Run with Scissors 2011

This year, I signed up for Run with Scissors on a whim. My fall race schedule had been filling up, so I decided to just have a fun day and run whatever pace felt good.

Leigh and I drove up from Columbus early Sunday morning. After Roy’s race instructions (enjoy yourself and DO NOT LITTER), we lined up in the brisk foggy weather for the start. I took the first section slow so as not to risk a fall in the dark and ended up running with David Peterman most of the way to Pine Hollow. There was only a bit of cold mud in the meadows and we joked that we might be found later in the race icing our sore ankles and feet in these spots. We both breezed through the aid station at Pine Hollow and made our way toward Quick Road. Mike Nicholson, who was out in front, had taken a wrong turn at Quick Road and we did the same. The three of us ran up and down the road for a bit until we all realized (seeing some headlamps through the woods) that we were just supposed to go straight across to pick up the trail. The trails were getting sloppy through this next section so I decided not to push it too hard at this point, knowing that we would hit this mud three more times and it would only get worse as more runners came through.

I decided to get some solid food at Covered Bridge as my stomach had been queasy all morning and I thought that might help settle things. I looked forward to a good mix of walking and running through the next section and got some bonus stream crossings thrown in as well.

The section back from Covered Bridge back to the Pine Hollow aid station was filled with mixed emotions. I enjoyed seeing more faces on the trail and eventually ran into the lead marathoners as I neared the aid station. I mumbled a quick hello to Vince Rucci who was leading the men and Beth Woodward who was out in front of the women. As I neared Pine Hollow, I had all but made up in my mind that I was going to call it a day after one loop. I was tired, my legs had not recovered well from a previous race and my stomach was just not settling. I asked my wife if she would meet me at the turnaround (not telling her that I was thinking of dropping). I grabbed some grilled cheese sandwiches hoping they would at least get me through the next couple of miles. I saw Roy coming up one of the sound of music hills and he mentioned to me that I only had about a mile and a half back to the turnaround. This was good news! As I got close to the shelter, I saw the first and second place runners heading out for their second loop. I still was not feeling very good at the turnaround, but I told myself that when things are bad, there is always the chance that they can get better. I was hurried out of the aid station and back onto the second loop (I guess I would not be stopping here after all).

Eventually, I caught up with Scooby (in second at this point) who was suffering from some foot pain and trying to walk it off. I walked with him for a few minutes until we eventually parted ways. As I made my way back to Pine Hollow, the endorphins must have started firing as I miraculously began to enjoy running again. The weather was perfect, the fall colors were vibrant and it was a great day to spend some time in the woods.  I took another S!Cap thinking it was about time for some more electrolytes and picked up the pace. My feet were still numb, but the sun was warming everything else up. Reaching Pine Hollow, I heard that the leader (Mike Nicholson) was just a minute or two ahead, so I made it my goal to catch him on this next section. A couple of miles in, I suddenly felt queasy again and stopped for a quick upchuck – too much salt – yuck! I felt better immediately, though, and kept moving.

Eventually, I caught up to Mike and asked how he was feeling. His response was, not great, but hey, we were 35 miles in, so that’s to be expected. From that point, I ran up the hills as hard as I could on the way to Covered Bridge, but eventually lost steam as I had burned through all the calories I put in earlier. I saw Mike again as I was heading out from Covered Bridge which was a good reminder to keep moving. Perkins Loop (the section after Covered Bridge) was a nice mix of running and walking the hills. Reaching Covered Bridge again, I stocked back up on calories as I was really dreading slogging through the mud this one final time. I knew it was going to be a long haul back to Pine Hollow, so I prepared mentally for what was to come. As I splashed through the mud and muck on the trail, a healthy fear of being passed at this point in race kept nagging in my head, driving me to keep running even though I felt like just walking it in. Nearing Pine Hollow, I decided not to stop for a refill of anything and just hammer out the last couple of miles to the finish. Well, two miles was a lot longer than I had pictured in my head, so I fought to keep moving as I knew each step brought me closer to the end. As the finish line came in to sight, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy knowing that I had run my best for the day and that there was a chair with my name on it to rest these tired mud-ladened legs.

Western States

I have struggled in an attempt to condense my thoughts about the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run into a blog post. Like the highs and low points of the race, my paradoxical emotions have been battling for dominance throughout the last week or so.

In the late fall of 2010, fate smiled kindly on me as my name was drawn from the proverbial hat containing 4,000 other hopeful runners who had also entered their names into the Western States lottery. I rarely win any contests I enter, so I figured this would not be an exception. In fact, the only drawing I can recall winning was a Cabbage Patch doll from Drug Emporium. I quickly sold my winnings to my sister and ended up 25 cents richer that day. This year’s stroke of luck left my pockets a little lighter, but a chance to run Western States, the oldest hundred miler in the nation, was one I was not about to pass up.

Reality soon set in, and, after watching videos of some of the top runners on the course, I figured that I should probably come up with a good training plan. Unfortunately, Ohio does not have long climbs to train on like the mountains out west. It does have select pockets of rolling hills, however. I spent as much time as I could training at Mohican. When there was no time for the trip to Mohican, I would run at Highbanks. And, when I tired of Highbanks, I would spend some hours running up and down Worthington Hill. This is not even a quarter mile hill, but it is steep, paved and has lots of traffic. Some of my best training was done on this hill as it allowed me to block everything else out of my mind and just work on my uphill running form.

Preparations for a 100-mile race are not limited to the runner alone. For a while, I was not sure if Leigh was going to be able to make it out to California to help crew the race. I also was not sure if I would have a pacer, so I prepared myself for a solo trip. I realized it would be lonely, but I would make it through. Then, at the Clif Bar pace party before the Boston Marathon, Star came up to me and said that she had worked it out that she would be able to come out and pace me. So, I would not be alone on the trails! There was still the question of what to do the week before (as I was flying out early in an attempt to acclimate to the higher altitude) and for crew during the race. My Dad offered to fly out to crew if Leigh was not able to make it, but he had a busy schedule already and this would make it even busier. One morning, I was sitting at work and got an email from Leigh. “I bought a plane ticket. I’m flying to California!” It had all worked out. So, I carefully planned and packed my drop bags and clothes for the run. Then we were off on a day of flights, connections and misconnections that took way longer than it should…but that’s a story for another time.

We finally made it to Reno and tiredly drove to the hotel in Tahoe City to start catching up on some much needed sleep. Tahoe is a beautiful place. There really are no words that can describe the crystal clear waters backed by tall mountains and pink sunsets. The low humidity and clean mountain air is enough to make one question the sanity of living in a rain forest like Ohio. But, I digress.

Leigh and I spent the week hiking the course, walking by the lake, visiting wineries in Napa Valley, trying new restaurants, taking photos and spending plenty of time relaxing. If you’re not jealous by now, you should be. It was a wonderful, restful time. We met up with a runner friend, Ted Niemann and his wife, Toni and had a blast hanging out with them in the later part of the week. I went for a couple of training runs in Tahoe as well. Two days before the race, I ran up the first few miles of the course (up a Squaw Valley ski hill) and then back down just to see what that section of the course was like. On the way down, my left calf tightened up and did not loosen up before the race. Between my left calf and my right shin that had been bothering me for weeks on downhill runs, I was pretty worried about how my legs would hold up…especially on all the downhill at the end of the race.

Friday before the run, a pre-race meeting was held where we got to meet up with runner friends, Eman Ronchin (Toronto), Kevin O’Grady (Ohio), Adam Bright (Florida), Shaun Pope (Ohio) and Sandi Nypaver (Ohio). There was a really cool ceremony recognizing some of the top ultra-runners as well.

Finally, the day of the race arrived. We woke up around 3AM and made it to weigh in at the start with plenty of time to spare. Star had flown into the state just hours before the 5AM start and was there to see me and our other Ohio friends off before trying to catch a few hours of sleep. All the runners counted down to the start together and we took off up the first of many hills. Remembering advice of those that I gone before me, I decided to walk the first four miles as it is all uphill. “Cowman A-Mooha”, the second runner to ever complete Western States had started with cow horns on his head and I walked beside him for a while. I concentrated on keeping my heart rate low and moving forward. The first aid station (Escarpment) was two miles in, with the next one (Talbot) not arriving until mile 15. I topped off the three bottles I was carrying for this longer section at Escarpment and kept moving ahead.

At mile three, snow appeared on the course. Overnight, the temperatures had gotten down around freezing and all of the snow had turned to ice. Picture a ski hill, covered with a sheet of ice. Now, imagine running horizontally across this hill, just fast enough that you don’t have time to slip too far down with each step and just slow enough that you can avoid post-holing in the streams that go under the ice. That was the next 12 miles. I had flashbacks to Beast of Burden.

Soon, however, the ice section was over. I was able to put ice in my bandana and lose the shirt as it was starting to heat up at this point. Over the next several miles, I got the chance to walk and talk with a really nice guy named Dominic about the Wasatch Front 100. He was going for a sub-24 hour race and I told him if all went well today, that’s what I would like to run too. As we climbed up out of Duncan Canyon to Mosquito Ridge, I realized that this would likely be a longer day than I had hoped for. I was 30 miles in and had already started puking. The next four and a half miles consisted of a flat loop and I was accompanied by some lovely medical volunteers: Jerry, Catra and Fireman Dan. They were out making sure no one was stranded in the woods with a serious problem. It was nice to have the company as I walked trying to settle my stomach early on so I could hopefully run more later in the race. Once we got to Miller’s Defeat, I spent the next 45 minutes with some amazing volunteers who did a great job assessing the problem (low electrolytes) and trying to get me back on track. I didn’t want to sit here, but I thought that if I took care of this early enough, that I could still run a great last half of the race.

I had dropped my shirt when it began to get warm, but as I sat still for a while in the shade, I became cold. One of the volunteers offered me the shirt off of his back, only concerned that my nipples might chafe because it was a t-shirt. It was a funny and heartwarming moment that lifted my spirits. Another volunteer came to the rescue, however, offering me one of his many spare running shirts that he kept in his van.

From this point, I entered the dreaded death-march mode, hoping against hope that I could get some stomach back so I could keep a few calories down for the upcoming climbs. I tried not to stay too long at each aid station – just enough to try to get a few calories to settle. Each and every volunteer treated me like I was royalty – they are really amazing people and I felt that I couldn’t thank them enough – especially the ones that helped me through these rough early miles (and saw me lose my lunch numerous times).

My stomach was really starting to settle and I began to get back into a groove on the way down into the canyon before Devil’s Thumb. I knew what lay ahead, however, and I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. Devil’s Thumb was the hardest climb I have had to make: 37 switchbacks, with each section steeper than the last. It showed no mercy on a weak stomach and if you sat to rest, the mosquitoes let you know it was time to keep moving. Devil’s Thumb climbed up and up and up. I honestly don’t think I have ever moved that slowly on a section of trail. I couldn’t stop shaking from the cold at the top of Devil’s Thumb, so I moved through the weight check quickly, was helped by some more really amazing volunteers, grabbed a popsicle and started moving forward again. A popsicle was the wrong move, but it tasted so good going down.

Overall, I was in reasonably good spirits considering the circumstances up until this point. When I left Devil’s Thumb, I had very little hope of being able to run the second half. After all, I was in pretty rough shape for having covered less than half of the course! When reading the runner’s guide for Western States, they warn you about rattle snakes, bears and mountain lions on the trails. Mountain lions in particular sneak up from behind and attack with very little warning. I began to hope for a mountain lion to stalk me and put me out of my misery. I could not concede to dropping out the race if there was any chance that I could still finish, but being eaten by a mountain lion seemed like a pretty good way out at that point. When that dream did not appear to be coming true, I turned to a different line of thinking.

I began to ask God to heal me. And then a few lines of an old church song popped into my head, “I believe He’s here now, standing in our midst. Here with the power to heal now, and the grace to forgive.” Often times when I am at a point of desperation, I ask God to take away my problem. When He doesn’t respond immediately, I think that it must be because I have not been obedient in some way. I realized in this moment that my view of God is so far from what He truly is like. In fact, it is despite how I behave that He has shown me grace and forgiveness many times over. He always has and always will respond to our cries in His own timing, which is always best.

I began to accept my current circumstances and focus on not falling too far behind as I was starting to think about aid station cutoffs at this point. I finally made it to Michigan Bluff shortly after 8pm. Star was there and I figured Leigh would be too so I could get my headlamp as it would be dark soon. Fearing that she wouldn’t make it to Foresthill in time, Leigh had decided to wait there and gave my headlamp to Star to deliver to me. I was starting to get a little loopy and a little irritable at this point. I weighed in and was 6lbs under my starting weight, so I had to listen to a talk from a volunteer to get my nutrition back on track. It turns out that he thought I had gained six pounds and was telling what to do to lose water weight! I was really annoyed as I just wanted to get moving and I let it show. I apologized, though, as I realized that he was only trying to help. I downed all of the chicken noodle soup that he gave me and then ran off to find a place to puke for the 12th and final time (almost a PR or Puke Record as Star pointed out).

Star regaled me with stories of her crazy last day of work and travels out to California. The time went by quickly and I ate up all of the sport beans that she had thrown in her pocket as a last minute thought. The beans tasted good and might have even been sprinkled with a little bit of magic. At Bath Rd, just a mile and a half from Foresthill, we caught up with Ted Niemann who was dealing with stomach trouble of his own. The bug had bit a lot of people hard that day.

Leigh was at Foresthill and was a welcome sight to see. We took a couple of extra minutes to visit, fuel up and let the food settle in an attempt to run again after this prolonged hike through the woods. It worked and we were running bits at a time. We came up with a food formula that seemed to work: chicken broth, a salty potato, coke and a refill on water and electrolytes. Through the winding woods we ran. We saw aliens at “Area 54”, saw skeletons dressed in drag and heard delightful music blasting from aid station stereos. Star ate grilled cheese sandwiches and I stuck to my food formula as it was working for me. We began to pass people and I knew we were making up a little bit of time. On the way up to mile 73, we climbed up the elevator shaft, a wide STEEP road that switched back and forth in a never-ending uphill. I lamented the fact that there was no elevator around. We eventually made it to the top and then, before we knew it, we were approaching the river crossing. This was one of my favorite parts of the race. Most years, runners wade through the American River while holding onto a cable for support. The snow runoff was so much this year, however that we were shuttled across in a raft. The crew was efficient and we had lots of people there to help us into and out of the boat.

Another big climb on the way to Green Gate lay in wait on the other side of the river. It was steep, but not too bad. We hiked with another pacer for a while and suddenly I yelled out, “Star! STAR!” “What?” she said back. “Don’t take another…uh, nevermind.” I replied. We all had a good laugh when I explained that I had seen two rattlesnakes in the middle of the path. They were still there when I did a double take, but in the end turned out to be just a couple of rocks in the road. The other pacer had been looking in the sky thinking that I was yelling at the stars.

Leigh was waiting for us at Green Gate with warm clothes and words of encouragement. She had hiked a mile and a half down and then back up to be at that aid station. She is wonderful! We continued to make our way into the final 20 miles of the race. The finish was in sight at this point and we picked up the pace a bit. Stretches of running became longer and I switched to a strict diet of Cheetos and Coke. The next 10 miles reminded me a lot of Mohican. It was fun to run again and the legs felt great. There was a time where I wished for this feeling earlier on in the race, but now I was just thankful to be able to run what I could. We arrived at Highway 49 (mile 93.5), the last place we would see Leigh before the finish. Leigh and I briefly argued about whether there were 7 miles remaining or just a 10k. Turns out neither of us were right.

Some of the most amazing views popped up in this last section of the course. We paused just long enough to breathe in the vistas and kept moving. I began to tear up as we crossed No Hands Bridge with only a few miles left to go. We hiked one more dusty climb and were greeted by a dude in a mohawk who ran down the hill to take our drink orders, then ran up ahead of us to fill them and keep us moving into town. With cold cloths on our necks, we finished out the climb and ran the last mile through the town of Auburn. Following the orange footprints on the road, we ran onto the Placer High track and I crossed the finish line in 28:36:35.

It was a long journey, but I once again walk away feeling so very thankful for everyone who helped me through it. Leigh stayed up and drove all through the night just to see me at the few places they would allow crew. Star ran 45 miles with me and kept me focused and moving, all the while entertaining me with stories. Many other people believed I could do it even when I didn’t believe it myself.

Update: If you didn’t get a change to read it already, Star wrote a fantastic, well-told, humorous piece detailing the section she ran with me.

Beast of Burden

Lockport, New York, a small town 18 miles east of Niagra Falls is the host to a bi-annual race along the historic Erie Canal. When I heard the name of this race, the Beast of Burden, I knew this was one I had to run. When I saw it was 100 miles through the snow, in February, I was sold.

Winter training did not go as smoothly as I had anticipated – a minor IT band injury in December, a two week flu at the peak of my training followed by some hamstring/hip flexor strains two weeks before the race. But, as Dave would tell me during the race, “No pain, no gain. No guts, no glory.” And hey, as all you ultra runners know, this is just par for the course.

Now, the crazy thing about most of these 100 mile runs, besides running 100 miles, is that they typically start at some ridiculous hour like 5 AM. Sure, 5 in the morning is not THAT early, but it’s early enough when you have to get up around 3 to get dressed, eat, take a dump and get to the starting line without forgetting anything. If you are like me and don’t get up at 3 AM normally, then add in the nerves before race day, you can expect to get about 2-3 hours of sleep before the race. But, the Beast of Burden is not your typical race – it has a 10 AM start which allowed for almost a full night of rest!

My Dad graciously offered to crew for the race and make the drive home afterward. Dave also kindly accepted my request for a pacer thinking that this would be a fun adventure.

We awoke on race day in the Comfort Inn in downtown Lockport feeling pretty refreshed after the meet-and-greet packet pickup the night before. We had the privilege to talk with last year’s winner, Richard Cook, mingle a bit with some other runners and meet Laurie Colón the other 100 mile runner from Ohio (who I had only had a chance to chat with a bit on Facebook before the race).

The Comfort Inn had a continental breakfast, and we were pleasantly surprised to meet a few other runners who were there sampling the cereals and waffles as well. Eman and Jennifer were two runners from Toronto who had decided to come south for a “warmer” weather race. Of course, we all had high hopes for the day and nobody talked much of the forecasted 20-30 mi/hr winds. I figured at least we would get our money’s worth.

After some well wishes, some dancing to keep warm and lots of photos at the starting line, we were off and running. The course began with a nicely groomed section of trail that wound its way through some trees and a fitness challenge course (pull-up bars and the like). As we crossed a bridge to the other side of the canal, the footing quickly became much more challenging. Again, I figured that I was just getting my money’s worth. After all, I didn’t want the course to be too easy. I chatted with a couple of runners for a while and eventually settled into listening to an audio book, “World Without End”. I had loaded up this 40+ hour book since I figured it should last through the race. I made decent time through the first 12.5 miles and met Dave and my Dad in about 2:15 in Middleport (the turnaround point).

I had decided to try an all liquid diet this race since I’ve had some trouble with nausea and vomiting at my previous two 100’s. The plan was to drink water (with just a little heed mixed in) and eat 2-3 gels per hour with a rice ball thrown in from time to time. Leigh made up a bunch of rice balls for me before the race and I was set with plenty of hammer gels to get me through. I felt pretty good at the turnaround and headed out into the crazy wind. I really didn’t anticipate how much the wind would slow me down on the way back and ended up doing the return 12.5 miles in around 2:40. I got a chance to catch up with Eman a little bit along the way although we could hardly talk as the wind was so crazy. The wind had ripped my race number most of the way off at this point, so I reattached that, fueled up and headed out for round two.

It felt amazing to have the wind at my back again and I decided to take things nice and easy for this next section. Eman and I yo-yoed back and forth a bit until he slowed down due to a bit of nausea. I felt really bad for him that it was hitting this early and then I started to feel it to. I began to really slow up and pay close attention to really regulate my calories and liquid intake. The nausea was manageable but getting worse despite my efforts. At Middleport, I said a quick hello to my crew, grabbed my headlamp and headed out into the ever darkening sky. I puked twice in the next few miles and felt a lot better. Somewhere in there, Laurie passed me, but I was able to stay focused to get to the 50 mile mark back in Lockport.

Dad and Dave arrived in perfect timing just as I was heading out for a third loop. Dave had decided that he would run the last 50 miles with me (crazy!), so he pulled a quick change as I added another layer for warmth. Nighttime had fallen and so had the temperatures. They were down in the teens after being in the low 30s for most of the day. After another pukage, we were ready to go. I apologized to Dave after two more puking episodes shortly thereafter. He reminded me of “no guts, no glory” – literally. We decided to stop at Gasport to fuel up on more drink and some chips. It was nighttime and hard to see, so we asked the guy out stoking the fire where the entrance to the tent was. He didn’t respond, so we followed his trail of beer cans and entered the cozy tent.

One of the things I found quite challenging about this race was getting out of the aid stations. Of course, it was necessary to keep the tents warm so the volunteers and the food didn’t freeze. However, after warming up for even a minute or two in the tent, it was really not easy to go back out in the cold. But, as Dave told me, you can be asleep in a warm bed any night – how often do you get to run all night in weather like this? As crazy as it may sound, he was absolutely right! So, we got back out on the trail.

The path to Middleport is pretty exposed to the elements, but by this time the wind had mostly died down and we were getting a nice light snow. I think both of us were getting cold at this point, but other than that, things were pretty manageable considering that I was 62 miles into the race. We stepped inside the Freemason Lodge (the aid station) and I immediately began having trouble breathing. Now, there is a point in every race where you are faced with the decision to continue on despite the fact that it seems impossible to keep moving…no less finish the whole race. This was the point for me. After running outside and back in a few times thinking I was going to vomit, I began to get frustrated and started panicking about my situation. I said that I didn’t think I could go on. Dad felt really bad for me and was trying to get me warmed up realizing that I had been freezing out there. Dave told me that I was going to hate him tomorrow if he didn’t make me finish this thing and I understood. But, my chest was so tight and I couldn’t get in enough air to start running again. I’m not sure exactly how to describe the feeling. Just then, Nancey, a massage therapist came over and asked if she could work with me a little bit to get me warmed up. I was reluctant to say the least (since, I’m not really a big fan of people I don’t know touching me), but she asked me if I still had a desire to finish and I said yes. So, she got me calmed down and began working on some pressure points in my hands and legs to relieve the nausea and begin to warm up my core. It was working…slowly but surely! Eman and Jennifer both came through the aid station sometime during this point. Those Canadians were the most upbeat runners I have seen for how they were both feeling – I’ve got a lot to learn! Finally, I got some solid food in me (pizza!) and Dad helped me put on a few more layers of clothes as I headed for the door. He said he would meet us back at Lockport (and no, he would not be catching any sleep in between). So, Dave and I headed back into the snowy night, knowing now for sure that we were going to make it to the finish line.

The journey back was a slower run/walk, and as we approached mile 75, Valmir Nunes snuck up behind us like a ninja. We whooped and hollered for him as he came in for a first place finish (his 4th and final lap) in just over 18 hours. Valmir is a very accomplished runner from Brazil who holds the course record for Badwater. He had never seen snow in his life until he touched down in Buffalo a couple of days before the race (and yet he still managed to secure a win and a new course record). After my meager attempt to congratulate him (he doesn’t speak much English and I probably wasn’t speaking any language fluently at that time), we went back out for the final lap.

There is another point in the race where time slows down considerably. This happened somewhere in these last 25 miles. And I too slowed down considerably. Dave did so well to keep me moving and make me run when I just wanted to walk. My Dad stayed awake through it all and even caught some pictures and video at various points along the way. In the final 12.5 miles, my left leg knee and hip flexor were screaming in pain with every step. I complained and walked way more than I should have considering that I was the one who signed up for this. I had lost my will to finish strong, but Dave’s patient prodding eventually got me to start running a little more with a 100 mile PR in sight.

As we approached the final couple of miles, Dad met up with us with his camera and made sure that we were doing alright. Dave took me through the last mile by debating which challenges were safe to do on the fitness challenge course and which ones might leave you in danger of slipping and breaking your neck. And then…finally…the Beast was laid to rest. Dave and I crossed the finish line together as Sam Pasceri, race director, greeted me with a 100 mile buckle and awarded Dave with a 24-hour buckle for being the first pacer to go 50 miles with his runner…awesome! And a 25:43:13 finish (due in large part to Dave making me run) gave me a 15-minute PR…no matter how small the victory, I will take it. I am once again humbled by the experience and so thankful to the family and friends that sacrificed to help me through it.

Taking a Trip

In 2009, Leigh and I took a trip to California. We saw things we had never experienced before, both in the city and in nature. We witnessed a forest fire in Yosemite, took a drive down the coastal highway one, communed with famous tech personalities, spent a night in Vegas and toured some of the most beautiful wine country in America.

This year, we took another trip. This trip has been characterized by the muddy trails, by snow, horses, puking and most of all friendships. This trip was a journey into the ultra running community. My first run this year with the Central Ohio Trail Runners involved 17 miles of snow covered trails at Alum Creek. To call them trails at that point in the winter is probably being generous – the snow cover made navigation near impossible if you were not familiar with their windy lines through the woods. However, on this cold wintery morning, I had the privilege of beginning my trail running journey with amazing runners like Mark Carroll, Julie Bowen-Miller, Tom Patton, Michael Patton, Dave Huss and others.

Flash forward to yesterday. I waited in delightful anticipation all day for what has now become known as a ninja run with Mark Carroll, Mike Keller and anyone else who feels so inclined to lace up their running shoes for a foray into Highbanks metro park well after the sun has set and the park has closed its gates. Sure it’s illegal, but so is answering the call of nature in, well, nature as I found out from Mike. While I have only participated in a few ninja runs I cherish each chance I get to head out for some miles after dark with my closest running friends. The first all night run I participated in was up at Mohican State Park. As darkness was falling, Star told us how cool it is to run at night despite the fact that people may call you crazy for it. To me, running all night was a magical experience. Not many people can (or want to) say that they have done it. At 4:45am, Jay’s watch alarm went off signaling that he should be getting up for his morning run on a normal day and letting us know that we had all been out in the woods together for the last 8 hours.

I often like to think that I can take care of myself and that I have things in my life under control. The reality is that I have always had people in my life to take care of me and to watch over me. This could not have been better illustrated this year by the people who took care of me at the two 100-mile races that I completed this year. To nurse a runner back to enough health that they can get their legs moving again, knowing full well that they have brought this pain on themselves, takes a lot of love and a lot of selflessness. In my moments of hubris, I like to think that I can run these races on my own power and strength. The reality is that I have many loving and faithful friends and family that gave me the gift this year of helping me along my journey.

There are so many moments this year that I have absolutely loved and will always cherish. They have marked the beginning of my ultra running trip and a new era that has already proven itself to be unbelievably sweet. Thanks to all that have participated and I’m looking forward to what 2011 will bring.

Burning River 100

The 3:30am wake-up call came way too early that morning, but within minutes, the adrenaline kicked in as I remembered what the day was going to hold. I was going to run 100 miles! Again. Six weeks after my first 100-miler ever. Leigh and I had stayed with Darris and Star who graciously shared their finish-line hotel room with us the night before the race.

Leigh snapped some photos of the starting line as I signed myself in for this new adventure and checked out the haunting Squire’s castle. Fortunately, I was able to meet up with Darris, Star and the Dr.’s Bright (as they became known) who I would spend a good portion of the day running beside. Star had emailed me the week before to ask if I wanted to join their group as they were going for a 24-hour finish. The weather was perfect for this type of a finish and I quickly said yes as a chance to run with some of the most experienced pacers in this part of the country is not one you pass up. I was also happy to run into the familiar faces of Mark Carroll, Michael Patton, Michelle Bischel, Rob Powell and Suzanne Pokorny. We all wished each other luck, sang happy birthday to Joe (the race director), listened to the national anthem and started into our run to the blast of a vuvuzela. This sound brought my thoughts immediately back to Mohican. This was good. It was where I needed to be mentally. The 100 mile distance is such a head game and I had really not been in it up to this point.

I already had the physical training in the bank from my Mohican training in the spring. I had also experienced some of the other problems that come with a 100 (tired feet, nausea, sleepiness), so I was perhaps a little more prepared for what was to come. Although, in the back of my mind, I thought that maybe, just maybe I had some of these problems figured out.

Our 24-hour group, led by Star, made its way through the first 9.5 miles of road amidst a few hundred other runners  –  all with that same energy that exists early on in a race. These miles flew right by as we chatted, stopped to pee and chatted some more. When we reached the polo field, we were instructed by Star to be in and out as quickly as possible – and we were!

The next several miles were a blur as we made our way to Ottawa point at mile 40. Leigh was there and Dave had made it up from Columbus as well. I also caught a brief glimpse of Michael as he was heading out of the aid station. Along the way to Ottawa, I had gotten the chance to chat a bit with everyone in the group and get to know them all just a little better. Darris was fighting a hamstring injury which was made even worse along the way by a nasty bee sting and a dive in the mud. Adam asked if I knew any good jokes. I told him the only one I know – my chicken coop joke. He then told me a few jokes that were in his repertoire and before I knew it, we were climbing the piano keys on our way to Boston Store, where I saw Leigh and Dave again at mile 49. Our little group was all struggling a bit at this point, so we took an extra minute or two to grab some food before moving on to the Boston Store loop. Darris dropped back at this point and decided that it was just not worth fighting his hamstring for the next 50 miles. So, we were down to four.

We moved on through one of the hotter sections of the course to see the really cool Brandywine Falls. We also met a new friend, Bo along the way who was running BR for the second time. By the time we got back to Boston Store, I had been peeing every 15 minutes and figured something was not right. Sure enough, as Dave informed me, I was low on salt. I decided to go ahead and change socks, take a few extra minutes to cool down and get some food and Endurolyte tablets in me. I probably ended up running too quickly out of Boston Store to try to catch up with the group on the way to Pine Lane. The food I ate on the way never seemed to settle quite right, but such is the case with these 100 mile runs. As Star put it, it’s a chess game to get all the pieces to line up just right to get you to that finish line. Time is often the enemy in this game. Not only are you fighting the clock to get to the finish within the allotted time, but the time spent exerting yourself starts to add up and your body begins to rebel against the strain you are putting it through.

We made it to Pine Lane where I informed Star not to wait up for me as I was taking a quick pit stop. As I was exiting Pine Lane, I passed by Michael Patton and his crew, muttering a quick hello as the nausea that had set in was not quelled by stop at Pine Lane. Minutes later, I hear footsteps behind me and see a pair of bright green shorts come flying through my peripheral vision. Michael had caught a second wind a few miles back and he was beginning to get ahead of his game. I was so happy for him as he had gone into a number of races this year with all the proper training, only to have something go wrong during the race that prevented him from running as hard as he would have liked. I wished only the best for him and thought that if he was feeling this good on his second wind, he had a great finish time in store for him.

At some point, we came out onto a road section and Michael offered me a bit of ginger to settle my stomach. I gladly took him up on his offer and then immediately ran to the side of the road to toss my cookies (and whatever else I had just finished eating). Mike Barga (Michael Patton’s pacer) hung back with me (heeding Michael’s request) to encourage me onward and forward. For the time being, my nausea was quieted and I picked up the pace. The relief was only temporary however, and my stomach was once again not too happy as I entered Happy Days. Dave and Leigh (with camera in hand of course) were both waiting for me there. Dave took one look at me and announced that he was joining me here instead of Pine Hollow. I was quite relieved to hear that he was willing to extend his pacing duties by 6.8 miles and we started off into what I think was one of the more beautiful sections of the trail.

Dave entertained me with all kinds of stories as I attempted to run the runable sections of the course and very, very slowly walked the uphills. The nausea was bad and although I tried to focus my thoughts on our conversation, I couldn’t help myself as I puked a couple more times and began to retreat to that dark place within myself.

I read an article recently that talked about pacing a 100-mile race. It mentioned that there must be an understanding between the runner and the pacer that anything that is said or not said during the race is excused, forgiven and forgotten as if it never happened. Dave understood this concept well and continued to encourage, entertain, feed me and ignore my complaining.

Just when I thought I could go no further, a giant hill loomed above us. “Oh man!”, I yelled in frustration. “I think this is Sound of Music Hill!”, Dave said (ignoring my negativity). “And look at all those people waiting at the top – you have to decide – either give the camera a huge smile or a bad-ass grimace.” I tried to smile, but yeah – it turned into a grimace.

Once we got to the top of the hill and sat down for a quick rest, a very helpful volunteer at the aid station kept trying to ask me if I needed anything. My brain was not working well at this point and I couldn’t respond – I just hoped he would leave me alone eventually. There are many moments during a 100 that, looking back, I am not too proud of. Moments where I retreat inside myself and don’t really respond to others who try to help me.

I got a little bit of food down and Dave took a little bit for the road and we headed out for the Pine Hollow loop. But, not without puking again on the way out of the aid station. It began to get dark on this loop and I was glad I had grabbed a long sleeve shirt and a light. As the darkness shrouded our footsteps, we began to go slower and slower as any running had turned to a walk in an attempt to settle my stomach. I was weaving all over the path due to, what I learned from Dave to be a lack of sugar. If there is ever a time that junk food is actually good for you, it is during a 100-mile race.

Finally we made it back to Pine Hollow where I informed Dave that I wanted to sit for a few minutes away from everyone. I got some more food down and listened to some words of wisdom from Darris who was out through the night graciously helping and encouraging others who were struggling through. The food came back up and we decided that it was better to just keep moving. We gave it a couple of tries to right the stomach and sitting just wasn’t doing it. Leigh informed us that she would see us at covered bridge in just 6.6 miles.

OK, I thought, it’s the second longest distance between aid stations, but we can do this. So, we made our way through cornfields (literally), across a bridge with 2x4s nailed to the top (traction for muddy horse feet and great for tripping runners) and on and on we hiked. Dave pointed out that being out in the cornfields at night reminded him of a scene from a horror movie and asked what I would do if he disappeared suddenly into the corn. I was trying to find some humor in all of this, but I was not able to bring myself to laugh. As we walked through a field and down a small service road, I saw a taco truck. What on earth is a taco truck doing out here, I thought? And then I realized that I must be imagining it. I rubbed my eyes, but that taco truck was still there! As we got closer and closer, the taco truck turned into a tree and I was left wondering how on earth I saw anything but a tree to begin with.

Soon, we heard a generator and realized we were getting close to the covered bridge. Leigh ran out to welcome us and ask what we needed. I responded by vomiting yet again into the bushes just outside the covered bridge. Once I had all of that taken care of, we got a chance to sit down inside the bridge. It was really a cool atmosphere on the bridge and everyone was so friendly and helpful. It was great to see the familiar faces of Mark and Terri Lemke as they filled my water bottles and brought me food while I changed my shoes in preparation for the muddiest section of the course – Perkins loop. Leigh said some encouraging words to me and we got to say a quick hello to Star as she was coming back from Perkins loop. Something about the covered bridge aid station had revived me both physically and mentally. It was as if we were all at a party and everyone there was family.

As we started out onto Perkins loop, I felt the need to run. We ran for a few short bursts until I started feeling queasy again. I told Dave I was going to have to slow down on the uphills and he said that was OK – he was just happy I had a boost of energy – even if it was only temporary. So, onward we trekked. I felt like we were repeating sections and asked Dave if we had made a wrong turn somewhere. He assured me that we were still going the right way. It was just a lot of zig-zagging through the woods. We were passed by a number of runners on this section – Roy Heger being one of them. Dave pointed out to me later that Roy has passed him on both of his 100-mile runs and both 100-milers that he has paced other people. I think Roy has got a good strategy figured out.

We made it back to the covered bridge where I ate some more fruit, puked again and headed out to do the last 15 miles. Leigh told us she would see us again in 8 and we were off. We walked some road, some more trail and took a brief stop at O’Neil woods where they had watermelon and glow bracelets. I had been really craving watermelon for a while and they were one of the only aid stations that had it at night. I had not been craving a glow bracelet, but I took one anyway.

Out of O’Neil, we hit a lot of towpaths. These were flat and we started to make pretty good time with a fast hike. It wasn’t long before we hit a manure plant around mile 92. We laughed at how the manure was dripping over the side of the wall and Dave tried to identify the different types of fertilizer they were making with it by the smell. We made it into town and something on the side of the road caught my eye. “Is that a real turtle?” I wondered aloud. “Keep moving”, Dave replied. “I’m going to go back and check it out”. Sure enough, it was a real turtle (and a huge one at that!) playing with a fish that someone had left out in a Home Depot bucket. At least I knew I wasn’t imagining it this time.

We had made good time on the towpath and Leigh was there to see us at mile 93. Now, we started thinking about timing. There was no way to make 24 hours, but 27 hours seemed to be in the cards. So, we trudged on…picking up speed as we walked. Before we knew it, we were at the next aid station with less than 5 miles to go to the finish! Dave told me to just keep moving. He would pick up any needed items at the aid station.

Things were starting to get exciting. We were passing people now and hiking faster than I had ever hiked in my life. Dave told me we could make it to the finish in 26:30. I told him I really didn’t care – I was only going for a faster time because he wanted me to get there faster. I said that I would care tomorrow, but right now, all I cared about was finishing. We hiked some stairs. Then some more stairs and passed a few more people. I told Dave that I couldn’t keep up this pace. But, we did keep up the pace. We made it to the road with less than a mile to go. “Let’s run it in” Dave said. We started running and then I stopped. “No, it hurts too much” I complained. “That’s OK, we can walk it. But, do you realize how close we are to breaking 26 hours?” “OK, fine, let’s run.” And we ran towards the finish line. Leigh was waiting with her camera. Dave said, “I’m going to let you run it in from here.” 26:00:39. I’ll call that 26 hours. Joe handed me a belt buckle and said his congratulations. Jay came over and asked if I needed anything. “No. Well, a hot shower and a good night’s sleep.” I responded. Dave came running up with Leigh and we high-fived. I was nearly in tears. We high-fived again to pose for the camera. Jay suggested that this occasion called for a hug. Neither of us are really the hugging type, but I was overwhelmed with thankfulness for a friend who was willing to go through this with me, a wife who has crewed me for two of these adventures and showed much more support for my running beyond the races, and many other friends who have run with me, supported me, encouraged me and paced me through this year.

My First Mohican 100 Mile

Doubled over in the middle of the woods somewhere between Mohican Adventures and Covered bridge, I stared at the no longer edible Raman noodles and other bits of food now all over the trail and yelled back to Ashley, “This isn’t what you expected when you signed up to pace me, was it?” “No”, she replied, “but I had no idea what to expect.” This exact phrase had been running around in my thoughts for the last 6 weeks since I decided to switch from the 50 to the 100-mile Mohican trail run.

I didn’t think I would ever have the desire to run an ultra-marathon. My first exposure to the ultra-community was doing a short pacing stint for my good friend Dave Huss at the Mohican 100-miler in 2009. He had talked about how great it was to be on the trails, but I just didn’t see it after the 4 hour, 15-mile night hike.

2009 was a frustrating running year for me in general, as I dealt with an IT injury first in my left knee and then my right, causing me to question whether I wanted to just give up on running altogether. As winter approached however, I realized that I needed something to keep me from getting too depressed during the short days and the cold nights. Right around that time, Dave mentioned the Lean Horse 100 to me as a race to possibly consider. Being a relatively flat course, it might be a good way to experience my first 100 miles. Somehow, hearing about this race that was nearly 9 months away intrigued me more than my first exposure to an ultra earlier that year.

As the winter months flew by, I got to know a number of other runners through a group Michael Patton started up this year called Central Ohio Trail Runners. I began to realize just how much everybody within this community supports and encourages each other. Soon, I signed up for some races for the year: the Cleveland Marathon, a couple of 50K’s, and the Mohican 50-miler. Miles and more miles kept adding up in my running log, and after an inspiring night run with Michael, Jay, Terri, Dave, Star, Ashley, Tom and Suzanne, I declared that I was going switch my entry from the 50 to the 100 at Mohican. I figured it was time for an adventure whether I was ready or not.

The Start

As I stood on the starting line among many familiar faces, I felt a mixture of excitement, exhaustion and anticipation for what the day would bring. This was it. All the training was finally going to pay off. The blast of a vuvuzela jolted me out of my thoughts as 241 headlamps began to pour down the road and into the woods. Michael and I chatted a bit as we made our way along the river to Covered Bridge. A slight drizzle cooled us off and we made it to the first aide station a little ahead of a 23-hour pace. As we started into the next 4 mile loop, I began to realize the beauty that surrounded us in this slice of Ohio. After a quick climb up the falls, Mark Lemke (and a horse and buggy) greeted us at the road. Dave Huss caught up with Michael and me sometime along the road section and the three of us ran along at a good clip back to Covered Bridge. Spirits were high at this point as the endorphins had kicked in and the tiredness from the short night of sleep the night before had worn off.

The next 10 miles to Rock Point went by quickly. Amidst refreshingly cool stream crossings and more vuvuzelas, there were great stories being told and encouraging words being passed around. Reaching the quaint church that signals the nearing of Rock Point, Dave mentioned that this was the fastest he ever remembered this section going by. Of course, this was only the first time running this section and, well, the day was still young.

Michael started to feel a little queasy soon after Rock Point, so Dave and I ran together for much of the road section. Despite the heat, the miles were going by like clockwork. I think part of this has to do with the fact that I feel more comfortable on the roads than the trails, as the majority of my training is along the Olentangy bike path in Columbus. When you run a familiar road or trail time and again, your mind begins to form memories that are triggered by being in that location. I tend to remember things such as what I was listening to (I usually listen to podcasts when I run by myself) or how I felt along that stretch of trail. For instance, I will always think of the time that Mark Carroll encouraged me to run the hills with him on the section from Rock Point to Fire Tower. A couple of miles out from Fire Tower, I completely bonked – mostly from my lack of experience and not realizing the amount of effort it takes to run every hill. Although it felt bad in the moment, I think fondly of that memory every time I run that portion of the trail – I learned a good lesson about running hills and I was in good company which makes it all worth it.

Because this road section (miles 19-43) was all new to me, I had the privilege of forming new memories as well. A guy running in sandals asked if he was still on course for the 50-miler. I replied that yes, I was pretty sure he was still on course, and wondered to myself why he was running in sandals. Dave pointed out to me that this was Micah True, of Born to Run fame – I guess that explained the sandals. I realized every time I come to an ultra event what an honor it is to be able to meet and run with so many rock-star runners who constantly exhibit humility and freely give advice and support to much less experienced runners like myself. Other memories along this section include a surprise visit from my beautiful wife, Leigh (who was an amazing and selfless support to me for the entire weekend) and Dave’s wife, Katie at Mohican Wilderness. I didn’t think they were planning to see us until later on in the race, so it was a huge encouragement to get a kiss from Leigh and a “Go get ‘em” to send Dave and myself back out onto the road. I will also remember Dave pointing out all kinds of landmarks that he recognized from last year (he seemed to remember one guard rail in particular that we couldn’t seem to find this year) and the absolutely beautiful farm scenery we witnessed along those stretches of road.

Around Buckhaven, Dave decided he was going to hang back a bit to try to get his stomach righted. I ran with Greg for a while back to Rock Point and was entertained by his jokes, stories and laughter. The miles flew as we yo-yoed back and forth to Rock Point, South Park and then Fire Tower. As I stopped to pee somewhere along this stretch, I thought of Mark’s blog post about inspecting the color of your urine (you’ll have to read it to understand) and realized I was getting dehydrated. I was not too concerned as I still felt pretty good and figured I would be able to catch up if I started drinking just a little more.

My Dad and Mom (who had a bruised and swollen ankle from a mishap just days earlier) had driven up from Columbus just to see me for a few short minutes at Fire Tower. As I was crossing 97, they were driving by (following Leigh and Katie) as they were trying to find the Fire Tower – just one of the cool ways that God works in every little detail. As I approached Fire Tower, I was greeted by my Dad in the woods as he snapped a photo and welcomed me in. There were many smiling and familiar faces at Fire Tower including Leigh, Katie, both of my parents and Lindsey (who we had worked with us at Covered Bridge during the “Forget the PR” 50k earlier this year). I got a chance to visit with everyone for a bit and then was sent off to continue the adventure.

Uh Oh

In the next several miles, I started to realize that something was up. Now, for those that know me, I do not deal very well with discomfort…especially nausea. So, why do I run at all when discomfort is inevitable? For me, the high felt from running is so much stronger than the lows (and lasts much longer) that it is well worth a little discomfort. And, I’ve felt some discomfort on my training runs, but I was not prepared for nausea that hit me on the way to Hickory Ridge. As I passed by others looking at least as bad as I felt, my only thoughts were on getting to mile 65 where I would see Leigh again and be able to take a little break to hopefully right myself. Ashley would be there as well to pace me if I felt like continuing on with this madness. Unfortunately, things were only getting worse and I didn’t feel like drinking or eating much of anything. In fact, I hadn’t been able to stomach any food in the last three hours. As I ran in to the Mohican Adventures campground, Leigh came running out to meet me. She knew instantly that something was wrong. I had already slowed down considerably from my earlier pace and I must have looked pretty rough. I told her I was ready to drop the race. At this point, I lay down on the ground as Leigh tried to feed me something. Almost immediately, I jumped back up to my feet as I began dry heaving on the side of the campground road.

As I was making a feeble attempt at composing myself, Jay Smithberger (who had already won the 50 and was hanging around to offer his support) came over and asked, “Steve, what IS the problem??”. I explained my situation and was assured by everyone there that I was not the only one feeling this way. They kept telling me that I would get through it. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to run – I just couldn’t bear the thought of jostling my stomach around any longer.  Dave came through Mohican Adventures at that point, tried to reason with everyone there to let him drop due to a painful knee injury, but they wouldn’t hear of it. They told both him and me that they would see us in about 7 miles. I had already sat for 45 minutes at this point, so I asked Ashley if she was up for giving this a go, and we both headed back off into the woods.

Ashley and I chatted for a bit and she offered some encouraging words to get me going. After a brief encounter with a snake (this is now the second snake I’ve seen at Mohican) and a couple of miles of trails I had run earlier in the day, I stopped suddenly (giving Ashley no warning) to leave all of the food I had just eaten earlier (the plate of food Leigh brought me, the Raman noodles that Jay had made me) on the trail. That was the moment I decided I was done with this stupid race. If I couldn’t get the nutrients my body needed, I just couldn’t keep running. Ashley did an amazing job during this section to hold it together herself after seeing my techni-color display and later bonking her head on a fallen tree. I told her as we were nearing Covered Bridge that I was all done. As we ran across the bridge, we saw Dave sitting in a chair echoing the same sentiments. “We’ve just got to get to Bridle Staging” he said, “but then I’m done”. I was so done at this point and tried to convince him that we should just radio up there to get Leigh and Katie to come pick us up, but he convinced me that we should at least try to make the 2.7 mile hike up there. Withdrawing into the misery I was feeling, I gave it a go, but just couldn’t do the up-hills without the heat exhaustion bringing on more nausea. I told Dave and Ashley that I couldn’t make it and Dave was just going to have to send someone down for me. Ashley and I made our way back down to covered bridge where I let them know I was DNF-ing. I saw Michael sometime around here and he encouraged me to just sit and wait it out as he had done the year before, but I wanted to hear none of that. I was ready to be done!

Sitting for the next 1.5 hours at covered bridge was the lowest point of the race for me. Not the nausea or the puking, but the sitting, the frustration, the disappointment. Sitting and shaking from the cold and thinking that I didn’t want to run now, but that tomorrow I was going to be disappointed with myself for not finishing. Oh well. Whatever. At least I would get some sleep tonight.

I didn’t say much to Ashley at that point and she didn’t say too much either. She had put up with my whining and complaining, and had just accidentally sat in a puke covered chair herself. It was a miserable time for both of us.

While we were sitting, waiting for a ride, Mark Carroll came rolling through with his crew. He sat down next to me and invited us to run with him and his group as they were all feeling chatty at that point and it might help take my mind off my discomfort. He told me that I could run and get through my stomach problems if I just kept sipping water and pushed through it. While I declined his offer, just hearing that it was possible to work through the issues while running got me thinking again…I began to doubt my decision to drop.

Leigh and Katie finally showed up! The first words I blurted out of my mouth when I saw them were “What took you so long?” They took one look at me, brushed my question aside, and Leigh said, “Why are you quitting? Is it because you can’t run, or because you don’t want to?” I told her that at this point I didn’t want to, but I realized that my stomach was starting to feel better. They told me that Dave kept going after Bridle Staging. Just as misery loves company, so does a little friendly competition help to motivate you to get back out on the trail. Ashley said she was up for getting me through to at least Bridle Staging where Leigh promised that she would have a pacer for me. As Leigh and Katie flew over to Rock Point to see if Ted Niemann could come to pick me up at Bridle Staging, Ashley and I had a nice hike up the trail as my spirits started to improve. Ted, a friend of Michael, had agreed to pace me from Rock Point to the end when I was looking for a pacer at the last minute before the race. We made it to Bridle and Leigh let me know that when Ted heard I had dropped the race, he had gone on to pace someone else to the finish, but that she would run with me to Rock Point instead. This was such a selfless act on her part as she had been up all day crewing already and had never run this far on trails before, but she was willing to do whatever it would take to get me through to the end. I told her that this was a tough section to run (and long at almost 8 miles) and Ashley agreed at that point to run with me through to Rock Point although it was much later than she had anticipated being out there.

At some point along this section, I started feeling miserable again, but decided that if I had made it this far, I might as well make it to the end. The mental was righted again even if the physical was not. I complained a lot, but just kept putting one foot in front of the other. The trail seemed to go on forever, but we finally made it to THE ROCK where we were met by Leigh and Katie’s smiling faces once again. I have to say, the crew at Rock Point also knew how to take care of us. It was great to see Julie, Jen, Tom and others there that had put in a long couple of days helping many runners get through. At this point, I started hearing whispers of cutoff times. My clouded mind hadn’t even thought about that until now. It was getting to be very close, but we had been moving well so far. So, after some deliberation, Ashley decided she would hang in there and get me through to South Park. I honestly don’t know what happened along this section as I began to run in my sleep. I had a dream that I had replaced my stomach with another one and I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of doing this earlier. The one thing I do remember about this section was hearing myself say that I just wish I could get better from this nausea as Ashley replied, “You know, it may not get better until the end, but just try to take your mind off of it.” Somehow, just hearing this was comforting to me. I was focusing so hard on trying to fix my problem that I didn’t realize how much it was making me focus on the problem itself. Maybe the solution was just to try not to think about it.

We were both elated to reach South Park (mile 84). Ashley had just achieved a distance PR and Leigh was there (after battling her fears of coyotes and running away from strange people in the woods) excited and ready to run with me to the end. The sun was coming up and life was starting to seem livable again. Leigh propped me up when I started to fall asleep and kept me going, going, going. She was conscious of the time and made sure that I had what I needed emotionally and physically to get me to Fire Tower before the cutoff.

A quick stop at Fire Tower and Katie graciously offered to run with me to Covered Bridge to give Leigh a chance to rest up a bit before the last 11 miles in to the finish. She entertained me with all kinds of stories, and kept me fed and on pace. Then, out of nowhere, with less than a mile to get to Covered Bridge, Ted ran up to us. After being up all night running 22 miles with another runner, he had run back (I’m not sure if he ran all the way back from the start?) to pace me in the rest of the way. Everyone was excited to see Ted because they knew I would need someone to kick my butt to the finish line if I was going to make it in time.

On to the finish line

Another miracle happened on the way out from Covered Bridge – my nausea began to subside. I still wasn’t moving extremely fast at this point, but Ted was nice enough to let me ease my way back into running. As we approached Hickory Ridge, he told me we would need to pick up the pace just a bit. With a quick stop for some Mountain Dew (I was falling asleep again) and a few words from Leo letting me know that I would make it, we got back out on trails. I was getting scared at this point that we wouldn’t make the cutoff, so I just started running every section that was not a steep uphill. “That was a 12-minute mile back there.” I heard Ted say behind me. “You only need to do 18’s to make it”. OK, I just had to pace myself so I didn’t burn out in the last 5 miles. We chatted a bit and pushed the pace anywhere we could. Suddenly I heard a voice yelling at us from up ahead, “Steve!” It was Star…and Dave! It couldn’t have been better timing to be able to run in the last mile and a half with Dave and two amazing pacers beside us. As we entered the finish line, I couldn’t stop smiling as I thought of how ridiculous the last 29 hours and 44 minutes had been.  A flood of thankfulness poured over me as I realized just how many people it took to get me across this finish line.