more difficult because the trails were muddy and where the trails weren’t muddy or there was rocks and roots instead of mud, the rocks and roots were wet and often slippery. You could not trust your footing to the rocks and roots. There was no real obvious strategy to get good footing even at the slow pace I was moving along the trail. I even managed to slip on a rock and fall on a descent. Not a terribly fall but IU did shed a little blood on the trail this year. This was by far the most difficult trail conditions I have every run on and it coincided with the most difficult race course I have run to date not really what one wants on their best day really not what one wants when they are less than 100% healthy but it is what I got and I did my best to overcome it.
I hesitate to really call anything an injury, but for lack of a better word that is what I am calling what I am dealing with. It doesn’t feel like an actual injury to me. At least not the type of thing that a person would call an injury in daily life. This issue I am having does not really impact me in carrying out my normal daily activities. It doesn’t even necessarily prevent me from running. It really just prevents me from training hard and training as hard as I feel I need to, to complete the challenges I have set before me. So I guess as it relates to running it is a running injury, but not anything more than that and for that I feel fortunate.
I am the kind of person that stubbornly refuses to get medical treatment unless absolutely necessary. Just ask my wife, she will confirm it. I have been extremely fortunate in my life to have very few occasions that actually required medical intervention. I have been very fortunate to be relatively healthy throughout my adult life and I am very thankful for that. So, now that I have this issue cropping up that while in the grand scheme of things really is a minor issue I am finally seeking and getting medical treatment for my condition. I have been getting treatment from a chiropractor and a massage therapist and I have my first appointment with a primary care doctor that I plan to continue to use since I was probably 18 years old. Sadly the only reason I am actually getting this treatment is because I have a huge race for me quickly approaching. I am running my first ever 50 miler at the Finger Lakes 50’s in Upstate, NY and I need to be as close to at least physically healthy as I can be especially since I will likely be to some degree under trained. Wish me luck.
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