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The Pacer Chronicles: The Flight of the Squirrel

The joy of having multiple pacers is that the memories and accounts of the event all differ just enough to make these stories different. This account keeps that theory alive as Lani describes her experience at the Mark Twain 100.

“The ultra run experience is still pretty fresh. I made my debut as a pacer at the Mark Twain 100 in the middle of September. Someone used the word “intense” to describe it. I cannot think of a better word. It truly was one of the most intense and rewarding running experiences I’ve had to-date. I have hesitated to write this because I don’t want to take any undue ownership of Adam’s run, but I found it meaningful enough personally to go ahead and write down some of my thoughts about it all since he requested it.

Lani "The Flying Squirrel" made friends on the way down to MO.

Lani “The Flying Squirrel” made friends on the way down to MO.

Adam arrived for his final 25 mile loop at about 2:30 a.m. on Sunday morning…. I had been waiting for him since midnight. Not because I expected him to be there at midnight, but just because I had been sleeping fitfully and I just really wanted to be ready when he came rolling in to the aid station where we were camping. I knew the last thing he would need is to be waiting on me. It was cold out. I was shivering in my layers inside a cozy sleeping bag and having visions of him and Carla out in the dark woods with nothing but shorts and shirts. When we met him earlier at mile 59 and he came running in with Nicole (our first crew pacer), he was not only hurting but also fighting back severe nausea and stomach cramping (something he had never experienced before) from eating half of a burrito with cheese in it that didn’t settle well with his lactose intolerant constitution. His wife/crew chief extraordinaire had given him a digestive enzyme at this point, we had all lifted him to his feet and reluctantly pushed him out of the first aid station (words from his wife/crew chief extraordinaire whispered in his ear spurring him forward) with Carla (the next-in-line of the crew pacers) to navigate the next six hours of the night. It was SO hard to watch him go knowing how bad he was hurting. I can only imagine what his wife was thinking/feeling. In those hours before midnight, I lay in my cozy sleeping bag worrying. Weird things happen when you fade in and out of consciousness. Hearing the cowbell when runners came in at various points throughout the evening (at one point in the evening, Nicole thrashed restlessly, half-awake/half-asleep, around in her sleeping bag and commanded, “Seriously! Enough with the damn cowbell ALREADY!” I mean really… we were trying to get sleep around here… those runners can find a different way to be motivated, right? Heh.) and listening to the race director masterfully help runners make their way back out on the course. “Get moving,” I would hear him demand, “You’ll warm up when you start moving. Do you have a coat? Does anyone have a coat? You need to get a coat on and get back out there. GET outta here. Move… you’ll warm up when you start moving.”

Curled up in the sleeping bag for a few zzz's.

Curled up in the sleeping bag for a few zzz’s.

It sounded harsh, but I realized psychologically this is what those runners needed to be able to finish. Self-motivation was near impossible at this point in their running experience. An excuse to stop would be a welcome reprieve from the aches, the tiredness, the shivering from the cold, and the gigantic mountain of the prospect of a “night in the dark woods” looming ahead of them. At one point, I sat straight up and looked at a sleepy, disoriented Nicole trying to make sense of what I was saying and asked, “Where’s Adam’s coat? His silver coat he had on this morning? We need his coat.” So it was no wonder I just got myself up and set myself in a chair around the campfire at midnight with others waiting for their runners to come in. My company was mixed. One man whose wife was running her first 100. Another couple of guys whose Dad was out on the course and were discussing ways to keep their mother from worrying and plotting how they could just get her to come out of hiding in her tent and sit around the campfire with the rest of us. A young man, experienced in 100 mile runs himself, waiting to pace a friend who was quite willing to share tips with me about what I should do for Adam through the next leg of the race. What I learned? Melissa (Adam’s wife) said it best. “Crewing for an ultra involves a LOT of waiting around and anxious speculation.”

Ready and waiting...and waiting :)

Ready and waiting…and waiting 🙂

When Adam finally rolled in at 2:30 a.m., he was tired and sat down in a chair voicing his decision to stop (this at mile 75 with one more 25 mile loop to go… and well ahead of the cut off deadline). I had been told this would happen (thank you, Larry Kelly, for a very accurate and thorough pacer overview/tutorial of what to expect) and I thought he looked good enough to continue (at least until the next first aid station where we could re-evaluate) so when he came rolling in at 2:30ish saying he was sorry and he was done, giving me a hug and asking me if I was disappointed in him… acting a bit loopy and a lot tired… well, we just sat him down in the chair… I put my gloves on his hands, someone in first aid got him some warm potato soup, I put my Relay Iowa jacket on him (as I mentioned earlier, it was COLD in MO that night and he was only wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt!), I offered him some Aleeve which he took even though he normally doesn’t, I put Carla’s (the pacer who just brought him in from mile 59) headlamp on his head, pulled him up and said, “Let’s get going, Adam… you’ll warm up if you get moving.”… he stood up and weakly/slowly/wobbly, but not unwillingly and more notably, without any verbal protest, followed me… I did my best to power him through from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m (apparently the darkest hours mentally and physically in the ultra run experience, although I’m not sure this was the case in Adam’s experience as he had a pretty challenging 16 miles with Carla just prior to my shift)…. it was a pretty long nine miles, and I’m not sure what he remembers about those dark hours but he kept up with me pretty good and I tried to push him as much as I dared… non-stop through the dark for those four long hours I was saying… look out for those roots, watch for those rocks… stay with me… stop and take a drink (when he did, he swayed in a slow circle trying to stay awake)… he was not coherent at all and completely childlike in his dependence on me. We talked about various things. Who had he met? What was his favorite ultra race, to date? What was his highest point, so far. His lowest point? Where was his favorite place to vacation? We made up a little song about “rock and roots” and laughed some. He stopped mid-trail at one point when he heard some rustling off to the side in the shadows just outside the fringes of our headlamps’ line of vision. I heard it, too, but didn’t want him using energy to worry about anything so assured him I had just tripped over a rock.

Thankfully I didn’t research big animals in the dark Mark Twain woods until AFTER I got home from the race. A small little white mouse skittered out onto the trail and then back to the left. We were passed a couple of times by human beings. The second time, by a man who looked at us with a long hollow, glazed over, vacant stare as he trudged by and on up the hill. Straight out of a horror movie kind of stare. At another point Adam talked about how he was so very, very tired and could just curl up over there on the side and go to sleep. “I know you could, Adam, but we just have to keep going,” I urged. At some point, I veered to the left and down into a riverbed. Thankfully, Adam was coherent enough to stop and call me on my error. It was the only time, I believe, I actually came close to getting us lost in the woods and somehow I think it wouldn’t have taken me very long in that direction to realize it. However, at this point? Every extra step? Really. Counts. Sorry, Adam. It was also at this juncture I quite distinctly heard an animal growl off to the right side of the trail and a little behind us. It is strange how your mind just pretends it isn’t really happening. That it’s just your imagination. That there really aren’t ferocious forest animals in the dark that could eat humans. How you just set your face forward and power ahead. Adam talked about how he just wanted to sit by a campfire. “Soon,” I assured him, “very soon.” And I didn’t know how true that would be. As we approached the first aid station, a chair was waiting for him in front of a very inviting, cozy campfire – a worrisome inviting, cozy campfire. I was having visions of him deciding to curl up right there and go to sleep. So he again enjoyed a warm bite of potato soup – this time in front of the fire and I’m a bit disappointed now to realize he doesn’t remember any of it. It seemed like such a welcome reprieve in an otherwise dark, cold night. As had been typical of our experience with the race support staff all race long, I was treated once more to their above-and-beyond attentiveness as they helped me change the battery in Adam’s waning headlamp and we were ready to move on out again. I knew for certain it needed to be sooner rather than later. The dark woods awaited us. A few times I remember telling him, “Adam, this is the last time! The last time you will run this trail until you come back someday.” He assured me it was the last time. EVER. There was only one other stop on the trail as my own headlamp grew dim where we were passed by a woman and her pacer. I had Adam take a hydration break while I replaced the batteries. It’s amazing what a difference a bright, as opposed to not dim, light makes.

The rejuvenating power of the sun!

The rejuvenating power of the sun!

And this next stretch is where the miracle started to happen. I had been told if we could keep him running until daylight, he’d be home free. I remember being amazed myself to look up and see light at the top of the trees above. I remember thinking, “Is that the moon?”, and then hearing that first bird… the hopeful morning song of the whip-poor-will calling out in the dark woods not that much unlike the one you hear in this video clip – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sukE9pGayRc. It was then the full realization hit that it was daylight. We had made it to daylight! I pointed up and said, “Adam, look… it’s daylight. You know what that means? Today’s the day. Today’s the day you run 100 miles!” The next few miles were a challenge as we winded back and forth through the woods, me worrying the entire time that maybe we were not on the trail, but not wanting to burden Adam with my worry by voicing it. So I looked for and inwardly and outwardly rejoiced every time we saw a pink ribbon or arrow on the ground reassuring me that indeed… we were still on the trail. Almost unexpectedly, we popped out of the forest onto the paved road we had to run on for just a little ways to the first aid station where Eric (our final pacer and the absolute perfect one to bring Adam to the finish line, I might add!) was waiting to take him on the home stretch. Emotions surfaced sharply and unexpectedly, tears welling up in my eyes, overpowering me as I realized I was running (yes, running!) alongside him (did I mention that we were running??!!) down that paved road and up to that first aid station in those early morning dawn hours, the sky filled with such beautiful light… it was an experience I can’t explain in words or ever replicate. A euphoria, a sense of re-awakening, a sense of hope and pride in his accomplishment I could never describe. And I said it out loud again. Just in case Adam hadn’t heard me the first time. “This is the DAY, Adam! This is the beautiful, amazing day you run 100 miles! We did it! No. YOU did it!”

No better way to pass the morning hours!

No better way to pass the morning hours!

The Mark Twain National Forest is pretty dark, even with the moon, in the wee hours of the morning. Cut off for this trail ultra was 32 hours. He wanted to finish in 24, but to my knowledge he’d never done a trail run like this before. I was literally picking up his leg for him and then supporting him as he would lift himself across the logs across the trail at various points. I would later find out this was largely because of a hamstring injury he sustained earlier in the race. On the last one, I actually lifted his leg across and then physically lifted/pulled him across the log myself. At certain points during the night he was fighting to stay awake. In fact, I’m quite certain he might have run while sleeping the last part of our run. I was very humbled and a lot inspired by the whole experience… it really spoke to me about the power of a good “encourager” and how important encouragement is to finishing when you don’t have the power to encourage yourself. I was glad to be able to play a small part in him achieving his big goal. He EARNED that belt buckle! So proud of him. So amazing to see “Don’t want to? Do it anyway.” in action.”

The Pacer Chronicles: A Dark Night Rises

Our second does of pacer perspective comes from Carla, who endured the darkest part of the night, both figuratively and literally. Once I had a chance to process the whole experience, I realized that this group of friends saw a side of my running that they had never seen before. In any ultra, the overnight hours can be rough, but stomach cramps, nausea, and sleep deprivation make for a wicked trifecta. She got me through the toughest stretch of running I’ve ever experienced, and I’m eternally grateful to her for that!

No, not that Dark Knight :)

No, not that Dark Knight 🙂

“Go Adam! Go Adam! One lap down. Three to go. Yeah really. He’s running three more. He’s got this. That’s right. One lap is 25 miles. No, it’s not a bike race or a car race. He’s running on nothing but two legs for 100 miles!

This will be easy for Adam. That’s what I thought. I see him running all over town all the time. He runs before runs and he runs after runs. And it was easy for 25 miles. It even looked easy for him to run 50 miles.

Wait, let me back up and start from the beginning. A friend of mine, Adam, sent out a Facebook request asking if anyone wanted to run part of the last 50 miles in a 100 mile trail race in Missouri with him. I’ve never watched an ultra-marathon before so I said sure.   As the race got closer, we learned that we would be camping in a primitive campground and the planning began for food, tents, water, fake tarantulas, etc. We never did see a tarantula and for that I’m thankful. It wasn’t until after the race that Lani read there are wild boars and bears in the Mark Twain forest. I’m also somewhat thankful that I didn’t know before the race. We all thought we were prepared with our water bottles and head lamps. I had so much to learn about ultra-marathons.

All smiles before the race!

All smiles before the race!

During the week leading up to the race, I took some time to look at the race website. I noticed times from the previous race were like 24 hours. Wow, I hadn’t done the math. Adam is running all night long? If anyone can do it, Adam can. On the trip down to Missouri through the curvy hilly roads, Eric did his best to calm all of us ladies with his stories of creepers jumping out with pitchforks. Either he is really good at getting into character or he was actually freaked out about running through a dark forest. Despite his apparent apprehension, Eric offered to take the late shift running the last leg in the dark. I took him up on that. I mean, there are tarantulas out there.   I was taking the second leg which was 16 miles long from mile 59 to mile 75 to run with Adam. I was so excited to have the chance to run through the forest with Adam while he accomplishes this amazing feat that few of us can fathom attempting.

We’re up bright and early to see Adam off on his journey. This is really happening (I think that’s what Adam said). There were what looked like 50 people headed off into the dark forest with their camelback (water backpack thingies), head lamps, compression socks, special secret “nutrition” drinks (maybe captain, no one really knows), and gaiters (shoe umbrella thingies). So off they go and back to bed we go while Melissa faithfully meets Adam at his first aid station at mile 9. We roll out of our tents for a team meeting so Melissa can fill us in on what we can do to help. Whoa, there is more to this than we thought.   He needs his water backpack thingie filled, his special secret drink filled, secret special knee cream, magic muffins, needs changes of shirts and coats, and headlamps and shoes. I still wasn’t really concerned because Adam will tell us what he needs. I was an ultra-marathon virgin though. I didn’t know what was coming.

Adam finishes his first loop of 25 miles at a great pace with a smile on his face and joking around. He looks as fresh as some of us look after 5 or 10 miles. We help him refill his special secret drinks and hand him a magic muffin and he’s off again. Go Adam! Lap one down.   Nicole, Lani and I head down the road to buy wood for a campfire and of course some photo opps with peacocks and buses then off to meet Adam at mile 34.

DSC_8240

Adam’s still looking awesome! This is so easy for him. 34 miles! Amazing! Now he’s headed back in the woods to make the trip back to the campground. We’re headed back to the campground via the car to enjoy Melissa’s famed s’more pancakes. Noteworthy graham pancakes sandwiching marshmallows and chocolate, mmmm. We’re thankful to find that two boys waiting for their Dad have built a stellar fire and they are willing to share. It’s naptime for some while I talk Lani into a short jog to stretch our legs. There were two races taking place this day. The other race was a 50 mile race. So we started seeing those “only” running 50 miles begin to cross the finish line. The family and friends were sitting in lawn chairs near the finish line cheering for everyone running in from the forest.

Soon we see Adam who is still at a great pace and looking amazing. He has completed 50 miles which is only half-way. He seems strong and ready to go. We fill his secret drinks and get him set to go again. They asked him what he’d like to eat and told him the options. He asked what was on the burrito…beans and cheese. Yes he said, so Nicole gets one for him. He eats half then he’s ready to take off. Now that he has completed 50 miles, his pacer can run with him. We’re pumped and ready to go. Nicole takes the first 9 mile leg. They run off into the forest.

I’m so excited! It’s finally my turn! We soon leave to meet them at the 59 mile aid station. Adam has run this 9 mile leg twice before so we have a good idea how long it will take him. This time it’s taking a little bit longer so maybe he’s slowing a bit. We’re still waiting and no sign of them. Did Nicole hurt her back? Did one of them trip and get hurt? We saw a lady earlier in the day who fell and hit her head on a rock gashing it open. It’s starting to get dark. They don’t have headlamps. No one thought they needed them. This is the first I’ve worried for Adam’s safety and now Nicole’s. It’s so hard not to just go out there and find them. Finally, here they are with a small flashlight. Adam’s not looking good as Nicole explains that he was dizzy and had to sit on the trail. His stomach is upset from the burrito. We learned he is lactose intolerant but thought the burrito sounded good (really Adam?? J) He’s not sure if he can continue. He rested while Melissa gave him a pep talk and enzymes. Adam and I put our headlamps on and headed into the pitch black forest.

Despite the shape he was in at the aid station, we started off doing quite a bit of jogging. The enzymes and a bathroom break helped his stomach. It was going well I thought until…the headlamp fiasco. The nice expensive headlamp Adam was using stopped working. We were so very thankful Melissa had handed me a flashlight just before we left the aid station. We keep trudging on through the dark forest. The trail was pretty technical with sharp rocks and roots making it even more of challenge for Adam as his legs tired. Apparently it was even more of a challenge for me because I was tripping more than Adam and even fell once. I tripped and did something similar to sliding head first into home base. I told Adam I was fine and we kept moving forward. We made it to the first aid station, rested shortly then moved on back into the dark forest.   I know I keep saying “dark” but dark in the forest is darker than any other dark. It seems worthy of repeating.

We’re about 5 miles into the 16 miles and it’s getting a bit tougher for Adam. I’m in front now, he needs to stop for a break once, and he mentions being done at the next aid station. Our pace has slowed and it’s probably about midnight. I didn’t really know what to say other than we need to make it to the next aid station and rest. As his friend, it was hard for me to encourage him to continue doing something that was so painful. No, this was definitely nothing like a 5K run.

We really needed something to take our minds off the rocks and roots and dark and dark. We’d had good conversation about work, family, kids, running, friends, etc. Then there it was. Something fuzzy and tan on the trail in front of us. Looking at us. It was close enough we could see it with my not so bright headlamp, but far enough it was hard to make out what it was. We stopped dead in our tracks. Adam had told me before that someone had found a mountain lion track on the trail. We must have scared it. It ran up the hill to our left. Adam yelled “here kitty kitty” and threw some energy chews to it. This is when I knew Adam was hallucinating. Just kidding. We’re going to try that next time. I could see its eyes when it looked at us then disappeared over the hill. We just stood there. I said “that was kind of like the size of a large raccoon”. Adam said, “yeah but it ran like a cat”. I said “yeah, should we keep going”. We kept moving and Adam said something like you’ll know if it comes back and attacks me from behind. I’m pretty sure he was only half-joking.

We made it to the aid station through the dark forest without being mauled by any forest animals. Further research leads us to believe that what we were nearly attacked and eaten by was in fact a bobcat. We were so thankful to have a fire to warm up by. Adam seemed fairly serious about quitting but he said something about not really knowing how we would get back from the aid station. It’s in what seems like the middle of the forest with no cars in sight. He said he could make it back to the campground. And we find ourselves back in the dark forest traversing roots and rocks.   A few runners and pacers passed us while we were on the trail but not many. We learned that about half of the 100 mile runners had already dropped out leaving about 30. From here to the campground was just Adam’s courage to take each additional step with legs that no longer want to lift a foot off the ground. There were no more jungle animals or broken lights or falls. Adam talked about quitting when he made it to 75 miles at the campground but not wanting to disappoint his friends who came to pace him.

Making s'more pancakes while I was out running...this hardly seems fair!

Making s’more pancakes while I was out running…this hardly seems fair!

We made it to the campground 16 miles and 6 hours later. Eric and Lani were there waiting for us. A sight for sore eyes for sure. Adam rested and ate some soup. Lani got him a coat to warm up. I didn’t know why he did it other than because the race director told him to and Lani said let’s go. He got up and headed for the dark forest with Lani for the next 9 miles. Nicole and Eric and I looked at each other asking if we should let him go in the forest in that condition. I got a couple chilly hours of sleep then packed up camp and went to meet Adam and Lani at the aid station. When Nicole and I got there we were amazed and elated to see a new Adam. He had a second wind. The sun was up and he was smiling and ready to go! It was such a relief as Nicole, Lani, and I needed to hit the road back to Iowa. We knew he would make it now. And he did finish the last 16 miles with Eric. Adam ran 100 miles! It was such a unique experience that I will always remember.   A great time with friends and a chance to do something we had never done before.”

The Pacer Chronicles: A 180 Degree Turn

At this point, you’ve either read my account of the recent Mark Twain 100, or perhaps simply know that it happened. Shortly after the race, the epicurean and I got together with the rest of our friends that helped crew/pace to share stories and celebrate the group accomplishment. It was wonderful to hear their side of the race, and I began to realize just how much happens during an ultra that I’m simply not aware of because I’m out there running. It makes sense of course. The world certainly didn’t stop while I was out on the trail for 30 hours, and everyone wasn’t quietly sleeping in their tents. However, I think everyone who runs becomes so engrossed in the experience and eventual challenge of putting one foot in front of the other that you simply don’t have time to think about what everyone else is doing. You certainly hear tidbits, but rarely the full story on the perspectives of the crew and pacers who are so important to the ultra experience. I thought it would be fun to get those perspectives directly from my crew members. This is the first installment of Pacer Chronicles, and offers a bit of insight into all of the effort and energy that goes into supporting an ultra-runner during a 100-mile adventure.

First up is Nicole, who was lucky enough to be the first person to pace me, as soon as I finished the first 50 miles. She definitely got two sides of me very quickly!

Nicole: "Remind me why I'm sleeping in the woods again."

Nicole: “Remind me why I’m sleeping in the woods again.”

“Sometimes when I start something, I know exactly what to expect or at least have somewhat of a clear vision of what an experience will be like.   When I decided to join the pacing team for Adam’s Mark Twain 100 mile trail adventure, made up of my Speedy Streaker friends, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what to expect -silliness, craziness, feeling of relaxation, laughter, and a little bit of running.  The physical activity aspect is just an added benefit of a day with my running friends.

 But I had no concept of what was to come when we loaded into the SUV and started our journey as pacers for Adam in his 100-mile trail conquest. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of moments of laughter and silliness between Lani sporting her “cow costume” as described at Pancake City.  Pancakes and just Diet Coke.  Or Eric cranking the most inappropriate, hilarious music as he often warned us about the dangers of pitchforks in the woods of Missouri.   Luckily we had Carla along to safely drive us through the backwoods, curvy roads. It was probably helpful that we regularly asked for Bill’s help along the way.  Bill?  And yes, Eric, it is a 9-hour trip to Berryman, and, yes, you have given up your navigation privileges.  Enjoying unexpected new experiences are big reasons I say YES when the opportunity arises for road trips and running excursions with my friends.

Not sure anyone could have prepared me for this road trip though.  Lani had great insight in asking for advice prior to the trip.  Larry Kelly was a wealth of information of the dos and don’ts of ultras like this and provided wonderful direction and tips for success, but until you experience something like this first-hand, you don’t know how you will react.

Always an attentive crew!

Always an attentive crew!

It started off like any other race.  Adam was well-prepared, calm, organized and ready to run when he headed out at 6 a.m. on that cold, Saturday morning.  It felt like any other race morning, adrenaline running high and excited to watch a good friend tackle a personal goal. Although the emotions felt similar at the start, the next 30 hours would prove to be a roller coaster of emotions.  I‘m not going to go into the details of the run because Adam summarized the experience so succinctly, and frankly I was only on the trail for a fraction of the time, offering conversation, company and banter.  In my 9-mile stint, we discussed the usual – work, travel, Netflix, friends, life, the challenges of the race ahead and THE BURRITO (yep, that one!).  As I found, it was not so much about the topics discussed, but more about just “being,” enjoying the moment and helping a friend in a small way reach his next destination (and she did, in no small way!).  It may seem strange, but my job was not to get him to the finish line, it was to help him reach the next rest station, to refuel and keep going.

Heading out for Loop 3 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Heading out for Loop 3 (photo credit: Lani McKinney)

Probably the most memorable part of the experience for me was at mile 84.  When we sent Lani and Adam back onto the trail after mile 75, I was worried.  Physically and mentally it was obvious Adam was drained.  The first 75 miles were treacherous, and it seemed like a good stopping point.  Should we let him go back out?  Is he really ok to do this? What’s best?  The questions were flying through my head, but it was clear Adam was not ready to stop, and his team was not ready to let him stop.  He pushed forward.  At mile 84 when he emerged from the trail, something had changed.  Adam had found the strength to finish.  I could see it in his face.  Not sure if it was the sunrise or Lani’s random singing during those miles, but he had new-found energy and was determined.  It was clear by the look in his eyes.  He was going to finish.  I will never forget the change from mile 75 to mile 84!

 This 30-hour experience is one I will never forget and feel so fortunate to have been part of the ride. From anticipation and excitement to fear and anxiety, the race left me feeling completely inspired. The mental strength that Adam exhibited and the joy of watching six amazing people join together as a team to help a friend accomplish a feat like this, was so moving. Adam’s endurance and fight to succeed along with the determination of the crew to get him through left me feeling emotionally drained and flying high all at the same time.  The trail was challenging, but the mental trail was even tougher.  The whole experience made me proud to be a runner, inspired by what can be accomplished, motivated to experience more and blessed to have good friends to share in the journey.

Still time for fun!

Still time for fun!

 Congratulations, Adam, on your amazing accomplishment.  You are AWESOME.  I truly thank you for the experience.  Oh, and in the future, I WILL bring a headlamp, no matter what the time of day, and I encourage you to choose a location with NO bobcats or pitchforks…Until next time!”

Pacing Chronicles: The Lincoln Marathon

Have I mentioned that April and May were busy running months? So, as soon as I got home from running the Iowa Able 5K & 10K on May 2nd, I hopped in a car with a few friends and headed down to Lincoln, Nebraska to run a marathon the next day. Are you still following? I should probably back up and explain how I ended up in such a whirlwind scenario, although if you’ve read my blog in the past, then you probably aren’t surprised by this series of events.

Many months prior, as I was beginning to pull together my spring racing schedule, a friend suggested the Lincoln Marathon. I hadn’t given it much thought because a) I’d run the GOATZ 50K in Nebraska, thereby checking the state off my list, and b) I could probably live content for the rest of my life having never returned to the state again (no offense to my Nebraska friends 🙂 ). However, I knew that of the two major marathons in Nebraska (Lincoln & Omaha), this was by far the better of the two in terms of organization, crowd support, and course appeal. What I didn’t realize until the week before was that it also sold out ridiculously quick. I was alerted to the need to register the morning that registration opened in order to ensure my spot, a fact that I laughed at a bit. However, registration opened on a Saturday morning at 3 or 4AM, and I’m normally up early for a long run anyway so I went ahead and registered to lock in my place. Sure enough, the race sold out in around 8 hours, which surprised me to no end, but I had my slot, and a smile on my face.

The main motivation for running this race was so that Eric and I could pace our friend to her first sub-4 hour marathon. Although neither of us had any extensive pacing experience, aside from my recent half-marathon success, we ran with her consistently every weekend so we knew we could push her while keeping her out of her own head as much as possible. The same wildcards (weather, nutrition, terrain) applied, of course, but it was also an additional opportunity to take another racing trip with a couple of good friends before heading out east. So, fresh off of a 5K PR and plenty of energy, we hopped in the car and headed for Lincoln.

We got to town in plenty of time to hit up the expo, which was surprisingly large and full of some excellent vendors. Perhaps I had pleasantly underestimated the quality of this race, eh?! We picked up our packets, and took some time to wander around the expo and resist the temptation to buy unnecessary running gear. We then headed over to the free pasta dinner, which was a great perk and quite convenient as well. After dinner, we drove back to the friend’s apartment that we were staying at, and settled in for the evening. It was a nice, low-key evening and we were able to get plenty of sleep before waking up early to head over to the start.

An expo photo-op!

An expo photo-op!

Eric and I were doing our best to inject plenty of levity into the morning, and it made for a light-hearted pre-race routine. The starting area had plenty of access to indoor restrooms and porta-johns, and everyone was milling about. With temps in the 50’s and the sun coming out slowly, I could tell that heat might be a factor later so it was really just a question of how far we could make it before the temperature began to impact our pace. Eric had been nursing a sore foot (which he later found out was a stress fracture) so he was uncertain of how the race would go and decided not to stick with us, which left the pacing duties to me. Since I knew the heat might be a factor later on, I decided to try and go out a bit faster than the needed 9:09/mile pace so we’d have some time in the bank for the later miles. We waited for about 10 minutes after the initial gun went off, and we were on our way!

Let's get this party started!

Let’s get this party started!

The first few miles ticked off smoothly, and the crowds thinned out pretty quickly so we didn’t need to do much weaving to stay together and on pace. I wanted us to stay ahead of the 4-hour pacer and I used him as a guide of sorts, while also monitoring our pace every 1/2 mile or so. The whole first half of the race was run along with the half-marathon, and the crowd support was superb. It was wonderful to be able to feed off of the energy around us, and we ran the first half below target pace, just as I had hoped. We hit the half-way mark with a few minutes in the bank (1:57:40), and the sun beginning to loom a bit heavier as the clouds parted and the mercury rose. It wasn’t a particularly hilly course up to that point, but we had logged around 1100 feet of elevation gain, which is still more than either of us were typically accustomed to in Ames.

Alas, the second half of the race was another story. Once we left the half-marathoners to cross the finish line, the crowd support tapered off. As the heat and sun-exposure increased, our pace tapered off as well. It seemed to hit my pacing charge all at once around mile 14, and I could tell she was beginning to struggle a bit. Had the conditions been the same for the second half as the first, it would have no doubt been a very different story. However, the weather in Ames during the spring had not allowed for any amount of heat acclimation (2-3 weeks needed for proper acclimation) and it was taking its toll on her. Despite a few angry miles, especially during an annoying out-and-back portion of the course, she kept pushing and I kept us moving forward. This was by no means a result of under-training or lack of fitness, as she had pushed hard this spring and had a stellar training stint. We kept moving forward, focusing on relentless forward progress, and with the aid of plenty of water and ice, some forced nutrition, and some motivational preaching on my part, we kept knocking out the miles.

When a race goes really well and every clicks, it is almost always an amazing feeling. However, I truly believe that we learn much more about ourselves when the race gets hard and our body isn’t sure it wants to do what our mind commands. Those are the moments that prove why we love running, love the thrill of the race, and why we voluntarily struggle and push ourselves beyond our limits when it would be much easier to give up or stay home for that matter. There was no giving up and her love of running pushed her forward, and it was a pleasure and an honor to be a part of that, and help in some small way as we made our way to the finish line. With a few miles to go, the burden seemed to be lifted a bit, and we picked up the pace and pushed toward the finish. One of the perks the race is finishing inside Memorial Stadium, and you can’t help but feel a thrill of energy as the stadium comes into site, and you round the corner onto the field. One final kick gave way to a strong finish on the comfortable turf of the 50-yard line and we crossed the finish line victorious in 4:23. We had conquered the beast once again, and it was a wonderful feeling!

All smiles at the finish!

All smiles at the finish!

We found Eric pretty quickly, as he had finished just two minutes prior (doesn’t everyone run a marathon on a stress fracture?!), and we celebrated by helping ourselves to the generous post-race spread of food, water, and Gatorade. We might not have hit that 4:00 mark for her this time, but there’s no doubt that it will happen. It had been a challenging race, and although it had not necessarily transpired the way we had hoped, it was still a marathon finish and I have a feeling there were some lessons learned along the way that wouldn’t have been possible had things gone according to plan. Sometimes those experiences are even more valuable! #chasing42 #chasing42reports

Lincoln 4

2014 in Review: Reflecting & Giving Thanks

It’s a bit hard to believe that 2015 is already upon us. It’s been an incredible year of running for me, and has left me even more excited for what is to come this year! The new year is typically a time of reflection, resolutions, and giving thanks for those things in your life that you are…well…thankful for. I’m not much for resolutions, as I think you should be able to begin something new or change something for the better in your life at any point during the year. In truth, I hear and read more about people breaking “resolutions” that they began on January 1st, whereas I read countless stories about people who decided to change their lives at other points during the year and are ultimately more successful. You need look no further than the change in gym attendance between January 1st and March 1st (see, 2 months…that’s about as much optimism as you’ll get from me 🙂 ) to understand broken New Years resolutions! While I may not be one for resolutions, I certainly understand the value of reflection and giving thanks.

I began this year riding a bit of a running high after just completing the Across the Years 24 Hour Run and hitting the 100-mile mark for the first time. This fed my running enthusiasm, and I was eager to begin planning my race calendar for the upcoming year. In the process, I set two larger goals for myself, and decided to let the rest fill itself in as the year unfolded. I wanted to complete my first 100K race, which was a distance I had still yet to race, and I wanted to tackle a true trail 100 mile race. My first 100K attempt taught me a lot, including how to endure my first DNF, and I bounced back to summit the distance a month later. This accomplishment left me feeling great heading into the summer months, and ready to take on my Mark Twain 100 adventure. My training over the summer months went splendidly as the miles added up, and I traveled down to the Mark Twain National forest feeling ready and eager to hit the trails. The experience proved to be more challenging than I could have imagined, and I learned quite a bit about my running and myself along the way. I ultimately completed the race with the help of an incredible partner & crew chief, and some amazing friends. That belt buckle was certainly the highlight of my running year, and has left me excited for future 100-mile (and beyond!) adventures. Along the way, I tossed in some wonderful relays with friends, as well as several marathons, and some unexpected PRs.

Adam- 2014

For as many races as I ran, there were and are always others that I’ve yet to run. The beautiful epicurean will attest to the fact that I’m constantly talking about exciting race destinations, and there is a part of me that would probably travel every weekend if I could. However, this year has given me pause to appreciate the daily miles, the early morning runs with friends, the solo lunchtime runs, and the opportunity to explore my daily existence in a new way. In total, I covered more than 3,100 miles this year, a number I could hardly fathom just a few years ago. I didn’t set out to break the 3,000 mile mark, but I did find new value in consistency. I finished up that consistency with the #RWRUNSTREAK with a group of friends this year, and ran at least once every day from Thanksgiving until New Years Day. In all, I tallied 313 miles during that period, but also grew to love the consistency of regular running even more. Today is my first potential day off, and head is telling me to rest so I can be ready for a long run tomorrow morning, but my heart is itching to get out there for a few miles. We’ll see which one wins out!

More than the races, miles, and accomplishments, I find myself thankful for quite a few things this year. Running is so much more than exercise. It truly is a way of life, however cliché that may sound, and I feel more alive, more energized, and more passionate every day because of it. It is a constant reminder of so many things, as well as an opportunity to clear my head. The beauty is, of course, that it’s also the best time to fill my head back up with crazy running plans, philosophical monologues, and stories yet to be written. The opportunity to run with so many amazing people on a regular basis leaves me incredibly thankful for such a generous, caring, energetic, sarcastic, and sincere community. Running with someone allows you to be yourself in a way that few other activities do, and I’m constantly amazed and grateful for that. On the whole, we spend far too little time truly being ourselves, and we should all be so eager to slip on a pair of running shoes and let the thoughts, emotions, and opinions flow. In particular, I’ve met some of the most amazing friends I’ve ever had through my running adventures, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Everyone brings something just a little bit different to the table, shares something unique with me, trusts me and allows me the opportunity to open up to them. I’ll always be convinced that true friendships are forged through lived experiences, adventures, and miles traveled. I am constantly honored to share those miles with the such an amazing group of friends.

Ending the year with a fantastic Holiday party!

Ending the year with a fantastic Holiday party!

This year of running has also left me that much more aware of what an amazing, loving, and supportive partner I get to spend my life with and share in adventures. There seem to be plenty of articles out there about “how to live with a runner”, “how to live with a ultrarunner”, or “how to make sure running doesn’t take over your marriage”. There are just as many stories out there by frustrated runners with partners that aren’t as supportive as they would like, tell them they are crazy for what they love, or view running as an impediment to a strong relationship. I would venture to guess that if you are blaming running for problems in your relationship, then you may just have some other concerns to address. I have no doubt that running makes our relationship stronger each and every day. I see that in the excitement in her eyes when I share my running thoughts, the intentional inquiries about how my runs went, and the detailed support at races and the daily adjustments she makes so running continues to be a part of OUR lives.

So, as I cross the starting line that is 2015, I know that as long as I have a pair of running shoes, I have everything. Not just health and fitness, but community, friends, thoughtful contemplation, and a life partner. What more could I ask for?

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