Friday, September 7, 2012

Merrill's Mile

     Last March 31st, Rhonda had decided to do the GUTS Operations Endurance 12 Hour event with full intentions of going 27 or more miles to complete her first ultra distance run.  I completed nearly every one of the 1 mile loop with her and so enjoyed helping her complete this personal accomplishment.   But, like most of us, she knew she could go farther.  

     So, Willy “Natureboy” Syndram decides to put on Merrill’s Mile.  Another 1 mile, flat loop that is in the Frank D. Merrill Ranger camp, and it is very similar to OE.  I mention this event to Rhonda and without hesitation she says “Sign me up!”  Since I already had plans to run Angeles Crest 100 in July, my first thoughts are to just work the aid station and hang out.  But Willy, being the good friend that he is, starts talking to me, “You ever run 100 miles in less than 24 hours?  I bet you can do that at Merrill’s Mile.”  I tell him to let me focus on AC100 and we will see after that. 

     Honestly, I am very thankful and grateful that I was able to finish AC100 with some of the issues I had, but I feel like I didn’t give it 110%.  I just didn’t like the overwhelming scared-ness that I had at that event due to my stomach issues.  Don’t get me wrong, you get cocky at a 100 miles, it will soon enough lay a smack down on you. But there was something else I felt I needed to do this year, so as my feet heal from AC100 my thoughts then turn to MM.  

     Can I really cover 100 miles in the less than 24 hours?!  What type of pace is that?  How do I train for that being 6 weeks away?  I also didn’t realize the timing, but I had signed up for the GUTS Hot 2 Trot at Sweet Water State Park 2 weeks after AC100.  After getting some great direction from friends, I set my goal of running at least 40 miles at that event.  It was great training and I was able to reach 41+ that day.

     Race day comes for Merrill’s Mile and we decide to make this a family event also. That is one thing I truly love about loop courses is to be able to bring your family along, if they can handle it! :)  My 11 year old daughter Grace and our little pup Mocha come along too.   I had purchased a canopy for the family to use for shade or rain cover.  Grace has been to a few of these events before and after we get our stuff on the inside of the loop and setup, she jumps in helping the No Boundaries folks that are setting up the main aid station.  Throughout the day she would run/walk the loop to check out the other AS at the half way point.
 Soon enough, it is almost 9 am and RD Willy gathers us around for some last minute instruction.    “No biting, hitting, kicking are allowed, but eye gauging is ok!”  We are given some other basic instructions, then in true ultra fashion Willy yells out “Go!” and we are off like a herd of turtles.
     I wasn’t totally sure what shoes would best work for this event, so I brought 4 different pairs.  Through some great advice of a friend I decided to go from a minimalist trail shoe to my newly purchased marshmallow Hokas for the cushion at the end of the event.  So the game plan is switch shoes every 25 miles.  Dr. Ashli Linkhorn and the Sports Chiropractic Institute folks are on site to help runners for the entire 24 hours, so with the shoe change I take a few minutes to have my legs and lower back stretched out.  I have been a patient of Dr. Linkhorn for years and know that having them there and working on me every so often would help keep me in top shape.

Dr. Linkhorn working on some lucky runner.  She is the bomb!
     The other goal that I set after talking to many more experienced ultra-friends is to shoot for 60 miles in the first 12 hours, 5 miles an hour/ 12 min mile pace.  If you can do that, then you can nearly walk the last 40 miles and get 100 in less than 24 hours.  Hitting 60 is doable under the right conditions.   As the miles click off and we get a few hours into the race it really begins to heat up.  Someone has duct taped an outside thermometer to a chair.  As the day goes on I keep watching the temp go higher and higher.  

That's a cooling bandana, not an Ascot. :)

     It gets pretty hot and I start to come to the realization that I can’t keep 12 min mile pace in this heat.  If I do I am concerned that I will be too drained for later and come to a grinding halt.  I am not so proud of this, but I feel the need to be honest. Just over 25 miles I start getting very emotional.  Feelings of uncontrollable crying start hitting me in waves.  I kinda fight to be alone and let no one see this.  Some thoughts of hopelessness start and I just don’t know what to do, but I keep moving forward.

     The only way I know how to deal with this after so long is I realize that I have to be accountable to someone/people.  At this point I ask a couple of key people in my life to walk with me for a minute.  I tell them that no matter what happens or what I say either 1 of 2 things are happening with me. 1: I am moving forward.  2: Someone is taking me for medical attention.  No excuses.  Move or see a doctor; somehow in doing this I felt a relief and was able to just keep clicking off the loops.  Didn’t have any other choice, right!?  :)

     As the day wears on and sun keeps moving, that afternoon the heat breaks and we start getting shade again.  I start to feel better and can tell that it keeps getting cooler.  I get an odd look from a runner because I state out loud “Keep coming down” as I pasted the dreaded chair thermometer.
Don't know what's harder running or counting everyone's laps!

     In events like this, it is so nice to see friends and have their support.  One of my oldest friends, Nate Ridgeway has recently gotten bitten by the ultra-running bug and shows up to cheer us on and see what these timed events are all about.  Also, Ronnie Hines shows up.  He is running the night 12 hour event going from 9pm-9am.  

     Rhonda is also doing the night 12 hour.  The heat is like kryptonite with her having MS, so the night 12 hour is such a better option for her.  That was another reason I wanted to get 60 miles done in 12 hours to be able to walk some laps with her.  But at this point I am doing well enough she tells that I am doing great and I need to run my own race.  Besides, I will see her ever so often and most of those times I pause for a second to kiss her and run on.

     Ronnie Hines has signed up to do some training miles for an upcoming hundo.  When he gets over half way of goal for the night he finds me and we start clicking off the miles together.  For me, it is such a wonderful thing to have a good friend run with you and talk about different things.  Some of the bonds that I have made in ultra-events are some of the strongest in my life right now.  

     It happens to be nearly a full moon out this night so early on most people figure out that they can run just fine without their headlamps.  I am not sure what time it is, but I joking say to Ronnie, “Man, am I the only 24 hour person out here!!”  Shortly after we pass by the timing tent and Ronnie says something to Willy and Perry Sebastian of my comment.  I find out that other 24 hour people are still out there, but that I am now currently in first place.  WHAT???  ME!!!  From the volume of people I did think that I was in the top 5, but it was a shock to find out that I was in first.  

     I’ve never been in this situation before, what do I do?  Well, I haven’t reached 100 miles yet, and that was the #1 goal in starting this event.  Run 100 in sub 24 hours.  So that becomes the focus and if I can keep going after 100 and let things fall where they do.  

     I complete lap 99 and Ronnie hooks back up with me.  He has spent the last 6 hours helping me and other runners that were still out there.  We head out and it still makes me laugh all the positive things that he is saying and getting me pumped to complete 100 miles.  I am so pumped that in the last ¼ mile I speed up to about 8:30 pace.  100 miles = 22:34  
Run till someone hands you a buckle!

      Rhonda already reached her goal of 30 miles and just continues to go on.  I ask Dr. Linkhorn to help me with some stretching till Rhonda comes back around.  I decide that I am going to continue walking with her as long as she can keep going.  We are able to get 2 more miles in before time runs out.

I am still in shock that I won. 
Best trophy I have ever won!!!

Thank you’s:

Josh and Leah, Hiker Hostel: We really appreciate being able to come crash out at the Hostel after the race.  We enjoy your place so much.

Mike Delang, Harry Goslow, and the No Boundaries crew:  I can’t thank all of the AS volunteers enough for being there for 24+ hours.  Mike, did a great job of getting coverage for the AS and as always you know how to push my buttons!  Harry, thanks for helping us load up at the end, meant a lot to me.

Dr. Linkhorn and SCI: you guys rock!  Thank you for all that you did in helping me and other runners there.  Have heard nothing but praises from you guys being there.

Ronnie Hines: your unselfish actions that day was in true spirit of this family of ultrarunners.  Thanks for being there for me and others!

Willy: dude, you so know how to RD, but you are even better at being a friend.  Never would have gotten sub 24 without your push.

Grace: made me so proud helping out like you did and getting in 13 miles yourself!  Love my girl!

Rhonda: I would not being doing this without your love and support.  Everyone knows that you push me to my best, but this time you pushed yourself.  I am just amazed.  Love you very much!


  1. Great report. I was also helped by Dr.Linkhorn. I referred to her as Mr. Miayagi, She is probably is too young to know who that is...I must also say that when she was helping me Grace was there and listening to our conversation. Dr. Linkhorn asked how far I wanted to go and I said >26.4 and I had already done 26 at that point and there was 4 hours more for me. I said I could probably do 30 easily and Grace told me I should do 32 because that would be a 50K. I have to give her credit for the new goal I set and exceeded. Thanks to your sweet daughter for pushing me and also for her help at the aid stations. She's awesome!

  2. Proud of you! I did not realize at the time that you were struggling around the 25th mile. You pulled through that well, and never stopped. Thanks for the company out there!

  3. Congrats on busting out 100+ miles. It was very hot there, the afternoon was mentally brutal! Be proud!
    We wanna recognize how important Grace was for our day...We learned her name on the first lap, and her attitude was fun and refreshing. She smiled at us at key times and always had something supportive to say...NO WAY WE (Gayle and I) WOULD HAVE PR'D WITHOUT HER SUPPORT!

  4. Congrats again on a race well run. I so appreciated your words of encouragment when I ran my first ultra at Hostelity where you volunteered. I had the pleasure of walking a few laps with Rhonda during the night and later cheering you on in your 100th mile. I enjoyed your race report and made me feel like if you could do it then maybe one day if I want to then I can too. Thanks.