Don’t Ring the Bell

As I stood at the starting line that dark Saturday morning, the air was crisp, but not too cool. While it felt good, I knew the comfortable temperatures at the start would mean that later in the day I would be uncomfortably warm. Still, I had an objective, a mission to do. I was there to run 100 miles. I had tried it before, things did not go well.

In the year since my last attempt, I had learned much about ultrarunning, about training for 100 miles and most importantly about myself. I started this year out with a mission of finishing the 2 races that I had failed to complete last year, I had completed the first one in January and now I needed this last one.

The gun went off and I knew that I had to pace myself. Just enjoy the first few miles and save energy for the long road ahead. It was still dark until I was almost to the first aid station. Everything seemed to be flowing perfectly. I focused on running aid station to aid station, not thinking about the miles left or the challenges that I may face.

It was through this area that I started a mantra. I was wearing the KIA bracelet for a fallen Navy SEAL named Adam Brown. Call it fate or call it divine intervention, I ended up with the bib number 24, Adam’s football jersey number.

SEAL training has what is called Hell Week. During this time, trainees are subjected to superhuman tests. They are almost constantly moving on minimal sleep for 132 hours. The trainee can stop anytime they want, therefore quitting the SEALS, the catch is that they must stand in front of all the others and ring a bell. The sound of the clanging bell announces to the world that you did not have what it takes to finish the test.

I started to think of this race as my Hell Weekend. I had a mission and I would not quit, I would not suffer ringing that figurative bell in my ears again. This was just the line of thinking I needed because I don’t remember a time after that point that I thought about quitting. I just kept telling myself, don’t ring the bell-don’t ring the bell!

The miles clicked off and before I knew it, I had reached Lake Sylvia, the first station where my crew would be waiting. A quick shirt change into a singlet, I grabbed a sandwich and was out. I’ve done more hill repeats on the stretch coming out of Lake Sylvia than I could count. This could be dangerous, I could get over confident and burn myself out in that section. I made it a point to hold back through here.  On to Pumpkin Patch at mile 22, Electronic tower at 24.6 miles,  then on to Lake Winona at 31 miles, calling to the radio operators as I left each one- 24 out. This is done for safety and to track each runners progress.

Running has it’s ups and downs emotionally and Electronic Tower to Lake Winona provided my first down. The stretch seemed to drag on. In years past there had been an aid station between to two. This year race officials eliminated it and moved them slightly closer together. Don’t ring the bell.

At Lake Winona I had my entire crew waiting. Change of socks and shoes and a few minutes of stretching and I was ready again. As I left, I told my pacers to be ready, they WOULD run with me this year. Last year they didn’t get that chance.

By this point it was getting warm. I had to change my nutrition strategy. I had planned on gels and waffles between aid station, but they just didn’t taste good. Not that my stomach was bothering me, they just were not doing the trick. I made the call to switch to Tailwind  as my primary calorie source between the aid stations and rely on the solid foods provided at the stations.

I settled into a rhythm, not looking at the time, just running. I wasn’t wearing any GPS watch, just a cheap Casio I had bought earlier in the week. As I neared the Power Line aid station at mile 48, I realized that I was about half an hour faster getting to that aid station than the previous year.

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At Power Line (mile 48). Best Coke ever!

At this point a runner can pick up a pacer. Someone to help guide you, to make sure you are eating and drinking enough and making sure you check in with the Ham radio operators as you left the aid stations. I had a pacer who was suddenly deployed and finding a replacement was tough, so I opted to run with out one for now. I would end up running 68 miles solo. I was on to the Copperhead aid station at mile 52. This would be a mental milestone for me. This was the aid station I dropped at last year. As I approached, I made the decision to move as fast as possible through it, I didn’t want to linger on the bad memories. If I had not needed to get water and food, I would have passed it.

As I waited for my water bottles to be filled, looked over at the chairs. Runners who had dropped out sat there in defeat. Wrapped in blankets and asking themselves what they could have done differently, I knew that feeling. They would face weeks of self questioning, wondering if they made the right call. They had rang the bell and I would not put myself through that again.

The Turnaround aid station was another mental milestone for me. At that point I was running back towards the finish line, there were only 42 miles left! This thought reinvigorated me, I wanted this. Back to Copperhead  then on to Power Line (mile 68) again.

At Power Line I was joined by Micah. She had never paced anyone in an ultra, but she had a very positive energy that I knew I would need through the night. She would take me back to Lake Winona (mile 84.8). Off we went over Smith Mountain.

Looking back, two thing during this time really stand out to me. The first is when we got to a clearing on Smith Mountain, I stopped and we turned off our headlamps. We just enjoyed the stars for a couple of minutes. This was a small reward to enjoy the beauty for a moment. The weekend had been about moving, sometimes it needs to be about stopping and enjoying.

The other thing that stands out was an odd thing that happened, I was nodding off while running. Somewhere between Bahama Mama (mile 72.6) and Club Flamingo (mile 76.4) I realized that as I ran, I was leaning on my trekking poles and almost falling asleep. I got a cup of coffee at Club Flamingo and continued. This woke me up just enough to stop the small naps between steps.

We continued towards Lake Winona, watching the lightening all around us. Wondering if we would get rained on or if we would have to whether a small storm. Luckily, it never happened. We got to Lake Winona just as the light started to appear on the horizon. I quickly got what I needed and thanked Micah for her help.

Shauna would be joining me from here on out. She and I have ran many miles together, I knew she could push me if needed. We headed out for Electronic Tower (mile 91.2) just before sunrise. This would be a key aid station. If I made it past there before the cutoff, I would be allowed to finish regardless of 30 hour time limit. The problem was that this would be the longest most miserable stretch. I had not been close to cutoffs, but my energy was fading.

She would push me, while not telling me anything about pace or distance. We both knew that I did not need to know that information, I just needed to keep moving as fast as I could.

It was during this stretch that I realized that my perception of time and distance were way off. The miles dragged on and on. After what felt like days, we finally reached Electronic Tower, I would be a finisher! I was tired and beaten, but I would be able to finish. My friend Tina was there and gave me a zip lock bag of chocolate covered espresso beans that ended up carrying me through.

I always thought that I would be a little emotional at the end. As it turned out, my emotional moment came at mile 93.7, Pumpkin Patch. A lady named Lisa Gunnoe introduced me to the world of trail and ultra running. I paced her when she ran this race the first time. While she finished that year, she has tried unsuccessfully two times since, this year became the third unsuccessful try.

At some point during the night, I got word that she had dropped out. I knew she would be at Pumpkin Patch since her family volunteered there. As I rounded the corner, she stood there in the middle of the road, tears rolling down her cheeks. As she hugged me, I told her how sorry I was that she wasn’t able to finish. Lisa said to me that she wasn’t crying for her race, but that she was crying because she was so proud of me. After we had our moment, her family and some of our friends came over and took care of me.

A little over 6 miles left and I was ready to be done. I had 3 miles to a creek crossing, one mile from there to the last radio check station and then 2.5 miles to the finish. I was ready, so we ran a bit. I felt like we had ran for a couple of miles, but no it was only a couple of minutes. I would take a walk break then run again and repeat. Shauna and I had found a pace that felt good to me and she kept me there (She still hasn’t told me what the pace was, but I know it was slow).

I was worried about the creek crossing. How would I do it on my worn out legs? Should I just push across and not worry about wet feet? When we got there, Shauna went first, finding any loose rocks. When she got across, she turned around and talked me across. In the end, I got across better at mile 97 than I did the first time at mile 18.

I had done many hill repeats on this last couple of miles of the course. It’s near an area that we camp and train at often. I knew that it would be a mile and a half of down hill and some flats then one last small hill to the end. I ran the down hill as much as I could.

The one uphill that had scared me during all the training was that last one. It’s not really that steep, I just wondered how it would feel to run it with 99+ miles on my legs. As it turned out, I opted to walk it. I did know that there was a point where the hill leveled off and actually went down a little, there was a road sign there that had always been a marker in my mind. Traveller

At that point, I ran as well as my worn out, chafed legs would allow. I had always thought that I would be extremely excited and over joyed to cross the finish line. In the end, it was just sense of being done. It was an odd feeling, not exhaustion, I just wanted to stop running. There was too much adrenaline to be sleepy, this was the most worn out yet awake and in the moment I have ever been. I had not rang the bell, I had survived my own little Hell Weekend. After 29 hours and 20 minutes, I turned to the Ham radio operators and gave my final check-24 DONE!

Ever Changing Motivation

The sun was beating down, it seemed like there had only been two or three days of nice spring like temperatures. Now summer was here in it’s full fury. Beads of sweat gathered on my hat bill, hanging for a second or two before giving up. That’s about how I felt, like giving up. I’ve hung on as long as I could, just turn around and go home.  Something made me keep moving up the hill, but asking myself why the hell I was doing it.

Recently, I was asked about my motivation. I thought of the high cholesterol and blood pressure that I had been trying to correct when I started. Those problems are a distant memory, so what kept me going? It wasn’t the weight, somewhere along the way running to lose weight had given way to keeping weight down so I could run better, in a weird twist the two had switched places on my priorities list.

I reached the top of the climb and looked ahead. A nice down hill and then another climb. Why am I doing this? If I go down that hill, it will only become an uphill climb on my way back. For some reason I kept moving forward, down the hill and up the next. Why am I doing this?

Somewhere in all of us there is a tiny spark of motivation. What each of use chooses to do with that spark, defines us. When we feed this motivation continually, that is what people remember. This is where we grow physically and mentally. Those that keep moving have learned to nurture that spark and grow it. It’s like kindling in a fire, if you don’t feed it, the flame will go out. If you watch it, nurturing it, then the fire will grow, sometimes beyond control.

Our motivation must be ever evolving. Always moving towards the next hill. I think this is why many people fail to keep the weight off. Their goal is to lose a certain amount of weight and once they reach that point, the motivation is gone. There is no longer a reason to maintain a healthy lifestyle. With their motivation gone, the kindling burns out, there is no more fuel in the fire. When we find one little bit of motivation, one piece of kindling, we start. If we don’t add to that kindling, we stand a high chance of failure. Why? Because the fire no longer has fuel to maintain or grow.IMG_9406

When the flame on the log is getting low, we stir the fire and add another log. When the flame of your goal is low do you stir it and add another? Did you run a half-marathon? Good, then set a goal to do it faster or do a full marathon.

Many of us began our journey due to health problems, for others it was to support a friend or family member. Eventually, that motivation is going to vanish. Things change, goals change and when they do, that’s where many people have trouble. They stop nurturing that fire within. Just keep looking to the next peak, the top of the next hill and keep moving towards it.

Something pushes me to keep moving until I get to my turn around point. I stop and look at where I came from all the hills and challenges and start heading back. Those nice downhills are now climbs, those climbs that I cursed in the beginning are now my friends. I realize that nothing in life has actually changed except my perspective. I look at those hills and challenges differently now, once they were an excuse, now they are merely a small obstacle.

 

 

My Favorite Mile

Each year, I run many miles. Some on the road, some are on the trails. I have my preferred routes. For example, Hot Springs National Park just up the road from my house, a full loop around the park can get me up to 17 miles with roughly 3,300 feet of elevation gain. I can zigzag around the trails and get many more if needed.

My neighborhood has several subdivisions that I loop around. I know the distance of each loop off the top of my head. I know that if I have “x” miles left that I can go to this loop or that one. I have even made Strava segments for these loops, just to keep an eye on my progress.

Still other times, I will go out to the Ouachita National Forest and run different routes there. Usually I will run on part of the Arkansas Traveller 100 course, just to get more familiar with it. The views there are amazing and there is camping nearby.

Out of all of these miles, though, there is one that stands out for me each and every year. At mile 16 of the Arkansas Run for the Fallen, we take a small detour off of the main highway to the front of an elementary school.

Several years ago, we decided to start the run on Friday and run through the weekend. Until then we had just ran on Saturday and Sunday. Word got to an elementary school on our route that we would be going by during school hours. To our surprise, the teachers, faculty and students were all outside as we came by, cheering for us while waving signs and flags.

Part of our mission is to teach others about the fallen heroes that we honor, so it was a natural progression of our mission to move the hero marker to the front of this school. This would allow the children to take part in honoring the fallen and learn about the costs of freedom. While it does make for a long mile, the reward is the greatest experience. With motorcycles and police cars in front and behind us, we turn off of the main highway and go several blocks up a small hill and then make a right.

As we come up the hill, you can hear something faint in the distance, over the sound of the roaring motorcycle escorts. If you have never ran this mile, you might not be able to distinguish what it is, but you can hear a distinct rhythm.  We draw close to the school and it becomes clearer, the sound is children chanting -U-S-A!-U-S-A!-U-S-A! The chants drive our cadence as we push up the hill. We can feel the energy and excitement as we near the small turnaround in front of the school.

As we approach the flag pole, the chanting stops, slowly fading as we assemble. These 85 children, all in the 5th and 6th grades know what we are doing. They have adopted this hero as their own and are there to honor him with us. This hero is SFC Kevin P. Jessen.

With children this age, silence is often lacking. Some how these kids all remain silent as the name and brief biography of SFC Jessen is read. We then come to attention and salute this hero and the chanting starts again.

We then make a loop around the front of the school and high five all of the kids that we can. We are made to feel like star athletes, not because we are fast or that we are running ridiculous miles, but because we are honoring the heroes of this state.

Just a Warm Up

There are many things I love about ultra running, the time in the woods, the people, and as crazy as it sounds, I love the hours spent training and planning. Pushing myself to past my perceived limits has taught me a lot about myself and the world around me. It has inspired an entirely new level of self-confidence.

There are a few thing that I don’t like, for instance the time spent dropping water and extra food, sometimes this can take awhile. The main thing that I don’t like about it is the “but” and “only” I started hearing. You see, I have noticed that once people find out that I have ran ultra marathons, I tend to get these. As in “I know it’s only a warm up to you, but I signed up for my first 5k.”

So what if it’s only a 5k, you’ve set a goal and you are trying to achieve it. Seeing someone finish a 5k is as exciting to me as any other race. What makes it so great is seeing someone do something that they once viewed as impossible, a mental barrier has fallen.

Watching others do incredible things inspires me, and when I see the person who has lost weight cross their first finish line, I get inspired. When someone takes a few seconds off their personal best time, I get inspired. When someone sets a lofty goal and starts reaching for it, I get inspired.

Just be forewarned, if you tell me that you have done a distance and are thinking about going longer, I will push, pull, prod, and goad you until you sign up for that race. Thinking about it will not get anything done and I want to see you do it. .

Ultimately, the greatest thing we can do for the world around us is to inspire each other. If someone looks at me and decides to do a 10k because they saw me do 100k, then that is a gift to both of us.

Redemption

After failing to complete the Arkansas Traveller last October, I had to take a long look at my goals and priorities. Did I want to attempt another 100 miler and take a chance on my IT band giving out or getting worse? Should I even attempt it? Most of all I had to search myself and decide if I still had the confidence to attempt 100 miles again.

In the end, I realized why I was so down about it. It was because I had 2 goals in 2017 and had let both of them slip away. First, it was Bandera 100k (you can read about it here). Then there was the Arkansas Traveller. While my times had improved and I had done well at a couple of races, my goal was not to get faster, the goal was to have those 2 finishers buckles.

So, it was decided that 2018 would be my year of redemption. I would make a go at those races again. First up-Bandera, TX on January 6th. The timeline for training would be tight, but doable. I spent the last few months working on my hip and glute strength hoping to correct and rehab my IT band. I put in my long runs, but didn’t feel like it was enough. I had 24 hours to complete the race and was afraid that I would use it all.

Its fitting that the finishers medals and buckles for Bandera have a rattlesnake on them, because the race will bite you. It is a fierce course, so when I stood there at the starting line, I told myself that no matter how bad it got, how miserable the conditions, this would be a “no fail mission”.

IMG_0114With a sellout race, the first few miles were stop and go. This section can get a little technical and had some climbs, but it has one of my favorite climbs, Sky Island. You climb to the top and circle the hill, taking in views of the canyons below. The crowd had started to thin, the elites had started to pull away.

I knew that we would thin out even more around the first aid station (mile 4.7) and it did. It was around this time that I ended up behind a lady.  She offered to let me by.  I declined, letting her know that she was keeping a good pace for me. I knew that if I got out on my own this early, I might try to keep up with the faster runners and burn out. My goal was to finish, not place.

The second aid station was nearly 7 miles from the first. It was a fairly runnable section, but it still took awhile to get there. Once there, my new running buddy (who I had learned was named Liz) got out of there before me.

Somehow, I caught back up to her before we got to the third aid station, Chapas, at mile 16.28. We were halfway through the first loop and knew it was about to get technical again. Liz and I agreed to stick together as long as we could. Her friend, Christian, had been feeling good and she sent him ahead, so she welcomed the company.

Over the next few miles, we talked books, TV, politics, family and whatever else passed the time. All the while I knew what was coming, the 3 hills that I have a love/hate thing for. I hate going over them, but love the fact that I tackled them – Lucky’s Peak, Cairns Climb and Boyle’s Bump. I tried not to think about the fact that I would have to do them again-in the dark. In fact, with each step, I kept asking myself how I would feel in 31 miles.

We hit each one and I handled them better than I had thought. I guess I have improved my uphill more than I realized. My legs felt good and my mind was strong. I had not experienced any major lows, no thoughts of quitting.

The next big obstacle would be the loop. This is where I dropped last year, so it had been on my mind for 12 months. I had opted to leave my drop bag in my camper, which was within eye sight of the start/finish line. My reasoning was that I could get to my stuff without dealing with other runners and I could also change clothes much easier if that was needed. This can be a double edged sword. When I went in, I could see my own bed and pillow, a full fridge and my heater.

However, I was mentally prepared for this. I knew that I needed to get in and out before I got comfortable. My focus all along was on starting the next loop. I had been training myself to think about the next aid station and when I got there I was able to mentally rest and focus on the next one, so leaving was easy.

I met back up with Liz and off we went. I told myself that once at the next aid station, we would be committed to finishing. A little way up the trail, Liz asked if I had left a note for my wife, who was doing the 50k. I was so focused on getting in and out that it hadn’t occurred to me. I said that I didn’t but I left my dirty socks in the floor, so in a way I had.

We needed to get as many miles done as possible before sunset. The trail is very technical. Loose rocks, cactus and  sotol bush are tough in the daylight, but limited light makes it all the worse.

IMG_0121It was somewhere along here that I heard some runners behind us, I turned to see Gordy Ainsleigh coming up.  He caught up and ran with us for a mile or so, talking and smiling the whole time.

After the first aid station, the next section would be tough mentally, this is the stretch that was nearly 7 miles. We were loosing light fast so the headlamps came out, but not before we were treated to a Texas Hill Country sunset.

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Much of the next 20 or so miles seem like a blur.  I just kept moving. The advantage to the darkness is that you don’t see the hills ahead. The downside is that you can’t see to get your footing as well. We started hearing the coyote and feral hogs. There is a lot of wild life, but I only heard it.

By this point, I had mastered not counting the total miles, just how many to the next aid station. I never wanted to run 62 miles, I wanted to do a bunch of 5-6 mile runs, back to back.

Around the YaYa aid station, it hit me, I was really going to do it. We were at mile 53.5 and I felt good. Not great, but I knew that I could push through. There was only one aid station left, the 3 hills are all that lay between me and the finish line. Off to challenge Lucky’s Peak, Cairns Climb and Boyle’s Bump for a second time today.

If you had asked me before the race, I would have said that the low point would be somewhere around Lucky’s. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t the best mentally, but I was ready for the lows and I was able to push up the hill. Then into the aid station called Last Chance.

This would be a big mental boost. Yes, there were still 2 good climbs to go, but knowing that you are that close to the end caused an adrenaline rush. It was at Last Chance that Liz saw a familiar face, her friend Christian. He had stopped there to rest and relax for a few minutes. He got up and joined us for the last 4.5 miles.

The thing about ultra running is that when you get to this late in a race, its rare to have company, unless you have a pacer. Here we were, 3 runners and several more had shown up around us. For 2-3 miles, we had a line of people. One by one they dropped back, until it was the 3 of us again. All the new company had distracted me from the climbs, all were in good spirits, especially after so many hours on the course.

We tackled Cairns then Boyle’s and knew we were close. We cold hear the noise drifting up the mountain.  I thought at one point I heard my wife cheering runners in.  As much as I love downhills, this last one went on forever. Maybe it seemed longer because I knew that at the bottom there was a nice flat road leading up to the finish.

Suddenly, I saw an old, abandoned barn. I knew this barn sat just a few yards from the point where the trail hit the flat road. All would be okay.  Liz would get her PR and Christian and I would earn our first 100k buckles. That last half a mile or so seemed surreal.

We rounded the corner and there were just a couple of people, my wife and some volunteers. Not a huge crowd like a road race. I remember a man came up to me and asked for the timing chip on my ankle. The edited version of my thought is “how does this dude expect me to bend over to get it off?” My wife was there, but she was focused on taking pictures and for some reason, I couldn’t articulate to get her to help me. (She actually got a blurry picture of me pointing at my leg.)

Finally, Mr Timing Chip figures out that I am in no condition or mood to do a yoga move to get this stupid chip off, he reaches down to help me. As he does, another man taps me on the arm, trying to hand me something. “What’s this,” I asked. He said “It’s your buckle.”

After spending the last 2 years thinking about that snake adorned buckle, somehow in the last 19+ hours, I had stopped thinking about the prize and started focusing on the journey. The effort and commitment are now my prize and the buckle is merely a souvenir.

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New Year, New Me!

With Christmas just a couple of weeks away, many people are thinking about the traditions of the season and celebrations to come. One such tradition that I have never really taken to is the New Year’s resolution. The whole “new year, new you” thing has always felt odd to me.

Why do you need a calendar to get rid of bad habits or make a positive change in your life? What one really needs is commitment and dedication. Gyms across the country will be booming for the first few weeks of January, only to slowly fade back to normal.  Big box retailers will have sales on the latest fitness equipment, diet meals and smoking cessation aids.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am all for someone turning their life around, I just feel that making a New Year resolution has become more a fad than a commitment. The first change that has to happen is the mind, not the calendar. Once the mind is in the right place, that’s when the magic happens.

A person becomes dedicated to the new lifestyle, the feeling of being fit. The strange thing is, with this comes other changes. You no longer want the same things in life. One starts to view life differently, priorities change. Over the course of months and years, you become a completely different person. You might not realize this until there is a reminder thrown at you, like an old picture of yourself or you run into an old friend.

Nearly four years ago, I put on some cheap shoes that I had bought at Wal-Mart and I tried to run. In my mind, I wasn’t a runner, I was a wannabe. Slowly, I became a runner, but I started experiencing life more as I ran more. My perspectives changed, I no longer wanted the same things out of life.

As I have continued to evolve, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t belong in the job I have been doing. Not that I’m unhappy, it just not where I am destined to be, as if my universe is out of sync. So today, after 8+ years of working at the same auto body shop, I gave my notice.

January 1st, I will start a new chapter in my life. For the last few months, I have been working part-time at my local Fleet Feet and I have decided to go full-time with them. It is a scary but exciting change in my life, but I am looking forward to not just going running, but living it.

Purpose

When I was in my twenties, I spent a year working for my great-uncle Olen. Drilling water wells, helping take care of a small herd of goats and just helping around his farm in any way I was needed. It was not glamorous work.  In fact it was nasty, sweaty work.

Uncle Olen left a very big mark on my life. He wasn’t an educated man, not learning to read and write until he was well into his forties. His father, my great-grand father, was the stereotypical hillbilly. A moonshiner who lived in a shack and refused to let his children go to school.  Despite the lack of a formal education, Uncle Olen was, through much hard work, a pretty successful man. At times, he could be very philosophical and wise beyond his lack of education.

When one of his brothers announced that he was going to retire, he seemed unhappy about it. When I asked him why, he told me “it’s not working that makes you old, it’s stopping”. At the time this did not make sense to me, but since that conversation I have come to see the wisdom of his words. Many antique car enthusiasts will tell you that one of the worst thing you can do to a car is to let it sit, not driving it. The parts will rot and rust will spread. We are no different, after-all,  we humans are advanced machines.

Uncle Olen was somewhere north of his seventieth year, yet he was still strong and had drive. Many days I wondered how he had so much energy.  Here I was, 50+ years his junior and worn completely out, yet he was still going strong.

I have observed many people since then and watched those who retired and lived their dream of doing nothing, only to wither away. Why is this? To me, it seems that Newton’s Law of Motion apply to humans as well as objects. Those who are at rest seem to lose all their drive and desire to get up and get moving. Those that have a reason to wake up and get moving are the ones that remain active and healthy.

So why get up, why move? Especially when we have access to all the information and entertainment that we could possibly ever want right at our finger tips. This is where purpose comes in. Something has to pry us away from that marathon of streaming sitcoms.

I am not talking about the type of purpose that inspires one to change the world. There are many reasons, be it family or just trying to make the world around you better, as long as it gives you a reason, a desire.

I recently met a lady who told me how she volunteered at a local pre-school as a surrogate grandmother. She would read to them, play with them and even bake cookies for them. What she did was pretty simple, nothing that was earth shattering. She wasn’t trying to change the world, just the world of a few children. I could see in her eyes that these children meant so much to her. They were her purpose.

In order to move an object, you need a bigger, stronger object. Such is the case with the human spirit. One has to find something bigger than themselves, bigger than the internet that is calling. We are often so wrapped up in a “me” attitude that we neglect looking at a more panoramic view of the world. We forget how we can affect one another through our actions.

The Best Run Ever…Until…

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. All the planning, all the training, all the desires came down to one weekend, last weekend. I finally stood at the starting line of the Arkansas Traveller 100. I wasn’t nervous or scared, I knew I was ready. I had a deep calm about it and that’s where I needed to be mentally.IMG_5639

When the gun went off at 6 a.m. I knew my plan, knock off a few miles before the sun heated things up. Then back off the pace a little, if things were going as planned I would have banked a few mile and some time before things got hot. I did not think about the miles, just the distance to the next aid station (although, my new friend Monique made an off the cuff comment after one mile that it was like 99 bottles of beer left on the wall, so from that point on it was how many bottles of beer were left). No thought wasted on anything beyond that…focus on the moment, the pace and how I felt. I would run by feel and feel alone.

Soon I passed the first aid statio

n, then the second and off the roads, on to single track trails. I backed off a little, it was slightly technical and uphill-no use in wearing myself out this early. Then the third aid station (which is also the first aid station since the opening 16 miles of the course is a figure 8) and still feeling great.

A few more mile and I emerged from the trail at Lake Sylvia, the first aid station that my crew was allowed to be.

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As I came in Tom and Kendall were ready, peanut butter and honey sandwich in hand, fresh singlet to put on and restock nutrition in my vest. In and out, smooth as a runner could ask for.

Next up was the Pumpkin Patch aid station. The stretch between there and Lake Sylvia was the section I was most comfortable with. Everything was still clicking for me when I came into the Pumpkin Patch.

This aid station is special to me. the first thing I did with this race, or any trail race for that matter, was help at this station for a few hours before I went out to pace Lisa Gunnoe, that was back in 2015.

Lisa’s family mans the Pumpkin Patch, so when I came in they were ready for me. Her daughter Kim grabbed my water bottles and filled them while her husband Chris got me Gatorade and snacks. Kevin King filled my ice bandanna and tied it on me. It was almost like having my crew there helping me.

The next couple of stations came and went with ease, E-tower then Rocky Gap. Stomach was good, legs felt strong at both stations. Quick banana and a swig of Coke and off I went. the stretch after Rocky Gap live up to it’s name, fairly good sized rocks and they were uneven. I slowed a little even though it was a downhill and I love a good slightly technical downhill. I wanted to save a little plus it was starting to warm up.

Next I came into Lake Winona, the second crew station. By this point, another one of my pacers, Shauna, had joined in. I decided that it was time for a sock change. My crew had a chair out and ready for me as if they had anticipated this. Tom and Kendall fed me and restocked my vest while Shauna’s motherly instincts kick in and she put fresh socks on my feet.IMG_5697

I slowed my pace a little at this point, there was a lot of uphill through the next section and not much shade. I was afraid the heat might get to me since there was no shade to speak of. Luckily for me, the sky clouded up some. For a few minutes I wondered if I would be running in the rain. I just pushed through to the next aid station, Pig Trail. A banana and a swig of soda, still feeling great so I cruised right through.

My plan all along was to manage my time at the aid stations and so far I was sticking to it. Don’t waste time but don’t go through so fast that I burn myself out or don’t get what I needed. Think about it before I was there and know what needed to be done so it could be done efficiently.  In this race, efficiency was the name of the game, not just efficiency of running form, but of time and weight carried.

Club Flamingo, the Bahama Mama stations, then the fun begins. It is the highest point of the course, Smith Mountain. Truthfully, the first time over Smith Mountain isn’t to bad (after the initial figure 8 the course is an out and back). I reached the top of the mountain with a man named Ben. We had been running together since Club Flamingo. I had warned him that as the evening wore on that snakes would be coming out.

After taking a moment to enjoy the view, he turned and nearly stepped on the biggest timber rattler I have ever seen. We backed up, hoping it would just go on. It just laid there, completely across the trail. The next option would be to go back to Bahama Mama, 2.5 miles. This would not be a great choice since it would add 5 miles to an already long run. Finally, it was decided that our only choice was to kill it. Sticks and stones do break bones, even in snakes. After we left, we realized that we had left the carcass in the trail, neither of us wanted to go back. As Ben pointed out, it would make for a good story for the runners behind us. For the people I spoke to, it did make a good story and we were called a few names.FullSizeRender (1)

Next was a nice long downhill. We took this section a little slower. It was smooth, but covered in leaves. After our last encounter, we erred on the side of caution, a snake would very easily be missed if we were moving too fast or didn’t have time to notice it in the dead leaves and timber.About a mile before Power line aid station, the course becomes dirt road again, snake would be more visible, so we sped up again.

At the aid station, you can get your first pacer, for me that was Chris.  We left out about dark. Headlamps on, we took off. Everything seem good at this point. Just as we settled in to a good pace, something happened, it was like a switch went off. My right leg felt like a knife was stabbing it every time I took a step.

I limped to the next aid station, Copperhead (ironic name after what happened a few miles earlier). My friend Susan was working, she tried to help me massage it, tape it, even put Bio-Freeze on it. Nothing worked, I made the decision to call it a day. I hated to do it, but I didn’t want to cause anymore damage. I’m still not 100% sure what caused it, but I know that I will spend more training time on hip and core strength for my return next year.

All in all, it went well up until that point. I felt good, physically and mentally. I was “in the zone” all day. It was truly one of the best runs of my life, even if it fell short by 47 miles.

Lessons Learned on the Road to the Arkansas Traveller

I haven’t posted much here lately. Life, training for the Arkansas Traveller 100 and volunteer commitments seem to get in the way constantly. As of right now, I have just started my taper, so I will probably have the taper jitters and over post things here.

They say that the person who stands at the starting line of their first 100 miler is not the same person who crosses the finish line. Really, you could take that a step further, the person who signs up is not the same one who stands at the starting line. Here are some of the things I have learned so far.

  1. For me, I have learned to manage my time better, to organize more. I knew going in that I would have to learn to roll with the punches more because things can and will go wrong. Did I forget some equipment? Oh well, learn to run without it. Adjust on the fly and roll with the punches. Something is bound to go wrong, just call it a challenge, face up to it, adapt and overcome.
  2. Speaking of adjusting, don’t be set in your ways when it comes to nutrition. I only allow myself to drink sodas during long runs and then it usually is an occasional treat at an aid station. Back in the day when I did drink it regularly, I would only have Coke or Mt Dew. I hated Sprite. At a race recently, the only option at a particular aid station was Sprite. So I decided it was better than nothing. To my surprise it went down pretty good.
  3.  Trust your training! As most of us do, I am second guessing what I did and what could have been done different. I hear many opinions on how to train for a 100 miler, and I am sure that they all work, but I have chosen one plan and I stuck to it. Some swear by back to back long runs, some never run more than 25-30 miles at a time. I know that these plans have worked, but I know that mine will work too. My advice to the person looking at their first ultra is to ask around, find a plan that fits into your overall fitness and lifestyle, and then don’t second guess it (I say this knowing you will second guess it like I have). They say opinions are like belly buttons, we all have one. When you start training you will get many (opinions that is, not belly buttons). Weed through them and find what works. Some ideas may help you. Listen to everyone and discern.

The most important lesson I have learned wasn’t about myself, rather it was about others. As I headed down this road, I was a little concerned as to who would be willing to assist me. This is a big endeavor, one that is nearly impossible to do by yourself. When word got out that I was in, many offered to help.  I was overwhelmed at the offers. The lesson I gleaned from this is that people want to be apart of something bigger than themselves, especially when it involves helping those around them achieve their very best.

What Not to Think About

Comedian Brian Callen recently used the phrase “what not to think about” on the Art of Charm podcast. He was referring to learning a new hobby or skill. This is the perfect analogy for running. Volumes have been written on how to run, how to train for a run, how to eat for a run, how to do this for a faster run, how to do that for a faster run, what exercises to do so you will have better runs, etc.

With so much instruction out there, it can be easy to get information overload. Some of the information may even sound contradictory. There are several shelves in my office full of books about running, which seem to multiply mysteriously. I’ve noticed a weird pattern, they seem to procreate around the time I look at Amazon.com because several days later there are always new books there. All of these books promise the same thing, to make the reader run faster and farther and more efficiently.

Chapters have been written on just tying your shoes. Yes, tying your shoes. Most of us learned how to do this as toddlers and have never thought about it again. It has almost become an autonomic function, yet there are many ways of doing it. I had a problem with my shoes coming untied, I learned that crossing the ends of the strings the opposite way would stop this. Who knew that something so simple could solve that problem, no more double knotting.IMG_8733

Somehow we have to learn how to discern all of this information, otherwise we could cloud our mind. Sometimes it’s through trial and  We run the risk of focusing on the wrong thing, watching the right hand and losing the left one.

We tend to complicate things and cloud up our efforts. We buy the latest and greatest in technology. Yet, in the end, we are all just trying to put one foot in front of the other as fast as we can. Many runners tend to focus on their GPS device, whether it’s a watch or a phone app. These can be dangerous to your mental game. If you learn to run by feel, then you look at your watch and realize that you are going faster than intended, you may slow down. While it can be a good thing to hold back, you may be holding yourself back from a major break through.

Still others tend to spend to much time visiting. I realize that running is a social sport, but at some level we need to be able to stop talking and push ourselves. I’ve watched many groups who’s main goal is to stay together, while there is strength in numbers, I can’t help but wonder if there is someone in that pack in front of me who could be preforming better. If you choose to focus on those around you, make sure that both of you are on similar levels.

What should you think about?  What deserves all your attention while running? What I have learned is that the focus should be on the enjoyment of the run. Not one thing has helped my pace more than learning to smile through it all. A smile can force you through the pain and to help you work past the low points.

A long run can be an emotional roller coaster with great runner’s highs. With each high point there is the one thing you rarely hear about, the runner’s low. Everyone has their own way of working beyond the low, but a smile can be the greatest tool in your box. Why? Well, research has proven that a smile will improve your mood. It can also reduce your perceived stress levels and lower your heart rate.

My question to you is, if you can’t smile while you are doing something that you supposedly enjoy, then why do it? We all have our different reasons for running, but we all share a common pains and a common love for the sport. Running is not comfortable, it can out right hurt at times. We all hurt in some way, so why not just smile through it all?