Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the tag “endurance”

Running with Circadian Science?

Many folks might not know that I was almost a pediatrician. I spent most of my childhood planning for medical school, and the first three years of my college career taking the necessary courses to achieve that vision of my future. Ultimately, my interests led me in a decidedly different direction, but I never let go of my love of science and the human body. That’s no doubt why I find the biological and physiological side of endurance running so fascinating. We put our bodies through countless trials out on the road and trails. The pain is real, and the criticism is consistent, but we keep doing it. At a certain point, any run of 50 miles or more seems to become a decidedly mental exercise, but our body still needs to function appropriately to keep moving forward. I’ve dealt with all kinds of aches, pains, and general fatigue during races, and often the knowledge that I can and have overcome those hardships is the only thing that keeps me pushing forward.

I’ve come to realize that the most difficult part of long-distance endurance events is often the number of hours I am on my feet at any given time. I’ve always been a bit of a night owl so staying up “late” has never been an issue. Unfortunately, my body’s definition of “late” has gotten earlier and earlier as I’ve circled the sun more and more. Gone are the college days of consistent all-nighters full of productive accomplishment. I’ve accepted this reality, but seem to push it aside when it comes to running. I’ve forcefully convinced myself that I am still easily capable of staying up all night as long as I’m running, and I’ve done it numerous times, which has only served to reinforce my illogical beliefs.

Now, I might have proved consistently that I can continue running at 3:00AM, but that doesn’t mean my body likes it. The pain and fatigue are real, and the digestive issues can’t be ignored (toilet paper should be a part of any ultra-runners race kit!). Thus, I found a recent story on NPR about circadian science fascinating. As the story discussed, we’ve long known that our brains have master clocks that help us maintain our 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. Interestingly, researchers have discovered that we actually have clocks in every organ, every cell of our bodies. The story goes on to note:

We humans are time-keeping machines. And it seems we need regular sleeping and eating schedules to keep all of our clocks in sync.

Studies show that if we mess with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle — say, by working an overnight shift, taking a transatlantic flight or staying up all night with a new baby or puppy — we pay the price.

Our blood pressure goes up, hunger hormones get thrown off and blood sugar control goes south.

We can all recover from an occasional all-nighter, an episode of jet lag or short-term disruptions.

But over time, if living against the clock becomes a way of life, this may set the stage for weight gain and metabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.

The basic idea here is that our body’s clocks are set to expect certain things at certain times, and they react accordingly by releasing hormones, digestive enzymes, and a myriad of other chemicals throughout the body to effectively achieve the desired outcomes. If we take actions, such as eating, at times the body is not accustomed to this occurring, then we are fighting the signals that tell our body not to eat or drink, and we become off-balance.

circadian rhythm

This story got me to thinking about the implications for ultra-running. How many times have we heard stories about runners unable to keep food down during an overnight run, or suffering fatigue in the middle of the night, only to feel their body reawakened and re-energized with the sunrise (hint- ME!). What if these instances were the result of the clocks in our muscles demonstrating their utter confusion and disbelief over the fact that we are running in the middle of the night when we should be horizontal and flowing through REM cycles? What if our digestive issues are a direct result of our stomach, pancreas, and other vital organs telling us that we shouldn’t be consuming calories at 2:00AM. Perhaps the stomach just can’t make heads or tails of pizza and potato soup when it should be replenishing vital digestive acids and enzymes?

The endurance running implications for this research are fascinating to say the least. Ultimately,

“We’d like to be in a position where we’d be able to monitor hundreds of different rhythms in your body and see if they’re out of sync — and then try to normalize them,” Turek says.

We might be forcing these rhythms out of sync intentionally, but the possibility of helping keep them in sync while we running is phenomenal. If my body was as comfortable running at 3AM as it is at 3PM, there’s no telling what I would be capable of achieving. Perhaps we should be paying less attention to the clock on our wrist, and more attention to the clocks in our bodies!

Circadian Rhythm image

Race Across the USA: VA-Style!

I’ve been giving my 2015 race schedule a great deal of thought over the course of the last few weeks. My planning has been mildly complicated by the fact that the beautiful epicurean and I will be moving out to the East Coast in May for new opportunities (more on that later!). Thus, a whole new section of the country will be within driving distance, and that means researching some amazing races that weren’t economically feasible before, but now are within reach. I’m doing my best not to go crazy and register for every exciting race I see, but it’s definitely going to allow me to cross quite a few new states off my list and do a lot of exploring on trails and roads I’ve never seen.

A few months ago, I read an article about the Race Across the USA. I was immediately intrigued by the possibilities and quickly navigated to the route to see if it would be passing near Iowa. Alas, they were taking a southern route, but they were ended the journey in Virginia, and I happened to have some amazing friends in Virginia that might just be up for a little challenge. The entire race serves as a fundraiser for childhood obesity initiatives through the 100-mile Club. If you feel so inclined, I would be eternally grateful for any donation amount toward those goals! In addition, the small group of runners completing the entire 3,080 mile journey are being studied as part of a research project to examine the physiological effects on endurance athletes. Additional participants have the opportunity to join this core group of runners across the various states, either tackling an entire state, or running 4 back-to-back marathons. Although the though of covering an entire state did cross my mind, time wouldn’t permit. However, I am excited to be able to run the last 4 marathons of the entire race, across Virginia, and ending at the White House!

RAUSA-Map-v2-1024x576

I was able to convince my amazing Virginia friends to join me, and I can’t wait for the experience. As it so happens, I’ll now be able to drive out there instead of fly because we’ll be living out there by the start on May 30th. My plan is to treat this experience like any other 100K or 100-mile event (we’ll be traveling a total of 114 miles), and train accordingly. However, I’ll be throwing in a few more back-to-back training runs, and I’ve added a second two-a-day to my weekly schedule as well.

RAVA Logo

I’ve got some other great races in the mix for 2015, but you’ll have to wait until next week for the official unveiling! It’s going to be a busy year, but things are already off to a great start. Be on the lookout for more information about how you can share your race stories with Chasing 42 as well!

Donate Here!

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?

October Running Report

The past month turned out to be rather eventful, so I thought I might share some of the highlights. I just finished raking leaves, and the temps are on the decline so I know the white stuff isn’t far behind. However, this has been one of the more legitimate fall seasons I can remember in quite some time, and it’s been perfect running weather. The result was an enjoyable mix of running activities that kept things interesting and entertaining! I managed to rack up some decent mileage along the way as well 🙂

Run for the Roses 5K/10K: As previously reported, I began the month with a great pair of race PRs. They came out of the blue considering the significant distance I had logged the day before, and it felt great to feel like I had some of my speed back after feeling a bit sluggish that past few months. Earning 3rd place finishes in my age group for both races was a nice surprise as well!

Vardo-Style Slumber Party: When it comes to ultra-training, it’s always nice to train for the overnight portion of longer races. The distances are pretty straight forward but there is no way to simulate running overnight without just doing it. So, I thought it would be fun to turn an overnight training run into more of a group event and invite everyone out to stop by when they wanted, and for as many miles as they wanted. I started running at 10:00PM on the 10th, and kept running until around 9:00AM on the 11th. I was really happy that so many friends decided to come out and log some miles throughout the evening and we had a blast. I stuck to the same 5-mile route so folks would be able to join us on the hour, and it worked out perfectly. I had company the entire evening, with other folks running anywhere from 5 to 25 miles. We got expectedly loopy in the wee hours of the morning, but the constant flood of energy kept me going, and I was happy with the 51 miles I logged. I managed to stay away until Saturday evening before crashing pretty darn hard!

Des Moines Marathon: October is prime marathon season, and the DSM marathon is becoming a nice little tradition for me. I can always count on other friends being down there, so it’s a wonderfully social race, and it didn’t hurt that I ended up with a marathon PR this year either!

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 2.47.08 PM

Niland’s Cafe Run: Last week, a good friend decided he wanted to run to a cafe in a neighboring town for breakfast. This random run is one of the reason I love my group of friends so much! The cafe was 20 miles away from his doorstep, and the route was a straight shot down a former highway. I’ve biked this route on many occasions and have always wanted to run in this general direction, but this was my first chance to do so. Six of us in all made the journey, I logged 24 miles, and there was a stack of chocolate chip pancakes waiting for me at the end. Does running get much better than that on a beautiful Saturday morning? I think not!

Halloween Run: Our running group has a nice little Halloween run tradition that we kept alive this year as well. Everyone donned their best costumes or selected from the handy costume bin that one of our wonderful group members keeps on hand for just such occasions. Our route this year meandered around town a bit more than in past year, but it meant we were able to stop at several houses, as well as pass out candy to people in their cars while they were stopped in traffic. We even swung by a friend’s house to give her daughter a personalized reverse trick-or-treat experience, and she made out like a bandit with her candy stash! The Jello-O shots a few of us snacked on as we made our way around town helped put us in the spirit as well!

This picture managed to get even more creepy!

This picture managed to get even more creepy!

Overall, it proved to be an excellent month of training and racing. The numbers and the experiences will make the impending winter months that much more enjoyable. How was your month? What do you have on the horizon?

Total Runs: 26

Total Miles: 292.69

Year-to-Date Miles: 2,614.3

 

Race Report: 2014 Des Moines Marathon

Races fall into a number of different categories for me. There are some races that I plan for months in advance, and direct my training towards, some that come up along the way, and still others that I register for more out of nostalgia or the potential for an enjoyable experience with friends. The Des Moines Marathon certainly holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first marathon I ever ran back in 2009. I ran the race again last year as a part of my first double, and I registered for the race this year because the timing worked out well with my training and it was a great excuse to spend some time with friends and cheer them on as well.

I picked up my packet at the expo on Saturday with very little trouble, and the epicurean and I took the opportunity to go out to dinner at the same restaurant where we had our wedding dinner. The pasta was delicious as always, and we both left with full, happy bellies. I woke up the next morning around 5:00AM to have a light breakfast and get ready. The drive down was a nice opportunity to wake up and sip some water more slowly before getting to the start. I made my way to the starting line in plenty of time for the 8:00AM gun, and the morning could not have been more perfect. Temperatures were in the 40’s, the sun was out, and there was hardly any wind. In other words, the racing conditions were perfect!

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 2.46.03 PM

I had planned all along to take it easy and use the race as a solid training run. I logged 18 miles the day before, and my legs were feeling good. The gun went off, and the slow shuffle to the starting mat quickly gave way to a more brisk pace. I lined up behind but in sight of the 3:30 pacer, but hadn’t really given much thought to my own pace. I planned to run more by feel, and just enjoy the morning. After about 2 miles, I had caught up to the 3:30 pacer, and was moving really well and logging sub-8:00 miles. As I passed the pace group, I decided I might as well maintain my pace for as long as I could and see what my legs had in them. It’s amazing how the best-laid plans can become derailed by an aggressive internal competitive nature, isn’t it?

The miles just continued to tick off on the relatively flat course, minus a few small hills. My breathing was smooth, my stride was short, and my turn-over was right on target. Before I knew it, I was 10 miles in and still maintaining my sub-8:00 minute pace. I brought a bottle of Tailwind with me, so I was able to run through several of the aid stations, but I made sure to continue to drink, and supplement it with some Honey Stinger Chews as well. I was crossing the half-marathon point before I knew it, and I hit it at 1:42, which would have been a solid HM PR if I had crossed the finish line. I was still feeling really good, but wasn’t necessarily taking it easy anymore 🙂

Finishing strong!

Finishing strong!

The course dips down into a large, open park around mile 18, and we were a bit more exposed than we had been. This was when I felt the wind pushing back a bit more than it had been earlier in the race. I maintained my pace, but I could tell I was working a bit harder by the time I crossed the 20 mile mark. Around mile 21, the bathroom break I had been resisting since mile 1 was finally too much and I ducked into a porta-potty. The stop cost me about a minute, but it was certainly worth it for the comfort! My pace slowed by about 25 seconds over the last 5 miles, but I was still feeling really good and thought I might just have a chance at a new PR. I dug deep in the final mile, and pushed a little extra when I heard the 3:30 pacer coming up behind me. I managed to pull out the same sprint that I seem to have at the end of every race, and I crossed the finish line in 3:28:44. My easy day had turned into a marathon PR!

DSM2014bib

I was all smiles, even if a small part of me wondered what the day would have brought if I hadn’t run so much the day before. I quickly found a bunch of friends that had finished up the half and the full, and we celebrated by heading straight for the beer (with some water and food along the way, of course). Everyone was in a great mood, and we made our way back near the finish line to cheer on other runners as they passed. The weather, the friends, and the race could not have been more perfect, and I was happy to add some more great memories to the Des Moines Marathon experience!

DSM2014

DSM2014-2

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.”

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: