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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hallucination 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Report

The Seed is Planted

We were watching the Janet Jackson nipple-slip Superbowl at our friends' house. Doug, an old work friend of Shelly's, mentioned running the local 25k road race. I was amazed... who would run 15.5 miles?!? That brought up the insanity of running a marathon. Now those people are really crazy- 26.2 miles! At that point, the furthest I had run was a four mile adventure in high school. Then Doug uttered words that have haunted me for years: "There are even longer races. They're called ultramarathons. Some are one hundred miles long!"

Moments later, the now-famous nipple slip occurred. I missed it. I was entranced by this idea that people would run 100 miles at one time. Little did I know that wintery day in 2004 would change my life. That spring, Shelly and I started running regularly. The thoughts of ultramarathons brewed in the back of my mind for that entire year. I would occasionally do some research. The more I discovered, the more intrigued I became. The next year, Shelly and I decided to enter a local 15k. That led me to my first attempt at training for a 50 mile ultramarathon in September. I trained hard all summer, but repeated injuries derailed my mileage. I settled for the marathon version of that race. I managed to finish (in pain), then ran another marathon a few weeks later.

In 2006, I was determined to make it to the 50 miler. That spring, my father passed away due to a major heart attack. He was a lifetime smoker that ultimately led to his death. That event had a profound impact on me. My second child was born a week after he died, and I did not want my children to lose their father like I had. My quest to complete an ultramarathon became a near-obsessive quest to ensure health. Doug's words continued to echo in my head "Some are one hundred miles long." To reach my goal, I knew I would have to overcome the injury bug. My exhaustive research led to barefoot running, which I adapted in earnest. That fall, I ran and finished my first 50 mile race, the North Country Trail Run. Running through the forest alone was an incredibly emotional experience... it reminded me of the many days spent hunting with my Dad. I felt this powerful connection to the wilderness. This connection made the race especially powerful. I knew I wasn't ready for the 100 miler yet, so I ran the same 50 miler again in 2007. Once again, I finished without major problems. I decided I was ready. In 2008, I entered and ran the Burning River 100 mile race in Northeast Ohio. I made many stupid mistakes, hit a serious wall, and ultimately gave up and walked my way to being pulled from the course at about mile 65. It was a devastating blow to my confidence. It was the first time I had really tried to do something and failed miserably. I had doubts about my ability to finish a 100... maybe it was just too hard. maybe I just don't have what it takes.

Hallucination

When 2009 rolled around, I was undecided about attempting another 100. Some major personal issues resulted in incredible self-growth through the spring and early summer. At some point during this time, I reevaluated my goals as a runner. I had this obsessive drive to run a 100 miles, but why? I concluded I was simply seeking at adulation that comes with doing stuff others cannot fathom. I slowly began to realize my quest had to be about my own spiritual growth and not about the outside world. Finishing a 100 became the final act in my transformation from the troubled, broken person I was to the ideal person I wish to become.

I scoured the ultra schedules looking for a race that would match my available time frame. As luck would have it, there was a brand-new event two hours from my house- The Woodstock Running Festival. It featured a few short races, a half-marathon, a marathon, a 50k, a 50 miler, and a 100 miler. The Hallucination 100! I liked the sound of that! I immediately began working on a training schedule. I determined I would have time to train. I would be able to correct the mistakes I made the pervious year at Burning River. Most importantly, my wife was unbelievably supportive. She agreed to make the trip and crew for me. This was the single best motivator I could have received. I solicited additional help from some other friends to help me complete my journey.

As far as training, I knew I needed more miles. I ran more, including more night runs. i became an expert at running trails at night. I also had to work on eating during the race. I experimented with every food I could imagine. I found a good selection: ice cream, pancakes, and hot dogs. I decreased my weightlifting routine and lost some more weight. I ran Burning River at about 184. For Hallucination, I was down to around 177. I tweaked a few other things, including simplifying my crew plans and bring less junk, bringing more socks to change into, etc. I would be ready!

The Crew and Pre-race Festivities



Pictured: Jason, Mark, Stuart, Me, Shelly, Michael

Before I knew it, race weekend was here! Our crew was set to meet up. This is the crew making the trip:


Shelly Robillard- My wife and mother to our three wonderful children [snicker]. Shelly is a runner, but just gave birth five months ago. Still, she was planning on pacing for me. She was also the official crew chief.


Jason Saint Amour- My friend from elementary school... we've known each other forever. He got into running after crewing for me the previous year. He trained for the half-marathon at Woodstock, but hurt his ankle the previous Sunday. His wife Sara would also be with us for part of the day on race day Saturday. Jason would earn the job title of "Lube Man" as the race progressed.

Mark Robillard- My running friend that is also my unofficial older brother. Mark is an experienced trail runner that finished a trail marathon the pervious week. Mark was "Picture man".

Stuart Peterson- A friend of Mark's. I met Stuart a few times briefly. He was known as "RV man" for the 32' RV he brought that acted as out base of operations. On a personal note- Stuart is the single most entertaining person I think I have ever met.

Michael Helton- A friend from the Runner's World Barefoot Forum (he's known as Notleh there). I had never met Michael in person prior to the Friday before the race, but I know he ran barefoot, had a great sense of humor, drank beer, and would have no problem doing whatever it took to get me to the finish line. Michael generously volunteered to drive from Chicago to crew and pace for me, which I am very grateful for. Michael came to be known as "The Time Management Man".

Rich Elliott- Technically not part of the crew, but he made the trip with us. Rich was attempting to run the 50 miler with training that consisted of a 5k road race three weeks earlier. That's it. That should pretty much sum up Rich's personality.

The race started Saturday at 6am. I took Friday off. I was frantically packing, shopping for groceries, and picking up a few running supplies. Around 10:30, i picked Shelly up from the school we teach at. We ran to McDonald's to grab a quick bite to eat. Quarter-Pounders are a favorite pre-race food of mine. We picked up Rich and headed out to Jason's house. On the two hour ride, I was a nervous wreck. I was sweating profusely, even shaking a bit. I felt like a gamer emerging from his mother’s basement to go on his first date! I was very nervous that I had forgotten some critical piece of gear. Luckily, I calmed down when we got to Jason's house. We unloaded most of our gear, talked for a bit, got bored, and decided to head out to the race site. We'd be meeting Michael at the race site later that day.

The ride to the race site was interesting. Jason drove his Honda Element. Rich immediately jumped in the back seat leaving Shelly to decide on being the navigator and risk getting us lost, or sit in back with Rich and be subjected to his not-so-subtle sexual harassment. She elected to take the back seat. I was riding shotgun. I immediately pulled out my HTC Touch Pro smart phone (sucks, BTW) to crank up Google Maps to find directions to the race. Jason fired up his Garmin Nuvi affectionately called "Gloria". We entered the destination. Through some confusion, we ended up entering different destinations. Neither of us realized the error. Jason followed the directions from Gloria. At some point, I realized we were heading towards the wrong location. After much confusion, accusations, name-calling, and brief crying, we managed to reach a suitable navigational compromise. After about an hour, we reached the race site. It was still early. We seemed to be the only runners there. We took some pictures, then meandered over to the headquarters tent to pick up our packets. We took a few more pictures, talked about the race a bit, then got bored again. Michael wouldn't arrive for at least another hour, so we decided to find a bar to grab a bite to eat and a few beers. We loaded into the Element, fired up Gloria (now referred to as "Candy" because of the stripper-like huskiness in her voice), and proceeded to drive around back roads for 30 minutes. More confusion.

Eventually we ended up at the Dexter Bar. Going on the theory that carb-loading is good and beer has carbs, I drank two tall Killian's to wash down the order of Nachos we ordered. Eventually Michael showed up. We talked awhile to acquaint ourselves with each other, had another beer, then headed back to Jason's house. We hung out there for a little while, got hungry, then headed to the Fenton House restaurant for pizza and beer. As it turns out, they don't serve beer. WTF? At least their breadsticks were to die for. The parmesan dip was Heavenly. Eventually, Mark and Stuart arrived and had some pizza. We started talking about the race logistics. At this point, I began to realize I really hadn't planned much of anything. There was some shifting of the "Crew Chief" title... I'm not quite sure who secured the role. At any rate, Stuart eased the building anxiety by asking Michael for his uneaten pizza crust sitting on his plate. Stuart easily transcends the social barriers that normally repress the rest of us. That quality would pay dividends when he was pacing me at 6am Sunday morning.

We left the restaurant to walk the two blocks back to Jason's house. On the way, we stopped to check out Stuart's massive 32' RV parked behind the restaurant. I expected something more modest... maybe something about 2/3 the size. We went inside to check it out. There was a "For Sale" sign on the table. Rich asked Stuart if he just bought it. Stuart replied "No, it's my Uncle's. He's been trying to sell it for five years. I'm the only one that uses it, so I took the sign down." We got back to Jason's house, had a beer, then crashed around 10:00. I fell asleep almost immediately. Being ramped up all day took a toll... I was exhausted.

Race Morning

Three o'clock in the morning always feels early. I needed time to go through my routine, but it was tough. i woke up, pulled on some clothes, then went for a walk around Jason's house. It helps me loosen up. When I got back to the house, Jason was awake. We headed out to get some coffee. Jason wanted McDonald's, I needed Speedway gas station coffee (superstitions).

At McDonalds, they actually f-ed up the coffee machine. We told them we'd be back, then got the coffee from Speedway. Busy place for 3:15 on a Saturday morning. Anyway, we picked up the Mickey D's coffee and headed back to Jason's house. I scarfed down a cream cheese coffee cake and my 24 ounce cappuccino, jumped in the shower, got dressed, strapped on my Vibram KSOs, packed the car, then headed out. I was amazingly calm on the trip to the race considering I was a nervous wreck the day before. It was during this ride that Rich threw out his now-famous "Anyone can run 50 miles if they train for it!" quote. He made me feel very sane. The rest of the trip was uneventful; i just reviewed some race and aid station strategy with Shelly. We got to the site without incident- Gloria didn't let us down today!

Once at the start/finish line, we met up with Michael, Mark, and Stuart. It was cool and humid.. it felt as if it were about to rain. I thought my choice of attire was well-planned, but my crew couldn't resist teasing me about the "GAP" sweatshirt I was wearing. It's a good-luck charm, damn it! Every other runner and most of their pacers and crew were wearing running attire. I was dressed in clothes that appeared to be pulled from a "lost and found" bin at a Walmart. So I'm not the snazziest dresser...

We milled about, talked to a few other runners, then got the call to line up. Rich and I would be starting together, and decided to start near the back of the pack. We took our places next to a local guy that trained on the trails often. He gave us some good information about the terrain, but I forgot it within seconds. I'm sure it would have helped... damn my poor memory! After a few minutes and some directions from the RD, he gave some sort of signal (I don't remember... was it a horn? Did he just yell "GO!"?) We milled through the timing gate, then headed out over the damp grass. Let the adventure begin!

We passed a few people before the trail head, where we were funneled into a single file line. Rich fell in behind me with maybe eight or ten people behind us. Almost immediately, it began to lightly rain. We had emergency rain ponchos, but decided it wasn't necessary yet. The course started with a boardwalk over a swampy area, then a rooty, rocky hill. Then another hill. And another. That pattern would repeat itself throughout the race. We did get a quick reprieve from the rockiness when going through the "Crooked Lake Commune" campground. There were other runners and crew awaiting the later race starts... they cheered us enthusiastically! It was a cool feeling. A soon as we exited the campground, it began to pour. My precious GAP sweatshirt was absorbing water, but the other two layers kept me warm (I don't like the cold). Almost as soon as it began, it stopped. That would be the extent of the rain for the remainder of the race. The first leg was slow, about half of the time was spent walking as the trail was not conducive to passing at this point. I relaxed and just focused on warming up. The earlier rain had left the downhill sections especially slippery... some runners were slipping and sliding repeatedly. The Vibrams provided fairly solid traction, but that was probably a function of my form. The soles are pretty smooth.

After about 45 minutes or so, we hit the first aid station ("Grace"). It was a zoo! My crew was eagerly awaiting our arrival. There was considerable confusion as the crew tried to accomplish each task. I swapped the water bottle of my Nathan handheld with a full bottle and guzzled about two cups of a Ben and Jerry's Cookies and Cream/milk concoction. I would save the clothes and sock change until the next aid station. Rich refilled his water bottle, then we were off!

The second leg started rough... lots of hills and roots. Rich was still behind me, but starting to look a bit tired based on my pace. I think I was running at about a 20 hour pace at this point. The crowd thinned out a bit, but I didn't do too much passing. I took my last succeed as the sun was beginning to rise. I was starting to get warm, so it was a relief to get to the second aid station ("Janis"). I ditched the sweatshirt and hat, swapped my water bottle, and replaced my stash of electrolytes. I sat down in the chair and pulled off my socks. The Injinjis were pretty wet, but feet looked good. I doused them with powder, put fresh socks on, and slipped into the Vibrams. The last task was to reapply Sportslick lube to the groin/thigh area. The tube was freezing cold and hard as a rock. I managed to coax some out, handed the tube back to the crew, and asked them to keep it warm. Jason immediately volunteered. Rich and I left this aid station in pretty good time... it seemed as if the crew were a little more organized.

The next section was about 2.5 miles. I didn't know it at the time, but crew access here was tough. During this leg, Rich and I passed a few runners. Rich seemed to be slowing down a little just as I was warming up. I made a decision to start pulling away. I knew a good time padding now would be critical for the second half of the race. My pre-race strategy called for as much running as possible for as long as possible. In Burning River, I tried using a run/walk ratio of 4/1 which ultimately put me too far behind. This time, I used a race strategy given to me by Jeremiah Cataldo, an ultrarunning friend that had recently finished Mohican (his first 100). His strategy was simple- run as long as you can, only walk the up hills. This section was relatively smooth with slightly less rolling hills. I settled into a comfortable pace. Soon enough, there were several runners between Rich and I. I arrived at the next aid station ("Richie's Haven") sans my crew. Since it was a short leg, it wasn't an issue. I refilled my bottle with a mix of Gatorade and water, grabbed a Gu for the trail, and headed out.

The fourth section started smooth, but got rough quickly. During this lap, I talked with a few runners including the guy that had fallen multiple times. This was his first 50 and he was looking strong. I also met up with a gentleman that was checking the ribbons. He also worked the course for Dances With Dirt, a notoriously difficult race held in the same area. We talked for a few miles before he turned back. I encountered what would come to be my nemesis throughout the daytime hours... mountain bikers! First, I have to say about 80% of the bikers I encountered were considerate. They would both stop and get off the trail, or at least move to the other side. Some were downright awesome... I had multiple bikers cheer me on. However, the remaining 20% ruined it for the rest. Some ranked quite high on the scale of douche baggery. It was not uncommon for some to yell at us for "using their trail". Aside from the bikers, the day was going well so far.

The fourth aid station ("Jimi") was smooth as silk. The crew seemed to find a groove. I was in and out in no time at all. As I was leaving, I told them to tell Rich I was sorry for ditching him. The last leg was approximately 4.1 miles of rocky Hell. The hills were about the same as the rest of the course, but the trails were decidedly more technical. I would grow to hate this leg as the day wore on. I was feeling good at the beginning of this loop. I think I was riding a high from the two pints of Ben and Jerry's I consumed. I was flying through this loop! About half way, i suddenly started to crash. It was totally unexpected... it hit me like a boxer that aimed a little too low below the belt. My pace slowed, I didn't have any energy, and my motivation suddenly disappeared. This wasn't supposed to happen this early! I started to panic. As the lap progressed, i went through my mental checklist of possible causes. I was going okay with hydration and electrolytes. I had plenty of calories. Maybe it was a sudden blood sugar crash due to 3000 calories of coffee cake and ice cream I ate. I decided I needed some protein. I could snag something at the start/finish line ("Strawberry Fields"), which was quickly approaching. I knew I was getting close when i crossed the road into the park. The line was about 1/2-3/4 of a mile away. I spontaneously decided to take my Vibrams off for this section to dry my feet a bit. It felt good to strip my damp socks and shoes off; to feel the ground beneath my feet. the trail leading to the start/finish line was fairly rough, but I was alert enough to easily avoid the small, sharp rocks. I traversed a few hills, hit the cut-grass path, turned the last corner, passed by the cheering crowd sitting around the fire pit, ran down a small hill, and crossed the line to finish my first lap. The tent at the start/finish was a busy place... lots of runners, lots of food. I ate a turkey sandwich and a cup of chicken noodle soup. I didn't see my crew. Hmmm... maybe they got caught up wait for Rich. I exited the tent and started the 1/4 mile run to the trail head. As I crested the last grassy hill of the park, I saw my entire crew cheering loudly. They had a chair set up for me near the trail head. Their logic was simple- it was close to the RV. It worked out well. It allowed me to do my aid station routine without having to deal with the aid station traffic. I didn't tell them I felt like garbage... I just smiled, did my thing, and then hit the trail again.

Lap two started badly as it took awhile to get out of the funk I fell into. Eventually I did start feeling better. Still suspecting the sugar buzz as the culprit, I was leery about the remainder of the Ben and Jerry's shakes. When I got to the first aid station on lap two, I took one sip and nearly gagged. Yup. I was officially past the point where I could tolerate sugary food. I asked for the pancakes. I swapped my water bottle again, replaced my Succeeed e-caps, changed shirts, and was about to relube. When I asked for it, Jason pulled it out of his pants. I'm pretty sure it wasn't in his pocket, rather actually down the front of his pants. If it was, hats off to his testicles... they kept the lube good and viscous! I relubed, grabbed some pancakes and stuffed them in my pocket, and hit the trail. After about 100 yards, i tried eating one. As soon as I put it in my mouth, I gagged. Damn! The pancakes caused the same gagginess as the ice cream shakes. I knew this was a serious problem. The only other food I brought were hotdogs, and I didn't have enough to sustain me for the entire race. I don't remember a lot from this leg... pretty much the entire three or four miles was spent choking down quarter-sized pieces of pancakes. Right before i got to the next aid station, i remembered I had packed some chia seeds in my gear. I packed them almost as an afterthought... I figured they may make a good topic of conversation before or after the race. I toyed with them in training, but didn't think of them as a primary fuel source. Hey, if it works for the Taramuhara, it could work for me!

As soon as I got to the second aid station of the second loop, I asked Shelly to get the chia. I lubed up, replaced my packet of electrolytes, and checked my pace. Michael was doing an awesome job of keeping track... I was still on about a 22 hour pace. Perfect. Shelly brought me the canister of Chia seeds. I didn't think about the best method to eat them, so i jest took a scoop and dumped it in my mouth. It felt a little like eating fine kitty litter. I immediately gagged, then choked on the tiny seeds that instantly absorbed the saliva from my mouth. I instinctively tried to swallow which only caused me to cough. Seeds sprayed everywhere! I'm pretty sure my crew, the aid station volunteers, and the other runners were laughing at that point. I then grabbed a cup of water, dumped another scoops of seed in the cup, and pounded the seedy water mixture. It went down easily. Success! At that point, one of the aid station workers started asking questions about the Vibrams. I tried not to rudely cut him off, but I had spent WAY too much time at that aid station. I told my crew to have some chia ready at the next aid station and hit the trail. I didn't know if I could keep eating the chia for the whole race, but it was worth a shot.

The next short leg was uneventful. As i approached the third aid station, I suddenly came across my waiting crew. They had found a way to traverse the two-track roads to get to this remote point on a road immediately before the aid station. Hmmm... I'll have to take this crew if I ever run Hardrock. Anyway, I went through my usual routine. They handed me a bottle of chia and water, but it looked like it had been mixed for thirty minutes or so. Chia absorbs water and turns into a thick gel. With enough chia and time, it turns almost jello-like. I turned the bottle upside down and the chia just stuck to the bottom of the bottle. I frantically started dumping any liquid I could find into the bottle, shaking it up, and attempting to get the chia out. I worked, but was very disgusting. I left this stop quickly, the actual aid station was only about 1/4 mile down the trail. I felt like a bad-ass here- I just grabbed a Gu, gave them my number, and took off. The crew had an interesting story at this aid station. Apparently after I left, some French dude in an SUV demanded that they give up their parking spot. The funny thing- they were the only car parked by the side of the road. There were literally miles of nothingness, but the ass just HAD to have that one spot. In true passive-aggressive fashion, they took their sweet time moving. I was proud of them!

The next section was fun. I met up with Brian Thomas whose lupusrunner.org blog I had read. He was a really cool guy who had recently finished Burning River (the race I DNFed last year). His 100 mile advice- "Keep moving!". Brian's advice actually served me well! We swapped positions throughout the day. I believe he expereinced ankle pain and wisely DNFed after the fourth lap. I also met up with Dusty, a friend from Kickrunners . She had given me a lot of tips for running this particular trail as she trains here often. It was cool to finally meet her in person. She's running Oil Creek in October. Based on her pace, she will do great! I also met Scotchkee, another friend from Kickrunners. He was running the 50 as a training run for Javalina in a few weeks. He looked great, too! Together, these three made this an interesting and fast loop. Somewhere in there, I stopped at the fourth aid station of the loop for the usual treatment. In this last leg, i met up with Jesse Scott. He is another barefoot runner, though he just started. He was running the 50k and was looking great! We talked for a minute, then he was off. I would see him at the finish later... his first ultra was a success! I was getting excited... once I passed the start/finish, I'd get Shelly as my first pacer!

Picking up Shelly as a pacer was a major boost. I was feeling pretty good anyway, but that really added to the fun. This lap would be a major challenge for Shelly. The furthest she had ever run was 15.5 miles (in a 25k), and that was two kids ago. Our youngest son is five months old, so she hasn't been training for too long. To add to the challenge, she has only run trails a handful of times. On loop two, I realized Shelly was behind the awesome organization of the crew at each aid station. Prior to taking her away to pace, I asked her to make a list of duties for the rest of the crew. The aid station stops throughout this loop went pretty smooth. This is the first point where my feet started looking kinda bad. They felt fine, but were becoming a bit macerated from sweat. Michael seemed a bit shocked, but I thought they would be fine. This is also the lap where the running joke about Jason and the lube started. I was a bit hazy for some of the comments, but it was something related to him spooning the rest of the crew and keeping the lube in his pants. I briefly ran with a guy running the 50. We talked about my feet after he asked about the Vibrams. I told him about the macerated skin and he reminded me about putting lube on your feet to essentially waterproof them. At the next aid station, I liberally coated my feet in SportSlick before I put on the Injinjis and Vibrams. That turned out to be a winning combination. Throughout the rest of the race, I only developed three dime-sized blisters and the maceratedness was limited to the damage already done. As we neared the end of this lap, I was a bit sad... I would miss the opportunity to talk to Shelly except the brief 30 second "how are you feeling?" conversations at the aid stations. Still, she was looking a bit rough towards the end of the lap. As I neared the finish line, I gave Shelly my water bottle to swap while I grabbed some food at the finish line tent. The food selection was improving now that the marathon mooches were gone. I grabbed four pieces of pizza, a hunk of turkey sandwich, and a cup of beef broth as I walked to the waiting crew at the trail head. The pizza may be the best I've ever eaten... or at least it seemed like it at the time!

The Half-way Point

Lap four was Mark's lap. I had run with Mark a few times in training, so I was familiar with his pace. I knew I could count on him to keep me moving if I ran into trouble. In my previous 100, this is where I crashed and burned. i was feeling pretty good, though. This lap is where the haziness set it. All the aid stations became indistinguishable... each hill felt like the rest. I remember the cheering coming from the campground early in the lap. The trails were now nearly empty... all the short races were done and most of the 50 milers had finished. Darkness would be setting in soon. I started having problems with hand chafing early in this lap, so I had to bust out my girly stretchy gloves. I was still pretty warm, so I only wore one on my water bottle hand. Someone on the crew commented it was a tribute to Michael Jackson. Darkness fell sometime around the middle of this lap... I really don't remember. We picked up our lights at the second aid station. I was using a Fenix handheld... it has served me well! At some point, I was worried about being cold so I asked my crew to get my pants. I think they were surprised they were cotton pajama pants... plaid pattern and all. It went well with my Gap sweatshirt. So after taking more flak for my attire, I decided to temporarily forgo the pants. I would run in shorts the rest of the way. This lap also saw the onset of my first knee pain when running downhills. This severely slowed my downhill pace, but was manageable. The mid-point aid station was absolutely fabulous at night... the volunteers were awesome! They gave me some sweet tea which gave me an immediate boost. I also appreciated their support and reassurances that I looked great. On the last leg of this lap, I stubbed my pinky toe on my right foot for the first time. It felt as if I had ripped it off, but it didn't affect my gait. I was able to continue without breaking stride. I also felt the beginnings of a hotspot on the bottom of each heel where blisters would eventually form. This wasn't a huge issue, but it had been a long time since I ran with a blister. At some point, mark asked if I would do this again. As much as I wanted to say "No", I knew this wouldn't be the last time I tackle this challenge. As would be the pattern for the last three laps, the last leg became a Hellish walk-fest. At least the people at the finish line at this point were VERY supportive... it was a great atmosphere to experience! If it were not for the support of my crew, I may have considered quitting at this point.

Lap five was Michael's lap. He would be with me from 11pm Saturday until around 5am Sunday. Based on our email exchanges, I knew he would keep me moving at all costs. Also, he was our time management expert throughout the race. Even in my diminished state, I knew I should finish if I could keep moving. We had what I vaguely remember as great conversations... but I cannot remember exactly what we talked about. I think we discussed food, real estate, and a lot of running. I think the Runner's World Barefoot Forum was discussed, as was immigration policy. I felt pretty good this whole lap, but I walked almost the entire time. The pain was getting pretty bad, but I felt strong mentally. There were no signs of the complete crash I experienced at Burning River. I remember Mark taking pictures at each aid station. I remember hallucinating weird things in the depths of the forest. I saw a lot of buildings... outhouses mostly. I'm sure Freud would have something to say about that. I also remember Michael losing his Gu virginity... turns out he liked the gooey sledge! I also remember stopping to take a poop (yes, I have three small kids... "poop" is a major part of our vocabulary). Eating 30 scoops of chia produces some interesting digestive issues. All I can say is chia isn't fully digested when running. It was pretty gross. At the end of this lap, I had discussed the possibility of taking a 15 minute nap to reset my circadian cycles and ward off involuntary sleep. I wasn't feeling tired as the loop ended, so I didn't mention it. As I found out later, the crew wouldn't have let me. I still think I could have handled it if I had a bigger time cushion, but I appreciate their concern. Oddly, I don't remember going through the finish line tent at all. I DO remember seeing Stuart, though!

As I walked over the last hill before the trail head, my light illuminated what appeared to be a giant burning flare! As I got closer, I realized it was Stuart wearing an incredibly reflective crossing guard-style shirt. It was blindingly bright. I would have no problems finding him in the darkness. We set off on the final loop. I knew my time would be fairly close, so I dug deep and managed to run some flats with Stuart. Almost immediately, he started story telling. I forgot 90% of his stories, but I do remember being thoroughly entertained. I do remember Stuart talking about his memoirs "My Life As A Dork". His stories about growing up as a dork had a profoundly positive impact on the person he is today... and I could relate to every one of the stories. It was a strangely powerful moment. Then I remembered I've run about 88 miles and I snap back to reality. Stuart was really pushing the pace. I didn't want to run, but had to in order to keep up with him. I knew I had plenty of time, but blindly complied. My quads finally started to get fatigued to the point where the hills felt difficult. The problem was exasperated by a feeling of sleepiness that were hitting me in ever-strengthening waves. As if he could sense my struggles, Stuart broke into showtunes. I don't remember what songs were sung, but I do remember Stuart's hauntingly beautiful voice. I felt as if I were dreaming. Granted, it was a dream filled with sharp dagger-like pains from blisters, a strange grinding pain in my knees, a searing pain in the back of my right knee and quads, and a myriad of other seemingly traveling pains caused by a combination of fatigue, overuse, and friction. The pain was beginning to fade as I began to relax... Stuart's singing was fading slowly. The dream abruptly ended when I felt myself falling. I somehow managed to catch myself before I hit the ground. It took a few seconds to realize I was running. It was dark. I could hear Stuart singing... his bright crossing guard shirt easily visible in the beam of my light. I had fallen asleep while running on a flat boardwalk. Damn that was scary! I continued to trudge on wishing the sun would come up. I think we passed a few runners during this stage, some may have passed us, too. My memories are VERY fuzzy.

Somewhere between the first and second aid station, the sun came up. Experienced 100 runners will say it makes a huge difference... and it does! It was an immediate boost! The sleepy grogginess faded and I felt alert. Unfortunately daylight brought more mountain bikers. The first group passed us. The lead biker shouted out "Four of us!" as he whizzed past. A few seconds later another passed. Then another. Hmmm... no fourth bike. That's odd. About twenty minutes later, the lead biker came back and asked us if we saw his friend, the fourth rider that seemingly disappeared. We hadn't, so he continued to backtrack. About a half hour later, we saw him again. Stuart asked if he found him yet. The guy replied "No, I'm checking all the other trails." Stuart, perhaps channeling some of my new-found disdain for mountain bikers, quipped "Don't worry; I'm checking all the ditches!" I laughed a little, realized it hurt too much, and continued shuffling along. Eventually we started to meet a few recreational runners running in the opposite direction, most were on the trail running Saturday morning. it was surreal to think that I've been running for over 24 hours at that point.

When we pulled into the last aid station, I knew it was almost over. I was getting very tired of running; I just wanted it to end. It was a lot like getting a tattoo... the constant pain, while tolerable in the short-term, begins to play games with your mind. I now understand how people DNF at mile 95 of a 100 mile race. Luckily, that wasn't me today. My entire crew was going to hike the rest of the course- approximately 4.1 miles to the finish. I was glad they would be there to keep me company, especially Shelly. Her feet had taken a horrific beating on the lap she paced. She described the feeling as "It feels as if my toenails came off in my socks". Needless to say, her swollen, painful feet wouldn't fit in her running shoes or sandals, so she put three or four pairs of socks on her feet. It looked as if she were wearing giant puffy socks. I think the crew made a joke of it, but I wasn't coherent enough to understand. We started hiking this long, Hellish, rock-filled leg. It started pretty well. I was tired and in a lot of pain, but still pretty much "there" mentally. At some point, I stopped to pee on the side of the trail. A tree immediately to my left had what appeared to be a mouth... and the tree was chewing something. And making a chewing noise. Then it winked at me. Okay, maybe I wasn't as mentally sound as I thought I was. My last solid memory of the last leg was of Michael exclaiming "My ass crack hurts!" which brought an immediate reply about Jason spooning the rest of the crew as they napped and the tube of lube he kept in his pants. I remember laughing. Then nothing. The remainder of that leg was a strange memory of looking into a tunnel and hearing muffled voices around me. I guess there was a flower picking incident, and I hallucinated a bee flying around me. I do remember feeling very emotional with the realization that I'm finally going to fulfill this long-standing goal, but the emotions felt dream-like.

The Finish

Eventually we made it to the asphalt... the landmark that indicated about 3/4 of a mile left. I remember that clearly, I suppose the realization that the end was near caused me to snap out of my trance-like funk. With Shelly by my side, I walked the small asphalt hill, turned right on the trail, traversed a few hills, and hit the mowed grass of the park. A few people were milling about, they started clapping and yelling encouragements. I crossed the field, turned down a small hill, then turned towards the finish line. With fifty yards left, I managed to break into a half-assed run. Running under that sign was one of the greatest feelings I have ever experienced... not so much because of the gravity of the situation or the realization of a long-time dream, it was because I got to stop running. Finally. Twenty-nine hours and five minutes after starting, I had finished running one hundred miles. I shook the hand of the RD as he placed a medal over my head and handed me my buckle. That was am amazing feeling. I shook the hands of my crew, thanking each one for helping me reach this pinnacle. Then I hugged Shelly. I had been fighting back my emotions for the entire leg. Holding her in my arms at that very moment was one of the best moments of my life. That hug was the culmination of the transformation I had begun months earlier. Those rock-laden rolling hills through the rural trails of Pinckney had served as a metaphor for my life... now I stood at the end, victorious in the arms of the woman I love. There will be other hundred milers, but this one will always be special.

Special thanks to Nergock from the Runner's World Barefoot Forum for proofreading!!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Barefoot Trail Running Technique

Here are some videos that show the barefoot technique I use when trail running. The technique is very similar to running on flat, hard surfaces. The last video shows the two techniques I use for climbing hills; a power hiking technique and running. The final clip also shows my downhill technique.







Feel free to post comments or ask questions!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My experiences in my last 100 mile attempt...

I have a lot of free time during this taper for the race on Saturday. In a failed attempt to occupy myself, I compiled some pictures and the audio clips I recorded during last year's Burning River 100. The pictures don't line up with the commentary; I was too lazy for the fancy editing. My production values are pretty poor, actually.

The last clip was recorded around mile 60 or so.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Words of Barefoot Wisdom

"Easy, then light, then smooth, then fast."
-Micah True (a.k.a.- Caballo Blanco)

When people ask how to start barefoot running, Caballo Blanco's advice to Christopher McDougall in 'Born to Run" is nearly perfect.

Easy: When first starting barefoot running, it is critical to start slow and relaxed (easy). Proper form is impossible to achieve without relaxation.

Light: Once you learn to run relaxed, you have to learn to run light. You should make little or no discernible sound when your feet touch the ground. The foot/ground contact should be a light kissing... almost as if you were floating over the ground. This insures you run "light".

Smooth: After you can run relaxed and softly, learn to run with great efficiency. Every movement should serve a purpose with no wasted movement. Your upper body should barely move as your lower body effortlessly navigates the terrain under foot.

Fast: Once the first three are met, speed will take care of itself (to paraphrase C.B.). Speed is a function of excellent form. The other three elements will guarantee excellent form.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Using a Screwdriver to Pound Nails: The life of a barefoot runner


As a barefoot runner, many dedicated heel-strikers will claim the human foot was designed for heel striking. This demographic apparently includes some podiatrists... doctors that have received extensive training on the anatomy and physiology of the human foot. I am perpetually amazed and perplexed by this. How could anyone look at the complexity of the human foot, including the presence of the arch, and conclude that it was designed (evolved, created, whatever you believe) to land on the heel? Never mind the dumb-assery anatomical logic that is used... if this were the case, how did humans run prior to the advent of the modern running shoe some 30 years ago? Anyway, here's an analogy:

You're holding a screwdriver. The majority of the people around you insist it is designed to drive nails into wood. CAN it be used to drive nails? Sure, but it's not going to be pretty. In fact, there's a pretty good chance you're going to hurt yourself. In fact, an entire industry springs up to sell you shit that will help you avoid hurting yourself when pounding away on the nails. They sell you gloves, band-aids, different screwdriver grips, etc. You buy their wares. After all, it's what everyone else is doing. You try to pound the nails, but you still end up hurting yourself. In a moment of frustration-fueled enlightenment, you try using the screwdriver to turn a screw. Aha! THIS is what it was designed for! It connects the pieces of wood and there's no pain! You try sharing the knowledge with those around you. You insist you've found the right way to use the screwdriver. You get better results and you don't beat yourself to a bloody pulp. Instead of considering they may be wrong, they label you a zealot and continue pounding away.

So is the life of the barefoot runner.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Overcoming the Grip of Death...

In nineteen days, I will be running my second 100 mile race. The first time around (Burning River) resulted in a DNF. Many lessons were learned. I'm better prepared. I trained harder; I put in more miles. I solved many of the problems that arose the first time around. I have a better food strategy, better anti-chafing plan, better foot care plan, a larger crew with more pacers, and a more realistic expectation of what to expect as the race unfolds. The most significant preparation comes from the experience of having failed.
Ah, failure. It is perhaps the greatest of life's teachers. Prior to Burning River, I read as many 100 miler race reports as i could find. The lessons were wonderful. I read about the death grip that hits sometime after dark. Based on my marathon and 50 miler experience, I was familiar with the physical and psychological peaks and valleys associated with distance running. I had enough experience to know the valleys were always followed by peaks... you just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I had developed some pretty good self-affirmations to help deal with the inevitable pain. I had run in the dark to prepare for the time after the sun went down. I thought I was prepared for that death grip. Oh, how wrong I was.
It was around mile 50. I was feeling fatigued. My knees had been hurting for the last 15 miles. Going uphill was slow, downhill even slower. My feet were swelling in my now-too-small Vibrams. I had to ditch my Injinji socks to help compensate for the swelling, which led to several painful blisters. The too-small shoes had caused the dreaded under-the-toenail blackening. My groin, ass-crack, arm pits, and hands were chafed. I could feel the salty sweat burning. The only thing that distracted me from the many pains were the other pains that sprung up with frightening regularity. The last food I consumed was a cold piece of pizza at mile 35 or so. As I coasted into this aid station, my crew was still chipper. I think I was smiling, but I started having doubts. Still, I kept pressing on. One foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress. I knew the drill.
At some point between 50 and 55, I started to seriously question if I could finish. I went from about an hour ahead my goal pace (28 hour finish) to barely staying ahead of the cut-off pace. Miles 55-60 were horrid. Darkness fell. The pain that had been growing seemed to intensify with every step. I was reduced to a slow shuffle. Walking down the slightest decline was so painful, I had to walk sideways. I had pressed on with the expectation that this valley would eventually blossom into a peak. The pain would go away and I would be inundated with a rush of endorphin-fueled energy. The peak never came. The valley just kept getting deeper and deeper until it felt like a bottomless chasm. I wanted to quit. I kept hoping the aid station would be around the next corner. It felt like I was slogging through the darkness for hours. I seriously considered lying down on the trail knowing my crew would find me... eventually. The only thing that kept me going was the hope that the misery would end faster. The trail went through an area with several houses. Each light I saw brought a brief sliver of hope that this Hell would be ending... then I would fall into a deeper abyss when I discovered it was just a house. At some point, I eventually stumbled into the aid station. This was the point where I was supposed to pick up my first pacer. I sat down in a chair as my crew hurriedly refilled my bottles, gave me some food that I don't remember eating, and gave me some warm clothes. At this point, I was shivering uncontrollably. I was hoping an aid station volunteer would see my "obviously unable to continue" state and pull me from the race. I'm not quite sure what my crew was doing at this point, but it felt like I was sitting in the chair forever. Suddenly my pacer was pulling me out of the chair and on to the trail. The next 3-4 miles through the wilderness that is Suburban Cleveland was the low point of my life. I only have vague memories of that 2 hour journey up and down hills and stairs. It was a death march punctuated with moments of dull disembodiment followed by sudden, unpredictable episodes where I would be thrust back to the cold, dark, pain and hopelessness that had come to define the last few hours of my life. I remember having moments of clarity where I was able to talk. I even remember a point where I noticed my heart was racing despite the fact that I was moving at a 30 minute per mile pace (160 beats/minute... I thought I was dying). My other crew member eventually backtracked from the next aid station and met us. He informed us I was 30 minutes behind the cutoff pace. I was definitely done. I remember him telling us this... it was a feeling of relief but did nothing to change my severely handicapped physical and mental state. We eventually slogged into the next aid station at 64.7 miles. Once they pulled my tab from my bib, I could finally relax. I think I thanked the aid station workers. I was the last person on the course at that point, so I was keeping them from getting the rest they deserved. I apologized to my crew for giving up. I ws a horrible feeling of defeat. It was the first time in my life I had tried to push my limits and actually failed. At the same time, it was such a sweet feeling of relief to sit down knowing I could finally relax.
Wouldn't you know it, but 30 minutes after sitting down in the passenger seat of my pacer's van, the chasm of Hellish suffering lifted. Suddenly I felt great! I was unbelievably stiff and still in some pain, but I would have been able to run at that point. Son of a bitch. It turns out the saying is correct- I never ALWAYS gets worse. The lesson learned was a difficult lesson to learn. Even the deepest chasms eventually lead to peaks.
So now I am on the verge of toeing the start line again. I am better prepared. i learned from my training mistakes. I learned from my logistical mistakes. I've grown as an ultrarunner. Most importantly, I now know what to expect. I know that Hellish chasm is awaiting me somewhere on that 12.5 mile loop. I know I will get the opportunity to experience the searing pains that accompany extreme physical activity. I know there will be points where the allure of stopping will be overwhelming. But I also know that the chasm isn't bottomless. I know the pain and suffering are nothing more than a temporary condition that I can survive. I know how to silence the voice of self-doubt that echos in my head. I anticipate the opportunity to prove to myself that I can overcome my self-imposed limitations. Only nineteen more days...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Erik Skaggs- Fellow Ultrarunner In Need

Erik Skaggs, a fellow ultrarunner, suffered renal failure after the Where's Waldo 100k. He was hospitalized for several days and incurred VERY substantial medical bills. Erik does not have health insurance. If you were considering donating money to my site, please send Erik the money instead. Also, fellow bloggers and webmasters- consider adding this request to your sites. The ultra community is unique in our camaraderie... lets do what we can to help out one of our brothers! Here's an excerpt from the Rogue Valley Runners blog that is updating Erik's condition:

"
Many friends throughout the ultrarunning community have already asked how they can help. One of Erik’s biggest concerns is the mounting medical bill. Erik does not have health insurance. He may be eligible for some assistance through his membership with USA Track and Field, but will no doubt require monies for the deductible and for the expected costs well above the coverage. An Ashland runner and friend of Erik’s has opened a bank account at Umpqua Bank in Ashland, Oregon to receive donations that will be used to help defray these medical expenses. You can contribute by sending a check to Umpqua Bank, 250 N. Pioneer Street, Ashland, OR 97520 made out to the “Erik Skaggs Medical Fund.” Any assistance that you could provide would be much appreciated by Erik. Please note that the Fund name should be on the outside of the envelope.

Vibrams versus barefoot....

First, I have to say I am a huge fan of Vibram Five Fingers shoes. I believe they are an excellent product! I personally own two pair of KSOs and plan on buying the new Treks when they become available. I highly recommend the shoe to anyone interested in going the minimalist route.

Having said that, I do believe there is a time and a place for ANY minimalist shoe. If you are interested in learning to run barefoot or make a switch to a minimalist shoe, start barefoot. If you start barefoot, you will learn proper technique and form in a short time. Encasing your feet in any sort of shoe will simply inhibit that process. If you have no intention on running barefoot and are only interested in moving to a minimalist shoe, that transition will be greatly facilitated by learning barefoot form first. Use the minimalist shoes once you learn the form.

To learn good form, it is critical that your brain receive accurate sensory feedback from the rest of your body. This is especially true of your feet. The soles of your feet will tell you if you are overstriding, running too fast, or creating too much friction. If you cover your feet, even with a minimalist shoe such as the Vibrams, you will short-circuit that neural pathway. Too many people seem to be tackling barefoot or minimalist running too aggressively, which leads to injury. Resist that temptation!

For further information, check out the "Lose the Shoes" barefoot guide (for the do-it-yourself-er), or contact me about barefoot coaching options (for those that want more assistance).