I was recently asked, “Zach – your crewing article was great, but I am not really wanting to sit on my butt for hours just to pop blisters, make sandwiches and fill water bottles… what about pacing?” Well, “fictitious friend”, that is a great question! However, for the purposes of disclosure, let me start with a disclaimer. I have never actually paced another runner during an event. This being said – I have utilized pacers in a wide variety of race distances and terrains during ultras. I have also not utilized pacers – so I feel confident I can speak with authority on the subject matter.
First and foremost – and I cannot stress this enough – make sure that you are FAST ENOUGH to keep up with your pacer. I personally have had to leave a pacer behind that could not keep up with me and ended up leaving said pacer alone in the dark in the middle of the night. While I felt bad for her, I was feeling amazing, and was going to take advantage of that. Another friend’s pacer decided to quit during his “shift” and did not run again for a year. To avoid this situation, don’t agree to pace someone that you are likely unable to match speeds (and preferably push). Also, be careful to assume that just because it’s the late miles of a 100 you will be able to keep up with a normally much faster runner – I have seen some ultrarunners run faster the last 10 than the first 10.
Secondly, don’t whine and complain about how bad YOU feel. Chances are you have been out there much less time than your runner has, and the goal is to help THEM. Your pissing and moaning might make them run faster to get away from you, but most likely they will just get very annoyed and take it out on the crew at the next aid station. Best case scenario, your runner might just put in her earbuds and crank the Metallica – take the hint.
Next order of business; be prepared. I am talking “Eagle Scout” prepared! Learn and study the course! Know the distance between aid stations. Just like Dad driving to the family vacation destination, you can expect to hear “Are we there yet?” Know your runners goals and push hard to exceed them! Find out what you can do to help your runner and the crew when you roll into the next aid station. Don’t forget to remind them to eat and drink, then take a mental note of when and how much. It is important you do not let them get behind; else you are making things harder on the both of you.
Finally, and this is sometimes overlooked, HAVE FUN! One of the best things you can do is help your runner keep their mind OFF the pain, the race, and the other hardships. Crack jokes, sing songs, tell stories. ENGAGE your runner to help pass the long arduous hours and distract them from the task at hand for a bit. Some of my best pacer experiences were not because my pacer kept pushing Heed and Hammer Gels, but telling dirty jokes and sharing (and sometimes OVERSHARING) personal stories. It really makes the low times much more bearable.
I could give you a thousand more tips on how to be an effective pacer, but if you follow the four simple rules above, you will be successful. If you are interested in being a pacer but have not been asked, PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE! Post availability on forums or Facebook pages! It is a great way to see part of a course or race without ponying up the entry fee! You may also make some great friends. Last summer, I assembled a team of 4 complete strangers who spent more than 27 hours in the scorching Kansas heat for a guy and his gal that they barely knew – and now they are now my lifelong friends!
In the five or so years I have been running ultras, I have seen quite a few changes. The first, and most noticeable, is the massive increase in popularity. In 2010, ultras (in the Midwest anyway) were somewhat few and far between. A runner might have to travel 6 hours or more to find a race at all, and there were very few options through the course of the year, even ifyou were willing to travel. In 2014, one must pick and choose based on courses, buckles, distances, course support, and a zillion other factors. It seems as though there are new races popping up all over the place every weekend! The massive rise in popularity has increased both participation and public exposure – in both traditional media and social media. Between my runner friends, runner pages, and groups, my Twitter and Facebook feeds read like an AD/HD version of about 12 issues worth of UltraRunning Magazine.
This increased exposure has increased to the point that now even ‘non-runners’ are at least cognizant with the concept of ultrarunning. Guys like Dean Karnazes, Scott Jurek, Christopher McDougal, and others have made ultrarunning seem less of a fringe sport for total psychopathic sadomasochists and maybe even somewhat mainstream. Maybe… Along with this newfound recognition, I have noticed a trend among non-runners beginning to group all ultrarunners into one homogenous group tagged “ultrarunner” – a new stereotype of sorts. How awesome is that guys!? We got our own stereotype! By definition, a stereotype is an oversimplification of the group as a whole, and in a lot of cases, the shoe fits. But there are a few traits that I feel like are commonly attributed to ALL ultrarunners that I really feel are more often mostly inaccurate.
1.) All ultrarunners are a bunch of hippies who just bum around and only work the bare minimum to survive. FALSE! There are a certain number of these ultrarunners living a lifestyle recently coined as “dirbag” who are out there truly living the ultra dream, but they are not the majority. Nurses, cops, small business owners, stay at home moms, CEO’s, and teachers are professionals you will find at almost every ultra. Most of the ultrarunners I know have full time jobs, families, and as many or more responsibilities as any non-runner.
2.) All ultrarunners are health freaks who measure and count every free-range, organic thing they eat and drink. Most are vegans who hang out at whole food stores and plan their next barefoot run across America. NOPE! Most of us eat what we like, because we like it, and in whatever quantity we choose. Fast food is NOT the devil and we don’t mind sucking down the occasional triple cheeseburger and washing it down with a giant butterscotch milkshake. Yeah, there are a many health conscious ultrarunners out there because better nutrition does make better runners. However, most of us will never step on a podium and are MORE THAN SATISFIED just to stumble across a finish line – just before cutoffs- to collect our buckle and vanity sticker.
3.) All ultrarunners suck down tons of craft beers the night before and immediately after every ultra. NADA! We will drink just about any kind of beer, wine, liquor and sometimes don’t even wait until we have finished the race. And believe it or not, there are many ultrarunners who don’t drink at all, although I am personally not sure why.
4.) All ultrarunners hate themselves and are just punishing themselves somehow. INCORRECT! The pain of running ultras is a beautiful contrast to the Western hemisphere’s push toward achieving absolute comfort in all things. Feeling the pain lets you know how great you have it in your everyday life. It is not a punishment…it is a reward! We aren’t doing it because we hate ourselves, we are doing it because we LOVE ourselves enough to get out of our comfort zones and live life – in spite of the pain. To push past limits defined by others and sometimes even limits we place on ourselves.
5.) All ultrarunners are obsessed with running and it is all they do. NOT TRUE. Ultrarunners by nature have a very wide range of experiences. Chances are that is what led them to the sport. Driven by the desire to take on new and exciting challenges can lead to many different activities. From my experience, ultrarunners excel in a wide variety of activities that take significant commitment – from writing, music, art, and theatre to auto body repair, hunting, gardening and motorcycle riding. Not stunted by a fear of the unknown, ultrarunners are well prepared to tackle ANY challenge. Hell I am in a group that meets bi-weekly to play old school, roll the 20 sided die roll playing game Dungeons and Dragons. (My character is a pretty badass level 2 Half-Elf Rogue). But yeah, we do run a lot – it is pretty necessary when running distances over 26.2 miles.
After all the time and miles I have spent on the trails with ultrarunners, I would argue that the ONLY thing that we ALL truly have in common as the group labeled “Ultrarunners” is the desire to take on the physical challenge of running an ultra as a way to living a highly fulfilled life. There are similarities among us but just like the case of the “perfect” running shoe, there truly is no one-size-fits-all personality of an ultrarunner.
10 Keys to Insure a DNF in your 1st 100 Mile Attempt
1. Select an Insanely Difficult Course
If you are going to run a freaking 100 mile race, why the hell would you run some wimpy flat course with no technical terrain or high altitudes? What kind of wimpy hundred mile racer needs decent weather and tons of course support? Don’t be a pussy just because you have never run 100 miles before! Go big or go home! I mean, you CRUSHED that last 50K you did… right?
2. Continue Your Usual Training
It got you from the couch to 5K didn’t it? It even helped you slide in before cutoff on that trail 50k. One hundred miles in 30 hours – that’s only 3.33 miles per hour! That is a slow walk. There is no reason to destroy your joints with a bunch of back to back runs of 20 and even 30 mile runs. Besides, who has the TIME to do that?
3. Just “Wing it” On Race Day
This isn’t rocket science folks! Here is all there is to it: 1. Show up. 2. Go to starting line. 3. Left foot forward, right foot forward, now repeat. It’s that simple. All these runners obsessing over distance between aid stations, what to put in drop boxes, cutoff times, weather, what to wear…. Blah blah blah. The shit seriously makes me sick. It’s never-ending.
4. Race the First 50K
All this ultra-conservative talk about pacing in a 100 doesn’t make any sense. Go out and run that 50K like you know that you can, and then slow down. After all, you are experienced and know what pace you are comfortable to finish a 50k, why would you slow down before you need to?
5. Eat and Drink Only When You FEEL Like It
Only eat and drink when you are hungry and thirsty. Don’t cram food down your throat if your gut is upset. All that will do is make you puke, and when you puke you are DONE. Everyone knows this. If you aren’t hungry – don’t eat. If you aren’t thirsty –don’t drink. This isn’t a shitty Weight Watchers meeting or your company fat-boy weight loss competition… why the hell would you count calories? Besides, you have plenty of extra to burn, I mean c’mon we have all seen these fatties who run 100’s.
6. Avoid Lube
Lube? Seriously? Are you a car? No. So why would you lube yourself? Quit thinking you are some kind of machine that needs to stay fine tuned and well oiled. What an ego you have! All it is going to do is make you all greasy, smelly, and uncomfortable. It will settle in your expensive running gear to grab all the dirt and road dust. When you get that stuff on your fingers, it is nearly impossible to get off. No one wants you grabbing stuff off the aid station tables with gross fingers. NASTY! Save the lube bottle for the bedroom fun you will be having with your significant other the night after!
7. Go It Alone
You already have very few friends outside the community of ultrarunning weirdoes you know. Do you really want ruin the few remaining friendships you have by asking your high school BFF to chase you around the countryside just to wait a few hours to do it again – just to fill your water bottles and pop your blisters? I think not. What about asking an ultrarunner who is injured or tapering? Don’t think so… you already have to spend enough time with these psychos at prerace and at every aid satiation. Take my advice; Go it alone.
8. Find a Chair
25-30 hours is a long ass time. Find a chair, take a load off and sit down for a while. Hell, lay down for a while if you want. Find a nice warm fire and get comfy. A stop of 1 or 2 hours isn’t going to do anything but help. I mean, it’s not like you are going to win. And you DO HAVE 30 hours. Why not take a nap here or there.
9. Stop if it Hurts
You have trained like you always have trained. Surely that poke in your knee, burning toe, or swollen knee is a sign of serious injury! Don’t risk missing next month’s Color Dash Diva Plunge because you are too hard headed to stop when you are in pain! Do the right thing and listen to the pain and that little voice telling you that you need to stop. Keep in mind your feet know best.
10. Rationalize Failure
It’s ok to quit. It is fine not to finish. It’s not THAT BIG of a deal. It IS just a hobby after all, you would have been running anyway. Only a tiny fraction of the world’s population even ATTEMPTS to run 100 miles. Quit acting like this is some kind of soul searching, healing, and transformational experience. It’s just a race – not worth pain and suffering.
If for some reason you did NOT read the title – this is the shit to do if you want a DNF. If you want a finisher’s buckle – DO THE OPPOSITE.
When you are in the total ass-kicking miles of an ultra, what mental tactics do you use to keep moving? How do you will yourself through the dark times? What keeps you from convincing yourself that it is not worth all the pain? If physical training is the key to running a successful ultra, then mental toughness is the hand that guides the key into the lock and turns it. If you lack the required strength of mind, there will eventually come a time when bodily endurance and your Greek god physique is not enough to allow you to escape the darkness and emerge into the light of the finish line – where you can bask in your glorious achievement.
What do you do to pass the hard miles? Of course music or audio books are a popular alternative seen at basically every race 5K and up. Here are a few suggestions taken from my own personal arsenal – the key is finding what works for you. As an ultrarunner, experienced or aspiring, you should have plenty of opportunities to put it to the test.
Repeat a mantra. I have had times where I was repeating a chant such as, “Next step. Next Step…” for what seems like forever to keep myself moving. Once, after almost barfing my guts up on an aid station worker, I gobbled a few Tums and kept telling myself, “I WILL feel better” until I actually did. I believe this is basically hypnotizing yourself and moving your focus off the pain until the pain subsides – or you finish (which sometimes does come first).
Fantasize! Use the power of your mind and take yourself somewhere else. If the “now” freaking sucks, get the hell out! Fantasize about something so interesting and engaging that it becomes more real than the giant blister on the ball of your foot that just ruptured. Use your imagination and paint a mental picture of your perfect vacation, winning the lottery, or maybe being stranded in Antarctica. Think about every detail and then details about details. It doesn’t matter what you think about… just think about something. This will pass the time, and once again divert your focus away from your current struggles.
Make a new friend. Talk to the other runners. Chances are that unless you are a world-class elite speedster, you will be moving at speeds that will easily allow you the ability to continue speaking. Use this humanly ability to your advantage. Ask other runners questions, tell stories, shoot the shit… This might not work in some ultras (I have been solo for HOURS before), but if and when the opportunity is there – use it. It is a great way to pass the time and get past a rough point in a race. I have made some great friends in my time running ultras, and most of them I met WHILE on the trail.
Focus on smaller, more manageable distances. When the thought of another 20 miles just seems too much, break your run into chunks. Focus on running to the next aid station, mile section, or electric pole- hell, even just the next step. These smaller incremental victories will add up and eventually you will be crossing the finish.
Finally, one thing I do when I really struggle is to completely disassociate my mind with my body. Having a techie background, I think of it as putting my brain in “standby mode”. I focus on thinking of nothing. My complete attention goes to listening to my own breathing, my vision on a blurred fixed point about 4 meters in front of me, reducing my body to a biological machine processing oxygen and sending blood to where it is most needed. There have been times when hours have passed and I realized I had literally thought of nothing. On a technical course I may try to get myself so hyper focused on my next footfall that it becomes the only reality – figuring out where my next foot should land, noting else.
The key is never letting negative thoughts invade your mind. If they do, a runner needs ways to immediately cast them out. You can literally talk yourself into DNF’ing a race that your body was fully capable of completing. Excuses at the time that seem perfectly reasonable will make you want to punch yourself in the face for quitting the following week. Don’t let all the time you spend training your body go to waste because you haven’t conditioned your mind.
I think my system has finally managed to digest (or at least excrete) the overdose of Epicness that I consumed on April 27th and 28th at the inaugural Flatrock 101K. Thirty-seven ultrarunner BADASSES representing NINESTATES – including ALASKA- showed up for what would undoubtedly be one of the hardest 100K trail run in the Midwest, and maybe the entire country – given muddy and wet trail conditions. Everyone has already heard about the drizzly rain, steep climbs, jagged rocks, soul-sucking mud, and beautiful scenery. You all know how challenging this course was after dark (at least for all of us mere mortals who aren’t as fast as winner Brian Ortell from Iowa or female co-champs Candi Paulin and Grace Lin). All of these things I will remember without a doubt… BUT… As the destroyed leg muscles rebuild themselves and the pain fades, the memory of the overall experience is permanently imprinted in my heart and mind. The difference is Epic Ultra’s goal of co-creating the experience of a lifetime for ALL ultrarunners participating in their events. This isn’t some shitty hyped up sales pitch to grab a bunch of wannabes’ money in exchange for a Facebook photo shoot. These so-called ‘Tough’ Mudder, Warrior Dash, or some other bullshit money grab Cornstalk and Confetti Glitter Glider Mile are in the business of making money NOT making epic ultrarunners… whatever. Don’t even get me started on that shit. Epic Ultras’ primary goal is to inspire you to, “Co-create the experience of a lifetime.” Boy did we. In the simplest terms, the Inaugural Flatrock 101K was an event put on by ultrarunners for ultrarunners in a way that gave every single competitor the opportunity to Be Epic, which is Epic Ultras primary mission…and GUESS WHAT?? You bet your sweet ass that they totally nailed it.. again! Beginning with the information packet and and concluding with Warren’s cooked-to-order hot breakfast at 2:50 a.m., this was the most well executed event I have everparticipated in. From the minute I got to the pre-race dinner, I felt like I was being treated as if I was picked to win the race – and I felt like I did win the race when the air horn blasted, the cowbells rang, and I crossed the finish line in the middle of the damn night. That’s a badass feeling for a middle-to-the-back of the pack guy like me.
I am less than 5 years into my ultrarunning career and I have rarely (if ever) seen a “pre-race dinner”. My guess is that it is a giant pain in the ass for race directors, especially considering it takes place as they are trying to put out all the last minute fires… you know, like barbed wire being stretched across the trail. I loved it. In a race with 37 runners I think there were at least 40 people (not including the Epic Brigade) eating from a mountain of spaghetti and damn good meatballs. Keep in mind, this was a night when the weather was mostly cold and rainy. This should happen at every event, as it gives runners a chance to get to know each other and talk. For me, a big reason I do what I do is the people I meet along the way. I took advantage and talked with all the runners I already knew, and introduced myself to a few more. Nervous chatter and ultra energy buzzed tangibly in the air. It was awesome. Eric gave a nice welcome, pre-race briefing and introduced and recognized several folks who greatly deserved it. After most runners finished eating and headed off to rest, I hung around and watched the EU Brigade in action. Eric, Polly, Warren and Harrison and crew were buzzing around getting shit done despite me hanging around distracting them. Talk about a well oiled machine! The Epic Ultra Brigade deployed a mixed strategy of work and play and I was sincerely impressed at how efficiently they were getting shit done. Eric was leading by example and would not hesitate to jump in the “heavy lifting” involved in getting things ready for the runners. I was glad I got to see some of the behind the scenes stuff as it really gave me an even greater appreciation for the event. The Epic “Brigade” is a fitting name, as they did have this thing down to a near military precision – while still having enough time to converse and drink a couple beers with me.
Anecdotal evidence concludes that the average internet reader has the attention span of a flea, so I will cut it off here for now. There is just too much to say in one post, and I don’t want to leave any of it out. Next post will go into excruciating detail of how many ounces of water I took in, my fuel plan, detailed pace strategies, and tons more fun stuff. Nah, just kidding, its more about me hanging out with my new friends and just surviving to finish this awesome race.
Tune in next week for, “Seen My Rubber Boots?” or “Move Over Yeti, This is Sasquatch Territory”…
So the Inaugural Flatrock 101K Trail Race is this Saturday. Registration is closed and there are 39 total badasses ready to go all in. We are prepared to step up to the line, stare directly into the eyes of a nearly invincible force, and charge fearlessly into battle. Will everyone finish? Probably not. Will it hurt? Absolutely. Everyone that even attempts to slay this dragon is a badass. So long as they give it everything they have, they have already won. Overcoming the fear of failure and pain and just TRYING something that you know might be outside your physical limits is a victory, and is what separates true EPIC ultrarunners. This is a field of amazing people that I am super proud to be a part of – regardless of individual outcomes. The tenacity and spirit of these people who are determinedto live and experience life in a way that most people wouldn’t even dream of truly inspires and impresses me beyond words. And if you didn’t sign up because you were too scared to try, I say, “Bahahahahaaa!!!!! Suck it up WUSS.”
That said, I want to get to know you all. I want to hear your stories. I want you to talk while we are running in a group. I want you to come find me and talk to me. Ask me about the blog… ask me anything you like. I love making new friends and want to get to know anyone and everyone who has a passion for ultrarunning. One of the best parts of these ultrarunning experiences is the interaction with like-minded people who can truly understand why you do what you do! Don’t pass on the opportunity! Come to the pre-race pasta feed and lets make it the social event of the year.
Once I cross the finish (assuming I am not dead or DFL), I will be sitting at the finish line with a cooler of cold beer and everyone is welcome to join me cheering on every last finisher in this unadulterated show of supreme badassery. Join me. Oh…and good luck to all of you 39 psycho bastards about to do a double-battle with “The Rock!”
Previously, on “Prairie Spirit 100″… Our unlikely hero has arrived in Ottawa in an effort to reach his goal of completing a 100 mile trail run. A fun filled evening of dinner and camaraderie with other ultrarunners is ended with a restless night of sleep. The morning greets our hero with overcast skies, cold temps, and the possibility of catastrophic weather conditions later in the day. Undeterred, our hero gears up and sets out. Having reached the Iola turnaround with his fearless companion Adam in less than 11 hours, Zach connects with pacer Lisa and dives headlong into a burgeoning blizzard – determined not to let his solid 50+ mile effort be in vain. Will the weather stop our determined friend and his companions? Will they finish the race in spite of the screaming winds and the falling snow? Will they be buried under ice waiting centuries to be thawed and reanimated? Stay tuned to “Prairie Spirit 100, Part III – Yetis in the Mist” to find out!!
So there I was, no bullshit… (every great story should begin with those words) getting ready to leave the Iola aid station restocked and ready to rock. Feeling good. Joking, laughing, taking some pictures, and just having an overall great time. I knew the weather was going downhill and that I had 51 or so miles to go, but I still had not for a single second entertained the idea that I might not be able to finish. At almost exactly 5:00 p.m. I stepped out from behind the Iola shelter and started a jog directly into the whipping north wind. I turned to Lisa and said, “HOLY F*&^#^g SHIT… IT’S GONNA BE A LONG NIGHT!” Having that wind at your back was one thing; looking forward to it blasting you in the damn face for the next 16 or more hours is something totally different. But we did what we do… we set our jaws and starting putting our left foot in front of our right foot.
I don’t know that many ways to keep describing the blowing wind and snow. I was cold, wet, windy and snowy. There were some places along the trail that offered some decent protection from the wind, and that became the goal. Instead of running to the next aid station, we decided we would run to the next wind break. Lisa talked to me while I just kept concentrating on keeping the fuel schedule right and kept moving as quickly as I could. A few hours passed and we made it to Colony in pretty decent time, probably between 3-4 hours before the cutoff. I was starting to get chilled from the wind and moisture but not bad as long as I was moving pretty good. Coming into Colony, my goal was to get in and out ASAP so I didn’t get cold. Adam had gotten out ahead of me and was already at Colony when I got there, heading to sit in the car with his wife and warm up some. He hadn’t packed nearly as many drop bags as I had or as much cold weather gear either. At Colony I busted open 4-5 hand warmers and shoved them in the fronts and backs of my gloves and in my balaclava on my face. I also grabbed another pair of bigger glove shells to wear and a big fleece hood with a drawstring around the face. It was dark by now and I had a light clipped to my hat with the hood over the top, drawstring cinched tight. I must have looked like Kenny from Southpark with a beam of light shooting from my head. It was quite comical I am sure. Lisa and I left Colony before Adam and wouldn’t see him again. 61 miles done. Next stop Welda.
Not much to say about the trip from Colony to Welda – except that about a mile out of Colony I lost my water bottle from its waist holster. Now I am taking Hammer Gels and Endurolytes every 30 minutes for the next 2-3 hours without water. If you don’t already know this – be aware- cold gels are hard as hell to swallow withwater. Shit. Now I am starting to feel like I am royally screwed. I begin to get colder in my core, despite the fact that my hands and feet are still fairly comfortable. Lisa reassures me that we will find a new bottle at Welda, which reminds me that Travis will be there and I convince myself somebody will hook me up. We make it to Welda and Ben and the Trail Nerds contingent once again hook me up with that awesome broth. I end up just grabbing a half full Sam’s Club water bottle off the table that they said had been there for a while, filled it up and headed out. I did not want to linger, I could feel the cold really starting to set in. I grabbed some food, ate a gel, put on another layer of jackets (I think) and we took off again. Almost conciously feeling my body temperature dropping, I said, “C’mon, we gotta go.” to Lisa. So, after a less than 5 minute stop, we went. Sixty-nine miles down. Garnett, here we come.
The next couple miles were very hard for me. I was starting to shake really badly right out of the aid station and had to start fighting the urge to go back and call it a day. The weather was getting worse by the second. Stronger winds, colder temps, heavier snow, and less tree cover all combined with my dropping core temperature were giving me serious doubts. These doubts served to anger me, and I just kept telling myself, “Move and get warm or stop and freeze.” Over and over I kept telling myself this. Eventually I did get a bit warmer and maybe 6 miles from Garnett, I was moving pretty good again. It was so hard to even see the trail at this point, much less find footprints to follow. Judging speed and distance was downright impossible. The snow was getting deeper and was starting to take its toll on my feet. Every step was just getting tougher and shuffling wasn’t much of an option with how much deeper it got. Once again I slowed to the point that I quickly started to get really cold. The best I could manage was a swift walk. This was not enough to keep my temperature up, and unfortunately, about an hour away from Garnett I was shivering uncontrollably. My thoughts started to get cloudy and I was getting disoriented. Once I thought I had gotten turned around because Lisa got a bit ahead of me and I contemplated turning around. Then I realized the footsteps I were going to follow were mine. Honestly, it was getting pretty scary. Getting close to Garnett, I could see the glow of a town in the distance and this gave me some renewed hope. The Garnett train station was warm. All I had to do was put on some warm, dry clothes, warm up for a while, and then I could go on. At this moment, I realized I wasn’t shivering anymore and that my lips felt “asleep” – like your foot when you sit cross-legged too long. Yeah, this is not good. Exclusively walking at this point, it took about 30 more minutes to get to the train station. We got there really close to 12:30 am. 77.5 miles done. Less than a marathon to go.
The cutoff for Garnett was now 4 a.m. so I feel like I have plenty of time to eat and get warm before going back. I sit down and grab some ham sandwiches and start eating. I really had a hunger for real food. While I was eating, something strange happened. As I warmed up I began to violently shiver. I mean VIOLENTLY. It was like the warmer I got, the colder I felt. This was the beginning of the end for me. People were dropping like flies at Garnett. It is getting worse and worse by the second. Then, without warning, the power goes out. Of course there is no problem with light, as all the runners have headlamps, but it is dark. The ranger in charge of the trail shows up and offers to get a radiant propane heater. I overhear talk that roads are being closed and people are getting stuck. Power is out all over town. I see RD Eric Steele talking to him and although I didn’t hear the words, I feel like they are discussing when to pull the plug. After an hour I am colder than when we were outside, and upon trying to stand up to go to the bathroom, I realize my legs are locked up. After shuffling to the bathroom I go outside and the snow is blowing from EVERYWHERE. I think to myself, “Well. I’m done.”
That was it. I told Lisa I was done, and she almost looked relieved that she didn’t have to go back out. She called her sister who would come from Ottawa to get us…. assuming she could. We eventually made it back to the hotel and I think I found a bed somewhere around 4:30 a.m. I was upset but would find out that even if I had gone on after Garnett that the race was officially stopped around 5 a.m., and that I would have likely pulled at Richmond. Adam gave it up a mile out of Welda, calling his wife and declaring that enough was enough. All said and done, there were 5 official finishers in the 100 mile race. FIVE. Congrats to those five insane bastards. I know there are others who would have finished had the race not been stopped, so cheers to them as well!
The logistical concerns of 100 & 50 mile races with nearly 150 combined participants are immense under even the greatest of weather conditions. Race Director, Eric Steele, was facing weather conditions which could only be described as horrendous. As a race director he was forced to walk the edge of a razor and ultimately make the decision at which point it was no longer safe enough to let his 100 mile runners continue. Caught in the middle of an all out shootout between loved ones SCREAMING to shut it down and ultrarunners hell bent on finishing AT ALL COSTS, Eric ultimately had to make the decision. As a hardcore ultarunner himself, he knows what it means to give it everything you have to achieve your goals, and well understood the heartbreak it would cause to stop a runner that physically could continue. I did not envy his situation in the slightest. Ultimately, it came down to a question of life and death, so when the Park Rangers informed him Sunday morning, shortly after 5 am, that they could no longer access the trail, he knew it was done and had to pull the plug per his agreement with them. If a rescue was needed and could not be made, a runner could die. I appreciate that Eric kept the 100 mile race going as long as was possible given the circumstances, and I truly feel that if there was any possibly way to even somewhat safely let the runners keep going he would have. I applaud his efforts and those of his Epic Ultra Brigade. And if you are one of those who was screaming at him, smacking his car windows, or possibly threatening him over it – for EITHER stopping or not stopping the race – then I say, why don’t you pull your head out of your ass, quit acting like a thumbdick, and shit and fall back into it…just my two cents.
What an adventure! It was only in the following few days that I was really able to pull the entire event into perspective. Amazing is the only way to describe it. Everyone involved contributed so much to make this event what it was… Epic. That is the only word I have to describe this race. EPIC!
Final thought. I would have finished this race. I know under any other weather, that this is true. You can guarantee that I will be back for redemption. Until then, I will content myself with a ‘little’ 100K down at the Flatrock 101K next weekend. Join me, who knows, maybe it will be even more EPIC!!! If you have any thoughts, questions, or comments I would love to hear them.
Gut check. These are the two simple words I sometimes repeat over and over to myself when I am struggling during a run. When I am tired, sore, miserable, and would rather quit than continue, I set my eyes to the next landmark…hill, pole, post, bridge, mile marker, or whatever else I can see (or hallucinate and I tell myself that’s all I need to worry about. Gut check. Gut Check. GUT CHECK! GUT CHECK!! If I take a walk break and start to think that I can’t run anymore, I internally hiss the words. Gut check. Then I take a few faster steps and start to jog again. It is my own special way to kick my ass back into gear or just keep on chugging.
Call it whatever you want. Call it perseverance, persistence, mental toughness, intestinal fortitude, inner badassery, epicness, or just plain stubbornness. The will to keep going when most people would just lay down and die. Ultrarunners have a higher level of this attribute than most normal people, whether it is a natural personality trait or an acquired skill. This state of mind does ebb and flow however; sometimes an ultrarunner will need to employ some techniques to help them remember their inner tough girl or guy. Here are a few techniques I have used to help get me across the finish.
1. Recite Your Mantra – The recitation of a mantra can really help get you though some tough times. Like I said, I like to repeat, “Gut Check” over and over – sometimes out loud – when I am struggling. I have also been known to repeat “The only distance that matters is the distance I cover in the next step.” My military memories usually bring out, “Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, KILL”. A mantra gives you a cadence and can almost put you in a trance, taking you away from the immediate pain and discomfort. Before you know it, the food or gel has kicked in and you start feeling better.
2. Always Talk to Strangers – Yes, I know your mama told you not to. I am telling you to throw that shit out the window. For me one of the best ways to pass time on a long ultra is to take the time to talk to other ultrarunners. Most do so more than willingly – even if they may be too shy to initiate the conversation. We all know how shy ultrarunners can be…yes that’s sarcasm. The truth is, most of them are just WAITING to tell you about other runs they have done, PRs, or their entire life story. If someone does not feel like talking, chances are they will either tell you, not respond, or speed away. I have made some awesome friendships that started just by chatting on the trail. Miles will melt behind you.
3. Visualize – If there is no one around to talk to, your mantra has gone stale, you can’t stand to listen to one more Pantera jam, and you are struggling with some pain I have the answer. I know this sounds weird, but it works for me more often than not. I visualize my body as some sort of biological factory and dispatch commandos, medics, and engineers to take care of the pain and repair the injury that which is inflicting it. Yes this is pretend…it is a scenario in my imagination. I once ‘saw’ the pain as black ooze dripping off the tattered machinery which was working my knee joint as it was being dismantled by slug-looking creatures. The elite commandos I deployed killed the baddies while the engineers cleaned and repaired the machines. By the time I thought the scenario through in my mind, my knee felt better. Don’t call me nuts until you try it. What else do you have to do during your umpteenth consecutive hour of running?
All ultras require some serious gut-checking. Looking at the weather forecast for Praire Spirit 100 it is clear that this “beginner level” trail may require even a little more perseverance than you had in mind. Gut check time.
What techniques do you do to occupy your mind and keep your body moving during an ultra? I would love to hear them.
See you all at Prairie Spirit! As always, BE EPIC.