Caution - world's longest race report (but I think it's a good read)
After Javelina as the GeekGrl and I were about our business leaving Phoenix I couldn't help but notice how self-absorbed people were, perfectly able-bodied men not giving up their seat for the woman standing immediately in front of them on the bus, people speeding up to get in this line or that just before someone else who appeared headed for the same line, people sitting alone at tables for four at the food court while they were on their iphone while others stood around with food on trays with nowhere to sit. It was startling enough for me to make a comment to the GeekGrl and when she said she didn't notice anything out of the ordinary I knew that I had found my “why” for running the Javelina Jundred (and 1.4!).
Right around 8:00 the previous night I found myself running through the cold desert air wearing three shirts headlamp on, two bottles of water in one hand and a cup of peanut butter filled pretzel bites in the other wondering “why am I doing this?” I wasn't wondering it in a miserable suffering kind of way but in a more practical way like “Why should I eat a balanced diet, why not just exist on cheesecake?” and I was never able to come up with an answer though in my own defense it wasn't ever a particularly productive line of thought as my cognitive abilities had become pretty fragile by then. No, it wasn't until the next day at the airport that I figured out that my “why” for Javelina was all about experiencing the way in which humans will pull together to overcome seemingly impossible odds, how when the chips are down we do band together and see each other through.
In today's society it seems to take some great calamity to elicit this kind of communal behavior and I assure you that every time I make an attempt at running 100 miles it is indeed a great calamity. I am completely inappropriate as an ultra-distance runner. I have no particular talent for running, I weighed in on race morning at 232 pounds and my primary sports background is rugby; I'm a tight-head prop for god's sake. However, with just a little help from some friends I am actually able to pull off something that about only 2000 people a year ever accomplish, run 100 miles non-stop.
Lap 1 - 3 hours 6 minutes from 6:00 a.m. to 9:06 a.m.
The race started off in the coolness of the Arizona morning before the sun rose to punish people for living there. I felt absolutely fantastic having gotten in good mileage and a good taper before the race. My health was good and my spirits were high as the starting gun went off and I suddenly realized that I forgot my water bottles back at our little tent in the Javelina race village. As everyone surged forward onto the Pemberton trail I surged back against the crowd to retrieve my bottles and thus I was about the last person to actually start the race. If I were a believer in fate I could have seen what was coming but I am of the “completely unwarranted optimism” persuasion so I was pretty sure that despite this little glitch I would do something miraculous like run a 22 hour race. The first loop was in what I came to think of as the “hard” direction, clockwise. I found this direction hard simply because it begins with the sections of trail that are the steepest, most rocky and has the greatest number of pockets of deep sand. I ran this loop easy and spent little time at the two aid stations out on the course. It was a beautiful desert course with interesting scenery and it was fun to see several people running in costume.
Lap 2 - 3 hours 26 minutes from 9:07 a.m. to 12:32 p.m.
I rolled into the Javelina Jeadquarters after my first 15.4 mile loop and plopped down at the research tent to have my weight taken, nutrition data recorded, mental status/bodily function check and to get my sweat patch changed. The time spent at the research tent was insignificant since I just sat there while the GeekGrl rushed about getting everything I needed for my next loop, counterclockwise, the easy direction. I thought of it as easy for the same reason I thought of clockwise as hard. When you are running counterclockwise it begins with all the flatter, smoother, wider parts of trail and ends with the more technical stuff. I am much more happy running down a rocky slope than I am climbing up one. The loop was pretty uneventful as far as my performance though it was starting to heat up significantly toward the end of the loop and I was beginning to feel its effects.
Lap 3 - 4 hours 56 minutes from 12:33 p.m. to 5:29 p.m.
After coming in from my second lap I did the research tent thing and this time gave them some blood. The research protocol called for blood every other lap but I doubt this had any significant impact on my performance either. What did have an effect on my performance was the heat. I'm not sure how hot it got during the day but I can tell you that it had been cold and snowing in Albuquerque before our departure to Arizona and I was not prepared for the Arizona desert. I slowed my pace considerably but still could not stomach any of the sports drink I was carrying. I stopped drinking altogether about half an hour into lap 3 which meant another hour of running through the heat of the day fully exposed to the Sonoran desert sun before hitting the aid station called Coyote Camp. When I finally got to Coyote Camp I was baking hot, my lips were parched and I felt sick to my stomach. I knew I desperately needed fluids and fuel but I just couldn't think of what I could possibly stomach. I sat down in a chair under a canopy they had set up for runners like me and just tried to cool down a bit and think. The aid stations workers were right with me asking what I needed and trying to assess my problem. I finally ended up drinking about 40 ounces of water, a couple cups of ginger ale and maybe half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I also took about 4 electrolyte caplets. It took me maybe 10 minutes sitting at the aid station but I finally cooled down a bit and was back from the dead for the first of many times.
I knew I couldn't stomach any sports drink so I filled both my bottles with water and hit the trail. I was skeptical about my ability to run the hour and a half or more I knew it would take me to get to the next aid station but felt I had little choice. I made it about a mile from Coyote Camp and became nauseated. Another mile and I found myself on the side of the trail throwing up. I still had three miles to go before reaching the next aid station at Jackass Junction. By the time I reached the junction I was fairly confused as to what was going on around me but I knew that I needed to stop and take in as much fluid and calories as I could. I also knew I needed electrolytes. I downed another 40 ounces of fluid and think I ate a whole PB&J sandwich. I swallowed 8 more electrolyte caplets along with three cups of ginger ale. There is no way I should have taken as many electrolytes as I did but like I said I wasn't thinking clearly. After taking in as much as I could I was again revived and back on the trail for yet another duel in the sun.
Lap 4 - 5 hours 16 minutes from 5:30 p.m. to 10:46 p.m.
Coming off lap three everyone was concerned about my status because it had taken me so much longer to run this lap than the previous two. Sitting in the research tent I told the GeekGrl that I thought I would do well with bottles filled with half water and half coke. I thought this would give me the fluids and calories that I so desperately needed. I also had her grab me more ginger ale and my stomach felt settled enough that I was able to take a gel with water. At this point I also changed shoes and noticed that my tape job had come apart so I went over to the medical tent and had them re-tape my feet. This added a good bit of time to my 4th lap but it was necessary. Once I had everything attended to it was back out on the trail heading counterclockwise to Jackass Junction.
I took about two sips from my genius coke and water mixture and immediately became nauseated once again so it was about 4 and a half miles to the aid station with nothing to hold me over except for the knowledge that the sun would soon be setting and cooler temperatures would shortly follow. By the time I reached Jackass Junction I was in pretty bad shape. My stomach was in knots and I was confused. I couldn't formulate any kind of plan for myself and knew that even if I did come up with something the plan could not be trusted. I was fully in the hands of the aid station workers and let me tell you something, they were amazing hands to be in.
I don't know how I got so lucky and I wish I knew names to give them credit but at that aid station happened to be a guy who had been in charge of medical at Badwater, a woman that I know nothing about except she seemed to have a British accent and another experienced and very enthusiastic ultrarunner who sounded like he may have been from New York. The Badwater doc explained what was going on with my body and why it was happening. He sat me down and just kept talking to me until I was better oriented before going off to do other mysterious doctor things somewhere else. Before I knew it British accent woman was at my side with a heated blanket. She not only wrapped me up but convinced me to sit in a chair next to a heater instead of the one out in the cold that I had plopped into. She also got me to eat some warm noodle soup and drink some more ginger ale. As I sat in my cozy little corner of the aid station eating my soup and drinking my ginger ale ultra guy came up and started working on my motivation. I confided in him saying that I just couldn't think straight anymore, that I had been so long without proper nutrition that I simply could not access my own store of knowledge. He said a lot to me but what I remember most was suddenly standing with him in front of the aid station table and telling him “I don't know what to eat.” He stood there with me pointing out the pros and cons of the various items available and helped me settle on some good food choices. He then sent me out into the night wearing three shirts, headlamp on, two bottles of water in one hand and a cup of peanut butter filled pretzel bites in the other. I had spent maybe 30 minutes at that aid station but I was once again back from the dead and this time it was for good.
Lap 5 - 5 hours 6 minutes from 10:47 p.m. to 3:53 a.m.
Lap five was the Andy Cope lap. Andy is a good friend of mine from Mesa, AZ who elected to come out and pace me for a night lap despite having the Silverman triathlon coming up in just one week. I can not tell you how big a difference having a pacer makes. Andy kept me focused the whole lap. He wasn't keeping me focused like a coach might by yelling and cajoling, no he just chatted with me and told me stories and reminisced about some of the good times we have had. I didn't really ever say much back to him because I didn't understand much of what he was saying, I mean, I understood what he was saying but I couldn't formulate any reasonable answers. I believe it was this lap that I started to see things, mostly just shadows skittering off the side of the trail though it is entirely possible that Andy got the hearing things lap and the GeekGrl got the seeing things lap. In any case my body was doing much better but my mind was still taking a rest. Andy pulled me through and handed me off to the GeekGrl ready for my sixth lap.
Lap 6 - 4 hours 43 minutes from 3:54 a.m. to 8:37 a.m.
I loved this lap. It started in the easy direction and I was able to run it with my wife. Even more enjoyable was the fact that we would get in a nice moonlight run that would also contain a spectacular desert sunrise half-way through the lap just as we were heading east. I started the lap strong but kept it at a brisk power walk since I knew it was about seven miles uphill. I made it in about 4 miles and began to falter. I was just so tired of walking uphill and I think it was getting to me mentally more than anything else. I was also caught in some of the darkest hours of untrarunning, between two and six a.m. when your body has become desperate for sleep. I kept telling the GeekGrl that this was the hardest time, a time when you felt physically beaten and you have spent so much time in darkness that your whole world has become your own dark thoughts. I knew that if I could just make it to sunrise it would be a new day and a new race.
When the sun rose my spirits lifted and I felt revived. The air warmed a bit and became perfect for running. I was in that sweet spot where simple pleasures like a sunrise or an interestingly formed saguaro cactus is almost enough to bring you to tears. My mind was wiped clean and I felt as if I could see. I repeated to myself a Buddhist phrase: no mind, no body, no beginning, no end, I am the Tathagata. Ok, I know what you're thinking “Ca-ra-ZEE” but let me explain, I didn't really believe I was the historical Buddha. If you read the Wikipedia definition far enough through you will notice that the word essentially means that reality is what it is. I guess you could say that I was making a Popeye like affirmation “I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam!” And with that I stripped down bare chested and ran like hell through the desert morning leaving my lovely wife to chase after me.
Lap 7 - 3 hours 11 minutes from 8:38 a.m. to 11:49 a.m.
My final lap. This is a partial lap extending only about 9 miles. The sun was up once I started and my good friend Don joined me to pace. Don had attempted the 100 mile race along with me but pulled out after 62 miles because of concern over possible hypothermia; Don isn't blessed with the same quantity of insulation as I possess. Anyway, despite his ordeal he wanted to pace me through my last miles back into the heat of the day. I took in more fluid and nutrition during this lap than I had at any other point but by this time fatigue, tender feet and muscle soreness made a finish questionable. I mean, I knew I would finish but I didn't know if I could make the 30 hour cutoff. Don had to push me. I wasn't fully capable of monitoring my pace and he had to remind me to pick it up or had to make deals with me, “let's run to that cactus and then we'll walk.” The heat was miserable for both of us and with 62 miles already in his legs we both had the right to be cranky but somehow it worked out. He never held out unrealistic expectations or made any uninformed comments about my resistance to faster forward momentum.
In the end there was Andy with his camcorder and the GeekGrl with a big smile. New York accent guy was yelling like crazy as I crossed the finish line after 29 hours 44 minutes and 38 second of relentless forward motion. I was finally finished. I came back from the dead again and again and now have my Western States qualifying run on the off chance that I get selected from the lottery this year. I learned a lot during this race and my love and respect for the sport is even greater than before. I am convinced that long distance running is the most natural of human endeavors and that it brings out the greatest reality of the human condition. We are frail and we are strong and despite what we may think we need each other to make it through this life.