Where do I start with this one? I am now 2 1/2 days removed from completing the race, and as usual, my emotions are still a swirl. This is not going to be my typical race report with a chronology of events from start to finish, the race just doesn’t unfold that way in my head this time.
Monday, 11/5, 7:00 PMI made the mistake of trying to work today. I almost always take the Monday following a hundred miler off, but I felt like too much was going on and tried to work anyway. Without much luck or productivity. It is early evening, the kids are in the living room finishing their homework, and I am lying in bed like a beached whale with little hope of returning successfully to the sea. I am so tired I can barely keep my head up, I feel like a herd of elephants is resting on me. I want to fall asleep (for my fourth nap of the day), but shooting pains in my feet keeping me writhing around the bed. I am tired, frustrated, and in complete disbelief that I keep doing this to myself. What the hell? I love running. There are few things I’d rather be doing than running. I drive Sandra nuts every time a picturesque scene comes up in a movie, on TV, in a commercial, in a magazine, wherever. My response is pure Pavlov’s dog, she can say the line before I do: “I want to run there!” I love running long distances, and I even more love running on trails and seeing new places. But none of that means I have to enter hundred milers. 50Ks are a great challenge. 50 milers leave me tired, but satisfied. I can recover from those races fairly quickly. I don’t lose time from work, I don’t feel like death warmed over. I am too old for this, I can’t recover fast enough anymore. I need to break this cycle of despair, find a better outlet for my energies. If I can just get some good rest tonight, I’ll think clearer on new outlets tomorrow.
Sunday, 11/4, 8:45 AMI am moving down the side of Old Talladega Highway at a snail’s pace. I have run 100 miles, and have just about a half-mile into the high school football stadium and around the track to the finish. I’ve figured out I can walk the last mile and still break 28 hours. I know from the last aid station that Patrick Bene finished well ahead of me and is probably either in the RV taking a shower, or in the rec center eating a post-race breakfast. When we separated 3 hours ago, he know I was done-for, there was no reason to expect me to finish. Sure there would be a handful of people at the track in the early morning mist and light rain. I just needed to cross that finish line, even if none of them knew me. I put my head down and broke into a trot, no one was going to see me walk it in. As I cut through the fence towards the stadium, a dozen people started cheering, I trudged on. But then I turned the corner and saw our crew, George & George on the track. I picked up the pace when I realized “my people” were there. Finishing had become as important for them as it had me. My heart leapt when Patrick came back around a corner when he heard them call my name. I race across the finish line. 27 hours, 55 minutes. No impressive time, but I finished. Todd Henderson, the race director handed me my buckle, a gold-plated affair, nicer than any of the other races I have run. Patrick and I limped towards each other and embraced in a bear hug. We had both finished, both done what we came to do. At that moment, I loved him like a brother again. We ran all of a Vermont 100, several 50Ks and numerous marathons together, all stride for stride. That had been our plan today as well, but I had sent him ahead at mile 88. It is hard to describe the bond that forms when you run those distances together. But we both felt it now and were overjoyed to be successful – and done.
Sunday, 11/4, 2:00 AMWe are over 75 miles in, somewhere past the never ending climb to The Pinnacle aid station where GUTS gave us friend-egg sandwiches off the grill which rank among the best meals I’ve ever had. We are meandering through various small climbs and descents on our way to Power Line aid station at mile 79.5. Patrick has been struggling with equilibrium for hours. First he needs salt, then he needs sugar, then he needs fluids, then we need to repeat. It feels like we haven’t run ten consecutive minutes since sunset 8 hours ago without him breaking into a walk and whining about one of those needs. Our aid station breaks have gone from 2-3 minutes, to 10 minutes plus as he lays there trying to recover. In fairness, the conditions were tough. The temperatures hit 85 in the midafternoon, and didn’t drop below 70 that night until just before dawn. I had sweat pouring off of me the entire night. Patrick isn’t going to make it. I knew his ironman training wouldn’t translate into a solid hundred miler, not without more trail runs. I am just sick of him at this point. Why won’t he just quit and let me get going on my own? He is killing my time. I bark for about the eightieth time, “Come on P! Let’s get going!” I turn around 30 seconds later, he is still lagging fifty yards back. “Come on! Let’s Go!” His reply is clear. “Fuck you. Can’t I take a second to get some sugar in me?” I grit my teeth and bite my tongue, I am furious. We pull into Power Line and Patrick insists on another sit down break in the tent. I eat some food, refill my bottles, check my Endurolytes, all in under 90 seconds. I am ready to go. But I look over at Patrick and he is fighting back a sneeze and hasn’t even begun to refuel. I sit down next him in sullen silence. On his 8th sneeze, I am tempted to tell him he wouldn’t be sneezing so much if he had trained better. Finally he is ready to go and we set off down the rocky jeep road towards the last descent. Patrick tries to start a conversation but I don’t respond. “What, are you not talking to me now” I lied and responded, “No, just trying to get my head together for this leg”. We run in near silence for an hour.
Friday, 11/2 – 11:00 AMWe are in the RV headed north and west towards Sylacauga, the finish for the race. We started yesterday and spent the night in a Cracker Barrel parking lot just south of Valdosta. We are going up with George Cobb and George Buffington as crew. Neither is an ultrarunner or has been to a hundred mile race before, but they are looking forward to the challenge. Patrick and I are plotting strategy and logistics. Okay, I will be more honest, I am planning strategy and logistics, and running each and every phase of the race planning by Patrick. And then changing it again. I’ve been to this course twice before. I DNF’d at mile 86 in 2010, and in 2011 I helped pace Greg Vannette over his last 59 miles for a sub 24 hour finish. I know this course, I know the training we put in, I know what a reasonable time goal should be 26-27 hours. But the camaraderie of the drive, the anticipation of the challenge, the spirit of the competition with Patrick all get to me. We plan out how we are going to finish in 24 hours. We are great athletes, we can do this. We just have to race smart.
Sunday, 11/4 – 5:00 AMWe’ve just come down off the ridgeline to the Bull Run aid station at mile 86. The generator ran out of gas, so there are no lights and no hot food. But George and George are there like clockwork. It turns out they had gotten into the spirit of the competition as well. They were determined to be the best crew on the course. They led a caravan of other crews to each aid station, and then raced to the tents to position two chairs for us closer to the camp fire, closer to the food and drink than everyone else. They had drink refills ready to go. They offered Boosts, Starbucks double-shots, Monster energy, food, salt; you name it, they had it. In typical ultra-fashion, as the race wore on, we became more needy, and our voices more shrill. And they would jump up and race off to grab whatever we needed, without question. It was unquestionably great crewing, made all the more remarkable for their virginity.
This was the first time they had seen us in over 5 hours, and I looked (and felt) like crap. We both knew now our race strategy had been poor, to the extreme. We went too hard, for too long, too early. We did not have enough left in the tank for down the stretch. Before I could consider a DNF at the same place I dropped 2 years ago, I jumped up and started walking down the trail. Patrick soon caught me and we tried to set a decent pace. But I just couldn’t pull it together. My head was swimming, my legs were dead, there was no run left in me. Even as daylight broke, I could not find any energy. I finally convinced Patrick he had to go ahead, I was going to jeopardize him making the 30 hours cutoff. I promised him I would keep going (I was lying), but he had to move. He took off, and I kept walking. My heart began to sink. I was going to DNF this stupid course again. For the first time in 25 hours I had stopped sweating, now I was cold. I put on a long sleeve shirt for the first time since the first 10 minutes of the race. I check my watch and calculated how much was left in this 4 mile leg. If I got to the next aid station by 25:40, I still had a legitimate shot of finishing in under 30 hours. If not, as I predicted, as I was done. I trudged onward at a slow walk.
Saturday, 11/3 – 10:00 AMWe are still in the early stages of the race, there are still bunches of runners together. As usual, Patrick and I have a group around us. His voice carries (just ask the deer who I NEVER see anywhere when we train together), and he remains so damn positive (except when his sugar level is low), that we attract a crowd at nearly every race. I don’t have to say much, I just egg him on. And the banter ensues. People ask how long we keep this going, and I tell them we are just getting warmed up; Patrick will talk for 30 hours if he is allowed to. George and George said we became known at the aid stations as “The Green Shirt Boys” as we both wore lime green shirts that day. Patrick would announce his race number coming into each aid station as if speaking through a bull horn. “THIRTY-SEVEN!!!” I like to think we give a lot of energy to the runners around us. But in truth, I think we feed off that energy as much as anyone, it is fun running in those crowds. Talking to all the runners from different places is a big part of the fun. Anastasia from Ohio who had just completed the Mid-Western Slam, was working on her sixth hundred of 2012 and friended us on FB just hours after the race. Young Andy who had to be 6’ 4” and had 5 different pacers to bring him in the last 59 miles, including his wife for one leg. Jason, of the Slug Club, who finished his first 100 last year at Pinhoti while weighing 280 lbs. and was back this year to try his luck at 230 (he finished behind Patrick and ahead of me). It is amazing how many miles can get eaten up in just good conversation.
Sunday, 11/4 – 6:25 AMTo my amazement, aid station 17, Rocky Mountain Church has just come into view. This is 90 miles in, there are less than 11 left to go. I have been walking and shivering for what seemed like forever. It is a very small aid station with no crews allowed. There was one vehicle, a small tent, and 2 volunteers. I was 15 minutes ahead of my self-imposed cutoff and started to reconsider dropping. As I approached they asked me how I was doing.
“Not so well, I have been walking for an hour.”
“Well you are almost done, just over 10 miles to go.”;
“My legs are toast, I am not sure I can keep going.”;
“Well, it is just the two of us here. There is no one to drive you, you can’t stop here. Would you like some coffee?”;
“I don’t need coffee, I need to stop.”;
“You can’t stop here. Here is your coffee.”;
I drank the coffee, took my last ibuprofen and stared down the road where they pointed I should go. I gave it a try. After a minute I started to trot as it was a slight downhill. After a few more minutes my legs loosened up and I started to run. Soon I was passing runners who had passed me on the previous leg. Then I passed runners I hadn’t seen since earlier in the race. I realized I was even running the uphills. I had new legs. I was going to finish! I don’t know where it came from, I never know where it comes from. But I was back on the high and cruising in. The elation at this realization is always a wonderful feeling. I can do this.
Tuesday, 11/6 – 6:30 PMI am just finishing my race report. I am left with just as many questions about myself as I had going in. Am I an elite athlete who just finished his ninth hundred miler, and fourth this year? Or I am fooling myself with another weak performance, well off the goals I set for myself? Am I building a stronger sense of fortitude and perseverance as I continue to find ways to pull myself out of a mid-race funk? Or do I still have the weak disposition that puts me in jeopardy to begin with? Wouldn’t a stronger person pull through those lows with less self-doubt and loathing? Am I building my personal karma by being a proponent of these races, and reaching out to the runners around me, giving (sometimes unwanted) advice and encouragement to those less experienced than me? Or do I remain a self-centered and impatient jerk who lashes out at this best friends at moments of weakness in races?
I don’t have clear-cut answers to any of those questions today. But I know a little more about myself than I did going in. I have a little more self-awareness of what I do well, and what I do extremely poorly. Maybe over the long term, that will add up to positive change. In the interim, I know a few things. Nothing else challenges me the way these races do, I can’t think of anything else that will cut me to the quick and force me to come to grips with the questions above as running hundred does. I believe I have become a better father, a better husband, and a better employee through running. And I know this: Patrick and I are both qualified for Massanutten and Western States for 2013, and we are both entering the lotteries for each. I hope one or both of us get in. I look forward to running with my friend again.