Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Beyond Limits Ultra 2016




Warning:  the following contains massive “hobby jogger phyco dribble” and little race analysis.  As usual my race reports contain more narrative of random mind drift during the event rather than analysis of pace, nutrition, and gear options.  If you find the described style to be annoying or corny, please save your time and skip the report.

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It has been over a year since I’ve rambled on these pages.  Since the previous entry re:GY100, I’ve completed 9 more marathons states which brings to the current total to 47 states!  I completed the Born to Run 100 in 2015 and suffered my first official DNF (although UltraSignup has me listed as DNS) at the Pinhoti 100.  I have experienced such growth in this year.  Through the success but mostly through the failures, I continue to develop strength and toughness.  The failure at Pinhoti in particular showed me my vulnerabilities and gave me the additional motivation to work harder.
Sometime earlier this year I signed up for the 100 at Beyond Limits Ultra (BLU) held in Mountain Center, California.  Aud had run her first 50 miler on this beautiful 2 mile loop course in 2015.  Set on Pathfinder Ranch at an elevation of about 4,500 feet, the dirt course of a nice blend of single track as well as well-groomed horse trails.  It is surrounded by woods, mountains, and crisp clean air.  In addition to it’s beauty, the ranch offers heated cabin, hot showers (with real restrooms on-course), and even good food for runners and paying guests.


                                     



 


Sometime after I registered, it was announced that the race had added a 72 hour and 48 hour options.  I toyed around with the idea.  The dates (March 31-April 2) were during the kids spring break which offered us the chance for a family “vacation”.  After some discussion with Aud, I “upgraded” for the 72 hour race, (gulp).  My rationale was that it’d give me some confidence should I choose to do something even more extreme in the future such as a 200 mile race.  BLU offered the best “baby step” for even bigger and scarier stuff.  My main goal for this race was two folds.


1.       Run three days with gratitude and love in my heart, run my best


2.       Take the opportunity of this race to raise money for the Cancer Research Institute


I hoped that by achieving those two goals, I can honor those around me who are doing the hard work of fighting cancer.  I knew by keeping their struggles in mind, that it would provide perspective and motivation for me to run beyond my own perceived limits.

Day 0 – Arriving at Pathfinder on Wed afternoon

The Ranch is about 2.5 hour drive from Orange County.  Once we passed Temecula you really begin to notice the barrenness of the high desert.  Miles of boulder scattered dessert intertwined with various ranches big and small finally winding us to the foothills of Mountain Center.  The temperature was now in the mid 40s and mild SNOW! was drifting upon our car windshield.  We arrived at Pathfinder around 2:00PM and was greeted by the race directors Stephanie and Ken as they were busy just starting to set up for the extravaganza that was going to take over the quiet ranch for the next three days.  After exchanging pleasantries and receiving my bib, we were off to our cabin and to set up our pop-up, table, and chairs on the course route.  Learning from our experience in the previous year, we selected the ideal location near our cabin and facilities.  The kids bolted out to explore the grounds while we got busy getting everything in place. 

 


The night concluded with a group dinner at the cafeteria of Pathfinder Ranch.  We mingled somewhat with the other runners then it was off to an early night of sleep in preparation of the three days to come.  I slept surprisingly well, mentally contempt with the acceptance of “whatever happens happens.”  I slept for 10 big hours that night.  Longer than I have in some time.
Day 1 – Fast Start


An awesome breakfast was served at 7 at the ranch cafeteria.  It was my last chance for a good amount of protein.  Scramble eggs, bacon, pancake and coffee then it was off for last minute preparation before the 10:00am (a bit late IMO) start.  I’ve taken the lessons learned in the last several ultras and taken extra time to prep for feet care and preventative measures against chafing.  All of the homework paid off well for the entirety of BLU.  No blister after 72 hours and no chafing anywhere on my body. 


The race promptly started at 10 after the group photo op and I felt really great from the start.  I utilized a new run/walk routine at BLU which was 20 minutes of running followed by 2 minutes of walking.  The course I relatively flat with the exception of 2 or 3 20-30 feet climbs each loop.  The walk run ratio also worked well with the 2 mile loop.  In the beginning of the first day, a lot of my walk coincided with arrival back at the aid station.  I would stick to this run/walk ration for the first 50 miles.


 


Feeling great and moving, I ate every 4 miles (2 loops).  The tightness associated with depletion did not appear until almost mile 30.  Really paying attention to my body, I adjusted the amount of carb and salt intake to combat the issue by feel.  Salt tabs also helped especially during the hotter afternoon.  I reached mile 50 with a PR of 10:35 while purposely running easy and in “all day” gear.  At 50, feet up, food, Starbucks, change of cloth (night gear) and 30 minutes in the lounge chair at my tent helped revive my energy.  By as early as 5 PM the temperature started declining rapidly.  The night clothing I prepared kept me very comfortable even with the high 30s temperature at night.  I knew this would be the coldest of the three nights and I was prepared.  After dealing with the hypothermic cold at Graveyard, I was well covered.


Moving surprisingly well, I continued until mile 70.  Before I turned in for the night I was still clocking 13-14 minute miles which was considerable for me even compared to the other runners still out there.  But I made the decision to turn in for the night with that good rhythm and momentum.  It was 2AM and I set my alarm for 6AM the next morning.  My goal was to hit 80 miles in the first 24 hours and I knew I had plenty of time to do that the next morning.


After getting up the next morning, I took an additional hour to eat and get ready for the morning.  By the time I hit my first loop it was just past 7:00AM.  3 hours came and went quickly.  By the end of the first 24 hours, I had reached 84 miles. 


Day 2 – Wheel fallen
 
 
 
A few experienced runners had warned that day 2 would be the toughest.  I didn’t doubt them.  But since I had neither experience nor expectation, I just continued to run, and ran by feel.  As the day progressed, the 48 hour race added new characters onto the course.  We traded encouragement and leapfrogged one another in countless patterns over the day.  I moved, ate, rested when I needed.  In around the 90 mile mark I began to feel some discomfort in my right ankle.  The pain gradually increased and by the time I finished my 100th mile (28:22) it was considerable.  We examined the ankle and adjusted the shoe lacing.  But seeing the early signs of inflammation, I knew trouble was coming.  I had not taken any anti-inflammatory or pain killers and I fought hard not to.  I kept moving with increasing pain.  I used my hiking poles and they provided some relief initially.  But by the time I’ve reached mile 120 I was walking a 23:00 minute mile.  The ankle looked more like a sausage.  It seemed hopeless.
 
 
I was no longer able to move at a “run” pace.  I was so frustrated but fought not to go into that dark place in my mind.  Aud and the other volunteers at the aid station tried to cheer me on but I felt miserable.  I only managed about ½ of the mileage of day 1!  What did I do wrong?  Did I come out too fast?  Should I have walked the decline sections?  While I didn’t commit to a number I thought 200 miles was achievable over the three days.  Now it seem to be slipping far away quickly.  I told Aud that I was done for the night.  It was still so early.  But I didn’t want to waste any more time on the course at that pace.  Instead, I just wanted to regroup and hope, and pray that I’d have a fighting chance the next morning.  I had zero confidence that I would even continue the next morning but I know that the body is capable of amazing things with some rest.  I hoped for a miracle.  So I cleaned up, 800mg of Motrin, and went down for 8 hours that night praying for a functioning wheel in the morning.

Day 3 – Hope, gratitude, and fight


I woke up in the morning and quietly dressed myself and headed outside.  I have learned from the first two days that these are hour are the most enjoyable.  As sun rise you see the colors come back to life in the woods.  The air is brisk and cool.  It almost made me forget about my ankle.  I walked the first two miles of the morning.  The ankle was still stiff but no longer in pain.  I was hopeful.  My body warmed up and the stiffness throughout loosened.  I made my first stop at the aid station.  “Ok ankle, just give me one more day” I said to myself and started some light running.  To my amazement, there was no pain.  I took it very easy and walked a lot.  I avoided rapid up or downs and ran the most runnable sections.  I was so thrilled and grateful to be able to run.  I was grateful simply for being able to move.
 

 

The 100 mile and 24 hour runners started at 8:00AM of day three.  A lot of familiar faces and provided renewed energy on the course.  A lot of my Run It Fast mates were out on the course.  Those who had seen me in my depressed state on the previous night were surprised and happy to see me moving.  I took advantage of pacers and other runners to keep my mind off the pain that I knew would eventually return. 

In running I am mediocre at best.  I entered this race with no expectation to compete with anyone other than myself.  There were some amazingly talented runners at BLU.  But on the evening of Day 3 I found myself somehow in 3rd place amongst the 72 hour male runners.  I was pleasantly surprised.  But close behind was a far superior runner closing in.  The only reason he was not far ahead was he had just completed a difficult 100 miler 4 days prior to BLU.  People may laugh but I am a competitive guy.  Once I learned of the positioning I wanted to hold on to that third spot.  So I kept moving.

 
 

The night before I thought I'd be lucky if I got to 150 miles in 72 hours.  I kept moving to keep my spot as I crossed 150 miles , then 160 miles, and then into the night fall.  I didn’t bother changing, slapped on a jacket and kept moving.  But as I kept moving, he kept moving.  I have to admit I became somewhat obsessed by the thought of holding him off.  So time kept moving and the laps kept coming.  It was not until 4:00AM and mile 180 when I finally stopped in a delirious and confused state.   I was exhausted.  I cleaned myself up and set my alarm for 2 hours.  I dressed myself ready to run upon the time I’d wake.  I don’t think I’ve ever fell asleep as quickly. 

 


Ten minutes before my alarm time I woke up in a panic.  “He’s out there” I thought.  I called down to the aid station only to confirm that he was indeed on the course.  “Fuck” I thought.  I got out there with the same feverish obsession as the previous night.  But by this time I was only able to walk.  So I walked as quickly as I could and by this time it was at a 16-18 minute pace.  I came into the aid station and asked for the status of other runners.  I was still ahead and in 3rd place.  I thought it would be difficult based on the spread for him to overtake me with the time remaining.  Whether it was my inability to do math at that point or my insecurity, I kept moving “just in case.”  Slowly and one step at a time, I finally stopped at 188 miles with 30 minutes left on the 72 hour clock.  Third place male, 5th overall.


Something very special for me was that Athan walked the final lap with me.  He had enjoyed himself thoroughly during the weekend.  All feedback from runners and volunteers what that he had given practically all his time volunteering at the aid station cooking, and serving the runners.  I also heard he was respectful, happy, and a pleasure to be around.  This filled my heart with joy.  We walked together that last lap and we talked a bit.  Nothing really profound was said.  It was just a dad-and-son walk together and being present with one another.  I remember telling him that I loved him and I was happy he was with me. 
 
 
Every 100 miler (or more) changes me in some ways.  I think with more time I will realize the profound effects BLU left upon me spiritually.  I learned a lot about multi day running in this race and I have little doubt that if I can make dramatic improvements if I were to run another.  All together I had an overwhelmingly positive experience that I know I will return to BLU again one day.
A few people must be mentioned as they were instrumental to the experience and my personal fulfillment from BLU.  First, I could not have done it without Aud and her tireless efforts throughout the three days.  She took care of me and other runners throughout the weekend.  She is an amazing woman and I am blessed to have her with me.  Others provided tremendous inspiration for me.  Many completed their personal “firsts” on this course.  Big congrats to Warren, Laura, Dee, Hank, and Sonja who were so inspiring to see fight and conquer.  Lori, Diane, Herve, congrats on your finish and the grit you showed during the race motivated me to keep moving.  Stephanie, Ken, Dave, and Karen, thank you for a wonderful event and your aid, and encouragement throughout the weekend.  Finally, thank you for my friends who were home struggling with things harder than any run.  I thought of you most when I struggled most, and your fight kept me moving until that 188th mile.

 

One race, one mile, and one step at a time,

 

Jeff

 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Graveyard 100 - Isolation and Annihilation


3/7/2015-3/8/2015 State #39 - NC

There is no such thing as an easy 100 miler.  There is much to learn.

Zion was going to be epic. 
Late last year I had decided that I would run the Zion 100 in April of 2015.  Everything was in set in motion.  Lots of hill training, a few trail/hill ultras in Jan and Feb and I would be "ready" for Zion.  Then life happened.  I received a wedding invitation from a childhood friend set for the same date as the Zion 100.  Don't people know not to get married during race weekend?  How inconsiderate!  Kidding aside, it was time for a backup plan.  A race in March I thought, and it would be the Graveyard 100.

The Graveyard 100 took place on 3/7-8 2015 in Outer Banks, North Carolina.  It is a point-to-point (my first) 100 mile road race that is 100 % pavement (also my first).  The course is as flat as a pan cake.  The total elevation gain shown on my Garmin was 1,371 with a loss of 1,224.  This race is unique in that aid stations are at least 20 miles apart.  Unmanned water stations are spread across the course every 7-8 miles.
Aid Station 1 - Mile 21
Aid Station 2 - Mile 41
Aid Station 3 - Mile 63
Aid Station 4 - Mile 87
Idiots who run this race solo without the assist of a crew receives a duel toned buckle in recognition.  As usual, I traveled out for this race alone.  I was extremely jealous of crewed runners with their ever present family and friends supplying them throughout the entire race.  It is a completely different race between the crewed and solo runners.  Another big factor was the unpredictability of weather.  The race has know for to experience extreme cold and winds. Temperature during this year's race ranged between 21-mid 40.

While sadistic, the Race Director, and the Graveyard 100 organization put on a world class event.  They were well organized, friendly, and above-and-beyond helpful before, during, and after the race.  Without the awesome volunteers at each AS, the result of the race could have been very different.
Coming into this race I had just completed a grueling 50K in Kentucky where I sprained my left ankle pretty good three weeks prior.  With a lot rest and treatments, I placed the ankle at about 95% at the start of the race. That would be mistake number one.
Cankle 3 weeks ago
With the forecast a few days prior to race start, I put together my packing list for each station with 4 food portions (peanut butter filled pretzels, cliff bar, chocolate covered espresso beans, TJ's almond cookies, and Hammer gel) between each Aid Station and 5 portions between AS3 to AS4.  I figured I would pickup food as I reached each station in order to reach the next.  This I learned was mistake number two.
I also put two layers of long sleeves with a mid-weight jacket from the start to AS3 with an additional layer with a heavier jacket at AS3.  I wore CWX compression tights for the entire race.  They were rated for 40-55 degrees...  the warmest pants I had.  This was mistake number three.
Finally, given that I had run a good number of trail ultras recently with far more intensive elevation changes, I thought that the flat course would make it an "easy 100".  This was the final mistake.
The resort town of OBX was a quiet during this time of the year.  Lots of business were closed for the winter.  It was a fairly straight forward 1.5 hour drive from Norfolk airport to the town of Corolla, NC.  I took a red eye flight on Thursday night 3/5 and arrived early morning of Friday 3/6.  I got into town with enough time to met with my friends Jaeson, Ethan, and Elizabeth for lunch prior to the race brief at 1:00PM Friday.

All smiles at race brief with Ethan, Elizabeth, and Jaeson
 
After a long overnight and day of traveling, it was a quick dinner at the host resort and off for a few hours of precious sleep before the 5:00 AM start the next morning.

at the start, 21 degrees
 
90 starters gathered for the Jimi version of the Star Spangled Banner at about quarter to 5:00 AM.  Then we were off.  We lost sight of speedsters Ethan and Elizabeth after the first mile.  Jaeson and I would stick together for another 67 miles.  It was COLD.  While my body maintained warmth my hands lost feeling even with three layers of gloves .  We headed north bound for the first 1.5 miles of the course before turning around on southbound Highway 12 for the rest of the journey. 

Jaeson and me after first sunrise

We started the race very well and averaged about 13:45 for the first 50.  We ran on as many patches of lawn as we could find along the way.  My Hoka Stinson made the miles of pavement as tolerable as possible.  But the continuous pounding would eventually take its toll.  We crossed Bonner Bridge (mile 50) just past 11 hours. 


First sign of trouble did not come for me until about mile 60.  I had run out of food just a few miles short of AS3.  I could feel things tightening up and it was the first time all day my mind went into that dark place.  "STUPID, STUPID, STUPID" I said to myself.  I had overestimated my speed between stations and underestimated the portions of food needed.  When we finally got into AS3, I had to take a long break to revive energy level and legs. It is really amazing how simple the human body functions.  In order to keep running, you really need just three things, food, water, and air.  You take away one of those three and things start to fall apart.

With the rest at AS3, I was out again toward AS4.  I left AS3 a few minutes before Jaeson knowing that he'd soon caught up.  We continued for several miles and I could tell that he was getting stronger as I was fading.  I asked that he go ahead without me.  He refused and said we should work together.  He had a chance to PR yet he was willing to stay with me.  I was not going to do that and hold him back.  After some hesitation I finally convinced him to reluctantly move ahead.  He is a good man.

By myself, I saw things.  I saw meerkat like creatures staring at me in the darkness from amongst the sand dunes.  I took photos of them only to see dark frames after the race.  I swear they were real.

About 10 miles before AS4(87m) I slowed significantly.  I can tell that my left ankle was beginning to swell.  Maybe due to some compensation or maybe the hard surface, now I felt a stabbing pain in the back of my right knee and calf.  As I slowed and walked more often, I became mildly hypothermic.  By the time I stumbled into AS4 I was shivering uncontrollably and teeth clacking.  I knew I was in bigger trouble than I thought when I saw the look on the faces of the volunteers.  Heater, blankets, hot drinks/food, and another 30 min there (as the AS volunteer said), "brought me back to life."  I put on a brave face and left the tent.  The first steps outside the tent send a spine numbing shiver throughout my body.  This was not going to be easy.  The inability to run fast enough to stay warm made me understood why runners would drop eve after 70, 80 miles...  ever so close to the finish.

The care at AS4 carried me to about 94 even though I was only shuffling along. then the shivers returned.  Saving grace was the second sunrise...  It is magical.  You can almost hear its music.  It saved me from a complete shutdown.

around 94-95 when the photographer showed I instinctively wanted to smile but this was the best I came up with.  my best Bob DeNiro

Just warm enough to keep moving. Past the last water station I went into a gas station and begged the lady for a cup of coffee since I carried no cash (another mistake).  Then I sat in the corner gulping hot coffee while it burned my mouth.  That was just enough to carry me to the end.  The last 5 miles was a death march.


I found that familiar feeling of emptiness and clarity around mile 97 while barely walking.  It's that feeling I felt only at a 100 mile race.  Its the feeling that that keeps me coming back.  Its a feeling of freedom.  I no longer cared about my finish time; not a care about catching the guy in front... and not a care about anything other than moving. Such clarity from the pain and physical emptiness. Gone was the ever present anger, pains, and regrets of the past.   I heard the birds chirp, the guy with a power tool a block away, a child cheering for her father.  Running a 100 miler stripes me bare of any pretense I put on the world and upon myself.  I am only what I am capable of doing, and I was doing everything I am capable of.  I cried.  Ever so briefly, and fleeting, this feeling is the reason I run ultras.


29:11:30 is a Personal Worst.  But I am as proud and happy with this finish my previous two 100 mile finishes.  I had done it without the assist of any pain medication for the first time I had done it without a crew, earning me the two toned hardware.

Jaeson and me showing off our buckles.  Jae earning a new 100 mile PR.
 
Until the next one.

One race, one mile, and one step at a time,

Jeff

 

Friday, November 21, 2014

2014 - A Runner's Year in Review

11/21/2014

Amazing.  I turned 40 in 2014!  That is damn old!

It was a BIG year for me with some major highs and lows.  Just wanted to recap the year of the goals accomplished and some missed.  If nothing else, it was a whole lot of fun.


The year kicked off with the Avalon 50M where I did some climbing, watched a sunrise, and met a few cool Canadians.

Then I had some fun with friends in TN (State#28)





States 29 and 30 were DE and NJ with Jaeson




Then I was humbled at Nanny Goat 2014 where I completed 50M and watched as wifey completed her first ultra relay.




Then I traveled to the land of the strange and ran 5 marathons in 5 states (States 31-35) in five days MI, IN, IL, IA, and WI.  The Mainly Series taught me a lot about toughing sh!t out when things go bad.  I met some amazing runners and those who helped me through that painful day 5.  Special thank you Deb, Lisa, Karen, Greg, and Katie for lifting my spirits up when I thought it was not possible.


These five races subsequently led to a short sabbatical.  About a month of doctors offices, physical therapy, and very little running meant a lot of frustration but ultimately some rest for the first time in a while. 

They day the doctor cleared me, I signed up for a 100M race.  But before then, I ran a local marathon with the fine folks at A Better World Running to support a friend.


Lean Horse 100 in SD was my redemption race and State number 36.


Finally, I had a wonderful time in DC meeting friends old and new...  completing State number 37 (VA) at the Marine Corps Marathon.









Not a huge year by the standards of many of my crazy friends.  But I am fairly happy with:

  • 50 miler x 2
  • 100 miler x 1 (PR 24:55)
  • Marathons x 10
  • 10 New States!


Things that were missed:

  • No PRs at the marathon distance.  Looks like the old legs are fading at the shorter distances :(
  • Chimera...  perhaps it was a good thing.  Not sure if I was ready for the beast. 
  • Running 3,000 miles in 2014.  As of today, I am at 2,399 for the year.  The body didn't have what it takes for the mileage.
It was a good year.  I am going to take what was accomplished and missed and learn from it.  I hope to continue to grow as a runner and as a person.  I am most thankful for the support from my wife and all my running friends across the country.  Also wanted to thank my friends at SinFree Sugar for their support of me and a healthy SinFree lifestyle.  Looking forward to a even more epic year of running in 2015!

one race, one mile, one step at a time

Jeff











Monday, August 25, 2014

Run at Redemption - Lean Horse 100 2014

8/25/2014


Lean Horse 100 Ultra




The woods stay the same, but what you see is a reflection of your mind.

South Dakota marks my 36th State of this journey of marathons (or greater) across the 50 states.  There were a few reasons I chose this race and distance besides what my wife believe is my proclivity for punishment.  Besides well timing and my fair physical conditioning, I had some unfinished business with the 100 mile distance.  After being literally destroyed at the 2013 Nanny Goat 100, then dropping down to the 50 miler at the Nanny 2014, I had something to prove to myself.  Did I get lucky in 2013?  Was it a fluke?  My confidence was a bit shaken and I needed to prove to myself that I can.

My friend, Joshua Holmes, told me about Lean Horse 100 sometime earlier this year.  "LH is a fast trail, I call it a track...my most favorite surface ever to run on."  Joshua is a super strong and experienced ultra runner who I bother often and trust for advice.  I also see him as sort of a drug dealer of ultra running...instead of slinging crack, he dishes out bigger and badder ultra races for the running addicts.

I was convinced this would be my 36th State after some further research.  99% of the race course is run on the Mickelson Trail on crushed limestone and gravel.  The course is an out-and-back on the trail built on what would have been rail from the gold rush era.  It includes breathtaking rail bridges and tunnels and is surrounded by mountains, rivers, and wildlife of all kinds.  On my run, I would experience the beauty that is South Dakota as well as traveled a bit back in time in history.




I faced one problem before I would commit to this adventure.  I was badly injured after early June when I ran five marathons in five days in the Heartland Series.  For the first time in years I was forced to rest for a few weeks.  Those tough few weeks in June may have been a blessing as my legs finally had a chance to really rest.  By July I was finally cleared by my doctor and what do you know, I went out and signed up for the 100 miler the same day.

Typically I try to minimize the amount of days away from the family when I travel for running.  Typically for a Sunday marathon, I would travel out Sat, run Sun morning, then return immediately after the run on Sun afternoon.  Well, running an ultra gets a little challenging.  I had to ask my wonderful wife for a special hall pass for Lean Horse.  In theory, I could have traveled out Friday, ran the race Sat-Sun, then flew home Sun afternoon.  The issue is that plan would put a lot of pressure on me to finish the race well so not to miss a Sun flight.  Also, I had concerns about my ability to drive (or function for that matter) immediately following a sleepless 24-30 hour 100 mile race.  A special hall pass was granted for a Monday return.  Did I mention my wife is wonderful?


"Eat a sandwich, love, your marathon widow" A nice find in my bag when I left for LH100


Custer is a small town about 30 minutes south of Mount Rushmore and is the start and end of the Lean Horse 100.  The logistics consists of a short 1.25 hour drive from Rapid City to Custer on the open highways surrounded by the smell of pine and rolling hills.  I don't know why the sky always seems more blue and vivid when I am in a new experience.  A side tour on Friday to Rushmore was worth the $11 parking fee at the monument.  In the town of Custer, the hotels, restaurants are literally 5 minutes from race packet pickup and the race start.  Its a neat, friendly, self-containing little town with a lot of charm.  It would be a great place for the outdoors loving family and history buffs.


I arrived in Custer on Friday afternoon as planned and met the race director, Royce Wuertzer, who I've been in communications with since July at the packet pick-up at the Custer YMCA.  Shook my hand and when I said my name he immediately recalled we had exchanged emails.  There is something very special about smaller marathons and ultra races.  The community that they built is vastly different from those of big city marathons.  At small marathons and ultras, I meet exceedingly interesting people, amazing athletes, and sometime make new lifelong friends.  I need to praise Royce, the LH team, and volunteers for a top notch job organizing and supporting the runners.  The personal attention from pre-race, at every aid station, and post race was AMAZING.  I hope I don't wear that word out before the end of this blog post.


Receiving my buckle and AG award post race with LH100 RD Royce Wuertzer 


An early dinner at a surprisingly fantastic brewery (without beer) called "Bitter Elma's" included an outstanding pasta and ginger ale.  I vowed to return on Sunday for a pint of some amazing on-location brewed IPA.  Oh yeah, it would come true.  Then off to bed at about 7:00PM before a 4:00AM wake-up call.

5:30AM, most runners had gathered at the start and I met a few runners who Joshua had introduced to me on-line prior to the race.  We exchanged pleasantries and encouragement but the tension was as noticeable as the slight chill in the air in the Custer High School football stadium where we awaited our start.  59 were about to embark on the 100 mile journey with a 30 hour limit.  Together with the 50 mile and 50K runners we were off at 6:00 dusk prompt into the smoky hills of Mickelson trail.


Pre-Race LH100 2014

As the race started I reminded myself why I was there, how I am going to do it, and most importantly to enjoy the journey.  I've learned something at every race I've run regardless of the distance and I would apply what I knew at each mile, each section, and each obstacle during the race.  I ran the first quarter of the race at an easy and controlled pace of about 12:00/mile.  I met Mike the school teach and cross-country coach, "red/white/blue" Ann (who I later watched finish an emotional 100 in the final hour of cut-off), and "marathon maniac" Jill in these early morning miles while exchanging stories about running.  The heavy over-cast was more than I could have asked for.  Looked like we missed the predicted storm.


early morning miles
Crazy Horse Monument in distance

I've never been exceptionally good at fueling at ultras.  Gels and sports drink work for my muscles but not my stomach.  In the first half of this race I alternated between gels and solid food provided at the aid stations, each roughly 5 miles apart.  As predicted, my stomach started cramping after the 25 mile mark.  I can think of nothing worse than running with the worry that I may poop my pants.  The positive was that after the 25 mile marker, the field thinned significantly.  While I ran mostly alone from miles 25 forward I felt VERY uncomfortable in 4 attempts at doing my business (slightly) off the trail.  For one, sometimes there were just no space to pull off and I was never good at identifying poisonous plants.  Also, periodically a mountain biker would show up unexpectedly and quickly.  At last the stomach settled down after about mile 35.

The climb from about 5,200 to 6,200 feet from miles 45-50 was mentally draining as the sky cleared and sun beamed harshly after mile 40.  "Just keep moving" was the voice in my head as my running mentor Richard "Shifu" Yiap had repeated to me many times.  So I ran where I could and walked (fast) when I needed.  Even during the tough stretches, I was able to manage some 15-16 min miles.  The game plan was to take no significant breaks before mile 50 and I mostly stuck to it.  Some things I'd have to "earn" by getting to the half way point.  A 15-20 minute break at mile 50 along with fresh clothing, shoes was rejuvenating.  Really enjoyed my first larger meal of instant ramen, a cup of coffee, and also earned the right to music at 50.  Time out of turnaround station, roughly 11 hours, 40 minutes.




With some hip-hop in my ear, new cloths, and a meal in my belly, I felt great... and moved faster...  for a short lived 4-5 miles.  For me, feeling good is a bigger problem than feeling bad.  When I feel good, stupid ideas of unrealistic and unnecessary goals begins to creep in.  "what if I ran sub 24?" "what if I can pass that runner in front?" "how do I keep that runner behind?"  These are the trappings that puts unnecessary pressure on me mentally and destroys me physically.

By the time I reached the next station, I was drained.  For a brief moment, and the only time during this race, I thought "I can't do this."  When that thought appears in the mind of (this) a runner, it is like chink in the armor that leads to a floodgate of negative thoughts. "you are not made for this" "see how stupid you look now" "you still have 45 miles to go!"...  I sat and stewed at the aid station of mile 55.

"stick to the plan," "there is no hurry" said ShiFu's voice.  I swear! like a montage from the movie Kung Fu Panda.  We had run countless times at lunch prior to the race and those were the words he said over and over.  So I ate, filled my water bottles, and hit the trail again "not in a hurry" and just focused on keeping on moving.  Whenever the idea going faster would creep in, I would say out loud to myself "there is no hurry, just keep moving."  Thank goodness there were nobody around to see this maniac talking to himself.

Mickelson Trail SD 30 minutes before night fall

Soon the night fell.  The majestic mountains changed hues from green to sage and sky from blue to red then deep purple.  By 8PM Sat night, 14 hours of running, there was just a twilight in the sky to the west.  Then complete darkness.  With a crescent moon, there was not a light besides the millions of stars in the sky.  I wish I had the time or frame of mind to stop and enjoy the stars.  I felt incredibly small...smaller than a dust moving under the star studded sky.  But while small, I was not drifting...I was moving with a purpose.

Running through the night in these woods was an incredible, soul changing first-time experience for me.  The woods stay the same, but what you see is a reflection of your mind.  From station to station I ran, no crew, no pacers, just me, the Mickelson Trail, the darkness, the stars, and too much time inside my head.  I saw eyes staring back from the darkness and heard large animals imaginary and real.  I heard wind that sounded like cries and shadows that looked like hands reaching onto the trail.  I ran scared, pridefully, lonely, angry, sad, and finally peacefully.  I just focused on one thing.  Keep moving. (I saw and heard a lot of imaginary things that night.  funniest had to be smelling BBQ pork sausages before mile 80 but NOWHERE near an aid station or signs of human life.  Its funny b/c I said out loud "its not real")

From 70 and beyond I ran sufficiently and felt stronger as I went.  I walked when needed and ate when hungry at every station.  The cheese quesadilla at the Mystic station was so good it made me want to cry.  After Mystic I passed my first runner in the night fall.  It scared the shit out of me.  In the distance I saw a floating light but moving from side to side.  I am not sure why this guy decided that waving his hand held flashlight was the best way to survey the trail but I thought I was going to be abducted by aliens.  As I got closer and closer I finally realized that it was a fellow runner.  I gave some words of encouragement and made sure he was okay. "my strategy is to alternate between walking and walking" he said.  Made me chuckle.


@ mile 85 aid station.  amazing tomato soup, Campbell style

As I forged forward, those gentle downhills on the way out seem to have turned into aggressive climbs on the way back.  "just keep moving" I said.  I hope the wild animals enjoyed my rendition of some New Edition and even some Eminem because I know most humans would not.  But it kept me moving.  As I moved, I came across more moving lights ahead as I passed more than a dozen runners after mile 80.   I was surprised at how many runners were struggling in these final miles.  I was more surprised at how good I felt.  I felt so good that I began running more and more.  With the end in sight I let go of fear of breaking down and ran it fast.

In the last ten miles I ran down more and more of those glowing lights ahead.  Some were unrelenting as they realized my approach.  It became a game of chase in the darkness.  I'd see a light ahead surge away then get closer as I pushed.  As I passed I'd aways encourage with "way to grind it out" or "great work, you are doing great."

Miles 90 to 96 was the final climb before 4.4 mile descend back to the finish line.  I worked hard up these hills and awaited for the second sunrise.  It was beautiful.  I felt a rush of emotions as I got to the top of mile 96.  The station at 96 was the only one I passed altogether without stopping.  I just wanted to finish.  On my way down from Crazy Horse to Custer I saw deers roaming the fields, birds in the ponds, and the fields coming back to life.  I should be dead tired but I never felt so alive.  I ran down those last few miles at 12 min/mile splits and kept moving.  Looking at my watch I saw that I would finish under 25 hours.  Nearly 3 hours under my previous 100 mile finish.


second sunrise
Was this really happening?  Maybe I'd wake up and have to run Lean Horse for real now.  I pushed and kept looking for the final turn off the trail as my watch showed that 25th hour expiring.  Finally it appeared in the near distance.  If not for a well placed sign, I wouldn't recognize the turn out that I had crossed more than a day prior.  With a left turn I had returned to Custer High's stadium.  With one very long final lap around the field I crossed the finish at 24:55.  There was Royce and two time keepers who gave the best fanfare three people can give.  This time around there were no cowbells, no family and friends, and no tears.  There was just me and a finish I can be proud of.

The first buckle was no fluke.  I am an (pedestrian but) ultra runner.


Buckle, AG Award, and "bitter elm's" IPA


Four hours later after a shower, meal and quick nap, I returned to a packed Custer High Stadium to watch and cheer for the final hour 100 mile finishes (an incredible 50/59 would finish).  For my friends who have never witnessed an ultra marathon, I encourage you do the same one day in the future.  Because if you want to witness the spirit of the human will, thats where you'll find it.  As the last runner crossed the finish just under 30 hours and nearly collapsing after (but not before stopping his garmin!), I couldn't help to feel the deep happiness for them and within myself.

one race, one mile, one step at a time,

Jeff

special thanks to Joshua Holmes, Ethan Matyas, ShiFu Richard Yiap (not on social media) and of course Aud Liu for your support for making LH100 a reality