These days of darkness which we’ve known will blow away with this new sun

It’s been a few months, and really there hasn’t been much in the way of a real update in many more. I ran that Uwharrie race in February. I ran most of it, 29 miles of it. And then I stopped. It was my first DNF. I didn’t write a race report. That wasn’t because I felt ashamed or embarrassed. I just didn’t feel like it. Around that time I gave up on DailyMile. Not because I didn’t want people to see I wasn’t running as much. I didn’t/don’t need to hide that. I just couldn’t take the positive/congratulatory/self-congratulatory nature of it. And if one more person wrote on one of my just every day training runs, “NICE PACE!” I was going to totally lose my shit. But I digress.

Winter sucks and I was listless and still in search of my mojo. Also, I was actually injured. Then I ran the Umstead marathon, the race I won last year. I did not win it this year. I ran almost a half hour slower and was 15th male, and I think 17th overall. Yuck. I hadn’t done any other races between then and now. I didn’t start the Umstead 100. I couldn’t even get myself out to the park. I was kind of disgusted with myself, with how out of shape and crappy I had gotten. It was pretty pathetic. There was probably a decent amount of self-pity, but with me it becomes more like self-loathing. Not a good look. So what is the point of this? Kinda dark so far, and depressing. But it gets better.

I got healthy. I started seeing John Stiner again which had/has a lot to do with that. I started working on weaknesses. I started running. And running more. And I started enjoying it more. I still am. In the past, I have often said that whenever my personal life seems to be going to shit, my running thrives. The running (along drinking) is a means to escape from the misery and general awfulness that is going on in all the other aspects of my life. Unfortunately, early on this year, the running was more the CAUSE than the solution. Being injured meant the running suffered and the horrible performances and painful runs just led to a downward spiral. Combine that with the lack of sunlight and frustrations elsewhere and it was not good. It seems that things have pulled themselves around in all aspects. Instead of running pulling me out of my funk, pulled myself out and the running followed. In the past two or so months, things have really turned the corner. I signed a contract to be a full-fledged teacher at my school next year, which is totally awesome. I already mentioned, I started seeing Stiner again and doing some of the exercises he gave me to work on weaknesses and, no coincidence, I started feeling better and running stronger. I have an amazing girlfriend in Shuriah who is loving and supportive and helps push me to get out the door and be the best version of myself I can be. I have some good friends, I’m eating better, drinking less, losing weight blah blah blah.

I am no where close to where I need or want to be, in terms of my running, not by a long shot. I ran the Running of the Bulls 8k last weekend about half a minute slower than last year (29:35 vs 29:04) so I’m not a totally out of shape slob like I was in February. At least for now I am headed in the right direction. I don’t need a pep talk. I don’t need people to say I’ve been missed, or that they believe in me or anything encouraging and nice and rah rah. Not because I don’t care. I do. Not because I’m not an asshole. I try not to be. But I need to do things for myself. I don’t run for external validation. I used to, for sure. But I don’t anymore. It comes from within. It’s a personal quest now. I like connecting with other runners, I like the camaraderie at races. I like the atmosphere of ultras. But I need to run for me and because of me. I’ve come to realize that anything turns this into a hollow, joyless endeavor bound to end in failure and malaise.

I have a goal race for the fall — the Croatan 24 hour ultramarathon which is closeby in Kinston, NC November 9-10th. The next few months will be committed to starting that race in the absolute best shape I’ve EVER been in (which will be saying something). It will be a tough task but I am committed and determined and when I set my mind to something this intensely, I get it done. Some exciting things are on the horizon, finally looking forward to the journey again.

Mark, out.

June 5, 2013 at 7:33 pm 3 comments

Saturday

I am running the Uwharrie Mountain Run 40 miler, thanks to the wonder owners of Bull City Running Co, Kim and Jason. It’s been over four months since my last ultra race. This should be interesting. Stay tuned…

January 28, 2013 at 12:09 pm 4 comments

Hinson Lake (sort of) 24 hour race report

Saturday was an interesting experience. I ran part of the Hinson Lake 24 hour race. I say part because I really only ran about half of it. Katie already talked about the race in her guest post but I figure I want to get my thoughts down about it.

Going into this race, I knew it would be different than most races I’ve done. Originally, I was supposed to work until noon on Saturday which meant that I probably wouldn’t get started running until around 3pm, seven hours after the race started. From a competitive standpoint, this would be a disaster. Fortunately, I was not concerned with this. Being honest with myself, since the 24 hour disaster in Philly, I spent about a month doing squadoosh. The past few weeks have been better. About two weeks ago I finally started to feel fully recovered and sorta back to normal. Regardless, I knew that there was no way on earth I was prepared to make a strong effort at running for 24 hours. The only thing that would do would be to wreck me for another month or longer. So only having 17ish hours to run was actually an appealing idea. It took the pressure off and allowed me to treat this as a fun, supported long run weekend.

Then Saturday morning rolled around and it was raining and work got cancelled. It didn’t get cancelled officially until almost 8:30 though so I was in Durham, picking up Shuriah who was going to come down and help Katie crew for me/hang out/learn about this other Very Important part of my life, I had to make phone calls to parents as I drove down to Rockingham, and we finally arrived a little before 11. I got myself changed and ready pretty quickly and headed over to the timing tent which was on the other side of this bridge. The weather was a little muggy but coolish and the rain had pretty much stopped but the skies still looked grey. I checked in and slightly after 11 I started my first loop. Now, instead of having only 17 hours to run, I had almost 21. This made everything a bit more interesting. Potentially I could actually run a respectable distance, although with two members of the 24 hour World Championship team (Jonathan Savage and Joe Fejes), plus some other strong runners, I figured cracking the leaderboard would be an accomplishment in itself.

Originally, I had set an upper limit somewhere around 60-70 miles but now we were talking about 100-120. Somewhere in my head I knew that while it sounded good and was almost certainly achievable, it was a Bad Idea. More on that later.

I started too fast. Of course. I hadn’t run much in the week leading up. I felt pretty good. I was excited. Blah blah blah. The laps were about a mile and a half and I ran the first one right around 11 minutes. Yeah. Too fast. Because of the humidity and the fact that it wasn’t THAT cool, my Bull City track club singlet lasted about one mile into that first lap before coming off. Second lap was slightly improved but I seemed to settle into a rhythm of running right about 12 minutes per lap, which included a brief stop at the ladies who were situated at the top of the very little uphill that took you out of the woods. From there it was a short gravel stretch back to the bridge and the timing tent. I walked a little of this almost every lap, though my impulse was to GO. I must have been a bit confusing or some runners who had been out there for three hours already. All of a sudden there was this guy running around looking way more fresh than he had any business looking. Obnoxious. So I tried my best to be courteous and encouraging of anyone I went by.

Everyone else was super nice and friendly and encouraging too. At times people picked it up as I ran by and I got to run some laps or at least partial laps with a number of awesome runners. First there was Jamar who somehow recognized me and said he had been waiting for me to get down there or something. Cool. Every time I ran by him throughout the day he gave me a nice shout out. I saw Ray K a few times, of course, but sadly I never really heard any singing. Next time. Early on some former college runner ran a lap with me saying he had never run more than about 8 miles or something and wanted to run 35. I didn’t see him the rest of the day and I don’t know if he was actually in the race though. Still, a nice diversion. Bill from Raleigh ran from the far side of the lake to the start with me “to feel what it was like to run with the fast guys” or something like that. Made me chuckle to think people saw me and thought that. I got to run a few laps with Barefoot Josh, who was out there with the goal of 42 miles (31 of which he did completely sans shoes, bad ass). Josh also so nicely allowed me to borrow his headlamp in the evening when he was done running, as mine was/is a POS. There were also a number of people I recognized or kinda knew, even if it was just from the internet, like Shannon and Amy and Cheryl (who ended up almost breaking the women’s CR) and probably a bunch I’m blanking on right now, and it was cool to say hi as I went by. The best encounter for me had to be with a little kid out walking a lap with his dad. He had to be no more than two years old or so. As I went by he got really excited and I heard him say, “Daddy, that one’s a pirate!!” When I heard that I briefly stopped (mentally, not physically, the legs are kind of on autopilot) to consider — shirtless, hairy, beard, bandana… yeah, makes sense.

What about the race? Well, there’s not much interesting to say about it. I ran probably a bit too fast for the first 30 miles. I hit 20 laps (~30 miles) in 4:05 exactly and didn’t stop as I came through, running straight to the bathroom. At least it was solid, I thought to myself. Hopefully that means I was just done digesting my big dinner and breakfast. After the bathroom, I decided to walk a lap with Katie and Shuriah. It was nice to be able to take the mental ‘racing’ edge off by breaking things up like this. Reminded me I was not supposed to be in competitive mode. It also gave my stomach a chance to get settled.

After the walking lap, I started running again, a little more under control, and made it another 4-5 loops before making a second pit stop. I was still feeling pretty good, some minor chafing, some minor hamstring tightness, but not major red flags anywhere. And it seemed that I was doing a good job of fueling for a change. While I still wasn’t doing much solid foods, I was getting some stuff down almost every lap. That second bathroom stop was my last of the race. The pepto I took after must have worked. I started running again and I was about 5:40 into my race. This stretch of running was the most consistent of the entire race. I was kind of surprised with myself that as I started going again here, I was in a pretty good mood. I was downright chipper really. I am not a particularly chipper person in general, and in races I have a tendency to get a bit grumpy as things go on. I wouldn’t say (and Katie, Johnny, mom, dad, etc would be slightly more authoritative on the matter) that I get mean or anything but I don’t say much, I can be disagreeable about things like fueling, and I get sort of negative. None of that happened here. Instead I felt like I was almost bouncing down the trail, still making a point to acknowledge people I saw out there. When I came to the end of a loop, I wasn’t dreading it, knowing I’d be forced to consume some calories and fluids. Instead I was smiling and greeting the two lovely ladies with a smile. I know this is all true because they told me after the race.

While all this was going on, just clicking off lap after lap, most of them somewhere between 13 and 14 minutes, I was slowly inching closer to the leaderboard. Finally, it appeared I was on the same lap as 10th place on the leaderboard and was veryclose to winning the silly little game I came up with for myself. I know I hit the 50 mile mark in about 7:20ish, for what it’s worth. If I had stopped right there, I’m certain I could have woken up Sunday and pretty much gone about everything business as usual. But I didn’t. It started to get dark and I was trying to squeeze in as many laps as possible before I had to break out the headlamp. Many of these laps blur together during this part of the race, I know I was hopeful that things would cool off some after the sun went down (however the humidity never really dissipated, frown).

About 50 feet into my first lap with the headlamp, I broke the damn thing. URRRGH. I ended up running that lap with it in my hand and I could hardly see anything. Fortunately Shuriah and Katie fixed it and got it around my chest for the next few laps. And then as I mentioned before, Josh loaned me his after that as he had hit 42 miles and was done. I have to give Shuriah a particular thank you here for helping me get Josh’s light around my chest. I had the strap all rolled up and uncomfortable and she helped even it out despite the fact that I was sweating like I had just spent hours in a sauna and probably didn’t smell particularly fresh. That is first class crewing right there. I ran a few more loops and then when I got to around 10 hours I stopped to walk again. Not because I was struggling exceptionally, I just felt like a break. I had started to get a little too into my competitive mode with my name finally making it’s way onto the leaderboard and the top of that board was not TOO too far ahead anymore. I figured a walking lap would help cool my jets. Shuriah was nice enough to keep me company in the dark. It was a lovely half hour.

At this point, our goal had become ~90 miles and stop. I was right around 70 when I started running again. First loop was still right around 14ish but I could tell my legs were starting to tighten up. My little toe blister also began to make itself known. My medial left ankle started feeling the miles too, as it always does. In general, my feet started to feel the effects of running so far in my Green Silences. The lack of support starts taking a toll somewhere after 50 miles it seems, but I didn’t want to change them out when I was so close to being done. I knew I was rapidly approaching the upper limit of what I could do without requiring some significant recovery time afterward. 50 laps seemed like a nice logical number to stop at.  As I set out on my 51st lap (because after half a day of running, counting was slightly difficult) I told the ladies I was going to run this one and then walk a lap and we’ll re-evaluate. And that’s what I did. I ran it harder than the previous couple because I knew it was the last one. I managed to finish it slightly under 13 minutes, getting back to the tent at 11:54 on my watch, having covered a little more than 77 miles.

The three of us walked another lap at this point. If there’s one thing I could use some work on in my ultra training (and there is A LOT I can use some work on!), it’s walking during races. I am slow slow slow. I can keep a decent pace when running but as soon as I go to a walk, I might very well be the slowest person out there. Other people were walking and they were zooming past us. Granted, I was feeling pretty leisurely but still. I digress. We walked a lap and I told them that I was done running and I felt zero bad about that decision. Of course then we got back to the timing tent to tell them I had finished another lap and I was probably done and saw the leaderboard. Somehow I had jumped to 4th place overall, 3 loops behind 3rd place and only 8 loops behind the two leaders, with 9 hours to go. Add to that the fact that when I was out there I still seemed to be moving quicker than anyone else and it became briefly, but mightily tempting to press on. If I’m being honest with myself, I certainly COULD have pressed on. Physically I have felt much much worse during races and mentally I was still very much engaged. Fortunately, I had some people to talk me from jumping off that cliff. Eyes on the prize and all those cliches about long term goals. With that, I headed back to our little spot and had a beer and just sat for a while talking. A little later it occurred to us that if I had done one more lap, I would have a little over 80 miles. So Shuriah and I headed back out to walk the loop one more time. Too bad the sky was cloudy, I’m sure the stars would have looked quite beautiful considering there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of civilization around. I came back to the start/finish for the last time, checked in, thanked everyone profusely, grabbed some water and headed back.

I got my upper body a massage (it had been tensing up in the last few hours) and washed myself off as best I could in the sink, talking to Jonathan who was doing the same thing. Congrats to him on going on to win despite not completely having the race he was hoping for. Seriously impressive runner. Had another beer and we headed back to the Triangle. I’ll officially get credit for 80.56 miles, but that’s whatever. More importantly, I got 77 miles of quality running in without absolutely wrecking myself. It is little secret to anyone who has talked to me about running in the past month or so what my Next Big Race is, and that race is still 27 weeks away and comes with the sort of goals that will probably need the next 27 weeks to go relatively according to plan (albeit a plan I am totally making up as I go along, but a plan nonetheless). As I sit here writing this Monday afternoon, I have already been beaten in a race by a very quick 1st grader, but the key thing is I did race him and I didn’t feel anything particularly bad while doing it.

To recap: I ran 77 miles. When I stopped, I was in 4th place despite a 3 hour handicap. I didn’t injure myself. It seems like recovery won’t take that long (I figure about or week or so to feel 100% normal). Shuriah took a bunch of notes and learned a t so that she could potentially crew by herself considering Katie will not be at every race. Everyone seemed to have a pretty good time. No one had to deal with Grumpy Mark (and I have my own hypothesis on what factors caused that, but this is long enough already). This race was a complete success.

LOOK! A PICTURE IN A RACE REPORT! This was taken right after we got back from our walk and realized I had jumped to 4th place. That Bull City Track Club t-shirt was probably bright enough to not require extra light.

October 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm 6 comments

Hinson Lake guest post

Hi there! This is Katie, Mark’s crew chief extraordinaire. Mark gave me permission to guest post about our experience at the Hinson Lake 24 hour.

We had been planning on arriving late because Mark had to work Saturday morning and I had gotten drafted as a volunteer  Fortunately his event got canceled very last minute due to rain and we got to pick up our other crew member, Shuriah, and head down hours earlier than expected. We arrived just before 11 AM, Mark grabbed a number and started running.  Because of the schedule conflict and other things Mark hadn’t actually trained for a 24 hour and was planning to use this more as a long run.

Shuriah and I set up towards the end of the loop, before the rotary building and the check in/aid station.  It had the benefit of being very close to the car.  For an ultra I really liked the set up here: a 1.52 mile loop around the lake, with some nice views and a mix of sand, hard pack trail, and boardwalk.  The aid station was setup after a bridge and one of the lake and was also near the rotary building with indoor bathrooms.

The good part of the short loop is you see your runner often, there’s much less suspense in between visits then a longer loop or point-to-point.  This could probably work against a fast runner like Mark in some cases but it ended up working out pretty well here.  He stopped almost every loop for a swig of coconut water and a bite to eat.  Mark has a tendency to underfuel so fueling has been one thing we’re trying to work on, but he did great here taking almost everything I offered for the first few hours.  I was happy about that because it meant a lot less stress than worrying if he was eating enough and if he was going to crash.

Mark has been running shorter but faster runs lately so he went out really quickly.  Much too quickly for an ultra, maybe even if you’re not doing 24 hours. We kept telling him to slow down and he said he was trying to listen but he busted out almost 32 miles in 4.5 hours (all times super approximate, I don’t keep super strict track during the event).  He stopped to use the bathroom at this point and then we walked a lap while discussing strategy.  At that point we agreed 90 miles would be a good upper limit.

I did enjoy the ability to walk a couple laps with him.  The trail was nice in the daylight.  It was perhaps a little narrow for the number of runners present, crew and what not.  All places were sufficient for a runner to pass a walker provided the walker was paying attention.  Which we tried! Its really just wide enough for two people in many spots so it does require some mindfulness to let the fast people pass.  Also the sand was annoying at a walking pace, gaiters are a good idea for this race.  It seems like it would still be good in the rain if the sand drained ok too.

At the end of the lap we walked he went out and started cruising even more, stopping to see us less.  The walking lap made him feel a lot more energized.  Shuriah and I passed the time very companionably. We hadn’t met previous so we got to know each other and I told her pretty much everything I know about the fine art of crewing for an ultrarunner.  I’m still learning but it was probably an astounding amount of information nonetheless.   She’s a non-runner so we had to cover fueling, hydration, temperature control, and how to tell when things are starting to go downhill.

We also chatted with runners coming in, offering a little encouragement but mostly laughing and joking.  The entire race was very personable and this was a fun environment.  I was glad to have company, so Shuriah, the runners, and Mark’s fast laps made the hours pass very quickly. We were quite fortunate that it didn’t rain the entire time we were there, although we did have a tornado watch and some distant lightening.

Around 68 miles Mark and Shuriah walked a lap, it was already dark.  We had been able to see his form tightening up, after 55 miles or so it suddenly looked a lot less smooth.  The second walk loop didn’t have the impact that the first did, and after some more running he walked his final two laps for a grand total of 80.56 in about 12.5 hours since we had arrived.  We endorsed his decision not to press on a bit further given his form.  The point of this race was to get some miles and not wreck him so bad he needed weeks to recover.  Anything over 60 miles has generally resulted it a longer recovery time.

Overall it was a very enjoyable race.  Mark did struggle not to get caught up in the competition and excitement of racing, but overall I think this experience will fit in very nicely for his next A race.  It was nice to see him having fun at a race for once too, often as a competitive ultrarunner the last miles are a grim sort of determination.  I know he really appreciate all the shout outs from you blog readers that were there too, he often gets caught up in the task and focusing so please don’t mind if he’s not super cheerful at the next race you see him at – he’ll still appreciate it and make an attempt to catch up with you after.  I was proud of his performance, but then I always am.

I think I prefer a distance race to a 24 hour race, I like the whole being done when you’re done and not just counting the hours.  Still, I did really enjoy this particular race and I’d be happy to crew there again.

Mark will probably post his own version of this race report later.  Meanwhile, if you do ultras, tell me what your crews pack to eat while they wait on you.  I get so sick of sandwiches and since I’m generally traveling to his races its whatever we can buy the night before.  I also hate leaving to run and grab something so I like to pack and settle in for the duration.  Any ideas?

Thanks for reading!

Katie, CCE

September 30, 2012 at 6:59 pm 3 comments

Hinson Lake eve

I am running for something like 17-18 hours tomorrow, on a 1.5ish mile loop around a lake in Rockingham, NC. Katie is here to make sure things don’t end like they did in Philadelphia. According to her I have to run enough to make it worth her trip from Boston. We went to the diner tonight to finish preparations for the tomorrow.

15 minutes later…

September 28, 2012 at 9:21 pm Leave a comment

Up to speed

Ugh, this is a running-mostly blog. Thus I am cringing at that title, for obvious reasons. But fact remains, I have been decidedly quiet for the past few months and there’s no really good reason why. I ran that 24 hour race I just finally talked about. Before that, the very last day of June I ran the Finger Lakes 50k and broke the course record in a second place effort. It was a pretty good day. The beginning of June I ran 29:0? for 8k in Durham.

I’m going in the wrong direction here. AFTER the race I did pretty much nothing. Literally nothing for over a week. Well, that’s not entirely true. I sat on my ass in my parents’ house and ate whatever the hell I felt like whenever the hell I felt like it (which was often). I watched Breaking Bad from season 1-4 and then every Sunday I was watching the new season. Best show ever. I stayed up way later than I should have eating at least one big bowl of ice cream every single night (occasionally two). By the time I got back to Durham, I was 15 pounds heavier than when I left. And considering that even when I did start running again, it was listless and sluggish and short, I was also very out of shape. Shortly after getting back to NC, I ran the Continental Divide Trail 10k. It was also the USATF trail 10k national championships and it was a freakin bear. Bull City Track Club cleaned up, with the overall winner (David Roche) and a slew of fast guys coming in shortly after. I pulled up the rear for the team, mostly just pleased I wasn’t DFL or just dead.

In the ensuing month, things have gone progressively better. I have managed to shed about ten pounds, through mostly just not going through a quart of ice cream every three days. I’ve run more consistently. I’ve also developed something of a social life. SHOCKING! In doing so, my mileage build-up for the past month has been kept in check. Because I’ve had non-running things taking up some of my free time, I haven’t been able to just go out and run 18-22 miles every single day. Which is good. Instead, I’ve added 5-10 miles each week. It’s slower than I would go if totally left to my own devices. But it’s hard to argue with results. I feel like I’m getting fitter, I’m lighter, and my legs feel better than they have in months. No nagging, troubling pains or aches that won’t seem to go away. Cause for cautious optimism.

And so I am actually kind of excited for this weekend. Saturday I’m heading down to Rockingham to run the Hinson Lake 24 hour. Of course, the race starts at 8 am and I have to work from 9a-12p. This is not as bad as it seems. I realized sometime in August that there was absolutely no way I could possibly be ready to race for 24 hours in an attempt to do what I failed to do in Philadelphia. It would inevitably end in disaster. With a more sane (in a relative sense) long-term view of things, missing the first few hours of the race was a blessing. I probably won’t get down there until around 2pm, leaving me no more than 18 hours to run. I don’t think running even THAT long is a good idea currently. But I already paid and crew chief extraordinaire Katie is coming. And so is Shuriah, who doesn’t really run but seems genuinely interested in the insane running I do. We’ll go down there and the primary goal will be to enjoy ourselves immensely. I will of course run, and run a lot. How much exactly I have no idea. It depends on how I feel and how fun the party surrounding the race is. Ideally, I’d like at least 60-80 miles on the weekend. But I also want to come out of the weekend needing minimal time to recuperate and continue ramping things up in training.

Last week I officially registered for the 2013 Umstead 100 miler. I’m also doing the Umstead marathon again. I think it’s a very safe thing to say that I have never had a month as good as this March. And it will be exciting to attempt a repeat at the double Umstead races again next year. The more important of the two obviously being the 100 miler, I now have something like 28 weeks left before the race. And I have goals, BIG goals, that I am not afraid of, that will fuel the next 6+ months. I am right where I want to be — with plenty of time to put in the work and get myself to a place where when the next big race finally comes, and Umstead IS my next big race, I will be ready.

September 27, 2012 at 10:59 am 3 comments

BOMF 20in24 Lone Ranger ultra 24 hour race report

A little over a week ago (July 14th-15th), I ran that 24 hour race in Philly. As I had previously mentioned, I had been looking forward to the 20in24 Lone Ranger for a long while. And now it’s over and I’m writing a recap of it…

The first time I sat down to write my race report, it was Wednesday night after the race. I managed to type out a sentence or two (barely intelligible) and pass out. Then I just didn’t feel like it. And it’s not that I don’t feel like talking about what an epic failure everything was, because I certainly don’t mind talking about how much I suck. I just haven’t had the desire to sit down and write anything about anything. Or do much of anything else for that matter, short of sit on my ass and watch tv. But now I’m sitting in a Hyundai service waiting area with no definite end in sight, I’ve already finished the crossword and crypotquote, so what else am I gonna do?

This report shouldn’t be as long as other races, despite taking significantly longer than any other race I’ve ever done. There’s not a whole lot to say really. Saturday morning I woke up after a decent but not great night’s sleep. A 10am start allows for a relatively leisurely morning of prep. My parents and I got breakfast at the hotel, I went to the bathroom, I got my stuff together, we drove the half mile over to Lloyd Hall, and with about an hour or so to go before the race I found Johnny and his friends already set up a few feet from the start/finish area. There wasn’t much to do before the start except wait and that’s mostly what I did. I found Serge and talked to him for a bit about the race and whatnot. I said hi to Christian and Megan. More bathroom trips, setting up some of the coolers and stuff, the usual. My aunt and uncle were there for the start too and I said hi to them. With about five minutes to go I made my way over to the start and we listened to the national anthem. I lined up next to Serge a few rows from the front so as not to get sucked into a fast pace by all the relay runners who wouldn’t be running for an entire day. And then, just like that, we were off.

The start of this race felt different in a way I’m not quite sure I can describe. Obviously there was an indeterminate amount of running ahead of me, but beyond that, the AMOUNT of running was pretty incomprehensible. Even at Umstead, running for 100 miles, I had an idea of how long it was going to take and it seemed far away but finite. 24 hours seemed like a forever away. So I tried not to think about it and just focus on the immediate. I found myself running with a group that included Serge and Johnny early on. This was intentional. I didn’t know how far I could run, but I figured I was in about as good shape as when I ran Umstead and if that were the case, I could at least hang with Serge for a long while and that would take a big mental burden of pacing myself off of me. In theory, this seemed like good idea. And it worked reasonably well for a while. There was a group of about six or seven at any given point during the first loop, including newly minted female American Record holder at 24 hours, Sabrina Moran. I recognized John Dennis just up ahead too. It was kinda cool being at this spot, this was a big race with a whole bunch of really talented ultrarunners and I was right there with them.

First lap ended a bit quicker than it ought to have. As I came through the start/finish at the end of the first 8.45 mile circuit of the Schulykill, Christian was there waiting for Serge and told me, “too fast Mark.” To which I responded, ‘I know.” It was. But it felt fine. It had been drizzling for most of the morning and it felt really good; a lot like the start of Umstead actually. The second loop was basically the same as the first, only a little slower (by design). I was drinking a handheld of coconut water each lap, and carried some honey stinger chews along with either GUs or cliff shot blocks. I also popped some ednuralytes each loop. The aid stations left some to be desired. Not in terms of volunteers – they were fantastic, enthusiastic, helpful, [insert positive superlatives ad infinitum here] – but the contents were just ok. There were the usual potato chips, pretzels, bananas, and salt packets (which WERE helpful) but then there were plastic 500mL water bottles. This was great because I definitely needed more than one handheld for the loop (and was counting on filling up as I went along). But they were the kind you had to twist the cap on and off. This started off as just a nuisance but a couple hours in and I was full-on pissed off at the water bottles, to what was certainly an irrational degree.

For most of the first three loops I ran easy and relaxed, mostly with Serge who was talking about how he wanted to run 17 loops which would give him a chance to break his course record. I was content to just come along for the ride. The first inkling I got that things might not all go according to plan was midway through the 3rd loop. I ducked behind a tree to pee and noticed that my urine was not the clear/light yellow I would expect this early in the race and having been hydrating what felt like adequately. It was very, very dark, like an almost neon yellow mixed with brown. Uh oh. That is not the color you want to see, especially less than three hours in, with the vast majority of the race still to come. I panicked briefly and downed the rest of my coconut water as I came out from behind the tree. I filled up with water and salt at the next aid station and recommitted myself to hydrating even more at every aid station henceforth. I also downed a banana and some pretzels.

Coming in at the end of the third loop, I was feeling good, just a little unnerved about the urine color still. I mentioned this to my parents as I refueled before heading out again. I don’t remember a lot about the fourth loop. Maybe this was the one where I saw what felt like dozens of Asian people on the steps of the Art Museum and by the Rocky Statue who looked like they had just left or were about to go to a wedding. Throughout the day I’d see (and dodge) all sorts of interesting characters by the statue and steps. Early on I joked that the course loop should include going up and down the steps to make it an even 8.5 miles. Hours later I remember what I had said as I passed in front of the steps and was VERY glad that wasn’t the case. Anyway, that fourth loop… it was uneventful except that I stopped to pee at the same spot again and despite my efforts, the color of my urine wasn’t any better. Double uh oh. My legs still felt pretty good, the rain may or may not have stopped at this point. I had my shirt off and I guess it was kind of humid but I wasn’t dwelling on that; just focused on clicking off the loops comfortably and (hopefully) righting this potential hydration issue. I was still pretty much running with Serge at the end of the fourth loop, and after that loop, pacers were allowed out with runners. At the start of the fifth loop, Serge and I had the company of Christian too. I can’t remember when exactly but at some point during the loop I put some distance between the two of them and myself, running mostly alone. I wasn’t really concerning myself with position just yet, I knew there were a few people ahead of me – some Japanese guy who it turns out was a former world champion or something (and upon further post-race investigation, a MULTIPLE winner of the Spartathlon!), some guy who apparently hailed from Vancouver, Washington (although initially I was told he was from New Zealand or something and planned to run 170 miles… He didn’t.), John Dennis, and maybe some other people, I wasn’t positive. I also didn’t care, it was still early and I figured if I ran what I thought I could, I’d be competitive.

Five loops down and it felt like I was just getting into the race. I could see big placards in my head moving, five down, twelve(?) to go. It might have been this loop where my parents sprayed me down with that sunblock that can go right on wet skin. It might have been earlier. It happened, that’s the point. I attempted to be sun responsible. I still got pretty dark.

Number six was… forgettable? It put me over the 50 mile mark. In my head, I was 1/3rd of the way to the best possible outcome. I was 7:20ish in to the race, meaning I had a decent cushion to get another 90 miles. About midway through the seventh loop, I came up on Johnny who was on his sixth. We ran together for a little bit. He was still looking pretty good and I wasn’t feeling too much worse than the beginning. I continued to stop every loop and pee and it still wasn’t improving much which was the only thing that was bothering me. My legs, quads especially, were getting a little sore. I began seriously considering that my stomach wasn’t absorbing what I was putting into it. I think after this loop I chugged some pepto because I was getting nauseous. Nausea is not usually an issue I deal with when running. I can bonk and I can feel like shit and I can get sore and I’m used to all that, but nausea is a sign that something is Very Wrong, because generally my stomach can handle quite a bit. Still, it wasn’t THAT hot and I didn’t feel THAT bad. There were some brief walk breaks after aid stations and stuff like that but for the most part I figured this could just be a low I would have to weather. After the 8th loop (I think, maybe it was the 9th? Who knows), Serge went on as I started off a bit slower. I wasn’t particularly surprised but I was a little disheartened. I think at some point during loop nine I caught back up to Serge but maybe I’m misremembering this. According to the lap splits, he finished it about four minutes before me. I was starting to noticeably struggle. It was beginning to get dark and would be full on dark by the end of the loop. I guess my body was finally starting to realize the consequences of running so long when the fuel wasn’t really being processed so well.

As I began the tenth loop, I began readjusting my goals for the remainder of the race. Downward. I also began walking a significantly larger portion. Mentally I was game, mentally I wanted to GO but physically my legs were beginning to betray me. I began spending a bit more time at aid stations, eating, drinking, trying to rouse myself back. About three miles in another Lone Ranger comes up on me and starts saying some encouraging things. I’m almost twelve hours into what is quickly becoming a death march and any company is more than welcome, let alone in the form of a good looking woman. We talk intermittently as she encourages me to keep going with her, slow and steady, but definitely faster than a walk. When we get to the 4ish mile aid station I sprint to the port-a-potty where I take a much needed dump. I’m slightly encouraged by this for some reason, like it’s a sign the body is still functioning alright. I’m mostly just out of it though so who knows what I was really thinking. We continue on together the rest of the loop. I learn she’s looking to run twelve loops and then stop, that she’s from Colombia and her name is Jessica. (If you ever somehow end up reading this Jessica, THANK YOU so much for sticking with me on that loop, it was exactly what I needed then).

[ed note: I am now realizing how hilariously wrong I was about this being a shorter entry than normal. My bad. But it’s me after all. Are you really surprised?]

As we were coming in along boathouse row at the end of number ten, Scott met up with and ran in with us. I lingered a little longer with my crew. At this point, somehow I am still in 4th place overall. As I’m lingering, Sabrina Moran blows through the start/finish looking super strong and just keeps going. I’m now 5th and it’s not really close between me and anyone else. But I don’t really give a shit. I start walking with Scott. We walk/jog a bit of the beginning of the loop. He was attempting to be encouraging, prodding me into picking up the pace, not stopping, that sorta stuff. I was trying. I was getting increasingly frustrated with  myself because I WANTED so badly to just run. To run and feel tired instead of drained and nauseous. My body felt like it was powering down. Still, I managed to jog some of the first half of the loop to the far aid station. It was there that I saw John Dennis lap me (not realizing at that point that Sekiya had passed him and gone into 1st). And then, as we got to the bridge just before the five mile mark, there comes Serge. I don’t know what happened at this point. Well, I do. I got really freakin pumped. I realized at this point, the way I was feeling, the time I was bleeding, I was not going to be a factor as far as winning the thing went. As such, Serge passing me so close to what I assumed to be the lead, I got really excited for him. The adrenaline dump was intense and immediate. Scott yelled at me to pick up the pace and stay with Serge. And somehow I did just that. I figured I had enough in the tank to catch up to Serge and tell him to go kick some ass. But then I caught up to him and I was feeling ok again. Better than ok, I was feeling great. I should have known better, really. I should have realized what was happening, internally. But I wasn’t thinking. I was 90 miles in and I was cheering on a hero of mine and then all of a sudden I was running down the path at sub-8:00 pace again. After the race Serge would tell me that at that point I looked so good that he was worried I’d go all the way around the loop and pass HIM again. Ha!

[ed note 2: I wrote all of this entry to this point on July 27-28, while things were still relatively fresh in my mind. I didn’t finish and obviously didn’t post it. And now it is late September and I have had a number of people ask me about this particular race so I figured I should at least finish it, although it’s not particularly interesting]

I came in at the end of that loop and I stopped by my family to refuel and all that. But first I just HAD to sit. I told myself because I ran so hard and so well the last half of the loop that I could take a short break to recuperate instead of trying to rush out. And that’s what I did. I sat on this bench and ate… something. Problem was, I could feel my legs tightening up with every second. And all of a sudden, as good as I had felt the last half hour cruising along the river, I felt equally awful sitting there. Light-headed, surly, disoriented, hungry, nauseous, all of it. Mom told me I should nap for a little like Johnny had been doing. I was worried if I laid down, I would never get back up. So I strained to get up and willed myself to keep moving. My cousin PJ started walking with me away as I slowly trudged toward the art museum again. It was nice having his company. I can’t honestly remember anything we talked about, I was just really out of it. I WANTED desperately to start running again, I had this clock or something in my head keeping downcycling how much I could feasibly expect to run before the end. But I was just walking. And I don’t think I was going particularly fast. Everything felt weak and awful and like I was floating above my body. I had to keep stopping to keep from collapsing. I tried to move without stopping to the next aid station. I’m pretty sure I apologized over and over to PJ for him just walking this with me in the middle of the night.

Finally we got to the far aid station, 4ish miles in. And just like at the end of the last lap, I just wanted to sit down. I kept saying, just for a minute, just til I get some calories and drink in me. I could stop writing here, because essentially, as soon as I did that my race was over. The medical people immediately noticed me and despite my best attempts at lies, they figured out I was in bad shape. My blood pressure had plummeted, my temperature was low, I was starting to shake and things were deteriorating. So they put me on a cot with a space blanket and an IV in my arm and I just laid there and was generally pissed off about what was happening. They REALLY tried to get me to go to the hospital but I refused. I signed a waiver saying basically that if I died I wouldn’t hold them responsible for it. Dad came and got me and we drove back to the start/finish and I had a cup of soup or something and felt bad for a while as I saw other people coming through. Hope showed up with a bunch of honey stingers. It was the middle of the night, or early morning or something and I really appreciated the gesture, despite it being totally pointless at that point.

Somewhere after the sun had started to come up, I felt eversoslightly better. I asked the RD if I returned to the spot where I left the course and completed my lap, would it still count. He said yes so I had dad drive me back as close as he could get. I had to walk the ~half mile (?) to the aid station, then I walked, slowly at times, very slowly the rest of the time, the remaining 4.5ish miles of the course. It was ugly and I felt much worse and still very lightheaded and out of it than I told anyone. I pretended to be feeling MUCH better and that’s why mom and dad let me continue. I was thinking how I wasn’t allowed to die here because then they’d know I lied to them. And about an hour or so after I started walking, and roughly seven and a half hours after starting my last lap, I was walking across the finish line for the 12th and final time. Officially 101.47 miles. Easily the worst performance in my burgeoning ultramarathon career and also the worst race I’ve run this year. It wasn’t until at least a day or two later that I even began to approach feeling something resembling normal (not good, just not about to die sort of normal). At least I got to see Serge win convincingly.

It wasn’t the race I expected or felt capable of running. But I knew that I couldn’t have an entire year of pretty good race results, it was a matter of time in races this long that one was not going to go so well. The good thing, I guess, is that I learned some things, and I didn’t die. Also, my family totally had a blast and my little cousin interviewed me for a school report of sorts. Let’s pretend I ended this too long report with some sort of witty, optimistic sentence about perseverance and redemption. Yeah.

September 24, 2012 at 9:39 am 2 comments

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