Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Singing Warrior: A Lean Horse Race Report

Running 100 miles over the period of 27.5 hours is such a monumental task that it is almost impossible to digest. It also does not lend itself to the kinds of exciting blow-by-blow race reports that we in triathlon are used to…I ran and ran and ran, what else is there to say? Well, fortunately, or unfortunately, I do have a number of thoughts on the subject of running 100 miles and my own experience while entering that rare circle of people who have done so.

I have written and rewritten this race report and spent the past couple days trying to figure out what to post and I’m just going to go all out and include just about everything mostly so I can come back to it one day. To make things a bit easier on people who may read this I’ll break it into sections so you can skip around to what you may be interested in and I think I’ll post the nuts and bolts of my race report later. Today I post the report.

First, ultrarunning is both similar to and different from Ironman triathlon. The differences are obvious, no uber-expensive gear, no “Ultrarunner Village” where you can drop hundreds on an endless supply of schwag and no fanfare…at all. I think this is how iron-distance triathlon was in the beginning with friends and family following their athlete around the course doing what they could to provide support with maybe the odd aid station thrown in now and again. However, like in long distance triathlon in ultrarunning you are surrounded by a community of people who believes there is magic in going well beyond what “normal” people are supposed to be able to do and they are true champions of the notion that you can always accomplish far more than you ever dreamed possible. Another similarity, they are always ready and eager to lend the novice a hand, to lend support and advice when they can and simply to provide a knowing look when the individual is deep in a personal misery that must be conquered alone. Running 100 miles is both profoundly individual and fully dependent on the hard work of your crew and those wonderful people called volunteers.

Me and fellow ultrarunner Don ran this race and we had the crewing help of the GeekGrl and friend Scott. I also received help and advice from California based ultrarunner Rajeev and long-time New Mexico ultrarunners Bobby and Dennis. Without them I may well have simply run myself into oblivion and failed to finish or worse.

I did not have my dream race of a sub-24 hour run but I was still on target for a sub-24 hour run at mile 83.4 and then it took me 7 hours to traverse the next 16.6 miles. I made it through mile 20 on pace and then it started heating up and I was forced to slow my pace and try what I could to stay cool.

It got quite hot, enough to force me to slow down and to carry a lot more fluids, three full water bottles just to get me from one aid station to the next. This is where the cool off bandana really kicked in because though I had to slow a bit many people were sweltering and I’m not sure three bottles would have lasted me between aid stations if I didn’t have the extra cooling. There were also a couple of times early in the race like around mile 20 and 25 or so when the thought that I had 75 to 80 miles to go lept into my head and it made me want to throw up but I was able to banish the thoughts almost as soon as they occurred to me. Banishing bad thoughts is a skill you will want to develop because if you left too much negativity creep in you are in for a miserable time.

So I was able to hold my slightly slower pace but my stomach was getting increasingly worse probably beginning around mile 40 and by the time I hit the turn around I was beginning to fall apart. To make matters worse when I hit the turn-around a fellow runner cheerily said “Great job, your halfway there!” HALF WAY THERE…I had been running for eleven and a half freakin hours! That was a real test of my trying to keep things positive. I later told Misty that was the single most de-motivating experience I have ever had in a race but instead of getting depressed I mostly got angry at the guy and reminded myself of the ultrarunning axiom “no matter how good you feel or how bad you feel it will soon change” and since I was in a down turn I knew things were about to get better.

Still at the turn-around point aid station I started throwing up because my stomach was so bad. Ok, maybe things weren’t going to get better immediately but I have become a big fan of throwing up when my stomach is feeling bad. As long as we are not talking about uncontrollable retching the well timed barf kind of resets the stomach and gives you a second lease on life. At that point two experienced ultrarunners came to my aid. One named Rajeev, who was doing the race, gave me some ginger candy that helped settle my stomach. The other ultrarunner who helped me out was a fellow New Mexican named Bobby who ran Leadville last weekend and was helping out crewing for someone at this race. He filled one of my water bottles with coke and also told me that I needed to make sure that whatever I drank was closer to room temperature, nothing cold. He told me that when the cold fluids hit my stomach it caused it to cramp after a while. I had been drinking as much cold fluid as possible to stay cool and had been getting progressively sicker as the race wore on. I took his advice and began drinking my coke and water and made sure that both were slightly warm.

Leaving the 50 mile turn around the route has a 5 mile uphill section so I decided to walk the entire uphill and get my nutrition back on track; this is when I got the next bit of great advice. Another New Mexican ultrarunner named Dennis told m that I needed to run every once in a while if only for a hundred yards or so even if it was uphill so that my running muscles wouldn’t forget how to run. I don’t know if those were his exact words but I spent the next several hours bringing myself back to a run by saying “I can’t forget how to run”, which is pretty ridiculous considering the situation. Anyway, the ginger and the advice from Dennis and Bobby completely turned me around so that by about mile 54 I was feeling better and getting stronger so much so that when the GeekGrl met me at mile 63 or so she could not keep up with me. I began passing people at mile 60 and continued to do so through mile 80; I was strong and I was running.

Night began to fall shortly after I left the aid station around mile 60 and initially I was able to run in the twilight and then dark without a headlamp. During my training I did a couple night runs of 3 hours each and then the one 50K that began at midnight and I have to say I have come to love the night run. It is peaceful and solitary and it’s like you have the world to yourself. I also had some rather silly times that helped keep my spirits high. At one point I saw someone ahead of me, a dark figure running down the trail. I thought to myself, ah ha, someone I can run down! And so the chase began. I picked up the pace and so did the dark figure ahead of me. I thought this was going to take more than just a burst of speed…this guy was on to me. I slowed to a quick walk to conserve a bit of energy thinking that if I kept at a brisk walk and every once in a while broke in to a run I would eventually catch and pass him. However when I slowed he slowed and when I sped up he sped up…oooh, this bastard was good then all of a sudden his entire body elongated sideways and spread across a field. WOW, that freaked me out for a moment and then I realized that I had been chasing my own shadow! Then all of a sudden it occurred to me that I was Mr. Gumby from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, you know, the guy with the Hitler mustache and the diaper looking thing on his head. I’m telling you, I was having a ball! The video proves it. Now remember that video shot is of me at mile 80 and I am genuinely having fun even if I am half out of my mind.

At the mile 76 aid station I complained about my feet hurting like they were blistered and we pulled my shoes and socks but didn’t see anything. Unfortunately there were blisters developing on the balls of each of my feet deep under the skin below some calluses and that could not be seen. We all just assumed my feet were getting tender. By mile 83 I was really hurting but I was also a bit out of it so forgot to have my feet looked at. I was also chafing badly in my nether regions and forgot to have that taken care of as well. All that was in my mind was getting nutrition and getting back on the course. Of course as soon as I had sent the GeekGrl three miles up the road I immediately realized my mistake and was determined to get help when I found her next, which I again forgot to do but thank god I only had her drive one mile down the road.

So there I was at mile 87 having the GeekGrl try and mend my feet when fellow ultrarunners Don, who was racing, and Scott caught up with us. I was not having fun at this point. Scott immediately set to work on my feet while Don continued to run on down the road. When my feet were revealed they were a complete disaster. I had a couple blisters on my toes that looked like second toes and the blisters that were deep under calouses covered the entire the ball of each foot and they had their own blisters forming on, under and around them. We drained what we could but some were too deep and could not be drained so we just wrapped my feet in tape and slathered them in lubricant to try and reduce the friction. With my foot care done as well as we could manage Scott ran off after Don who he was pacing for the last 20 miles. It was in and exhausted condition after the foot care at mile 87 and with Scott gone down the road that I stepped on the edge of the road and it was sloped just enough that I lost my very precarious balance and fell into the ditch. It was depressing to be exhausted, in significant pain and lying in a ditch but on the other hand the ditch was rather comfortable. Anyway I was going so slow at this point that I knew I didn’t have time to waste. It took the GeekGrl a couple minutes to help leverage me out of the ditch and back onto my feet but I was eventually standing again and pointed in the right direction.

By that late in the race with my feet in such bad shape I was getting passed by everyone I had worked to overtake during the previous 20 miles, it was disheartening to say the least but I had long since ceased to be myself and had simply become another animal in the woods trying to get home. Though the pain was excruciating it held little meaning because it stood between me and the finish. Nothing mattered but forward movement to the finish line and any thoughts, emotions or bodily sensation were luxuries I could not afford. By the last mile of the race I was reduced to a 30 to 40 minute per mile pace and when I crossed the finish line I did not stop and celebrate, I’m not even sure if I raised my arms or anything I just walked across the line and kept walking straight to our hotel room. Strangely enough I thought there was an old Sioux warrior standing at the finish line beating a drum and singing a warriors song but the finish line video shows that this was not the case but I could swear I heard that Sioux warrior singing, I can still hear him when I think back on the moment.

From what I understand from other ultrarunners in the big races like Leadville I would have been yanked from the course. I don’t know what to think about that, on the one hand I’m alive and I was able to meet my goal but on the other hand maybe I passed too far into a danger zone to be safe, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I ran 100 miles in 27 and a half hours and in the end it was by sheer force of will. I don’t think that bestows any special rights or privileges upon me but maybe it does give me the right to commune with dead warriors, to hear their battle song and partake in their ancient ferocity.


  1. It sounds like you really pushed the envelope on this one. I hope you're recovering well!

  2. What a cool report. I think this experience for you is unique in that unlike triathlons where you are very strong and seasoned, here you had a chance to do something that was new and challenging you were the newbie.

    AND YOU FREAKIN DID IT. 100 miles

    You know in my world, just getting across the finish line trumps all other goals.

    You are one mentally tough SOB Brian. And if by some odd chance we are ever in a plane crash in some remote stretch of the woods 100 miles from help. I know who we're sending.

    Rest up. I'm sure you got some event on the horizon that is already in the back of your brain.

  3. All I can say is WOW! Sounds like Ironman times 100 hard. You did it-thank you for your detailed report. It made me laugh and I had tears in my eyes. The video of you at mile 80 is hysterical!! I am wondering how you are feeling now-a few days out..I'd like to say good job except I was bit worried about you out there my friend..

  4. What an amazing journey.
    I hope you are kicking back with your feet up for a day or two!

  5. you ran 100 miles and you have the memories of the hallucinations to prove it.

    Seriously, I don't think it would have been the same without the hallucinations. And the weirdness.

    Thanks for demystifying the experience. That's pretty weird. And cool - in a weird way. Or weird, in a cool way (I think you know what I mean).

    You did it, you're still alive, and you're amazing. Right on!

  6. Anonymous8:33 AM

    WOW! I can't even imagine how hard that was. You have a lot of mental toughness! The videos are great, and I had to laugh at your conversation. You fell in a ditch, too?!? I smiled again when you said it was quite comfortable!

    It was neat hearing Misty's comments to you, too. You can hear how much she loves you =)

    What a hard journey!! I'm glad you're okay. Take care of yourself and recover.

  7. Nicely written...gave me an idea.
    The fact that you still had your sense of humor at that "low" point is a HUGE factor in finishing something like this.
    It's when you lose it, people usually drop out at that point.
    Can't imagine. I am all "runned" out for the most part, but there was a time...yes, there was I time I toyed with this very idea.
    Congrats again!

  8. Oh- and I just might have a Canyon crossing in me somewhere in the future...just one more.

    Think about it!

  9. Oh- and I just might have a Canyon crossing in me somewhere in the future...just one more.

    Think about it!

  10. Wow! You friggin did it! You are an ultra stud.

  11. Holy cow! Sheer force of will...amazing what the mind can get you through despite the physical agony. Congratulations on getting through it, and I hope you are recovering well. Good luck on the next endeavor...it's always an adventure to read your race reports.

  12. I'm totally in awe of you.

    I can't even imagine.

    Rest. Please just rest.

    You deserve it.

  13. That was pretty scary - but amazing too. Rest and heal mate

  14. Good job. Good race report. Seems you got pretty much the whole 'ultra 100' experience in your first race (as I did.)
    I also had bad blisters after my first 100. Get those healed up before you think about the NM Marathon..although after the 100, you're going to giggle about a marathon. Jon Vonhof "Fixing your Feet" book is a good addition to the library.
    You hit the highs and the lows. Yet you kept moving through the very lows..and keep relentless forward motion. Very good.
    Please email me if you want to chat about 100s and such.
    BUT 27 hours is a GREAT time for your first 100-excellent, excellent time!!!!!!!!!

  15. Anonymous5:46 PM

    The video is great. It's almost like you're drunk!

    Reading your story makes me see why your wife doesn't want to see you like that again, but how hard it is to stop a dream! What an amazing experience you've both had! Congrats again!!!!

  16. That is just incredible! I hope your feet are feeling better and healing well. Your videos just top it right off!


  17. Good Lord! Congratulations on pushing through a very, very tough one.

  18. Great report and wonderful videos. That one of you at mile 80 just says it all. So close, yet still so far from that finish line.

    I am amazed that you did this -- or that anyone does it.

  19. Willpower indeed!

  20. That was amazing. Great race report. Baffling to me how you made it through so
    much pain. You are made of something different man. focus and determination does
    not come close to explaining it. Truly amazing.

  21. Wow, that was amazing.
    Great report and the videos were really good.

  22. Amazing, Brian. Simply amazing.

    When I'm running my 40 miler in just a few weeks, I'll make sure to think of your effort when I hit my low spot.

  23. Nice to see you running so strongly at mile 60. Painful to read about those last miles. I hope your feet are healing well.
    And, yes, I certainly think you earned the right to commune with dead warriors.
    Great effort and accomplishment!

  24. Wow.

    Thanks for the full write-up!

  25. Brian,

    Congratulations on digging deep into your well of courage and coming up aces every time! Most people in your shoes would have quit. 27 hours is a superb time given the ordeal you went through!!

    Until next time.

  26. Holy Crap!! What a report! Great videos too!

    NICE JOB!! 100 MILES!!!!

  27. In-friggin-credible! Wow, wow, wow. Enjoy some recovery time.