I like to run. I've learned that it really isn't about where you're going, it's about the getting there - the how, the why, the who with. This blog is just a little repository for my thoughts along the way; the setbacks, the lessons learned, and the occasional triumph.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Race Report: Turkey Trot 8K

Cold, wet, windy, puddly, muddly.

It’s a big race. The website proudly brags that over 5,000 runners are expected to sign up. It is the 32nd year for the race in Lincoln Park. All those years, all those paid entry fees, and they still have the most mundane race name ever. “Turkey Trot 8K.” (4.97 Miles) The christener of the race clearly never anticipated the perils of search engines and the world wide web. Or the need for a little character.

I’m pushed out of the car at the bottom of the exit ramp off Lake Shore Drive. No point in Laura trying to fight the traffic to get me closer. The staging area is in sight around the corner and I can walk faster than the car can sit in traffic. It’s 20 minutes to race time. I jog laps on Cannon Drive to keep warm and to warm up. And to kill time.

A books-on-tape version of the National Anthem. Embellished. Drawn out. Long, deep, silent breaths before the big notes. Extravagant. Wasteful. I once had a band conductor who firmly believed the star spangled banner should be played briskly and with verve. I missed him this Thanksgiving morning.

Younger runner guys move past me in the corral, grinning to each other and playing I Spy towards the pretty young runner girls stretching in their spandex running suits. They nearly break their own necks whipping their heads around with glee.

A few people are in costumes. Turkey costumes, mostly. And mostly women I see in those turkeys. I don’t notice any pilgrims. Perhaps, in some year to come, I will run dressed as Squanto. Full head dress. Brown leather pants with the fringe on the seams. Maybe a tomahawk. Etc.

Crowded start, but thankfulness that the slower folks really did hang toward the back before the non-existant, metaphorical gun went off.

Lots of broad U-turns on the course. North for a while, south for a while, north for a while, south again. The directional indecision keeps our faces from the wind for too long. A blessing. And Stockton drive in Lincoln Park may be the only road in all the city with an infestation of rolling hills. A rare Chi-Town pleasure.

I think mostly about how I’m breathing. I don’t want easy, but I don’t want my heart throbbing too hard either. I want to breathe comfortably, but feel the satisfaction of effort. This gifts me a 7:26 after mile one, then a 7:05 after mile two. Now the legs, they are awake.

Laura waits on a curb past the 2 mile point, grinning and camera pointing. I side out of the pack to the right side of the road to say “Hi” as I pass. I am pleased that the words emerge easily and unhampered by my body’s need to take air in.

At the southern-most point on the course, we uncouple our feet from pavement and our shoes become colorful pontoon boats on the muddy marsh of a crushed gravel foot path. Little tan, wet droplets begin to fly from the feet around me, and I know the backs of my black tights are growing a Pollock pattern, abstract and damp.

Soft mud sucks at my toe tops. I focus quick feet, quick feet, short steps, short steps.

Some puddles I jump, some I trod. Hard pavement under ¼” of water seems faster to me than 1” of thick mud. My compadres often seem to feel differently. One man nearly pushes me over my left side as he swerves around a larger puddle on our right. Puddle fear creates an unhindered lane thru the middle of the puddle path. I begin to peddle directly towards the puddles to take advantage when I can.

Mile four begins to suck the wind from me. I feel myself lagging, losing power, but I bide my time. The final u-turn will come just after the 4-mile marker. Then I will employ the power I have reserved for the final leg to the finish. My strategy costs me a 7:38 split for mile four, but I immediately shift up a gear and focus the feet once again. There may be discomfort until the end, but I know I can ignore it for one final mile. I focus quick feet, quick feet, short steps, short steps, straight back, straight back, quick feet.

Laura is at mile 4, too. Unexpected but nice. She was able to move the car quickly and find a parking spot at the north end of the course. I make sure to grin for a picture this time, but I do not allow it to interrupt the motions of my legs.

With half a mile to go, I feel my weary lungs. A stray thought tinkers through my head. (Slow down, ease up.) I ignore it and push harder instead.

Now for a final half mile, a new hobby: stopwatch glancing. What shall I push for? An answer comes from my math-dizzy brain that 36 and a half is in reach. Well then, off we go.

We leave the crushed gravel a final time and return to Cannon Drive. I see erected aluminum constructs and know the finish line is in reach. I do not care that several ego-runners around me have chosen to wait until this final 100-yard dash to use their kicks to sprint past me to the line. I notched up to a mile-long finish kick long ago and doled it out wisely. My final split is 6:59, a tick under 7 minutes for a tick under a mile. My total time stops at 36:33, a PR, though I rarely run the 8K distance. I’ve tested it only twice now in three years since I became a marathoner.

I have not asked my legs to churn so fast in months. The muscles quiver with relief. The quads shake with confusion. But the race is run, the line is crossed and the rest is earned. It is not a major landmark for me, but I am always thankful to know I am still capable.

After the race, I talk to my sister in Pittsburgh. She tells me the race director of her small, hometown race – an RD whose name I don’t even know – asked after me the day before to know if I’d be running their little town turkey trot again. I ran there and placed in my age group 2 of the last 3 years. He asked about me, specifically. He knows my sister’s in-laws well. When he finds I’m not coming this year, he gives my sister one of this year’s race t-shirts anyway. He gives it for free. “Please send it to your brother,” he tells her.

I realize I missed the small town trots I’ve run the last few years. I missed the small field of runners. I missed all the residents who walk the distance with family, just because. I missed sitting in the school gymnasium for an hour afterwards to hear the results and find out if I placed. I missed the baked goods feast food raffles. I missed the small-town-sized entry fees. I missed the charm. I missed the character.

I think next year I’ll be sure I don’t miss it all again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hot To Trot

It’s lookin’ like I’ll be spending my Thanksgiving Day in Chi-Town Proper for the first time since 2005. But I’m not worried about where I’m going to get my turkey from – I’m worried about where I’m going to go to run my Turkey Trot.

I've run so few of the shorter distance races in the last couple of years. When race entry fees are $25 or $30 dollars, and the events are crowded and/or disorganized, it takes a lot of the fun out. Between the expense and the hassle, I lost a lot of my enthusiasm for the frequent 5 and 10Ks around the city. Small town Trots on Thanksgiving have been a different story, though. They're always raising money for something, and the atomosphere is friendly and charming even if they aren't slick and polished events.

I had a lot of fun in ’06 and ’08 running the Burgettestown Turkey Trot 5k at my sister’s place just west of Pittsburgh – not least because I finished 2nd and then 3rd in my age group and got myself a medal for it both times. I’ve only ever “placed” at one other event. I also ran really strong races both times and set a PR at the ’08 event (which I’ve since bettered).

In ’07 I was in Quincy, IL (west side of the state, not far from St. Louis) visiting a friend of Laura’s for the holiday. I did a 10K that year. My time wasn’t quite as stellar, but I did finish 3rd in my division. (Though I was disappointed to learn, at the awards ceremony, that they only gave medals for 1st and 2nd places.)

Well, I’ve never run a Turkey Trot in Chicago, so I gotta find one! I’ve done a little research and found that there are 14 – 14! – Trots being hosts on Thanksgiving Day around Chicagoland. There are three that are within the city limits proper, and two on the north side of town – that being my general area of residence. Either one might be relatively convenient. The first is an 8K that starts in Lincoln Park. It’s a big race, with 6,000+ runners expected, so it’ll be a little crowded. They’ll even have chip timing.

The other one seems to be a bit more informal. It’s up in the Edison Park neighborhood. Not sure how big the race will be; I can’t find any past results online. There’s no chip timing, no gear check, nothing overly formal – but that could be a good thing. It might be cool if I could find a hint of small-town charm inside Chicago.

I’ll also have to decide if I want to go after the 5K or the 8K distance. The only 8Ks I’ve ever done were multiple Shamrock Shuffles in April the last 6 years, but all those finish times are slower than what I should be able to do right now. Or I could try to blast out a 5K and see if I can drop my time any closer to 21 minutes.

I still might be crazy and drive out to one of the nearby ‘burbs to run one of their trots, also. I’ll look into a couple of those before I decide for sure – especially if one of them is raising funds for an interesting charity. Either way, I’m determined that the Trot Tradition must continue!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Change of Routine

Being a creature of habit – as so many of us are – I don’t take change quickly. I must, instead, subject my patterns to a gradual erosion, shaving a corner here and an angle there, until finally my landscape emerges from the long wash unrecognizable from its previous incarnation.

After the last four months, I knew the time for change had come. I had a couple of triumphs in the spring, but over the summer I just started to feel a little broken down. I wasn’t seeing the results I was used to, training became more a chore than a pleasure, my mileage started dropping off, and I was even putting on some weight. It was time to make some adjustments to the routine, but because of the way I am, I can’t just junk the whole thing and start over, I’ve got to rearrange the pieces one at a time.

Well, I’m happy to report: the first piece is placed. I’ve become a swimmer again. I say “again” because when I was a kid, “swimmer” was one of the first things I ever called myself. Every summer for three or four years, I was a Shenandoah Stingray. Though I was never especially gifted, I did make it to the state tournament every year in my age group in at least one event. Even after my Stingray summers, I still swam a lot, and even earned a badge four years in a row at Boy Scout camp for completing the Mile Swim. (My original foray into Endurance Athletics!)

But all that was twenty years ago. (!) My body has forgotten an awful lot about swimming in the interim. Two weeks ago when I went down to the “Y” to do some laps for the first time in an age, I was a little nervous. I had modest goals. I didn’t care how fast I swam, or how many laps. I was just going to start the timer on my watch and try to get 20 minutes of easy swimming in (the minimum time for a basic aerobic workout). I was able to do TEN – and I had to stop and stand in the shallow end three or four times to gasp for breath. Then, my triceps screamed at me for days afterward. All I did was swim for ten minutes!

Two days later, though, I went back and again aimed for 20 minutes of laps. I made it to 15 minutes, and only had to take one long break in the shallow end at the half-way point. After two more days, I finally made it all the way to 20 with just one quick break to adjust my cap and goggles. Plus, I picked out a pattern I liked: 2 laps of Breaststroke, then 1 lap of the Crawl (commonly known to the world as “freestyle”). More than that, my triceps had stopped screaming and I was starting to have a little fun.

This past week, I even started to figure out how far I’ve been swimming. Turns out, I can cover a ½ mile (880 yards) in about 20 minutes (with that 2 laps/1 lap pattern).

Soon, I may have to start putting a little more thought into my new swimming habit, but for now I’m completely content to do between 20 and 30 minutes of laps 3 or 4 times a week, and to use most of those swim days as “rest” days from running. I think throwing some full-body, no impact cardio at my weary self is an awfully useful trick.

Who knows? Maybe I can learn myself to extend that ½ mile to, oh, say 1.2 miles, or even, yep, precisely 2.4…

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I don't normally write here just to post links, but If you like running and you know anything at all about the plight of American distance running (and the 2007 U.S. Men's Olympic Marathon Trials), do yourself a favor and check out this recount of Meb's morning in New York today as written by David Epstein for Sports Illustrated.

My eyes got wet this morning watching the spectacle on TV, and once again reading Epstein's column. I think Ryan Hall was disappointed (only for himself, though), but otherwise it was an excellent day in the Big Apple.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Race Report: Chicago Marathon 2009

I’m somewhere in Chicago, in process of running my 20th marathon (or ultra). I’ve got a fresh feeling. The temperature is cool (if not cold). There’s a bit of sun in the sky and a bit of spring in my legs. I decide I might as well take advantage while I can. I tick off three brisk miles with an 8:55, an 8:50 and an 8:54.

That 3-mile stretch would turn out to be the fastest 3-mile section I would run all day. But this is not bad news, this is really good news, because that was miles 20, 21 and 22.

Wall? What wall? Nobody showed me any walls.

I did run miles 3, 4 and 5 in almost exactly the same 3-mile split, 26:39. So, 20-22 was only tied for my fastest of the day. The legs did, finally, get heavier in the last 4 miles of the day (Mile 25 split at 9:30; 26 split at 9:37), but none of that detracts from the glory I felt in those late miles when nearly everyone around me was hitting that wall and slowing down.

And that, all by itself, neatly sums up this marathon for me. It was a strong, steady effort from start to finish. I held a remarkably even pace throughout, and performed rather well given the fatigue and training interruptions I’d faced in the previous months. My 3:58:17 is a personal Chicago course record...

…and a year ago, I would have been ecstatic with that result. Not that I’m not happy with it. I am – very much in fact. But my good feelings are tempered with the knowledge that I can do a great deal better. Sure, 3:58 is my second best marathon ever, but it’s nowhere near the 3:44 I clocked in Kenosha back in May. 14 minutes may not seem like so much, but the average pace is 32 seconds faster per mile. A 3:44 finisher is nearly 2 miles ahead of a 3:58 finisher. More than 4,000 runners crossed the finish line between 3:44 and 3:58 at Chicago this year. (I was 10689th, overall.)

And my 3:44 in May wasn’t a fluke. That was the real marathon me, finally exposed, hindered neither by a too-busy racing schedule, nor by oppressive weather conditions. I can run a lot more marathons like that, and better.

It was nice to break 4 hours. It was nice to get my 2nd best ever. It was nice to finally run Chicago again without summer-like conditions. It was nice to not be sure what condition my legs were in, and still turn in what felt like a (mostly) effortless race. But nevertheless, that wasn’t the real me out there on October 11th.

I still learned a lot. Every marathon is a lesson learned on some front.

My expectations were so modest for the race that I felt NO pressure. I had NO nerves. NO anxiety of any kind. It was great to be so mentally unburdened. For the first time at a road marathon, I was really just out for a good, fun time. I’ve brought that approach to some of my ultras, but at the road marathons, I always pressure myself to hit certain goals. Ironic, then, to have none this time and to do so well by comparison.

That even pace, start to finish, was a new thing for me in a marathon. The closest I’d come to it before – unsurprisingly – was during my 3:44 PR, but even there, I pushed a little too hard in the middle and suffered a little too much at the end. These were my 5K splits for Chicago: 27:36, 28:30, 27:58, 28:04, 28:17, 28:23, 27:39 & 28:54. I crossed the halfway mark in 1:58:17, and covered the second half in exactly 2 hours. Of course, because I had no speed goals, I only aimed for comfortable pace and thus ran a notch below my ability. That certainly helped me run evenly, but perhaps I can recreate that feeling in the early miles and actually run a negative split somewhere in the future.

My burst of energy in the 19th mile was a pleasant surprise. My legs felt strong and it was a real rush to suddenly realize I had enough left to shift up a gear. But mostly importantly, I was just in a really good mood at that point in the race. The positive vibes gave me a charge, and I channeled it into my form. Straight back, high chin, quick steps, and I powered my way through Chinatown, all the way to Sox Park.

Oh, and for the first time at a road marathon, I had to stop and pee during the race. This might seem like a frivolous thing to mention, but it was really unusual for me. Stranger, still, that even though I waited in line for a port-a-potty 20 minutes before the race – which I never do – I had to go again just 2.5 miles into the race. I’ve decided the cold weather somehow had something to do with it. I resisted the temptation to slip between spectators on the sidewalk to water the bushes, and waited instead to pass a bank of toilets on the course. I finally found a village of them at the 5 Mile Marker. I lost 1:08 to my pit stop at the start of Mile 6 (Yes, I timed it.)

It was ironic, that after two consecutive years of out of the ordinary (and oppressive) heat, this year we got out of the ordinary (and frigid) cold. Overnight temperatures before the race dropped into the 20s. At start time it was barely 32 degrees. Most of the other runners in my corral had stripped off their extraneous layers by the time the National Anthem was sung (millions of goose bumps never looked so sexy), but I was too big a coward to even drop my sweatpants until just before the start gun. Even then, I was still freezing. I wound up running the first full mile of the race while still wearing the sweatshirt I bought at Goodwill. I finally pulled it off and tossed it to the sidewalk after a mile and a half. (Though, I really wanted to spy a spectator who looked under-dressed and offer it to them. Alas, I found no one who fit that description.)

I have a few other random observations, most coming from the perspective of a runner who’s now run the same course four years in a row:

-The new placement of the Seeded Corral Gear Check was a nice change. This year it was set right next to the entrance of the Seeded Corrals, instead of on the south side of Grant Park. The convenience of having the gear check right at the Finish Line was gone, but it was a relief that I didn’t have to fight my way through the pre-race crowds to the side south of the park to check my gear, and fight my way back to the north end to get to my corral. So much less stress this way.

-Boystown is always the coolest neighborhood to run through on race day. Broadway is narrow and packed with people. It’s like a long cheer tunnel. And whether it’s true or not, it feels like all 3 miles are downhill. Plus, the Boys of Boystown always turn out with the most interesting sidewalk entertainment.

-Toughest section of the course? I think it’s a tie between the desolate, West-side hairpin on Adams & Jackson, and the long march up Michigan Avenue for the last 3 miles of the race. Even when the weather isn’t cooking us like morning bacon in a frying pan, it’s still a long damn way from the bottom of Michigan back to Grant Park. (Though the mile markers did pass a little more quickly this time around.)

-For my second marathon in a row, I ran without carrying my own water bottle. I gave it up in Kenosha in the interest of trimming my running weight. Whether it’s real or psychological, it does make a difference. There are plenty of water and Gatorade stations at Chicago. I took advantage of those, stashed 3 or 4 gel packs in my shorts pockets, and I never missed my bottle. I’ve decided that, unless the neat is bad (or I’m on a trail ultra), I don’t ever need to carry my own bottle again.

-And one last note: Laura came out to follow me around the city once again, but this year she did it without a bike, depending instead on the CTA to get her around. She said she missed the mobility of the bike. The CTA was useful, but not nearly as versatile or speedy as getting herself around on the bike had been the year before. Good to know, I think, if you have cheerleader friends who have the wheels and are game.

So, Chicago was a nice bookend to my running year. My 2nd sub-4 marathon of ’09, and a happy conclusion to an unexpectedly long stretch of unsatisfying training. I have yet to decide what my 2010 racing calendar is going to look like. I still have a lot of decisions to make. But before any of that, I’m going to rebuild my training plan. It’s time to diversify. And maybe – just maybe – a whole different kind of race on the calendar…

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chicago Results & Lessons Applied

Well, this week has dissolved into a particular kind of chaos, so there won't be much time for race report writing. To be certain, when it does come, it won't be a terribly long one anyway. I've now run 4 Chicago marathons, 8 road marathons in total, 2 trail marathons, and 10 ultras. That's 20 marathons and ultras in all. Point being: The sheen has worn off a bit. Especially for a course I've now run 4 years in a row. I still have some things to share, and some interesting details about my race, but I can give you the short of it now: I finished with a 3:58 and change. That's a course record for me. It's only the 3rd time I've broken 4 hours, and it's the 2nd fastest marathon I've run - though it's still far off that great 3:44 I ran back in May.

So, I'll be back with more, but for now I've got to muddle my way through the MASSIVE task I've been handed at work. It's not just a pile of stuff, there's genuine fear involved. The good news is that I've been able to apply my gained wisdom as a newly minted 20-time marathoner to the problem - and I'm not just being quaint, this is a mind-set that really is saving my sanity. I'm reminding myself every day to just take it one step and one mile at a time, not getting ahead of myself, or thinking about the end too soon. I just need an even pace, a calm head, patience and determination, and I WILL get to the finish line. (Wish me luck...)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

This Might Hurt a Little...

I’m slightly astonished to acknowledge that Chicago Marathon time has rolled around once again. It’s been a very busy summer, filled, for me, with many things that had little to do with running. I’m a little surprised at how humdrum it feels to be marathoning through Chicago again.

This is a small landmark for me, of sorts: My 20th Marathon or Ultra, all since my first in Chicago, 3 years ago.

On the flip side, I think, as much as anything else, all that racing and the training that leads up to it has resulted in a level of burnout that I’ve been feeling lately. (Indeed, I plan a significant change in my running routine beginning in the weeks after Chicago.) I still want to run marathons and ultras – very much, in fact – but I’m admitting that I need a little marathon hibernation to get the spring back in my legs – and my passion – again.

But before all that, there’s the little matter of my 4th Tour De Chicago this Sunday morning. We are finally rid of the oppressive heat that has plagued the race the last two years, but alas, we’ve slipped back to the opposite extreme: start time temperatures are predicted in the high 30s, a frost warning has already been issued for the region, and even flurries are possible on Sunday night. Alack for a simple, dry, overcast, even-keel, 50 degree day.

I can handle the weather, but my expectations for my performance are still low. To be sure, there will be no magical 3:44s for me this Sunday morning. Truthfully, a sub-4-hour result will be a significant accomplishment.

I’ve copped to this already, but my training over the summer left much to be desired. I had interruptions in my schedule yes, but most of my struggles were tied to lethargic, unresponsive legs. Sometimes people call it “Dead Legs”. This has been especially true since my attempt at the Burning River 100 on August 2nd. I felt it before that race, but have been plagued by it since. Even a gentle, weekend 12-miler would devolve into a staggered, helpless walk after 3 miles. There were no other nagging aches or pains, no creaky knees or sore muscles howled at me, the legs just had no life when the time came to do the distance. My weekday runs never seemed to suffer. I even managed my tempo runs without too much undue stress, then the weekend would come and I’d crash and burn. It’s not a problem I’ve ever dealt with before.

In the end, I was forced to take 11 days completely off with NO running at all. I felt the only choice was to think of my weakness as an injury and take the time off to heal. Regretfully, my time on the Disabled List ended only 2 weeks ago. It came during a time that should have been the peak of my marathon training. This can’t have a great effect on my race, but whatever I lost, it must be preferable to the handicap I was fighting before.

The good news, is the extended rest seems to have made a difference. I’ve been far stronger on my runs this last 12 days. If only I still had 3 or 4 more weeks before the race, I think I’d be in great shape for the event. But I’m playing with the hand I’ve been dealt. It’s easy for me to imagine a strong, well-paced race for the first 13 miles, and then a horrible, horrible bonk in the last 6 or 8. We’ll see.

Back in May, my 3:44 was the sum total of 26 miles at 8:34 average pace. Sunday, I’ll be aiming squarely at 9 minute miles. Modest. Conservative. And yet, still, possibly a gross overestimation of my relatively poor condition.

I’ll try to enjoy myself, Sunday. And then the winter reconstruction shall begin.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Gnats! Oh Gno!

Over the weekend, I rediscovered one of the great perils of running on a summer evening: GNATS.

I got back into the city from work a little after 6:00 and realized that might be my only chance to get in my long run. I set out for 18 miles at 6:30. Less than 4 miles in, the sun began to set, and the swarms of gnats were out in force.

You've seen those, right? They're common everywhere I've ever lived. A huge flutter of gnats, 2 or 3 feet across swarming around in a gnat mating frenzy. (I learned those swarms are known as "ghosts".) I don't know why they like dusk more than any other time. It seems as though they also like to congregate in a shaft of setting sunlight, but they really aren't that picky.

They make running a misery.

Saturday night, they kept flying into my eyeballs. I could feel them bouncing off my forehead and face. I imagined them getting stuck in the sweat on my skin.

And then I swallowed one. I inhaled it just past Belmont Harbor, 5.5 miles in. I nearly choked. Not only because it's just gross, but also because it lodged briefly at the top of my wind pipe. I had to pull up to cough and breathe. They weren't done though. 50 yards later it happened again. I sucked in two within moments. Disgusting. There was a water fountain nearby and I walked down to take a long drink, hacking and spitting the whole way.

The fallout lingered. I had a bad, recurring cough for most of the next 5 miles. And it was an hour after sunset before the gnats disappeared. They were still dive-bombing my eyeballs all that time.

I makes me wish I could run with my mouth and eyes squeezed shut the whole way. If only I didn't need to see or breathe when I run...

Monday, August 31, 2009

How the Other Half Lived

After the Burning River 100, I realized that my sister had just as many stories to tell about her day as I did. Finally, I encouraged her to write them down, and maybe even draw up her own race report for the day. She finally sent me back an essay nearly as long as the one I wrote. That's a big deal for her, because sitting down and writing was never one of her favorite things to do. I thought it was pretty cool to read what her day had been like following me around, learning about what an Ultra was like and making unexpected friends. So, with her permission, I'm posting her report. I made a (very) few edits and here and there, and I added a few little interjections of my own, in [brackets]. Everything else was straight from her.

Of course, when my brother called me and asked if I wanted to help him run 100 miles the answer was, without a doubt, YES! I really wasn’t sure what to expect for the weekend. I knew that he was going to need me, but the capacity in which, I was not sure. So, as I loaded up my car, like a Boy Scout, I packed everything I could think of that I or he could possibly need and set out to meet him at Cuyahoga Falls.

I hadn’t seen Greg for some time and was so excited to see him hanging over the wall of the parking deck waving me in. After a huge hug he told me he was registered for the race and shortly thereafter we went to the hotel to check in. We didn’t have much time because we still needed to eat dinner and be back at the Finish line for an informational meeting. We got a bit sidetracked with catching up, getting on-line to check the race website, and the most important thing: me learning what he expected of me through the long and grueling run he was about to attempt.

At that point, I still thought he was crazy. Who in their right mind would think of running 100 miles at one time, and who would be crazy enough to join in? However, I did agree to help him and was ready to do my duty no matter what it took (short of running it myself) to get him across the finish line. So, I paid close attention as he explained all the items in his bag. Unfortunately, because of all this we had lost precious time to eat a good dinner. A chicken sandwich would have to do. Then off to the meeting.

We set our alarms for just before 3am. Naturally, we had a hard time getting up, which got us on the road to the starting line a bit late. Greg had to eat his breakfast in the car. I think he stirred that peanut butter for about 20 minutes, which made me laugh. [That would be the brand new jar of all-natural peanut butter we bought the night before and opened for the first time that morning in the car.] I also had only one song going thru my head for most of the drive; the “Smokey and the Bandit” theme song. He got a laugh at that.

Due to the late start and missing a turn, we had no time when we finally got there. He was supposed to be checked in by 4:45am and we pulled up at like 4:44. We scurried up to check him in then I gave him the keys to run back to the car and get his stuff. I think it was a good thing that he didn’t have long to stand around. He was able to just get right to work. All of this was very exciting to me and I was trying not to get him too excited.

He told me that he was going to try to keep a pace of about 15min per mile so that I would know approximately what time I would see him at the first aid station. I reminded him of that before he took off. I didn’t want him to start too fast. We had just enough time to snap a picture or two and the gun went off. I cheered for Greg as he and the one hundred and sixty some runners took off like a big shadow in the dim light of the morning on the dewy wet grass and disappeared around the bend.

Everyone who wasn’t running got back to their cars and drove off, except me. I figured it should be about 2 and ½ hours before I would see him again. I wanted to try to get a cat nap in now so as to start the day more refreshed. I also wanted to actually see Squires Castle (the start line locale) and get a picture once the sun came up. I thought I calculated enough time to do so, but I did second guess myself when I noticed that I was the only one to linger at the site. I set an alarm and closed my eyes.

Although I didn’t truly sleep, I did feel better. I hopped out and went to get my picture. The grass was still wet and I could see the wide trampled path the runners left in the field. I got my shot – and several massive bug bites! They were burning like crazy! I needed rubbing alcohol to fix this problem. So, I set off for Polo Field (the 1st aid station for Crew) hoping that I would find a store open before 8am. A gas station would surely have something. I pulled over at the first one. They had some, but I wasn’t ready to fork over 3 dollars for a bottle so I asked the woman if they had a First Aid kit with any alcohol swabs…Yes! Not only that but she was nice enough to also give me an insect sting swab! Score! Bug bites at bay, I set off again. Sure enough, I stumbled on a 24hr CVS. Score again! I was set.

Once I parked at Polo Field, I came up with the first message for the dry erase board. I wanted to have a poster to hold up for him, but one message wasn’t enough when he could possibly see it 13 times. This way I could keep it fresh and keep him interested. The first one would have to remind him to keep a steady pace… “Remember the tortoise… He beat the Hare!”

So, now I got his bag ready. I was parked close enough to the aid station that I just left everything in the trunk and walked over to watch as the runners came in. This is where I met the women that I would see many more times thru the day. Luckily, in that pack was a woman from Pittsburgh – Jan – and of course we hit it off. She waited with some of us till our loved ones ran thru.

Anxiously, I waited to see Greg running down the road. I was still excited about all this, but unsure what exactly he was going to need out of me. Finally, here he came! I ran over to the car and got it open then ran back and cheered for him. He looked really good and said he felt good too! He got some food, took off his head lamp, and drank some yellow sports drink. I reminded him about his 15min a mile pace, then he was right back on the trail. Go Greg!!

I didn’t hang around this time. I wanted to get to the next Aid Station and get the supplies more organized. I thought he might need a bit more attention after 21 miles than he did after 13. On the way I saw a Bob Evans!! Breakfast!! Yea!! I pulled right in. The fresher I can be, the more I can help my brother.

SHADOW LAKE (21.9 Miles)
The next Crew accessible aid station was Shadow Lake. When I pulled in, I saw all the same faces that were at Polo Field. This was good because I had someone to talk to. I got my message board ready, which referred back to the song that still I couldn’t get out of my head: “You’re gonna do what they say can’t be done!” When I got over to the picnic bench the girls asked what took me so long. I said “Didn’t you see the Bob Evans!” They had a chuckle and were jealous. (I know the Mother/Daughter team went back after their runner had come through J).

So, I sat for a few minutes, we talked and waited. Then I got antsy. The sun was beginning to get warm. I tried to think of all the things he might need now, and sunscreen was surely one of them. The other was going to be Vaseline. I decided to get the bag out and bring it closer. I suddenly had a funny (only because it’s my brother), but real concern. I have heard of runners getting chaffed and even bleeding because of it, ergo the Vaseline, but it was going to be a little strange for me to remind my brother to apply it to his nipples! Oh well, it must be done.

When he ran out of the trees I went to work. I asked how he felt and what he needed and, of course, about the chaffing. Naturally, he chuckled. I think keeping it light was good. Plus his spirits were still high and he looked good. He wanted to go to the car again. So, I grabbed the bag and we went over. We just finished spraying on the SPF when my phone rang. MOM! How did she know we were together?! A Mother’s intuition never fails. After they spoke for a minute I told her I’d call her back. I asked if he needed gels or new socks. He applied some Vaseline, cleaned his hands, and got some food. I reminded him that I wouldn’t see him for 15 miles. And before I knew it, he was headed off. Again, as he ran into the woods I cheered him on. “You can do it!”

Well, now I had a big lull in the action. One of the ladies I was waiting with said that there would be lots of food and places to shop on the way to the next Aid Station. While I was waiting at Shadow Lake, I was brainstorming about the things I forgot to pack, mainly a chair. I hoped to find a place to get some supplies.

After Greg set out, I calculated that it would be about 3 hours until I saw him again. So, I called Mom back and told both our parents how well he was doing. They were relieved to hear his status and wanted me to check in from time to time. I also called his girlfriend, Laura, to give her the update. I know if she could have gotten away from work that she would have been there. She asked if she could call me during the day instead of bothering Greg, of course I had no problem with that. I explored the surrounding area, took a few photos, enjoyed the sunshine and thought about the fact that the next time I would see Greg he would have run 10 miles more than a marathon. I still couldn’t believe he was attempting 100 miles. As I pulled away, I noticed some of the course markings and saw some runners. I rolled down my window and offered encouraging words. Then I caught a glimpse of my brothers back and beeped for him! He turned and caught a glimpse of me as I drove by! I only hoped he realized it was me!

So far the driving directions in the runners’ packet had not let me down… until now. When I got off at the exit the Left/Right directions didn’t agree with the East/West directions. I followed my instincts and the GPS, but decided to pull over and really take a look. Just like the lady had told me there was plenty of food and shopping. The bad directions turned out to be a happy accident! I spotted a Target and pulled into the lot. I looked over the directions and determined that I was going the right way, but with so much time why not kill it with some shopping. I walked around a bit and found a fold up camp chair. I didn’t find anything else. Little did I know at that time how important the chair would actually become. I left there with plenty of time to make sure I found the next Aid Station in case I was wrong about my direction and had to turn around, but all was good.

Due to the fact that the runners would pass through Station Road Bridge Aid Station twice, the set up was larger and there were more people here than at the other stations. There was, as the title implies, train tracks and a station. I went to say hi to the girls and see what was around. I took some pictures and decided it was time for me to eat lunch. The chair was already going to pay off.

I had to unpack the trunk for the first time. I took the chair and the towel over and found a spot near one of the familiar faces. Jan was taking care of her husband. This is where I learned about Dura Glide and wished I had some to offer Greg. She had also gained a partner, her cousin, who lived in the area. I thought how nice it must have been to have someone to keep her company and help with all the stuff.

I went back for the bag and also wrote the next message on the board: “Believe…You are stronger than you know!” I liked that one. I went thru the bag to make sure I had everything and took it over. I waited a bit longer to get the cooler. It was very warm out and I didn’t want the ice to melt too fast. I called him to find out approximately where he was. He said he had purposely slowed down and would still be about 45min to an hour away. I hoped he hadn’t worn himself out this morning, but the heat was also a factor I’m sure. So, I waited, anxiously.

I remembered we both packed a bandana and I checked to make sure I had one. We could wrap up some ice cubes in it and tie it around his neck. I thought about the things I brought to keep me busy, but couldn’t seem to wrap my brain around any of them. I was too consumed with seeing him run across the short bridge that led to the many Volunteers waiting to help in any way they could. Although I tried to make conversation with a few people, I couldn’t stop thinking about Greg. I was now realizing exactly why he wanted me to be there. Not only to lug around his all-important supplies, but just simply to be there with a smile on my face and to offer encouraging words and support.

It was time to get the cooler. Now that everything was here I got organized. I brought along some beef jerky (one of my favorites). It’s packed with protein. I thought I’d offer it to him. I laid everything out so he could see it and then went to the end of the bridge and waited. I paced for a bit, but finally he came around the bend and across the bridge.

I was relieved to see that he still looked good and was still in high spirits. One of the volunteers filled his bottle and we headed for my spot. He was pleased to see the chair and asked where it came from. He told me that he walked a lot of the last section. He took off his shoes and socks and said he was feeling a hot spot on the ball of his right foot. He thought about putting some duck tape on it but then changed his mind and put on a fresh pair of socks. He drank an Ensure, ate a piece of beef jerky (which was too dry for him) and brushed his teeth at the recommendation of a fellow blogger. All who witnessed were quite amused. I suggested the bandana with ice and he was all about it. As I got that ready he reapplied some Vaseline. We got the bandana on and he was ready to go. I reminded him that the loop was 7 miles and made sure he read the board again before setting out. “Believe…you are stronger than you know!” I gave him a kiss and sent him on his way.

So now what do I do? I had a good parking spot so I didn’t want to leave (plus I didn’t want to carry the heavy cooler too many times), and it should only be about 1hr and 45 min until he gets back. So, I sat, enjoyed the company I was with, and pondered how my brother was feeling after almost 37 miles and around 8 hours on his feet.

Before long, Jan was off to the next stop and so was the other lady, who I wouldn’t see again. I decided to move to the shade. Then went over to the bathroom where I was told that they had been waiting for at least 15 minutes for the guy to finish cleaning it. I waited with them for what had to be another 10 minutes when a man finally emerged. Didn’t he now that there was a race going on? What if a female runner had come thru and needed to go, bad? [I expect she’d have just shrugged and popped a squat in the woods next door!] It was very strange, but at least we knew it was clean.

I went to the car and got my Sudoku book hoping that it would help pass the time. It did, but my mind was so occupied with Greg that I only got about ½ a puzzle done. I kept having to go over and check the bridge. I didn’t want to miss his entrance. I finally came up with the next board message: “May the wind be at your back!” I made a couple of new acquaintances as I continued to wait. I also called everyone to give them the update. I was having trouble with reception and had to keep very still while on the phone. I asked Laura to think of a message to put on the board for him for the next stop and would put her picture with it for him to see. I checked the list of aid stations to see how far the next one was for us. It was just over 3 miles. Good, a short one!

I went back over to the bridge. The sun was hot. My phone beeped to tell me I had a message. It was Greg! I must have been in a dead zone! I hoped it wasn’t too important… He wanted me to get some aspirin from the car. I didn’t quite hear the entire message, but I took off running to the car. I guessed that he wasn’t too far away so I wanted to hurry. The only meds I had was a small bottle of mixed pills, but I could at least give him some Tylenol. I ran back over with it and went to check the bridge. Since he was asking for meds I figured he was hurting. I hoped it wasn’t serious. I kept thinking: Let’s go Greg! Let’s go Greg! I thought maybe he would get the good vibes from me. I went back and forth between the chair and the end of the bridge. Now I was a bit worried. Back and forth, back and forth. I was not born with very much patience.

Finally, he came around the bend. Woo Hoo!! Come on Greg! I was relieved too see him and I think vice versa. A volunteer quickly asked if he could fill his bottle. Then we went to get him replenished at my spot. I told him about the pills and apparently I misunderstood what the message said. He had brought along his own bottle of aspirin. So, I quickly took off for the car again. When I got back he was tending to his foot… not sure whether to put the duck tape on or not. Again, he decided to simply change his socks and hope for the best. This would have been the time for some of the DuraGlide stuff.

By this time, he had a pretty steady running mate. Later I learned his name was Sean. He had told his Crew that Greg brushed his teeth at the last stop and when they saw him, made a comment about it. We all got to smile about it again.

After 43 miles he finally began to show some signs he was tired. I changed the ice in his bandana and asked what else I could do for him. “Do you want to change your shirt? Do you need to go to the bathroom?” He drank another Ensure. I made sure he had enough gels and reassured him that he was in good shape. I also told him that the next leg would be a piece of cake at just over 3 miles. After the heat of the day he really seemed to enjoy the shade and the chair to relax in for a few minutes. I was torn between letting him relax and getting him back on his feet… if he sat for too long he might not want to get back up. Again, I told him it would be a short run to Ottawa Point. “Just over 3 miles till I see you again. May the wind be at your back!! See you soon!”

I went over and met Amy, who I assumed to be Sean’s wife or at least girlfriend. [She was his girlfriend, but I’d learned that Sean had a little surprise brewing that might change that.] I told her I would see her in a few. I got packed quickly because I only had about an hour. The cooler was heavy and I debated draining some of the water, but if I could get thru the next stop I could drain it there, then go and get more ice.

As the trend has been, the first face I saw at Ottawa Point was Jan’s. She was showing some wear. I asked her if she had eaten yet today and she said that’s where they were headed next. We discussed getting some coffee and where to get it. She also told me that her hubby got off track, 20min out and back. I hoped that Greg and Sean wouldn’t make the same wrong turn.

I got a text from Laura for the board and got it ready. “Lookin’ good Angel Pants! Love you!” And then put a picture of them together on there for him to see. By this time the girls were also interested in the messages and they thought it was so nice that I brought a picture of Laura. Amy was there too with her other Crew members. Sean had quite a support team. I remember Amy got a call and was giving some directions. I got nervous that the boys had gotten off track, but she was talking to someone else. Whew!

Before long, Jan packed up. Her husband, although he got off track, was still far enough ahead of Greg that he was gone before I got there. I moved into the shade and waited. I knew it wouldn’t be long. Greg and Sean came around the trail. He was happy to see the message from Laura and asked where I got the picture. I was happy to see that that made a difference to him. He was looking a bit more tired now, but still in good spirits.

He actually sat in the grass this time because he wanted to pour some H2O on his head without getting too wet. I knew I wouldn’t see him for another 10 miles and it was about dinner time, so I reminded him to eat some food. I also replenished the bandana yet again, and to keep it cold I put it in the cooler. Once he was ready to go he went over to see what they were to providing to eat. He got some pizza and began to head off. I shouted “may the wind be at your back brother. You can do this!” Then I remembered that the bandana was still in the cooler. I yelled at him to see if he wanted it. He had turned around to come and get it when a volunteer ran up and took it to him so he didn’t have to come all the way back for it. When she came back she said “It must have been pretty important for him to turn around and since you didn’t have on your running shoes I thought I could help.” I’m glad she did.

I dumped all the water out of the cooler and got packed. We wouldn’t see each other for another 10 miles. He would be past the ½ way point when he arrived at Boston store. It was a big hurdle to jump, but I knew he would get there. It would be another 3-hour lull for me. Amy invited me to go with them to eat dinner. I told her that I needed to get some supplies, but that I would try to meet up with them. It was very nice of her to offer. I, however, really wanted to find a place to get refreshed and buy a few things. I went back to the Target area and got some ice, then went to the Giant Eagle. I completely reorganized the car because through the day it had gotten so jumbled up that I was having trouble finding things. Then I went in to refresh myself and change my shirt. I bought some water, Wet Ones, frappuccinos for me to put in the cooler, and aloe. I spent so much time worrying about my brother that I neglected to put sunscreen on myself and the result was a slight sunburn on my shoulders. Oh, well.

Next was Boston Store, another aid station that he would see twice. For the first time today, I didn’t see Jan first. Instead, it was Amy. I waved hello and went to park. As I was walking over with my chair I saw a runner trying to balance himself on a large pipe to put on his shoes. When I offered my chair for him to use he gave me a look of such excitement that you would think he’d just won the lottery. I was so glad I could help.

I picked out a place to set up camp (I knew I would be there for a while), and began to lug all the stuff out of the car again. I realized I hadn’t eaten dinner yet and now would be the best time for it. After that I went over and found Jan. She said her husband was still doing well and that he had been through once already. My pacing began shortly after that. Laura had given me another message that I was happy to put up: “Yea babe! Over ½ way there. Keep it up!”

I saw Sean run in and Amy and the gang took care of him, but still no Greg. It was taking him longer than I thought it should. I waited and waited. Amy came over to talk to me. She asked if Greg had a Pacer lined up for the end of the race. When I told her no, she asked if he would want one. Without any hesitation I said YES! But how do we get one? She went and made some phone calls and came back with a person on the line who was a volunteer Pacer. Her name was Michelle and she told me she was headed to Boston Store. I got her number and told her what I was wearing so she could find me. She told me we could work things out further once she got there. Wow! Thank goodness for making friends! And thank goodness for their support! Amy, if you are reading this you are a savior! J How exciting to know that he was going to get a running buddy! Now, if he would just get here.

When I finally saw him, he wasn’t moving very well. He had called earlier to ask if the volunteer podiatrists were at this stop because his foot was hurting. I told him the good news about the pacer, but he was occupied with his foot. So, once he took off his shoes, he went over to get checked out. While he was in the podiatry tent, Michelle found me. I was so relieved to have her there and I told her that, several times. She introduced me to her friend, Mike, who is also a runner. This was great! I had more confidence now that Greg would make it.

They put some mole skin on the spot that was hurting him to try and pad it and did the same to the other foot as a preventative measure. It seemed to take them forever. When he was done, I introduced him to his new running mate and we proceeded to get him ready for the road again. [Michelle’s plan was to go catch some food and some sleep and then join me at mile 80 to pace me in the last 20 miles.] There was finally some hot food here, so we got him some Ramen noodles. They were so hot I had to put some ice in it to keep him from burning himself. His shoulders were tired, so I rubbed them for a minute. His head lamp would be important because sunset wasn’t too far away. The next leg was a 4.6 mile loop. With any luck the new pads and the reassurance of a pacer for later would help him get moving.

It should only take him about an hour and 15min to make the loop. I talked with Michelle a bit more about how he was doing and she and her friend Mike made the decision that Mike would begin to run with Greg when he got back here. [That would be at the 60.6 mile mark, the earliest point that runners were allowed to have pacers.] So, they left to go get what they needed to run. Mike had basically just signed on to run the next 20 miles like it was another day in the park and Michelle would run the final 20. Again… What a Godsend.

I saw Jan and her husband was with her. I went over to say hi and encourage him. Jan offered me the extra baked potatoes they had. I put them in a cup and hoped they would stay warm till Greg got back. I had scored again for my brother due to some wonderful people. Thank you Jan!

He hadn’t been gone long when my phone rang. He was in a slight panic because he hadn’t seen a marker for a while and thought he made a wrong turn. I ran to the car to get the packet that had the directions in it. My heart was beating so fast I had trouble and fumbled thru the pages. I found the page and started reading and he followed along trying to remember what he had done. I told him to just keep moving and that maybe he would see a marker soon. He had done all of the directions correctly and before long he saw a marker in the distance. Whew! Again I reassured him that he was doing good and to just keep moving and he would be back before he knew it.

THE CALVARY (Wait, We Have a Calvary?)
At this point, it was the first time in the day that I was not with a familiar face. The time passed slowly. Night was looming. All the people who were once there were slowly disappearing. [Alas! The worst thing about me slowing down was I couldn’t keep up with all the runners that her new friends were crewing for!]

I was set up next to the tent with all the Drop bags. I couldn’t help but offer encouraging words to all the runners using them. The first-time volunteer that was manning the bags really seemed to make a difference to those runners too. He was conscious and attentive and never showed signs of being a rookie.

I waited. I paced impatiently. I hoped that his feet were feeling better and I wondered how night fall was affecting his mood. Then I began to have irrational thoughts. Were Mike and Michelle serious about running with my brother, or did they show up and meet me, think I was crazy, then simply leave never to return?! It was past time for Greg to be here. Did his feet get so bad that he couldn’t make it? Not only did I inherit impatience, but I am also a worry wart. [See Mom? Didn’t fall far from the tree!]

Just when I was truly beginning to think Michelle and Mike were not coming back, they showed up; ready for battle! This was a huge relief! And what timing! Here comes Greg! As they refilled his bottle, I introduced him to Mike and told him he wouldn’t be alone anymore. Although he didn’t show much excitement, I knew he was relieved.

We went over to get him some supplies, which finally included changing his shirt. He brought a bright yellow shirt that read: “I am not talented, but I am stubborn.” I beg to differ on the talented part. [I inscribed that shirt myself. Let this serve as my copyright.] Once he changed he got a serious chill. I told him to put on his compression shirt under the yellow one to keep warm and gave him a big hug. “Take a few deep breaths.” He also ate some of the potatoes that Jan provided. After a couple of minutes he was ready to move on. Before he left, I made him read the board: “With every mile is another smile!” By this point he had already run for a longer time than he ever had before, and in a few miles he would be farther than he had ever run before. I shouted to him as he and Mike began the next 10 miles: “May the wind be at your back! You can do this! Love you!” And they disappeared into the night.

You can see he's tired. Look how happy Mike is!

Ready To Go Again!

I took a deep breath. Michelle, God bless her, helped me carry everything to the car. She also told me that there were only porta potties at the next stop. So we both used the bathroom. Then, because I couldn’t find my directions, she led me to the next aid station, Happy Days.

As we pulled in, guess who was the first face: Jan. She was sitting right next to where the runners were coming in. Once we parked, we walked over to talk to her. Before long, I decided to try for some shut eye. I knew it would be at least 3 hours before Greg arrived, so I gave myself about 45 minutes. Again, I didn’t really sleep, but at least closing my eyes was a good thing. When I got up, I reorganized the car again. I drank a frappuccino to wake me up and boy did it! I was raring to go. I went back over to where Jan and Michelle were sitting, but no Jan. She was over with her hubby getting him refueled. I walked over to see if I could help. Once he got back on the trail, I did help her pack her stuff. We told each other good luck and I hoped I would see her again.

After Jan left, I spotted Amy. She too was packing up to leave. Sean’s Pacer had sped him up so much that Amy said they weren’t ready for him when he arrived. I knew somehow that I might not see her again so I asked for a picture with her. I wanted to remember the woman who was instrumental in getting Greg as far as he did. I gave her a million thanks and they were on their way.

The parking lot we were in had been lit to this point, but I guess it was around midnight now and the lights went out. It was time for my headlamp. Michelle had gone to take a nap and get refreshed. Most of the cars were gone, so I moved mine closer. I thought it might be time for parental support, so the next message for the board was: “We love you! Mom and Dad”. I put the chair out behind the car and sat the board in it. Michelle was up. She came over and she was ready to run. I asked her if she wanted some bug repellent (natural stuff) and she did use some. She also put in new contacts. One of which she lost to the grass. Oops! Luckily she had an extra.

I was more anxious now than I was all day and I couldn’t sit. It was so nice to have someone to keep me company. Phone!! It was Greg! He didn’t sound good, but I hoped he was just tired. He told me he was hurting and barely walking. I guess the blisters were getting to be too much. He also said that his knees were bothering him and asked us to get some ice ready for him. The hardest thing to hear him say was that he felt he would be done when he got to us. He just didn’t have any gas left in the tank. He said that they had about 2 miles to go and that he felt like it would take them at least an hour if not more. [Unfortunately, I wasn’t really exaggerating.] I could tell that it was simply physical reasons that he may not carry on because he was still in a positive mood. He also told me that a group of 3 runners just passed them. I told him to hang in there and to keep moving and he would be here soon.

As soon as we hung up Michelle and I began to calculate how long it had taken him to get where he was and then how much longer till he reached us. From what we guessed he was still at a pace to be able make cut off times. So, being hopeful that he would continue, we got ice bags ready, she got out her bio freeze, we scoped out the food and I thanked God, Amy, Michelle, and Mike again for supporting us. I decided not to bring the chair too close because there was a substantial rail he could sit on. If he asked for it, I knew he was done.

As more runners came in I asked if they had seen Greg and Mike. One of them told me that he was laying down when they passed him. When I heard that, I really worried and I knew he would be done. I called Laura and told her to call him because she would be able to offer him some support. When she called me back, she said that he had never complained about pain before and he was complaining now. She also said that she got the feeling he wouldn’t be able to go on.

Michelle got out her headlamp that changed to red and whenever we saw headlights emerge from the tree line about 200 yards away, she would run out to see who it was. She told me when it was Greg and Mike, she’d turn on the red light so I would know. There were several groups that came through. The minutes began to go by like hours. I just couldn’t wait to get to him. I felt like going out into the woods to find him, but if he did want to continue, I didn’t want to get him disqualified [for providing aid outside of a designated Aid Station]. The cut off time was looming. I kept checking my watch and staring at the blackness of the tree line. Come on, baby, come on. You can do it!

We saw headlamps again and Michelle took off. She turned on the red light and I began to cheer him in. He still had enough in the tank to jog it in. It was 1:30am. He had beaten the cutoff time by 20min. I lead him over to the aid tent and got out the ice. His first question was “Where is the chair?” I knew that was it. He had succumbed – but not before he set 2 PRs: 20 and ½ hours of running, and just over 70 miles! What an accomplishment! I got the chair and he put his feet up on the rail and laid the ice on his knees. I showed him the board with Mom and Dad. It seemed appropriate that they would be on the last one of the day. We got him some meatballs and some ramen noodles. I asked if he wanted to continue and he said no. He also told me that he would have stopped at the last aid station if I hadn’t been waiting and Mike hadn’t been with him. I went over and told the aid station captain that he was done then pulled the car over.

I took a few pictures of Greg with Mike and Michelle. Then it was time to get him to the Hotel. I thanked Michelle and told her I was sorry she didn’t get her turn to run with him, but having her with me put me at ease. There were hugs all around and well wishes. How awesome.

I laid the seat back and he got in. He was sooo tired. Because my mind was just on taking care of him, I forgot to reset the GPS, so I was guessing directions to get us to the highway. I guessed correctly and it turned out that we were only about 15 minutes from the hotel. I wasn’t sure how hard it would be for him to get back out of the car, but before he could try he began to thank me. His breaths got deep. I looked at him and told him how proud I was. The day had been long and it was quite a journey, more for him than me, but we stuck it out together. We squeezed each others hand and both fought off the welling up emotions. For him I think they were mixed: the exhaustion, some disappointment, and the mere fact that he accomplished what he did. He, too, should be proud.
Although I wanted to let the emotions go, I also wanted to get him to bed. He still needed to take his ice bath, so I wanted to get moving. Even though he was done running I was not done being his Crew. He got out and I grabbed the cooler. We went up to the room and drew him a cold bath. I helped him peel off his shoes and socks. He told me it was good practice for later in life when I’ll have to do it for my husband. He peeled off the mole skin pads to reveal some yucky blisters while I went and got ice. I stayed long enough to make sure he could reach the cooler then went to unload the car one more time.

When I returned after the 2nd trip to the car he was out of the bath. Only wrapped in towels he laid down on the bed. I asked what clothes he wanted from his bag and told him the only thing I wasn’t willing to do for him was put his undies on for him. I pulled out what he needed and excused myself so he could dress. When I came back he needed help with the compression sleeves for his calves. Those things were tight on my arms so you can imagine the difficulty we had getting them safely over his tender blisters.

We discussed getting down to the finish line in the morning so he could get his feet tended to and so we could get our provided breakfast, and that was it. He was ready to sleep. Then he got the chills. I’m sure it had something to do with the ice bath, so I covered him up with the blankets and turned off the air.

Once I had him tucked in and he was on the verge of dropping off into oblivion he said to me, and I quote: “I’m glad you were born. You’re a good sister.” This was at precisely 2:53am on 8/2/09. At that point, I new just how exhausted he was. I, of course, was very pleased that I had lived up to his expectations for this event. My goal all day was to make sure he was happy and had what he needed. When I heard that come out of his mouth I felt like I had done my job. Woo Hoo!

Naturally, at the point of my exhaustion, I could not fall asleep. I decided to text my parents to let them know that he was done running rather than call and wake them up. I turned on the TV. Then I heard “can we check the score of the Braves game?” He had not yet totally fallen asleep either. The last thing I remember is the clock saying something around 3:45am and I fell asleep trying to find out if his Braves had won.

RING!! RING!! RING!! I shot up out of bed. My phone was ringing. I hit the side button to turn it off so as not to disturb my sleeping brother any more and found it to be my Mother in a panic. She, of course, did not see the text message I sent them and when she got up at 6:30am and checked the race website, it showed that Greg was still running at Happy Days and had not yet reached the next aid station. It seemed that his status had not been updated to show the DNF so she thought something was wrong. I told her that he was sleeping peacefully beside me and that we’d call her back later. I noticed how hot it had gotten and pulled back a layer of his blankets. The phone had woken him enough to notice this and he said thank you.

The alarm went off at 9. We had gotten an extension on our checkout time so we decided to pack the cars after going to the Finish line. He was moving alright for someone who had just run almost 3 marathons at one time, but thank goodness for elevators!

As we pulled in, the final finishers were just crossing the line with 10 minutes to spare. That was awesome! While he got his feet fixed, I went to see if there was any food left. The service was dwindling down, but I didn’t want to eat without him. I spotted Amy and Sean across the room and went to see if he had finished. Yes! He finished in style and gained a fiancĂ© at the same time! Now that’s cool. Congratulations you two! [Told you he had a little surprise in the works!]

They headed for the medal ceremony and I went to check on Greg. The volunteer podiatrists were still mopping up the stuff that was coming out of his blisters. The girl said it was bad. They wrapped him up good and sent him on his way. I told him that Sean and Amy were engaged and over at the ceremony. He went to find them and I went and got him some pancakes. When I returned they were all smiles. It was great to see them there and know that Sean had finished. I wished Jan and her husband had been there too. The website said he finished so I assume they went to begin his recovery process. It was great to have her around all day.

Greg and Sean exchanged info and we got on our way after seeing his medal. We went back to the hotel and packed. We went through my car to make sure everything had been split up properly and went to go get some breakfast at… Bob Evans! There was a wait, seeing as it was lunch time on a Sunday, but it was well worth it! We did some catching up because, up to that point, we hadn’t had much time for it.

Afterward, he wanted to see if he could find some sandals that would be easy to put on over his blisters, so we went across the street to the Wal-Mart. When I pulled in behind him, he was clearing out several buggies that were in the way. Even though he was worn out from running 70 miles the day before, he still had enough energy to be a good citizen and put buggies where they belong.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find him any sandals, but what I found over the weekend was a new respect for my brother. I never have quite understood why he was so into running. Now, after spending this time helping him, I can see the challenge of the run and the determination it requires, not only to start the race, but to keep going through it. I can see how the journey of the run, no matter how short or long, is more important than finishing. I see the excitement at the start, the satisfaction you get from reaching new goals and the reward of reaching them. Best of all for me was the camaraderie. If it hadn’t been for the people around Greg and me all day, we wouldn’t have gotten to where we did. The whole of it draws you in and creates an experience that is hard to forget.

I am so happy to have been a part of this journey with you Greg. I can only hope that my presence was useful and helped add to your journey. [It absolutely did, Sis!] God bless you!

Ironically, on my drive home I heard a song that summed it up just right:
[I’m gonna try to ignore the name of the singer and just appreciate the content of the lyrics!]

by Miley Cyrus

The struggles I’m facing
The chances I’m taking
Sometimes might knock me down but
No I’m not breaking
I may not know it
But these are the moments that
I’m gonna remember most, yeah
Just gotta keep going
And I, I gotta be strong
Just keep pushing on, cause
There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose
Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what waiting on the other side
It's the climb.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Race Report: BR100 part 4

At Happy Days, I was surprised to find that Heather had not been by herself through the night. Instead of going back to a hotel bed to get her sleep, Michelle had opted to get to the next aid station with my sister and catch her forty winks in her car while they waited on me. She and Heather had been trying to keep track of my progress and when I called ahead, two miles out of the station, they both started to get really antsy.

Several runners passed me in those last 5 miles and one of them reported to the girls that I had been lying on my back on the ground when they saw me. They both started doing a lot of quick math in their heads. I still might get to Happy Days ahead of the cutoff, and then they’d have to see if they could patch me up enough to keep me going and take a shot at the next station 4.8 miles further down the trail.

They were trying to figure if there was any way I could possibly get to mile 75. However, I was just trying to figure if there was any way I could possibly get to mile 70. I found I was only able to keep going forward for two reasons: Heather was waiting for me at Happy Days, and Mike.

When I completed the Boston Store Loop, darkness had just begun to set in, and I was still losing time to the cutoffs
(I was down to 1hr, 40min). The mole skin padding the podiatrist had glued on had helped a little, but by the end of the loop, every step burned with pain. I’d only been able to average a gentle walking pace on the loop.

Heather greeted my arrival with excellent news, though. She very excitedly informed me that Michelle’s friend Mike had decided to run with me from mile 60 until we met up with Michelle at mile 81, where they would trade off. He’d never paced anybody before, but wasn’t committed to running with anyone else, and rather than sit around with nothing to do, I think Michelle convinced him to head out with me.

They called Heather while I was out on the loop to let her know they were coming back so Mike could join me when I returned to Boston. Apparently, they arrived only a few minutes before I pulled in, dressed and ready to go. I was really happy to have some company. Truly, an unexpected gift. It says something about a person that they are willing to give up a weekend and run around in the woods with a complete stranger for 20 miles in the dark, and not get anything for it except some aid station food and an earnest “thank you.” I was to be the beneficiary of an uncommon kindness, not once but twice.

I had one bit of business to tend to before I was ready to leave Boston again. It was time for a wardrobe change. On Thursday before the race, I went out and bought myself a plain, yellow tech shirt. When I got home I pulled out a fresh black Sharpie and set about inscribing the front with a motto I’d come up with for myself as I considered the race in the weeks before: “I AM NOT TALENTED, BUT I AM STUBBORN.” Once I thought of it, I just felt really connected to that sentiment. I planned to save the shirt until the wee hours of the morning, pull it out when I really needed it, and wear it all the way to the finish line. It was earlier than I thought it would be in the race, but I needed it. I was thinking like this was my Superman suit and it was time to try ducking into the phone booth.

After that I was ready to go, and Mike and I got started. I apologized to Mike right at the start, telling him I knew he’d signed up to go for a little run, but the best I could offer him right then was maybe a brisk walk through the woods. We wouldn’t be moving along very fast, but we’d be moving.

I quickly found out that Mike had long been a runner, but he’d never done more that 8 miles at a pop until this year. He’d quickly gotten hooked on distance running, though, and was already making plans to do multiple marathons and ultras in the coming year. It also turned out, just a few weeks before, he’d run his only ultra on the very portion of the Burning River course that we were currently on.

He had bad news for me, though. A piece of this next 4 mile leg was littered with twisty, toe-stubbing tree roots. Once we got there it was even worse than I expected. There were no flat spots in the trail big enough to put my foot down into. Every step was into a nest of pine tree roots. Every couple of yards I was, literally, wincing and seizing my breath with pain as I inadvertently placed my blistered foot directly down onto a protruding root. It was like walking on a pit of spear tips.

That extra struggle zapped me of far more energy that I ever expected. I must have been running a little clinched for awhile already, especially once I started my Boston Store loop. The pain in my feet was making every part of me tight, as I gritted my teeth more and more and tried to run through the mounting irritation. It all had grown up so gradually that I hadn’t even noticed. I must have unconsciously adjusted my stride and my footfall as well, because I began to feel hot spots on both my heels, and I’ve never ever had any inkling of trouble with blisters on my heels before. The problems were mounting very quickly.

My pace slowed yet again to nearly 23 minutes per mile, and I found myself apologizing to Mike more than once for the lazy forward tempo. I fear my verbal output slowly began to resemble a stream-of-consciousness catalog of my worries and aches and pains. I hope that I sounded coherent, but suspect at times I did not.

Mike, though, was never fazed. If he was ever bored, concerned, annoyed or overly worried about me, he never showed it. We talked about most of the usual topics, running, races, work, school, girlfriends, more running, work, and so on. He graciously took my advice on a number of running and relationship topics. He laughed when I told him to just take one look at me for some anti-advice on the proper way to finish a 100-miler, and he wisely kept both of us talking at a steady, gentle clip so as to while away the hours.

By the time we reached Pine Lane Aid Station (Mile 64.7), I had officially run farther than I had ever run before. Other than that, though, the news wasn’t great. My legs and my knees were stiff and more swollen than I’d ever felt them. I felt like there were knives embed in the sole and heel of my right shoe and the left wasn’t too far behind. And I’d lost almost another half hour to the cutoffs. The toll it took on me to absorb the shocks of pain running up through my body with every footfall on the trail was more surprising that it should have been.

I leaned on a chair for a minute, but we managed not to linger at Pine Lane for too long before we headed out again. We were only 100 yards down the trail, though, when I suddenly came to a complete halt. All day long, no matter how I’d been doing, one simple given had been driving me forward. I was going to finish the race. I didn’t have to go fast, I just had to keep going. Through the speedy start, through the heat of the midday, on the monotonous Tow Path and the little mountain climbs, and even on blistering feet, I was just going to keep going. All I had to do was keep my legs moving and somehow I’d get there.

Just beyond Pine Lane AS, some 65 miles and 18 hours into my day, for whatever reason, something intangible just clicked. Deep down in the darkest and most stubborn parts of myself, I simply laid down my burden. I wasn’t going to finish, and it was okay, I didn’t mind. I just wanted the mercy of stopping, of sitting down and not needing to get up again for a very long time.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t just stop on the trail, I also turned my body around so it faced back off in the direction we’d just come from. I could just walk back, tell the station chief I was dropping, and then wait for a ride out. Mike waited for me silently – at least I don’t remember him saying anything. If for some crazy reason he had decided to hug me at that moment, I think something else in me would have released and I would have started sobbing with my exhaustion.
(What a strange sight that would have been to come upon.) I think the entirety of my pause lasted 10 or 15 seconds, me slumped over, my hands on my knees… And then the other voice in my gut gently took over again and I turned and began moving forward on the trail again.

If Mike hadn’t been with me and I’d been alone, or if Heather had been at that Aid Station, I believe I’d have quit right then. I would have gone back. I would have given into the second voice. Instead, I never thought about going backwards again, and we pushed forward to Happy Days.

I’d like to say that the little revival of my spirits inspired a revival of my body as well, but that would be far from the truth. The bulk of the next 5.6 miles was on paved roads and paved bike paths, but the weary, burning wobble in my steps had progressed to the point that, at times, it was difficult for me to walk in a straight line. I eventually became so desperate to relieve the pressure of gravity from the bottom of my feet that on three different occasions, I did, indeed, stop to lie down on the ground. The problem was, even though I didn’t stay down too long, my legs grew stiff and throbbing and painful every time I stopped, such that the pain of stopping began to rival the pain of going.

Throughout it all, Mike remained the picture of encouragement and steady optimism, and without overdoing the sunny cheerleading. (Heather must have passed along my basic instructions.) I like to think that I impressed him in one way at least: I never lost my sense of humor. I never got angry or depressed. I never set off on an emotional rollercoaster. Even when I was lying on my back on the ground in pain, I was still cracking jokes with him and making him laugh with me.

I did though, keep talking about the time. About how far we must have come, how far we had to go, how long it might take us to get there and how that might play out in relation to the cutoffs. He listened to me talk about it over and over, until finally he said: “I think I’m going to take that watch away from you. All we need to worry about is getting to the next station, forget about the clock.” I understood his point very well, but there was something I needed to explain to him: “It’s a little like being stuck in a traffic jam – you look ahead of you and there’s no end in sight; it feels like you’re never going to get there. But if you turn around and look behind, you can see all the cars that are stuck behind you and how much ground you’ve covered that they haven’t. So long as I can see the time, and see that we have covered a lot of ground, that we are covering ground, then the next station will keep feeling like it’s getting closer, and I’ll be able to keep moving.” I don’t know if he believed me, but he didn’t argue.

I also started to tell him that, unless something dramatic changed soon, I didn’t think I’d be continuing on after Happy Days. And every time I said it, Mike gave the best answer: “Let’s just get you to the next aid station, ice you down, give you a break and then see how you’re feeling.” He never got upset with me. He never lost his patience. He never came out from under his calm demeanor. Whether he really did or not, he absolutely made me believe that he believed we’d be able to take a shot at moving on beyond Happy Days. If you ever find yourself being paced by this guy in the middle of the night somewhere, consider yourself lucky.

What it all really boiled down to was this: A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations. I’d simply found mine on that day – and had already pushed myself about 5 miles beyond them. I wasn’t going to be able to move fast enough to stay ahead of the next cutoff, and it was nearly 5 more miles to Pine Hollow, the next aid station at mile 75.1. It might take me another 2.5 hours to get that much further. The whole aid station crew might have been closed up and gone by that point. There was just no need. Now it really was time to lay down the burden.

It was Michelle that jogged out to greet us when Mike and I emerged from the trees. She and Mike both paced me in that final 100 yards to the aid station tent, and I did, indeed, muster a wobbly trot as a symbolic guesture as I crossed what would be my own, personal finish line at the 70.3 mile point.

Heather was waiting for me there. The three of them knew it might be over, but they were still moving around to prep me to go back out again. I gave Heather a hug, asked for the chair, and then officially let them all off the hook. “That’s it. I’m done.” And I sat down while a wave of joy and contentment washed over me. I have never been so satisfied with a failure in all my life.

I came to understand two things in the following day: It was the right thing to stop. The blisters were really bad, and they were very deep beneath the thickened skin on the bottom of my foot. They were, for me, an unforeseen complication, and being ignorant to the problem before the race, there was little I could do about them. In my relatively untrained state, I cannot say with complete certainty that I would have finished, but I do believe I would have gotten to mile 80 or 85, and after that, anything may have been possible.

The other thing was the way in which half a dozen people voluntarily took it upon themselves to be responsible for me, my sister, my race and my well being, most of them having been complete strangers before that weekend. Sean and Amy, who befriended us, asked my sister to join them for dinner between aid stations and then summoned a pacer for me in the night. Mike and Michelle who volunteered to run miles and miles with a man they’d never met, and then both lost sleep on the trail with me or sitting company with my sister in the dark while she waited nervously.
(I should mention that neither of them left the Happy Days station until I was in the car with Heather on the way out. Another runner had passed through just before me, running alone in the night. I encouraged Michelle to head off after her and help her through, but Michelle insisted that I was still “her runner” and she didn’t plan on going anywhere until she was sure I was taken care of. Only after I was done and gone did she head out to catch up to that other runner.)

And most of all, my sister, who is, after all, my sister and perhaps on some level is obligated to help her big brother out in these ways when she can, but who nevertheless, didn’t hesitated once in any way, never gave me any friction, never complained about boredom, or all the waiting, and couldn’t have been a better support system for me through 70 miles, 20.5 hours, and beyond. Once I’d thrown in the towel, she drove us back to the hotel in the middle of the night, hauled all our bags back upstairs, fetched buckets of ice for me, even helped me into bed and tucked me in before I passed out. I could scarcely believe that I had ever entertained the notion that I would just come and run 100 miles alone. I absolutely COULD NOT have covered the distance that I did without all those friends I made, and certainly not without my sister.

Heather and I crawled out of bed the next morning just in time to head back to do the finish line to see the podiatrists one more time. As we drove into the finish area, just minutes before the final cutoff at 11:00am, we saw the last runner in the race crossing the street and heading to her finish line. Others were huddled and hobbling around the finish area, waiting for the awards ceremony to begin. (ALL of the finishers received their medals one at a time at the ceremony.)

I plopped down in an open chair at the podiatry tent and waited my turn. I felt a little strange there in the tent with several finishers, kind of like they deserved attention before me. A woman across from me looked really bad. I couldn’t tell, but it looked as though her pinky toe had somehow been sliced in half length-wise and was dangling by a piece of skin. I am NOT exaggerating.

When my turn came up, two of the volunteers set about snipping my blisters open and draining the fluid. Two on my right heel and then the massive one under the ball. It was as big as an old half-dollar coin, more than a third of the width of my whole foot. And it was very deep under the surface of my skin. It took the volunteer several minutes to finally make a cut with her scissor deep enough to reach the fluid and allow it to drain. Then, as she watched the volume of fluid escaping, she told me she had seen ER patients with puss-filled infections that hadn’t drained as much fluid as my blister did.
(Just in case any of you still thought I was just being a wimp.) They also looked at the ball of my left foot and decided nothing was there, but it, too, was revealed the next day when it began to work its way to the surface. It was nickel-sized. That’s how deep each of the blisters had formed.
Heather went to fetch a little bit of food for us from the post-race brunch. She returned with other news, too: some of our new friends were settled on the edge of the awards pavilion. After I was bandaged and taped and said my thanks to the volunteers, we made our way down to say good morning to Amy and Sean. Amy was wearing a new ring on her finger.

“I heard that questions were asked and affirmations were uttered,” I said to them both with a big smile on my face. We all shook hands and I took a gander at that stand-in ring on Amy’s finger. Sean had finished the race after 28.5 hours, and, hand-in-hand with Amy and all the friends who come to help crew, they crossed the finish line. Shortly afterwards, he took a knee, produced the ring and popped his question. They sat now, both of them ginning and weary, trading with me the stories about how the rest of our nights had gone. (Sean told me that covering the last 20 miles was the most difficult thing he’d done in his life.) Neither of them were very lively – indeed they both looked like they could have drifted off to sleep right there in front of me – but Sean had a goofy smile that he couldn’t wipe away and Amy quietly held his hand and didn’t let go.

As for me? I learned a lot. I’m very optimistic that gluing mole skin to the bottom of my feet before a race will help stave off the “creases” and the blisters that follow. I learned more about fueling myself in the race (those Ensures really were a good idea). And I learned just how big a difference it makes to have a good crew. I’ve managed 50 miles unsupported without any trouble. I found that 62 miles (100K) was just about as doable. 100-Miles though, is a totally different animal. You’ve gotta have help to keep you going. 70 miles of distance run, and 20.5 hours on my feet were both new PRs for me, and I was extremely pleased with both, but I learned that I’m capable of finishing 100-miles. I know I can do it now, and when I employ the things I learned at Burning River, I’m sure I will.