Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Georgia Jewel 100++

Almost a year ago, I learned of a challenge someone had put out in southern ultrarunning community.  To date there was now three 100 milers that used the Pinhoti trail for part of the course in Georgia or Alabama.  Could someone run all three hundos in 1 year?  Dr. Dan Burstein steps up to make the “Pinhoti Triple Challenge” official and created an incredibly beautiful buckle for this.  I took the bait.

The first race was Double Top 100 in March.  We started this race, but it was cancelled due to snow.  In April, some of us got together and did a “re-run” of the full course in official time on our own to be able to honestly say that we did 300 miles as the Pinhtoi Challenge buckle states.  

In July, Rhonda and I did 24 hours at Merrill’s Mile.  I wanted to see if I could do another 100 miles in less than 24 hours.  I starting having pain in my left ankle and hip flexor about mile 10, by the time mile 25 came, I could not run anymore, only walking.  The wonderful staff from Sports Chiropractic Institute was on site and I was told if I kept pushing that I would be putting my Pinhoti dreams majorly at risk.  I backed down, but with a heavy heart.  I had never been hurt at a race to not finish what I had planned.  

For weeks after, I could not run without pain, so I just stopped, for 3 weeks.  I really started to question whether my running year was over with and went into a depressed state.   I have never been in that situation in over 7 years of ultrarunning.  I am so blessed to have wonderful people around me and before long I was back out, running easy and trying to build my miles back up.

Georgia Jewel is second on the list for the challenge. I knew a good bit about this course.  I crewed/paced Willy “Natureboy” Syndram for about half the course.  I knew this course was deceptive on paper.  16,000 of climbing and the course elevation chart didn’t look that bad compared to other 100 milers, but this course can be BRUTAL!!  

I knew that Jason “Sully” Sullivan was running it also, so we started talking about working together and just trying to get this one done.  I just wanted to finish without major injury.  The last race of the challenge is 6 weeks after Jewel.  I am worried, if I get hurt, it’s over.  

So Jason and I start working out our pace plan and before I know it, we are in the parking lot about to do this race.  We have all been watching the weather and know that we are going to get rained on a good portion of the time.  Ever since I did Delano Park 12 hour in pouring rain and 40 degrees, I HATE RUNNING IN THE RAIN!!!  But since the injury and losing the ability to run, I decided to be “thankful” for every run I am blessed with, and so I did just that.  Would I rather be running in the rain or not running at all?  Rain it is, let’s go!

So fast, we are a blur!  :)
 The hundred milers and the 35 milers all start together.  The starting line is Christmas tree lights over our heads on 2 poles.  Jason and I stand in the back and just let everyone head out.  We had our pace and plan and started running our race.  Within the first mile we are with Brad Goodridge, Joel Tapley, Dan Burstein, and a few others in the back of the pack.  With everyone running off like they did ahead of us, I think I asked if this was the “geriatric” section of the race!  :)  This might be wrong of me, but I do like being “older” and later on in a race passing some young man.  

The infamous Rock Garden lives up to its name.  It is some of the most technical single track I have ever been on in my life!!  Maybe it is the company of all of us, the early morning darkness, or fresh legs, but it seems we get thru there with a decent pace.  Matter of fact by the time Jason and I roll into Snake Creek AS at 17 miles we are a few minutes ahead of pace.  

A little water on the trails!

We head on to climb up John’s Mountain.  This part of the course was changed last year and I have never been on it.  Jason ran this last year and seems to know it pretty good.  I like to keep things simple, so I hear that when we get to the “stairs section” we are near the top.  We are taking jeep roads and single track and finally get to the stairs.  Jason and I talk about how incredibly hard it must have been to make them due to being made of rocks and concrete.  We get to the AS to be greeted by Mitch Pless and Brandon Young.  Another thing I love about this sport, here are 2 guys that run ultras in the lead packs and they are spending their entire weekend helping out everyone.

Sully and I on John's Mtn.

Jason and I see our crew, get our stuff, and roll on.  What goes up must come down, at least on this course.  Not sure of the distance, but it is miles of downhill on this section.  We finally come up on a section where I thought the AS would be, but it is not there.  I realized they have just moved it due to the way John’s Mtn was in the mix now.  We start running on asphalt road.  We get down so far and see our crew waiting for us.  It is still pouring and Dr. Ryan Lystad of my crew has set up a way to have a shelter for them using a tarp and the hatchback doors of 2 cars.  I was so impressed!

Rhonda cooking in the tarp made shelter.  She is amazing!

When Jason and I get there we are told that we are not going to be able to cross the river anymore.  Jason Green is onsite and they have had to just rescue 3 runners that the water took them downstream.  For a minute I am thinking, “I think we can do that” but Jason’s crew member Nick stated “You think about doing that and I will physically stop you!!”  Yeah, I know by that time, I wasn’t totally thinking straight and appreciated them keeping us safe.

Dr. Lystad keeping people safe.

So off onto the road we go.  We are told that it will add 2+ miles to the course.  We are told to run till we see someone in a burgundy Tahoe and they will tell us which way to go.  Jason and I both start talking about this.  We discover that neither one of us like to be lost, especially in the middle of such a long race. But I am trying to stay positive.  Remember, I could still be hurt on the sidelines, is what I keep telling myself.  We also didn’t realize that Jason’s crew had gone ahead to help everyone re-routed and have put up ribbons and make shift signs.

We finally get to Narrows Trail Head AS after about 8+ miles of asphalt to see our crew and a friend, Molly Freeman, is working the AS.  I am having some issues of cramping and tightness in my legs, so Dr. Ryan steps in with one his torture devices to help me out.

I don't trust too many men to work on me like this! :)

Jason and I roll on and just focused on getting to the turn around.  We know that once we get there every step we take will be that much closer to getting this done.  I know there was some single track and dirt roads but as most have talked about is the last mile of this section being the Powerlines.  Just amazing how steep these things are!  Plus if you know this course, you know that the AS is near a busy road.  You can hear the road from the Powerlines but are going parallel to the road!  I go on ahead from Jason a bit because I know I need some time to address blisters and other issues.  When you get done with the trail the AS is across this busy road that you are literally playing human frogger!

I get to my wonderful waiting crew, handle my issues, eat, and then it is back out on the course for return trip.  I pick up my first pacer Noemy “Nomo” Clayborn.  Nomo and I attend the same church and I started helping her train for her first ultra last year.  She now has her sights on completed her first hundo, Bartram, this December and is willing to help me in all my races in preparing for hers.  

I always have this grin on my face when I know that she is about to see/experience something new on the trails.  I thought she would find the Powerlines very interesting.  I also remember on our way back telling her that when got on this single track section to let me be upfront.  She doesn’t understand why, but shortly after that finds out.  SPIDERS!!!  Some of the largest spiders I have ever seen in the woods are starting to come back out on the single track sections and spin their webs.  At one point I stop so fast that she about runs into me.  I vaguely remember hearing something like “Wow, you are like a running Ninja with these things!”  I just don’t want anyone to get hurt/bitten.

This was a small one!

On this section, I learned a valuable lesson.  I had just recently purchased a very bright headlamp, but was unaware of how fast it could kill the batteries.  It died on me 5 miles from the next AS.  Luckily, Rhonda had bought me a small light and I carried it for situations like this, but it was a handheld and I had to slow down my pace to see better.  We got to the next AS and switched them out plus I carried backups.

Now, back on to the road re-route portion of the race.  The oddest thing that happened here was all of sudden from about quarter a mile away in a field we start hearing some type of pack of animals howling/screaming.  I don’t know what it was about, but it was a bit disturbing, so we ran a bit faster to finish this up and get back to Manning Road AS that has now been moved to our side of the river.

It is time for me to pick up my next pacer, Allison “Red” Kusic.  Allison is also a member of the church and just became an ultrarunner in April at Sweetwater 50K.  We head back on to the road, then off on to the trails heading to John’s Mountain.  

For a while she has been running in minimalist shoes, but had switched to more traditional trail shoes.  I was unaware if she had run with them soaked yet. It has stopped raining when we came up on another creek crossing that's about 2 feet deep.  I really didn’t want to have a discussion on this.  I asked for her hand, and before she knew it I had her on my shoulders in a fireman’s carry position and walked across the creek and put her down on the other side.  I have tried to make my abs/core strength a priority this training season.  In my mind, it was kinda cool that I could do that with 80+ miles on my legs!

We get back up to the top of John’s Mountain and Brandon gets me some really good beef stew.  The wind is really going up there and they have done a great job of getting the shelters setup with tarps to block the wind.  I get cold and want to get down off there asap, so off to the stairs Red and I go.  

We click thru those miles and before I know it we back at the Snake Creek Gap AS.  This is the last AS I will see my crew to the finish.  The brand new ultrarunner, Dr. Ryan Lystad, is going to be my pacer for this last section.  In my mind this is the place I most likely could get hurt and what better person to have with me.  

The Rock Garden at this point of the race is just ridiculously brutal for everyone!  It seems even more technical and twice as long as before.  What is also frustrating is that I really think I could be running a good pace but I am so scared of falling and getting hurt!  I lost count of how many times I tripped, kicked rocks, and about face planted.  I even hear Ryan hitting a few rocks.  I tell him he needs to stop doing that and he lets me know that the rock was looking at him funny so he kicked it!  :)  I have my Garmin on and I am counting down the steps to get off this crazy trail.  

We finally pop out to the road and I know that we have 2 miles to the finish!  I cannot explain that feeling.  The relief of knowing that you are going to finish something that you were not sure you were going to be able to, more than normal due to injury, is just AMAZING!!!  Not totally sure of the distance, but I am thinking with the re-route it ended being over 108+ miles.

I cross the finish line and into the arms of my wonderful wife and quietly shed a tear.  Not only am I now thankful for every run I am able to do, but in my opinion, when I can complete an epic event like this, it is a gift from God!!!
You see who's holding the buckle?  I haven't seen that thing since!!

My own personal GA Jewel!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Across the Years with Matching Buckles!

      I am always joking that I need new friends because of what I “get talked into” by them with these ultra-distance events, but I truly couldn’t ask for better people in my life.   With my buddy Pat Ackley completing the Pigtails 200 miler, then crewing for Willy “Natureboy” Syndram at the McNaughton 500 miler and seeing him and Mark Hellenthal be the first ones to complete that event, as normal, I started questioning how far I could go pass 100 miles.  

     After a great day and night at Merrill’s Mile, I started my normal process of thinking.  I started thinking about the “next challenge”.  I started questioning my friends whom have succeeded at that next level.  I feel very fortunate to be here in GA with so many amazing ultra-runners.  I was able to have multiple conversations/question times with Willy, Mark, Pat, and also talked with Vikena Yutz and Joe Fejes (both won this year’s race and set course records!).  I even got in a little talk with the infamous legend Ray Krolewicz.  Ray knows so much about running and the math related to it, he can give me a headache in a couple of minute with all that he knows.  As others have stated, if Ray K tells you something on running, you can bank on it!

Race preparations of the Mohawk cut!

     After conversations and prodding by some of them, and Willy’s slick way of asking questions and pushing my buttons at the same time, I signed up the 72 hour option of ATY.  I decided on 72 hours because I started thinking that I would like to get to 200 miles.  I have been talking with Rhonda about the event and discussed her being there.  She was there the first time I ran 100 miles, and I wanted her there when I ran my first 200 miler.  But an odd thing happened!  For the past year Rhonda has been interested in these timed loop events.  She did her first ultra distance event of 27 miles at Operation Endurance 12 hour.  She also decided that she would like to see if she could do more miles at Merrill’s Mile and signs up for the 12 hours at night.  She would need to do the night run due to the heat and how it affects her Multiple Sclerosis.  She gets 36 miles in 12 hours there!  So, when I start talking about ATY, she asks the question, “Do you think I could do 100 miles in 72 hours?” 

     Being the positive person that I am trying to be in my life now, I tell her “Sure” but I also know the reality of this goal also.  100 miles is a leveler of talent, ability, and speed.  I know that no one is ever guaranteed to be able to complete 100 miles.  I have seen countless people get to 65-85 miles and DNF.  They can’t see how they can continue on or their body is so wrecked; they want to quit.  Also, on top of having MS, Rhonda does not train.  She lovingly/jokingly states that “training is overrated!”  So, with all that in mind, but knowing that she is one incredibly tough person, we talked it over and form a plan that if we could get someone to crew for us, we would sign her up.  Kena had given me some great advice on having someone there for us due to both of us pushing ourselves so far.

     By chance I was talking with my chiropractor and good friend Dr. Ashli Linkhorn from the Sports Chiropractic Institute. She mentions a young man, Ryan Lystad, who is a Certified Graston Technique Specialist for her office. She thinks that he might be interested in going.  Ryan was at Merrill’s Mile and was so very helpful to a number of runners.  So, Rhonda and I met with Ryan and his lovely wife, Kaitlin, for dinner to discuss everything.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to fly out to Phoenix, be away from their spouse for 4 days, be stuck in one place for 3+ days in a tent, and have to put up with emotional, whiny runners that smell and have really bad stinky feet?!?  :)

     So after the dinner, Ryan is in for the event, we sign up Rhonda for the 72 hours, and the time of the event slowly and quickly starts to draw closer.  It is truly hard to describe the number of emotions that one goes thru in this ultra running world.  “Can I really go 200 miles?!?!?” “How do I run, eat, sleep (very little), then repeat for 72 hours?!?!?!”  “WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?!?!?”  Then to have Rhonda there attempting her goal.  I knew that this hopefully going to be an amazing experience with my wife and great friends.

    Back in September, I found out that my church, Cumberland Community Church, had a running group of all various levels of runners. Noemy Clayborn started leading the group and was training for her first
ultra. Noemy knew about my ultra running but I asked her to not say anything about it. From the past, when people find out that I have run 100 miles, they tend to back away and think that I am out of their
"league". I just enjoy running and helping others find that enjoyment.  As time drew closer to the date, some of them found out about ATY and a suggestion was made that I use ATY as a fund raiser for the youth
group, FUEL, and their upcoming missions trip to Guatemala. After speaking to the youth pastor, Mike Thurman, we setup an event on FaceBook of "200 Miles for Guatemala." Noemy helped update to the FB
page and let people know my progress throughout the event.

Paging Dr. Lystad!

     We survive the holiday travel and before I know it we are on a plane to Phoenix.  Mark Hellenthal and his wonderful fiancĂ©, Sharill Gosnell, picked us up from the airport and let us stay with them the night before the race.  We had never met Sharill, and I had gotten to know Mark only at McNaughton, but this is the amazing type of people you meet in the ultra world that will open their home to you and help out fellow runners. We pick up some things from Wally world, setup our tent in the field at the event with all the other GA runners.  We have a wonderful tex-mex dinner together before getting in a real bed for the last time for the next 3+ days.

The whole crew!
     We get to the Camelback Ranch an hour+ before the race starts to get everything in place and get ready.  Just before 9 am, one of the Coury brothers, a co-race director, gather us around the start/finish line for some last minute instructions and then “Go!”  We are off like a herd of turtles!  J  Most of the group that is there will be doing the 72 hours, so no one is in a great big hurry.  The 1.05 mile loop is mostly on dirt/small gravel.  There is a section that is just longer than a football field of asphalt.  There is also a 150 foot section of concrete.  The loop snakes around on the outside and between a number of baseball fields on the complex and even has a pond and small waterfall.  

     We would change directions on the loop every 4 hours which helped way more than I thought it would. It was something to look forward to in times that seem to go on FOREVER!!  My plan for reaching 200 miles was: 80 the first day, 70 the second, and 50 the third.  That first day seems nice and cool to me.  Phoenix does not have the humidity that ATL does, so it feels nice.  I decide to run just feeling good, but before I realize it I have done the first 25 miles in less than 6 hours and that makes me concerned I am pushing too fast for a 72 hour event.  I get done with 65 miles about 1 am and decided to take a nap.  Rhonda had hit her goal of 40 miles for the day and is in the tent sleeping.  I know that I have not hit my goal for the day and this troubles me some and makes it hard to sleep.  I wake up about 4:30 and know I need to get back to work.  I hit my first goal of 80 miles just after 8 am, so first day done!  

Rhonda and Sharill getting the miles done with smiles!
     I am tired though and go and lay back down for about an hour at 9 am.  When I get up, I really start to struggle with how I am going to accomplish this ever growing huge goal I have set for myself!?!  I start trying to reward myself with different things.  I ran in one pair of my Hokas till I got to 100 miles and decide to reward myself with a softer model that are nearly new.  My feet are in pretty good condition and no blisters for 100 miles, but after 10 miles in the newer Hokas, I have about 3-4 blister per foot!!!  WHAT?!?  Lesson learned, with Hokas, or really any running shoe, make sure to break them in for a number of miles when it comes to using them in such important events.  

      I continue to struggle now!  In hundos my crew usually gets to the point of just telling me how far the next aid station is and GO!   That’s all.  With ATY, the next AS is only half a mile away!!!  They have the main AS at the start/finish line and then a water only AS half way through the loop.  Some of my friends are starting to have issues.  I am by myself a lot of the time now.  I keep seeing Rhonda and she is doing alright, but I notice that she is limping/hurting at times.  What in the world was I thinking?!?!?  
     Willy had talked with me a few times before the race.  “The second day is the hardest.  You feel like this thing is never going to end!!”  He was so right.  I couldn’t figure out a way to break down the loops!  I couldn’t see this day ever ending!  I got negative and at one point thought, “Dude, give me 100 milers back, this is just stupid!!”  I had slowed down and was totally miserable.  I was so tired that I now realized that I misunderstood a buddy, Perry Sebastian, and thought that I had already missed my opportunity to hit 200 miles without running like a madman for the next day and a half.  I struggled to get through the next mile, much less thinking of 24+ hours into the future.  

     My buddies, Pat Ackley and Victor Zamudio, call to check on me.  I am an emotional wreck!  I babble on for about 5+ minutes on all the doubts and junk going through my head.  They just listen and let me get some things out.  Then Vic in his normal way of helping/coaching me puts things into perspective for me.  I need to make a decision.  I either “man up” and get back in to the fight of pushing towards 200 or step back do what I can and focus more sharing this experience with Rhonda.  I am not sure if I have done this before, but I decide to take the easier option.  The distance compared to the time just seems totally unobtainable.  I had no ability to see how I could get it done.  All the difference pressures, pushing to new mileage goal, worrying about Rhonda, and then raising money for the youth group, I crumbled.

     I knew that my spirit was broken over this decision, but I also knew that I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to be with my wonderful wife through her amazing accomplishment of her first 100 miles.  As the 3rd day arrived, she had 30 miles left.  Also on that 3rd day, the horrible mental funk that I was in had gone mostly away partly due to the fact that it was the last day.  Light at the end of the tunnel!  Rhonda and I worked it out that I would run when I felt good, and then walk laps with her when I wanted to. 

She is getting it done!!

     Rhonda is doing quite well for never going over 36 miles at one time in her life!!  Ryan is taking such good care of both of us and other runners.  Rhonda and I lost count of how many “Thank you” we got that he was there to help from other he assisted.  When we had met for dinner, I had asked him to make Rhonda his focus to help.  He did just that.  Ryan had some medical air pants that you put your legs into and the air compression works the lactic acid out of your legs.  He had set this up for Rhonda every night before she went to sleep in the tent. This seemed to help her out greatly.  With her walking pace, she was able to get done with her goals each day by about midnight, then get up at 6am to start again.  

Molly and Perry trying to stay warn and keep all of us going!

     Also Molly Freeman showed up to help out and what a blessing she was to all of us.  She starts working with Rhonda to help her get through the miles.  She steps and starts to “handle” Rhonda of breaking down the mini goals for her and the rewards she gets by accomplishing them.  Until you do an ultra running event, you don’t know how sweet a little folding chair can be!  Molly doing this takes quite a bit of stress off me knowing that someone is looking out for my girl while I am out on the course. 

      Around 5 pm we realize that Rhonda has 9 more laps to go.  We also find out that it going to be freezing that night.  I really want Rhonda to be finished before it gets really cold.  This helps to push her on a bit faster to get done.  About 8:30 she crossed the mat and reaches 100 miles!!!  I so proud and amazed by her effort to be able to accomplish this!

That's right!!  My wife, 100 miles!!!

     She is good, but obviously sore from what she had just done.  She asks me to stay with her for a little while till she gets settled.  Due to this being Dec 31st, the race gathers everyone around the start/finish line for the countdown into the new year then we all do a loop to celebrate.   Rhonda wanted to participate, but is so tired and sore, that she stays in the sleeping bag.  I walked around and talked with different friends.  I notice that I am only a couple laps short of hitting 160 miles, so I walk on to hit that goal, then return to the tent to rest and be there if she needed me.

     There are a number of emotions when I think about this event. I am extremely proud of Rhonda and her accomplishment. I can truly say that it was the hardest, but best learning experience in my running life.   And, yes, I have full intentions of returning next year and hitting that 200 mile mark!