Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Monday Morning After

While cleaning up my hard drive today I found this draft of a blog post about my training for the Vermont 100 last summer and thought I might as well post it here. I miss the sensation in my legs that I described that only comes from the trial of miles. I lost it sometime over this past last year of lethargy. Maybe it's time to find it again.
. . . .

Monday Morning After

It’s the morning after the weekend before and time for yet another workout. It was a productive weekend, the biggest in a while, 31 miles in two days and my legs ache from the effort. I was in bed by 9:30 last night but I still reacted to the 4 am alarm with a groan. This schedule already seems relentless and I’m only just beginning to ramp up my mileage in preparation for my next race.

Sleep deprived and sore, are not a recipe for a quality workout and I’m not looking forward to it. The first few steps always hurt and I voiced an involuntary grunt. I fall into an asymmetrical shuffle, limping from side to side. The group starts to slowly pull away from me and I think to myself that this is going to be a long and lonely 5 miles.

Soon however, I find my rhythm and things start to even out. It’s not exactly comfortable but more like a sensation that my legs are doing what they were designed to do, fulfilling their purpose. By the end of that first mile the pain subtly receded. Still there, definitely still there, the dull ache lurks in the dark recesses of my consciousness occasionally jabbing a sharp reminder of the battering I gave my body over the past few days. Revenge perhaps.

I soon caught and then passed the group up front. I looked over my shoulder hoping someone would peel off and give chase. This pace feels good for the moment but I know it will be difficult to maintain without a little friendly competiveness, maybe even a few nuggets of breathless conversation to take my mind off the effort.

The headlamps and flashlights slowly recede behind me, bouncing in the dark, faces occasionally illuminated by the glow of a street lamp. No one took the bait. It’s understandable, it is the Monday morning after and I know that, to a person, they all put in a hard weekend too.

Looks like it still might be a lonely 5 miles, but hopefully not quite so long.

Sunday, September 20, 2015



I looked down the steep embankment to the water 10 feet below to see a sulfurous bubble break the surface.  The thick carpet of green duckweed parted and then slowly drifted back into place leaving no trace of the pocket of air that had finally percolated through the primordial ooze decaying at the bottom.

I wondered how deep it was.  10 inches? 10 feet?

The trail was narrow and twisting following a natural berm between the St. Johns River on the right and the wetlands to the left, weaving through saw palmetto, cypress and sweetgum. Wetlands. Wet lands. The doublespeak of real estate developers and state agency regulations. More than just a wet land, this was a swamp in the true sense of the word with all the worrisome perils it connotes. It awakens primal fears in your subconscious leaving you with no more courage than a child pulling the covers over his head to guard against monsters under his bed.

The air was thick with humidity and passed through the lungs like warm soup.  Even time moves slowly through this environment, lazily.  I looked up to see blue skies above the trees, but no light penetrated.  This was a dank green tunnel.  The black loamy soil was wet and slick from frequent summer thunderstorms and would likely stay that way for weeks to come.  Oddly, the ground did not hold a footprint.  The only sign of the trail runners ahead of me was the occasional slide in the mud, evidence of a slip toward the water below.

Did someone fall in?  Maybe I was wrong about that bubble.  Maybe it wasn’t the gassing off of decaying detritus but instead the final exhalation of a trail runner trapped in the muck, or locked in a death roll with a 12 foot gator.  The duckweed completely obscured the horrors that could be unfolding below.

Maybe that gator was watching me, biding its time, carelessly revealing its presence by allowing a single bubble to escape its nostrils in its excited anticipation.

Buzzing insects.   The song of the cicadas.  The croaking of the gators.  Bird calls.  The sound of the swamp is equal parts cacophony and dead silence.  The crashing through the palmetto ahead could be a harmless armadillo or a charging hog. The two sounds are nearly indistinguishable and either could be equally as likely.  Maybe it was just a rotten tree limb succumbing to the weight of a squirrel and falling on the bushes below.  Everything rots here, even as that rot is hidden behind a veneer of lush green.

I stopped for a moment at a bridge crossing to take it all in, spotting a doe on the opposite shore of the stream.  More accurately the doe spotted me as it was obvious she had been watching me long before I became aware of her.  I crouched down to enjoy the moment.  She was comfortable in this environment and showed no fear.  I was the oddity.  The thing out of place.  When she had satisfied her curiosity she calmly walked away, apparently confident that I posed no threat.

It was time for me to move on as well.

Robert Bird
Black Bear Wilderness Area, Sanford, Florida
September 20, 2015

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Bob's 2014 Ancient Oaks 100 FAQ

With Christmas quickly approaching I have no time to draft an epic race report for this year’s Ancient Oaks 100 full of my usual drama, hilarity and eloquent prose. So instead I quickly tossed together the following FAQ based on questions I have been answering over the past few days.  Enjoy.

Bob’s 2014 Ancient Oaks 100 FAQ

1.      Are you crazy?

2.      Did you finish/what was your time?
I did.  My time was 28:22:47, a PR by 1:19:04 compared to my finish at the Javelina Jundred last year.

3.      Did you win?
No, but thanks for bursting my bubble.

4.      Did you run all that time without stopping?
I walked some and took short breaks between each lap around the course.  The 3.46 mile loop has some small inclines and a section that had very serpentine single track that was very rooty and I would usually walk those sections.  Over time, the rhythm of the race became automatic and oddly comforting.

5.      Did you ever sit down?
I ran about the first third of the race without sitting, except for a quick bathroom break and to tape my toes for blister prevention. After that I would sit for a few minutes between laps to rest, recover, eat, and try to address any issues I was having like hot spots on my feet or chafing down under.  FYI, lubing the undercarriage is quite a difficult task late in the race and I lost all sense of modesty about it. At the beginning of the race I would shyly step into the bathroom with my Body Glide in my pocket. By mile 90 I would step behind a parked vehicle, drop my shorts, bend over and take care of business in broad daylight.

The shortest of these rest stops were less than a minute to refill my water bottle.  The longest was about 45 minutes which included a 20 minute nap.  The average was about 9 and a half minutes so I think there is room for improvement here.

6.      Did you sleep?
I took a 20 minute nap at the start of the 22nd lap. I think that was about 2:30 in the morning. I had been suffering from nausea for quite some time and felt like I was weaving back and forth along the trail. I hoped that the nap would refresh me and allow my stomach to recover. It worked.  During that last lap before the nap, about 70 miles into the race, I think I was feeling more fatigued than I ever have in my life. The urge to stop in my tracks was irresistible. I kept visualizing myself bent over, hands on knees, refusing to take another step. Luckily, I had the foresight to supply my pacers with cattle prods.

7.      This really sounds crazy, are you right in the head?
Probably not.

8.      What did you eat?
Dinner the night before the race was delicious beef tips and mushrooms over noodles (thanks Jen!). 

Breakfast before the race was 2 slices of peanut butter toast.

Solid food consumed during the race:
2 Gu's
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Turkey wrap with avocado and cheese cut into bite size pinwheels.
2 Taco Bell soft tacos
Lots of trail mix
Orange Slices
Chicken noodle soup – mostly the broth
A handful of french fries
Two bites from a McDonalds Sausage Biscuit
2 apples
Half a slice of pepperoni Pizza
A handful of wheat thins crackers

Fluids consumed during the race:
Tailwind Nutrition - 6 or 7 bottles @ 200 calories each
Coke – about 2.5 liters
A few sips of coffee

9.      How can you eat like that and run without puking?
Oh, I puked.  I actually learned some lessons during this race about how I personally need to take in food that I think will benefit me in future races.  Namely, that I cannot eat and run at the same time.  I initially tried to reduce my time at aid stations by grabbing a handful of food and eating on the run, but what always happens after a few hours of running is that my stomach rejects the food and I have difficulty even swallowing anything in my mouth.  This meant a lot of walking while I was trying to get some food in my gut and a lot of wasted food that got tossed aside.  I found that a few minutes to eat, and swallow, my food while resting at the aid station yielded much faster lap times. It will just take some more trial and error to find the optimum amount of rest so that I am not just killing time at aid stations.

I think I also figured out that I do not need as much food as I thought I did.  Planning for the race I tried to figure out how I could pack in about 400 calories per hour.  I don’t think I ate anywhere near that much during the race.  I suffered two significant low points in the race, but I don’t think they were related to nutrition.

10.  Did you change shoes/socks/clothing?
I changed socks twice but wore the same shoes, Saucony Kinvaras throughout the whole race. I did change into a dry shirt several times.  I wore long sleeves at night and for a few laps a light jacket. I considered changing into dry shorts, but figured there was no point. The new shorts would be sweat soaked in no time anyway. I did suffer from chafing in my groin late in the race, so that might have been a mistake. It was minor compared to previous races though and was gone within 24 hours after the race.

11.  Do you listen to music, don’t you get bored?
I never use an ipod but I do listen to the soundtrack in my head much to the dismay of my crew and runners around me when I start singing along with the music. Unfortunately the song Black Widow was stuck in my head the whole race and I had to listen to that one line from the song “Like a black widow baby” over and over because I do not know a single other word from it.  I think I can honestly say that I was never once bored during the race.

12.  Why would anyone want to run 100 miles, that’s insane?
I think we have already established that.

13.  Did you get any blisters?
A few, but they did not impact my running. I was pretty tuned in to my body this race. As soon as I experienced an issue I was able to address it before it became a problem. I stopped twice to tape toes when I felt the friction between them becoming an issue and avoided any blisters there.  I did have a few around the base of my heels.

14.  How many calories did you burn, you must have lost a lot of weight?
My guess would be somewhere around 10,000 calories. However after getting on the scale two days after the race, allowing a little time for the temporary weight loss from dehydration to adjust, I weighed exactly the same as I did the day before the race. I did not lose a single pound. I can't say that I gorged after the race either.  It takes me a while to get my appetite back once I stop running. I had a small cheeseburger on the way home, and then a reasonably portioned dinner before going to sleep. I think I drank a beer and a half and had some chocolate milk. I resumed my regular eating habits the next day.

15.  Who was that hot girl you were hugging at the finish line?

I’m a lucky guy.

16.   Do you know how crazy this sounds?
Asked and answered.  Aren’t you paying attention?

I can’t thank my crew enough, Jennifer Florida, Matt Vayda and Mike Grogan for coddling me all weekend and of course race director Mike Melton and his volunteers for putting on a great event.

Monday, December 23, 2013

And bad mistakes, I’ve made a few. . . .

I DNF’d (did not finish) at mile 65 of the Ancient Oaks 100 this weekend.  I completed 19 of 29 loops around the 3.5 mile course.  It was a harsh reminder that 100 miles is not a distance to be trifled with.  It is a distance that will punish you even if you are well trained both physically and mentally, and if you are not then it will leave you, as it did me, balled up in a fetal position pleading for mercy.

So what happened after completing the 19th loop?

The Big Bonk

I puked up the entire contents of my stomach during lap 14, about mile 47, worse than I ever have before in a race.  I was never able to shake the nausea after that point.  It happened again on lap 19 only that time I was shocked to discover that my stomach was completely empty, not even any fluid.  I stood bent over the trail, dry heaving, and realized that that for quite some time I had stopped both eating and drinking.  That put me in a precarious spot.

I Depleted my Bank Account

My goal for the race was reasonable.  I figured if I averaged just an hour per loop it would “easily” get me a 100 mile PR.  I ran the first part of the race really strong and by the end of my 9th loop I had “banked” over an hour and a half under my goal pace.  I was even so confident as to start hoping for a 28 or even a 27 hour race but in the back of my mind I knew I was running too hard.  I have heard this advice over and over again.  Any time that you bank in the beginning of a race will cost you many times over at the end of the race, that is if you finish at all.

My lap times started to creep above the one hour mark around lap 10 and by the time I finished lap 19, the hour and a half I had banked in the first quarter of the race was gone.  I realized I was looking at the prospect of a 30 hour race, or probably even longer.  This was hugely demoralizing.

Running 100 Miles Hurts

Actually, my legs were still doing okay, but my feet had taken a pounding.  I ran the first 58 miles, 17 loops, in my Luna Sandals and then switched to a normal shoe.  I always take some ribbing about my shoe choice but I’m willing to endure some pain in the soles of my feet to remain free of blisters and to have relatively fresh legs after 60 miles of running.  Switching to a more cushioned shoe at that point of the race feels luxurious and is a nice reward that in the past helped to carry me through to the finish.  I know from past experience that I can compartmentalize this kind of pain.  If my head is in a good place this kind of pain recedes from my consciousness, bothering me much worse when I am at rest than when I am running.  Unfortunately this time my head was not in a good place.

It takes Commitment

Embarrassingly, Matt Mahoney, an icon of the Florida ultra-running community, passed me while I was still dry heaving spittle on the forest floor on that 19th loop.  Because I was still stooped over, he asked if had lost something on the ground.  I rallied again just a little bit after that and was heartened somewhat to find that I was able to keep up with him for the rest of the loop, even as we climbed his namesake summit and Florida’s only famous 14’er, Mount Mahoney (Elev. 14 feet).

But when I reached the end of the loop and sat down I shut down mentally.  I had my physical hardships, my excuses, but it was nothing that most of the people that finished the race didn’t also suffer.  I saw them run by one after another, loop after loop, hour after hour.  Some were so raw with emotion they were crying uncontrollably.  I heard pacers and crew recount their suffering and still they managed to continue.  Meanwhile, I succumbed to the nausea and stubbornly refused to try to take in the food and drink I needed to continue the race.  I spent most of the rest of the night in that chair, doubled over, hugging my knees, feeling sorry for myself and struggling to ward off the pre-dawn chill.

I realized you have to be 100% committed to finishing or you are almost certainly destined to fail.  On this day I did not have that level of commitment.  I had given myself excuse after excuse even before this race began.  I gave myself permission to fail, so the result was practically pre-ordained.

Photos courtesy of Chris Goodreau

A few acknowledgments:

Matt Vayda for pacing and crewing me through the night and for cooking a mean chicken soup.

Ezequiel Cuellar who surprised me by showing up in the middle of the night with his daughter and paced two loops with me and to Ezequiel’s wife for the delicious quesadillas.

Chris Goodreau and Jennifer Echegaray who lifted my spirits early in the day with some great company and yummy pizza.

Claire and Norbert for the their companionship and for pacing me through a hard run loop 16.

Smith Jean-Baptiste, Rameek McNair and crew who coincidentally set up shop next to me in the parking lot.   Rameek in particular who escaped the "chair of despair" after the sun rose to get in two more loops.  I was awestruck.

Jennifer Florida for her inspiration and the warm words of encouragement she gave me after the race.

And of course, RD extraordinaire Mike Melton for putting on an awesome event.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

4:40 - A Javelina Jundred Race Report

“Now Bob,” Mike locked my gaze to make sure he had my attention and in as calm a voice as he could muster said, “You have to finish this one in 4:40 in order to make the cutoff for the final loop.”

It took a moment for the import of his words to sink in but when they did my response was visceral.  I doubled over in despair, hands on knees, tears flowing.

“I can’t do that.”

I was proud of the effort I had put forth in my last loop around the course.  With Claire’s help as my pacer I shrugged off some of the cumulative fatigue brought on by the intense heat of the day.  Claire was amazing as a pacer.  She seemed to instinctively know when I needed to be pulled and when to fall in behind to let me set the pace.  In the blackness of night she positioned herself perfectly on technical sections of trail to extend my field of view with her flashlight.  In my inexperience I wouldn’t have even known to ask for these things.  Together, we managed to cut over 20 minutes off of my lap times from my last several solo loops around the course during the afternoon heat and just after sunset.  But four hours and forty minutes meant running even harder.  There was no way.

Claire had been warning me about the cutoff, but every time she mentioned it I got a little irritated with her.  What was she talking about?  I had pushed hard with a continuous effort all day long.  How could I be at risk of missing the cutoff?  She must be mistaken.  I had plenty of time.

It was the definiteness of the number, 4:40, that finally shattered the denial.  I had run over 75 miles and now success or failure hinged on my ability to run the next 15 in 4:40.

“I can’t do it.”

Fortunately the despair was short lived.  The next thought that crossed my mind was, “Well what do you want to do now?  Quit?”

Fuck that!  The very thought made me angry.

I immediately straightened up and made my way back on to the course with Claire in tow.   I allowed myself a bit of a pity party during the short 1.5 mile run to the first aid station, Rattlesnake Ranch.  I didn’t want to be in a position where I was chasing cutoffs, yet here I was.  I started to question decisions I had made over the course of the race and struggled to shrug off the tears.

We stopped only long enough at Rattlesnake Ranch to top off water bottles and fill my pockets with candied ginger, the only solid food I had been able to keep down while running since puking twice earlier in the day.  I hate candied ginger.

By the time we set out from Rattlesnake Ranch, a switch had flipped in my head.  Gone was the despair. The pity party was over.  All that remained was determination.

Unfortunately what lay ahead was a grueling 5.5 mile climb to the next aid station at Jackass Junction.

I had already run back and forth . . . no, I mean up and down . . . the leg of the course between Rattlesnake Ranch and Jackass Junction  5 times and this was by far the harder direction.  The course reversed direction after each loop.  The race directors called them washing machine loops.  Odd numbered loops started with a tough 7.5 mile uphill run including a few miles of rocky, technical terrain but you were rewarded with a dreamy, well groomed and gently sloping downhill back to the start on the opposite side of the hill.  I didn’t mind the rocks so much on the uphill side because you tended to be moving slow anyway.  By contrast, on even numbered loops that dreamy downhill became grueling, unending incline.  Since the trail was so easy, and the grade so slight, the temptation was to try to run the whole thing.  That was doable but exhausting when we were fresh at the beginning of the day.  During the night and now with dawn of the second day of the race approaching, it was hard to find anyone running up this side of the hill.  Worse, there was no easy downhill reward on the other side.  Miles of steeper and rocky trail made the downhill treacherous.  It was very hard to make up any time lost while walking the first half of the loop.

Part of the reason for my distress was that not only did we have to complete loop 6 in 4:40, but we had to do it in the harder direction.  I put these negative thoughts out of my mind when we left Rattlesnake Ranch and resolved to get the job done.

Claire and I pushed hard and we were rewarded with a breathtaking sunrise.  I had a camera stashed in my waist belt but resisted the urge to stop and take pictures.  The time for that had passed.  Although I had pushed hard throughout the entire previous day, as I now reached the 80 mile mark of the race my mentality had completely changed.  I was much more focused and serious.  This was a race in jeopardy and I was determined to succeed.

Dawn and my lucky stone pillar

By now I was intimately familiar with the trail and had picked out landmarks to alert me to when we were approaching aid stations.  I took a photo of Dawn while we were running together on the first loop by a stone pillar about a half mile out of Jackass Junction and every time I passed it I touched the stone for luck.  Landmarks weren’t always necessary though especially when there was plenty of traffic running in both directions.  Soda is so universally beloved by ultra-runners that belching runners approaching from the other direction was always a sure sign that an aid station was only minutes away.

As we approached Jackass Junction I started barking orders at Claire.  On my previous trips through this aid station I stopped and sat for a few minutes to deal with various issues – tape hot spots on my toes, shake sand out of my shoes, try to down some hot soup.  This time I was determined to remain on my feet and exit as fast as possible and told Claire she was not to allow me to sit down.  I handed off my water bottles to Claire to be refilled, took care of some business in the port-a-pottie, stripped off the long sleeve shirt I had put on to fend off the pre-dawn chill and stashed my headlamp in my drop bag.  After retrieving my water bottles from Claire I glanced at the food on the table and was surprised to find that for the first time in hours I had my appetite back.  I grabbed a few pieces of fruit and a bite of pumpkin pie and we headed out.  I don’t think we were there for more than 3 or 4 minutes.  The aid station captain complimented us on how efficiently we were working together and it made me proud and again so grateful that I had Claire’s help.

Claire, the pacer extraordinaire!

I checked my watch as we exited the aid station to discover that we had run the last section of course uphill significantly faster than we had run it downhill on the previous loop.  I was elated.  This was a huge confidence booster.  I had passed the 83 mile mark of the race and suddenly I felt great.  I was full of energy and the pain that had plagued me through the night had vanished.  There was no physical explanation for this.  Yes, I was finally eating again, but the few calories I slammed down at the aid station can’t account for this sudden turnaround.  I’m beginning to grasp the mental aspect of ultra- running.

I just hoped that this burst of energy was enough to get me through the miles of rocks that lay ahead.

I was only half way around the loop, but I was already starting to think ahead to what I needed when I got back to the the start/finish - Javelina Jeadquarters  - for my final half loop around the course.  The race wasn’t assured yet but I was confident I would make it back in time.

After each of the previous two loops I had taken a 10 minute break at Javelina Jeadquaters in a tent with a cot that we had reserved.  I wanted to lie down, not to sleep, but to elevate my feet and take a load off for just a few minutes.  I was fortunate enough to have a crew that I could trust to roust me when the 10 minutes were up.  This was one of the decisions I questioned when I found out how close I was to the cut off, but looking back I’m confident that the rest paid dividends.  10 minutes of rest after loop 4, for example, yielded a 24 minute improvement in my lap time for lap 5, but that lap time included the extra 10 minutes of rest.  The actual improvement in my moving pace was really remarkable.

Our humble abode

No more time for rest though.  In fact, I didn’t want to go anywhere near that tent again.  It was just past dawn and still cool but I knew that I was going to have to deal with heat again before this race was over.  Heat was my primary concern.

I started barking orders at Claire again.

“Try to contact Mike and tell him I don’t want to go back to the tent.  Meet us at the aid station with my hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and Tylenol.”

She seemed relieved and told me she was thinking the same thing.

There was a short technical climb out of Jackass Junction (Claire actually texted Mike during this climb despite my disapproval – I had visions of her tripping) and then we had a few relatively easy miles before we hit the rocks.  When we reached the top I started running . . . hard.  It felt incredible.  I looked down at my feet moving across the desert like it was an out of body experience.  It was surreal.  I couldn’t believe my energy level more than 80 miles into the race.  There was no pain.  My legs were working as if they were completely fresh.  I would speed down steep washes and have enough momentum to make it up the other side without slowing down.  Behind me I could hear Claire shouting exclamations of disbelief and I swear I think I heard her huffing and puffing a bit trying to keep up.  I was too focused to turn and look back.

Spiders!  Why did it have to be spiders?

This went on for miles and I passed a lot of runners, including a few that I am pretty sure were actually zombies.  It was like being in an episode of The Walking Dead.  I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of them are still wandering mindlessly through the Sonoran desert today.

We reached the next aid station, Tonto’s Tavern, in no time.  This station had been unmanned most of the race and was stocked only with water.  It had actually run dry in the middle of the day on Saturday, leaving runners to fend for themselves for 6.5 miles with no access to water or aid in temperatures that were reported to have exceeded 100 degrees.  There was no shortage of complaining by runners about the snafu but  I can’t say it bothered me that much.  I figured, it is what it is, just deal with it.  I was carrying two 20 oz bottles which was cutting it close, but just enough fluid to cover the distance if I was careful to ration it.  Tonto’s Tavern was also the final turn for the finishing loop so there was now a volunteer stationed to point runners in the right direction.  Runners on their final loop were adorned with a glow stick necklace when they left the start/finish for the last time so they could easily be identified and directed toward the finish line.  That must have been a cool sight at night.  Maybe I’ll get to see it next time.

The section of trail between Tonto’s Tavern and Coyote Camp was the hardest, including about 2.5 miles of rocky technical downhill.  It was hard enough going uphill through that section, treacherous going down.  My energy level was still high though and I ran through most of that section hard.  It took intense concentration to navigate the rocks and I remember thinking to myself that I had been running for over 24 hours and was surprised that I still had the ability to think.  I watched my feet navigate the rocks and somehow felt both focused and disconnected at the same time.  I was incredulous.  Claire gave me some much appreciated kudos for the effort.  With the exception of a few really bad spots that slowed our progress to a halt we made great time.

Dawn at dawn.

Throughout the entire race I never paid attention to the total distance I had covered or had remaining.  I focused solely only on the distance to the next aid station and using just the chronograph on my watch and an estimated pace was pretty accurate in predicting arrival times.  For the first time in the race I was now thinking farther ahead and I was obsessed with the cutoff.  I knew I had to start the final 9 mile loop by 9:30 a.m.  I also knew it was 2 miles from the next aid station, Coyote Camp, to the Javelina Jeadquarters.  I figured to play it safe I needed at least half an hour to cover that distance.  Much less than that and I would risk missing the cutoff if I bonked again.

My watch, a simple Timex sport watch, was set to display the race clock time which was now well over 24 hours so figuring out the time of day took a little simple math.  Of course simple math eludes me on a 4 hour training run so I don’t know how I expected that I would be able to do it after running for more than 24.  The fact that simply pushing a button on the watch to display time of day was even too complicated to figure out at that point.  I figured I was still cutting it really close.  There was still a need for urgency.

We reached Coyote Camp three minutes later than I hoped.  The thirty minutes I wanted to safely reach the start was now just 27 and I was worried about being able to make it.  Claire didn’t seem to have the same sense of urgency about the time that I did and I remember getting really irritated with her.  Shortly after we left the aid station Claire complimented my effort and told me we had over an hour to reach the start.  What!?

I hit the button on my watch to switch from the chronograph to the time of day and realized my math was wrong.  Of course my math was wrong.  Trying to figure out the time of day from the clock time I thought the time was 9:03, turned out it was 8:03.  I was dumbfounded.  I couldn’t believe how fast we had run that loop.

I realized that I was going to finish the race and started to get choked up again.  Unfortunately, with the sense of urgency now gone, the switch that had flipped in my head helping me to pull off that miraculous effort, switched back off.

“Well then I’m going to quit killing myself on these uphills,” and I started walking.

Big mistake!

The fatigue I felt at that moment was overwhelming and worse, the pain returned.  Once I backed off I found it incredibly difficult to maintain much more than a shuffle.  The pain in my quads running down into the steep washes on that part of the course was intense.  It was all I could do to stay upright and when I reached the bottom I came to a complete stop and had to brace myself for the climb out.  The momentum that had helped me navigate these over the past few miles was completely gone.

I shuffled like this for the entire two miles back to the start.

We reached Javelina Jeadquarters at 8:41 with 49 minutes to spare.  Instead of the 4:40 that I thought was impossible at the start of the loop, I covered the distance in just 3:51.

I must have been out of it because I can’t remember very much of what transpired at the aid station before I set out again for the final 9 mile loop.  I know I received my glow necklace.  I remember Mike and Dawn were there with the gear I requested.  I remember Mike spraying me down with sunscreen.  And I remember dreading going back out.  It was starting to get hot again and I was going to have to turn back in the direction from which I had just come, in and out of those steep washes and then back up through miles of rocks.

I was grateful Claire agreed to go out with me one more time.  I don't think she counted on having to run 40 miles with me and I know I wasn’t exactly conversational on the last loop, but I still cherished the companionship.

I shuffled back out on the course.  At a road crossing near the start someone was applauding and tried to cheer me up by saying that all I had to do was maintain a 20 minute per mile shuffle to be able to finish on time.  I didn’t find this comforting at all.

When we reached the Coyote Camp aid station 2 miles later my primary concern was controlling the heat.  I filled my hat with ice and rolled some into my bandanna tied around my neck and then it was back to work to take on the rocky climb to Tonto Tavern.

I don’t know how but we actually passed another zombie . . . I mean runner . . . on that section.

I was dreading what was awaiting us after the turn back to the finish.  It was on a section of trail we had not seen before and I worried that if it was technical I might not make it.  I also was not sure of the exact distance of that final leg.  I thought it might be 4.something miles and worried that if the number was closer to 5 than 4 miles I might not be able to make it either.

When we finally reached Tonto Tavern the volunteer let us know that it was only 3.6 miles to the finish.  He pointed us in the right direction and what lay ahead was easy downhill trail as far as the eye could see.  Flat ground.  No rocks.  I heard Claire cheering me on.  I finally knew I was going to make it and struggled again to choke back the tears.

It still wasn’t easy going.  I shuffled along as best I could and got passed by two runners on that section.  I wondered if I was the one that looked like a zombie this time.  When the last one passed me I looked behind and there was no one in sight.  I wondered if I would be the last and really didn’t care.  As long as I finished.  Finishing was all that mattered.

When we reached the final road crossing I stopped Claire, gave her a hug and thanked her for helping me.  I’m sure I cried on her shoulder.  I know I would not have finished on time without her help.

She ran ahead as I continued to shuffle toward the finish.  It felt like I mustered up a bit of a jog, but I’m sure it didn’t look that way.  For some reason I got obsessed with my finish photo and started to wonder how I looked.  Probably like hell.  Then I put those thoughts out of my mind.  It is what it is.

The final stretch was lined with campsites and people were cheering me on.  They were even calling me by name which completely overwhelmed me.  I rounded the final corner, saw the race director Jamil Coury snapping photos and then spotted all of my friends waiting for me on the other side of the finish line.  I fell into their arms and hugged everyone.  Jamil was immediately there to award me with my buckle.

And then I collapsed into closest chair I could find in the shade.

I finished in 29:41.  19 minutes under the cutoff.   151st  place.  I wasn’t DFL, but I also wasn’t far from it.  Out of 377 starters only 157 finished.   41%.  The heat really took its toll.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Just keep Swimming . . . and a few other running mantras?

I know what you are thinking.  How is a mantra about swimming relevant to endurance running?  What can I say, the reference makes me smile, and anything that can make you smile when you are in the depths of a terrible emotional low and self doubt during a race is a godsend.  So, just keep swimming.

Speaking of swimming, Diana Nyad’s mantra made national news this weekend when she finally managed to complete her swim from Cuba to Key West.  Find a way.  I love it!

All Day.  I heard this one recently in an ultrarunnerpodcast interview.  I wish I could give credit to the runner that mentioned it, but I can’t recall who it was.  It reminds me of the explanation I try to give loved ones when they express concern about destroying my body chasing ever increasing endurance distances.  I’m doing something that I love, I’m doing it in places that allow me to experience nature’s wonders and I get to do it all day long.  What could be better than that?

It gets better.  A little hope is a wonderful thing.

Most of my local running friends are very familiar with this last one.  I think it resonated among those who share a desire to push themselves beyond their comfort zones and break through their limits.  When I find myself in a dark place during a race, feeling sorry for myself, I remind myself that I knew this would be difficult and that there would be hardship.  Overcoming these lows is exactly the experience I signed up for and the emotional highs that will follow when I make it through to the other side will be amazing.  I paid for this.  I wanted to be here, in this moment, good or bad, so . . . .

Suck it up, Buttercup!

Monday, March 4, 2013

2013 Swamp House Half Marathon

Sunday started with a 2:00 am wake up call to pick up a load of ice for the race.  I finally made it to the race start around 3:45, already a few minutes late and off to a worrying start.

After a quick check in at the parking area to see how Duane Allen and our parking volunteers were doing it was straight to the start/finish line to set up the starting corrals, finish chute and lay out the 5k.  Moving and assembling barricades and traffic cones.  Hauling ice, water, and cases of bananas, power bars and medals.  Helping set up the medical tent.  Managing volunteers, answering questions, directing traffic . . . .  The tasks seemed endless.

Before I knew it, the sun was up and I realized I could finally ditch my headlamp.  Oh crap!  What time is it?  20 minutes to the race start and time to panic.

About five minutes before the start I snuck a quick glance over at the start line and saw a massive sea of people eager to start the half marathon.  I hardly had a moment to appreciate the magnitude of what we had accomplished before I was snapped out of my revelry by 5k runners milling around aimlessly looking for guidance.  We had another race start in 20 minutes so it was on to the next thing.

In the distance I heard the national anthem.  It broke my heart when I realized I would miss the start of the race but there was too much still to do.

The rest of the morning was spent addressing one minor crisis after the other.  Injured runners.  Reassigning volunteers to cover needs.  A traffic accident involving one of the shuttle buses.  Tracking down missing supplies.  Keeping food, water and medals stocked.  My phone rang constantly.  There was a never ending stream of questions.  It was exhausting but all it took was a quick look at the faces of runners crossing the finish line to be instantly rejuvenated.

Miraculously everything fell into place.  Actually, that’s not true.  To credit a miracle isn’t fair.  Although I’m sure God was smiling on us, we did not require divine intervention.*  It took hard work, planning and the amazing organizational skills of Jennifer Florida.

There are too many people to thank for their hard work individually and I know I would forget someone.  So thank you Jennifer Florida and Don Stoner, the heart and soul of Final Mile Race Management, and the tireless multitude of volunteers that made the 2013 Swamp House Half Marathon and 5k such a huge  success.

*Truthfully, there was one miracle that morning.  My cell phone battery didn't die.