Every now and then, at purely random intervals, every runner has the perfect run. Your legs feel great, your heart rate is low, your breathing is smooth and you feel like you can run forever.
This race had none of those things.
I was registered for the Pickled Feet 48 hour race and was eager to run this event. I had run the 24 hour the previous year, and managed to pull off a tough win. Now I had my sights set on the same thing for the 48 hour race.
And...that wasn't meant to be.
Jo and I returned home from vacation a few days before the race and the only souvenir I brought back was a deep chest cold. The only "welcome home" I got was an enormous pile of paperwork on my desk. I knew I didn't have the time OR the physical well being to contend in the 48 hour race, so I dropped down to the 24 hour and hoped for the best.
Please allow me to set the stage:
This race course is a 2.5 mile loop, mostly trail and dirt road, with a tiny bit of paved surface near the timing station and aid station. There are some small amounts of shade, but because the leaves haven't come in yet, the course is largely exposed. With the exception of a couple of small "hills", it's dead flat. The scenery is pleasant enough, but mostly for the first 50 or 60 miles of looping through it. Then it gets a bit stale.
The 24 hour race has a 6:00 PM start, which presents a challenge in itself, because it prolongs the number of hours the runners will be awake before the finish. I'm not sure if this done because of timing and logistics, or just to be cruel.
Jo and I arrived a couple hours early to set up a tent, chairs, and to get my gear situated in our crew station along the course, near the timing station. It was ridiculously hot and I felt like death.
Some of the other races were already underway and I saw several familiar faces as they ran past, heading to the timing mat. Among those was Davy Crockett. He was running the 100 mile race, which had started at 10:00 that morning. Davy was looking excellent and moving really well, especially considering the heat. We chatted briefly as he made his way to be counted for another lap.
After a short race briefing, we lined up at the start and got ready to be sent off. Because I was sick, I had very modest expectations. To be honest...my only expectation was to be miserable for as many miles as possible, then go home with my tail between my legs.
At 6:00 PM, we were off.
I started the race at my normal pace for an event like this and almost immediately realized that I was in over my head. I couldn't breathe, my heart rate was through the roof and I wanted to puke. But I wasn't ready to slow down yet. A small part of me thought it would be temporary, but that was just wishful thinking.
You Can ALMOST See the Other Runners Behind Me
After about 1/4 mile, we come to the fork at the beginning of the loop. We have a choice in which direction to run and we can change it up any time we want. It's a small thing, but it really helps with the mental side of the race.
I habitually go left on this course and almost everybody else goes right, and this time was no different. Except for one other runner. I could hear the footfalls behind me, as they got closer and closer. I was tempted to look over my shoulder, but it's way too early for that type of paranoid behavior. After a few more minutes, a tall female runner pulled alongside me, glanced over and said "Hello" in a very calm and relaxed manner. To which I replied "Heh (gulp of air) LO!".
Now...this has happened to every runner at some point. I'm running my ass ragged trying to keep up with this woman and she's just coasting along, chatting, happy as hell. Because I can't breathe, I'm limited to one word answers, which launch from my face with a blast of exhaled air before sucking in lungful of life sustaining oxygen. I look and feel like an idiot!
In a clever ruse, I fall in behind her and drop a few feet in hopes of focusing more on survival than conversation. But we keep "chatting".
And just when I thought things couldn't get worse, we got off course!! This goes to prove that I can get lost on virtually ANY course, ANY time. We got back on course, after losing several positions, and headed to the timing mat to complete our FIRST 2.5 mile loop.
"Don't Pants Your Poop!"
As I was heading out for another loop, I slowed my pace trying to settle my breathing and my heart rate. They wouldn't calm down. It was sweltering out, I was sweating profusely and I felt terrible. I wasn't even 3 miles in and I was already feeling like I should pack it in, go home and pretend this never happened.
I ran the second loop at a very slow pace but I never recovered. My chest cold was destroying my race and trying to kill me in the process. When I got back after my second loop, I plopped in a chair and announced that I was going to drop from the race. Jo was chatting with Jim Skaggs as I made my proclamation and they both turned to look at me in my pathetic state. Neither were very impressed.
I sat for 15 full minutes, working on cooling down and regaining my heart rate. Once I settled down, I decided to go out for a few more laps and see how I felt. I was noncommittal on the topic of finishing, but I was here, so I may as well log a few miles.
I ran the next few loops slowly, feeling sorry for myself and mumbling self disparaging comments under my breath. I felt like I was running for all the wrong reasons and I just wanted to save the embarrassment and go home. I was fully dejected and disengaged.
Farthest Reaches of the Course
I made my way around a few more loops and decided I was going to stop whining and stick it out for 100 miles, even if it took all 24 hours. I was just going to keep running and deal with it.
Awesome Aid Station
As the sun began to dip lower in the sky, the temperature dropped rapidly. I was still running pretty slow, but the cooler weather felt great. I tested my pace a bit by speeding up, and I felt pretty decent. My mood immediately began to shift.
I don't mean I suddenly got perky, grinning from ear to ear like an idiot. I mean I just hated life a little less. Let's maintain perspective here.
I was still relatively slow, but I wasn't nearly as miserable as I had been in the early miles. In a better mood, I was able to chat with other runners more and focus on enjoying the night as the hours, and miles passed on by.
I really enjoy running at night and I was hoping that I would make some modest gains as the night wore on.
My pace was terribly slow, but I was hoping I could fall back on my endurance and carry myself through with a relatively decent run. At least something to avoid embarrassment. Only time would tell.
Once the sun completely faded, it got cold. REAL cold! I was stopping at our tent every couple of laps to add another layer of clothing to try to ward off the freezing temps. I did this until I was wearing every piece of running gear I brought. I was still cold!
This Picture Pretty Much Sums it Up
I was keeping a steady, but still slow pace as I worked around and around the course. I was ignoring my mileage and lap count and didn't even want to know where I was until sunrise. After that, I would develop a plan to finish the race. I was still shooting for 100 miles and then a hasty exit from the race. Followed by a HOT shower and WARM bed.
As the sun began to rise, the winds picked up and some intermittent rain started to fall.
And then it got biblical!
As I was making my way to the timing mat, a headwind was working to push me backwards down the trail. I was relegated to a walk, leaning my entire body into the oncoming wind. Tree branches were snapping off trees and were sent flying through the air. Sand and rock was being blown into my face. It seemed like a good time to see about that shower and bed.
As I came to the aid station, I saw two large canopy tents as they were launched into the air and thrown back to the ground, totally destroyed. The total count would be six tents ruined before it all died down.
Hands down...the worst weather I ever ran in.
I had started the race in brutal heat and was now working hard to keep from freezing to death. Fortunately, I had the chance to generate some body heat while running, a benefit that the volunteers and crew member did NOT have.
My Poor Crew Trying to Stay Warm
Eventually, the wind died down, the rain stopped and the day began to turn for the better. Things were finally looking up.
I was still moving slow, but the good news was...I was still running. I checked the leader board to learn that I had moved up to 2nd place overnight.
Learning this changed my perspective entirely. While I had been focused on a 100 mile finish followed by a quick retreat, I was now energized by the idea of possible win. A thought that had escaped me by mile 5 the previous day.
I began to keep a close eye on Ryan Lund, the first place runner. He's a solid ultra runner and pretty great guy. As the race wore on, it was becoming obvious to us both that one of would walk away with the win.
Aside from keeping tabs on my own race, I found distraction watching the 12 hour race, where Jim Skaggs (Buffalo Run 100 RD) was working on a win and a possible course record. I've run with Jim several times, but never raced with him and I was in awe of the work he was doing. Jim would go on to win the 12 hour race and set a course record. A first time for him on both accounts. It was awesome to watch it unfold and I enjoyed cheering him along the way.
Jim Skaggs Working Hard
The weather was improving steadily and we were transitioning into a beautiful spring day. The weather was warming and the sky was cloudless. Perfect running weather.
At 11:00 AM, I had taken the lead. I was feeling better than I had the entire race but I still had seven hours to try to build a gap between me and the 2nd place runner.
I truly HATE leading races because it adds a huge burden and a tremendous amount of stress to the run. I tried to remind myself that I almost dropped out at mile 5, so whatever I leave with will be an absolute gift.
Ryan and I were fully aware that the race was between us and we chatted frequently in the remaining hours of the race. On a couple of occasions, we ran together and exchanged stories while we got to know each other a bit.
This is one of the cool things about this sport. While we're actively competing with each other, we can still interact without ego or malice. I was deeply enjoying my time running with Ryan and I think he's a fantastic person. At that point, I would have been happy for either of us to win.
I mean...if I HAVE to choose, I guess I would be happier if I won. But you get what I mean.
As the clock continued to wind down, it became more and more obvious that Ryan wasn't going to be able to catch up. He was struggling through a rough patch and trying to bounce back while regaining some lost ground. At this point, I was just trying to manage my lead, keeping him far enough back to hopefully win without killing myself in the process.
Ryan and I met on the trail, running in opposite directions and we stopped to talk for a minute. He was still feeling rough and decided to stop his race at 100 miles, collect a buckle and call it a day.
Ryan was essentially conceding the race which would hand me the win.
We parted ways and I thought about this for a while, deciding what to do next. I now had the option of stopping and still collecting the win, which was pretty damn appealing right then. I had 107.5 miles logged, which wasn't impressive at all. I decided to push on for 120 and just try to relax and enjoy the remaining hours.
A Toast From the Crew
With the pressure off, I walked more, talking with the runners that I had been sharing the course with for the last day. Everyone's mood was lifting as the race was drawing to a close and for the first time, I was actually enjoying myself. I was still sick, and now totally exhausted, but I was happy.
Heading to the Timing Mat to Log 120 Miles, PBR in Hand!
I hit 120 miles with about 30 minutes remaining. Near the end of this race, the RD opens a small loop for us to run on so we don't get caught on the big loop when the race time runs out. I was happy with 120 miles, but decided to go log some additional distance since I had the time, and easy access to beer.
Long Loop, Short Loop, Arrow, Arrow, Arrow, Arrow. Not at all Confusing
After drinking a beer, I rolled out onto the short loop, still running. I immediately ran into trouble. The short loop runs in a circle around the BBQ that was busy grilling up food for the runners. It was simply more than I could handle. After running 120 miles, I was hungry! I finished one loop and headed right to the food.
Forget This...I'm Over This Running Thing
I ended my race with 120.28 miles, collecting my second consecutive win at the Pickled Feet 24 Hour Race. It's a long ways from an impressive total, but I was happy enough, anyway.
I took the next hour to rest, eat, drink beer and wait for the awards ceremony. Emily Berrichoa, the Race Director, takes time to recognize every runner as they come up to collect their finishers award. It's a pretty fun ceremony and I always enjoy cheering for all the unique accomplishments.
The Men and Women of the 24 Hour Podium. All Smiles and Laughter!
I love this event and all the great people in the Boise running community. Kindness, generosity and good spirits make this a pretty incredible event. The excellent race organization just ties it all together.
It was an unbelievable struggle for me to go from immanent DNF at mile 5, to the overall race win. It was an excellent lesson in patience and persistence for me. At the time, I saw it as stubbornness, but it was a bit more than that. I was elated with how things turned out.
I was also very pleased with my shoe choice. This is my second race and second win the Topo Athletic Fli-Lytes. They're super comfortable, very light and offer excellent protection over the long run. A simply amazing product!
Topo Athletic Fli-Lytes
I want to thank Topo Athletic, Hammer Nutrition, Gear:30, and my beautiful wife for all the support and encouragement. I think 2015 is going to be an incredible year!
Thanks for reading!