Nearly in tears, I was shaking from being so cold and low on nutrition, I wanted to give up. 75 miles in, JP sat next to me, encouraging me to go on. The chills had taken over. That voice that nearly took me down once earlier, reared it’s ugly head again. I’m teary eyed from exhaustion, remorse, and low fuel. I’m broken, mentally and physically, and I want to go home. This time, I gave into it. I accepted I was finished when I asked JP, “Wanna grab that beer? We can be done now, go home, shower and drink”. He reminded me that the only way back was to grind it out. “There isn’t a bus back to the finish, we have to walk back there, might as well finish the race. Plus, the beer will taste so much better when we finish. We have both come to far to stop now.” I hated the idea, but in my heart, I knew he was right. But.. I’ve got nothing left at this point. He brought me some boiled potatoes with salt. I hadn’t been eating, just mountain dew, some ginger ale, and some chips when I could at the aid stations. That along with some Tailwind in my bottle, that I rarely was drinking from now. Honey stinger waffles and gels were my plan, but that went out the window 30 miles ago. My stomach hit it’s second rough spot of the race during these last few hours, which as slow as we were moving, was only a handful of miles. Cramps were the norm for me, no matter how many salt tabs I took. “wow, these are amazing!” Plain, boiled potatoes with salt were a delicacy to me at this point. I felt like I was at a ritzy dining establishment and some gourmet chef cooked me up his special of the day. JP asked if I needed more, which I did, so he brought me another cup. Just as fast as everything went bleak, somehow, these turned me around.
The path to quitting is an easy one. We all hit a roadblock to a challenge in life where we throw in the towel. But rare are the precious moments when the chips are down, when your mind screams “I can’t!” that you push on. That voice is a liar. Those are the moments when you need to keep pushing to help define who you are. When the voice whispers, “It’s ok, you can quit”, ignore it. It’ll get louder for awhile, heck, it may start screaming at you. Keep moving anyway, piss it off. Happiness doesn’t reside in the complacency of life. It lies in adventuring into unknown territory. It comes from a place where you have to push past the limits you imagined. That’s all limits are anyway, imaginary boundaries we place around ourselves.
Lets go back to how we got here, how it all came about.
5 months ago I was at Whole Foods with some friends. I had just finished my 100k, the one where I was leading for 43/4 miles or so.. then fell apart. Still got it done though and finished 3rd, an hour slower than I expected. JP had just completed his World Marathon Challenge. That is, 7 marathons, in 7 days, on 7 continents. In his head, he wanted a 100 miler one day. I wanted to get my qualifier for Western States. We picked Never Summer 100k in Colorado, but we waited to long and there was a waiting list. Burning River 100 was on my radar last year, when my buddy Steve told me about it. It just so happened he was here with us now as we were trying to find a race. We looked it up, and next thing I know, JP was registered. Shit.. I can’t make him do it alone.. so boom. We are in. Well, over the next few months, JP ran some more crazy stuff, and his legs and body weren’t too pleased. He was allowed to drop to the 50 miler, but the best news was he could do the backhalf 50 with me and pace. Hell, I can run 50 solo miles to start the race, no problem at all.
Or so I thought. I signed up for the OSS/CIA 50 miler to use as a training run. It was an overnight 50 miler, on some amazing trails. No thoughts entered my head I couldn’t make it, especially knowing Steve and another buddy, Chuck, were also running it. Everything was ok.. til a thunderstorm blew in. It rained harder than I’ve ever raced in. Lightning illuminated the sky, while the roar of thunder shook us. Dry, fast trails became mud pits before turning to streams of water flowing downhill as we ran up. The rain lasted hours. It was relentless. I had one DNF ever and that was because my ankle was swollen twice the size and I couldn’t put pressure on it. But that was 10 years ago. I haven’t quit since. But.. I didn’t expect the worst here. I hung with Steve for 20 miles, jogged in the last 5 to finish the first of two loops. I walked to the race director, handed him my bib and quit. Mentally, the thought of another 25 miles, starting at midnight, in this weather wasn’t worth it. I knew I’d fall over and over on the terrain of this course. I didn’t want to risk injury before my actual A race. I tell myself these now about how smart it was, but the voice inside whispered quit once.. and I obliged. On training runs after, Steve and I chatted about how to use this to prepare for BR100. We did some workouts that were brutal for us, that boosted our confidence after the fact. I reminded myself to use those that I could come back stronger.
Burning River 100
Race day started at 130am. The alarms going off were awful.. who gets up that early to run all day? We stayed in Akron, not too far from the finish. There was a bus to the start from Akron, but JP volunteered to take me. This allowed me to get things together a little longer and to prepare a bit more. We headed off around 215 for Squire’s Castle outside Cleveland. And of course, I told him the wrong road. Ominous sign to start the race, but at least it wasn’t too far off and we were there in less than 10 minutes. Bathroom, gear check, pictures, and then it was time to line up for the start. Everything seems to move a bit faster race morning, almost too fast. You’re never quite ready for the gun. I’ve raced everything from one mile to 100.. the pit in your stomach always comes. Nerves for this though are overwhelming. The secret for 100 miles is to not think about 100 miles, yea that’s easier said than done. Aid station to aid station will get you there better though. Five miles here, six miles there, etc.. those smaller chunks make is doable.
As the race starts, I find a comfortable pace. I’m in a pack of ten runners after a mile or so that dwindles to just a couple. Some take off like they are running at 10k.. others realizing the enormity of the day back off. I happen, unknowingly, to be running with the 2nd place finisher for the day. We chat, crack jokes and talk about races. He was from this area originally, came back to run it and was also 3.5 months off a stress fracture in his leg. Oh, and he was wearing Hoka’s that he had nearly zero miles in.. so the marshmellowey softness could ease the pounding. He pulled away a couple miles later when I stopped to refill my bottle of Tailwind. The first 11.x miles of the course are road. I had to force myself to take it easy, and so far it was working. I was averaging 9 minute miles, right what i wanted. As we headed onto bridle trails for the next bit, nothing much changed. Except for two things. One was horse shit, which was everywhere for the rest of the day. The other, was stream crossings. Nothing too deep, maybe just calf deep at the worst, but enough to get your socks and shoes wet over and over.
I brought my phone with me for the race because they were using Racejoy app during this race. It’s a great idea, def a few bugs to get out. It allowed people to see my progress in real time, mile by mile. It also allowed them to send cheers, either the pre-programmed ones they had, or personal messages. If you were one of the people that sent cheers, I can’t thank you enough. These messages kept me motivated all day. Once or twice, someone somehow shot a messaged at the perfect time to get me through a tough spot. Like when Heidi sent a snippet of the song, “I’ve got the power” as was I trying to run up a tough hill. The personal messages were amazing, loved having my friends talk to me on the course, letting me know they were thinking of JP and I. Still waiting on my Yeti’s someone promised me and I hope the Ohio beers y’all were drinking came close to the ones JP and I drank later. I will say, 41 miles isn’t halfway.. and that 65 miles doesn’t mean a 50k to go. You know who you are haha.
Back to the race. Everything was spot on those first 30 miles. I honestly couldn’t have run it more perfectly to my plan than i did. I was maybe a bit behind on water and a bit hungry, but being five hours in, who wouldn’t be? When I got to the 30 mile aid station, i grabbed some watermelon, refilled my bottle and went on. Less than a mile or two later, I was in trouble. My stomach did not like watermelon in anyway, shape, or form. I felt nauseous. I wanted to stick my finger down my throat to get it out, and I probably should have. The next 7-8 miles were rough. I had been chatting with one guy in the beginning of this part, can’t remember his name, but he mentioned he was done and was going to drop. He fell further behind me, and I was walking with an occasional jog. Ouch. Once I started regaining my composure a bit, just before mile 36, I met up with Chad. He had run it several times and finished. About a mile into talking, he decided enough was enough and threw in the towel. He didn’t wanna tough it out any longer, knowing the day was gonna be too long to deal with. Great.. two guys I’ve talked to in a couple miles, who felt better than me, just quit. Chad reminded me to at least get to my buddy at mile 50. I couldn’t leave him hanging he said, and hell, who knows, it could turn around. I hit the mile 37 aid station, took in a couple cups of ginger ale and a ginger chew, filled my bottle with Tailwind and took off quickly.
The oddest thing about feeling like you are on death’s door, is how fast you forget you ever were hurting when it turns around. Around mile 40, a couple miles after the aid station, I was good again. I couldn’t remember how I ever felt that bad. I started running, until some serious hills came. At this point in the race, I could power hike up the hills, jog or walk fast on the descents, and run the flats. The hills were steeper than anything I was used to. I was in contact with JP and he saw me coming to the halfway point. Before you get there, a huge wooden staircase goes up a giant hill. As was the norm for the day, they were steep. A guy was stretching to the side, obviously in pain, as I was approaching. Right as I got to them, he jumped in front of me and proceeded to take his sweet time up them. Ugh.. i just wanted to go around, but they were barely wider than me..
Once up, we ran back on the roads to the 50 mile checkpoint. I was at 10 hours.. about an 80 min slower than I hoped. JP was there with my gear and nutrition. Grabbed some food, refilled my bottle, and off we went. I already let him know I was moving slow. He was ok with it. We discussed the race, the course, who won the 50 miler, etc. He updated me on the latest happenings and provided me with a spark.
We got into a walk, run mode for the next while. He made me jog at times, which I needed. Even if I didn’t wanna. Around mile 62, a relay runner came upon us. She told us good job, then talked about how she just hit the wall a bit ago… I wanted to throw something at her. I mentioned I may have it the wall 8 or 9 times already..but hey.. whatever. He started seeing some of these hills I was talking about. Glad he thought they were tough too. Can’t really remember much during this part, other than I was still under 22 hour pace, which meant, HiHo Brewery would be open for a beer for us at the finish. The next aid station came, I ran to the bathroom, finally after hours on not using it, again. The aid stations at BR100 were perfect. They had everything needed, well, except maybe veggie ramen noddles for people like me that are allergic to meat. But that’s neither here nor there. We approached mile 69 when we saw the guy who had his dog running the backhalf of the race with him. Pretty cool stuff, as long as his dog was up for it. There were two big hills to climb coming into the aid station at 72 and JP just ran up like a mountain goat. He even got claps from one runner. We filled up here, got ready to head out on the next part.
Just a quick 3 1/2 miles back we said. Maybe an hour, since it had some of the tougher climbing of the day. This section was the beginning of the end.. or was it the end of the beginning? I thank god it got darker here, that headlamps were needed. I couldn’t fathom seeing some of the hills. Everytime you turn, it seemed to go straight up, then straight down. My quads were locking up, my ankle started to as well from cramps. The top of my left foot was in pain. My glutes gave out here and were throbbing. My calf, the one that cramped and locked at Singletrack Maniac earlier in the year did it again. I went down hard. I took a tylenol, hoping to numb the pain. It worked way back at mile 39 or so, and I prayed it would again. I couldn’t run downhill, couldn’t walk downhill barely either. Uphills were slower than molasses. 25+ minute mile times almost. I had been taking 1-2 Endurolyte Extreme tabs every hour, or even a salt stick tab when i was out from the aid station. I drank plenty of fluids. But. this was something else than regular cramping. My lower half just didn’t work. My inner demons came raging back. I convinced myself to quit when we got out of this at mile 75. I had nothing left, I was physically and mentally checked out. I didn’t want the pain anymore. It was too bad.
Once JP got me back out from that mess (from the beginning of my story).. within a mile, I thanked him. I felt ok again. Running wasn’t gonna happen much, but I was ok. I was probably in the aid station for 25 min or more, as that whole mile took 45 minutes.
We listened to music, we chatted, but most of all.. we kept moving. I got passed, a lot. We were now going to be lucky to break 24 hours, bye bye gold Sub-24 belt buckle. We were moving again, and that’s all that really mattered. JP jokingly said, “I should have let you quit, we could be drinking beer now!” But I was determined. Nothing was going to stop me now, except freezing to death. 60 degree temps over night sent chills through both of us. I knew I had a pullover at 91. Just had to make it there. The next aid station was also an out and back, so we saw it twice. Hills, more hills, and then we were back. Oh, and a ninja creeped up on us wearing only shoe lights. Seriously, it was pitch black, and she had only shoe lights to guide her through? Unreal.
The realization now, was that I was going to see the sun come up again. That means, twice in one race, I’ll see it come up. Shit, that’s long. I got to mile 91, got my pullover on, my back up battery charger for my phone and saw they had pizza. HELL YES!! Pizza. If you’ve ever hung out with me, I can eat pizza. More than most people, def more than anyone reading this. I grabbed three of the most delicious, thick slices I could and took off. I regretted not grabbing more, as I was starving, but I couldn’t hold em. Just past this aid station was a coal plant.. and it stunk. Thankfully my sense of smell wasn’t the best at this point, but, still nearly wanted to vomit.
We kept moving, hit the huge set of stairs that I knew signaled the end of trails and the end of the race. It was a bit longer on the gravel path than i anticipated, but.. sure enough, there was the bridge around the corner where the road was. JP was struggling to keep up with me I was walking so fast. It was just a hop, skip, and jump from the end. My emotions were getting the better of me at this point and tears did come on. I wiped them away a few times, so no one could see them. I had set out to finish this thing no matter what. I know I needed a little convincing, but mission accomplished.
I can’t thank everyone that supported me enough. The messages before and during, the miles of training leading up to the race. JP for dealing with me for 17 hours, keeping me moving, and dealing with the worst stench from my body. Being in the same clothes for 30 hours smells god-awful. The best news is, the gear worked perfectly. No issues at all. Thanks LA for letting me borrow your phone case charger, that thing was great too 🙂
Shoes – Hoka Challenger ATR 4 (no toenails lost!)
Socks – Drymax Hot weather socks (no blisters at all)
Shorts – Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts (best shorts around)
Shirt – North Face Better Than Naked SS (barely feels like you are wearing anything, and cools ya down too)
Hat – Patagonia Duckbill Trucker (kept sweat out, ice in, and folds nicely into a pocket)
Naked Running Belt – held all my goodies, including lamp, phone, food, soft flask
Squirrel’s Nut Butter – no chafing. ever.
Tailwind – lots and lots of it!
Another big thanks to Jake McCrowell at Direct Performance Physical Therapy for getting me to the start line healthy as always.
27 hours, 26 minutes, 50 seconds.
8 hours slower than I planned.
Also, huge shout out to Akronym Brewery. We went there the day before the race. We returned after eating, showering and napping after the race. I wish I could remember her name, but she hooked us up with free beers. Awesome place, great vibe and delicious beer.