Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Free State 100k - 2013

"What a freaking day". These are the words I kept uttering to myself and to my pacer Byron as we very slowly approached the finish line of the Free State Trail Run 100k. It was an incredible day and an awful day mixed into one 14 hour and 45 minute stretch. One with dramatic highs and traumatic lows, but one that I won't soon forget, nonetheless.

The decision to do the 100k started just days after the 2012 12 hour Equalizer. I missed my goal of 100k (or 62 miles) by 5 miles in the 12 hour event. I was obviously elated to have completed the 57 miles and had a great time with friends and family that were able to join me, but something was missing. The 5 miles has haunted me ever since that day in October. 5 miles. What if I would have drank more? Could I have done it? 5 miles equals one extra hour on the course. In the grand scheme of things, one hour doesn't seem like that much, but on that day it did. 5 miles and I would have been able to coin myself as a "100k finisher".

I decided that the Free State would be my chance to do it. The Trail Nerds and "Bad Ben" put on great races and having done this course two other times I knew what I was in for (mental and physical pain). I clicked the button back in January and made the decision that it was going to happen. It was a difficult one, as are most race entries in the world of Ultras, but one that I was really looking forward to.

As the months rolled on I was getting some really good runs in. My nutrition plans were coming into place, I was learning how to properly hydrate, I was working on my climbing (sometimes spending 2 hours with the treadmill at 10% incline) and getting some really good miles in. I was finally following a plan thanks to Bryon Powell and his book "Relentless Forward Progress" and it finally felt like it was starting to pan out. My training plans before were always just running whatever I felt like that day...and we all know how that tends to pan out. I was in a really good place mentally and physically...until the beginning of April. 

As runners we tend to know when physically we are starting to get tired. We get cranky easier, runs don't seem like much fun, we have pain in places we haven't had in the past. As I get older I really start to recognize the signs of over training and mine started in April. My runs were still going well, but I wasn't sleeping and I was feeling completely worn down. I was having some pains in my hips, in my butt and my back. It was weird because these were places I have rarely experienced pain before, but I pushed on. I kept telling myself, "Get 2 weeks out and you can start your taper, then you can heal". I pushed, and pushed, and pushed and then one night at the end of a 7 mile tempo run POP! Something didn't feel right. It was weird sensation in my left hip/groin area....What did I just do? S**t, this race is in 2 weeks. What am I going to do? At that moment, I really think God was telling me to shut down the system and let it reboot. 

For the next 2 weeks I didn't run. Not one step. I started doing some trigger point massage in my hip and in my stomach (thanks Soc Doc for the videos), did some massages involving a rolling pin, rested, tried to sleep more and really watched what I was eating. This was the first time (not post race) that I have ever taken this much time off, but with the longest race of my life in 2 weeks, I had to. That 2 weeks were nice. I rode my bike a few times, got in some reading and spent a little more time with my family. As someone who spends a lot of time training I think that it is important to take some time off to heal all around.

The night before I was getting ready to leave, I was freaking out. My bags were packed (they had been for 3 days), but I was still having that pain in my hip. Was I making a mistake? What if I get 10 miles in and this thing acts up again? That night I didn't sleep. I tried some relaxation techniques that have worked in the past, but nothing. I got maybe 2 hours of sleep. Not good when I know the fact that I won't sleep on Friday night.

I woke up, got the kids and wife ready for work and school, said my goodbyes and started to get the car packed up. Since I would be traveling alone (I was meeting my pacer in Lawrence) it really made packing the car easy. I threw in all of my stuff and little did I know the ride to Lawrence was going to be a little more interesting that listening to my favorite podcasts. Thursday night the police in Boston had tracked down the suspected "Boston Marathon Bombers", killed one and were trying to track down the other. The news coverage kept my attention for the entire 3 1/2 hours to the packet pickup. I won't dive into details as this will be coming out several days after the events have already unfolded. This might sound ironic or maybe a little cold, but it really took my mind off of the drive.

When I got to Lawrence, I was about 15 minutes ahead of my pacer. He was meeting me at the packet pickup to sign his life away as a pacer and we were going out to inspect the course as it was his first time out. When we got to the course, I think it was a little more than he had bargained for. For me, it was time to test the hip and just see what it was going to be capable of and surprisingly it felt fantastic. That was good news, but for Byron I think the course scared him a little bit. 

We made our way back to the hotel, got some dinner, made a quick Wal-Mart run and went back to the hotel to settle in. We had a few beers, yes Byron is the BEST home brewer that I know, and watched the unfolding events in Boston. They got him! That was the best news of the day, but it was time to hit the hay as I was fully prepared not to sleep. 

To my surprise I woke up right before my alarm and only getting out of bed once to go to the bathroom and felt completely rested. What just happened? Did I sleep almost completely through the night before a race? I think I had. Weird. 

We made our way to the park, but something seemed really weird. We were the first people there. No volunteers. No other racers and it was about an hour before the race was supposed to start. Were we at the wrong spot? Did I not get some email about the race starting at a different time? What was going on? Slowly people started to trickle in, but the weirdest part was the RD wasn't there. About 6:15 am, or so, here comes the cavalcade of vehicles carrying the equipment. There went the nerves. OK, we are going to get started on time. We posed for a few pictures and got ready for the start. This is me (on the left) and my friend/pacer/volunteer/home-brewer Byron.

The gun goes off (almost on time) and we were off...

I purposefully, thanks to Trail Runner Nation advice, tried to stay as near the back of the pack as I could. I got settled into a really nice slow pace and as per usual found some people to have conversations with. I have found the more you can chat with people, the easier the miles go by. I met a really nice girl from Denver named Becca and we talked for nearly the entire first 10 miles. I found out a lot about her and it was really nice to get to know her. She told me that her fiancee had come with her and was running his first 1/2 marathon. It made me miss home a little as my wife is in the middle of training for her first 20k. Like I said, we stuck together for most of the first 10 miles. Doing a really easy, comfortable pace. 

Coming out of the Army Corp aid station I separated from the group and just ran. This part of the race was really fun. I was passing people, which I never get the chance to do, and was just having fun. I left the Land's End station and all of a sudden came across a lot of people. "Where did all of these people come from?" Finally I realized what color their bibs were. They were half-marathoners. When I was passing most of them I was noticing that they were gassed. I gave a quick, "Ya doin' OK?" just to offer any words of encouragement that I could and then moved on. There were 2 ladies out there and I asked how they were doing and dejected they replied, "OK." Trying to be super positive I said, "Oh, just think you have less than a mile left. You can do it." I think it perked them up a little and got a "Hey, your number is a different color. What race are you running?" Trying not to be a smartass I responded, "20 down. 42 more to go" and took off. As I was running away I said "Have a great rest of your race" and heard one say "Did he just f***ing say that he had 42 miles left of this s**t?" Yep! I am a crazy person.

Coming into mile 21, I felt fantastic. Hydration and food strategy was working. I was right on my pacing strategy. I came in a little over 4 hours. Perfect. I grabbed my next baggy of gels, put a little Vaseline on my left foot (felt a little hot spot), grabbed some more food and out in under 5 minutes. I jumped back on to the trail and this was the first of my mistakes for the afternoon.

My plan was to go like this. Run the first loop settling in with a group, run the 2nd loop with my iPod and the 3rd loop with Byron. First lap complete as planned. Started my second loop about 1/2 mile onto the trail and CRAP!! I forgot my iPod back at the start/finish. I had gone too far to turn around. BOOM! Mental hand grenade. I knew I could do it without it, but this was going to be tough. My first thought? I know 90% of the songs that are on there, just start singing to yourself. Not as easy as one would think. You tend to get the dumbest song stuck in your head and then it's there for the next 3 hours. This was really where the main took over my ability to focus on what I was doing. Every step sucked. I cussed every single rock. When was the next aid station? When does this trail end? If Jesus came back on this day would he let me bask in my stupidity before taking me to Heaven? Yep, those were my thoughts until I hit the crappy parts of the trail.

The following pictures were "borrowed" from the female winner of the 100k, Olga King. Since I don't have a smartphone, my phone takes really crappy pictures and I don't have a camera small enough to bring on the trails I have to "borrow" ones from others. This is just a small sampling of the places that over the next 10 hours I spent stumbling, yelling, cussing, damning and everything else you can think of.

Now, I am a huge fan of trail running. I would much rather spend 4 hours on the trail and complete fewer miles than the pavement, but when you are down on your "mental game" these trails SUCK!!!! This is the hardest trail I have ever run on, but that is the reason I continue to come back every year.

When I finally made my way to the MooseJaw aid station again, my Facebook friend and Equalizer co-hort Eric was there with his amazing pumpkin/chocolate chip/peanut butter chip/heavenly cookies and I had been looking forward to them for a week. I grabbed one and then somebody yelled "HEY! WE HAVE BACON AND GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES OVER HERE!" Now, if you don't like bacon, I think you should get your head examined. The bacon was phenomenal. Grilled cheese...perfect. This was the best aid station and was going to get me through to the finish line...That's what I kept telling myself until this little section reared it's ugly head again and killed my momentum. Mental Hand grenade #2.

The next couple of miles was spent on boulders the size of mini Coopers that have been run on a few hundred times over the last few hours and were continuously shifting. This section was completely un-runnable and made me question why I was doing this even more.

I stuck close to an older gentleman until the next aid station. I was feeling really queasy, my quads hurt, my hip hurt, my brain hurt. You name it, it hurt. When I got to the Land's End AS one of the ladies there says, "Oh man. Let me see your hands." Yep, Ol' Sausage fingers were back. They gave me some advice, told me to slow down (if that was even possible) and check them when I get to the next AS. This meant several more hours of walking and just trying to keep food actually in my stomach.

I made it to the road section, which has about a 1/4 mile climb. I saw some old guy ahead of me just plugging away up the hill. When I came up to him I saw a very familiar logo on his waist pack. I said, "Hey, that pack looks like it's gotten some use over the years" and he says, "Yep, I got this thing when I ran Western States 100 for the first time...23 years ago." Turns out this guy was 80 years old (named Louis Joline) and completed his most recent 100 miler just 5 years ago. He was doing the marathon that day and was having a great time. Just this guys passion and drive kept me going for the next 10 miles.

I came into the Army Corp aid station again and my fingers were starting to get a little back to normal. I was feeling a little better, but the volunteers wanted me to take in some more salt. I, apparently, am a heavy salt sweater and they could see the salt build-up on my face. I left the aid station made my way back down the hill and Mental Grenade #3 came, I forgot to get more gels and a Red Bull. Crap!!! There was another 5 miles to the next AS. I had a couple that I had stashed in my pockets just to have as extras so those would get me there, but mentally I needed that Red Bull.

The remaining 10 miles of this loop were pretty tame. I walked a lot. Chatted with a guy for the last 4 miles and really contemplated calling it quits at 40 miles. Then a couple of thoughts came into my head.

  1. I had spent all of this time driving down here, my buddy rented a car to come and all he wanted to do was run. 
  2. What if my kids read this race report many years down the line and found out that I quit just because I had forgotten my iPod and had a bad day mentally? What would they think?

I had to keep going.

42 miles in, I came into the start/finish a little down on my luck. I really had a rough last 21 miles. It was certainly more mental than physical, but I was down. Luckily, Bryon was there to pick me up. He fed me a hot dog, got me some chicken broth, made sure that my pack was filled with water and gels and got me out in roughly 8 minutes. This included a welcome change of shoes and putting on my jacket.

The previous day, we had gone out on the course just so I could show him what it was like. Having never been to the trail before, I wanted him to see the last couple of miles to get a good feel for what the course was like. The one thing that I forgot to ask or to mention to him before was how a rock plate in your shoes is the best thing for this race. This would come to play about 5 hours later.

We jumped back out on the trail after a slight walk to the trail head and I had a little bit more pep in my step. I was back running again. This was starting to feel good again. I had him right behind me and we were chatting like usual when I realized that Mental Hand Grenade #4 had occurred and I didn't even realize it. I had forgotten my Red Bull AGAIN!!!! Crap!!! I was going to have very little caffeine in my system for the next 5 hours!!!

We spent the next few hours talking movies, trails, me complaining, Byron singing, him telling me to drink, telling me to eat, more singing, more talking, more singing...do you sense the pattern here? It wasn't until about 53 miles that I thought that he might not make it out alive if he kept singing because I thought I might stab him. I think he recognized the fact that I wasn't laughing or talking and he held back a little bit. We came into the next aid station and I was physically and emotionally spent. He reminded me that at this AS I was supposed to take my pack off and stretch. He was going to take care of me.

As we got there, I took off my pack, threw it to the ground, asked for some water, HEED and something to eat. I knew that there was no way I was going to keep it down, but I needed something. Gels were not doing it anymore. My stomach was in knots. I hadn't eaten any solid food in well over an hour and I was just spent. As the wonderful volunteers were asking me what I wanted nothing sounded appealing. I just wanted to be done. That's all I wanted. I am a pretty positive guy, but all of the thoughts in my head were negative.

I wish I would have caught the ladies name that was working at the Army Corp station that night because she made things a lot better. As I was sitting there stretching and thinking what the next food item was that was going to make me sick, I think she saw me welling up. She put a hand on my shoulder, told me that everything was going to be fine and asked me if I needed Tylenol. I don't like to take medicines during races, but I think that's what I needed at this point. As I took them I got REALLY emotional. Bawling emotional. I walked away, grabbed my pack and started again. Byron was really cool at this point because he just let me be emotional. No talking. No consoling. No pushing. He just let me be, but he did tell me that all we were doing now was walking back to the car. That's what I needed.

As we got back on to the trail, I don't know if it was the ibuprofen, the food or just emotions, but something lit up inside of me and I was running again, but this time I was PISSED. The next 1 1/2 hours or so was a constant stream of profanity, anger and hatred that I am really not used to. I was talking about how I am sick of the laziness of Americans, politics, "stupid people", kids playing video games, how much time people spend in front of the TV and a whole host of other topics that I don't even remember the point of. Over the next 8 miles I bet we ran 3-4 of it. Running felt good again...for me anyways.

In this whole adventure I didn't even bother to ask Byron how he was doing. Looking back on it, I feel terrible. When we got to the sign that said "3 miles to the end of the loop," I let out the biggest scream of the entire day. I was less than 1 hour from the finish line. I was almost there. At this point it was really dark and we were running/walking by the glow of our headlamps and flashlights. I think we both may have been hallucinating a little bit because those glowing things in the trees kept attracting my light.  The signs kept going by. "2.5 miles to the end of the loop", "2 miles to the end of the loop", "1.5 miles to the end of the loop" and finally "1 mile to the end of the loop". I let out another scream. "5,280 feet to the finish line" and got a "yep". I looked back and finally, after 5 1/2 hours asked "Are you OK?" and he responded "Man, my feet are beat up." At this point I remembered the one thing that I should have warned him about, but didn't. The lack of a rock plate in his shoes. He had just spent the last 5 hours jumping on and over rocks with no protection. Crap...was he going to be able to make it?

As we came up to the 1/2 mile sign, I told him that I wanted to finish with him. I wanted him to cross the finish line with me, but he declined and told me that it was my race. This was a little disheartening, because I have been planning this for months with him and all I wanted to do was cross with my pacer. He then told me "You've earned this on your own. You cross the finish line and you can hug me when you're done." I told him that I was going to run the final hill, get some food get our bags and then we would be out. Hooters chicken wings and beer were all I could think about.

As the trailhead came into view I saw what looked like landing strip lights. They had taken cones and put lights in them to light the path to the finish line. I shifted into a "higher gear" and ran the hill. The hill was a blur. I still don't really remember going this last little section, but I what I do remember is crossing the finish line and throwing up my hands to praise the One True God who gave me the strength to finish. As I was given my buckle (yes we got belt buckles) and my sticker, all I kept thinking about was "What a freaking day" but part of me was thinking, "I can't believe that it's over." 100k (62 miles) in 14 hours and 45 minutes.

We stood around and talked for a bit, had some soup and a beer. Grabbed all of my stuff and were heading out of the park in about 15 minutes. There wasn't a lot of fanfare at the finish line, but that's the way I wanted it. As we were driving out the park I made a few calls and just thanked Byron repeatedly for coming down for this.

The rest of the night was pure exhaustion. We got our Hooters wings and fried pickles, had a few beers, I took a shower and I was out until 6:45am. We both got up around the same time and felt like we had been hit by trucks, no pun intended Byron. We walked down to the lobby, reminisced for a bit, got some breakfast and coffee and that was it. We were out and on our way back home. I guess in my mind I was figuring some grand thing would happen as we left. I don't know. Maybe the lady at the front desk to say "Oh, so I heard that you ran 100k yesterday. Here is your key to the city"...I don't know maybe not quite that extreme, but I thought the experience would end a little differently. I would not trade the experience for the world though.

As I sit here a few days later, recovering nicely, I am reminded of where I have come from. From a chubby kid, to a teenager that was never good at sports, to a FAT adult to where I am now I am filled with hope. Hope not only that I can do this again, or further the next time, but hope for others to change. During one of my mindless conversations in the woods I kept saying that part of our problem as people as we have no faith in ourselves to be able to accomplish things. We see these daunting tasks of athletics, health, finances, education or whatever and we think that it's impossible. We spend too much of our time thinking that something is impossible and don't even attempt it. We come up with excuses for all of the reason why we can't do something instead of trying to figure out how we can do something. If you get anything from reading this, let it be this. You are capable of doing more than you think you can. God has given us incredible bodies that are able to do extraordinary things. You just have to be willing to work hard to get it.

With all of the things that went wrong during this race, I must say that this is a class act race, put on by class act people. I have a lot of things that I learned and a lot of take aways. There were a lot of negatives, but a lot of positives as well.

I want to thank "Bad" Ben Holmes, the Trail Nerds and the entire volunteer staff that gave up their time to help. You are all incredible people and without you these race would not happen.

In closing, as usual, I want to thank God for giving me this body and the ability to do what I do. Many people see this as crazy, dumb or just insane, but I know that this is part of His plan for me. I want to thank my wife and kids for always supporting me. I want to thank Byron for all of his help and support during this race, I don't know how I would have done it without you buddy. To all of my friends and family, thank you so much for your support and can't wait to share the next one with you.

Items used during the Free State 100k
Brooks Cascadia 7
New Balance MT 101 (no longer in production)
Brooks Versatile SS shirt
The North Face Reflex Core Shorts
Nathan Hydration QuickDraw Elite handhelds
Injinji Performance Midweight Socks (Yes...toe socks)
CEP All sports Compression Calf Sleeves
Clif Shot Gels
Hammer Nutrition HEED Electrolyte Drink


Olga King said...

Great job on your run and persevering! Isn't ultrarunning fun? Never give up, always believe...:)

Jeff said...

Great report. Way to overcome all the challenges and press on to the finish!