The course is 3.75 miles. I had 13.25 hours to do ten laps. Just like last year, the course was a giant mirror image P.
Most of the curved part was through a pretty heavily rooted area. I decided to walk the first lap just to let my body get used to being on my feet again. This year we had 40 people doing the one man ultra option of the race. Three more details about the race I must mention now before I forget. About 100 feet from the turnaround point is a huge visitor center with an air conditioned bathroom, porcelain toilets and sinks with hot and cold water that you pass every 3.75 miles. George the race director puts on one hell of a race. The volunteers and the rangers really make sure that you are taken care of.
I wound up talking with this guy who was over 50 miles into his first ultra and was continuing to do laps because he was going to never do another one of these. I really wish I could remember his name or what he looked like because I would like to look for him on the course next year. I’m sure he’ll be there. I finished the first lap in well over an hour and fifteen minutes. This was no big deal as it was just a warm up lap. The second lap I alternated walking and jogging. I was trying to jog the rooted area to get comfortable with it so I could run entire laps if needed.
When I hit an aerobic heart rate, I could feel myself fading fast so I started walking much more. I joined a guy named Patrick who was also over 50 miles into his first ultra. He was with a group of ten people who had been corresponding in a runners' forum for years and had never met before today. (Sounds familiar!) One of the group had lost a child to cancer earlier this year. The run was to honor him. His parents were both doing the run carrying a flag with a picture of their late son. Their group was a full 10% of the entrants.
My second lap was barely over 1:15. I could no longer do math, but it was painfully obvious that a 50 mile plaque was out of the question at this pace. Maybe I could do an ultra before cutoff time, but that math was too hard. I wasn’t sad or angry, but I was pretty agitated about it. Despite the fact that my mind was way to shot to do math, I decided to do a lean six sigma project on the dilemma. In a nutshell, in lean six sigma, you examine all aspects of a project break it down into as many steps as possible, measure the time each step takes. Then you find and eliminate all redundant steps and look for ways to make each step quicker and more efficient. This sort of thing usually takes a huge team of people and a several conference room tables and walls covered from one end to the other with butcher pa
per process maps and post it notes. I didn’t have any of that, but I had little else to do in the next nine hours. I was trying to speed up my walk with little success. It still eluded me how people way older than me and way shorter than me could walk faster than I could jog. I couldn’t solve that riddle, so I called Shayna and left her a message. It isn’t every day that a 40 year old calls someone on the phone and says hey can you teach me how to walk? While I was waiting for her call back I delved further into this ultramarathon process. I determined that the way I was staggering across the course, for every 20 feet forward, I was moving back and forth at least six feet laterally. Some of this was required for avoiding roots, but much of it was me just being sloppy. By paying too much attention to the ground in front of me, I wasn’t paying any attention to the direction I was headed. I was pretty much changing my direction every few minutes to avoid walking off the course. That equated to 30% wasted energy which if fully utilized would shave over 20 minutes off each lap. I began purposefully looking up and sighting my straight path forward for as far as possible every couple of steps and striving to stay precisely on that path. I finished lap three in 1:07. A 10% gain wasn’t quite as much as I expected, but it would put my stretch goals back into the realm of mathematically feasible. This also kept my mind totally engaged in the process and helped me to stay focused. I think it also kept the hallucinations at bay.
Last year, I pushed myself harder, bonked early and kept going. This resulted in severe hallucinations for the last several hours of the race. Just about every other bush, rock, log or tree looked like something. I saw bears, tigers, alligators and even a headless horseman. This year, runners ahead resting or coming towards me many times turned out to be just small trees. My overactive imagination was pretty disappointing. The following is from an email from another runner Mike who’s running induced hallucinations are way better than mine. Guess I’ll need to go harder next time.
“52.5 MILES, 16.5 hours, 14 laps, 8 pounds, 1 fall, 1 snake and 1......ah ghost. . . .
Funny how the roots grew in height as the hours wore on....or was it I could no longer lift my feet? I'm sure it was the roots. A very nice course, and a very well organized and supported race. Bunch on nice people, ultra-runners....
I'm sure you all can figure out the 14 laps, 8 pounds, 1 fall (that hurt), 1 snake (and it was big)....but the ghost. That I'll haveto fill you in on that. On my second to last lap thru the trail portion, around 10 pm (I was at a 10m run, 5m walk pace) and moving pretty good, when my left hand went back during one of my strides, someone/thing held it. No kidding it felt like someone reached out and held my hand, I jumped out of my skin, spun around and flashed my light all around me.....and no one was there.....just me and the dark. Needless to same my pace was a bit quicker...the rest of that lap and my final lap thru that portion of the course. I'm not one to believe in the supernatural.....but some weird happened there....and it felt pretty real."
Tons of friends and family were texting me. I tried to text back but staring into the screen and keyboard was disorienting and messing with my night vision. To avoid texting, I spoke with Jenn, Carol, Cheri, Shayna, Abby, Mike and a few others and Texted with Dave, Drew, Tom and maybe a few more.
Shayna finally called me back and gave me some tips on walking. It turns out, you don’t walk with your legs, you walk with your arms. I already knew about not clenching your fists as this strains your neck and shoulders resulting in severe pain and impeding your body’s ability to stride efficiently. I already knew about not allowing your hands to cross the center line of your body as this puts undue torsion on your spine and wastes energy that could be transferred to forward motion. What I didn’t know was that to walk faster, you don’t move your legs faster. You move your arms faster and your legs will follow suit. Shayna also explained some nuances about forearm alignment, but I’m not going to risk misquoting her on that one. Shayna also cordially inviting me to sign up for the Oil Creek 50 with her. I pondered this often I briskly walked onward.
My next lap was pretty close to an hour. From here on, I walked as fast as possible and as straight as possible. By now, I had found straight paths diagonally across the worst roots and memorized all of the roots that I needed to just suck it up and step over. I even began to remember the names that my friend from last year had given them. I stepped over the mother of all roots, walked around Big Bertha, and almost fell flat on my face when I forgot about OOMPH! root. That’s an onomatopoeia as that is the exact sound that I heard when I or any other runner kicked it and fell forward.
The pollen was bad, but nowhere near as bad as last year. I could wear my headlamp on my head without the snowstorm visual effect of the airborne pollen being illuminated. I tended to like having places within my peripheral vision illuminated more than having to look were I wanted the light. Running with the light in my hand was much more effective and took considerable strain off of my neck and shoulders. Having the light lower illuminated the roots better anyway. I only used the light on the rooted trail. I had memorized the only three roots, two holes and three rocks to worry about along the rest of the course.
Each lap, I would briefly stop at my camp and grab some food or gatoraide mix. I wasn’t needing to hit the bathroom often so dehydration began to concern me. I dramatically increased my liquid and salt intake to compensate. The four caffeine free diet cokes in my cooler were a godsend. At each stop, I would pick up a box of peeps, or a big ass chocolate bunny and leave it at the turnaround table. Each time I came back with another gift the previous one would have been devoured. Having never fast walked before, I was pretty sure that I was going to have some interesting new blisters. I had been ignoring a small painful rock right behind my middle toe in my left shoe for over an hour now. I didn’t waste time stopping and messing with it. When I finally did, I located the pinpoint spot where the pain was but there was no rock. I figured it was a blister or a stress fracture, put the shoe back, on and continued.
By the second to last lap, I knew it was a blister. It felt like I had a packet of ketchup behind my toes. I could feel it squish back and forth with each step.
I stopped and tried on every pair of shoes I had but my feet were now so swollen that It was difficult to get a shoe on at all. I stuffed my foot back into my shoe and continued. Upon finishing lap 9. I knew that every step was doing damage. I figured that the huge blister should have popped by now, but it was still squishing back and forth. I wanted to do another mile after the last lap, but this was obviously out of the question. People were getting really excited as the course record of 115 miles last year had already been shattered. There were two guys neck and neck battling it out to the finish. One guy had done a quarter mile loop more than the other. The guy in second place had set a brutal pace that the leader would have to hold or lose the race. I knew this was monumental, but it just wasn’t in my field of interest. I staggered onward to finish my last lap. All I remember is each step hurting as my swollen ankle rubbed against the side of my shoe and as my swollen toes got crushed in the toe box. By now the two leaders were still neck and neck doing 7.5 minute miles on the short loop after 23 hours of running. I finished my 37.5 miles at about 6:30 am. Cheryl was so kind as to get a good picture of me finishing.
Then we watched the carnage as the leaders continued to try to kill each other by maintaining a pace most people can’t hold for a 5K. They winners finished with 120 miles and 119.75 miles each.
My parents picked me up and moments thereafter, I awoke at IHOP 35 miles away with my phone in my hand and an unfinished text message to everyone who had called or texted. The next thing I remember was sitting at the table in IHOP waking up and having to reread the text and continue keying. This began happening several times per word and sometimes twice per letter. I finished my text shortly before breakfast arrived. Next thing I remember is waking up and looking down at my fork stuck in a half cut sausage. I continued with breakfast and woke again with my fork in the same half sausage but at least I had managed to cut it. I somehow finished breakfast without a visit from the manager. I got home, threw a big towel on the bed and slept for five and a half hours straight.
When I got up, Jenn had brought the girls home from their week at her Mom’s and Carol was well into a sub six hour Saint Louis Marathon. It took a week for the swelling in my feet to go down enough to wear shoes and two weeks before my first run which was yesterday. My feet are now a half size bigger than they were before the event, and I need to wear shoes with the biggest toe box in the industry. I haven’t purchased them yet as I think the swelling will go down eventually. I have an REI gift certificate and a trip to