This is how it works-
I love to run but there are times when I would rather not. This is when the voices start. Chants, name calling, guilt and reverse psychology is how they get me up and out the door. I don't really mind the voices and have actually started looking forward to their daily calls. Together we have formed a running club that supports, encourages and competes with each other. I love these peeps. They are much more experienced, talented and tougher than I am. Pushing me out the door, through the hard miles and up the monster hills when I am feeling lazy or want to give up. Some people have "real" training partners, coaches and support crews. My team is ALWAYS with me and helps me to keep my eye on the prize and not veer off the track. Sounds crazy- Yeah, probably is.........
Thursday, February 10, 2011
A few weeks ago, I was on a training run with a friend. As usual on a long run, the topic of discussion was scattered and all over the place. At one point along the way, the subject of limits came up. In a joking manner, he stated -A man has got to know his limitations. Yep. I agree. But you will never know your limitations until you FIND them. That is what I love about running, specifically ultras, you are constantly pushing the limits of your own perceived endurance. Overcoming the fear of failure and the fear of inability is what it's all about. The more you push, the more the limits expand.
As a runner, I have come to believe that limits are set ONLY in our minds. This means that WE are the only ones that decide how much our bodies can take. Training is only part of it- of course it can change how MUCH we rely on the second part- Attitude is the most important part. How bad you want it. How hard you are willing to push it. How important it is to finish. All of these beliefs were tested and reinforced last weekend at the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Trail Race in Huntsville, TX. It is not often that I wonder if I had found my limit but there were some rough patches along the way where that question entered my head.
I arrived in Huntsville on Thursday afternoon after about 10 hours of driving. The drive wasn't too bad because I had my "crew" with me. Jon and Charley had both agreed to come down to crew and pace me. Four days away from their families and 20 hours of driving just to stand around waiting for me to run 100 miles. Seems insane but I think they were just as excited to do that as I was to actually run. That is why they are full-fledged members of The Idiot's Running Club.
We woke up on Friday morning to ice and snow. Ice and snow? What? Yep. It really wasn't too bad but the locals were spazzed out and Houston had to shut down the interstates. This combined with snow and ice in other areas of the country made travel tough and, in some cases, impossible. Around 80 registered runners of the 100 miler couldn't make it to Huntsville for the race. It was a good thing we drove down a day early....
So, we had some time to kill before the packet pick-up on Friday afternoon. What to do? Hmmm..... Jon and Charley came up with a brilliant plan. "Let's go for a run on the trail." And because I am part of The Idiots Running Club, I agreed and we loaded up and drove to the Huntsville State Park. First sign upon entering the park? A "Do Not Litter" sign? Nope. An "Alligator's Exist In The Park." sign? Yep. Huh? Alligators? Sweet. We continued on and found the start/finish area and met the Race Director, Joe. He was very friendly and we chatted briefly before hitting the trail. I ran 5 miles while Charley and Jon went out for 6.2. It was nice to get a feel for the trail and the conditions were fine. No major patches of ice or snow. Just a few roots....
We hit the packet pick-up that afternoon. Watched all the "rock stars" roll in to grab theirs. I don't think they were intimidated by me. Afterward we grabbed a few supplies and went back to the hotel for an early night. After a few slices of pizza and a couple of beers, I was ready to sleep. I did. I slept for almost 3 whole hours before starting the old "what time is it" roll. Finally, at 3 a.m. I gave up and decided it was close enough. Sleep is over-rated anyway. I was pretty nervous but managed to eat a couple of microwave-able sausage biscuits and suck down a BUNCH of coffee. I discovered a card from my wife and kids in my bag that was very inspiring and motivating. Just the kind of thing I needed before this monster of a test. At 5 a.m. we were off.
Just before 6 a.m. the racers started to line up. I knew that I wanted to go out at a decent pace so I lined up towards the front. After a few minutes, a group of dudes come rolling up right in front of me....... What's up with that? Oh- I see. Kupricka, Jurek and company (including the now WORLD famous Ian Sharman) decided that was a good spot too. Fair enough. It is a pretty awesome sport where an average schlubb like me can line up shoulder to shoulder with the very best in the world. Killer experience.
The RD did the final countdown, I let out a loud WOOOOO!!! right behind Jurek-(though I'm sure he didn't hear me) and we were off. This was the last time I would be that close to the leaders but, because the course was a 20 mile loop, not the last time I would see them. The first few miles went pretty fast and somewhere just past the 6 mile aid station, I decided to back off the pace some. I had ran the first 10k at an 8:40 overall pace- great for a 50k but STUPID for 100 miles. By the end of the first 20 mile loop- the pace was sitting at 9:09/mile with a total elapsed time of 3 hrs 03 minutes and things were feeling really good. I met my crew, grabbed a few essentials and went out for round 2.
The second loop went about as smooth as the first. Everything felt great, the pace was fine and the hydration/nutrition seemed just right. The only thing that I did notice on this loop was that the 6ish mile leg of the "Damnation" loop seemed to stretch a little longer- this was a sign of things to come- but overall, miles 21-40 were pretty good. This loop slowed down some, but remained pretty steady and reasonable- I thought.... Total elapsed time after loop 2 was 6 hrs 25 minutes and the overall pace had dropped to 9:37/mile. Still on track for a great finish. (remember this is my 1st 100 miler..... I had no idea what was coming)
The day was warming up fast and I got rid of the long sleeves and gloves, opting for a short sleeved tech shirt and a dry doo-rag before heading out for the 3rd loop. Things felt pretty good here too. I hit the 50 mile mark with a PR time of 8 hrs 14 minutes. Nice. But it was starting to get a little tough and the pace slowed over the next 10 miles. At mile 55- I had officially gone farther than I ever had- and still was barely half way done. An interesting thought came into my mind at this point- "Dumb-dumb.... you have never even SNIFFED 100 miles- are you freakin' insane?" Kind of made me laugh. I continued through to finish miles 41-60 with a total elapsed time of 10 hours 29 minutes and the overall pace had dropped to 10:29/mile. Still not to bad...... I was also informed that I had started this loop in 25th place overall. I was quite confident that was no longer the case- in fact I would have bet that I was closer to 70th place. I would have lost.
Finally, the time had come for a pacer and I was READY. It was starting to get lonely out there and my legs were feeling it. It was still daylight and warm but we knew that wouldn't last long so I put on a jacket and grabbed my head lamp. Jon and I headed out for the 4th loop. We hit the first aid station at about mile 63 and, because pacers get to partake in the aid station food just like the runners, Jon finally got to eat some "real" food. Him and Charley had existed all day on peanut butter and jelly- this made the aid station food look like a 5 star meal to him. I took my time getting some hot soup while he munched the quesadilla's like Scooby-snacks. Not sure WHY I found this funny- but I did. We hit the Damnation loop and I started struggling. I was starting to question if I wanted to continue running- I didn't want to but I also knew that I would.
Jon pulled me through as it got dark and cold. We talked about all the folks that had sent emails and told their story- very inspiring, tearful and motivating- finally after mixing in some walking and much slower running- it was over. Miles 61-80 were completed in a total elapsed time of 15 hours and 28 minutes with the overall pace dropping to 11:35- not great but I did NOT really care at this point. 11:35 seemed smokin' fast to me.
Before embarking on the final 20 mile loop- I needed to sit down and assess the damage. My right ankle had been hurting pretty good and it appeared swollen. Jon wrapped it with an Ace Bandage, I put a few more clothes on, grabbed some hot soup and we were off. Charley was pacing this time and I can guarantee that him and I have never gone this slow EVER. He managed to keep me running for the first 12 miles of this loop- but after the Damnation loop- around mile 92- I was zapped. The next 8 miles would be the longest and most important miles of my "running journey". It was time to decide where I would set my limitations.
Charley and I had met at a local 5k back in 2007. We started training together and decided to run a marathon. Who knew that we would end up on a trail in Texas, freezing as I struggled to step off the last few miles of a 100 miler? Man, we had come a long way and as we approached the final 5k- Charley encouraged me to keep moving. His reminder of my "hatred" for 5k's gave me a great laugh when I really needed it. 5k's kill me- I hate them but I keep going back for more- and here I was, 97 miles in and it was only a stupid 5k between me and the finish line. Awesome.
I couldn't run. My ankle was swollen, both feet hurt from the pounding and I couldn't lift them up high enough to avoid the roots covering the trail. When I tried to run, which was only a slow shuffle, the pain would shoot through me and when I would catch a foot on a root or rock, the ensuing stumble hurt more and more. So I chose to walk. It hurt less. But it was COLD. Really cold. Finally, Charley said, "You only have about 1/2 mile to go- you CAN run it in." Yep. I CAN. I did. I kicked up that Texas dirt and blew leaves off the trees with my tremendous speed. (maybe I'm embellishing a little here) It felt slow- it was slow- but it was all I had. Soon I could see the lights from the finish area and knew that it was over. 100 miles. Sweet.
As I approached- I let out my final WOOOOO!!! of the day/night. I crossed the finish line with a total elapsed time of 20 hours 59 minutes and 40 seconds. I had finished my first 100 miler with 9 hours to spare. Even better was the sub- 24 hour designation and sweet belt buckle to commemorate the achievement. Without the support of my great friends and crew- this would have been much more difficult and the outcome may have been different. Awesome dudes.
Here is a link to my splits and overall time ---> MY STUFFS <---- if you are interested. Other numbers that I found interesting..... 316 starters with 190 finishing under the 30 hour cutoff- for a finishing rate of 60%. Of these 190, there were 77 (about 40%) that finished sub 24. I will be the first to admit that mistakes were made. I am a firm believer that success comes way before race day- it comes in the early mornings spent in the gym, the hard miles of a long run and in the discipline of the daily miles. I am thankful for the opportunity to make these mistakes because they will help guide my training for the NEXT one. Oh yeah- there will be another. Not only was this the most difficult and painful challenge in my "running life" it was also the sweetest and most euphoric feeling I have ever had. Bring on the pain- I'm ready to roll.
Thanks to EVERYBODY thatsupported me on this quest. So many of you donated money to the ACS (and you still can by clicking ---->HERE<---), shared your story with me and encouraged me along this path. It is a very unique situation where I am able to chase my goals while helping in the mutual dream of beating cancer. Seems almost selfish for me to actually enjoy the journey- but it is the only way that I know to contribute and, with your continued support, WE will keep on running. Cancer sucks and together we will make a difference.
Here is a link to the video. It is kind of long at 8:35 but it tells the story pretty well. You can see me bouncing all around at the start line right behind Scott Jurek. Guess I was ready to get moving.......