I ran the Uwharrie 40 mile trail race last weekend. I attempted to run it two years ago to less successful results. Two years ago I was injured and undertrained going in to the race. Pretty much from the get go I felt pain in my knee. Seven miles in I ran into a tree limb with my head and that should have been a sign, but I continued on with my probable mild concussion and my knee that felt like a hot knife was stabbing it, until I decided to call it a day at 29 miles.
Let’s fast forward. 2015. I am healthy. I am somewhat better trained. I am ready to run 40 miles without hitting a tree limb, otherwise maiming myself, or quitting!
It’s been a weird month for me. The running has been solid, but there is much more to life than running. Ultimately, I took Steph’s advice to “start happy” and wanted to carry it further, to finish the same way. So in my drop bag I put my Pikachu shirt, figuring at the 20 mile turnaround I could change into it, with the weather getting warmer and I would be able to run back in something that would be a constant source of joy. I’m getting ahead of myself.
I got a decent night’s sleep before the race. I’ve had a pretty good stretch of training although essentially none of it came on trails. I was confident that I could at least negotiate the route without doing any serious damage. Driving out there solo at 4:30 am was a bit rough but not anything I wasn’t accustomed to. I got to the outpost around 6 and was able to get ready, get my drop bag ready, and get a ride to the start with about ten minutes to spare. Of course, I realized upon arriving at the race start that I’d forgotten gloves. Good stuff. Thankfully Ronnie had an extra pair of mittens that he generously lent to this guy, thus saving my hands from inevitable Reynaud’s attack.
The start came uneventfully. Myself and Jeremy Ramsey, last year’s winner, separated ourselves pretty early on. I was content just to follow him and not get lost for the early miles. I noted that we passed through the 8 mile aid station and I had not run into any trees so I was already doing better than last time! Somewhere around then he pulled off to the side to take a dump and I carried on, now leading the race. Alas, it was short lived as I promptly got myself lost, and needed Jeremy to come along to find the trail. Again I took the lead until getting lost a second time at which point he pulled away to the turnaround. I was content doing my own thing to the 20 mile point, getting in a few minutes behind and pretty much right where I thought I could/should be (3:05ish). I changed into my Pikachu shirt, had a Boost shake, refilled my Diet Dr. Pepper bottle (because someone let his Nathan get all moldy whoops!) with some water and was on my way, again leading the race.
We went back and forth for another few miles. Apparently Jeremy got lost in some section and fell a few minutes back, only to come roaring back and pass me around 28ish miles in, when I was feeling less than awesome. On the way back I was content powerhiking any significant uphill and subsequently bombing any downhill and trying to do something that resembled an actual run on the flat stretches. I think the key throughout the day was that no matter what the race brought, I was running happy. Steph had sent me a message before the race started telling me to take it easy early, run smart, and run happy. I took it to heart, making it my goal to stay upbeat and positive from start to finish. It definitely got difficult at times, but in the last 20 miles, whenever things started to feel kinda bad, I would look down at my shirt, see Pikachu, think of what that meant, smile, and feel better about everything. And it would carry over to the running. It was an easy way to “run happy”.
At some point on the way back, right after the long, arduous ascent I saw Shannon and she took an awesome picture of me that makes me look like I was legit running the whole way. She is awesome and has been such a great friend to me and so is Anthony, who had an excellent race himself, and I love them. Every aid station I came to I was told I was somewhere between 60 seconds and 3 minutes back. I was trying my damndest to continue pushing but at the same time I was aware how close to the red line I was. The uphills in particular, I could feel my heart pounding in my neck even when I was power hiking them. I would turn things loose on the downhills but it would only get me so far. In general, the way back FELT significantly longer than the way out. But that makes sense.
i eventually got to the last aid station around mile 38. I knew I would be finishing this time which was lovely. I also knew I would probably not catch Jeremy and I was ok with that. I had run a smart race, and one that I could be proud of. I pushed with everything I had up the last hill. Once at the top, I knew it was just a twisty turny rocky downhill back to the finish and I ran with some reckless abandon. At some point I twisted my ankle bad enough to briefly consider I may have just broke my little toe, but fortunately that was not the case.
Eventually I could see the finish through the trees. I careened down the trail and into the chute, second place in 6:26 and change, about two minutes back of Jeremy’s victorious and impressive run. I was and am delighted. While it got difficult at times, I never really hit a low low patch where I questioned why the hell I was doing it in the first place. I ran 40 rugged miles in about the time I expected, placed well, and had a chance to see some of my running friends finish their own races after that, which was just as rewarding as finishing my own run. And, in a way, that seems like a good metaphor for life. It’s going to get difficult at times, it’s not always going to go the way you hope for, but it’s YOUR choice how you react to that. You can choose to be happy. You can choose to be optimistic that things will get better, that you will feel the way you did at the best of it. And it will make a huge positive difference. And things DO get better. I never hit a really low spot. The day I got to spend on the trail, the fun I had, the connections with the amazing aid station volunteers and the runner friends at the finish… that’s the important stuff. The past few months have really helped me reshape and refocus my point of view on this whole running thing (and this life thing), reevaluate what’s REALLY important to me. The two races recently I’ve run with a sense of positivity and happiness, I did really well at. It helps when you have great people come into your life and bring so much joy and positivity with them. Hopefully that running joy continues through this year and beyond. Stick with me, the best is yet to be.
Til next time, Run HAPPY everyone!
A week ago I sat down to write up a report for the 12 hour race I ran two weeks ago and decided that was a bit shitty of me without first acknowledging how I apparently only write up races I do well at despite the last two years of running actually being pretty terrible. So then I started to write a bit of background info and it got long so I turned it into it’s own thing and then wordpress gave me the middle finger when I posted that. And now I’m just annoyed but I want to write about this race and I want to say something about other stuff but I feel mentally stuck and unable to move beyond this whole, “Hey, the last two years sucked and I was pretty misleading and almost downright dishonest about why” and I don’t want to look back ten years from now and actually end up believing the bullshit I wrote. So here I am writing this as a sort of cautionary tale to others who may find themselves in the same situation as I once did. I suffered so you might not have to…
Let’s go back. Why? Because it’s my damn blog and I can do whatever I like and really, it’s just mom and Katie reading anyway (and maybe Kevin, hi Kevin!). Early 2012 I was running better than at any other point in my life. I had a string of a few races where I set PRs, won things, or otherwise kicked some pretty serious ass. And then some time around May I was told at work that I was going to help train a new program coordinator. Fine, whatever I figured. And then I met her and she was attractive and long story short we ended up dating. Now I will stop here and say this is not some post about how terrible my relationship was and what an awful person she was and how that is why I sucked at running for about two years. Because it’s not. This is about how I made a number of choices, over and over again, that piece by piece began to sabotage my running. I dated a girl who I shouldn’t have gotten involved with. I knew that before we ended up getting involved and yet I did it anyway. That was my first poor choice. And then as the relationship continued, and she demanded more and more sacrifices, I continued to make those sacrifices. At any moment I could have just said, “Fuck it, I’m done, this isn’t worth the compromises I am making,” but I didn’t. It wasn’t her fault, she didn’t hold a gun to my head. She just made it clear that she was not a fan of me going to run and work out after work and not being able to see her until much later in the evening, sometimes just to say goodnight and go to bed. That wasn’t enough for her. It was, realistically, all I should have been able to offer some days and if she wasn’t ok with that, then it shouldn’t have worked. Instead, instead of sticking up for my needs, what I held as important, I said ok and would skip out on a day of training in favor of going over after work and watching hours of shitty reality television and, probably, arguing about something. I sort of alienated a lot of running friends too, I often had to go to races I wasn’t running by myself, she not understanding why I would want to spend a weekend at a race I wasn’t actually IN. It was shitty. I didn’t run much. I got hurt because of that. It was a bad cycle. I went from accidentally winning a trail marathon one year to walking most of the second half of it and completely embarrassing myself the next. I DNFed my first race. I barely ran an ultra distance at two different 24 hour races. I sucked and everything was terrible. And the real kick in the pants is that I wasn’t exactly sacrificing all of this for some sort of romantic bliss. The relationship was one-sided and abusive and really sort of broke my spirit. I was stuck in a shit situation that I helped create and for whatever reason I couldn’t find the strength to just get up and out, despite so many opportunities. It was sort of a “devil-you-know” thing, I think. Whatever it was, it was terrible and I was quite depressed for a good chunk of that time. The running suffered and that’s what this blog is about so let’s try to stay on topic.
This past July we broke up for good. It was a breath of fresh air; like when you try to see how long you can stay underwater for and you just keep holding it and holding it until you think you are going to pass out and you start seeing flashes of light on the periphery and finally you allow yourself to surface and take that big, wonderful, glorious gulp of oxygen and it instantly fills your lungs and you feel ALIVE. Yeah, that’s what it was like. And wouldn’t you know it, the running almost immediately improved. I will admit to running a marathon PR in April when we were still sorta technically still together (although on some sort of break and even running that marathon caused a HUGE fight but I digress). But from July on, things have been on an upward trajectory. The freedom that not being in a soul crushing relationship has afforded has allowed me to rediscover myself and who I am, as a person and as a runner. When I moved down here to NC I was single and alone. I lived alone, I didn’t have many friends, I would go to work and come home to Cary and run for an hour or four and then come home and drink some beers and PTFO and do it all over again. And that’s what the past few months have been more like.
Oh holy shit. Blah blah blah, waaaaaaaaaah. Life was soooooo hard. Holy shit, do you even HEAR YOURSELF?! Have you stopped to read this crap you’re writing Mark? This is insane, inane bullshit. You sucked because you didn’t run. You let some meanie girl dictate what you did. Wah. Get over it. I AM over it. Ok then, that’s settled. Do not let anyone control your happiness. People, ESPECIALLY significant others, should COMPLEMENT your life, they should magnify your happiness, not control it. If you need to fundamentally change who you are and what you care about in order to be with someone, you should NOT be with that person. Period. No discussion possible. If you like to run and you want to do it all the damn time, fine. Find someone who thinks that’s cool. And so that is what I’m doing. I’m running my ass off, drinking my beers, living my damn life the way that makes me happiest. I’ll be damned if I allow myself to make the same mistakes again. So there’s my cautionary tale, or something. It’s sad and pathetic and embarrassing but it needed to be out there so I can’t hide from it or use it as an excuse anymore. Or something.
ed note… this was originally started back in April. I obviously took a while to finish it…
Last weekend I ran the first ever Rock n Roll Raleigh marathon. This was my first road marathon in five years! Until sometime in January I had had no intentions of running this race. But by virtue of the generosity of Brooks toward their ID Coaches program (of which I am a proud member) I was able to enter at a cost that fits my budget (as in, free, THANK YOU BROOKS!)
The days leading up to the race were a bit tumultuous, personally, and as a result, the runs were not quite what I had hoped. Fortunately the Wednesday before, I had one of my best training runs/workouts in over a year – the Fullsteam run with a 5 mile stretch from around east campus that I ran in 29:40, faster than anything I have run in a long damn time. It gave me some confidence going into the weekend. The weekend itself was very rough. I made some bad choices. It was a very VERY emotionally draining time and I contemplated not doing the race at all. I went to bed very late the night before, figuring that I was still on 50-50 and leaning toward not doing it.
I woke up without an alarm and a feeling of crushing depression. I figured I might as well do SOMETHING today and run the race, because the plan for the rest of the day was to drink my feelings away.
I had something to eat, bathroom, the usual. The drive to Raleigh on so little sleep was actually fine. I felt surprisingly alert and awake and the sun was threatening to come up soon. I had a little wait when I got near downtown but before too long I was on top of a parking deck with plenty of time to spare. I got myself put together, finished my GenUCAN stuff, started the process of lubing the necessary body parts, tying the shoes, blah blah blah. I sauntered over to the start area and found a place to poop and then went over by the start where I saw Monk and chatted a bit. It wasn’t until pretty close to what was supposed to be the race start time that I realized I did not have my D-tag on my laces. SHITBALLS! I ran pretty hard the ~half mile to the parking deck, up the stairs, tore through my bag, put it on, and ran back. Turns out because of the traffic, they were starting the race a little late, which gave my heart an opportunity to calm down some. Guess I had my warm up in now.
Some people talked, sang, etc. Then finally bang, we’re off. The mass of people head down the block and I’m up near the front but for a while people are just blowing by me like I’m out for a Sunday jog. I glance at my watch about a half mile in, 6:30ish pace. Well at least it FELT like a jog, something I don’t often have the luxury of thinking about 6:30 pace. The course wound through downtown Raleigh for a while, I wasn’t focused on much of anything except running comfortable. I felt pretty good, I was breathing alright, I wasn’t concerning myself with the people around me much, and I was trying to take in the sights and spectators enthusiasm.
Hit 5k in 19something. Right on. My splits were pretty even. I wasn’t laboring, but other people seemed to be. I was guessing the ones who were looking closer to maxing out were half runners. Honestly, most of this early stretch is kind of a blur. I knew it felt a little humid despite still being pretty cool so I made a point to drink some at the aid stations along the way, but not too much. My belly never felt particularly sloshy. At some point we ended up near Hillsborough and that’s where the half marathoners turned off while the full runners turned right to do the long out and back up Hillsborough to Edwards Mill and Reedy Creek. I could see the mile markers for 21 20 etc as I was going out, and approaching double digits. It was a long way to go still. Yeesh.
We ran around PNC Arena and I saw a photographer and still felt good and happy enough to throw up the “Bull City” sign. I hit the half in about 1:26ish. That was right on where I wanted to be, and feeling like I could probably turn around and run a similar second half. Considering I just wanted to break 3 hours, yeah, happy. Around Edwards Mill I ran through something called a mile of music, with speakers blasting some pump up jams the whole way and it was actually pretty neat and motivating. Turning on Edwards Mill, there was a fairly long uphill and I just remember thinking, “do work, do work”. I had no idea how many people were in front but I figured at least a dozen or two. As we turned onto Reedy Creek there was a longish gradual downhill. I knew eventually we’d come to the turnaround and then I’d have to run back up this whole way. I started counting runners as they were coming back. The leader was way out in front. Then another guy, and another. I saw Heidi Bretscher, the lead woman (and only one ahead of me).
*ed note…. I have now successfully finished this report from this spot three times and each time, when I hit publish, WordPress basically told me to go fuck myself. So I give up WordPress, ya’ll are getting a tl:dr of the rest
I was in 10th or so. I passed some people on the hill going back up. I started noticing it was getting warm. I passed some other guy. Then on Hillsborough I passed one more to be in 6th, where I’d stay to the finish. Crazy. We merged with the half marathoners. This presented issues when I started getting delirious and they were not staying on their side of the road. Grunts helped. Around mile 25 I thought I was literally going to die. I didn’t thankfully. But my field of vision began experiencing black spots that kept growing in size. I sprinted in from mile 26 and could barely feel my body, it was a weird feeling. I managed to duck in under 2:57, in 2:56:52, a 4+ minute PR. It was hot by the end. I was dehydrated. I felt like shit, but I was proud of myself. It was a solid race and despite the second half being hotter and tougher, managed to hold it together. There, that’s it. I broke 3. For my efforts, I spent a good chunk of the rest of the day apologizing for running the race at all, but that’s not a story for this blog.
I had written up a pretty detailed post, as is my nature, about this past weekend’s 24 hour race around Hinson Lake. I spent a good chunk of time on it, as I have a bit more of that than usual considering my quads will not allow me to get into a full depth squat yet, and other related sorenesses and pains, and maybe a touch of intestinal bleeding.
But fuck it. I don’t know. I just, maybe I’m losing my desire to continually put myself out there. Maybe I am currently coming off as the sort of person I would very much like to slap upside the goddamn head. Maybe whatever. Fact is, I don’t think this is going to be one of my detailed, thoughtful, insightful, maybe even helpful-to-some race reports.
I ran for pretty much 24 hours at Hinson Lake. The first two years I was there, I didn’t do that. Not even combined. 2012 I was overcooked already and knew going in that I was only looking to get about 100 miles. I was starting three hours late and my goal the whole day became to just crack the leaderboard before I stopped. I did. Made it about 80 miles in 12 hours of running time, 15 hours of race time. Good enough. Last year was even worse; going in with a messed up left side (I say left side because it wasn’t just one specific part, it was the hip, IT band, hamstring, glute, you name it). 16 miles and I was cooked. I walked a few more laps just to make the total look less pathetic but I spent most of the race helping at the timing tent.
This year I went in healthy, having survived a hot, humid summer of decent training. I was rested and ready to see what I could actually do. I was looking forward to conquering that 24 hour beast that has bit me so often.
Fuck it. Running is dumb. I ran 101 miles in 16 hours. Then I turned into a little bitch. I “ran” 23.5 more miles before 8am. I suck. Everything sucks. Running is terrible. I’m terrible.
tl:dr I ran 123.5 miles in 24 hours and placed 2nd and I am an asshole who is rude to other people and curses around little children
I have been running. I’ve run a number of races this year that I have not written about because I suck as a blogger. I guess it’s pretty easy to neglect something like this when you know only a handful of people read it regularly. It’s not like I’m anyone that anyone would want to be reading anyway.
I digress. I broke 3 hours in the marathon in April, in a race I also almost died in. Or something. It is my birthday. In a few hours I will be waking up to head to Umstead to run 30 miles for my birthday. The fact that I can casually write that is a good indication that training has been and continues to go in the right direction. But fuck. That is soooo boring.
I have another race report to write but I never wrote anything about this so I am going to quick write a recap of this and then move on with my life. I’m talking about Ray Krolewicz’s 24 hour track race down in Florence, SC. He put it on last minute to give some ultrarunners an opportunity to run a distance that would qualify them for selection to the US team for the 24 hour world championships. While I would have loved to try to do just that, I knew realistically I’m not ready to make the attempt but it was so close and I’d never run a long race on a track so I wanted to experience it. I didn’t actually run 24 hours, so I feel kind of like a poser writing this. I went down to South Carolina figuring on running a quick 50k and then stopping and spending the rest of my time down there helping out other runners,
I got on the road around 5 and except for a brief traffic stop due to an accident on 95, I got down to Florence very uneventfully. By the time I got there, there was maybe a half hour to go before the race.I saw Shannon Johnstone and Anthony Corriveau (great friends from the Triangle area, more on that later) and set up my stuff next to theirs. I got my number and eventually made my way to the start line as they were getting ready to send us on our way. The talent accumulated at the start was ridiculous. Zach Bitter, the American Record holder for 100 miles, a handful of women who all hand a realistic shot of making the World Championship team, a handful of men in the same boat. Go.
I jump out with two others, Zach Bitter and Harvey Lewis. We are going around the track quickly, like it’s a 10k or something, not like anyone is about to run for an entire day. After a few laps, I caught up to Zach and we ran together for a little while. He’s an amazing person — American Record holder at 100 miles and now 200km too. I think initially he was surprised to see anyone else up there keeping pace with him (we were running about 6:20-6:30s after all, not exactly 24 hour pace) but once I mentioned that I was only going for 50k it made more sense. I was impressed because he was running so effortlessly, and while I felt like I was running pretty easy too, I knew I didn’t have nearly as far to travel.
And so it went for the next hour or so. Totally uneventful. Lap after lap clicking along, Ray’s high school cross country runners keeping track for all of us, and doing a damn fine job of it! I went through 10 miles in about 65ish I think and remember hearing a half marathon yelled out in right around 85 minutes. Too fast for what I was going for, for sure. Around this time, the gentle breeze started to die down and the sun started to make itself more known. There was no cloud cover and the sun began to rapidly heat the black track we were all circling. I definitely hadn’t drank enough to that point, it’s easy to keep telling myself, ‘I’ll grab something on the next lap, it’s only about 2 minutes more.’ Those 2 minutes turn into 10, into 20 and yeah… I first felt off right around the half marathon mark, and probably stopped to grab some Gatorade. A few miles later I had to make a beeline to the port-a-potty to relieve what was a rapidly distressed stomach. That took some time and my legs felt much stiffer getting back to a run. At this point Zach had caught back up and went by me. There I was, intent on stopping after 125 laps and this guy, who is running all day, is already past me. Puts into perspective HOW good he is. Around this point I had put on my hat which helped keep the sun off (thanks for the suggestion Harvey Lewis!). Later on, in my final miles, Joe Fejes let me wear his bandana which had been dunked in ice water and that felt just lovely (thanks Joe!)
I started telling myself, well just get to 20 miles and stop. Then I got to 20 and had basically settled in. Uncomfortable but stable, I trundled on. I hit the marathon mark in about 3:13, two minutes slower than I ran at Umstead, a much more difficult course than a 400m track, a few weeks earlier. It was kind of demoralizing, realizing I had totally failed, realizing I probably hadn’t run smart or well. I stopped for a few minutes and mulled over just being done at that point. But then I figured, if I get going I could probably still manage to break 4 hours which would be an official PR. So I ran again and started to feel a little better. I was consistently running something just under 8:00 miles. I tried to give encouragement to all the other runners out there, many of whom looked like they were also beginning to suffer from the sun and the heat. Each lap as I got closer to being done became easier than the last. Finally, I had one lap to go and pushed it a bit. Being done felt so satisfying. 3:56 and change which was a PR by a considerable margin, but ultimately a disappointing result. I quickly got some shade and some fluids in me and talked to Ray K about what I might be able to do to help. Ray told me to take it easy for the rest of the day, get some sleep later and then push out another 20 Sunday morning. So I did. I relaxed for a while, tried to help out where I could but the race was running like a well oiled machine. Ray’s high school runner volunteers were amazing, many staying all day and night and the next morning tracking each runner’s every lap.
The best part of the whole experience had nothing to do with me running. I did go run another 21 miles the next morning and felt significantly better and stronger but whatever. The best part was watching my friend and amazing ultrarunner Shannon Johnstone absolutely friggin kill it. She started very conservatively and I believe was DFL after the first hour or two. She slowly worked her way up, running consistently and patiently. In the middle of the night, I was sitting near our tables and she came in and sat down and was not feeling very good. I did some quick mental math and basically told her that she definitely still had a shot at 120+ miles and a spot on the team. But she had to get up and go NOW and she had to keep going. And that is exactly what she did. It was an privilege to watch her gut it out the last few hours and, in the end, finish with 123+ miles and the last spot on the women’s US team! Woot!
I came away from the race weekend inspired by some incredible performances (Zach Bitter and Katy Nagy’s American Records for 200k, Harvey Lewis also making the US team with 154+ miles, Shannon’s race to name a few) and even more incredible people. The rest of this year is dedicated to putting in the work required to have a special kind of performance like theirs this fall.
I have another race this weekend so I would like to finish writing this before that, don’t want to get too behind. It’s been so much fun this year to have POSITIVE stuff to write about, and often. Last weekend I didn’t run a race myself. I had the honor of crewing for an ultrarunning legend at the Graveyard 100 in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Valmir Nunes is a former world record holder (6:18 for 100k), the current course record holder at the Badwater Ultramarathon, has run the 5th fastest time ever (3rd fastest person) at the Spartathlon, and the third fastest time at the Strolling Jim 40 among his many major ultra accomplishments. So, like I said, he’s a living legend. Brandon Wilson, the RD of Graveyard, contacted me a few weeks ago asking if I would be available and willing to crew for Valmir at this year’s race. I jumped at the chance. How often in life do you get to be around the best in the world at the thing you love to do? It’s kinda like getting the chance to throw BP to Derek Jeter or run lines with Bryan Cranston. That’s part of what I love about ultrarunning. I CAN do something like this, CAN get this close to someone who would certainly be in anyone’s Ultrarunning Hall of Fame.
Anyway, Friday we ended up having a “snow day” although I guess it would more accurately be called a “freezingish rain so kids don’t come to school but it’s still a teacher work day.” I headed to the Outer Banks in the early afternoon, driving through rain and high winds and generally miserable weather. The forecast said Saturday would be really nice but it was hard to believe given what I was dealing with on the drive out. I got to Kitty Hawk well after everyone else had packed up and headed north to Corolla for the night. Had a delicious burger and some beers at the Outer Banks Brewing Station and then headed to the Inn at Corolla Light for the night. It was a really nice inn and I wished I had gotten there sooner to enjoy the surroundings but I didn’t so I settled in to bed and got a few hours sleep.
3:15 am came quickly. I stirred, packed all the things I had brought in from the car, dressed, and headed down to grab some breakfast. On my way down I saw Jack Cabral outside the door to his and Valmir’s room so I introduced myself and went inside. There I briefly met Jack (who would be the other guy crewing for Valmir — as well as the English-Portuguese translator) and Valmir. We exchanged hellos and briefly went over some logistics and then I made my way to my car, loaded it up, grabbed some hard boiled eggs for breakfast and headed over to the start which was about a mile away.
The energy there was electric and made me sorta wish I were running myself. Almost. Valmir showed up and checked in and then started to jog around to warm up I guess. I talked some with Jack, figuring out logistics of what the day would entail and also of getting my car to the second aid station/beach house where I would be staying Saturday night. Right around 5 am the race started and Valmir was off. The race itself promised to be a good one, with many top caliber ultrarunners toeing the line. Aside from Valmir, Joe Fejes, Jonathan Savage, Olivier Leblond, and Connie Gardner were all running. I was going to get a front row seat to the action! Jack and I drove to the ~10 mile mark of the course and parked. It would be about 77 minutes before Valmir came through. After that, he wanted us to meet him every 3 miles along the route. Graveyard is unique in that it is basically just running south along one road from the northern end of the Outer Banks in Corolla to the end of Hatteras Island, probably a little more than 100 mile away. Jack and I chatted in the truck, getting to know each other — he’s an marine and a generally awesome bad ass, a humble one at that — while staying warm and waiting for Valmir. He taught me some basic Portuguese that would be relevant for the day, like ‘what do you want?’ and ‘you good?’ (te bon?). Valmir came by in first without anyone else in sight. We handed him what he wanted — Coca! Agua! (Coca Cola and water) and he was quickly on his way.
We drove three miles up the road, parked, and waited. I could stop it here and that would pretty accurately depict how my day went. Stop, wait for Valmir, hand him some Coca Cola and some water, get back in the car/truck, head down the road, park, wait, repeat. It was chilly early on but the sun was out and it promised to warm up some. So it went for quite a while. Valmir was like a machine, clicking off miles pretty consistently in the low 8s, high 7s. Meeting us, grabbing his Coke and water and continuing on. I’m pretty sure the only times he wasn’t running were the brief pit stops at the truck. It felt a lot like a NASCAR race, getting Valmir in and out as fast as possible. As we neared Kitty Hawk, Olivier and Joe had begun to catch up to him and the three of them were well clear of the rest of the field.
For the next dozen or so miles, the three men would trade positions but basically run pretty close to one another. At some point in the 30-40 mile range I saw Joe hunched over dry heaving, and Valmir needed to change his clothes because I think he was getting a little overheated too. It seemed like the three of them were pushing a little harder than the increasingly hot conditions were really allowing for and they were paying for it in varying degrees (purely conjecture on my part). At some point around here Valmir took something more than Coke and water — some Fanta and some kind of mix that was primarily just a ton of sodium in his water bottle with some flavoring. The stretch through Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, etc is just mile after mile of beach house, breakfast restaurant, surf shop, etc. It was boring enough to drive past it all, I cannot imagine running it, being able to see so far ahead without really feeling like you’re making any progress. Oh, but the worst was yet to come!
The next stretch was just sand dunes and road. The only break was a 4 mile long bridge right around the halfway mark. We continued to supply Valmir with enough Coke to give most children diabetes every three miles and somewhere in here it became every two miles instead. At this point Olivier had jumped out to a decent but not insurmountable lead and Joe had fallen back a bit, which was sad because 1- Joe is awesome and 2- Kelly, his crew, is also awesome and was fun to see her at the same stops we were making and chat some before heading on down the road.
As we neared the next aid station, Valmir began to show signs that he was having a tough day, primarily by telling us it was kind of a tough day for him. Still, he was solidly in second and only a mile or two back of first, We continued with our every two miles stops. You’d think driving and crewing for someone for 100 miles would get boring and tedious but the fact that Valmir ran so consistently all day made for very little down time and a lot of excitement. I give all the runners credit for getting through this section with their sanity (mostly) in tact; it was just long stretches of open road and sand dunes on either side and nothing else to let you know you’ve made any progress.
Valmir tunred off of Rte 12 to go out and back to the Cape Hatteras light house, the last aid station, and saw Olivier going the opposite direction. Valmir was running a bit stronger, despite being nearly 3 miles back and that seemed to perk him up. We kept on him, pushing him, and getting him going without much stopping. At some point he had also eaten a power bar which was pretty much the only solid food he had all day. I was mostly just a cheerleader and cup hander at this point; he’d come in, take a sip, and be on his way. It was kind of amazing to watch really. He was clearly pretty tired and yet he seemed to find some extra inner strength and picked it up in an attempt to catch the leader over the final half marathon of the course. All we could do was hand off Cokes and waters and cheer every 1.8 miles now.
Leaving the lighthouse area, we encountered more barren, desolate, lonely road, but the end was fast approaching. At this point, after we handed off to Valmir, we sped up ahead to get an approximation of how far back he was before heading back to the next rendezvous point. The lead was shrinking, first from 3 miles to a little over 2, and finally to about 1.3 miles at its smallest. Alas, at the point there was only about 3 miles to go for Valmir, and about 1.5 for Olivier. Valmir was going to finish in second but it was still going to be a helluva time. He hit another rough patch with a few miles to go but toughed it out. We were waiting at the finish as he came in, running as he had the whole race. 15 hours, 1 minute after the start he crossed the finish line in second place. I high-fived Jack on a job well done. It wasn’t his best day, but despite feeling kinda rough at time, Valmir still managed to run a pretty quick 100 miles and finish in second by about 13 minutes. Overall, I’d deem that a successful day.
I stuck around to congratulate my runner and thanked Brandon for all he did to put the race on. Valmir’s daughter and her husband took him with them and Jack and I drove back to Nag’s Head where the beach house was located. I said goodbye to Jack and went inside to watch the end of UNC-Duke, go for my own brief run, and crash out on the couch. I only ran 5 miles that day but I was quite exhausted.
I have crewed for people before, most notably/exhaustingly when I crewed Dave at Hellgate. THAT was quite an experience, one that still sticks out in my mind as fun, difficult, and awesome. This was not quite as physically challenging but there was some stress to not screw anything up for a guy who was clearly a contender for the win. It was fun and interesting to be on this side of things. Even though I’ve done similar, this seemed different. I have more appreciation for my mom and my brother who drove around Long Island on Christmas Eve 2011 while I ran 46 miles from Jones Beach to Oyster Bay and then back to my house in Wantagh, stopping every few miles to give me something to drink and/or eat. I also am amazed by Mr, Nunes, like I said, I’m pretty sure the only time he stopped running was when he briefly stopped at the truck to quickly down a Coke and water and whatever else he needed (usually nothing). Impressive does not begin to describe it. Olivier and Joe also ran incredible races for 1st and 3rd respectively. I don’t know if I will ever do the Graveyard 100 myself, there is A LOT of sad, lonely running for the front runners, but I can recognize an extremely well-run race when I see it. Brandon, the Wilson family, and all involved put on a top notch race.
Thank you to Brandon for giving me this opportunity. I look forward to running more of your races in the future (hopefully at 100% so I can actually be competitive in them for a change). Thank you to Jack for being a great crew teammate and entertaining companion for the 15+ hours we shared on the road. Obrigado to Valmir for allowing me to help him, for being an amazing runner with no quit in him and pushing through when things got difficult. What a wonderful experience, truly. I feel very fortunate to have played a small part in the race up front and look forward to seeing Valmir again in the fall at Croatan 24.
Now to get ready for tomorrow. Ray K’s South Carolina 24 hour race (I’ll be running 50k and helping out after. Some big numbers are definitely going to be put up thought!). Mark, out.