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.

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.

Race Report: BR100 part 3

That first time I went through Station Road Bridge AS, I didn’t see Sean. My speed-walking had allowed him to get back out ahead of me a little bit. So he wasn’t around when I took my first look at the hot spot under my foot. It didn’t look bad, really. There was just a tender spot. I tried lathering the bottom of my foot with Vaseline. Maybe reducing the friction would help. Then I drank my first Ensure of the day and tried gnawing on some beef jerky that Heather offered me. It tasted good, but was too dry and hard to swallow.

Then I whipped out a little trick I’d picked up from one of my blog-buddies: a toothbrush. My fellow blogger, Paige, had just run her first 100-miler a couple of weeks before and she wrote that brushing her teeth a few times during the long day had really helped her feel refreshed. So, I pulled mine out and gave all my toothies a good scrubbing, sans toothpaste. It did feel good, but it also made every single person near me at the aid station laugh! Oh, they though I was silly – but silly-practical! I just scrubbed and grinned and took a little bow when I was done.

We had a small, internal, 6.4 mile loop to run from there, which would bring us back around to Station Road Bridge a second time. In the middle, we actually scaled a small peak. It was really nothing major, but it was the sharpest climb we completed all day.

On the way back down, an older woman, who was about 20 yards in front of me, tripped on a root and fell, in a full out dive, head first to the ground. I could only watch as she went down, but I kept an eye on her head to see if it bounced when she hit. Somehow, she did manage to keep her head up, but she also slid a foot or two downhill after she landed. She was in a little shock about it, and she laid still for a moment taking inventory as I ran down to her. She got up on her own power, and was mostly just surprised by the whole thing, but we also noticed that her right wrist was already beginning to swell. In the scheme of things, it was better to have a battered wrist than a twisted ankle, but she was still a little concerned.

I ran with her for a while, making sure she was really okay. I wanted to be sure that she didn’t get dizzy or disoriented – head contusion or not, she hit the ground really hard – but after a couple of miles she made me look bad by speeding off down the trail without me. Ha! By the time I descended to the Tow Path again, I could barely see her down the trail. I did find her again, briefly, back at the Aid Station. She’d been eager to get back and have her wrist looked at. (She finished 100 miles the next morning with little other trouble.)

The bad news for me was, the hot spot on my foot wasn’t getting any better, and I really wasn’t sure what to do about it. In all my Ultra experience, all the things I’ve learned and dealt with, I’ve never had to fight with blisters before. Burning River was my 10th Ultra, my 4th of 50-Miles or further, and that to go with 9 other “regular” marathons. In all those races, over all those miles, I’ve never gotten a blister. And I’ve only had “hot spots” maybe three or four times.

The reality I seemed to be facing was I’d simply never run a race long enough for those hot spots to grow into full-out blisters. When I had gotten them, they’d always shown up in the last 5 to 10 miles of a race and I was across the finish line before they became a real danger. The problem spot then was the same now: on the bottom of my foot, next to the ball, right in the center of width, a “crease” forms. I guess my foot gets damp, the skin swells, and that small crease folds up just ever so slightly. And then the skin on either side of the crease begins to rub together.

It was interesting for me to note that the crease showed up at roughly the same time it has sometimes in the past: about 25 to 30 miles into the course. I debated trying to wrap the bottom of my foot with duct tape, but it’s a hard area to tape, and once I got a piece on, it stopped seeming like a good idea. I lathered on more Vaseline instead, hoping that I might be able to keep the area lubricated.

Sean was still at Station Road Bridge when I returned, taking a little breather of his own. He had several friends now, all working as his crew, but I picked out a blonde woman in the group. “You must be Amy,” I called over to her. I could see Sean looking back at me from beside her with a little twinkle in his eye. “I just wanted to put a face to person who called to scold us for running too fast this morning!” and she laughed with me. Of course, I didn’t care about the phone call at all. I wanted to get a look at the girl who was going to get a ring tomorrow morning!

I also introduced Sean and Amy to my sister, Heather, who had been running back and forth to the car to retrieve some aspirin for me. If trends continued, we’d all be seeing each other a few more times during the day, so might as well get cozy, right?

The bad news, was that hot spot was with me every single step of the next 3.5 miles to Ottawa Point Aid Station (Mile 46.5). On most footfalls, it was just a dull, itchy irritation, but every now and then, it felt more like my sock had rolled up into a naughty little ball under my foot.

The good news was I had finally survived the heat of the day. It was about 4:15pm when I got to Ottawa Point. I was warm and salty, but Heather had been giving me a bandana rolled up with ice at every aid station and the forest canopy had helped to keep the sun off my back. Even if it took me the full 30 hours to get to the finish line, we were done with the real heat the rest of the way.

I splashed some water over my head, and drank another Ensure. I kicked off my shoes and socks while I wandered around in the grass and refueled. I wanted to give my feet a chance to air out a little bit in the hopes it would help soothe that hot spot. Maybe the cooler temps and a drier foot would stem the rising tide.

Sean was also at Ottawa, but his crew seemed to have grown to 6 or 7 people and they were all busy taking care of him. He did pause long enough to call over and tease me for leaving the aid stations before he did, though. We’d been out there together long enough that some ribbing was in order.

Snowville was the next station, at mile 50.6, just beyond the halfway mark. The blisters continued to get worse and worse and they were really starting to cost me time. I’d completed the Station Road Bridge loop at better than 15 minutes per mile. I’d been able to run the next 3.5 miles to Ottawa at about 16 mpm, but I also had to take a 15 minute break a Station Road #2 to work on my feet. That extra time sent my overall pace to Ottawa at slower than 20 mpm. On the next leg, to Snowville AS, I lost nearly 10 minutes on my break at Ottawa and I ran even slower. My overall pace on that section was nearly 21 mpm.

So, I’d fallen behind the required 18 minutes per mile average pace, and was losing time to the cutoffs. At mile 43, I’d worked up a 2 hours and 45 minutes cushion, but in just 7 miles, I lost 25 minutes of that lead. The blisters were officially a serious impediment to my race, and I was growing more and more worried about them.

Sean was leaving Snowville just as I came in. He joked with the volunteers there that they should do anything they could to slow me down a little, because “every time I think I’ve shaken that guy, he turns up on my heels again!” He gave me a big grin, and it was nice to hear him say, but I didn’t really believe it anymore. “I don’t think you’ve gonna have to worry about me after this,” I told him. I was more serious than he knew.

One nice thing, though: I covered the first 50 miles in just 12.5 hours. That was only an hour slower than my 50-mile PR.

The next aid station was another big one, Boston Store, the second of three stations that we’d pass through twice, with a small internal loop in between. I’d see it first at Mile 56, then again at Mile 60.6. Heather was waiting there and I expected the place would be a bustle of activity, with twice as many runners, crews, and volunteers.

Volunteers! Of course! I was a dufus. There were volunteer podiatry students out working the course all weekend! Why hadn’t I thought of that before? What Aid Stations were they supposed to be at? I couldn’t remember. They probably had a tent set up at Station Road Bridge. I should have looked for them there. Were they going to be at Boston Store? I called ahead to Heather to get her to ask around and find out. Maybe it wasn’t too late to get me out of this mess that I’d gotten my feet into.

I finally pulled into Boston Store at 7:25pm, 14 hours and 25 minutes into the race and still losing time to the cutoffs. Heather was relieved to see me, and she started talking about finding me a pacer for the end of the race. That sounded fine, but I was way more concerned about my feet. “Are the podiatrists here?” They were, and she pointed out the tent to me. I kicked off my shoes and socks again, and hobbled over to take a seat in one of their chairs.

I was a little disappointed to learn that they didn’t think there was a whole lot they could do for me. All they could see was the red, irritated area around the ball of my right foot. They offered to pad the area with a couple of layers of mole skin. They cut one piece with a big hole in the middle to go around the red spot, and then another to go over the whole area. They were hoping this would take some of the pressure off the wound on each footfall. I had them go ahead and do the same thing to my left foot, too, because I was sure, I’d get the same problem there at some point.

Meanwhile, Heather had come back over to find me, and she had a friend with her. Finally, I understood what she’d been trying to tell me when I came in: she wasn’t going to find me a pacer, she already had one for me!

It turns out Sean’s girlfriend, Amy, and Heather had been hanging out and talking while they waited for the two of us to get to Boston. Amy asked if I had any pacers lined up, and when Heather said “no,” Amy set off to make some phone calls. They had some running club friends in the area who were helping with the race and one, Michelle, was waiting to find someone to pace. Event rules stated that runners were allowed to have pacers starting at mile 60.6, the second time they left Boston Store. Michelle had run a handful of Ultras and had paced for several more. She understood what she was doing. She told me that she’d join me at mile 81, the Covered Bridge Aid Station. That would give her some time to get some food and a few hours sleep. “I’ll meet you at Covered Bridge and we will get you to the finish line.”

I think Heather was even more relieved than I was. Sean and Amy had done me a HUGE favor. I’d seen them on the ground nearby when I got to Boston, but was too preoccupied with my feet to talk to them. By the time I had my feet wrapped, gotten acquainted with Michelle and was ready to head out again, Sean and Amy were both gone. I wouldn’t see either of them again for the rest of the race.

To Be Continued, One More Time...

Race Report: BR100 part 2

More that 12 hours later, after I had mustered the energy to make a show of vanity and jog the last 100 yards into the Happy Days aid station, I was actually afraid to take off my shoes and socks. If their actual state came anything close to matching the pain they were giving me, then those blisters might be comically large already.

The aid station was a little deserted. All day I passed through aid stations filled with people; volunteers, crews, race officials, family, and always a handful of runners. The exhaustion may have been affecting my observation skills, but I don’t think there were any other racers at Happy Days when I came in. And I didn’t notice any other runners come through while I was there. I arrived a little more than 20 minutes before the 1:49am cutoff. I think that means when I got to Happy Days, of all the runners still on the course, I was in dead last place. It’s weird to think about that. I didn’t get passed all that many times in the last 20 miles. (Placings must have changed a lot at the aid stations.) It’s weird to think about all the people I’d run with during the day who were now way out ahead of me.

I’d spent the bulk of my day running with one guy in particular. He first caught up to me way back around mile 10, when we were about 20 minutes out of the Polo Field AS. We had settled into a rhythm with 2 other men, and the four of us jogged along as a box-shaped quartet, chatting about the quick early pace we were on.

The oldest guy, who was next to me in front, told us that last year he’d sped through the first 50 miles in less than 10 hours, then bonked completely and had to walk the final 50 – but he did finish. I should add he was NOT advocating a repeat of that strategy.

One of the guys behind me was busy telling us that his girlfriend, who was out as his crew for the weekend, was going to be upset with him for going so fast in the early miles. That was when his phone rang. It was his girlfriend calling to scold him for exactly that. When he hung up, the three of us all gave him a hard time about it, but I promise you that’s only because we were all still nervous that she might be right.

The four of us all scattered when we got to Polo Field, but after I’d been back out on the course for a mile or so, one of the guys caught back up to me. It turned out to be the guy whose girlfriend had called to scold him on the phone. By way of starting up conversation, he politely complained that this whole section just felt like a long slow uphill. Now that we were finally off-road and covering some single track, we were definitely gaining elevation very, very slowly. We chuckled about how different things were now that we were running a real “trail” race.

He told me that he, also, was attempting his very first 100-miler, and not only that, the only other ultra he’d done was the 50K he’d run in his training build-up for this event. If I remember correctly, he’d never even run a regular marathon before. He said his goal, like mine, was just to finish and he figured it would take him between 29 and 30 hours to get there. We chatted our way to the Harper Ridge Picnic AS (Mile 18.7). There, I grabbed some more watermelon, had my bottle refilled and was ready to head out again before my new friend was.

My general policy is that I pretty much always enjoy company in a race when I get it, but I know that it’s a dangerous trap to get caught up trying to run someone else’s pace, or to have someone else get caught up in your own, so I never expect people to stay with me. If they need to move on ahead, or I do, I’m okay letting them go. So, I looked over my shoulder a few times to see how he was doing (and because I didn’t want him to think that I was just trying to get away from him), then I went ahead and set off. He wasn’t very far back, though, and within a mile or two, we were running together again.

As it turned out, we kept up this routine for most of the next 40 miles, a little over 10 hours. We’d run together for a while, and maybe I’d get ahead a little, or he would, but then we’d tag up at the next aid station and hook up again or leap frog one another. We were each running our own race, but our paces (and aid station breaks) kept bringing us back together again.

He told me he lived in the area. He’d been a casual runner, mostly for fitness, and then he read a book called “Born to Run” that had completely changed his idea about what running could be. It was his girlfriend who’d originally gotten the idea to train for and run Burning River. They intended to tackle the distance together on race day, but she’d picked up an injury and had been forced to stay on the sidelines and crew for him over the weekend.

The longer we ran together, the farther we got past the idle chatter, and the more we started to tell real stories about ourselves. I told him about Chicago and my theatre work, about my girlfriend and family and my sister. He told me about the various jobs he’d been through in recent years, about his girlfriend’s work. He told me about the serious running revelations he’d had, the “injury free” techniques he’d been studying, and his new plans to become certified as a running and fitness instructor. (That “Born to Run” book really had changed his life!)

Somewhere along the way – it must have been after the Shadow Lake AS, maybe 24 miles into the day – he told me the thing that was really on his mind: He was carrying a ring in his little gear pack. A diamond ring. A diamond engagement ring. He’d been with his girlfriend for several years and things had been great, but her injury during training for this event had been a crucial moment. He fretted about the situation a lot, and then finally told her that even though she couldn’t, he still wanted to run it. This was delicate, because the impetus had been hers in the first place. Her passion to do it was strong and he knew it would be tough for her to watch him make a go of it, and possibly finish his first 100, while she could only watch.

He said he told her he still wanted to run; she had a quiet moment, then took a breath, shook it off and said something on the order of, “Ok, so let’s get you to the finish line.” From that point forward, she never made one mention her own inability to run, or of her injury or how depressed she might be about it. She was all about helping him get trained, prepared, and through to the finish line. He’d decided that was the last thing he needed to know about her and their relationship.

He’d had a little trouble securing a ring. She wasn’t a jewelry wearer at all, and even her sisters didn’t even know what her ring size was. She’d actually been married once, long before, but it seems she’d given that ring back to her ex-husband. (He decided it really wouldn’t be kosher to call the guy who’d come before him to get her finger measurements.) In the end, he’d settled on taking a loaner from a friend of his who’d intended to make a proposal before his relationship fell apart. That ring would serve as a stand in until a proper ring could be picked and fitted.

He still hadn’t decided exactly when he’d pop the question. He had hope that, the next morning, he’d be hitting one of the crew accessible aid stations near dawn. He thought that might be a nice setting for a proposal, but he wasn’t sure. Maybe he’d wait ‘til the finish line. Or maybe after the awards ceremony. Or maybe a perfect moment would spring up somewhere else on the course late in the race. In any event, it would happen this weekend, and he was ringed and ready

I got him to tell me that his girlfriend’s name was Amy. Foolishly, I didn’t get his name until a little later when I found myself running next to someone else that he knew out on the course. This girl and I made a little conversation and she told me that his name was Sean.

To Be Continued, Again...