Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thoughts from Cactus Rose 100

I have come to realize that running ultras offers a very unique experience. They can be a life changing experience for many people – I know they are for me – every time I do one! During the Cactus Rose 100 this year I experienced great joy and moments of clarity. I communed with God and his creation. I experienced the good will and love of other people. And I also experienced some of the lowest moments of my life.

I’ve heard running 100’s is sort of like a parable for your life. You will have up times – you will have down times. The good news is the down times won’t last forever – and neither will the up times. I had to remind myself of that constantly during this race.

The first 40 miles were pretty uneventful. I talked to other runners, enjoyed the scenery, and ran a very conservative pace. However, the wheels started to fall off around mile 45 when I developed stomach issues. I downed a bunch of tea and started violently throwing up. Over and over and over again. Really fun stuff.

My amazing wife, Virginia saved my race at mile 50 after I’d been throwing up for the past hour or so and was having trouble keeping anything down. V ran with me from mile 50 to mile 55 and really lifted my spirits. There is nothing like running with your wife. I so sad to leave her behind at mile 55. It was dark, getting cold, and I knew I’d be by myself for the next 10 hours or so. But I focused on getting to mile 95 where V would be waiting and would run me in to the finish!

Soup – it does a body good! With all of my stomach issues, soup was so good to me. I had some of the best lentil soup of my life at mile 50 (thank you Julie!). I had some chicken and rice at mile 55. And some terrible ramen noodles at mile 80 (thanks, Olga!) – but it all did me a world of good!

I craved caffeine during dark hours of the night. I was so sleepy. I carried a few caffeine tablets with me, but had already taken them earlier in the day. I ran into my friend Matt and Brandon at mile 70. I knew Matt typically carries caffeine tablets with him, so I asked him for one. He graciously gave me one of his tablets and I quickly swallowed it. About a mile later, my stomach started acting up again. I knew I was going to puke again, but I fought it as long as I could. I did not want to lose that caffeine tablet that I just swallowed! Of course, the inevitable happened and out it came along with the rest of my stomach. I staggered on – now just a little more dejected than before. I was in a pretty bad place at that point.

Mile 75 – this is back to the start/finish area. I knew this was a quitting point for many people. How would I react? I had thoughts of walking over to my tent and trying to crawl into my warm sleeping bag. However, I knew that V would kick me out of the tent and send me back out there. She’s a tough cookie and I didn’t want any part of that!

I wrestled with some serious demons throughout the night. I kept thinking of the words of another ultrarunner I know -- “100 milers are no joke”. I knew I wasn’t in 100 mile shape. Visions of Western States from two years ago were in my head (it was a bad experience). What if I can’t stop throwing up? Would V have to drive me to a hospital somewhere? This is a really idiotic sport – why am I doing this? I envied my friends Buddy and Brandon who were miles ahead of me. Battling demons are a part of this sport. You have to realize that the demons will be present at some point during the race. You have to be prepared to do battle with them. I did my best to overcome these middle of the night demons.

Hallucinations – I had not experienced this in a race before. I think it happened because I got so little sleep the Friday before the race. Logs becoming people lying across the trail. Shadows became strange animals. I jumped many times because I thought a shadow was attacking me. It was a little weird out there.

In my strange mental state, I could not do math any more. I came into the mile 85 aid station thinking I was up against the cutoff. Thank goodness I said something to Olga. She quickly straightened me out and told me I was 3 entire hours ahead of the cutoff. That took some serious pressure off me. I knew at that point, as long as I kept moving I would finish. She even predicted that it would take me exactly 3 hours to get to mile 95 – and she was dead on right. At that point, I was pretty proud of an 18 mile a minute pace!

I am not a big on trophies. But for some reason, I really wanted that Cactus Rose buckle. I mean I really, really wanted it. I’ve felt the pain of not finishing a race, and I didn’t want to experience that again. I didn’t want to explain to my family why I dropped out of this race. In fact, I did not have a good reason to drop. Was I physically tired – yes. Was I seriously sleep deprived - yes. Had I thrown up more than a dozen times – yes. But I could still walk – and at times run. So that’s what I did.

I knew if I could get to mile 95, V would pace me in to the finish. I’m not sure if she’s ever seen me so down and dejected before. My feet hurt so bad that I wanted to cry. I was worried that I was not going to be able to climb the last hill before the finish line. I was sitting down often and taking breaks in the shade – just trying to collect myself. V was the perfect pacer. She was encouraging and she even lied to me when she had to – “No, you are not getting a sunburn, baby!” “You look so good”. “You are moving really well!” Yeah, right!

Some things I won’t ever forget from this race. V saving my race. My good friends and family and their giving spirits. My 9 year old daughter, Sara - “Daddy, you can do it!” My 7 year old son, Joe – “Daddy, can we carve the Halloween pumpkin as soon as you finish the race?” Yes, Joe --- of course we can.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Possum

One of my favorite things about trail running is you never know what you may see on the trail. I've shared the local trails with all sorts of animals -- horses, cows (some mean ones), bobcats, raccoons, birds, and deer.

Here are a couple of stories about some critter encounters -- some cool and some scary (at least for me!)

Snakes -- snakes actually scare me pretty badly. So much so that I almost quit a night race last summer when I nearly stepped on an enormous copperhead. It took every ounce of courage that I had to move past that coiled up snake on the trail. Later that night I saw several other snakes. That race really freaked me out. The snakes were on the hunt and I was on their trail highway! Since that race, I've jumped over water moccasins on the trail and even had one charge me recently. So I may finally be getting over my fear of snakes!

Owls -- one early morning (still dark) at White Rock Lake a very large owl swooped down on me thinking I may be some kind of prey. I ducked just in time to save my scalp.

Spiders -- this is one of my least favorite things about trail running. In the summer if you are the first person on the trail, you will encounter giant spider webs (complete with spiders) crossing the trail. And the worst thing is, you won't see the web until it's too late. Imagine the scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" where Indiana Jones is running through the cave with the giant boulder chasing him. He ends up crashing through a bunch of spider webs. That's the way I feel on my summer early morning trail runs. I just love knocking spiders off my head and spitting web out of my mouth!

Coyotes -- seeing a coyote is pretty special. They are incredibly common in my neighborhood. One early morning at White Rock Lake, I happened upon a male and female walking together. I was literally 20 feet from these two wild animals. I stopped running and watched them. They looked at me for a second and then trotted off into the woods. It was a very cool experience.

My favorite critter encounter has to be the possum I saw at "24 the Hard Way" in 2009. It was 3am and I was 19 hours into a 24 hour race when I came upon a small possum. I thought he was dead as he was just lying on his side. I felt bad for him as I continued to run. This race is a one mile loop course that you run as many times as possible in 24 hours. So I came upon the possum again one mile later. That's when it dawned on me that this possum may not be dead at all. He may just be "playing possum". I got a kick out of thinking about this poor possum crossing the road in the middle of the night and seeing a runner charging at him. So he goes into his little possum act and falls over "dead". The runner moves on, and the little possum "wakes" up and starts to move off when he sees another runner come charging down the path. So he freaks out and falls over "dead" again. This went on for at least two hours. Finally the possum realized that the runners where no threat to him and moved on into the forest. That really cracked me up and made the lonely night time hours pass by a little quicker for me. I was a little sad when I saw that the possum had finally run off.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Big One – Rouge-Orleans in March 2011

My big goal for the Fall/Winter season is the Rouge to Orleans 124 mile race. This is a race along the Mississippi river levee from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. This is the inaugural year of the race and I’m really excited about it. I’ve run on this levee a handful of times and I really like it. I love that it is a point to point race and you run from one city to the other. And the fact that I have family in the Baton Rouge/New Orleans area makes it even sweeter. In fact, I’ll run within 300 yards of my Aunt’s house --- pretty cool huh?

Since Western States last year, I’ve run with no real focus or big goal. I’ve certainly enjoyed my daily runs and I’ve had some good races (24 the Hard Way). I have also had some really challenging races (Bandera 100K and Jemez 50). It feels good to finally have a goal that I am really excited about. Maybe not Western States excited, but still very, very excited.

And finally, I’m excited about the opportunity to stretch myself beyond 100 miles. The most I’ve ever run has been 106 miles at one stretch. I want to see what lies ahead of that mark. What will it look like? How will I feel? I imagine I’ll be able to see New Orleans at that point. Will the city seem so close I could touch it? Or will it look impossibly far? I look forward to finding out what is in store for me.

In the meantime, I’m ramping up my training. I have quite a few races before Rouge to Orleans. This is going to be FUN!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jemez 50 - another great day in the mountains!

This was my second year in a row running in the Jemez 50 miler. I love this race. It is tough, it is beautiful, and it just gets to you. It is a pure classic. And it is not to be taken lightly.

I made it 32 miles before timing out of the race. My legs were shot and I could not run anymore. Walking was even an issue as I was reduced to a 45 minute pace per mile for the last two miles. I was literally taking baby steps up any kind of incline. And believe me there are MILES of steep inclines on this course!

Bottom line, I was not properly trained for a mountain trail race. Being a flatlander from Dallas, this is not the kind of race you can fake your way through. You have to earn every single mile of this race and this year I was not in the shape to do it.

There lessons in every single race --- and sometimes you have to learn them more than once. That is one of the beautiful aspects of ultrarunning. There are no guarantees in this sport. You toe the starting line and you have no idea what is in store for you that day. It could be a perfect day or it could be a day where you just blow up.

I didn’t blow up at Jemez, but I wasn’t up to the task for that day. But it was beautiful, it was meaningful, and I loved every second of it! Jemez --- I’ll be back!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Running with the Blind - Pacing at Rocky Raccoon 100

For this year's Rocky Raccoon 100, my plan was to pace two friends for 20 miles each. Due to different circumstances, both of them ended up having bad days and not finishing.

I ended up meeting and pacing a new friend, Ted. Ted came down from Chicago without a crew or a pacer and this was his first 100 mile attempt. Around mile 65, he started to go blind. I’ve heard of this happening before in 100’s, but I had never witnessed it first hand.

Ted followed one of my buddies, Drew and his pacer Doug for 15 miles before coming upon me at mile 80. I spot Drew and ask him if he needs help. His response - "I'm fine, Mike -- but meet Ted."

Ted was sitting on the ground futily grabbing at things in his drop bag trying to feel around for some gels. Ted looks in my general direction and says, "Hello Mike. I can't see. I've fallen about 25 times so far. I can't really run because I'm afraid of falling down, but I can walk pretty fast."

I will be brutally honest here - I was not so sure I wanted to pace Ted. The idea of walking 20 miles in cold, damp temperatures (I did not have on the right gear), with a blind runner wasn't too appealing to me at 11pm at night. I asked Doug and Drew if Ted was OK to go back out there (you know, being blind and all). They both assured me he was OK as long as I stayed close in front of him. He could make out the reflections on my shoes to follow me. I made my decision right then to help Ted. It was going to be quite an adventure!

Ted pushed himself to his feet, and we started up the trail. After a mile or so of brisk hiking, Ted started to loosen up. He said he could probably run a bit when the trail wasn't too dangerous. Rocky Raccoon is known for its roots which reach up and grab you. So we started to mix in some running. I was pretty cautious at first - especially since Ted kept hitting roots and falling. But he'd get back up, brush himself off, and start running again. The guy was a machine. I could not believe how well he was doing. It turns out Ted is quite a fast runner. He is a guy that I normally could not pace unless he was having vision problems. We hit some sections of jeep road that had no roots at all and we picked up the pace. I was literally running as fast as I can and Ted had no issues keeping up with me. Did I mention that Ted is a near elite runner?!

Ted and I got to know each other more during the run. Since he lives in Chicago, he trained on a treadmill for most of his long runs. I told me he ran 52 miles on a treadmill for his long run getting ready for this race. Running on a treadmill for 52 miles takes extreme mental toughness. His longest official race before this 100 was a 50K – that’s it!

Ted and I stumbled through the last 20 miles of his 100 mile race. He fell too many times to count, but never lost his positive attitude. The guy was amazing. I was elated to help him finish his first 100 mile race.

This was the first time I’ve paced anyone for a hundred miler. It was an incredibly rewarding experience. Especially since it was Ted’s first. You run with someone through the darkness, through the struggles, and you feel so happy when they finish. I may have even been happier that night than for my first 100 mile finish. Congrats to you, Ted! You are amazing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bandera 100K - Damn, It was Cold!

Very cold temperatures, aliens punching me from the inside, and raw natural beauty are the things I'll remember from the 2010 running of the Bandera 100K. Unfortunately, I did not finish the race this year. I made it 40 miles before I called it a day -- I mean, night. I went into the race coming off a stomach virus and I had some serious lingering effects from it. Basically it just wasn't my day. I was not prepared mentally and I did not have the right clothes to walk the 22 more miles to the finish in the dark. My stomach would not let me run anymore and it kept me awake until after midnight before it finally gave up the ghost and let me rest.

Here is a video of one of sections of the course. It will give you a one minute snippet of what some of the terrain at Bandera is like.

It was another amazing race put on by RD Joe P and his regular cast of volunteers. These guys know how to put on an ultra and I'm blown away by them every time.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

24 The Hard Way

After my DNF at WS100 earlier this year, I felt a great need to get back on the horse and try again for 100 miles. However, getting into WS is a luxury that I probably won't have for several more years. It didn't start off this way, but 24 the Hard Way became a chance for me to redeem my WS race.

First things first --- the race is held in a beautiful park in Oklahoma City and is put on by Chisholm Deupree among other co-race directors. They did an amazing job. It was extremely well organized. I really can not say enough good things about this race. If you are into timed events like this, you must put this one on your calendar. The course was good (some flat, some gentle rollers), the aid was great (best food I've ever had at a race), and the volunteers were both experienced and wonderful. They even had a monitor that showed your progress during the race. Every time you crossed the timing mat, you knew exactly how fast your pace was for the previous lap and how many miles you had accumulated.

The 24 Hour Runners

I went out to the race with Matt, Jeff, and Julie (Matt's wife). Matt and Jeff ran the race. Julie crewed for us and watched over us like a good mother hen. She's nearly eight months pregnant and was out there all day crewing for us. She even walked a mile with me near the end of the race when I was in some of the worst pain I've ever felt before in my life. I'm guessing Julie did quite a few miles walking with one of us when we needed it.

Mike, Matt, and Jeff - PreRace

Matt and Julie

My goal for the race was 100 miles. I knew I'd be disappointed if I did anything less than 85 miles, but 100 miles was my primary goal. I just wasn't sure if I was in 100 mile shape.

I started the race very conservatively. I know that I'm not a fast runner, but by using a run/walk strategy I can usually stay very consistent and be able to run late in a race when many folks can not run any longer. In fact, I walked half of each loop and ran half of each loop. After a loop or two I had it dialed in to where I would run and where I would walk. The first hours passed by very quickly. It was great fun running and chatting with every one. After several hours, Matt ran next to me for awhile and told me that I had 100 miles in me --- no problem at all. I silently agreed with him, but a lot can happen in 24 hours so I didn't want to jinx it.

Matt and Jeff were both in a groove all day long and were ticking off the miles like champs. We'd chat for a bit as they lapped me. That is really one of the special things about these timed events. They are held on a relatively small course so you get to be with people all day long. You always have someone to chat with --- or if you don't feel like talking, people understand that as well. We are all on our own personal journey out there. Jeff ended up with 112 miles and came in second place --- absolutely amazing! Matt finished with 70 really fast miles, but had to drop with foot issues. He came back later in the early hours of Sunday morning and ran some additional miles while wearing his jeans. The guy always cracks me up!

Another thing I loved about this race was the freedom of not carrying a bunch of stuff with me. During trail races I feel like Batman most of the time. I have on a waist pack or a hydration pack and will have multiple gels, salt tablets, ipod, jacket, gloves, etc. It was so nice to run with my hands free of a water bottle. Anything I needed I would stop and pick it up. And if I forgot about something -- no big deal -- I'd be back at the aid station in 12 minutes. So it was worry free running! And there were no pressures of cutoffs hanging over my head stressing me out to no end. I really loved that aspect of this race.
The day progressed and I was able to hold my pace for most of it. I had some low moments, but I always snapped out of them (big thanks to Jamie for Boom Boom Pow at 2am). I had some stomach issues, but I dealt with it OK. I also had moments of extreme joy out there. All in all, it was a great experience.

So how did I finish? 106 miles --- and the only mile that I ran the entire time was the very last loop. The run/walk plan worked out perfectly and I was able to keep a consistent effort most of the time. Overall --- great experience --- would do it again in a heart beat.

After the Race

The rest of the pictures are of the course -- just in case you'd like to do this race -- which I highly recommend!