Saturday, December 12, 2015

Winter Fells Race

As I walked away from the packet pick-up station at the TARC Winter Fells Race, I was kind of surprised that I only had a race bib and four safety pins. No t-shirt, sticker, gloves or any other kind of schwag that one might typically get at a race. But then I remembered that I only shelled out a little over twenty bucks for this race. Besides this wasn't a race I wanted to do to collect any prized trophy. This was a race I wanted to do to get myself back into shape after a great summer of travel, and to prove to myself how much I loved running.

During our travels this summer I did manage to get in a couple of runs a week and although I ran in some amazing places, I was in anything less than ultra shape when we returned in mid-August. Back home I slowly started to get into shape while trying to find a race to motivate me. Although a long way off the TARC seemed like the perfect race to keep me motivated throughout the fall.

 I was just about to sign up for the race in mid September when I started to feel awful. I was throwing up on runs less than a couple miles in, spending way too much time sitting on porcelain and having absolutely no energy on other days. I didn't even want to eat some days, and when I did I felt even worse than I did before a meal. Finally I saw my doctor and he almost immediately diagnosed me with ghiardhia. I was thrilled. Really I was. I knew this stomach bourn virus could be easily treated and to know something was actually wrong with me was such a relief. How I got this, I haven't a clue. Probably somewhere along the trip a bug got into my system through something I drank. We never had to take water from any sources other than taps, so I can't blame any store bought purification system. I am puzzled why no one else in the family brought home this little bug in their bellies but I am glad that I am the only one who had to suffer.

After taking pills for a week, I was feeling soooo much better and starting to run without discomfort. So one night I sat down at the computer and signed up for the TARC. One problem. The race was already full. I was on a waitlist. Son of a snickerdoodle. I had two choices; sit around and put on weight for the winter cold or train like I was already in the race. I chose the latter.

When I was standing in the line to get my race number a girl in front of me turns to some guy and says that she isn't on the list. He says not to worry that she is running instead of another person and to take her number. I'm wondering why the hell was I on a waitlist for a month. At least I was off the waitlist and just about ready to run my first race since late May.

I was really happy to be there, standing in a parking lot just off an off-ramp from Route 93 west of Boston. Not because I felt in shape and ready to take on thirty two miles but I made it there in one piece that morning. I left the house just before four sipping on coffee and eating left over chocolate chips pancakes. Some guy passes me just before the toll booth in South Portland and he is swerving a little. I figure he is looking for change. He continues to swerve on the on-ramp and also when we are on the highway. I keep my distance behind him as we are travelling just above 70. When he slows down into the sixties I move to pass him. Only he speeds up, so I let him move ahead. Just before the Biddeford exit I see skidmarks, then some wreckage in the center median and a tractor trailer and another vehicle pulled off to the right with flashers on. I must have missed whatever happened by mere minutes and am now determined to get swerving early morning drunk guy away from me. He has slowed down and I can move ahead and get him out of sight. I need to use the rest area in Kennebunk and when I pull in here he comes in right behind me. There are hardly any cars, and I don't want to be alone standing at the stalls with this guy so I just drive on.

It took me about two hours to get to the starting area of the race, and there was more than an hour before the race so I tried to catch a few z's in my warm car. It was the strangest starting area ever for a trail race. Literally just off a major highway and nothing more than a parking lot. The sun was shedding a little light on a few familiar faces that made this feel that there really was going to be a race that morning.

I stayed warm waiting for the start with other Trail Monster runners; George, Ryan, John and Sarah while John and Danielle set up shop to support all of us. The sun was breaking out enough that no headlamps would be required and although I was wrapped up in a blanket, I had on shorts as temps were supposed to reach into the fifties.

Without much fanfare the race started and I was glad to be in a pack of like minded individuals. Not so sure about really like minded as I was near the George the Jedi, a man of extraordinary mental toughness and Ryan, who seemed to be questioning his own sanity as well as ability to run this course. I knew I should be ahead of George through the race but I thought Ryan and I should be close to the end.

The interesting part about this race is it's set-up. You can do thirty two or forty miles for starters, I choosing the former. It's an eight mile lolli-pop, meaning you go out straight and then the trail loops around to the stem, the tightly wrapped paper, and follow that back to the starting area. You do that four or five times hopefully. The really cool part is you can choose which direction you want to run. Clockwise or counter. You don't need to do all your loops in one direction either. Just do enough loops to do your distance and you're good.

I decided to go counter and was a little bummed when Ryan went the other direction, as I thought it would be fun to listen to some of his rumblings. But I was still surrounded by a number of runners so I wouldn't have to amuse myself just yet. We all slowed to hiking paces in order to get up some of the steep hills yet no one was busting past anyone when we weren't going up. I was already very surprised just how rough of a course this was knowing that about eight lanes of smooth highway was so close to us. Here there was nothing but small boulders and roots preventing me from setting any steady pace.

Being in a pack of runners, there were a couple of times we all came to a standstill and then someone behind us yelling to us we were off the trail. I was following people more than blazes and fortunately these couple forrays were less yards off the trail than a personal foul in football. We were treated to a view of the Boston skyline as we came to a tower about three miles into the race. I'd rather have a view of some mountains but was really impressed that I could be part of this wilderness adventure so close a major metropolitan area.

Soon after, runners were coming at us from the other direction. I was amazed how fast they were moving. They were already more than a mile ahead of us and with more than twenty eight miles to go, I had no desire to try and reel them in. Ryan was soon one of those runners, and I figured he had more than a half mile lead on me.

The trail continued to challenge me and as our pack came into the only aid station on the course I did take in a small drink. Although I knew I couldn't be fast I realized how important it would be for me to keep taking in liquids and calories in order not to crash. If I did crash on this course it would be brutal trying to finish all four laps.

The group I was around stuck mostly together but I was starting to feel a little faster. So I moved past the leader of the group, a young woman who had been keeping us on the right trail. She was wearing a shirt that promoted being a vegan that had pictures of cows, chickens and pigs. I thanked her for her navigation skills and then said, "I don't mean to offend you, but your shirt is making me hungry." She got a laugh at my warped sense of humor and said I would be wishing I was a vegan by the third lap.

There was actually a small stretch of trail winding through some large pine trees where I could open it up a little. I sang out the Wonder Woman song as I weaved through the trees channeling my inner amazon woman self wondering if any of the millenials behind me had any idea what I was talking about.

As I came near the starting area/aid station at the end of my first lap, Ryan was just on his way out and looking in good spirits. I made a quick stop with John and Danielle checking in on me. I didn't want Danielle's husband, Ryan get too far ahead of me. The weather was starting to warm so I left behind my gloves to start my second lap.

For the second lap, I decided to go clockwise. There wasn't really any strategy involved. The explorer side of me kicked in a little. Just going that direction to experience something a little different. I soon caught up with a guy who had a Hardrock 100 shirt on. I asked him if he kissed the Rock, meaning that he had finished one of the hardest one hundred mile races in the country. He told me that he had, and I asked to shake his hand as I stepped past him. His name is Jeff and hails from Falmouth, Mass. We spent much of that lap going back and forth. It was real nice to talk with someone plodding our way through the woods.

I found the climbs easier going clockwise but was still not able to build up any speed. Too many turns, too many rocks and pointless ups and downs (PUDs). Another hinderance was the sun pointing directly in my eyes, making it harder to follow the trail. It was not hard to miss some of the real fast runners coming at me, as some crossing my path at the aid station now only three miles from the start area going clockwise. Even though my watch was running indicating that I was on a decent pace, it was real hard to decipher just how well I was doing against the field. If only I could catch Ryan, I would know that I was performing well.

Coming back to the tower and overlooking Boston I was hoping to make some good time back to the start area. With most of the toughest climbs behind me I figured this would be the case. The problem was that none of the downhills allowed me to open up my pace. Some of the downs were just about as slow as coming up them, as I didn't want to take a header onto the rocks. This was feeling ridiculous. Just as I was descending the final down before hitting the intersection leading to the starting area I finally caught up with Ryan. Unfortunately, he was on his way up starting his third lap. Damn, what had gotten into him?

Happy to be done with two laps in about three and a half hours, I had John refill my bladder bag while I hit the aid station. A little coke, some potatoes and laughs with John had me ready for another lap.

Realizing that going clockwise was no faster, maybe even a little slower, I chose to go counter for the third lap. I had some regrets going this way while immediately making a big climb. I felt faster going up this time not surrounded by many other runners. I kept feeling stronger, not faster, just stronger. I set my sights on one runner in front of me, and he did a good job keeping ahead of me until we approached the tower. We chatted a little and he told me this was his first ultra. I told him he made a good choice as the weather was really cooperating. The sun was still directly in my eyes until we got to the tower, much to my chagrin. But how could I really gripe about the sun being out on a race that was billed as a winter run and the temps were somewhere in the fifties.

Besides crossing paths with other runners coming from the opposite direction, I now had to navigate past many people just out for a walk on a beautiful day. Many of them with dogs, and many of the dogs were golden retrievers. There were even a few mountain bikers out.

Shortly before the aid station, I began to feel the wear of all the miles on my body. No aches or pains. Just a general feeling of malaise. I took in some extra calories at the station trying to repair some of the damage and to set me up for a successful final lap. It was a hard final three miles as I was now a few miles past my longest training run.

I was hoping to see Ryan before coming into the starting area but John and Danielle informed me that he was already gone. I was glad to hear that he was still performing well. I told Danielle that Ryan had become my white whale and I Captain Ahab. I just couldn't take him down, damn him. I took a little extra time at the station, more food and more drink and John walked with me a while as I ate a few Oreo cookies. Even eating them the proper way by spinning them apart and eating the cream first. They weren't double stuff but they were especially good.

I walked all the way to the turnoff and began my climb choosing to go counter clockwise again. I again felt strong even after five hours of damn tough trail and decided that I wanted to finish this thing out by giving the best that I could.

Soon I was blasting past a couple walking who gave me a strange look. Then I realized I was off trail and did a quick u-turn. Luckily I hadn't gone very far off and soon caught up to a guy who had previously been behind me. I encountered another group of young people who were all carrying rocks of decent sizes. I asked one guy who appeared to be the leader why carry the rocks and he said because they could. Good answer. I just wished they had been out there earlier in the day to move away more of these unforgiving obstacles.

There was a decent viewpoint of the Boston skyline sometime before the tower and with no one around me, I decided this was a good point to show Boston my backside. A stupid and immature tradition of mine, but one that takes my mind off the race for a moment.

Still crossing paths with other runners, many familiar faces by now, I was especially happy to see George who told me Ryan was just up ahead. Just how far up ahead I had no idea, nor did I really expect to catch him at this point. But I was still motivated to push as much as I could. I also set in my mind that I really wanted to beat seven hours.

Everything seemed to be clicking when I came into the aid station with only three miles to go. I felt much better than the last time I was here. There had been one runner ahead of me that was motivating me to keep on a good pace. I finally caught up with him somewhere around the two mile mark and it felt like our pace was picking up. We exchanged a few pleasantries and a while later a couple walking the opposite direction asked if we were racing. I wasn't sure if he and I were racing against one another or pushing each other to the finish line. I found out he was under thirty years old and running his first ultra. I had a lead on him when I briefly got off trail and he called out to me that we were off as he was following me. We were quickly back on course with him in the lead and less than a mile to go.

I was content to stay behind him as we came to the last stretch. I might have been able to turn on the after burners and take him down but there was nothing to gain by doing so. We were easily going to beat the seven hour mark. I made my way past the gate and checked in at the finishers table congratulating the young man on his strong finish and to welcome him to the ultra club. I was greeted by John and Danielle and even Ryan got out of his chair to welcome me. I told him how proud of him I was and really glad that he was healthy today. George's wife Anne was there with the gang to welcome me as well. John dashed off to get me some goodies while I sat down feeling relief that I had finished my only ultra of the year. And proud of my performance. Ultrasignup predicted that I would finish in just under eight hours and I had done it in 6:50. The predicted finish time scarred me when I signed up, and fearful of what the weather could have been like made me even more nervous but everything came together better than expected.

While sitting back relaxing and laughing a lot with people Anne said that my father and wife had already commented on-line to her post that I had finished. "Damn," I said. "Now that means my wife knows I'm done and that I've got to get home." I was half joking and Anne apologized, but I let her know that it was absolutely fine and was glad that she would share my achievement. But really I did need to be getting home.

The two hour ride home was luckily much less noteworthy than the ride down and I only really tired out on the final twenty minutes. I was looking forward to getting home to shower up and then go to a Bowdoin hockey game with the kids and a friend and his kids. I would have preferred to lie on the couch the rest of the night but at least I was doing something fun with the kids.

It was kind of odd to come back home after an ultra without anything in hand to prove that I had just run thirty two miles. All that I have are the memories and the feelings of having completed a much tougher than expected race in a time that I didn't think I was fully capable of running. Many thanks go out to John and Danielle for their support throughout the day. Another thanks to my white whale Ryan who I hope stays healthy so I can stay motivated to head out on the choppy trails in pursuit. Thanks to my wife who encouraged me to get healthy so that I could run and thus stay more mentally healthy. Thanks to the TARC crew for putting on a race for those who love to run. This was a race to challenge oneself for nothing other than the love of running. It came without ribbons, it came without tags, you know the rest from Dr. Seuss. And in the end, the trail runner himself crossed the finish line.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Massanuten 100 Pace Report

The first time we saw the dreaded Black Rose was at the pre-race meeting for the Massanuten 100 miler on Friday night. The woman holding the rose called herself the Grim Reaper, and said that the rose was still a badge of honor as it meant that the runner did everything they could, gave it their all and did not quit. They simply ran out of time. Sadly, the runner that I was there to support and pace, John Rodrigue, would end up possessing a rose instead of a finisher's buckle Sunday morning. He fit perfectly the description by the Grim Reaper as there was no quit in John, the clock just moved faster than his feet.

Our journey began Thursday evening after I watched my daughter Maggie's play. She rocked her part and was fortunate to have grandparents there to watch. I said my goodbyes at the conclusion of the play and hurried home to find John and the other member of our team Sean Case at my house with all their gear packed in my VW Bus.

We made decent time traveling south, needing to fuel up near the Connecticut/New York border just after midnight. We had trouble finding an operating gas station, and by the time we did, I figured it was time to find a place to stop for the night. A rest area was advertised not far away on Route 84. So we found the darkest possible spot and popped the top on the bus and crawled into our sleeping bags. It turned out to be a pretty lousy night of sleep, as traffic was loud and a number of tractor trailer trucks changed gears right near our abode before hitting the on-ramp.

A smooth ride continued in the morning. Our only real delay was waiting for our food to be ready at a deli in Hagerstown, Maryland. We were able to get to the race headquarters sometime around three. I was hoping to arrive earlier to give John plenty of time to rest and stretch out his legs. There was plenty of spots to set up camp and despite having the bus, I still set up a tent to hold our spot and a place for me to sleep giving the others plenty of space.

There weren't too many familiar faces checking in but I did spot a couple of guys who I ran the TARC 100 with last year. One of them Giles actually asked me where my father was, as he had crewed me last year. That to me was one of the greatest thrills of the entire weekend.

While waiting for the start of the pre-race meeting a couple from Massachusetts greeted John as they had met him the week before at a race. The guy Russ would be attempting his first 100 miler and his wife Nikki would be crewing for him. They were very pleasant, but I was getting a little anxious about getting the show on the road, and really looking forward to the dinner after the meeting as my blood sugar was getting low and I wanted to get to sleep as soon as possible.

The meeting took much too long and then we were told that the caterers were running late so dinner was going to be delayed. We used the delay to get a few things sorted out for the morning. Once dinner was finally served we sat with our tenting neighbors that had traveled from D.C. to support another first timer Erin.

With our bellies full, we were still thinking about food. Well, food for the next morning of which we really didn't have anything. So we drove back up and over twisty roads hoping to locate a grocery store. The one we found would have been unrecognizable as one if my GPS hadn't sent us there. Unfortunately it didn't tell us the hours, and as we arrived just a few minutes after seven, one of the ladies promptly turned on the closed sign upon seeing us parked in one of the few graveled parking spots. Back to the van, but then a guy stuck his head out of the door and asked us if we needed to buy something. We sure did. Besides breakfast food, we, well at least Sean and I, wanted some beer. I wish I could report that the store was this hidden golden cornucopia of goods after the man's generosity of opening back up for us. Some food was being sold in plastic baggies with ties, there was a good selection of Dickie jeans and gloves but not a decent bagel in the place. At least there was PBR in the cooler, the sad part was that was the finest choice of beer.

After we returned to camp David Bibler and his team of his wife Jess and Amy arrived and set up their camp not too far away. John took a short cold shower while Sean and I enjoyed a couple cold beers while keeping an eye out for ticks. There was little left to do now except to try and get some sleep before the four a.m. start time.

John was in good spirits in the morning, much more awake and alert than me despite having some really real dreams, maybe even nightmares about missing the start of the race. We kept reminding him to be sure to check in before the start and finally did so about fifteen minutes before start time. John was all smiles, even visible in the dark, taking photos and enjoying the moment and opportunity. We pushed John into the starting coral stepping back and began the final countdown. We watched the headlamps move away from us beginning their awesome journey.

Sean and I agreed we could sleep for about an hour before we needed to begin our crewing responsibilities. The first time we could see John was at the twelve mile mark and figured he should be there in about three hours. After an hours nap, we made ourselves some coffee and our way to Edinburg Gap. We got a great parking place and were soon met by Nikki. Runners were already coming in at the two hour mark. David came in around 2:30, and had directed his crew not to meet him there. He looked strong, and I stepped up in case he needed anything at all. This got me more into a crew mood, and soon I was on the lookout for runners still wearing headlamps to give them to crew members versus wearing them for another twenty plus miles.

Most runners looked good, only one skinned up knee and one woman saying she had already thrown up. Russ came in before John and Nikki attended to him while we kept an eye out for John. He wasn't too far behind coming in around the three hour mark and looking good. Of course his spirits were good but he did say he wasn't eating much. He had planned to eat a couple Kind bars every hour, and looking at those bars I didn't think he would have enough time to finish one before he really needed to start in on another. I'm not sure how many he had eaten in the three hours since we saw him last but he was promising to take in more calories, so I did not berate him too badly for not laying down a good foundation for the day.

John took his hiking poles with him as he crossed the road and back into the woods of Virginia with twenty three miles ahead of him before we could see him again. Time for us to get a real breakfast and more coffee in a nearby town. Well it wasn't really a town, just really a bunch of corporate America restaurants found near most highway exits. The one real down home looking restaurant only opened after we drove back past it with our bellies already full.

Of course we had to stop at another grocery store again, as we didn't get too many supplies the night before. The Food Lion had plenty and according to the guy checking out in front of us it had the best $23 bottle of champagne one could find anywhere. Even better than most of the expensive stuff but he may have only felt that way because of the 12 pack of Miller Lite he was buying at eight in the morning.

John did have a couple aid stations before we would see him and I hoped that he was finding something good to eat. Meanwhile Sean was doing an excellent job navigating us in the back country of Virginia. The directions given us were spot on but you really needed to be aware of where you were, especially when there was almost twenty miles of driving between the aid stations. Still, we got to the Elizabeth Furnace station just fine and had plenty of parking, nice restrooms and a few shaded spots to set up our chairs and wait. We set up near the team crewing Erin, the most friendly of the group Keith was foam rolling his body getting ready for pacing duties sometime in the next twenty some odd hours. We had estimates on John's arrival but those were only estimates, and although we knew we would have plenty of time waiting it was unnerving waiting when you just don't know how he was really doing.

Nikki, Jess and Amy also joined us in the small shaded spot which was about fifty yards from the picnic shelter aid station. Although I was already exhausted and tried to get some sleep, I just had to check on the aid station to know what to offer John when he came in. I spotted a cooler, and was so thrilled when I opened it and found dozens of frozen ice pops. I was soon offering them to any runner coming in. I had used frozen pedia-pops on my 100 miler and they were a delight on a hot day. I overcame my tired feeling by playing crew member to anyone coming in. The volunteers were all nice, even when they came around asking people for extra water as they were running low, we gave them one of our two gallons, but they weren't really coming out to lead runners into the station. The ice pops were especially hidden and I don't think anyone refused one when I offered one up.

I was more or less in full crew mode by the time David came in. Jess and Amy got him all set up even before he hit the actual station. I walked him through to make sure he didn't miss out on the opportunity to pig out on any treats, including ice pops. I continued crew duties for other runners; lending a shoulder for a woman to lean on while her boyfriend tended to her blisters, feeding one guy while his wife was carrying around their eight month old. Then Russ came in and sat in the shade with us. I ran off to get him ice pops and then sponged him down with some ice cold water. We checked his feet as he was worried about blisters but they looked fine even for running thirty plus miles. He left in good spirits and then I began to really wonder about the one runner that I was really responsible about that day.

We didn't really have any expected times on when we would see John. He was given some pace tables and although they could be really helpful, he wasn't trying hard to follow any set pace schedule. I just really wanted to see him come into this station healthy and ready to grind out some more miles. A lot could happen over twenty miles and as I saw more runners coming through I stopped helping and spent more time watching for him. I gave him big cheers when I spotted him on the road and Sean and I were ready.

He told us that he wasn't urinating as we led him straight into the picnic area. Someone overheard him telling us about it while we were sponging him down and feeding him watermelon. I was concerned but tried not to let it show on my face. We were told there was a doctor that could see him and so I focused on feeding him and hydrating him. John also told us that he had seen a bear on the trail not so long ago.  Sean took care of his bag for the next phase and a doctor began to question John about his urination. John's facilities were fine. He had no trouble talking to us, was moving around fine but just hadn't been able to pee. The doctor saw no reason why John shouldn't continue on, if the problem persisted then he should withdraw but since it was so hot John was probably just sweating it out instead of peeing it out. It was a little more time at the station than I may have wanted but it was good to know John was going to be alright and we insisted that he should have his bladder bag finished by the next time we would see him in less than five miles.

John may have had to run only five miles but we had to cover much more than that in the VW. We missed a couple turns but realized our errors quickly as we now made it a habit to reset the trip odometer after every turn. We had our longest walk with gear from parking spot to aid station which didn't have much room for all the teams there to support their runners. The air was feeling much thicker and so I put on my Joe Dirt wig in case we got hit by thunderstorms. David was already gone by the time we got there but Jess and Amy decided to hang out to support John. We continued to support Russ when he came in, and he got treated to some of my finest Joe Dirt impressions.

 Amy talked to us more about race strategy suggesting that I begin to pace him at Habron Gap the 54 mile mark. I was planning on running with him later as runners could pick up pacers at the 64 mile spot, or back at 54 if it was after six in the afternoon. And we all figured he would probably be there after six unless he was able to crush some big miles fast.

John came into the station still in great spirits but still unable to piss. Sean showed me his bladder bag which seemed practically untouched and I almost wanted to slap him, but that's not Joe Dirt's style. Actually I didn't have on the wig as John was sitting on it, and I reluctantly put it back on for John at people's request. I dunno, maybe Joe Dirt does smell like ass sweat. Still, I was getting a little pissed. Sean and I continued to feed him and make him drink and I didn't know what to do to make him drink more. So out of nowhere I said to him, "When you drink count to ten. Don't just take a sip. Count to ten." We told him I would run with him at the next aid station, I just wanted to make sure that he not only would make it into that aid station but that he would be able to leave.

To get to the next aid station we actually left some of the back roads and as I was looking around some things seemed kind of familiar. Then I saw a sign for Gooney Creek Campground. I had been on vacation about three weeks earlier in this area with my family in the bus and had almost stayed at the campground but didn't out of fear that we might get butchered in the middle of the night. We eventually found a less daunting spot for the night and were more worried about flash floods than axe murders. Now as I was excited to be in a place I actually knew, the threat of flash floods were once again real as there were some pretty big rollers up in the sky.

Sean and I found the turnoff from the main road without problem but decided to head into the town of Loray for dinner and then get to the aid station. I really wished I could have ordered some bigger down home plates at Uncle Buck's but I settled on Virginia Ham with some fixin's while Sean got the prime rib, and was even given a bigger slice than he ordered as the cook was celebrating her 40th birthday. Of course we got some decent local beer to wash everything down. Speaking of washing down, the skies totally opened up while we dined, knocking out the cable t.v. and making it impossible to see what movie was playing at the theater across the street. If John had more miles to go between stations we might have been able to catch a flick, but that's not why we were there was it.

I really wanted to run with John but at dinner I was getting worried that I would not get the chance to pace him. He had been more than an hour ahead of cutoff times but the urination problem and lack of fueling had me questioning when he would come in. We decided to hit another grocery store to give him more food choices. We went to the same grocery store I had been to with my family, and found the service much more friendly this time around. I picked out a bunch of junk food, basically hiker food, not all that nutritious but fun to eat. I did eye some packs of portable applesauce but decided against that purchase, later on wishing I had bought them.

As we got to the Habron Gap aid station  Jess and Amy were just pulling out and gave us their parking spot as David was already in and out. We figured we still had some time, maybe an hour or more before we should see John, so after I got my running gear together, I popped the top and grabbed a little rest. I was never completely out, as details were running through my head and I couldn't wait to get on the trail with John.

I donned my kilt over my running shorts and kept a lookout with Sean for John. We once again stepped up and helped Nikki tend to Russ who was holding up well and making some gear changes to dry off now that the rain had stopped. Then came the hardest part: the waiting. I kept one eye on the aid table which was getting really depleted and another on the road leading into the station. Finally in came John with a big smile on his face, raising his arms and shouting, "I can piss again!"

We sat him down once again, Sean tending to his pack while I grabbed food. We changed his shirt, now he and I would match in our Trail Monster shirts, and we also changed his shoes. He had about six pairs to choose from and put on a pair along with new socks. He still hadn't been eating enough and we tore out a bunch of Kind bars, leaving a few and replacing with junk food; gummi bears, peanut butter cups and a couple other candy bars in mini sizes. I wasn't really sure what John liked for junk food but I didn't give a crap really, he was now going to eat whatever we gave him.

Runners needed to be out of this aid station before 9 pm and we left just around eight with John just ahead of me. Race rules stated that a pacer was supposed to be behind the racer and I followed that rule for about two minutes. We had a pretty big climb coming out of the station and with John feeling good, I wanted to take advantage of this and push him up the hill/mountain. I also wanted to be ahead of him so he wouldn't have to think about navigating the trail. We were back in forth with a couple other teams as John proved to me that he really could urinate again.

The sun was beginning to set and John donned his headlamp before I did and we began to listen for whippoorwills. I began to dominate the conversation, not an easy thing to do with John but I wanted to take his mind of the trail. I spoke about my time hiking on the trail with my wife and other experiences like when I did a night hike to get away from an annoying hiker named Wyoming Skateboarder who complained endlessly about rocks and roots on the trail.

John was in good spirits and climbing really well but had concerns about some chaffing in the nether regions. So when he stopped to do what a bear does in the woods, I made him remove, not force ably, some underwear to give the boys a little more room.

One piece of equipment that I did not have was my GPS watch. I had brought it with me, but I just couldn't find it in the bus. So I was relying on dead reckoning to know how far we might have gotten. We had roughly nine miles to the next aid station and if we kept up a decent hiking pace around three miles an hour we would keep an hour ahead of the next cutoff. John stayed strong on the ascent, and I figured we were moving around two miles per hour and now would need to make up some time on the descent, which in theory should be pretty easy to do even if John was starting to fatigue a little. His body was in fine shape for the descent the problem became his shoes. Of the six pairs he had to choose from, he unfortunately chose ones that were a little too small. Our pace should have been about five miles per hour but it felt like we were moving even slower than our climb and for the first time I heard frustration from John. It felt like I was doing math homework with my daughter who gets frustrated and vocal and I try to keep my cool and keep focus on moving forward instead of the obstacles. There were a couple times he needed to pound his poles to release the anger at his feet getting beat upon and once he was done there was nothing else to do but move forward as quick as possible so he could change his shoes.

As we got near the aid station I congratulated John on toughing out a challenging course and assuring him that we could make better time on the next section with better shoes. We had managed to keep our hour buffer and Sean tended to John's equipment needs while I worked on hydration and nutrition. He still hadn't been eating too well so after he downed a couple applesauce packets, I had him grab an extra one for the trail. I also took in a few calories, being careful not to reduce the food selection for other runners still behind us.

With John ready to go, I put my pack on and immediately felt a cold stream running down my back. I guess I didn't close my bladder bag too well and I don't know how much water I lost but with only six miles before the next aid station I figured I would still have enough water along with some ice tea in a bottle to get us there.

Of course we had a climb out of the station and I pushed the pace once again. We faced more mud than before and I had to remind John that new muddy shoes were better than dry, short ones. The mud wasn't the big obstacle, it was the rocks. John bitched a little about them and I reminded him about Wyoming Skateboarder and so his complaints stopped maybe fearing that I would leave him behind in the woods of Virginia.

The climb was really brutal but John was steady and when I got excited about a switchback, John found it hard to share in my enthusiasm. Of course, I still did not know how far we had gone but when it felt that we had completed the climb, I gave him back props for such a great effort. Unfortunately the climb was not completely over but we got through the rest of it in good spirits. John had already eaten the applesauce but was still not taking in enough calories and I was having a hard time getting him to take in more and did not let up on him to drink as well. He was definitely starting to tire but was keeping up his pace. It wasn't fast but it was getting him forward and I felt it would keep us ahead of cutoff.

There were plenty of lights when we came into the next aid station at mile 70 and Sean had seats set up near a good campfire. While John sat down, Sean tended to the pack and I made my way to the food table. At that time a volunteer called for someone to tend to the generator, to which no one responded and the lights quickly went out. I managed to find what was left of Coke wanting to give John some caffeine to wake him up. Another runner came in and sat down next to John stating that he was done, quitting. A sense of fear came across me that his spirits would enter John's body, who now closed his eyes. We let him have a little shuteye as we were still getting his gear in order and I searched for my clothes to change my shirt as it was getting a little cold at 2:30 in the morning. We still had our hour buffer but it felt like we were only minutes ahead of John being the recipient of a black rose.

Still without a GPS watch, I told John as we were leaving the aid station that we needed to be better than a three mile per hour pace to stay well ahead of the next cutoff about eight miles away. We had five hours to beat the cutoff but with the profile still featuring ups and downs, and I was sure more rocks that we couldn't afford to let up.

Yes, another climb out of the aid station and John was once again very strong, even after his 90 second nap near the campfire, of which he woke himself up and got right to his feet. The climb was not quite as long as the previous ones but I felt his pace slowing up. Our conversations also began to slow down. I had quizzed John about baseball hitting techniques to share with my son. We also played a few games to keep conversation and laughing, now John just mostly said that he was getting really tired. I was hoping his pace would pick up once we were on the ridge, but his tiredness was hard to overcome and so I began to force feed him. I gave him some chocolate covered espresso beans which he hated but I gave him more and more trying to send a caffeine rush through his body. I don't think it had the effect I was hoping for but at least he wasn't face planting in the middle of the trail.

I kept a close eye on my watch, figuring the sun was going to come up in an hour or so and wanted him to feel ready to really move in the daylight. I told him all that we were doing now was moving a few logs at a time in order to move the woodpile. We didn't really need to move a big stack and tire ourselves out. Just a little constant effort and we would get that woodpile moved and be rewarded with a buckle for John. Unfortunately, it was more like moving a single piece of wood at a time but we were moving and most importantly I never heard John talk about quitting. There was no quit in him. He was exhausted, there was little energy left in him. I began to question if I was failing him. I was wondering if my trail friends back at home would question if I had done enough for him. I didn't want John to fail because I failed him. I wanted him to get that buckle.

We continued to stack wood, as now I was feeding him more than ever, just waiting for the sun to appear. I would hand him some food and tell him to take a bite. Then a minute later to take another bite, and so on and so on. I even gave him countdowns to finish whatever was left in his hand. I was being a little bit of a bitch, but really he was my bitch now and I was going to do whatever I could to bring him back to life.

The sky began to lighten up a little, enough so I could turn off my headlamp and I prepared for big speech time. Having done a little coaching in my day, and being a fan of sports I know that you can give a big speech too early and have it's effects wear off too quickly. Now with the sun lighting our path instead of our headlamps it was time for that speech. It was just before six when I spotted a large downed tree and had John sit down. I still didn't know how far we had to go but that we only had an hour and a half to get him in and out of the next aid station before cutoff, and I really didn't think we were going to make it based upon our pace.

I was real honest with John about our situation and that if we weren't going to make it, I didn't want us to do it through lack of effort. I had him suck down a GU packet while I spoke to him that he didn't come all the way to Virginia to quit, and at the pace we were moving was essentially a quitters pace.

Back on our feet less than two minutes later a team caught up with us. The pacer was actually the doctor who looked in on John thirty miles earlier. I asked them if they knew the mileage. The pacer figured we had around three miles. I don't know if John got the charge I did but now I felt energized that we had a really real chance of beating that cutoff that I was so sure that was going to end John's day.

I was treated to my first view of the valley below us at a clearing marked Q's View, which I wish I had a camera for as my son's name is Quinn. The other team took in the view with us and of course I just had to moon all the houses below us. The other team pulled ahead of us but I wasn't too concerned about that. I was mostly glad that John was showing real signs of life again. I continued to force feed him, mostly GU, trying to regain his full strength. The trail had actually become more runnable and although we weren't on Boston Marathon pace, it was the best pace in hours.

We stepped out onto a dirt road only to see Jess driving by in the opposite direction. It was good to see her all alone, as this meant that now Amy was somewhere in the woods pacing David. Then a car pulled up next to us and slowed down. It was the Grim Reaper. Apparently John had done a little flirting with her at some other aid stations so she full well knew who he was. She told us we still had a couple miles on the road. John did his best to run and I pushed him to do so and I set up landmarks to run to before we could walk again. While walking we saw pavement up ahead, to which John said he couldn't run on that hard surface so I pushed us to the edge of the pavement.

Farther up ahead of us was another team. John did manage to run a little on the pavement and so when we caught up to this team, the pacer thought John was the pacer. We slowed to walk with them and the runner was literally falling asleep next to us. We chatted until the other pacer looked back and saw that a big gap had developed between us and his runner. The road seemed to last forever and I kept an eye on my watch was indicating it was around seven in the morning. We had to have John out of the aid station by 7:30 and I was getting real nervous.

After we dropped the other team, someone came running up the road towards us. I saw that it was Keith and asked about distance. We were close. I still couldn't get John there fast enough. Finally the road stopped twisting and we came out to a main road. I checked for traffic and crossed only to have a local sheriff have to stop to let us cross. Then I looked up the hill to see Sean looking down at us. "GU. GU, get as much GU's as you can, " I shouted to him. He took right off and I got real energized about getting John to this point and shared my enthusiasm with him and how proud of him that he had done it.

At the aid station, we didn't even let John sit down as it was quarter past seven. Sean was taking over pacing duties now. It was hard to turn John over to him. In no way was I questioning that Sean was going to do a great job, it just felt like I had invested so much in John's run that I didn't want to lose that control. Besides, I'm sure John must have been sick of my force feeding and drinking, and general nuisance to keep him going. My job was now crew duty, and I was glad to do it.

They took off and I dropped my hiking poles and celebrated the fact that John was still in the race. The other runner came in and sat down, still with a few minutes to get out of the station but really calling it quits. I tried to motivate him  a little, but I myself was spent. I had to hold back some tears thinking that John was going to get his buckle and that I had a part of that accomplishment.

I did treat myself to some food while the crew began to dissemble the station. Erin's crew was anxiously waiting for her to come while the other runner was asleep in his chair. I packed up our gear and drove to the next aid station, less than a mile away but ten miles away for John and Sean.

Upon getting to the Picnic Aid Station, I organized the contents of the bus a little and made a phone call back home to Maine before I laid down for a little nap. John had three and a half hours to cover the twelve miles and stay in the race. Despite getting less than an hours sleep over the past twenty eight hours I still found it hard to rest and was soon up and around. Runners were coming and going. I wasn't expecting John and Sean anytime soon based upon the runners that I recognized.

The aid station was doing better on food than some of the others, I guess because more and more runners were dropping or not meeting cutoffs, so I didn't feel too guilty about getting just a cup of coffee. Runners coming in were in all different states; some tired, some happy, some pretty broken, but not a single one of them quit. Everyone I saw still pressed on. They were at the eighty nine mile mark and the course actually covered one hundred and four miles, and no one was stopping.

I didn't step in to help out other crews like the day before. I stood at the ready but all crews were spot on the job. I was amazed that a couple of the crews were wives with young children. I thought my job was tough, but I can't imagine carting kids through the woods of Virginia at night.

I had no expectation to see John and Sean for quite sometime but after ten thirty I began to be on the lookout. We had to have him out of here before eleven and if he had been able to pick back up his pace he should have be arriving pretty soon I figured. Again, the waiting was the hardest part. Damn you Tom Petty.

Less and less runners were now coming in and there weren't many crews left. The air was cool and it felt like it could rain any moment but I was still more concerned as to John's location than getting caught in a rain storm. I can't sit still. I look at my watch every thirty seconds. I congratulate another runner who heads back onto the course. Now there are only two other teams left and time is moving faster than the runners still out there.

One runner leaves and I start to overhear volunteers discussing how many runners are still out on the course. It is a surprising number, one. That can't be right, there are two teams still here. I don't want to be pushy so I wait for a break in their conversation before I step in and ask them if there are really two and give them John's bib number. Someone radios another aid station to which crews were not allowed to get to, and we find out that yes indeed John and another runner are still out there. That other runner finally comes in a short time later. She doesn't have much time to get in and out but does beat the cutoff. One volunteer quietly says to me that she won't beat the next cutoff, I am glad to report that she proves him wrong and does buckle.

Now it's only a few minutes before eleven and there is no sign of John. Volunteers are taking down the aid station and I can't bear to look only focusing on where I should be seeing John coming in from. The Grim Reaper arrives upon the scene and I decide to walk down the trail just hoping to see them. At the pre-race meeting, the Grim Reaper alluded that she may let runners continue on past cut-off if they are looking good and don't have any visible trouble. As it is now a minute before eleven I'm hoping for that kind of leniency.

As the minutes tick past eleven and the volunteers pack up, I know our race is over. I want to negotiate with the Reaper but I have no idea what state John is going to be in or when he is actually going to be there. The race director said cut-off times were firm and I didn't want conflict between him and her.

Ten minutes past, no sign. Eleven. Twelve, Damn it. Fourteen, Sixteen. Shit. Seventeen. Mother Trucker. Eighteen. Fudge. Nineteen. Wait there they are. Time for the end of the movie slow clap. John knows it's over. But he's smiling. A small grimace surfaces for a moment, but overall he's smiling. I try my best to, and can't remember what I say, other than how proud I really am.

The Reaper comes over to check on him, and John gives her is numbers, race number not phone number. But this all brings out a greater smile on his face while we get shoes off and a fresh shirt on. I don't question Sean. I help him get some food and liquids. John says he has no interest in taking another shot at a buckle in a race he's already registered for in August. I don't respond back, I just want him to free his mind of racing for a little while. He's been on his feet and racing for over thirty four hours now. He deserves to think of nothing. His only thoughts should be of laying down and getting some rest. Ironically, I find out later that David finishes his race just about the same time as John, but he does it by getting across the finish line.

John is laughing a smiling as he is given his well earned Black Rose. A few photos are taken and we are allowed to take any leftover food we'd like. The reward for being the last team on the course I guess. Sadly we pull out of the area, with a volunteer asking us at the gate if there is anyone behind us.

We do have to go back to the starting/finish area as I've left my tent there and we do get to see a few runners on the road close to the finish. We come across Nikki who says that Russ is past the last aid station and has a few miles to the finish. John is kind of in and out of sleep as we breakdown our tent and make our way out, asking him if he wants to hang around or not. We say that we will go find a motel room for the night in order to get properly cleaned up and a good night's sleep before we try to get back to Maine the next day. Understandably, John doesn't really want to hang out and I'm kind of glad as I just want to get on the road and back towards home.

Still, despite the lack of sleep, I'm pretty wired as we hit the highway northbound. John is now out. Sean once again navigating and we learn there are some pretty nasty storms due to hit the race area so we are especially glad to have gotten out of there. I figure I can drive for about three hours and that will put us somewhere into Pennslyvannia. Sometime after we do cross into that state John suddenly rises up real quick and asks where we are. He can't believe we've gone that far. He must have been in a dead sleep with zero brain waves. He only stays up for a minute before he is back down.

We set our sights on Harrisburg and John is back up before we see signs for motel/hotels. A Holiday Inn has a room with two beds and a pullout sofa at a decent price and we are set for the night. We are all laughing and joking recapping the day's events and thankful for the experience. I am amazed at John's spirit and attitude, knowing that I probably would have been acting much differently under the same circumstances.

It feels good to be clean after a few days of travel and racing and Sean and I go to a grocery store once again. This time for beer and not race food. For dinner we find a brew pub, The Appalachian Brewery and John is so excited they have poutine on the the menu. Sure we question what might have been, or how we could have done things differently but none one us feels like there was never any quit on the course. We discover that someone back home has posted on-line that John dropped from the race, and we, really especially Sean and I go in a uproar that he didn't drop. We were there to witness him doing all that he could do to stay in that race. His feet just couldn't stay ahead of the minute hand. He could have kept going. He could have squeezed out the last fifteen miles. Father time just didn't let him.

After I buy a growler and some pint glasses for my wife's birthday the next day, I already had some other presents ready, we leave the restaurant and get a little off course getting back to the hotel. We are treated to a double rainbow on the edge of the field and it feels a little like hitting an aid station, as nearly all cars on the road are stopping and occupants rushing out.

With a few beers left in the fridge, we share some more laughs before one by one falling asleep. Up and out in the morning and the bus smells like a locker room. The front end is covered in dead bugs and John insists that he is going to come to my house to help clean up. I tell the guys this trip was kind of like going on fishing trip, except we didn't catch anything, but the adventure is going to be an excellent memory.

It is Monday and my wife's birthday and I am looking forward to getting home. I hope to be home in time for my son's little league game and to crack open that growler with my wife. We make decent time until we get stuck in traffic for about half an hour in Connecticut. We make a stop lunch and I decide that I am finally going to turn the keys over to Sean. As he turns over the engine he says the battery light is on. I tell him to back out and let's just see  what happens when we move. He struggles to turn the wheel. He immediately says he is worried about the alternator belt as it is all connected to the power steering, something I did not know.

To make a short story of all this, the belt broke, my so-called service provider was awful and we did manage to finally get someone to tow us to their garage. Sean and John were extremely patient considering the situation, much more than me. The tow driver could only take two in his vehicle, which quickly became me and John, and Sean began the three mile walk to the garage. Upon hearing out story, the driver went back to pick up Sean after dropping us off.

After a little inspection of the bus, I'm told the a/c compressor is blown and there is no way that is getting fixed at four in the afternoon, especially since the part is certainly not stocked. Good news is they can get a belt on and get us home safe and sound. Back on the road, I'm driving with urgency to get home after apologizing and wishing my wife a happy birthday in the same breath.

We can pick up John's dog on the way home as she is staying with fellow Trail Monsters, Pete and Mindy Slovinsky. John says that he'll drive back from my place in Freeport, wanting me to get home, but I insist on stopping knowing my family will be asleep anyway. Sean and John can't wait to urinate and I have to pull into a church lot not far from the Slovinsky's house. Just another part of the adventure.

We drop off Sean in Portland and I finally get home and help John pack up his car left at my place. There's not much left to say at this point. John's happy, I know disappointed but thankful for the experience. And I'm glad as much, after missing a few days with  my family that we have all become better friends and not bitter or upset with one another despite all we've been through.

Months ago when John first asked me to pace I had to check my calendar. Even though it was her birthday weekend my wife insisted that I go help John. I owed John so much for helping me to earn my own buckle the year before. Mo also knew I always wanted to pace and this was a great chance for an awesome adventure. Even though more things filled our calendar for that weekend, she still insisted that I go to Virginia. I am very thankful to her and I know the rest of the crew is as well. I think they got to know and admire her as I talked about her throughout the trip.

Looking back at the whole adventure, that's exactly what is was, an adventure. It was much more than your Sunday morning 5K at the local high school or even any other race where you get a participants medal for finishing. It took courage, extraordinary effort, mental toughness, some bitch-slapping, even some compassion, along with laughs and smiles for John to earn his rose. Less than a week later when John and I were helping set up for the Pineland Trail Festival, John said to me he should have finished the race. I don't know if I told him out loud or not, so listen to me now John. You could have finished that race, they just didn't let you. How could they have let you cross that finish line after thirty six hours with that big smile on your face? People would see your photo and think this race was lots of fun and possibly easy and that anyone could finish. Truth is, it was one hellish race and I am amazed at the attitude and spirit John was able to possess throughout. A job well done John, now you've got five seconds to finish eating whatever is your hand.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Understanding a DNF

Breaking my leg, losing control over my digestive system, or poking my eye on an unseen branch would all seem logical reasons for dropping out of a race. So while I was in the midst of running a 50K race with none of those or other things happening to my body,I just couldn't seem to find the motivation to cross the finish line.
     The race was the Big Brad Ultra back in October of 2013 and it was a beautiful fall morning, the kind of day that runner's really dream of. The trees were full of color, the sun was warming the air just enough so that waiting around for the start was comfortable without any extra layers. I had trained well, and knew the course really well as this was my training ground and having completed the fifty mile distance the year before. Everything was perfect. Except for that four chambered organ on the left side of my chest. I didn't know it, even the best doctor in the world  wouldn't have known at the time, that it was broken.
     Runners at all levels will say that your mind can overcome any defaults of your body during a race. I do believe that your brain is a very important organ for running, but if your heart isn't enjoying the thrills of moving your feet over this planet of ours, than your race is pretty much done.
     The trouble with my heart that day didn't happen suddenly in one unforeseen moment. It had begun breaking late that summer with the passing of my grandmother. Elizabeth "Bamie" Pease Whitaker was born on May 1, 1913 in a world much different than the one most of us  know. She lived until August 14, 2013 seeing the world change in how we communicate, how we travel, how we entertain ourselves, how our families are made and how we seek out adventure. Babe Ruth was still pitching for the Red Sox without yet hitting a home run, we didn't even have fifty states, the war to end all wars was happening in Europe and even her husband wasn't quite yet born.
     She had made it to the century marker, a goal that many crazy ultra runners seek to reach. But after reaching that threshold, she didn't really want to go on any further. We had a family celebration a few days before her actual birthday but I was fortunate enough to go to lunch with her and my parents on her actual birthday. As we were leaving the restaurant, the waitress said she would see us next year, Bamie said that she hoped not. Her health was fine, if not good for someone 100 years old, she was still able to go on walks in the woods near where she lived. Her mind was sharp, still reading books, playing cards and enjoying watching golf on television. Truth is, she was just tired. Her husband, Pop, had passed away fourteen years prior, and she was losing more friends than most were making. When an ultra runner crosses a finish line they don't keep going. So after an accident in her apartment, breaking her hip and her body too sensitive to survive a surgery, one that she had actually overcome remarkably well five years prior, she decided that her race, her time to tread her feet across this orb floating through the universe, was to come to an end.
     Nearly two months later, my family was able to gather once again to celebrate her life and to say our good byes. We gathered in Connecticut the day before the Big Brad in order to lay her remains next to her husband in a cemetery not far from where the two went to separate schools, one for the boys and one for the girls. It was a very informal ceremony for our small family, no church service, just a time for any of us to share any thoughts of the last family member of her generation. I had only been to this town previously for Pop's funeral when my niece and nephew were of similar age to my own children. Now my niece Emily was in college and even though she was outwardly the saddest of us all, I was happy to know that she loved and was loved by Bamie and that my own daughter, who was merely seven would be able to have her own memories of a woman that lived a life of virtue, principle and love.
     Spending nearly seven hours in a car was certainly not what I wanted to do the day before attempting to run thirty one miles. There was no way I was not going to Connecticut and there was no way I was not going to give my best in the race. Despite the sadness of the day before, I did arrive at the race in a light mood. How could I not, given the race conditions and also upon meeting up with many running friends prior to the start of the race?
     The race starts by going uphill for nearly a mile, some parts being quite steep when the trail isn't twisting and turning and I paced myself well knowing to save plenty of energy for the next thirty miles. I was feeling very good, and after I crossed a road and an aid station I found myself in a small group as we ran on the East side of the park. I was running faster than I should have, but I was feeling good, and enjoying the company. My thoughts were only of making wisecracks and marveling at what a blessing it was to be on the trails that day.
    The group stayed together through two more aid stations but slowly began to disperse as we began to run follow a road for a little more than a mile. Even though the road allowed me to stop focusing on keeping my footing, it still had a long hard hill that made me slow my pace in order to save energy. It was here that I spoke more with the only one of the pack that was still close to me. His name was John, and this was his first ultra. We discovered we were very similar in that we both had young children and finding the time to train and have a family life was a great challenge.
     John and I stayed close to one another over the next six miles, keeping our pace steady yet not exhausting us for the upcoming second loop of the course. In doing the rough math in my head, I was calculating that we might be able to finish somewhere near the five hour mark. I actually hadn't set a goal for the race as I had loftier goals for an upcoming trail marathon in a couple of weeks. I was pretty thrilled at the prospect of anything less than five and a half hours and as John and I came back down to the starting area I knew I really needed to slow myself down in order to reach my goal time in the upcoming marathon.
     As I refueled my body at the aid station, John's children enthusiastically greeted their father. I looked on in jealousy. My son Quinn was attending a birthday party driving slot cars and my wife was getting alone time with Maggie. I didn't ask them or expect them to spend a lovely day cheering me on. It seemed rather selfish of me to ask that of them. I do get a thrill seeing them at the finish line or anytime along a course but in no way do I make those demands. And I'm sure that John made no such demands either. But as we started back up the long hill I really wanted to see joy and happiness from my own children, and so slowly my race and my heart began to break apart.
     There was a little tweak in my right hamstring that gave me the excuse to let John jump ahead of me and let him take advantage of his new found energy. As I reached the summit alone and looking out to the ocean I wondered why I wanted to go on. Why did I need to finish this race? I moved on, that's all, not sure why other than telling myself there was no reason to stop. Unsure there was reason to go on.
     As I was about to come back out of the woods near the aid station approaching the East side, I recognized among a group of hikers a man I used to coach soccer against. Despite being rivals, we were always very friendly and so when the race forced me only to say a quick and friendly hello, I was slightly bummed I couldn't take more time to catch up. I began to wonder what he may have thought of me being partially demented for running through these woods instead of taking more time to savor the miraculous splendor of nature.  Thus, I began to wonder this myself. I thought of Bamie taking walks and how much she knew of nature's surroundings. She would tell us about the trees, plants and flowers she would see changing through the seasons. If we didn't recognize or know about some of the floral or fauna she would always say incredulously, "You don't know tha?t" Kind of like the way a teenager might talk to their parent about the latest musician or Youtube video. But Bamie knew more about things that were here well before our species ever existed and hopefully after us as well. Even despite all my hours and miles spent in the same setting I am lucky to be able to tell the difference between a pine and birch tree. Was I missing something by moving at my pace? Was I not appreciating this world? And even more important, was I missing the blossoming and flowering of my children?
     I took in nourishment at the aid station before crossing to the East side being rather quiet thinking back to the year before when I witnessed another runner drop from the race at the same place. I thought this might be the time to drop. But I couldn't really come up with a reason why I actually should. The hamstring was a little tight but not disabling me. The race director's wife was acting as a crossing guard and when she said her husband was only a couple minutes ahead of me, I crossed the road at a light pace, where normally I usually set my sights on being as close to or ahead of him in a race. Now, I really couldn't have cared less if he was able to somehow lap me. Understanding that motivation was missing, I searched my soul for a reason to finish.
     My mind raced faster than my feet searching for the motivation. I thought of being strong and finishing in memory of my grandmother. But the more I thought about her, the more I felt the grief I felt back in August visiting her in her final days. Finishing this race wasn't going to ever move that grief away. I'm not going to carry it with me every moment, but it's a part of life, it's part of loving someone.
     Ironically, in close to the same place on the trail where I decided to quit my only other race ever, I sat down. I just flat out stopped running, I didn't start walking to keep moving, I just sat my skinny, white butt down on a rock. My previous withdrawal from a race was at the inaugural Bradbury Bruiser 12 miler in 2007 after I took a bad fall cutting open both knees, bruising my upper thigh bone and quitting only because running or walking was more painful than brushing my teeth with a cheese grater.  The worst part after sitting on this rock for a few moments was that I realized that I couldn't just quit this race. It wasn't like I was out on the Boston Marathon course where I could just walk onto a sidewalk and arrange a ride. I was in the middle of the woods now really all by myself when I instead wanted to be with Quinn racing go karts, or having Maggie read to me. This gave me more grief as I had to get off my skinny, white butt and get home.
     There were only about nine miles left in the race as I got back to the aid station. It seemed so stupid to quit with only nine miles left. I was uncharacteristically quiet at the station, eating some M & M's staring out to the trail that lay ahead. "Oh screw it," I thought to myself and forged ahead. I didn't want to run, but I didn't want to quit. I couldn't find reason to try and track down runners ahead of me who may be getting weak, and I didn't care that runners might catch up with me. The beauty of the day only seemed to piss me off even more as I just couldn't find anymore joy in it.
     Still struggling to find motivation, I found another rock to sit down upon. Why couldn't I be somewhere in the forests or mountains with my family. Hopefully in a few more years Mo and I would have a hard time keeping up with the kids along a trail. How will I be able to find a balance between their future extra-ciriccular activities and my running? As that question popped into my mind, I got up, figuring I should go on while I still could.
     Despite finding a little motivation, it wasn't enough. I barely moved my feet. My mind had gotten my body moving again, but my heart couldn't make it move anywhere near a pace I was capable of running. Then I heard someone behind me. I looked back and saw a guy who I didn't recognize from the 50K field, and figured he must be on his final lap of the fifty miler. He looked more like a sponsored runner from the West more than a father who struggles to find time to train and race. Despite his appearance, it seemed like it took him forever to catch up to me as we wound around many curves while going uphill. I just wanted him to get past me so I could continue on with my pity party. He commented to me on the ruggedness of the course, which I took as a compliment from a Western looking runner as I was one the few runners to complete the course the previous year.
As I thought back to the joy I felt finishing last year's race, I came to the conclusion that I was not going to find the same joy finishing the race this year. I didn't foresee any joy, any happiness crossing the finish line. I looked more forward to being home with my family. Crossing the finish line was not going to feed my ego or id. I didn't look forward to snuggling up with a new hoodie sweatshirt, the prize given to finishers. I looked forward to snuggling up on the couch reading a book with my kids or playing with legos. With this realization, I finally stepped off the course, turning uphill towards the summit versus turning downhill. To have to quit by going uphill seemed like justice to me, and I actually stepped up my pace in order to get home as quick as possible.
     There were runners coming toward me as I now made my way downhill back to the starting area. I cheered them all on and wished them well as I respected each and every one of them. I couldn't do what they were doing that day. It bothered me greatly not to be one of them but I would soon be home. I was hoping to be able to take a side trail to stay out of view coming into the starting area. Instead a fellow Trail Monster runner, Jamie Anderson, had positioned himself in the woods to cheer on runners. As he began to cheer for me, I let him know that I was done, I was quitting. He lead me to race officials so I could officially quit and have my race numbers removed so they wouldn't be looking for me later in the day. He and the officials were questioning me to see if I was physically alright and needed any medical help. When asked if I needed anything, I replied, "Yah, a shrink," and I walked off to my car and headed home.
     It should have been a scene from the Walton's or Family Ties, when the family is so happy to have the family patriarch coming home. Instead, I was faced with the question on why was I home so early. It was hard to answer those questions not only to my young children and beautiful wife, but also to myself. I didn't give any great or totally honest answers and did my best to just engage in some outside family activities. I may have just run twenty three miles, but I still had plenty of energy to grab some tennis rackets and head over to the nearby court. The picture of domestic tranquility I had in my mind became further distorted as the kids didn't really want to do anything outside, and practically had to be bribed into playing tennis despite the fact that Maggie has been asking to play so much. Their lack of skill at the sport and my inability to teach them how to hit a ball made for an unpleasant and frustrating time at the court.
     Back at home, I figured watching the Patriots rack up another victory might have some bonding experience, and I also just really wanted to catch the second half. Instead, the Pats lost to the Jets on a bogus call on a field goal attempt. What else could go wrong on this beautiful day?
Finally, I got the chance to talk with Mo about the race. And to be honest with her. I shared my thoughts on how I might be missing and neglecting our family. How I hated missing being with Quinn racing cars that morning. How I came to the realization of this while looking back at Bamie's life and how she raised my father to sacrifice some of his own ambitions so that my brother and I could seek out ours, with my mother offering all she could to us as well. Mo assured me that I was not absent from our children's lives. That my ambitions of running crazy distances through the woods was not going to result in our children having long mental therapy sessions wondering if their father loved them more than bashed toenails and chaffing in unmentionable places. No. Mo assured me this was not happening. Together we had found a balance to it all, or at least as best as we could. It wasn't going to be perfect, some sacrifices had and would be made.
     Crossing that finish line that day would not have had me realize the joy I do have from running silly distances in silly places. I would have been happy to finish. People would have been proud of me as I finished. I can picture how Bamie would have reacted to me telling her that I didn't finish. She would have just lightly frowned, shrugged her shoulders a little bit and give a slight moan. It didn't really matter. Life would go on. Her opinion of me wouldn't change. She was a constant, part of a generation that knew what mattered most and did whatever it took to achieve success. My success isn't crossing a finish line. My success is to be there as a happy and healthy individual supporting my family. Running helps me to do that. I needed to drop out of the race that day to learn that.

Bloggers note: I was able to get back on that proverbial horse and finish a trail marathon two weeks later. Look back at my blog to November 2013.