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 fiancé, 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!

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