Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Timeless Race

Sometime during the summer I decided to stop using my watch for my runs. I knew roughly the distance of most of my runs but did nothing back at home to keep track of just how many miles I was putting in for a given week. I still had kind of a training schedule, with one long run a week interspersed with shorter runs at a faster pace. So when I arrived at Bradbury Mountain State Park for the twelve mile Bradbury Bruiser race, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to perform versus my past performances.
I was really looking forward to this race as I hadn’t seen many other Trail Monster runners over the course of the summer. I had run the Scuffle but missed out on the Breaker as I spent that weekend hiking with my family. So there would be no Bad Ass hoodie for me at the end of this race for completing the series. One of my goals over the summer was not to become a Bad Ass runner but to allow time and opportunity to spend with my family, which for the most part was completed.
Since I hadn’t run most of the summer with a watch, I decided to leave mine at home for this race. I was a little inspired by Bob McGuire who I knew raced sans timepiece. I met up with him and many other friends before the race. When I told Bob I was taking his lead, he did confide in me that he usually trained with a watch, which had me wondering if this was such a good idea after all.
In talking with people before the race, a common question arose, “What race is next?” To which I did not have an answer. Most people didn’t probe too much, but George the Jedi really didn’t accept that answer and probed some more while we stood in the starting coral. So I began to ask him a little about the Massanuten 100 miler. While he excitedly told me all about it, I glanced behind us and noticed that there were a lot more people behind us than in front of us. Normally I don’t like to start in the front at this race as it starts out with lots of twists and turns on the trail and you really can’t get a fast pace going until about three miles into the race so it’s not that bad to move slow and make up time later on.
As the race started I really enjoyed having a little more space than I’m used to. I wasn’t stuck behind a slow moving group and there wasn’t anyone right on my heels either. I ran close to a few runners and there was a little changing of positions. Jim Gott was right with me as we were swapping places with Rebecca Miller. I was pleased I was able to stay on pace with these two as Jim has been training with the upcoming 50 miler at Bradbury and Rebecca has had a stellar summer of races. I caught sight of John Rodrigue and Zak Wieluns and pushed myself to catch up with them eager to strike up a conversation.
I made up a little song for John as I pulled in behind him. I was a little surprised to find Zak not closer to the lead pack, but when he told me about his race a little while ago in Ireland and how he was fighting some bad hamstrings I knew I shouldn’t let him lead our pack and potentially due more damage to his legs. So I pulled ahead hoping that I could pull him and others along, kind of like taking a turn at the front of a bike peleton.
When I got to the first aid station, most of the peleton had fallen behind except for Jim and another runner. I let both of them pass, as I took time to drink my full cup of water and chat a little with Jamie Anderson who was working at the station. I didn’t fall too far behind and was soon within a few strides of Jim.
The trail got a little technical again and I was able to pass Jim while still feeling that I wasn’t over exceeding my effort level. There were a couple other guys close by, one of them whom I had seen at many other races but was never formally introduced. So as we ran together and talked about football games later in the day, I formally introduced myself. He said his name is Nate Pike and that he was going to be doing a Spartathalon next week in Vermont. Although I tend to look down upon many themed races this one was not one I thought your normal weekend warrior could take on without some serious training. I had all sorts of questions about his training but only got to ask a few before we turned onto the snowmobile trail where he and another runner pulled out ahead of me.
The three of us were able to catch up to our race director Ian Parlin, and while the two busted up the hill I spent sometime talking with Ian. At the next aid station I once again took my time, still totally unaware of what my time was but pleased that I was placed near some good runners. I was hoping to be able to catch back up with Ian, and when I saw him just up ahead pulling some leaves off a tree branch I knew I had the opportunity to distance myself from him while he made his nature stop.
As the trail began to take it’s normal twists and turns again I was able to catch back up with Nate and the other runner. The three of us all moved together at conversational pace. The other runner, Bob Arsenault, talked a little how he got stuck behind a small train of runners earlier in the race whom he said were just chit-chatting. I told him that was probably me, John and Zak. And so while the three of us chit-chatted the miles quickly flew by.
Waiting for us at the last aid station was Iron Joe handing out water before we turned onto the dreaded O-Trail for the last couple of miles. I talked a little with Joe letting the others pull ahead and drank down my water. I quickly caught up with Nate and then another runner and then they both let me pull out ahead of them. To those unfamiliar with the O-Trail I will quickly describe it as the large intestine of trails and running on it you feel like a lump of partially digested food making it’s way through the digestive system. To my delight however, I was feeling still really fresh but knew if I pushed much harder my feeling could quickly change.
There are so many twists that you can see many other runners but be totally unaware just how far ahead or behind you are from the others. So when I began to catch sight of Bob once again I just wasn’t sure how close I was. He had said earlier that he hated leading people on this part of the race as it would suck energy away. So when I caught up to him, I thought there might be a chance to get past him. Instead, his pace only increased, and anytime the trail was straight he made the most of the opportunity and pulled farther ahead of me. I enjoyed keeping on his pace even from a distance and was feeling better than usual at this point of the race.
It can be very challenging to stay on the course with all the turns and I really appreciated the orange tape set up at a few of the more challenging turns. The tape was a great addition and perhaps next year there may be a few more places to add some. As I spotted other runners I had to make sure that I clearly saw an American flag sewn on the back of one before I shouted out encouragement to John who was having a stellar performance.
Bob was still in sight when we caught up to another runner who appeared to have all his energy sucked away from him by the O-Trail as we blazed by him. Not long after that I took the final turn off the O and picked my pace up not wanting to get caught in the final moments of the race.
I was unable to catch up with Bob before reaching the finishing chute. I must have been charging pretty hard as I came in when Ryan Triffit hollered for me to stop and then ripped off my info tag from my bib.
Even though I ran the race not concerned about my time, now I had to know. It was kind of like taking a test in school and wanting the teacher to grade it right away. Only now, I had to seek out runners close to me instead of the listing of grades posted on a professor’s door. (Yah, it’s been awhile since I’ve been in school.) I saw the one runner just behind me and he told me that he finished at 1:47. My PR for this race is just at 1:45 and to be about two minutes off was very pleasing. The conditions for the day had been perfect, as the sun was out but there was a chill in the air and the ground was just soft enough to have some good grip.
I hung out for awhile more sharing in the glory of the day with some great people. Before I slipped out of there, I did glance at the finisher’s board (literally a board) and saw that I had placed in twenty-fifth, later I would find out there were about one hundred fifty finishers.
Despite not wearing a watch during the race, I did need to be conscious of the time of day as I needed to pick up the kids and get to work later in the day. Looking back now, I think the real joy of not running with a watch is not about the race itself but that I didn’t need to be aware of any other moments of the day. There will always be time to measure time, why not live moments of pleasure in the absence of time.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Bad Ass Shin Splints

       I will admit that I felt pretty much like a bad ass coming off my hundred mile race. Maybe, justly so a little bit but I know I alone was not responsible for getting my ass across that finish line. And it was hard as hell to cross that finish line but, I found out about a month later that sometimes just getting to the starting line can be something rather epic unto itself.
It was that time of the summer when I go with my family to Indiana to visit my wife’s family. I usually get some free time for a few hours while Mo’ takes the kids off to see old friends or other family members. So what do I do, yah, I go for a run.
I drove down just off the Butler University campus to run along the canal trails. These are not trails like I’m used to running. These are flat, packed down dirt trails that are nearly as fast as running on roads, except you don’t have to worry about getting hit by texting drivers.
The only problem with running on these trails in Indiana in July is that it is hot! I’m on vacation so I don’t want to wake up at 5 a.m. in order to beat the heat, and even then it is usually hotter than I’m used to back home in Maine. So after helping getting the kids ready for the day and while Mo is visiting with one friend before going off to visit another I slip off to the canal sometime around eleven in the morning.
I park just off the campus and stepping out of the car I practically melt. Ugh, this is going to be rough. I have not been running all that much since my last race. Sure I’m still in decent shape but I decide to take it easy and not push the pace like I like to do along these trails.
Most of the details of the run escape me, which is good so as not to bore you the reader. But I’m sure this is mostly what I saw. A few runners and walkers who would not look me in the eye, least of all say hello as they are accustomed to this routine as there are usually too many people to acknowledge everyone. Also, there are turtles managing to find sunny spots to perch on in the canal, either logs or rocks, but I am always amused to see them and remember winning plastic turtles at the fair back in my youth.
I refrain from looking at my watch too much not wanting to push the pace in order to go a little farther rather than a little faster. I manage to make it to the end of the canal path as it meets a road and I do a little u-turn while a young man stretches out in order to get ready for his run. I do a quick inspection of his outfit and shoes and decide that although I may be twice his age I can still probably run his ass into the ground. Why should I even care if I can? Maybe I want him to be humbled by someone like me just in order to inspire him to be someone like me.
On the way back I decided to take a little side trail, which is actually a trail by the Indianapolis Art Museum leading around a pond. It’s less than three quarters of a mile around the pond, but it’s single track and you’ve got to be aware of your footing, so it’s by far my most favorite part of the run.
On the rest of the run back I just keep hoping that I’m close to the car, as it is too friggin’ hot and I’ve got a few ideas on what I want to do for the next hour or so. Which means getting whatever it is I want to eat, and I have a favorite place in Indy that is not too far away.
I keep sucking down water as I pull into King’s Rib Barbeque on Keystone Avenue. Mo’ read about it in a book some years ago and since then it seems that no trip to Indy is complete without going to King’s. It is a rather unusual place as it is a converted car wash and you can only do takeout. Fine by me, and I place my usual order for the tips and am surprised to find out that they now actually accept credit cards. I also order a quart of their sauce to slather on all kinds of food back in Maine.
I am so looking forward to feasting on the tasty tips back at my in-laws but decided to make one more stop before getting back. The Blue Mile is a nice running store located in the Broad Ripple district. And although I can’t remember the last time I ever bought anything there, I always enjoy having a look around.
The store was pretty busy when I walked in, and walked in still feeling pretty much like a bad ass. I was wearing my tech shirt from the TARC 100, which was actually rather inconspicuous. Most of the customers were female, and appeared to probably be on their lunch-breaks while I was the only one who was gleaming of sweat which made me feel even more bad ass since I had dared to run in weather that was only suitable for frying eggs in the parking lot.
I overheard one lady at the counter telling the clerk that she was having really bad shin splints and was hoping for some help. She did not have a runner’s build and the snobbish side of my brain just wanted to tell her to drop about thirty pounds and then the pain would likely vanish.
Meanwhile, I picked out a couple pairs that I just wanted to try and I waited patiently while one of the clerks finally got me some to try out.
I happily bounced around the shop, not in love with any of the shoes, and picking the displays off the wall to try out as well since they were close enough to my size to get an idea of the comfort and support. The lady with the shin splits then sat down across from the clerk and took out a pair of shoes that she had been using, wondering if they were causing her any of the pain in her shins. I secretly began to listen in to the conversation as I was still a little curious about shin splits as I had excruciating pain in my left shin following my century run. It was awful. For sometime I seriously thought I might have actually broken my leg it hurt so much. I had missed some days of work as I could barely get out of bed in the morning and couldn’t get comfortable at night to sleep. My whole body had ached badly after that race but I just couldn’t shake the pain in that leg. My doctor diagnosed what I thought it was but said there was nothing I could do. He also said that I really couldn’t damage it any worse so two weeks after my race I went ahead with previously made plans to hike the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire.
A friend of mine, Andy, had turned forty back in May and wanted to do something epic to celebrate. So on my suggestion we decided to do the Traverse on the summer solistice. He had a couple friends from work join us, who were a decade younger than us. It was by far the most painful twenty miles I had ever done in my life as we summited seven peaks all over at least four thousand feet, and higher. I have absolutely no regrets about putting my leg through so much pain as we had mostly a very clear, albeit cold day. I was especially pleased that at the end of it all I still felt like I had energy left while the young guys who were hard to keep up with during our eleven hour hike were mostly spent.
The pain only got slightly worse while trying to recover from that event. I did finally discover some methods on-line to rid myself of the pain. So I spent the better part of a day stretching and icing that leg and miracuously the next morning when I woke up the pain was gone. I don’t mean that it felt better, I mean it felt normal. Like nothing had ever been wrong. So now I listened to the slightly overweight woman asking what could be done.
She just didn’t say that her shins hurt and hoped different shoes help. Instead, she opened up. She said she was training for a 5K along with some friends that would benefit the American Heart Association. She went on explaining that she had never been able to exercise for most of her life as she had always gotten really tired. It wasn’t until sometime last year however that she finally got diagnosed with some kind of heart disorder. Upon discovering whatever disorder it was, that she had open heart surgery to fix the abnormality. Since then, she had finally been able to gradually build her endurance and now really wanted to give something back by doing this race and getting her friends to join her. It meant more to her to get to that starting line probably more than it has ever meant to me to get to a finish line. I felt more like a dumb ass than a bad ass for ever judging her when I first heard her talking to the clerk. I put back on my own shoes, returned others to the boxes and shelves and after her clerk returned to where she was sitting waiting to try out some new shoes, I walked out with my hand extended.
As I shook her hand, I told her that I overheard her story and wanted to tell her how proud I was of her. I just also had to offer her up some advice beyond the shoes to help get rid of the shin splits, although I’m sure a new pair would help a little. I advised her to stick in there and wished her nothing but the best in the future. There would be no way that I would ever find out if she made it to the starting line of that race. At least there could be no imperical proof. After hearing her and seeing the conviction on her face, I can be nearly certain that she made it to that starting line, and by getting there also getting to the finish.
I walked out of the store actually feeling rather breathless. I continue to be amazed by the sport that I have chosen that it can really inspire people to break away from who they thought they might be classified as for their entire lives and into someone who they are more proud to be. This young lady who might have spent her entire life being seen as the little plump girl who couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs was now seen in my eyes as the strong, young lady who so earnestly wanted to run three miles in order to help other people.
Now I had dessert to go along with my King’s Ribs, Humble Pie!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My First 100 mile report


I quit the race at mile 68. I was sitting down in a chair at the road crossing and just wanting it to all be over. All I wanted to do was to get back to my tent, crawl into my sleeping bag and go to sleep so that somehow the pain would go away. I had convinced myself that I was satisfied with running eighteen miles farther than I ever had. I was also convincing myself that I just wasn't meant to run 100 miles. The problem was that I couldn't convince my crew or a Jedi who would not let me drop out of the race. 

The pain had been building over the last twelve or so miles. I was on the third of four twenty five mile laps at the TARC 100. Even though the sky was now dark, much of the day's heat had remained and I just felt like I couldn't go on. My pacer, John Rodrigue, sat in chair next to me and I knew I was really letting him down after all the sacrifices he had made on my behalf. My other pacer, Chris Hayward, was waiting for me seven miles away at the start/finish area, and I felt even worse about him, not even giving him the opportunity to run when he had also sacrificed so much on my behalf. 

The others who equally important to me as I sat there having my little pity party were my father Nate and AG Gillis who had been crewing for me most of the day. AG hadn't been crewing for me all day as he had attempted to run his first fifty miler. Unfortunately he only completed one lap but that was no small feat as he only signed up a week before and really hadn't trained, and as those who were there knew this turned out to be one tough course. Not part of my crew but instead working at the road crossing were George and  Ann Alexion. To have George "The Jedi" there at that moment turned out to be nothing short of a miracle.

I had thoughts of ending my day about three miles earlier as I came into the unmanned aid station at the fifteen mile mark on the course. It was unmanned except for my father and AG as we had scouted out the location the night before and planned for them to meet me there throughout the day, and now night. I was spent after the last five miles that had the biggest climbs on the course, and ironically some of the most runnable sections. Problem was that I could no longer run. John was working hard to keep my pace up but the pain in my knees and feet was too severe to do anything but walk as quickly as I could. I leaned against a fence taking in some food and liquids while keeping mostly quiet about my thoughts of dropping from the race. My dad had my hiking poles at the ready as I hoped using them would aid me in continuing my race. I was going to test them over the next three miles and if they didn't do the job I was sure that I was going to quit. 

Before I ever got to that dark place, I would say that most everything was working out as planned. 
I had assembled an incredibly awesome team and had them all on board with my plans to get me through a hundred miles. My father and I were just about the first team to arrive at the Hale Reservation in Westwood, MA on Friday so we got first choice on a tent-site. We set up my six person tent that had enough room for our cots. AG arrived a few hours later while other teams also arrived. The three of us managed to find a cool restaurant after the place I planned on eating at was closed. After dinner, we hit the packet pick up area where I weighed in and diverted my eyes as best as I could from the finisher buckles and jackets. I didn't want to think about the big picture, I just wanted to keep myself focused on the moments. 

Back at camp, I gave my father instructions and written plans for the day. He has always fully supported me in all aspects and I couldn't think of anyone else, besides maybe my mother or wife, who would do whatever it took to help me accomplish my goals. My lovely wife Mo couldn't be there for me as she was attending her college reunion at Villanova along with our kids Maggie and Quinn. Her mission was to convince Maggie perhaps to attend a different college other than mine. This past fall we all went to my reunion at Norwich University, The Military College of Vermont and Maggie came back saying that she wanted to go there. Of course she is only eight and has lots of time to figure out her future but I would rather her not want to attend the same school that nearly broke me apart.

I actually got a decent night of sleep even though there was still some activity happening around camp, mostly from a family that had three young kids crammed into a tent less than half the size of my own. I was up a couple times during the night for mother nature calls and actually had to cross the trail that I would soon be running across. The alarm went off at four and I immediately set to work getting ready. A cup of tea, a bagel and banana for breakfast and I also chewed down a couple Pepto tablets as an attempt to ward of any digestive issues that I may encounter during the day. 

As AG offered coffee to an Englishman from Nantucket who tented near us, I was ready to walk to the starting area. AG still had a couple hours before his race was to start. One more pit stop before I got to the starting area and before I really even had time to think about it the race was on. 

I always find it really funny how slow the start is to an ultra race as I was surrounded by about eighty other adventurous souls shuffling along. I caught up with one of the two other runners I knew, Bob Dunfey, and I chatted with him briefly about the previous night. I did not see him again, and was soon following a pack that all knew each other well. As they chatted and shuffled I was thinking that I would have preferred some silence as I could just hear some beautiful bird songs in the air. I was also trying to listen for my watch to beep off the miles reminding me to drink and eat. 

One factor of the race that I could not control was quickly becoming evident as the sun was rising higher in the sky, the heat! All spring many people had been complaining how could it was while I kept hoping that the temps would stay unseasonably low, at least for this weekend. I had been keeping an eye on weather reports and still feeling okay about low seventies but when I heard it would be up in the eighties I got worried, real worried. Heat is my enemy. To battle it I chose to wear my new Pineland Cani-Cross Race shirt as it really was the lightest I had in my synthetic drawer and had given my dad bandannas and sponges packed in ice and water to cool me off at pit stops. Beyond that, I couldn't do much more except tell myself to make sure I didn't drop before nightfall as I may have a chance to finish if I didn't give up when it was to be the hottest time of the day. 

The first aid station was at mile five and I came in fine and my father was there as planned.  So far the trail had been exactly as I expected. Very rolling single track with plenty rocks and roots. The course was well marked but I had to pay attention. There were even signs asking runners to stay quiet as we were running right behind some very nice homes. It was very surprising this massive park/reservation was able to exist in an area with so many homes close to it. 

Over the course of the next ten miles something very slowly bad was starting to happen as I ran up and down more hills and past a number of damned ponds. I was wearing a hydration pack loaded with a Cytomax mix which a few weeks ago I took the time to properly wash out. After the washing suds had formed while inconveniently out for a long run.  I thought I had taken care of the problem. I even tested the bag since then but only with clear water. But now I could see some suds forming in the clear tube. As I am sure it was already close to eighty degrees I began to panic a little.Luckily it remained drinkable coming into the aid station at mile ten, even so I took in a little more fluids than usual. I was a little surprised to have one runner coming in my direction shortly after I left and I wondered if the course had been remarked to come back to this station twice and thus leaving my father stranded at the side of the road.

The course had the greatest elevation change over the next five miles. At one point there was even a good view of the nearby Boston skyline. I had been chatting with a few different people but when a guy from Philadelphia and I began talking sports we somehow found ourselves standing on the side of a road. We both knew we shouldn't be at a road and I actually recognized the spot in the road from our scouting journey the night before. We turned around and fortunately a few hundred yards away we found the spot where we should have turned. Phew, if you're going to get lost on a trail race that was the best possible way to have that happen.

By now, there was nothing but foam in the tube from my hydration pack. I soon found my father waiting for me at the fifteen mile mark. I quickly pulled out some food from my pack and shoved them into my shorts pockets. I grabbed some other treats from him and told him fill up my spare bladder bag and see if it would fit into the pack at the next stop, and if it wouldn't just keep it in the hiking pack it came with. I had also had my father ready with a handheld bottle filled with iced tea. So I took that with me towards the next stop. Yes, I had tried to be prepared for the worst.

The trail can bring a number of surprises but the biggest of the day was when I was approaching the eighteen mile mark when I suddenly see my fellow Trail Monster runner Ryan Triffit charging towards me. I knew his wife Danielle was running the 50 mile race and he would be crewing for her, but why in the hell was he at that part of the course already? Was I moving that slow? After our usual enthusiastic greetings I noticed he had scraped up his leg and was really breathing more heavily than I. He was asking about aid stations and then darted off towards the road crossing. I yelled asking about an extra bladder, to which I got a negative and then he was off across the road. Before I had finished refreshing myself thanks to my father, Ryan came flying again across the road in full panic mode trying to figure where his bad ass wife was on the course. I wished I could have offered more help but I would have had to knock him down with a big rock first before he would have stopped to listen to me. I hoped that Danielle wasn't experiencing any technical difficulties like me.

A little over mile away another aid station waited for me at the edge of a farm and thus a number of fields. There was a nicely mowed path skirting the edge of the fields and made for some of the most pleasant running of the day. The temps were still rising, and as beautiful a place as this was I feared the exposure that I would be facing on the second loop. The station was well stocked like the previous two but this one had a little something extra. Some guy was outfitted in a cow suit including udders. It was hard not to laugh out loud and I just had to comment that 'he' wasn't supposed to have udders. He said his girlfriend's mother had made it for him, so of course he HAD to wear it. I was still chuckling as I enjoyed circling around the fields again making my way towards the end of my first loop.

After the fields the trail got real rough in my opinion. It was just hard to run. There were few spots to get any pace and as soon as you did suddenly a large boulder burst from the ground forcing you edge up it and then carefully ascend it. UGH! I was hoping to complete the first lap in about five hours which meant a mere twelve minute a mile pace and now for the first time when I began crunching the numbers I knew this expectation wasn't going to be meant, and if that expectation for one lap wasn't going to be met, what about the entire race?

I expected the final aid station to be a little closer than it turned out to be after I had recrossed the road. My watch was already indicating twenty five miles but no start/finish area. I had to cross a couple of beaches to finally get there and thrilled to find John waiting for me along with my father. Also on hand was fellow Trail Monster Jamie Anderson who was crewing his wife in the fifty. While my dad handed me over the new pack, John and Jamie led me to the food and drink table encouraging me to eat and drink. I made sure I still had plenty of treats with me in my new pack and set off on my second lap.

The miles seemed to be flying by, not because I was running great, but I found myself in good company of a couple of other runners, both of whom had already completed hundred mile races including TARC's (Trail Animal Racing Club) 100 miler the previous year held at a different location. I knew from others that it had been a challenging race as there was lots of mud and swamp like conditions but these two indicated they were finding this course to be much more technically challenging. One runner was Giles, the Englishman who tented near us. We talked more about soccer than running. Before I knew it I was in mile five aid station. John was really checking me over and my pack, telling me that I wasn't drinking enough and then he and one of the aid volunteers began to question my urination frequency. I had gone a couple of times during the day, and felt that I needed to go, but they said that was not enough. They then made me drink like a lush losing a drinking game of asshole. I really wasn't feeling bad but I obeyed and didn't question as I knew it was going to be a long hot day.

The other runner I spent a lot of time talking to was a woman from Western Mass named Donna who is really a bad ass ultra machine. We talked more about dogs than running which again made the miles fly by. I was still trying to remember my orders from John and took in even more fluids at the next aid station. I was also doing a decent job with caloric intake and really pleased that I was having absolutely no digestive problems. That's kind of a lie, as I did lightly throw up around the 50K mark but that moment passed by quickly. But just like playing a drinking game, what are you supposed to do after you puke? That's right, get right back up to the table and resume the game.

As I approached the peak with the Boston view, I was able to catch a fifty mile runner. I could tell as their race number bibs were in green as opposed to our white ones. He looked like a fit runner so I presumed he must just be crashing a little bit on his second lap. Soon after I spot a guy just off the trail with some nice camera equipment. He calls ahead to someone else that this guy behind me is approaching. He doesn't point his camera towards me, so I tell him not to bother as the guy coming up is much more handsome than myself. Then I don't really know why but when I get to the top I feel like I just need to moon Boston. I love Boston too, well at least it's sports team, and certainly not it's traffic. With my shorts back on I apologize to cameraman number two as I ascend from the peak.

I begin to play cat and mouse with a woman ahead of me who has her game face on. After she overtakes me going up yes another hill, we both are a little surprised to see a couple women coming towards us. They begin to question us if we are on the right trail, or going the right direction. We both try to tell them they are somehow off course but they are in total disbelief. I question which aid stations they have been to and which peaks as well. They can't answer me well and I tell them I don't know where they went wrong but they are off course. They really don't believe me, or at least don't want to. I want to help them but I don't want to get into an argument about how I am right and they are wrong.

My father is waiting again for me at the fifteen mile station, also there is another runner who is looking pretty dejected. He has that long distance stare that doesn't want to believe what is happening around him. I fear for his race future. My father tells me that he has been near the top most of the day. The volunteer who was checking me over back at five now pulls up in his truck, and I quickly get my stuff together wanting to get out of his way before he may question my facilities, which I feel are quite well.

Although I do enjoy the company of runners during races, I also enjoy having the woods all to myself, and with less than three hundred runners combined between the two races over a course of twenty five miles, I do find some of the solitude that I enjoy. You really can't get that while running many road races. Maybe if you're in the lead, but that sure as hell won't happen for me in this lifetime. But I do enjoy having someone in front of me even more than anything. So I spot one guy not far from the road crossing and I set my sights on him. I politely say hello as I catch him and tell him that it is good that he is smiling so much, then I see his green bib and tell him of course he should be smiling as he is almost done and jokingly that I don't really like him at which he laughs understanding my humor.

I am thrilled to see new volunteers at the road crossing, not anything wrong with the previous ones, but now Ann and George Alexion are safely helping runners across the road. There is a small amount of food and water available here but I have my father there once again who hands me back my old pack saying that it wasn't soap suds in the bag just excess air causing the bubbles and that John has shown him how to take out the air to keep the cool liquids flowing into my system.I give Ann a hug before crossing the road and introduce my father. She states that she sees the resemblance, I respond by saying, "Do you think he's that handsome?" I'm all smiles and feeling great and give more hugs to George in the middle of the road.

The woman who I had been running close to was now back in front of me and we crossed paths with a fifty miler who said to us, "This isn't any fun." I didn't say it but totally disagreed. I couldn't believe how much fun I actually was having. Sure things were rough and I was a little fatigued and still had more than half my run ahead of me but I was not sharing that same attitude.

I had done my best to keep running with the exception of hills, which were quite abundant. Some I felt were ridiculous to walk even in an effort to save energy. There was one hill to ascend shortly before coming back into the fields. This brought me back to my power-walk and I decided to keep with that pace although I was on the flattest stretch of the entire course. I watched as the woman, who's name I learned later as Lori Wetzl and has an amazing ultra resume, pulled further ahead of me, but I disciplined myself to save my energy as the sun's rays lashed out it's most intense heat of the day. I came into the aid station only disappointed as the cow suit was not being worn by anyone.

An amazing thing happened as I strode out of the aid station, some clouds obscured the sun. I picked the pace back up not wanting to waste this tremendous opportunity. Even though I was again running, Donna last name Utakis, who I also later learned has a stellar ultra career, caught back up to me. I hate being passed in a race but now it was actually pretty nice being able to strike back up a conversation with her. It helped to get through what I still thought of as the toughest part of the course before we got back to the road crossing.

This time after crossing the road, I did grab a little something to eat and this allowed George to catch up with me. He gave me some real encouraging words and basically told me how it didn't matter how fast I went the rest of the race. In case you don't know who George is, let me tell you basically that he is an inspiration. He's not the fastest runner on the trail but he finishes, he finished four one-hundred mile races last year alone. So when he wraps his arm around your shoulder and gives you support and advice how to finish a hundred mile race, you pay attention.

I crossed the first beach heading towards the starting area, which was now getting well used by the local public, and why the heck not as it was a perfect beach day. One boy who looked a little older than my daughter, stood still and just stared at me probably trying to fathom who or what I was. I smiled toward him and asked how the water was. He said it was good and I moved on wishing that I had time for a swim.

Back at the starting area my crew was waiting for me with John all suited up and ready to roll. AG was now on board as sadly his race day was over, but selfishly I was a little glad as I didn't want him totally spent trying to keep up with my father all night. I had a full wardrobe change planned, but just changed that to a sock and sneaker change. So off with my Brooks Cascadias which were a pretty solid shoe that had done their job on the rough terrain and on with practically a new pair of New Balance 1025's, a style that I had gotten plenty of use from but wanted a new pair with as much cushioning as possible. Also on hand at the aid station this time was Ryan, who agreed I should keep my shirt as it was a little damp and that could serve me well as the heat wasn't going to let up anytime soon. He also shoved a piece of watermelon in my face and told me to eat it. I don't like watermelon but I began to take a few bites being careful to avoid the seeds. I also broke out one of my secret weapons, Pedia Lite Frozen Pops. They were in a sleeve just like those one we all had when we were kids, except these had plenty of electrolytes. So although they were no longer completely frozen at least I could drink whatever was leftover. I also changed watches, as I'm sure my the charge on the GPS didn't have much juice left after over eleven hours of running.

I don't feel like I wasted anytime at the stop, as every moment was productive, and soon had John a few paces ahead of me. We only talked shop for a little while and then we just began conversing. I really didn't know John all that well before this race but would learn really what a great guy he is over the course of the next eight and a half hours. I had only run with him once and learned about his experience at the Leadville 100. Close to the fifty mile mark of the race, a fellow competitor who John had befriended fell and needed assistance. John being the extreme high quality individual who he is, of course helped and in doing so missed the cutoff at mile fifty by fifteen minutes. With his timing chip taken away, he and his pacer who was to start with him at this point decided to run the course anyway. John finished the race in a time that should have given him a buckle but his concern for another racer left him with nothing to keep his pants up. That is why I asked John to pace me.

When we weren't talking, John was reminding me to drink. The heat hadn't really let up whatsoever. We successfully got through five mile aid station and although we, well really I was slow, it didn't seem too long before we got to the ten mile aid station. I was really glad to get there as I was feeling like the wheels were starting to come off. I wasn't totally spent but I could feel myself starting to crash. I was kind of surprised to find Jamie there but then quickly spotted his wife Kate sitting not so far away wearing flip flops indicating that her day was done. She showed us a blood blister the size of Delaware on the back of her heel. Ugh! I was having a hard time picking out food while downing some Coke, so John bounced around for me while I took a seat on a picnic table. I started to eat a cup of Ramen noodles when I looked up and spotted the guy who I was sure was going to drop back at the unmanned aid station. He had on Birkenstocks, and no they do not make any running sandals or shoes yet, and even though I looked like shit and was feeling more and more like it, he still said to me, "I wish I was in your place right now. Just get to the next aid station." I was starting to have that same blank stare that I had seen on him earlier so as much as I wanted to really acknowledge and appreciate his kindness I diverted my eyes from direct contact with his. Which wasn't all that hard to do as one of the volunteers came to the tables wearing kind of a short white bathrobe. He had semi-long black curly hair that must have been wet from swimming in the pond, and was also wearing some big sunglasses and a captain's hat and some funky thin sandals. We all looked in his direction and I commented to John that I thought this guy looked like a pornstar director. He seemed nice enough and came over to offer assistance. We were all chuckling a little, when I gave the dropped runner a look and then he asked the volunteer did he know what he looked like. John told him what I said and we all could finally laugh out loud. The guy took it really well and actually said that was the nicest compliment he had gotten in a long time.

Somehow I got down that cup of Ramen, but unfortunately not for long. Just after we left the beach I had that feeling and was soon stooped over with my hands on my knees. I thought it would be quick but really my stomach decided that it wanted everything out. Back at the beach John had been telling me it was okay if things reappeared but it was more important just to get something in first. I felt my stomach retching and felt like that kid losing drinking games once again, oh yah that was me back in college. John kept a little distance but was like that good friend who pats you on the back while your worshiping the porcelain gods, but then he was like that asshole at the party who insists you keep drinking knowing what you just went through. Well John wasn't acting like an asshole certainly but began to tell me that I was now going to feel much better and that I needed to get back to running this race.

John was right. I did feel better and was once again enjoying running. That feeling lasted for only a couple miles until we had to make a couple steep climbs. There were a couple of young girls at the peak looking out towards Boston so I kept my shorts on this time but made sure John got to enjoy the view while we were there.

John must have sensed that I was slipping away once again as he dominated most of the conversation as we made out way toward the fifteen mile aid station. My wheels weren't just coming off, they were shredding into pieces being left on the side of a highway like a dead smelly skunk. My quads and hamstrings were feeling normal enough but everything below my knees hurt like hell. Even with well cushioned shoes and a fresh new pair of socks my feet were screaming in agony and I could no longer run. I knew my dad,AG and poles were not far up ahead and now as I wore my headlamp I searched for familiar sights indicating their presence. Soon there was a light pointing towards us and I could tell it was AG and I asked if we were close, to which he said we were just about there.

I leaned against a fence, that I think is actually a steeple for horses as there were a number of them on this part of the course. I certainly didn't pretend to imitate National Velvet and jump over any of them. I sponged down as the heat had only let up slightly, ate and began to wonder how and when I was going to break the bad news to my crew if I felt like I couldn't recover. One of my goals going into the race was to allow myself the opportunity to recover as the race had a thirty two hour deadline and that no matter what went wrong I should have time to recover. I also had a goal to respect the sacrifices people had given me in my pursuit of that elusive buckle. But now, all those goals were being put aside and I wished I could just silently walk off the course.

With hiking poles in hand we made our way to the road crossing. None of the pain went away and as I became quiet and withdrawn John began to question what I was thinking about. I replied, "Pain." He did his best to keep me talking by asking random questions about me, to which I mostly gave one word answers feeling really guilty that I was probably dropping out very soon. As we came upon an open ridge I turned off my headlamp in order to see that last few colors of the sun for that day. It was beautiful and I was glad to share it with John, hoping that at least I was giving him this beautiful moment.

 John continued to be very encouraging giving me really positive feedback about my efforts but I also knew that he wanted me to run more. He would say it was time to do so and would pick the pace back up and I tried but could only manage short yardage before I felt like I was being sacked by a three hundred pound linebacker and driven back to the line of scrimmage.

When we finally spotted the road crossing with John giving me more congratulations on making it this far, I finally told him that I wanted to be done. As my father pulled up a chair for me to sit in I also told him I was done. There was great disappointment coming from both of them. They began questioning why and I really didn't want to answer or even talk, I just wanted to sit and wallow in my misery. George was soon on the scene saying, "But you've got this Tom." Him and others were telling me just to rest a while, take as long as I needed in that seat but that I couldn't quit now. George soon began feeding me cold coffee and shoved a GU packet in my face. It was all pretty awful. I sat avoiding eye contact even in the dark while the group worked to motivate me. I watched other runners pass going in both directions, each time George sparking up to help them safely cross and saying, "Got to do my job, I'd hate to lose another." Deep down inside I was cracking up. George continued to hound me the most, telling me what I needed to do and how I could do it and that I had plenty of time to do it in. I motioned for someone to hand me my dad's backpack that had a number of supplies in it and was just out reach. I don't even remember what I wanted from it but I heard George say, "I hope you don't have a gun in there Nate." Again, I was laughing tears inside. I was getting cold despite the temps and George even got me a jacket saying it was his first ever ultra jacket and I could wear it and get it back to him whenever or even not. I had managed to take off my shoes which felt great and asked a number of times for my father to bring the truck around. If it had been behind me I probably would have just crept inside it, but it was parked somewhere out of sight and he did not take one step in order to retrieve it. Damn, these guys were making it impossible to quit.

George called out to his wife Ann across the road asking where they had some ibuprofen gel caps. I found out later that she was telling AG that if someone was going to get me out of this state and back in the race, George was the man for the job. I washed the pill down with some of the cold coffee figuring at least I if I did this I would perhaps feel better as I slept the night away in the tent, if someone would ever allow me to get there! I did slip my shoes back on hoping that I would be allowed to go to the truck. George offered to tie them for me but then said, "Maybe I shouldn't, you'll probably kick me in the teeth." More inside tears.

Amazingly the pain in my legs and feet started to go away. I didn't tell anyone, I still wanted to be done. I did however have to get up to urinate. There was sudden silence when I stood up and walked in the opposite direction and not across the road. I began to think, alright it doesn't hurt anymore, I should give this a shot. My shoes were on but untied, and now with my Trail Monster shirt on I grabbed my pack and poles and started to head across the road without saying a word.

John managed to quickly get ahead of me and we were off with my main goal being just as George had also been saying, "Just get to the next aid station and give yourself a chance." My dad and AG said they would meet us there, which surprised me as they hadn't been to that station all day. We made it to the field as we discussed the sacrifices our soldiers, including John's father had made during World War II as it had just been a couple days past the seventy year mark of the Allied Landing at Normandy. Those guys had courage and I tried to channel some of that courage as I shuffled my untied shoes as quickly as I could through the dewy grass.

I soon spotted a runner up ahead who was making every attempt to keep a running pace. I felt awful as we passed him walking. I can't remember saying anything to him, but I'm sure John must have given him some words of encouragement, as he seemed to possess an endless bucket of it.

Volunteers kindly greeted us after I announced my bib number. An awesome number it was, 101! I looked around for food while coke was being poured for me and saw some grilled cheese sandwiches sitting atop a grill. "What can I get you?' one of the volunteer asked. To which I replied, "I want a fucking grilled cheese." I wished I said please, but she just laughed and said, "You can have a fucking grilled cheese," and handed me one wrapped in a paper napkin. I make some pretty mean grilled cheese sandwiches but this was by far the best one if my life! The coke was really good washing it down and before I took the time to look for my father and AG I was back on the course. I was told later that they were sitting in the truck watching us, but didn't want to come out fearing I may want to get in.

Getting back to the road was a thrill. I was walking pretty well now and even able to run a little. John had kindly even tied my shoes back up for me. I barely stopped at the crossing, only long enough to give George a hug and say, "Fuck you George," in the most sincere way I have ever said that to anybody.

Now I was a man on a mission. Next aid station a little over a mile away with Chris waiting there for me. I was greatly looking forward to seeing him. I was confident that I was going to get this done. Only twenty five miles lay between me and that buckle, but more importantly my pride.

There were some cheers as I crossed the beach in the darkness with John still just ahead of me. I heard a new voice calling out my name, which I recognized as Chris's and was just able to make out his shadowy figure. My crew took my stuff, as I hugged Chris and made my way to the food table. I took in some food and liquids while John pulled Chris aside obviously giving him some updates and hoping some more advice on getting me through the final twenty five miles.

Before I took back off, I made sure to give John big hugs and any kind words that I could muster in appreciation of the job he did getting me to that point. I gave my father big hugs as well hoping that I would always be able to support my own children in their greatest times of need like he had for me. I kissed a bracelet on my wrist that I borrowed from Mo and a rubber band one that Maggie had made so that in some way she and the kids could be there with me. Just starting that last lap felt better than finishing any race I had ever run. There was no way I was not going to finish.

Chris took the lead and I quickly brought him up to speed on how to keep us on the course and a little what it was like. I also told him that we didn't need to really be running, but a fast hiking pace should get us through the night and to the finish line in plenty of time to beat the thirty two hour deadline.

For those running friends who don't know Chris Hayward, you should. We call ourselves Trail Monsters but Chris is really a Trail Beast, something slightly beyond a monster. Four years ago when I came up with the idea of running the 100 Mile Wilderness of the Appalachian Trail I called Chris asking if he was interested in pacing me for some of it. I did this knowing he wasn't a runner but competed in multi-day adventure races. He didn't understand the whole pacing gig and instead asked if he could just do it all with me. I said sure and we had another friend, Eli Lazurus an accomplished runner join us as well. That day turned into disaster for me as the heat and humidity was far greater than even this day. I managed to do only thirty miles, and that much just because I couldn't stop until we got to our support vehicles. Eli dropped at that point as well leaving Chris all  alone. He managed to do forty five more miles before he had to call it quits.  About a month and a half later he, Eli and another friend of Chris's, Nicholas Ernst, set out on the same mission. I was the one this time to be invited but declined as I had other commitments and didn't want to face that failure again. They became the first people to do that section non-stop taking thirty nine hours to do so, inspiring others to tempt the same fate and establishing themselves as some of the biggest bad asses in the Northeast.

Chris understood what needed to be done as he said to finish that journey they had to pretty much do the same, hike fast and not stop. My watch was losing power and I arranged with my dad and AG to meet us at the campsite with my first watch now all recharged, as well as my spirits.

Chris was doing a great job setting the pace and keeping the course and I was thoroughly enjoying catching up with him. We got to the five mile station where I had another grilled cheese and some other goodies, resetting my watch wanting to track the five miles between the stations more than more overall distance or pace. I really had no idea what time of night it was but only knew it was still going to be dark for a number of hours. I hadn't done much training for the night, so this was a new experience but was enjoying it and feeling really good that I wasn't feeling like I needed to get any sleep. As Sam Shepard said in that fabulous movie Roadhouse, "I'll have plenty of time to sleep when I'm dead."

When we spotted our first glow in the dark bracelet on the ground, we figured someone must have dropped one. But then we saw more and more and THEN we spotted the lights at the ten mile station. There was one other runner there and the porn director had changed back into more appropriate attire. I didn't waste much time there and told the other runner that we might be able to catch a good view of the Boston skyline lights. He said he didn't think so, and I wasn't sure if he was dropping or just acknowledging the speed, or lack thereof, of his own pace.

I showed Chris where I had my reversal of fortune and warned him about some of the big climbs ahead of us. Chris was still doing a great job following the course markers and we didn't waste anytime. Our pace was somewhere around a fifteen minute mile. A slow pace indeed for a runner but an impressive one as a hiker. All my years of hiking was paying off. This pace was going to keep me going to the finish. If I had forced the pace any faster I'm sure the wheels would be loosening up once again.

We got to the overlook, and turned off our headlamps to enjoy the moment. We were alone and so I showed Boston my backside one last time. Shit, this was getting fun again!

Still as planned my dad and AG were once again waiting for us. I was glad they were still able to be there as they had to park at an intersection across the road and I feared some local residents may have called the authorities about this strange vehicle that had been parked there at various times throughout the day.

The next time I heard my watch beep indicating another mile done, I realized this now meant that I was now only into single digit numbers to finish this race. I screamed that fact out loud to Chris along with a few other obscenities. During the night we had actually managed to pass a few other teams and now I was determined to keep them behind me for good. So I directed Chris to pick up the pace and we got a little running in. We did stop for a moment turning off our headlamps now to enjoy some of the colors of the sunrise on the same peak where John and I had seen the sun set. I was a much different person now.

I had a little disappointment coming to the road crossing and not finding George and Ann there, but their duties were done. Still, the volunteers were awesome and we barely stopped even with my father and AG also there to lend assistance.

As we got closer to the field I had a moment of panic as I looked through the woods seeing what I thought was fog rolling off a pond. How could that be? We were nowhere near water as far as I recalled. Four times around a place and you get to know it pretty well. Well not well enough for me to prevent slipping and stepping my right foot into some pretty nasty mud. My panic soon subsided as I realized the fog was actually covering the field and I looked forward to some more dewy grass to clean off my shoe, after all it was practically a brand new pair.

The views across the field were breathtaking as we continued our power hike to the aid station. My dad and AG were there and out of the vehicle this time. The guy who had been wearing the cow suit was still there as he had been all race long. After handing me a can of coke I asked him his name, Bob, and sincerely thanked him for all the work he had put in. I wished I could have thanked them all. As I spotted a team across the field coming toward the aid station I made our move to keep them in front of us. I went to hand another volunteer the can of coke but he said keep it and just drop it and that he would walk with us and pick it up. A few more guzzles followed by a burp that could be heard across the field and I turned to hand back the can but he was more than a few steps behind and said to drop it, which I did. Chris suddenly said he would have some just as it left my hand, and I said, "Sorry, ultra foul." The volunteer managed to pick it up and hand it to Chris before too much spouted out.

We were all smiles to the team now approaching us who were running. After my stomach settled I told Chris that we needed to do a little running to make sure that team didn't catch up to us. I did slow it back down to a power hike pace on the hills but soon enough we were out of the field. We ran as best we could with me glad that I was now forever done with what I thought was the most technical part of the course.

The volunteers were very enthusiastic at the road crossing stating that we only had a mile and a half left. One of them, whom I didn't even know, called me by name and told me that I was blowing up Facebook. I felt a little like Ellen at the Oscars.

We walked the paved road uphill and started discussing finishing time. I told Chris how on Ultrasignup.com it was predicted that I would finish the race in about twenty six and a half hours. After checking his watch, he told me that was pretty dead on.

As we got closer and closer to the finish Chris commented on how well the course was marked. I told him he just wasn't used to markers in his events which only gave him maps and told him to get to spots any way possible. We spotted another team up ahead and I just needed to take them down as well. Turns out that they were just completing their third lap but I continued to be motivated to get to the finish as soon as possible.

We crossed the first beach and said to Chris that I felt like I was running in sand. We didn't let up and soon I knew we were close to the final beach and finish line. As I turned the corner and heard some cheers I spotted one more runner ahead. Even as I unbuckled the chest strap to my pack to expose the Trail Monster logo and also unbuckled the band holding my race bib, wanting them both to be in clear view at the finish line, I burst my way past that runner, who also was only finishing his third lap, and crossed the line saying, "Number one o one is done!"

I can't even remember who I hugged first. But whoever it was I hoped they felt the joy rushing through my body. Some race officials quickly told me to go back over the mat as my timing chip apparently didn't take. Throughout the race I worried about this very situation as I never remembered crossing a mat at the beginning and that somehow I might end up by disqualified. So I did as I was told and even though nothing happened one of them said it was alright they had my number and time.

I was giving out lots of hugs and glad that John was there to receive one as well. He had caught some sacktime back in our tent while Chris lead me through the night. Lots of people were asking what I wanted, mostly a cup of coffee was my greatest desire. The race director congratulated me as well offering his services. I said I wanted to weigh myself and he lead me to the scales. I was shocked to see that I had only lost five pounds during the course of the race. As John handed me my coffee he said that was because he had continually forced me to drink.

The director, Bob Crowely, then asked me what size jacket I took. He had me try on a medium and it fit a little loose and he said that would be good as it shouldn't be too tight. I also said I wanted to leave some extra room for all the food I was going to eat over the next week. Then he asked if John was one of my pacers and when I said yes, he offered a jacket to John as well. I quickly told Bob I had another pacer and called to Chris to come and get a jacket. That was and incredibly awesome thing to do for those two, I couldn't think of anything better to give to them for all their support and sacrifices. Then Bob asked if it wanted a buckle. Did I really need to answer that question. As my dad handed it to me, I opened the box and gave it a good old smooch.

Shortly thereafter, John looked me square in the eye and said his duties as a pacer were not yet over. He proceeded to tell me what I needed to do in order recover from running one hundred miles. The first thing I needed to do was to get into pond and cool the legs off. Honestly I would have climbed a tree a nose dived into the sand if he had told me to. How could I not do whatever he told me to do.

I walked into the water, trying to pick a spot with the least amount of pollen. AG followed me and said, "Dude, do you know what place you came in?" Of course I had no idea. "Fifth!" I was shocked. I was sure many people had dropped but not a clue where in the field I was. My smile was suddenly longer than the course itself.

Now with my coffee finished, I sat down in a chair and was handed a can of America's best beer in 1883, Pabst Blue Ribbon. My dad got Mo on the phone and I got to tell her that I was finally done. She had been in contact with my dad throughout the previous day and into the night and I wished I could have kissed her but settled for the marvels of modern technology to share in the moment.

I enjoyed cheering on some other runners coming in for the finish, including Donna who was the first female across the line. I didn't stick around for the rest of the finishers. Even though there were only fourteen after me to complete all four laps out of seventy nine starters with the last one beating the deadline by about half an hour. That computes to a 15% finish rate. Even for a hundred mile race that is a very low percentage. The 50 mile race had plenty of carnage but 80% somehow beat the heat and the challenging course, including DanielleTriffit who was the fifth woman to finish.

Our party winded down as John and Chris left, Chris actually ready to drive back home to Bethel. I told you he was a beast. The three of us headed back to our tents for a little nap before we made our ride back to Maine. I could barely sleep partly due to my legs starting to ache but my soul was still to excited to give my body proper rest.

How'd I do it? The truth is obvious that I had a great team that made sure I met my goal and didn't give up on myself. My father said to me during more than once during the race, "You've got some really great people here for you." I'm so glad that he came away with the feeling that I do these races not only for the challenges they present but to share in special moments with special people. I myself come away from this event more aware of that than ever, and that those moments and people do extend far beyond the rocks, roots and mud. Thank you to all for giving me greater appreciation, I just might never had gotten to that point if a certain Jedi hadn't used his mind tricks to get me out of that chair and away from the dark side.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Semi Wild Pineland Races

Sometimes things don't necessarily go as planned. It's amazing when things don't go according to plans and yet the results are much better than anticipated. I went into the weekend Pineland Farm Trail Races with plans on not pushing myself and just enjoying the trails, atmosphere, family and friends. I came away with all the pleasure I was seeking as well as one PR and falling just short of another.
Heading into the race weekend, I was fortunate to be assigned to man the L.L. Bean tent during the packet pick-up along with A.G. Gillis, as our company had become one of the race sponsors this year. I was pleased to meet many new faces and pass on a little first hand experience as this would be my ninth year running the event.
Saturday morning, the family jumped into the mini-van along with Wild as he would be leading me in the Canicross 5K. As we pulled in, the Triffits pulled in right behind us. Neither Ryan nor Danielle would be running that day. I accused them of being my Strava stalkers. We were all happy to be there but especially Wild. He could barely be contained wanting to greet all the other competitors. Some of them weren't all that friendly and he wisely kept his distance from those.
After walking him around for awhile, hoping he would take care of business, we finally headed into the starting corral. It seemed similar to lining up horses for a race, the excited ones waiting almost for the last moment. I kept us a little toward the back as I didn't want to be in the lead. Part of that was strategy as I knew how much he liked to catch up to and pass other dogs.
Sure enough as the race began, Wild was soon darting past many fellow canines. Although he was in a harness with the leash around my waist, I still took hold of the leash as the pack was thick and he didn't understand that although he could run under other leashes that I didn't quite have the same clearance as he.
We were doing quite well advancing until one other husky turned around and came towards us. The lady began to apologize, saying her companion was a lead dog on a mushing team, and then the next thing I knew our leashes were wrapped around one another's. I grabbed Wild's harness and unhooked him from me, untangling the leashes losing some time. Soon enough we were back on our way with Wild eager to make up for lost time.
His pace only quickened, and although I worried that would affect his pace later in the race, it was too much fun to try and get him to slow down. I managed to quickly glance at my watch which had us at under a six minute mile pace. He didn't even slow down for the first couple of small hills.
Wild did slow his pace once we were past the main pack and there weren't as many dogs in front of us. When we got to the first aid station, I spotted some water bowls kindly set up for the pups and had him stop to take a drink. He drank more than I expected, costing us a little more time but I was more concerned about his health than beating the field.
The weather was just about perfect, a little warm but not so bad that I was greatly concerned about his thick husky coat. Still, he just had to stop at a couple of other puddles to re-hydrate. Luckily there were a few more dogs in front of us to catch before we started the climb back up to the starting area.
Coming up the hills, we were running all alone, surprising considering there were over one hundred and fifty contestants in the race. As we neared the top I could see one team in front of us, hoping that Wild would see them as well in order to have him pick up the pace. We did pass them once on the flats and I started giving Wild lots of encouragement knowing the finish line was just up ahead.
I greatly enjoyed seeing the finish line and hearing the crowd. I was more pleased to spot my family cheering us on and I continued to encourage Wild to the finish line.
We crossed the line in 22:22 and I immediately lead us to our gear where I poured Wild a tall bowl of water. He had given it his all and lied down as he drank from his bowl, practically sticking his entire head in his bowl. I was surprised as he turned down some treats and focused on his water. I sprayed some water on him with a mister and then sat down with him letting him know how I proud I was of him. Last year we had managed to run this race in about twenty four minutes in monsoon like conditions that had made the trails like a mud pit. That race was lots of fun, but it was nice to walk away with a PR and a dog that made the whole family proud.
We made a couple of stops on the way home where I eagerly awaited watching the European Champion's League final. At halftime, Maggie and Quinn helped me set up the tent in our backyard, and then they proceeded to play with the neighborhood kids while I enjoyed the overtime of the game. Not thrilled about the outcome, but pleased the match didn't end in penalty kicks.
After a pasta dinner, the kids, Wild and I headed out to the tent giving Mo the house to herself for the evening. Wild still must have been tired from his race as he settled in pretty well. Even the kids were asleep at a reasonable time and I myself enjoyed a good night's rest.
I arose about the time the fifty milers were beginning their day's journey at Pineland. It was a relaxing morning and I took off for the race shortly after Mo' got home from her run at Wolfe Neck State Park.
I was pleased to catch up with some fellow Trail Monsters before the race, especially pleased to be able to congratulate Ian Parlin on the birth of his daughter Iona who was at home with his Bad Ass Running Mama Emma. There was no need to warm-up, rather than just get ready for 25K. In my mind I was going through my race strategy, which was to go slow, reason being that I have a much BIGGER race coming up in a couple of weeks and there was no need to punish my body when I had greater goals in mind. I have run a race at Pineland every Sunday of Memorial Day, so this was nothing new and I had no intentions of goal setting. I even said so as much to another runner as we were lined up in the starting corral waiting for the race to start. It was probably the first time I had ever said out loud, "I want to set a personal worst today!" I just wanted to enjoy the course. I even packed my camera in my waist belt along with some grape Cytomax and a few Honey Stinger chewies.
I set myself sort of in the middle of the pack and made no effort to move up in position at the start. Well, I did start to pass some runners after I had run slightly off the main path in order to get my shoes a little muddy. I took the first couple hills with little effort and then broke out my camera for a few shots. I noticed the battery was low, something that I hadn't bothered to check on before I left home.
I intentionally splashed in another puddle after crossing the road, trying to enjoy being on a trail rather than pavement. One runner said I was a little crazy and I replied that I needed to get muddy in order to prove to my wife that I was actually in the race and not just escaping domestic tranquility for a few hours.
Back into the woods and I just kept moving at a comfortable pace, intentionally not checking my watch. I was feeling fine by the time I came into the first aid station for a quick drink of water and then off through the fields. Usually the sun beats down pretty hard on runners on this part of the course but there was a slight overcast and the air felt cool enough so I wasn't dreading these fields as I usually do.
As I approached a big climb, I spotted a man named Martin who had told me during packet pick up that he was attempting his first fifty miler. I had ran near him for awhile a couple of years ago and noticed he didn't wear a watch. Kind of a strange thing in this age of GPS technology, but as I was catching him on the hill, as he began to walk it,I noticed that he still was watchless. I slowed to his pace and checked in on him. He looked and sounded good, and I told him as much but peeled away from him as we headed downhill and I decided to attack the climb that immediately followed.
Another stop at the Yurt station for a little more water and then back to the woods for once again more climbing. I felt fresh, so I slowly ran up and tried to maintain a steady pace upon hitting some more gentle terrain. I was a little back and forth with another runner and as we came out to another field we struck up a conversation. Mostly about being a parent and a runner. Not an easy thing to do, especially if you are running races other than local 5K's.
The hills continued  to come and I felt little discomfort running them. So after another stop at the Yurt I began to challenge myself by picking up the pace on the hills and running comfortably on the infrequent flat sections. I did occasionally check my watch but did not bother on any calculations as to when I would finish.
Another aid station after some more fields and back into the woods. It would be a couple miles to get to the starting area and some big climbs. I was catching some runners, not thinking much of it until I recognized a couple of runners ahead of me. It was highly unusual to see Jim Dunn and Stephen Wells running together. Usually Stephen would be well out ahead and Jim would be somewhere slightly behind me. I told myself I must be having a decent race by pacing myself behind Jim and not breaking down my body. I knew that Stephen hadn't been training very hard but I was still pleased to catch up to a runner of his talent.
I was even more pleased that I felt fresh coming into the starting area after some good ups and was more encouraged to have some Monsters cheering me on. As I crossed the road to the Glouchester Hill side I gave my watch a serious look for the first time. I was at just under an hour and half and quickly calculated that if I was able to keep up the effort that I had a shot at a PR. I tried to shake that idea out of my head, as that was far from my original goal but damnit I felt good. I felt really good. Usually I dreaded this part of the course as it would take away any energy I had left, but I didn't feel like that was going to happen today.
My pace did increase as the course was not quite as rolling and I was catching up to some other runners who I thought were moving along quite well.
One guy said he hated downs just as I caught him and soon we were on one of the steepest downs on the course. I let inertia take over and cruised on the ensuing flat area and then up another small hill. I was surprised that some of the people I was passing were wearing white race bibs, indicating they were also running the 25K. I started to see more and more longer distance runners as my pace did not falter nor did my body. One that I was pleased to catch up to was John Rodrique who has so kindly agreed to be a pacer for me in my upcoming race. We exchanged pleasantries and encouragement, he even gave me a small pat on my back and I felt that I really had to now give all my effort to finish this race in the best possible time that I was able to.
My body did now start to feel the efforts that I had been putting forth, but my mind was stronger and I was right around the two hour mark coming into the last aid station. A big loop through a field and a road crossing were all that stood between me and the finish line now. Really I knew that I would practically have to sprint if I were to beat my PR. I passed a few other runners and told one who was huffing a little that we only had one more hill. It was on that hill that I glanced at my watch indicating 2:04 and that I would fall short of my PR. Still, I kept forth the effort and the Triffits were the first to give me cheers as I spotted the finish area. I told Ryan to get ready for John, as Ryan would be pacing John on his final lap towards fifty.
I'm usually not one to sprint to the finish line as it doesn't really matter in distance racing, but I had the energy and now wanted to get the best time possible even knowing I would not PR. So I came in at 2:05:31, about a minute off my PR but feeling so much fresher than any previous efforts. 
I continued to hang around the finish area with other Monsters enjoying the food and beverage supplied to the runners. The sun had managed to break free completely by now, something that was becoming evident in the latter stages of the race. I wished I could have hung out there all day but I had family waiting at home and actually had to be at work in a few hours. So I walked, not limping, back to the mini-van which had an engine light come on after I started it up. Apparently, it was not feeling as fresh as I was at the moment. Still, whatever was wrong was not enough to prevent me from getting home. Maybe I'll have to make note of that before my next race, that there is still always enough left in you to get to the finish even when warning lights appear. Until then, I'll keep remembering this day's philosophy of fun, enjoyment of the course with friends and family and who knows maybe there will be something greater than a PR at the end of it all. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Indiana 50 mile trail race April 26, 2014

Let's face it, whenever you run 50 miles sooner or later you are going to feel awful, I mean really awful. For me running the 50 mile Indiana Trail Race that feeling came much sooner than I expected. I will give away the ending a little bit and say that I am thrilled that I overcame that feeling and was able to get my body across the finish line.
You're probably wondering how I ever ended up in a race in Indiana? Well, my lovely wife is a Hoosier and so the family unit went to the heartland to visit with family over April break. I always look for a race while I'm out there as I enjoy running on flat ground for a change, compared to our Maine hills. So I kind of stumbled upon this race which runs simultaneously with a hundred miler. Not a real imaginative name for the race but the point gets across quickly that you'd better be in shape when you register.
The race was at the tail end of the week that I spent visiting with family and sites around Indianapolis. I even got to go to a Pacer playoff game, sadly they got blown away. The tough part about being with the in-laws was watching what I ate all week. I was able to find enough pasta to carbo load and resisted the french fries on my kids plates most of the time.
As I told my relatives where the race was to take place, none of them were able to say that they had ever been to the Chain O' Lakes State Park in Albion, Indiana. So you know, the park lies a little northwest of Fort Wayne, and as you might have assumed, it is in the heart of farmland. A small part of the appeal of signing up was that I had lived for a few years as a kid in Albion, Maine which is also farmland.
Since Albion was a couple of hours from Indianapolis and we were supposed to be driving back to Maine after the race, my brother in-law Bruce White agreed to drive up with me the night before and then my family and his wife would drive up the next day. That meant a relaxing evening and I didn't have to worry about my wife entertaining the kids at the park for nine hours while I was running.
Shortly before we got to the park on Friday for packet pick-up, I mentioned to Bruce that the landscape was a little more rolling compared to the flat farmland that I had been gawking at for the past couple hours. Certainly no mountains looming over the horizon but there were parcels of land not suitable for fields of corn.
After pick-up we headed back south less than half an hour to Columbia City where I had booked a hotel. I had spent sometime online looking for places to eat and discovered a couple spots where I could order up a deep fried hamburger. Sounded pretty good but not before a race, and we had to settle on a Pizza Hut in order for me to get some carbs. I told Bruce that when the waitress asked him whether he wanted a 16 ounce or 20 ounce beer to go ahead and order two 16 ouncers. He was happy with a bottle of Bud. Another table of runners close by were quite frustrated by the lack of beer selection (Bud, Bud Light or Coors Light) and the waitress explained they used to have better selection but no one ever ordered the 'good' beer.
The hotel was very close and I prepped all my equipment and was able to crawl into bed at a reasonable hour. I will admit I had some pretty vivid running dreams that night mostly involving pre-race activities. So when the wake-up call came at 4:15 I was quite glad for reality to slap me across the face.
The temps were quite nice as we got to the park that morning. I had packed for almost any condition but was happy all that I really needed were shorts and my Trail Monster shirt. Of course it was still dark and Bruce told me sunrise would be about forty five minutes after the start of the race. So I reluctantly donned my headlamp that I would only need for a few miles on the 16.7 mile loop. Time came to line up in the chute after I told Bruce that I would see him in a few hours.
All the runners started together, so it was impossible to tell who would be running back into the dark. I had placed myself slightly toward the back not wanting to be fast on the first of the three loops that I would be running. I figured somewhere around three hours for the first loop would mean that I didn't push my body too hard and didn't go too slow.
I had actually turned off my headlamp in the starting chute, not wanting to blind other runners and at the start discovered that I didn't need it as I could mooch light from others just like I had back at the Stone Cat Marathon. I wished that I could have mooched some of the enthusiasm from other runners as well. I felt like a bag of wet sand coming out of the start as I listened to frogs chirping in the nearby swamps. I always have a nervous stomach at the start of any race but this time I was feeling like I was going to hurl whenever I coughed even in the first mile. And I certainly was coughing as I was still kind of in a recovery mode from a bout with the flu a few weeks before that culminated in an ear infection a week later. The fluid in my ear had not totally drained and so my head was not quite in proper equilibrium. UGH! This had all forced me into an earlier and longer tapering period but I had been able to get out for a few runs while in Indy. So when the pack I was trudging along with slowed down to walk a hill, one that back at home was smaller than some frost heaves, I slowed to a walk as well.
It was about four miles to the first aid station, which I made to shortly after enjoying a beautiful sunrise. I put away my headlamp while I waited for a vacant porta potty. I grabbed a little water, passing on any food as I had plenty already with me.
I was still feeling awful after my first stop and had to hit the toilet at the next aid station about four more miles away. I found myself roughly around the same group of runners through most of the first loop. Someone might go ahead or fall behind for awhile but we all moved about the same eleven minute mile pace and of course even slower up the small hills. I was getting frustrated with myself for running so slow for me and not feeling any better. Sadly, thoughts of giving up were crossing my mind as my unbalanced head couldn't contemplate running forty more miles. I knew those thoughts were so completely foolish as I really couldn't have a much better running day as the temps were only slightly rising and a light breeze dried any sweat that seeped out of my epidermis. Besides, the trail conditions were spectacular. Roots, rocks and mud, I don't believe they exist in Indiana. Okay, a little mud but my shoes have gotten dirtier walking the kids to school.
At the last aid station, which was at the same location as the first, I was pretty dejected and seeing a runner taking off leaving the first meant that he was already seven miles ahead of me. Sure, I didn't know which race he was running, but to know you are seven miles behind does not encourage you when you're mustering up all you have just to feel 'normal.'
Miraculously, somewhere between the last aid station and the start area I had a transformation. Maybe it was when I finally passed the lady wearing the purple tutu and other highly decorative clothes while running up a hill instead of walking it that I began to feel like a runner for the first time all day. There were a couple other small hills that I decided to run up, not at full pace, rather than walk and soon I began to see that my pace was not in double digits anymore. I still hit one more toilet just before that start area. I signaled to Bruce where to meet up with me so I could reload my bladder bag.
I turned down food resupplies from Bruce as I still had plenty, even though I had been doing a better job than usual in taking in some calories. Someone stepped up to help me fill the bladder bag and I was taking off for my second loop before the 3:10 mark. Slower than I expected but at least I was feeling stronger and looking forward to making up some time on the second loop.
The frogs were still croaking as I slowly began to pass a few runners I had seen near the start. I enjoyed seeing the landscape around me that was obscured the first time around. It wasn't really that pretty as spring hadn't really sprung in that part of the state. Back in Indy, many of the trees were beautifully blooming while here in Albion you could gaze for long distances through the stark forest.
My focus turned more to my pace than the scenery and as I got to the first aid station I was thrilled to find some potatoes all ready for consumption and also that I didn't need to drop the kids off at the pool. I followed some strong looking runners out of the station and although I walked the hills with them we continued to pick up the pace. Soon it was just me behind two others and one asked if I wanted to pass. I wasn't quite yet ready to set the pace and so I stayed behind for another mile or so until we caught some others and then I moved on past over one of the few rough areas of trail.
There were a few minor sections of road running involved on the course, the longest stretch coming into the second aid station, certainly less than a mile but long enough to get into a solid pace and hold it without having to think about any obstacles. I felt even better coming into the aid station as Bruce was there to support and encourage. I grabbed some more potatoes and water walking as fast as I could eager to get back on the trail.
All continued to go well and every time my watch beeped marking another mile I made sure to drink from my bladder and grab something to eat every second mile. My head was still slightly off and I knew there was really nothing I could do about that other than see a doctor when I got back home, but more importantly my legs felt good, my stomach felt good and I had less than a lap and a half to go.
Sadly, on the part of the trail where I began to feel good the lap before, I now began to feel rotten again. Oh crap, I thought, did I wear myself out pushing the pace when I should have been saving energy for the last lap? Bruce moved to the same spot near the starting area as I came in at the end of lap two. I had finished in less than three hours but now I began to realize that the mileage on my watch was wrong as it read over thirty four miles. Bruce grabbed my pack to refill the bladder while I grabbed some more potatoes.
This was it, there was no stopping me now. I really didn't care what it would take to complete that third lap, I was determined to finish. Sure I wanted to stop and hurl my guts out but I didn't want to drive all the way back to Maine wondering what if. Four miles to the next aid station and about forty minutes if all went well.
It was hard getting back on pace, the small hills were now mocking me a little but I could still take some of them down without feeling any worse for the wear. In my head though I was saying to respect these hills as there were still plenty ahead and that although small they could still suck away whatever energy I had left.
There was also a road leading to the first aid station, and I got a kick watching other runners and myself running on the loose dirt that had built up on the shoulder. Plenty of nice even pavement to run up the hill to the aid station but we all just had to run on whatever dirt there was to be found. More potatoes, now washed down with some Pepsi. No Coke, we serve Pepsi here.
I was on the tails of a young woman coming out of the station and after I caught up to her on one of the hills I asked if she was running through the night. Somehow I thought that was a better way to ask someone if they were doing a hundred or fifty. She said all night and would only have her mother pace her for a few miles. She was running strong but I hoped she wasn't wearing herself out as I now was feeling again like a runner and back under double digit pace. I left her behind before I hit the road and promised another runner that there was wine, women and song just up ahead. Well there really wasn't that, but at least Bruce was there again. I got some Ben Gay like cream from him as my right knee was getting a little sore and fueled up just as before. I didn't care about the pain. I knew that if I could keep up the effort I would be rewarded with a finish under nine hours. That was the goal. Nine.That was my safe number, my state school college application. My Harvard acceptance letter would be closer to eight. Now, I was feeling really good about getting through that first lap and still achieving a nine hour finish. To do that I just had to continue to push myself.
There was around six or seven miles to the finish from this aid station, and jokingly Bruce told me to take it easy as my family was about a half hour away from the park. I was excited to know they would be at the finish and I greatly looked forward to seeing them all.
The light pain in my knee didn't have any effect on my pace and I was now catching runners who I was pretty sure were still just on their second lap. I passed one guy who was actually talking on his phone. Nicely he did move aside and did say something nice to me. I was unplugged except for my watch and had very few tunes in my head all day. A little Tom Petty with some Indiana lyrics but otherwise the only thing in my head was the built up fluid still in my ear canal.
I did have one flashback to my Albion childhood as the odor of manure from a nearby field made it's way past my blocked nasal cavity. Ahhh, the sweet smell of cowshit, you can't have corn on the cob without it. Pass the butter please.
I passed one guy and another who had blown past me earlier in the race, the former stayed with me a little. We discussed finishing in under nine and how I thought it was totally possible as I had a little less than five miles left according to my watch. He said his watch indicated more. Whomever was right, I was more motivated knowing that I might not make nine.
I caught up with another guy, with only one arm, who did say he was doing the hundred and agreed we could make fifty in under nine. I stepped back the pace slightly to talk with him and also because my upper right thigh was getting quite sore and I was finding it difficult to lift that leg. We got to the last aid station together and I downed a couple Mountain Dews.
The one armed gentlemen,Tony, was back to the race before me, as I also asked about the mileage, which was 2.7 to the finish. Tony was running really strong out of the station, but I kept him in sight and kept a close eye on my watch.
I don't know exactly when my watch beeped for the fifty mile mark, but it was not that close to the finish. I managed to catch back up to Tony and told him that he looked really strong. He encouraged me and now I was pretty sure about beating nine. Then suddenly, from around a corner in front of me I spotted my wife Mo'. She said she would run with me and asked a little about my finish. She soon understood that I was on a mission and as much as would have loved to run more with her I had a time to beat. Soon up ahead were my kids and sister in-law Kay, Bruce's wife, and the kids also wanted to run with me. Mo' was now well behind and I told the kids they would need to keep up and they did for a short while but they were just too far from the finish for me to take their hands and cross the finish line with them.
Waiting for me at the finish line was Bruce. I was glad he was there to celebrate, he deserved  to be there as I did beat the nine hour mark by less than two minutes. It's kind of crazy but after nearly nine hours of running, it is kind of hard to stop. Just to end it by trotting under some balloons and stepping across mechanized timing mats after so much effort to be suddenly done was a slightly surreal feeling. Maybe I was really wasn't looking forward to the long car ride home back to Maine. Running for another nine hours might be easier than sitting in a Kia for sixteen hours.
It was also hard to believe the race was over as my kids came running to me, not to congratulate me but to tell me how excited they were that I bought them The Goonies to watch on the ride home. There were other movies but this was new and well, it is The Goonies one of the greatest pirate treasure hunting movies ever made!
I slowly walked around, eating a couple of bananas and made my way back to the car. In less than half an hour after my finish we were on our way back to Maine. Of course I spent most of that half hour thanking Bruce and promising to crew for him whenever needed. I even volunteered to be his porter should he and Kay decide to head to Machu Pichu. Actually Bruce himself was to run the Mini Marathon in Indianapolis the next weekend even though he was dealing with a very sore hip. He was doing some marathons and the Mini when I first started racing, and I thank him for inspiring me as well as supporting me. Raise your glass to Bruce!
I was driving the next morning somewhere still in Western New York, as we had stopped for the night outside of Buffalo, when I looked at the clock and saw it was almost ten o'clock. I told Mo' that the hundred mile race was coming to an end if someone hadn't already finished. How I wished for anyone left on the course that the finish line was in view and that their family and or friends were there to cheer them on the finish.
Fortunately the drive home from there was less than the time I spent on my feet the day before. Still, that is no way to recover from an ultra. Next time around I want to stay much closer to the finish line for at least twelve hours. Until then, it's time to train again with hopes for strong support from my crew and family, fair weather, good food, cold drinks, and to feel better later than sooner.