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.
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