Sitting down to write this has not been easy. How do I put in to words every piece of my day in
“Yeah, I’m done”…
That is all I remember saying to Kevin after I tried to get up and walk for the second time. I had tried to ice my legs back to life, which just made me cold, I had tried eating and drinking as much as I could, I knew sitting there was not really doing me any good, the chaffing I won’t describe but it felt like someone had blasted my ass with a flamethrower. My legs were wracked in pain and my feet were on fire; they would not move and any movement sent shockwaves of pain through my left knee, calves, hamstrings and lower back. Mentally I wanted to keep going, I was in the zone (well, some kind of zone), but physically I was unable. And man didn’t I stink. I’d been moving, barely, for the last ~2 miles, each step a struggle; I was so close, so very close and I hated seeing my race come to an end. Here is how I got there…
It starts innocently enough with a drive to
My first few steps told me it was going to be a long day. We headed down the first dirt road of many and I took it easy for the first few miles picking my way along in the dark with the owls and other runners. My legs felt awful; my left calf felt all twisted up and a sharp pain was emanating from behind my knee up the inside of my hamstring and right in to my lower abdominal. Every step told me it was going to be a struggle but I tried to tell myself that things would loosen up and there was no pain…I continued on until we got to the first of many dirt road climbs and then I slowed to a hike and settled in to a pattern that I tried to follow the whole day; walk uphill, run downhill slowly and try and clip along on the flats. After the first aid station at mile 15 we started to be caught by the horse race and what a sight it was! On the dirt roads the horses would simply thunder by at a casual canter and all the riders were very friendly; in fact it was a welcome distraction for how I was feeling. The VT countryside was another welcome distraction as the sun came up over the hills; what a beautiful day it was going to be…as the miles clipped by I decided that I would switch out some gear at Pretty House (mile 21) where I would see Kevin and Mike for the first time. My shoes and socks were rubbing me the wrong way, which was pretty surprising since I had not had any problems before. At Pretty House I let the guys know I wanted to switch out my gear and what a job the guys did of getting everything ready. I took a pair of Mike’s socks and switched to my Hoka’s and set out again. I would not see them for another 9 miles so I settled in for a long stretch. We hit up some really nice trail running at this point which took us up and over more hills with some spectacular views.
As the morning went on the heat started to increase and I knew that by midday it was going to be a pretty warm day. I was staying really well hydrated and eating enough so I wasn’t too worried about it getting warm, I had other issues to deal with. I still felt the same pains at this point which were really worrisome. There was no way I could keep this up but I wanted to at least get to 30 miles and see if the boys could pull me out of this. The trails opened up a bit and took us up and over some open hills and fields and finally down a long stretch of dirt road in to Stage Rd at mile 30. I came in and as Kevin ran beside me asking me what I needed I said “I need something, I don’t know what but something!” I knew it would be a stretch to go 70 more miles feeling like I did so I stopped for a while and ate a lot of food and cooled off as it was getting pretty hot by this time. Both Kevin and Mike did a great job getting me ready for my next 17 miles out there and I don’t think I would have continued without their encouragement. When I did set out again the road led us to an uphill slog right in the sun and I did not feel good at all; the chaffing had started to irritate me as well and of course I’d forgotten to vaseline up at the start and at Stage Rd.
The miles were going by with a struggle and I told myself that if I didn’t feel at least a little better by Camp 10 Bears (47 miles) I’d have to call it a day. I was not really running with anyone at this point and 17 miles seemed like a tall task feeling like I did but I continued on and then right about at mile 38 before the Lincoln Covered bridge aid station I magically felt a bit better. The sharp pains subsided and went numb for a while and as I crossed Rt 4 and went on to the bridge I saw my dad on the other side and almost broke down in tears. I gave him a hug and continued on to the aid station where my mom had jumped in to volunteer. I loaded up on potatoes/salt and restocked my water and headed out feeling as good as I had all day long. Maybe I could do this, if I could just get to 70 feeling ok perhaps I could finish in less than 24 hrs and accomplish what I had set out to do; push the pain down deep, there is no pain. The next 11 miles were all dirt road and we really started to see the giant endless hills that would haunt me later in the day. But, at this point I felt like I was in a groove and came down the hill to Camp 10 Bears yelling that “I’m back from the pit!” This was the first weigh in and I was a bit nervous but weighed in exactly what I had started at, whew! By that time my folks had switched to volunteering there as well and what zoo it was! Tons of runners were there in various conditions but the guys again took care of me and I fueled up and set out up another hill, which was followed by one of the worst climbs of the day. Dirt road turned to jeep road, to muddy track and by that time the deerflies were attacking me with reckless abandon. It seemed like that climb took me 20 minutes and I just remember feeling pretty exhausted after that. I slogged on past the mile 50 marker in the middle of the woods and on to Tracer Brook at mile 57. I switched socks again and set out.
At this point I settled in to a nice rhythm with a guy from
We had some great section of trails to run as the sun was setting and when night fell the race started all over again. We were running through some great single track as night fell and when we emerged from the woods we encountered that giant harvest moon over the hills and fields. What a sight, I can’t put it in to words without thinking about the contrast of the beauty of the setting and the absolute agony I was feeling by that point. Coming in to West Winds at mile 77 we climbed a candlelit hill and I got some soup and hot chocolate; I needed caffeine! I was right on schedule at that point and Mike was there to get me what I need and also to point me in the right direction as I tried to run in the opposite direction leaving the aid station!
These next miles were agony and I must have looked like a bent-over stumbling, old man version of myself at points. I did manage to clip off some miles on some single track and dirt roads and I felt like running at Kevin’s elbow was working ok. Get to the next aid station, just keep moving forward, and push away the pain. The hills seemed to be coming more frequently and they were frustrating me a bit as I just could not move up them fast enough. I was mumbling to myself at that point and laughing out loud a bit; I could not have been the most enjoyable company. Finally, off in the distant night we saw the lights of Bill’s at mile 88, the final big aid station and weigh in. Coming in to Bill’s it was like happening on a crazy field hospital in some bizarre war movie. There were people sleeping in chairs, people throwing up, bright lights everywhere, people in various states of degradation…I weighed in for the last time, had gained another pound but they said I was ok to go on. I grabbed some soup and tried to eat as much as possible while staring blankly at the woman on the bench next to me with her running skirt half on rubbing vaseline furiously on herself. Soup was all over the place and I stumbled around wondering what to eat or do next. Mike was there of course and that was the last time I’d see him until the finish; just 12 miles to go.
I was a bit behind schedule at this point and I felt a twinge of panic; I felt awful, my legs were not responding well, the pain was shooting up through my whole body and I just wanted to lie down. We headed out and I stumbled, walked, “jogged” as much as I could for the next mile or so. As we headed down in to a long, long field marked with glow sticks my mind was in a haze of tiredness and pain. However, I was determined and focused on moving forward to the next aid station. If I could just keep moving I’d finish around 24 hours. That is when it happened. My legs would just not move anymore. I struggled on for another 3 miles which probably took almost an hour. I was in bad shape and I knew it. The hills both up and down were killing me and I had to stop at points before taking another step. When we finally reached the mile 92 aid station I knew that a miracle was needed to give my legs enough chance to continue. I ate more soup, a sandwich, more hot chocolate and tried to ice my legs. The ice made me shiver uncontrollably almost as soon as I put it on. Kevin asked for a blanket and I sat down. I tried to get up and nothing; could not move the legs. I sat down again and had more hot chocolate and knew that I was close to dropping. My mind was screaming at me to just go out and stumble my way to the finish but as I tried to stand and walk the second time my body made another decision for me. I had to stop, 92 miles in and 8 more to go. They called it in and we hitched a hellacious ride back to Silver Meadow. I think that was about 21 hours after the start but I’m not sure. I was in and out of it by that point and extremely disappointed. We got back to the start and I needed some help getting in to the medical tent where I rested a bit before crawling in to the back of my parent’s car to sleep for a few hours. I was done.
Even the best runner’s out there DNF; just recently at UTMB Geoff Roes, Dakota Jones, and Scott Jurek. But this has been tough for me to reconcile. I’ve been in pain before; I’ve been in tears and still finished. This was something completely different. Never before did I start a race feeling as awful as I did that morning. For those first ~38 miles I did not think I’d make it to 50. Why? That has been a question on my mind for more than a month now. What could I have done to get to the finish? Could I have slept for an hour or two and been ok? Did I not train enough, too much? Should I have had a cheeseburger and beer at Margaritaville (mile 62)? To this day I still go over the race in my mind. I trained and trained for months to get to that day and in the end could not get to the finish. It has been a struggle to move on. But move on I must. There will be more races to come including facing the hills of
Of course, there would be none of this to talk about if it were not for the support I am so lucky to have. In addition, the entire event is full of supportive strangers; volunteers, spectators, landowners putting out random aid stations, all the other runners which make this event one worth the entire painful experience. Kevin and Mike have seen me at my worst and best over the years; I knew they would see me in various states of degradation and I was ok with that. We have all been through a lot as friends and brothers and this was certainly a changing point for me not only racing wise but also how much I respect my friends and family for supporting these crazy endeavors and for trying to challenge ourselves as we get older. They drove all over
I read back over this and really can’t stress enough that the experience comes down to more than words can describe. Personally, I had entered this race to finish, and finish I did not so that is disappointing for me and I’ve struggled to regain the drive that got me through the training and to the start line. I’ve also struggled with the lingering injuries I’m now sure I had going in to the race. There have been a few 3-4 hour runs since then and some strong shorter runs but they have not come as easy, been as pleasurable or effortless to recover from. But, I have to keep going. I will try