On race morning I felt a sense of calm and resolve. I hadn’t completed a 100 miler in 2015 and so it was my last shot at a States’16 qualifier. I had logged the miles for months on end, i had prepared, and now this was my day to shine.
Finding purpose and being able to access the ever-important answer to the gnawing question “WHY?” keeps our eyes on the prize. If you can’t answer “WHY?” there’s a good chance you’ll elect to quit at this distance. Quitting is easy. Crack a beer and sit in the shade with the faded and vacant expression of defeat. Quitting sucks and it smarts. DNF (did not finish) does not always amount to quitting. Sometimes we are injured and dropping is the responsible thing to do. My father once told me before a race “Son, discretion is the better part of valor.” While I understand a father’s worry, its not necessarily the best mantra for gritting it out. And a father’s voice is a powerful, resonant voice inside your head. Thanks Dad. He’s right though. Calculated risk is the name of the game, but in my position in life, as a family man, I need to error on the side of safety – always!
John Medinger, one of our grand ambassadors in the sport, has a great phrase when asked “how was it out there?”, he says “it was good until it wasn’t!” Adversity will come in a jumbo sundae with many flavors and in heaping scoops over the course of a 100 mile run. It’s not a question of “IF”, it’s a matter of “WHEN” and how often it will strike. Some issues may have been anticipated and others will sneak up on you and bite you in the butt – the neglected hot spot on your heel, dehydration, lack of calories, cramping, hyponatremia, the list goes on. I was running with neither pacer nor crew. This is a cool idea in concept. But deep into a race in the middle of the night when you’re injured and disoriented, with declining fine motor skills, cognitive issues and hallucinations, things can get a bit hairy. Is this foreboding? No, not really – what’s the worst that can happen?
For the 2015 race year, the RDL course had been changed. The first 19 miles of the 100 mile course opened fast and furious. In the words of Emerson, ” We gain the strength of the temptation we resist.” Conventional wisdom says if you think you’ve gone out too slow in a 100 miler, then slow down! “Come on! Do it!” “Run a little!” “What do they know?” “Is that all you got?” “Look, nothing’s gonna happen. You’re good.” Though my heart rate was right where I wanted it, I went out too fast. At around mile 35, Rattlesnake Bar Aid Station, my left leg started cramping. This is not entirely unusual and, though mildly concerned, in the past I’ve been able to work through cramps, a fleeting niggle that requires some care and attention but will release and subside over time. Still pressing on over the next 15 miles into Cool Aid Station ( mile 51), the severity of the cramp worsened with each passing mile. My entire leg from my hamstring down into my posterior knee, calf and achilles began to seize up to the point where i winced and contorted with each step.
But as my physical situation worsened, my attitude remained positive. My beautiful, supportive and awesome wife of 17 years, Jen would say, “It’s an inside job. Break it down, aid station to aid station, stay present, stay positive, be patient, persist, do your work.” Lessons on the trail are life lessons, and life lessons are trail lessons.
The ebbs and flows of life, the cresting wave and frothy chaotic white surf, are all served up in a 100 mile endurance run. You get to play out narratives, and work through issues the way we must attack them in life.
How are we going to overcome Donkey Kong’s barrels? He’s insistent on F’ing rolling them down the F’ing hill. It was 5pm now and I still had 50 miles ahead to the finish.
By sheer will and irrational, borderline delusional psychosis I made the conscious decision to keep making forward progress and remain calm. ” I don’t think the heavy stuff will come down for awhile, lets play on.”
I was looking for an epic experience and I had found myself deep in one and welcoming in the adversity as a formidable but not entirely invincible foe. Donkey Kong you’re no match for me, you’re nothing but big bully ape. One of my mantras when I get in the hurt locker is to visualize being showered and in my jammies all warm and cozy in bed. Ultras are voluntary suffering. We pay money to do this and in 24 hours it will be over. All the adversity and stories of perseverance will be entertaining material for our weekly group training runs. So, what’s a little pain and suffering? Again, it’s transitory, chalked up as fun time in the not too distant future. I had a good chuckle thinking about a passage from one of my favorite books that had left a lasting impression on me. Hunter S., rest his soul, was quite the prolific writer and he seemed to be talking directly to me in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”
For truly gifted ultra runners, who we call “the elites”, they are racing to podium or place. For the rest of us, we are out there for a multitude of reasons. Running trails is a good time. Running a 100 miles through the mountains for 24 – 30+ hours take a special constitution and the perfect physiological, emotional, astrological, and spiritual alchemy. Oh yeah, I forgot a deep communion with nature. “Forced Conscious Expansion” may very well sum up my love for Ultra-running.
I toughed out the finish. It wasn’t pretty but it was deeply satisfying. Jen and Maia surprised me on Race Morning and drove up to Roseville CA to meet me at the finish. Based on how well I had run the first 50, they had no idea of the distress signals. They awoke super early expecting me to be done in the wee morning hours and were in position to welcome me in. They waited and waited and waited. Many hours later, when finally I was visible on the horizon, they took position on the gateway to the finish – and what a sight for sore eyes they were. They filled my heart with love and warmth. One of my favorite things to do in running 100s is finishing hand in hand with Maia. Such a great ending to another mind-blowing experience.