I went into the race with a swagger and walked away with a bruised ego and new perspective. Didn't see that one coming.....
The Honor Scroll is my favorite fundraiser of the year. I know this seems ludicrous considering the many times that the pink tutu pictures get passed around but believe me, this is my favorite. The generosity of people never ceases to amaze me. As of race day there was close to $1100 in donations and 180 names on the scroll. As a dude that begs for money every other month.... I call this is a huge success. Thank you to all who participated.
Coming into the Ouachita 50 mile trail race I honestly, and realistically, thought it was possible for me to run this course in 8 hours and 30 minutes. I had discussed it with my coach, Jeff Kline from PRSFit, and he was on board with the idea. The training was solid and I had just come off a sweet sub 20 at the Rocky Raccoon 100 and a 4th place overall at the Arkansas Traveller so my expectations were high . I had, in fact, come in sub 9 at this race in 2010, so I knew it was very possible. My dad, as is becoming a very welcome and encouraging trend, was coming to support me. All I had to do was show up, right?
Here is the rundown.... I showed up the day before, grabbed my packet and found a campsite. My dad and step-mother met me and we had dinner, sat around the campfire and relaxed. As the sun went down so did the temperature and before they left it was getting really cold. They tried to talk me into getting a room at a local hotel but...... I am a man. I have a beard. I sleep in a tent. I stayed and they left. It didn't take long to realize just how cold it was. I woke up shivering and looking for more blankets. My two sleeping bags weren't getting the job done and I had to re-evaluate the situation. I'm usually good at rolling with the punches so...... I am a man. I have a beard. I sleep in my truck. I know this sounds too cozy and comfortable for a true trail runner but sometimes you have to treat yourself.
It was really tough to drag myself out of the warm sleeping bag and into the chilly Arkansas morning but I somehow managed to roll around at the last minute and hurried to the starting area. I opted to wear a jacket to leave at the start and taking the risk that it would still be there when I finished. (it was because ultra runners are awesome like that) After the normal trail briefing from the RD Chrissy Ferguson, which included the standard "I will kick your ass if you..... " speech, we headed towards the starting line. Because of the need to tuck the Honor Scroll, I wore a back pack hydration system. This is not something I typically run with but for this race it was necessary so I fumbled around with it trying to recall the best position for comfort. After greeting a few friends and wishing I had some coffee, it was time to start.
It was still dark but the first mile was on pavement and it was easy enough to run without a headlamp. I managed to hold back and refrained from taking off too fast as had been the common practice in past events. As we eased off the pavement and onto the trail, the sun began to rise and the forest came alive with the chatter of 200 runners still excited about the journey ahead of them. This is my favorite part of any trail run. It is the time to look around and talk to strangers. It's an awesome opportunity to make new friends. Sometimes you make friends and run a few miles with them before splitting off. Sometimes you run several miles together before continuing on individual journeys. Sometimes, yet much more rarely, you find someone early on and continue through the majority of the race with them. I got caught up in a pack of runners along a single track section of the trail and decided to settle in with the slower pace as we began the trek up the base of Pinnacle Mountain.
Coming down the mountain wasn't much easier. The rocks were huge and the trail was steep. I didn't trust myself to move very fast so I took my time and proceeded with caution. As the climb migrated into trail, the pace began to increase. Single track trails are my preferred terrain to run and this portion seemed very fast. Unfortunately, I checked my watch and it told a different story. My effort level was right where I thought it should be but my actual pace wasn't even close. I wasn't real sure what was going on but knew it was important to keep running regardless of time. Things have a tendency to work themselves out and with 45 miles to go there wasn't a need to panic or change strategies. Yet.
Something must be wrong with my watch. There is no way this can be
right. Satellites are unreliable when the terrain gets this rough. I've
got to running faster. The climb over Pinnacle Mountain had taken some
time but not THAT much time. At one hour and 12 minutes into the race my
GPS registered 4.77 miles. Huh? How am I gonna come in under 9 hours by
crawling 15 minute miles? These were some of the thoughts going through
my head during the first few miles of the OT 50. It was time to get
Over the next few miles I picked up the pace and logged some solid miles. I still wasn't "feeling it" and after about 10 miles it was apparent to me that my goals would need to be adjusted. Not really a big deal because I have become used to the idea that the longer ultras require a different mind set than most distances. In a shorter race, say up to 50k, if things aren't going well early on it's not that much of an issue because you can always warrior up and push through. This hurts but usually results in a finish time that is in line with goals. In the longer distances, for me, things are much different. Pace is important early on but not nearly as much as effort. Pace can be made up with a good second wind late in the race but effort.... too hard of an effort in the beginning will really mess things up. It's about like running out of fuel in your vehicle and the gas station is 40 miles away. On top of a mountain. Makes the trip take a LOT longer.
Knowing that my "A" goal of 8 hours and 30 minutes was no longer in play, I settled into an easier pace and continued along the rough single track trail while doing some quick calculations in my head. Having run this course a few times, I knew that there would be about 6 miles of very runnable trail coming just after mile 16. This was also an out and back section, making it more like 12 miles of good running. Nine and a half hours was still very possible and, while that wasn't exactly what I wanted, it would work. Keep stepping boy....
The sun was up and the temps were climbing. I don't know how warm it was but it was starting to feel really hot during the next few miles. I stayed on top of hydration and supplemented with Endurolytes. As the salt started crusting around my eyes, I reached the start of that "runnable" section of the course and I knew the fun was about to begin. Coming around a sharp turn on the trail I slipped in the mud. Mud? Oh yeah.... it had rained like crazy on Thursday night and Friday morning in Little Rock. Duh... I knew that but the sun was shining so bright that I had completely forgotten that there would be some muddy parts.
How much mud? About 10 miles of it. Out and back for an even 20. Well, that's not exactly true but it's close. There were also several creek crossings. Some were thigh deep but most were just mid shin or ankle high. I don't really mind running with wet feet, in fact I often look for mud puddles on training runs but this day it just seemed to really slow me down. As the miles ticked off and I approached the turn around at mile 26 my energy seemed to fade. My legs felt heavy and my mind was wandering. I left the turn around in 17th place at 5 hours and 15 minutes. Much slower than I had hoped.
As I stumbled across the lonely miles of the muddy trail my spirits were very low. I'm not real proud of it but..... I was feeling sorry for myself. Shocked, embarrassed, in denial, looking for excuses and wanting to quit. How could this be happening to me? Why is this happening to me? I'm supposed to be up front and running strong. I'm supposed to..... SHUT UP. It occurred to me how arrogant, selfish, childish and out of touch I was acting at that moment. I had completely lost focus of why I was here. I wasn't here to run an 8:30 or finish in the top 5. I was here to HONOR those names on the scroll and I was doing a terrible job. The questions I was asking were questions they had all probably asked at one time or another through the course of their battles. They had the right to ask. I didn't. I was running a stupid race, not fighting for my life. This was like a huge smack in the face. It was time to shut up, move on and show some pride and gratitude for those that I was privileged enough to bring along. Keep stepping boy......
This moment of enlightenment didn't propel me to the front of the pack. It didn't motivate, inspire or give me super powers. It did, however, reinforce what I already knew about any long distance endurance event. Some days you kick ass and some days you get your ass kicked. This is just how it goes. If it were any other way, most of us probably wouldn't accept the challenge and lace 'em up. Life is full of pitfalls and obstacles. Some are huge, serious and can be difficult to overcome, like cancer. Others are small, minor, insignificant and easily overcome by simply adapting to the situation. All that was required of me was to summon the stamina and will power to continue with a relentless forward progress for a few more hours. Just a few more hours and my day was over. One day. That is absolutely laughable when compared to even one minute in the life of somebody diagnosed with cancer.
So I continued on. Up and down the rocky, muddy trail. I ran when I could, walked when I had to and smiled because I could. Running and walking down the final stretch of road heading into the finish line I pulled out the scroll and put my feelings on video. Thankfully the audio turned out horrible and we will all be spared the embarrassment of watching me cry while incoherently attempting to thank everyone involved and explain how much it means that WE made this journey once again. I crossed the finish line in 21st place at 10 hours and 52 minutes. This was much slower than I had ever run a 50 miler before, including my 100 mile split times, but I was filled with pride and holding the Honor Scroll high. My dad, a big part of the reason I run this race every year, was waiting with a smile and a hug. As we unrolled the scroll at the finish line, I couldn't help but smile and tell myself that WE did okay.
I always get emotional when preparing for any of these big dumb
fundraising stunts but this one in particular really gets me. I have
spent a lot of time wondering why that is and the reasons are pretty
clear. No matter how many names are on the Honor Scroll, it will always
be too many. The course is very difficult and humbling which, in my
mind, signifies the struggles and setbacks that will be encountered as we
continue the uphill battle against cancer. This battle requires
all of us to remain steadfast in our attack and continue pushing with that relentless forward progress.....
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.........