Monday, February 21, 2011

The Moment of Truth

Actual Date: April 23, 2011

Weight: ???
Run: 34 Miles of Mountains, Streams, Mud and Rocks

“It is a spectacular course and very difficult and slow. The starting elevation (around 1,300 feet) and highest point (4,005 feet) and the lowest point (around 1,100 feet) will take you from spring to late winter to spring to late winter and finally back to spring at the finish line!” -Race Director, Dr. David Horton

The night before the race was awful. As per the race director, I reserved a room at the Bedford Super 8 Hotel, which was a dump and I could hear every noise that the other tenants had to offer. I was restless all night. Finally decided to roll out of bed at around 3 a.m. after tossing and turning for several hours. Even getting into the car, I wanted to just drive home. The video below was from 3:58 a.m. inside my car, struggling to continue.

When I arrived at the camp, it was about 48° and raining. Because of that, I decided to use my new New Balance 1320's which are all Gore-tex. I've only run about 6 miles in them overall, but knowing that these were actual MOUNTAINS I would be climbing, I went with the trail shoes over the minimalist street shoes. Thank God. In retrospect, I don't think that I would have made it as far as I did if I hadn't chosen these shoes.

When the 308 runners stood up to the starting line, I made my way to the back. I needed to ensure that I was not being pushed by some crowd of people above my ability; I wanted to conserve as much energy as I could. I really didn't care how long it took me to finish... I just wanted to REACH the finish.

Under the Promise Land 50K Banner, we all count down from 10 and that's it... we're off. The adventure has begun, and I still can't believe I'm out here. 30 days earlier, this was all a pipe dream, and I never in a million years thought I'd have the courage to take this step again. Nevertheless, foolish or courageous, here I am. But I must admit... with the cold and rain, and the fact that I've only been training for this for 30 days, plus seeing all these serious 'RUNNERS' around me, I just want to go home. All these people around me train for this. They are ready for this. They all wear shirts of past mountain runs, 50 milers, 100 milers. I, on the other hand, am losing confidence quickly. I realize how much more I should've run. I remember how many people told me not to do this. And then I remember that I need to at least TRY before I do anything else. And off I go...

Running in the crowd, headlamps flashing all around, I seem to be the only person with a Camelbak on, carrying 2-3 times as much water and gear as everyone else. I don't know what else to do, though, because I am carrying all of the gels and pills (plus gear) that I know I will need for the next 8-10 hours of running. I can't guarantee that the aid stations are going to have anything that won't mess with my stomach, so I need to carry my own foods. All in all, I'd say it's about 10 pounds on my back. Not much, but I suppose it could add up over the climbing and running I'm about to do.

The first mile isn't bad, a gradual incline at best. Soon though, it turns into a very steep hill for the next mile and a half up to the first aid station. By now, I've already climbed about 1,400 feet, and I already have to refill my Camelbak (about 50 ounces of water). Moving on, I'm now on a steeper gravel road which takes me up to 3,380 feet and I admit, I can feel the difference. The air is a bit thinner, and I can't breathe as well.

Miles 6-8 aren't too bad. I am on a forest service road which includes just a little bit of climbing here and there, but for the most part is mostly downhill. I remember hearing stories about people having their quads destroyed on the downhills, so I try to take it easy. It doesn't last long, though, because it is just too easy to haul ass down the hills and enjoy the ride. I'm cruising pretty good through some very thick fog at this point, and I can only see about 40 yards in front of me the whole time; very movie-esque.

After the next aid station at 8 miles (now back down to 2,700 feet), I refill water and start climbing again. This time, another 1,304 in 2 miles. I am now at 4,004 feet at mile 10. More gravel roads and grassy trails, I'm finding myself feeling pretty good. A Power Gel every 30 minutes (plus an electrolyte pill) seems to be working well.

At about mile 13 or so, I reach the Sunset Fields aid station. It's like a party. Tons of volunteers and racers stopping to eat/drink/stretch. I don't stay long; just grab a few bananas and take off.

Now I am on what I think is part of the Appalachian Trail; not sure though. I remember the course profile, and it should be mostly downhill for the next 6 or 7 miles. Should be a breeze! Not so much. I am running on very rocky, technical singletrack which requires agility and a lot of concentration on each step. I am starting to think that this 'trail' is a dried up stream... so many rocks and roots everywhere. I know one wrong step will ruin this race for me, so I force myself to slow down. Admittedly, I can already feel my quads beginning to deteriorate. Every step is the equivalent of a light hammer strike on your muscle, and there are a LOT of steps...

After about 3 miles or so of downhill, my legs begin to seize up on me. Even though I've been averaging 45 ounces of water every hour, plus salt pills/power gels every 30 minutes, I am STILL getting cramps. And if that's the case, WHY am I still peeing CLEAR every half hour?? I just don't get it. Nevertheless, I just slow down and try to absorb a little more of the downhill shock with my knees instead of my quads.

Fighting cramps every step is nerve-wracking. It's frustrating. I know it's probably just happening because I didn't train properly, but I guess I really just thought that the fueling and hydration was my biggest problem. Guess not. Every footplant results in tightening muscles and a wince. I keep looking for the next aid station, which seems to never come.

Finally after 18 miles I reach the next station. They give me 600mg of Motrin and tell me to keep moving. I down half of a Pop-Tart, a banana, and carry on.

I've wanted to quit since I started. I admit it. Here I am, miserable, and wondering "WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING OUT HERE? What made me think I could do this? I still have another 16 miles to go, and I have nothing left!" I don't even want to think about 'The Dark Side' of the mountain that I know is coming.

I trudge through streams and mud, climb over rocks and roots, dragging my pained self for another 5 miles to the next aid station. My legs at this point feel like they're each 200 pounds, and lifting them is just causing more cramps. Isn't there a cure for this yet??

I ask around to see if anyone has an idea to help me resolve this issue, but people just tell me to avoid stopping or sitting, otherwise they will REALLY seize up and I won't get back up. I start beginning to think that this is where I should just say, "Okay, I'm done. #297 dropping out." It would be that easy. What do I care? Why am I doing this? Is it really worth all of this?

But I don't. I get more water, eat a banana, and I start heading for the trail. Before I get there, I stop and ask a volunteer how much further to the next aid station. "It's only about 3.5 miles or so." says this teenage guy. "But it's the Dark Side. The stairs."

I know what he means. All the race reports I've read and other runners I've talked to mentioned this part. This is called the Dark Side for a reason. It is a 2,100 foot climb over about 3 miles. There are literally STAIRS on the trail. And if there aren't stairs, there are rocks in the ground... just like stairs. Either way, after 26+ miles, with nothing left to give, I'm climbing.

This is my lowest point yet. Every time I move, I seize up. When I stop to pee, I'm looking for blood, just in case; that's how bad I feel right now. I cannot fathom going any further, let alone another 8 miles. Yes, it's true, you think to yourself, "I've already gone 26 miles, what's another 8?" But it's not that simple. All I want to do right now is stop moving. I want to go home, get in a hot bath, and just relax. I don't want to be here, on all fours, staring at the ground, wondering how I am going to do this. Make it stop.

I convince myself that when I reach the next station, I will drop out. I just can't go on anymore. And even though I talk to people every day about inner-strength, never giving up, or facing hard times, I am spent. I can't move another 8 miles, let alone climb another 2 miles up these damn stairs and rocks.

After over an hour and a half of dragging myself, I reach the top... I am at about 3,600 feet again and feeling every bit of it.

I try stretching, but can't. I try sitting, but can't. My body won't let me do anything but either stand still or move forward. How ironic. I hear someone say that the rest is mostly downhill to the finish line, there's just one more aid station a couple miles away. Knowing that, I suck it up and keep moving.

There's a tiny climb to some trail, and then it literally becomes all downhill; very steep downhill like your mom warned you about. Nevertheless, I can barely run anymore. This ridiculous-looking shuffle that I've acquired (to help minimize my legs cramping up) cannot be any faster than actually walking, but I just want this to be over with as soon as possible.

I keep trudging along, and then I see it... the Finish Line. I can't believe it. I actually did it. As much misery as I've experienced all day, the pain, the doubts... I made it. Not even an hour ago, I was on all fours on 'the Dark Side' convincing myself to quit. But I didn't. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other until I reached the next point.

It took me 9 hours and 34 minutes to reach that finish line. Any marathoner or ultrarunner will tell you that that is a HELLUVA long time for 34 miles, but I don't care. I challenge anyone to go out there and do it yourself. And besides, this whole journey wasn't about breaking records, or about even running 34 miles. It was about adventure. It was about determination. I needed to see that I could be faced with a challenge and overcome the odds.

My wife tells me that I should just train properly and races wouldn't be like this for me. I know she is right. And, I am sure I will do that from now on. But this, for me, was about proving to myself that I CAN do something big. I CAN look fear and frustration in the face and not give up.

For nine and a half hours, I heard a voice telling me to quit. And it was tempting. It was the easy way out. I literally just had to stop, and go home. I would never see those people again, and who cares what anyone else thinks? They are not the ones out here with me, suffering. But, knowing that this whole journey was about a testament to true character, I wanted to see what I was made of. I try to encourage people all the time to be strong, be confident in yourself, and never give up. How could I not follow the same advice?

Whether during a race, or just in life in general, there are some things to remember:

1) The doubts will always enter your mind. Listen to them, but don't follow them.
2) One foot in front of the other until you get to where you are trying to go.
3) Never give up.

1 comment:

  1. You are so correct that this was not about the race, but about the adventure. An adventure where you had to dig extremely deep and search your inner self. You passed your self-imposed test and will continue on to your next adventure. Congratulations on winning this battle against yourself.