Monday, April 23, 2012

Free State Ultra 2012

Where to begin....My 2012 Free State Ultra can be summed up by Charles Dickens when he wrote "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." and that is where the story begins.

Race weekend started out like most others. Because I am what some people might consider to be a pretty "excitable person" I took all day Friday off from work to prepare myself. This involves going through my bags for the 15th time to make sure I have all of the essentials that I will need, and ultimately not use. This involves making sure I have my own first aid kits, enough energy bars to feed a small village in East Africa, all my knee braces, ankle wraps, plantar fasciatis prep kits and enough clothing changes just in case I have a "wardrobe malfunction" for the next 3 or 4 days. Some may call it neurotic, I just call it being a boy scout and always being prepared for anything.

After a 4 hour drive, packet pickup, pre-race carb loading and a little soak in the hot tub at the hotel we all buckle down for the night. When everyone finally gets ready for bed we soon discover that our room has half of a curtain. Now, you may ask yourself, why does your room have half of a curtain? Our thoughts exactly (We later discovered that the real curtain was just bunched up where we couldn't see it). And apparently even though we were on the 2nd floor, with a window facing the lobby, Lil' Red decides that she is too scared to sleep near the window. I'm not real sure why seeing that her bed is right next to a window at home. Being the guy that has to wake up at 3:30am the next morning I decide that enough is enough and I will sleep in the bed with Mini Me and next to the window. This turned out to be hiccup numero uno in the weekend.

Because of my "excitable" personality sleeping is not something that comes easily, especially when I know that I have to get up at a certain time for something other than work. Couple that kind or restless sleeping with a child that has never slept one night in the same position that you lay her down in and you get someone with sore ribs and going to be running an ultra distance event on 1 hour of sleep. Awesome.

3:30 am
Alarm goes off. Wake up call goes off. I jump out of bed, put band-aids on very strategic locations, throw all of my clothes on and get out of the room by 4:00. I head down to the lobby with a gigantic bag of gear looking like I'm going to the beach and approach the very nice lady at the front desk. "Coffee" I say. Her response, "Won't be ready for another couple of hours". Hiccup number 2. If you know runners, coffee is something that you have to have to coax mother nature into moving some things along....if you know what I mean. I said, "Well, there's got to be some place open at this time of morning. Do you know where I could get some coffee?" Her response, "Nope. Maybe a gas station, but I don't know any that are open." Thoughts in my head "NOOOOOO!!!!!!" I was very polite, walked away and tried to find something frantically. Looked on the GPS for gas stations, drove to 3 and couldn't find anything open. Finally after 20 minutes of searching I come across a 24 hour McD's. If you know my position on food, McD's is not food, but I've never been so happy to see one. Got a large cup and headed the 45 minutes to the race.

6:30 am
With all of the nervous buzzing around the start of the race you get to meet some very nice people. As I was putting down my drop bags, I see a guy walking toward me that looks very familiar but I can't figure out why. Just as the guy approaches me I said "Hey aren't you Russ from the podcast?" Very shocked he looks at me and says "Yes" with a huge smile on his face. A few months ago you may remember me referencing a podcast from the guys at about a guy named Russ that had an eerily similar past as me. If not, you can listen to it here. He is just as nice of a guy you could imagine as him being interviewed. It was really cool to put an actual face to something that you found to be inspirational. We sat and chatted for a bit and parted so he could gather his things. As I am standing there, shivering like crazy, a guy walks up to me and started asking me about this race and what his friends should expect because this was their first trail race. He said they had already heard all about the hills and such but he was wondering about any other secrets to running these trails. I said that they needed to be aware of ticks and I thought he was going to freak out. He yelled at his buddies and both came running over. These guys were from Florida and were so freaked out by the thought of ticks that they were pretty much begging for bug spray. I just bought some so I agreed to give them some. They were incredibly nice guys and gracious for the spray and thought I was joking when I said that ticks like to get into the crack of your butt. The one guy said that may be the funniest thing he had ever heard and I said "Well don't blame me if a tick burrows in your butt".

7:00 am
Bad Ben gives his pre-race warning off gigantic ticks and tells us that this is going to be the fastest Free State in the history of this race. He blows the horn and I settle in in the middle of the pack. I made the mistake 2 years ago of going out too fast and bonking REALLY early in the race.
That's me in the white long sleeved shirt

The race started out like any typical trail race. Lots of conversations with fun people that are just out to have a good time. I was having a good laugh with the girl with the black and yellow shirt above as this was her first trail run EVER. Not just first trail race, but first trail run. She told me all about her marathons and races that she's run in the past but didn't know what to expect when she signed up for this race. About 4 miles in she kicked a rock that made a sound I've never heard before. It was one of the loudest thuds ever and instantly she started to wail. Knowing that she didn't have the experience with this kind of running I wanted to make sure that she was OK. Myself and the others that were in our pack were telling her that she needed to get to an aid station and take care of it. She turned out to be fine. Shortly after, I parted ways with the group and for some stupid reason headed out faster. Mistake #3 of the trip. Going out faster than I should early in the race.

8:15 am
I felt really good coming into the 7 mile aid station. I met some really nice guys that were just having a great time. I found out that one of the guys in the pack had just spent the previous day working 8+ hours setting up the flags on the course. He started telling me that the 100k that he was running today was just a training run for the Leadville 100 this year. I was in awe. That is one of those dream races that you hope to get in at some point but know you probably don't have a shot. 
That's the guy behind me. Sorry man, I didn't catch your name.

9:20 am
Made it to the 11 mile aid station and it was starting to get warm. This is where we had one of our drop bags and I shed a layer because it was no going to start getting hot. Coming up to this aid station is one of the hardest sections. It is about a quarter of a mile hill that is all pavement. Now, I train a lot on pavement so the surface wasn't the problem it was the fact that you come off of 10 miles of trails to climb this awful road to get to the next aid station. Yuck!!! The next 6 miles back to the next aid station were pretty uneventful. I got into another group of a guy that just happened to be one of the few people from Iowa. Small world as there were only 4 or 5 of us there for all of the races. We settled in for a while and they joked about the fact that my watch kept beeping. I told them that I had set it to beep every 5 minutes to remind me to drink and they thought it was brilliant. It then turned into a game because every time it would beep someone would yell "Drink". It was almost like we were in college doing a drinking game. 

11:00 am
I make it into the 20 mile aid station. I felt pretty good coming in at 3:53 for the first 20. My plan before the race started was in and out of this aid station in 10-12 minutes. I ate, took some salt, rummaged through my bag to grab my iPod in case I needed it, changed shoes, called the missus and was out in 10 minutes. BAM!!! Right on time. The next 7 miles were the first of my major crash and burns of the day. 

If you and I have ever talked running I've probably told you that in the marathons or marathon training sessions that I've ever done, I've never hit the wall. I am very conscious of how much I am taking in. Trail races are so much different though because you are spending so much more energy jumping, hopping and you don't get a natural cadence down. At about 22 miles I realize that I haven't pee'd the entire 4 hours that I had already been out here. This is the first really bad sign of dehydration.  I also realized that I hadn't taken a gel in almost 2 hours. CRAP!!!! Not good. Mistake #4. Normally you take gels every 20-30 minutes in distance races just to stay up on your caloric intake. That means that I've actually missed out on potentially 400-500 calories that could keep me from bonking. Then came the rocks of the lake. To top it off I was developing massive blisters on the balls of my feet. The next 4 miles were absolute Hell. 

I came in to the aid station at mile 27 an absolute wreck of a human being. I was light headed. My stomach was throwing fits and all I wanted to do was sit down. I have to give a huge shout out to the ladies at the Land's End aid station for giving me the kick in the pants that I needed to keep going. One girl, and again I wish I could remember her name, fed me salt, PB&J, coke, filled my bottle and my pack and said she wasn't going to be responsible if I didn't get my ass in gear and get back on the trail. That was the wake up that I needed. I got back on the trail and knew that there was 4 miles until aid station at 31 miles. 

2:00 pm
I come in to this aid station knowing that it had just taken me 3 hours to go 10 miles because of how bad I felt. I knew that I was in trouble. When I came in to this station and older guy stopped me and was staring at my leg. Most of you know that I have a very odd looking tattoo on my inner shin. It's in Hebrew and it says "All is Forgiven". As I am standing there he says the actual words. Started I said, "You are only the second person that I've met that knows how to read that". He was very intrigued by the fact that I wasn't Jewish and had a Hebrew tattoo on my body. I had to explain what was more to come from it and what it meant to me. He asked if he could take a picture because he had some friends that he wanted to share it with. I was more than happy to oblige. 

As I was walking away I had to make good on my commitment of texting my wife to let her know how far along I was. My text was simply "31 and i feel like hell :)" She texted me back and said "You're making good time! Just think...few more miles and you can be in the hot tub relaxing :)" and instantly I was flooded with emotions and started to bawl. 2 years ago when I ran this race I held off crying until 38 miles so this was definitely not a good thing. 

Bonk #2
Because I am such a podcasting nerd I knew prior to the race that I was going to have a rough patch and I needed something to pick up my spirits for those times when I wanted to quit and this was one of those times. A couple of months ago I got an idea of how to prepare for this low spot. I thought that I would carry a picture of my family as a way to remind myself why I do these things. This is how I stay healthy. Some may not consider it healthy, but look at the is. Then I got the idea of carrying photos of my nephews to push me along. Since I don't have any boys in my clan these are my dudes! And I knew that I was going to need one more as inspiration. One of someone that has overcome tragedy or misfortune. I knew exactly where to look. 

My inspirational photo comes from a 2 year old little girl that is the daughter of a high school classmate. This little girl captured my heart the moment I heard that she had Leukemia back in the fall of 2011. She is one of the cutest little things I have ever seen and there is not a single picture I have seen of her where she doesn't have the biggest smile on her face. She has pushed so hard over the past 6 months or so to kick the crap out of cancer and is in remission. I that I knew that I could do this silly race with her guiding me along. I took all of the photos and combined them into one collage and carried them in the pocket of my pack right next to my heart. 

I looked at the pictures and knew that I had to just keep moving forward. At this point I had 9 miles to go, dehydrated, I'd faceplanted twice, rolled both of my ankles a couple of times, had blisters that throbbed with every step, but I knew I had to finish. I made a strategic plan that I would not run a single step over the next 6 miles so that I could push really hard for the last 3 of the race. I took off my knee straps, which are vital for me, and just pushed. I don't know if I've ever pushed this hard and stayed this focused during a race and committed to one thing. Finishing. 

3:30 pm
37 mile aid station. I made it. But this is one of the hardest sections of the course. Not just because of the jagged rocks or the step inclines, but because you less than a 5k left and then you are done. Finished. I knew I had 45 minutes to go 3.1 miles. I could do this. I ate. Wrapped some ice in my handkerchief around my neck, said a prayer and took off. Keep in mind that this section was going to be the most I had run in almost 2 hours and I had blisters as big as my feet.

4:10 pm
I meet up with another runner who looks like he was hurting just as bad as I was. I had some steam left in the tank but as I had seen this guy earlier and knew that this was his first ultra I was going to let him finish ahead of me. I could have passed him but I felt that he needed to feel a victory in this event. I don't know why. I just thought that he needed a victory. He probably thought that I was stalking him or something as I walked a good portion of the last mile with him 50 yards ahead of me. There were even a couple of points where I stopped just to let him gain some distance on me. 

4:13 pm
I start to hear the crowd as they are cheering this guy on to the finish. Now is the time to head up the hill to the finish line.

4:15 pm
 All glory to Him for helping me to finish
I am done!!!!

9 hours 15 minutes and a personal best by 30 minutes. I honestly don't know how I did it. Prayer and little symbols of persistence were the only things that got me through. A lot of people get the motivation from their iPods but I listened to 15 minutes of a podcast and 4 or 5 songs during the entire day. My strength came from my God, my family and a little girl. After an amazing day of highs and lows I sat down and cried. You go through such an emotional roller coaster when you are out there for so long. You get to thinking about how you would have spent your Saturday otherwise, you think about how unhealthy you were so many years ago, you think about how much your kids are going to look up to you someday for doing these stupids endurance events and all you can do is cry.

After everything was said and done the medal was placed around my neck. I sat and talked to the RD Bad Ben for a few minutes, ate some vegan chili (which was amazing), had a Miller Lite (I know, I know) took off my shoes and headed back to the hotel to meet up with my girls. All I wanted to do was just spend a little time with the little ones and hold my wifes hand for supporting me through all of the hours that I am away from the house. She is such an amazing and supportive spouse and I am truly lucky that she picked me.

You Can't see what is beneath the socks :)
After I got back to the hotel I was so hungry I could eat a horse. We capped the night off with what better protein than boneless chicken wings from Hooters and refreshing carbs in a 24 oz Pabst Blue Ribbon.

So that is the race. It is put on by one of the most fantastic RD's in the country "Bad" Ben Holmes and the Kansas City Trail Nerds and I couldn't be more excited to do it again. It is one of the most challenging courses that I have ever run on but how much fun would life be without challenge. I want to thank every single volunteer that works during these races. Without you these races would not be possible. You are what makes these events successful and to you I say I appreciate you giving up your weekend to make it possible. I want to thank especially the peeps at the Land's End aid station. I told you I would put you in my race report :)

I thank my wife and girls for putting up with me during training and even when daddy took the car and left without giving them the iPod, headphones, books and travel accessories :)

Most importantly, I thank my God for giving me the ability to run. This has changed my life in so many ways and without you NOTHING is possible.

Stay Strong, Run Long,
Tha Messenjah.

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