Friday, July 17, 2015

Panama 166

Woah.  This expedition had everything: pain, beauty, danger, heat, joy, fame, comedy, blood and lots and lots of chaffing.  There were many, many times when it looked like things were going to end in disaster, and yet the ending was fairy-tale worthy.  It was so amazing and surreal I don't even know where to start, so I guess I should start at the beginning...

A few months ago Chuck Schultz, Melissa Pizarro, Loli and I were having drinks after dinner at our place when the subject of what our next challenge should be came up.  There was much debate during the run regarding who's "stupid idea" this was (I think it was Chuck's), but someone brought up the idea of running across Panama.  On the map it looked like it was about 150-200 miles from Panama City to Loli's hometown of Los Santos, so we started formulating a plan..

After a year and tons of hours of planning and training later we had a fully formed expedition team and plan put together.  We had a team of four runners including Loli, Chuck, myself and the very accomplished Ramses Cano.  We had two crew cars being manned by Melissa, Marlene Pizarro, Delfino Cordova and Henry Herrera.  The concept: run basically non-stop 160 (eventually 166) miles from Panama City to Los Santos, leaving July 8th at 4:00pm hopefully finishing around 48 hours.  Also, the elementary school in Los Santos had recently received $90,000 to build a new cafeteria.  Either by lack of funds, inefficiency, graft, or ineffective use of funds, a cafeteria was technically built, but it was falling apart, didn't have the proper equipment and 4 years after being built had never served a meal.  So we planned to use the run as a fundraiser to fix and equip the cafeteria, and importantly, get some media visibility to shine light on the issue.

We were unsure if we would get much media attention, but with the help of Ramses, who works in television production, and Loli's cousin, Alex Arosemena, who worked at Impresa Media, our little expedition eventually became quite the phenomenon.  We got a small story in the sports section of Panama City's largest newspaper a couple days before we started, then on the day we started running we got an invitation to go on the country's largest live morning TV show and things really started taking off:
Live TV is scary.

Rocking the Western States 100 shirt.
Here is a part of the segment.  I have no idea what anyone is saying:

Now that we were all famous, it was time to get down to business.  We were starting at the national soccer stadium and were having some difficulty finding the right exit so Loli asked a cop if he could give us directions.  Fortunately, he was cool enough to give us a police escort to the stadium and even called ahead to his buddies so we wouldn't have any troubles with police on our run.  Very cool!
We started our run at 4:00pm on July 8.  A short distance after the start we crossed the "Bridge of the Americas", which goes over the Panama Canal.  It was quite a sight, it's truly amazing what humans are capable of when we put our minds and backs into it.  And a picture of us crossing the bridge made the front page the following morning:
Looking Fresh
By midnight on the first night, we already had signs of trouble.  We started in the evening so we could take advantage of the relatively cool night air while we were still fresh.  For the first night we planned to stay together, but eventually we expected to spread out as people inevitably would feel good or run into bad spots at different times, especially once the sun came up.  However, those bad spots started to show up earlier than expected.  Chuck was experiencing some trouble with the heat, which was understandable as it was almost 80 degrees at night, but worrisome because it was only going to get hotter.  Ramses was also not feeling great, he was getting a lot of sleepiness and also some foot troubles.  Not good at all considering we planned to go without sleep the first night and then only get a couple of quick catnaps the rest of the run.

Then, one of my main fears on this run showed up, and almost cause a horrific disaster.  This was in no way a safe run and we knew that going in.  The pure distance combined with heat and lack of sleep were dangerous enough, but I was also very concerned about cars, dogs, and creepy crawlies.

There is only one road that goes all the way across Panama, the Pan-American Highway.  It is a modern highway with lots of traffic, including plenty of trucks and tractor-trailers moving at over 50 miles an hour.  We ran mostly on the side of the road and sometimes on uneven sidewalks, most of the road had a healthy burm, but some areas had little or none.  You would never, ever normally go on foot on a road like this but because it is the only road, a lot of people didn't have much choice.  So we figured if the locals could do it, so could we.

Fortunately, no one was hit by a car, but we still had to deal with the other fear factors.  Some time in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, Loli and I were running along when suddenly a very ferocious Rottweiler and another dog ran through an open gate right at us.  I thought we were in deep trouble, but we starting screaming and yelling at the dogs and they quit charging.  I was running backwards on the sidewalk because I didn't want to turn my back to the dogs when I almost fell.  I stumbled badly but was able to keep my feet.  When I looked back I realized that I had almost fell into the sewer, there was a missing cover about 2 feet by 3 feet.  It was a long way down, if I had fallen in I almost certainly would have broken bones and been trapped at the bottom.  Loli and I were a bit rattled by all this, fortunately our crew was not far and they ran to help Chuck get past the dogs as he was a few minutes back.  Whew.

By the time the sun was rising, we had gone 50-60 miles, ahead of 48 hour pace, but not as far as I would have liked given the hardest part was still very much ahead of us.  Loli and I were several minutes ahead of Chuck and Ramses and I told Loli that I should probably pick up the pace and separate from the group if anyone had a chance of getting close to 48 hours.  I decided to get ready to run in the daylight hours and that's when I made a mistake that almost ended my run: I changed clothes.

I was starting to get some minor chaffing in a few sensitive areas, so I thought it best to do a complete change of dry shorts, underwear, shirt and shoes.  It turns out, that was probably the worst thing I could do.  As I was running along by myself, finally going my own pace instead of the groups, the chaffing got bad, and it got bad really fast.  I think the main problem was the fact that I had cooled off a little, and therefore dried a bit as I changed clothes and then the dry clothes on sticky wet skin only compounded the problem.  I desperately needed a lubricant, but I had run ahead of the group and the support vehicles were busy helping the others.  I took off my underwear and walked/ran like the most bow-legged cowboy ever, but by then it was too late. Because of swelling now the problem wasn't chaffing with my clothes, it was chaffing of myself with myself.  Everything was bloody, raw, and very, very painful.  I finally made it to the support vehicle and got some Vaseline, but I could tell this was going to be a serious problem going forward.  Regardless, I gritted my teeth and struck out into the growing daylight and heat.

A few hours later it was late morning and getting very hot, and the chaffing was a violent, searing pain, hardly letting me think of anything else.  Despite this, I was going at a pretty good place and thought I was probably separating from the group when, unexpectedly, Loli came up from behind.  She was doing great!  We stopped at Henry's car together and discovered that Ramses was in the car already, his bad foot and exhaustion had forced him to stop.  Ramses decided he would run some and help out the team the rest of the time.  There was no ice so we were waiting for our other support vehicle to show up.  After some time we found out that Chuck had fallen ill and they pulled him off the road vomiting and dehydrated.  Suddenly it was only Loli and myself.  We decided we couldn't wait for ice any longer so we got ready to head out.  I tried to go out first but by the time I was 100 yards away I was literally in tears from the chaffing.  I decided I couldn't take it anymore, it was just too much.  I have had every kind of challenge imaginable in my running career and I never once thought I would quit because of something I always considered annoying but manageable but there I was.

I struggled back to the car where Henry, Loli and Ramses were and had a straight up breakdown and crying fit.  I think it went something like this: "My fucking balls!  Oh my god, my fucking balls hurt so fucking bad!!  You don't understand, this is the worst thing I have ever felt in my life!!  Fucking shit there is fire on my junk!  They've swollen to the size of ostrich eggs!  I have ostrich juevos!"  If I was looking for sympathy, I had gone to the wrong place.  The team was dying of laughter, great peels of riotous laughter.  Sometime during my rant Loli started recording video.  My response: "This isn't funny!!! Ok, well it will be funny later, but it's not funny now!!  Come on guys, I'm being serious!!"  Eventually, most of Panama had heard about my "personal problems".  Hell of a way to go viral.

I put street clothes on and resigned myself to ignominy.  Loli continued to prepare to go on by herself.  Eventually, the truck with Chuck and the rest of the crew showed up.  He looked bad, like "Night of the Living Dead" bad.  So it was midday on the first day, somewhere around 100k in and Loli was looking at doing another 160k+ and the longest she had ever gone was just over 100k.  I couldn't let her do that alone.  I grabbed a jar of Vaseline, applied a massive handful and told her to go ahead, I would be right behind her.  My mission was no longer to finish under 48 hours, now my only goal was to help Loli get home.  Less than 20 hours in, and Loli was our only hope.

A little while later, Loli reached a milestone, 110 Kilometers.  Her touching video has since been seen by thousands of people.  I don't even know what she is saying and it makes me want to cry.

On we trekked through the midday heat.  Loli kept a consistent pace. Every few miles I would need to stop to put on a huge gob of Vaseline, then catch back up to her.  In the middle of the afternoon it was so hot and we were so tired we decided to take a 30 minute nap right in the side ditch.  Road side ditches in Panama are a lot like ditches in the United States except there are a LOT more creepy crawlies.  We were too tired and hot to care.

Bottom left corner you can see the jar of Vaseline, my new constant companion.
  Chuck had not been able to keep any fluids down all day even though he had been off the road and in the air conditioning.  He also looked like this:
Severe dehydration can cause kidney failure and death.  Kidney failure is even more likely with ultrarunners because the kidneys have to flush the damaged muscle cells that come from the constant pounding.  Chuck needed to go to the hospital.  The team went in search of a hospital in our main crew vehicle while Loli and I continued running with Henry and Ramses for support.

Eventually, mercifully, the Sun finally set on day 1.  Even though my "personal problems" were causing me to grit my teeth and run a bit funny and Loli was now well past the longest distance she had ever run, we were making pretty good time.  By late evening we were nearing the 100 mile mark, looking good to make it in under 30 hours.  It was another major milestone and Loli was looking forward to it.  Then, rather suddenly, Loli lost her friggin mind.  Having done a few multi-day events before, I knew that eventually, no matter what: constant running + heat + lack of sleep = crazy time.

It was close to midnight and we were on a particularly dangerous long, slow curve.  I was wanting to move quickly to get us out of there as fast as possible.  Loli however, decided she needed to sleep.  Right now.  Right here.  On the side of the road, inches away from speeding traffic.  I told her there was no way she could sleep on the of the road, we shouldn't even be running here.  We had to make it one kilometer to where the car was.  There was crying and a lot of arguing but we finally made it to the car.  Then, she refused to get in the car.  She was afraid the car was going to move forward and therefore cheat and now she suddenly HAD to make it to 100 miles right away, which was about another 2-3 miles.  She started to run again.  Less than half a mile later, she was half crying, half sleepwalking.  Then she screamed and started running again, rambling on in variety of languages that I didn't understand.  She repeated this process a few times.

It was a mess, but one I knew had to happen sometime.  We both needed sleep, badly.  There wasn't room in the car because of all our stuff so we tried to sleep at a bus shelter.  We tried for 30 minutes but we were both cramping so bad and the traffic was so loud just a few feet away we couldn't make it work.  After some cajoling, I finally convince Loli that we should cram into the car and try to go back and find a hotel.  They could bring us back to the bus shelter after we rested.  After calling around a bit, we found what turned out to be the perfect place: a "love hotel" that charged $17 for 3 hours.
Probably the first time anyone actually slept at this hotel.
I had to beg Loli to please shower before getting into the bed, she just wanted to sleep in her sweaty clothes on top of the bed.  After some struggle (and one very painful shower for me), we finally laid down and closed our eyes for 2 glorious hours.

We woke up very stiff, but the light was back in Loli's eyes.  The madness had passed.  It was 2:00-3:00 in the morning and we had a very long day ahead of us, but were back in business, running steady.
100 Miles and still moving.
Sometime after sunrise we made it to the town with the hospital they had taken Chuck.  After an IV and some tests, they release him and he looked like a whole new person.  Back to the world of the living!

The second day was rough, really rough.  Everything hurt.  We had run too far and had too far to go.  It hurt to run, it hurt to walk, it hurt to sit.  The Sun was unbearable.  We were roasting in our misery.  But, no one ever talked about quitting (at least out loud), and we kept putting one foot in front of the other.  Around lunchtime we stopped under the shade of another bus shelter and ate some pizza Loli's brother brought us.  It was a 20 minute stop or so and we decided this would be our last significant stop before the end.  We still had a long way to go, but we were starting to get to a place where our brains could process the fact that this would indeed end.  We were also getting more support.  Loli's sister Irma started running with us and her brothers Popocho and Richy joined the small caravan.
Mmm.  Pizza.
Mid-afternoon we made it to another significant milestone: the junction to Los Santos off the Pan-Am highway with about 25 miles to go.  We also picked up an interesting follower: An ambulance.  I guess the local officials wanted to make sure we were ok.  I just hoped we wouldn't need it.  They followed us for the next 6 hours.

We also started picking up more people in our caravan.  A few runners joined us, then a couple of cars playing music and honking, then some bicyclists joined.  Slowly more and more people joined until we have a huge rolling/running party, taking up the whole road.  It was thrilling!

As we picked up more people, we also started picking up the pace.  It was absolutely inspiring and amazing at how hard Loli was able to push after 2 days of running.  Everyone was cheering for her by name as we got closer.  There was a lot of high fives, seeing people that she had not seen in months or years, and smiles all around, even though we were in a ton of pain and still had hours to go.  Loli even found time to do an interview for the evening news.

It was crazy how many people were following our little run.  The whole town showed up to bring us in, it seemed like every car that went by beeped and shouted encouragement, we were on the radio, TV, newspapers, social media, there is even drone footage.   Here is a video when we were just a few miles outside of Los Santos.

We arrived in Los Santos with fireworks and a huge throng of people and honking cars!  160 miles!

And then, we kept going.  I don't know whose idea it was, but we did a tour of the streets of Los Santos.  I had no idea where we were going, I thought we were done so I had quit eating and drinking and applying Vaseline.  My "personal problems" were reaching critical mass.  I asked Loli where we were going, she just said "home".  I decided I could grit it out.

We wound through town, Loli kept seeing people she knew from years ago.  She introduced me to tons of people.  I didn't find out till later, but people knew about my "personal problems".  My hands were also covered in Vaseline, so whenever I would shake someones hand, they would inevitably figure out exactly why I was so slippery.  Ha!!!

Finally, we ended in the town square.  We were surrounded by a massive throng of people, there were tons of flashing cameras and shouts of congratulations.  Eventually we were given chairs and the local officials gave all of the participants certificates of thanks.  It was surreal, like nothing I have ever experienced before.

After 54 hours and 166 miles we had made it!  It was an epic adventure in every possible way.  It was a huge endeavor that required tons of people.  Runners, crew, donors, and pretty much all of Panama.  I especially want to thank Loli's immediate family for all of their support and Loli's mom, Denis, for putting us up for the night, we really needed the rest!
A few days later we were able to go visit the elementary school we are working to improve.  We got to see the cafeteria and it's serious needs, and Loli met with the teachers and talked with the kids.  It was really touching.  Again.  This trip had a lot of goosebumps and happy tears.  As of this writing we are still raising money and getting quotes for equipment and repairs.  The town is now aware of the problem and I think we will get it fixed soon.
Gracias La Villa de Los Santos!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Burning Man is an Ultramarathon

Burning Man is a week long event in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.  It's nearly 70,000 people and a massive collection of art, music and anything anyone is possibly interested in doing/seeing/being.  No matter what you are into, you can find it out there.  Seriously, anything can be found, google it.  So, naturally, there is an ultramarathon.   

The first crazy/amazing thing about the race is how well organized it was.  Put on by Cherie Bomb and the Pink Lightning camp, there is no registration fee, but with Burning Man's gift economy, there was STARTER medals, 2 finisher medals, an awesome race tee, fully stocked aid stations and the best post race meal I have had. 

It was a big race!  There were over 200 starters.  In a typical city of 70,000 people, odds are that less than a handful would be interested in running 50k.  There must be significant crossover between people nutty enough to make it to Burning Man and people nutty enough to run an ultra.  The competition was stiff too, even though we were all out there to party, a lot of people were putting pedal to the medal.  Burners are tough.

We started just after 5:00am in the dark lit by hundreds of roaming lit up art cars, dozens of music stages with lasers and pounding music, random fire blasts, and thousands of people and their bikes lit up like Christmas trees.  It was kind of like running through a rave if the venue was more than 5 square miles.

We ran first along Esplanade, which is a sort of Main Street, then we go out to the "Deep Playa", which is wide open desert punctuated with occasional burners, random art cars, and huge roaming sound stages like Robot Heart. I paused at a few sound stages to dance during the first of four total loops. 

Starting at 7:00 and G, to Esplanade, Left at 10:00 and around the edge and back through 2:00 and E and around again 4 total times.
Robot Heart at Dawn.

Running through the desert at dawn is truly stunning.  The rising sun shining through the alkali playa dust is dark orange and glistening. 
Coming back around on the first loop there were still tons of people out dancing and cavorting.  Once they realized there was a race going on we received some of the most enthusiastic encouragement I have ever seen.  I only took one or two shots each loop of the dozens being offered.  Sometimes the gift economy can be overwhelming. 

On laps 2 and 3 I realized that even though this is Burning Man it's still an ultramarathon and still a very long way.  I tried to keep up with the leaders on lap one but quickly realized I was outmatched.  For the rest of the race I went between 4th and 8th place, chatting with a few of my competitors, including a guy only wearing shoes and a camelback, and another guy who was running his first ever ultra just after finishing an Ironman triathlon.  Like I said, there are a lot of tough people on the playa. 

Lap 4 HURT.  My legs were screaming.  The surface of the playa in most places was concrete hard and bumpy from some rain and hail we had earlier in the week.  Where it wasn't hard as concrete it was a fine sand that got in between your toes and under toenails.  Still, I was motivated to finish as best I could, both to perform well, and also finish before it got too hot.  Hours after I made it in there were people still out there making a go in 90 degree heat and unforgiving Sun.  More hard core stuff.

About four hours and fifteen minutes after starting, I finished in 7th place.  Woo Hoo!  I loved the experience, and can't wait to go back.  Over the rest of the week there were many, many crazy sights, sounds and stories which I won't go into here. But, if you see me at the bar or out at the races I am happy to share my experience.  On to the next one.

Thank you to everyone for making all the amazing swag!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Christmas in July 24 Hour

The Christmas in July 24 Hour Race was one in a series of races including a 6hr, 12hr, 5k and 10k that started with the 24hr at 10pm July 15th.  It was a one mile loop in a scenic park in Lisle, Illinois.  The race producers went all out with the Christmas theme, there were trees and lights everywhere, giant inflatable snowmen and Santas, and tea lights lit the whole course.  Loli and I came dressed appropriately:

Ho Ho Ho
Loli was going for her very first ultra and I thought I had a good chance of a win and maybe a shot at beating my 24hr PR of 130.2 miles if the weather stayed cool like it had all week. 

It was fun to start a race at night instead of way too early like a lot of races.  The only problem was starting at night meant that we were going to have to be awake longer than if we just woke up and went straight to the race.  I tried to sleep in but failed miserably.

I went out fast, stupid fast, but wanted to have some fun in my Shanta suit before it got too hot.  I ran the first lap in 7:30, then took the suit off and slowed down to a slightly less stupid 8:00-8:30 pace.  The only person that stayed with me in the early miles was Chuck Shultz, good friend and fellow finisher in our 410 mile length of Illinois run.

It was a festive atmosphere with a couple hundred people on a one mile loop, we were all constantly passing each other.  I thought it might be getting hot once the sun came up, so I wanted to get as many miles in as possible while I could.  By the 12hr mark at 10:00am I had around 75 miles in and was in the lead.  I felt comfortable about my lead, the only person I was worried about was Heather Zeigler, who was still in striking distance.

It was also getting hot.  The week before had been cool, but it looked like we were going to have a cloudless day in the 80's and we were running on a blacktop surface.

Ah! It burnnns!!
By this time I could tell there wasn't going to be a shot at getting a PR so I switched to my hot weather gear, slowed down some and switched to my all liquid diet which is easier to digest in the heat:

Mmmm, Ensure and Jim Beam.
Meanwhile, Loli had been moving all night long as well.  I thought she would rest or even sleep through the night but she just kept going and going.  I could see the concentration on her face.  Her strategy was to count the lights and then the flowers along the course to distract from the pain.

401, 402, 40- Shit! Where was I? 1, 2, 3...
By mid-day the heat was getting to all of us.  People were starting to drop like flies, bodies littered on cots and under trees.  Loli finally had to stop and lay down on a cot and Chuck called it a day.  I kept going but was slowed to a crawl.

I thought people might catch me but if anything I was getting farther ahead.  Around 18 hours in I was miserable and far enough ahead that I decided walking might be more fun.  It was!  Mostly because Loli had risen from the dead and decided she wanted to keep going to see if she could get 100k.  100k!  2.5 times as far as she had ever been in non-ideal conditions. 

Still Smiling.
Mercifully, the Sun finally started to set and it cooled a bit.  I think we might have even ran a few more miles slowly and painfully.  I think the only person who actually ran the whole day was Juan "Machine" Juarez, who ended up in 2nd place and I think a PR of 103 miles or so.

At the 23 hour mark I had had enough and called it a race at 110 miles.  First place! And one of the most interesting awards I have ever received:

Yes, that a three foot tall nutcracker.
Loli decided that it wasn't really a 24 hour race unless you went as hard as you can for 24hrs so she put in a few extra miles at the end and ended up with 66 miles.  Amazing!

Thank you everyone!  It was a good time and well organized, I probably will be back next year.  Also thank you Hersh and Nate for the pics and the memories.  See you at the races!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Indiana Trail 100

The Indiana Trail 100 was my first 100 mile race since the Florida Keys 100 in May of 2012.  In preparation for running some obstacle course races in 2014, over the winter I added 3-4 days of week of Crossfit or Spartan WOD's (Workout Of the Day) to my workout routine.  Going into the race, I was happy with my training and managed to not get injured.  Below was my basic training plan.  I wasn't able to get in every workout each week due to work and social life but most weeks was close to the below.  Maybe I need more social life.

Monday: AM: 4 mile run to work, Midday: 30-40 minutes variety of weights, PM: WOD + 8 miles

Tues: AM: 4M, Midday: 30-40mins weights, PM: WOD+8-15M

Wednesday: AM: 4M, Midday: 30-40mins weights, PM: 10-25M

Thursday: AM: 4M, Midday: 30-40mins weights, PM: WOD+ Speed/Track

Friday: AM: 4M, Midday: 30-40mins weights, PM: WOD+8-12M

Saturday: 30-60M

Sunday: Off (Sunday Funday!)

It was high volume training for sure at 80-140 miles per week, and the WOD's definitely added muscle, especially in my shoulders and around my legs.  I estimate I added 10 pounds of muscle compared to the fall.  It was enough that there are several shirts and pants in my closet that I can't fit into any more.  I was happy with this, but from a practical standpoint I didn't know if this extra weight would help or hurt my 100 mile racing.  My hope was that the extra leg strength would protect from all the pounding in the second half of the race, but the proof is in the pudding!

Our race weekend plan was to wake up at 12:30am Saturday morning, drive 3 hours to Indiana from Chicago for the 6:00am Eastern race start, run the race, chill out for a couple hours, drive 3 hours back to Chicago and somehow make it to work Monday morning.  This would not have been possible without the badass help from my crew chief and pacer, Loli.  Loli went two nights in a row with almost no sleep, drove for hours, ran almost 30 miles and was wonderful at keeping my pace and spirits up.  This is her out running when it was -16F this winter:

Isn't she beautiful?
Race day was perfect weather, 50 at the start, mid 60's during the day.  The course was 6 17ish mile loops of rolling hills, very pleasant.  I started off in the front pack of about 8 people but I was not sure who was running the 50 or 100 mile versions.  My plan was to take it relatively easy and try to land soft while keeping my pace up enough to keep the adrenaline pumping.  I didn't bring a watch or pay attention to my place during the first half of the race to keep myself from going out too hard.

The first lap went by nice and easy in 2hrs 33mins, well ahead of my goal pace of 18 hours.  The second lap also felt great, best I have felt in the first third of a 100.  The second lap I floated in around 2 hours, 34 mins. 

Feeling fine on the first loop

The 3rd lap was also going smooth and I was starting to think I was going to breeze through this thing when reality came crashing.  Somewhere around mile 40 I tripped hard going downhill, rolled off the trail and slammed my left knee into a tree.  I screamed in pain and surprise, got my bearings, and gingerly stood up to inspect the damage.  The tree got me squarely on the side of the knee.  I could barely walk for several steps and seriously thought my day was done.  I kept at it though and after a while I was able to get a limping stride going over the next 10 miles.  I finished the third lap in 2 hours and 48 minutes with a 50 mile time of 7 hours and 56 minutes.  I was well ahead of my goal time, but I was banged up and the problems were just getting started. 

Starting the 4th loop I realized I was in first place!  I had had a hunch I was leading but I wasn't sure until the 50 milers were off the course.  Loli now joined me for a few miles, which was nice, I had hardly seen anybody the first 8 hours of the race.  In addition to my knee trouble, my stomach now started to bother me.  I couldn't eat and could hardly keep water down.  I had a long pit stop in a porta potty and I lost first place, I think to John Trout.  I struggled through lap 4 in 3 hours and 2 minutes and was actually pleasantly surprised by my lap time considering how awful I felt.

Lap 5 started out as a slog but as the sun was setting and the air started to cool, I started feeling better!  I put my head down, turned my brain off and just went, zenning out as best I could.  I found that if I went faster and kept my adrenaline pumping, I felt better than if I slowed down.  So away I went.  I finished the lap in 3 hours and 11 minutes, back in first place and feeling fine.

Starting the final lap I knew I had a substantial lead, probably at least 30 minutes so my plan was to keep my head down and the pace up but not too crazy as the sun went down.  The loop was relatively uneventful except for a few face plants in the dark.  I think I fell a total of 15 times over the course of the race, I was completely filthy and beat up by the end.  I really am clumsy at these things.  Damn nature.  Loli joined me again for the last 5 miles and we came in to finish with the win in 17 hours and 42 minutes.  My first 100 mile win and 100 mile PR by more than 2.5 hours!  Hot Damn!

Except for the bang in the knee and the relatively short amount of time with GI problems, this race was comfortable from beginning to end.  The first time I have ever felt so comfortable at this long of a distance.  I thought 100's were supposed to hurt!  I guess I should have gone faster.  There is always next time I suppose.  Thank you to everyone who made it possible, I will see you out on the trails!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

410 Miles, One Week. Running the Length of Illinois.

Now. that. was. a. long. run.  It's getting close to two weeks from the finish as I write this and it still hurts.  As expected, things didn't go as expected. 

Our plan, envisioned by Brian Gaines many months ago, was simple enough on paper: Run from Paducah Kentucky to the Wisconsin border, approximately 410 miles, and do it in one week.  We planned to stop each night at hotels in towns along the way, so the distance each day varied depending on the distance between towns from around 50 miles to over 75 miles, close to an average of 60 miles a day.
As someone who has done a lot of crazy runs, I knew that 60 miles a day for 7 days is pretty insane, very likely past my own ability, or at least right at the edge.  So naturally, I jumped at the chance.  Eventually three other nut jobs decided to take on the task: Chuck Schultz, Tony Cesario, and Scott Smoron.  We also had major, massive, incredible support from Scott Kummer.  Scott gave up a week of his time to drive the support truck and provide aid, and he saved our lives, figuratively and literally.  Additionally, many friends and family came down to provide both physical and emotional support.  Finally, we had a sponsor, HealthVend, who hooked us up with all kinds of healthy food we could use on the go, which is invaluable in the middle of nowhere Illinois.  More on the products we were supplied below. 

We were also running for a great cause!  Chicago Run  is non-profit organization that implements and supports running programs for children and youth in Chicago.  We managed to raise over $2,500 for em, and it's never too late to help out: 

We spent the entire day Saturday the 29th driving down to Kentucky, then started at 6:00am precisely on Sunday 30th.  It was an amazingly comfortable, overcast summer day.
Day 1:  The first day went smoothly, we spent most of the day running through the Shawnee National Forest area.  It was picturesque, there was not a lot of traffic, and our legs were relatively fresh.  A hint of some of the challenges to come came when we realized the distance ended up being 50 miles, rather than the expected 47, and I also felt more tired and beat up than I thought I should be given it was only day one.  50 miles is far no matter how far you have to go I guess.  Oh boy.

Day 2: Harrisburg to Fairfield, 52 miles.  Day 2 brought on the view we would have for most of the remainder of the run; corn, corn, corn, corn, corn, corn, beans, wheat, barn, farmhouse, corn, corn, corn, etc.  Cloudy and rainy most of the day, which was good for the runners, not so great for Scott and Brian who were crewing.  At the end of the day I felt ok, tired and too sore already, but ok and ready for day 3 which was scheduled to be our big bad 80 miler.

Day 3: SNAFU.  Day 3 started a little slow, it was raining still, we were all pretty sore and tired already, and we had 80 miles to get done that day.  Then things got really tough.  Almost 5 miles into the days run, we come across a washed out area of the road.  As we were debating wading through or adding on a couple of miles to go around, the truck died.  Then the truck wouldn't start back up. 

The initial assessment:
The starter went *Click! Click! Click!* but no good, probably the alternator went out.  Which is a relatively easy fix, except we were in the middle of nowhere, 5 miles from the nearest town, and the nearest town is teeny tiny. 

We called both tow trucks in town, one wasn't available, and the other guy said he didn't have a flatbed which would be necessary with our 4X4 truck.  Which was funny, because we called the local police office to see if they had anyone to recommend and the Sheriff said: "You called Joe? (not his real name), Joe has a flat bed!"  So basically Joe didn't feel like getting off his ass to help.  We also called AAA and was on hold for hours without luck. 
Pouring rain, stuck truck

So without help on the way, the guys had a bright idea, "let's push the truck back to town!"  I thought they had lost their minds, there was no way we were going to push the truck 4-5 miles then try to turn around and run 80 (or any for that matter), it was insanity.  I wasn't really in the mood to push the truck so I took video of the madness and ran to a couple of farm houses to see if anyone was home (no one was):
Fortunately, after about a mile of pushing the big truck down country roads, someone stopped to help.  We got a jump which got the truck started but it died again after just a block or two.  Fortunately, the Good Samaritan stayed with us and gave us a jump several times to get back to town and to a shop to get it fixed.  We went to a diner down the street to wait for the repair and make a plan for how to continue. 

So what to do?  We had lost our entire morning, 4-5 hours, with a broke down truck.  If we tried to run 80 miles now, we wouldn't finish until mid to late morning the next day, losing a nights sleep and not be able to get use of our hotel room.  We could also just wait to start again the next day, delaying our finish by a day.  This would have been ok, but then we would lose our chance to finish the run in less than a week, and would screw up our hotel, crew and work schedules.  So, it was decided that we get back on the road as soon as possible, and get as many miles in as we could before morning.  Then we would drive to Mattoon where we had our hotel, then drive back to where we ended and add the extra miles to day 4.  The day 3 SNAFU cranked the difficulty of the run up to 11.  The rest of the week was going to be very tough going.

Day 3 Continued: We were finally back running close to noon, trying to get in as many miles as we could.  For the first time the group started to get pretty spread out.  Scott jumped ahead with Chuck a couple miles behind, then me, then Tony.  It was a surprise to see Tony fall so far back.  We call him "Tony the Tank" because he has giant legs of steel and nothing can stop him.  Among many other feats, he once ran 40 miles a day for a week on his own, just for the hell of it I believe.  I told several people that Tony had the best chance of finishing out of the group.  So it was a huge surprise when I saw him sitting in the truck around 5:00pm.  Apparently he had not been able to keep down food for much of the day, among other problems, and was going to have to call it quits.  I was shocked, and nervous, I was not feeling well at all myself, it was only day 3 and chances were starting to get long that anyone was going to make this thing.

We were about 50 miles in when it got dark, so we put on our night gear.  It was the first time we put on our night gear in the week.  We hadn't planned on it, but we ended up running late into the night for the rest of the week.

Surprisingly, I started to feel much better as night came on, laying down several sub 9 minute miles, which by now felt like a full on sprint.  I finally caught up to Scott and Chuck after being behind all day, and we ended the day after midnight with 65 miles.  It was 15 miles shorter than we planned when we started the day, but pretty good considering the challenges of the day.

Day 4: South of Mattoon to Champaign, 60 Miles: After a short nights sleep we started the day with more bad news, Scott was not going to continue.  Out of the 4 of us, Scott had the least experience, but he was a strong natural runner.  He gave it a valiant effort, but running such huge volumes of miles day after day after day can crush even the most experienced.  So now we were down to 2 runners.  Our run had been in preparation for months and we involved many supporters, sponsors, friends and family.  It would be a massive let down to disappoint all of those people.  Chuck and I committed to each other that we would not stop "Till the wheels come off", meaning something would have to physically stop us from moving before we would stop.

Day 4 began well for me, I started where I left off the night before running sub 9 minute miles.  Maybe not the smartest way to start a 60 mile day, but I had decided to run well when I felt well, because it may not happen again soon.

Unfortunately by late morning, the heat finally arrived.  We were actually very lucky to have the first 3 days as cool as they were, but that didn't make the current heat any more pleasant.  But, we kept slogging along, seeing the sights (corn), and the occasional small town.  Finished the day around midnight.
Above: Sights of Illinois.

Day 5: Champaign to Gilman, 50 Miles: Happy Fourth of July!  We started the day a bit late because we were getting very sore and beat up.  My feet, Achilles tendons, and little toes were especially bad.  My tendons prevented me from have a stride length more than a few feet and it felt like someone was hitting my bare foot with a metal bar every time my feet hit the ground.  Chuck was also not looking so good.  Among other things, he pulled the muscle that runs over the front of his shin bone (I don't think I even have a muscle there), and it turned an ugly black and blue.  I had never seen a pulled muscle look like that.  We got to see all kinds of weird injuries before the run ended.  This billboard I passed in Gibson Illinois seemed especially appropriate:
Yes. Yes and Yes.

After a very long day we got done around 10:00, with a nice fireworks show at Gilman to end the day.

Day 6 and 7: Gilman to Wisconsin, 130 miles: We started day 6 (Friday) faced with the problem that we knew was coming: There wasn't enough time for us to get to Wisconsin before Sunday at 6:00am without pushing through the night.  So we decided to basically combine day 6 and day 7, running as much as possible, and we would just have to take the opportunity to sleep for small amounts when we could.  Basically, it was going to be hell.

My memory of day 6 is a little hazy.  I remember it was hot and there was a lot of corn.  Other than that I think I just turned my brain off and kept doing what we did best, keep moving forward. 
At some point Chuck and I started to get pretty far apart, with me being ahead by several miles.  Fortunately, at this point we were joined by several New Leaf Ultra Runs supporters, so one support crew stayed with me, and one with Chuck.

As the sun set on day 6 my head cleared a bit as the air cooled.  Next I just wanted to get as many miles in as possible before sleep deprivation forced a stop.

 As I ran through the night on day 6-7 I made a plan: Try to get to less than 70 miles to go as soon as possible, then find a place to get at least a small amount of sleep before sunrise on day 7.  I would then have 24 hours to accomplish less than 70 miles.  Even if my current state of damage got worse, which it totally could, I felt like I had a good chance to at least crawl it in by 6:00am.

At 2:00am we found a hotel on the route, and tried to sleep until 5:00am.  My feet and legs hurt so bad that unfortunately I didn't get any actual sleep, but I at least got to be horizontal for a few hours and my crew got some needed shut eye.  Interestingly, at 6:00am we were hitting the road as Chuck and his crew came in to use the hotel room.  It was the last time I saw Chuck until Sunday close to noon.

Day 7: Chicago Suburbs to Wisconsin Border, 69 miles: Finally the last day had arrived.  It was going to be another hot day, so I wanted to get as many miles in as I could before the heat of the day.  The pain in my legs and feet at this point was almost as bad when I stopped as when I was running, so I told myself I might as well keep running and try to produce enough adrenaline to tamp the pain down.  We were able to get 22 miles in during the first fours hours of the days run.

The heat and lack of sleep during the middle of day 7 was making me super duper sleepy.  I was trying everything I could to keep my eyes open.  One small diversion, I happened to run by the original McDonalds in Des Plaines Illinois.  Not exactly a Wonder of the World, but you take what you can get.

After slogging along all day, I finally was greeted by my last sunset of the Illinois run.

I had about 15 miles to go at 9:00pm, this thing was finally seeming like it was going to end!  I could slowly walk and still make it by 6:00am.  I probably would have slowly walked the rest of the way but I was in this pain limbo where it hurt to run as much as it hurt to stop, plus I was sleep deprived and just generally exhausted.  In order to end my misery as soon as possible, I continued my slow run to the border.

 For the last 15 miles I was joined by a whole bunch of New Leafers, as well as Bridget and Scott each took turns running with me, keeping me awake, and trying to keep my spirits up.  I was so bonked that I could not have been good company.  I am very grateful for everyone's help.

At 12:26am on day 7, we made it!!  AND, right at the border, there was a bar!!!

Wow, that was truly Epic.

I found out after I finished that Chuck had been forced into walking.  His knee was horribly swollen, IT band was a mess, he had bruises and pulls all over.  Plus, apparently his crew had been hitting him with sticks!?!  You will have to check Chuck's Blog for answers on the that last one. 

He never stopped though.  After several days of searing pain, Chuck finished around 11:30am on Sunday:

We made it!  Thanks again to all of the supporters out there. 

Please check out our nutrition sponsors:
Vigilant Eats -
Jimmy Bars -
Lenny & Larry’s -
Factor 75 -
Water Sensations -
Chia\Vie -
HealthVend – a Division of Norman Distribution, is a full service Distribution company out of IL that specializes in bringing the best healthy snacks and beverages to vending service companies, micro-markets and school districts across the US.
Norman Distribution, Inc. is a full service distributor specializing in chain & independent, convenience and grocery accounts. Founded in 2009, our mission has always been to provide premier service to our retail customers and vendor partners. Our abilities have produced positive results for the brands and retailers we partner with.

On to the next adventure!!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Running the Length of Illinois for Chicago Run

I haven't posted recently but I have been running a lot, preparing for probably the craziest challenge to date.  Starting June 30th a group of 5 ultrarunners and one extraordinary driver/support crew are going to run the entire length of Illinois from Paducah Kentucky to the Wisconsin border, almost 410 miles... in one week!  Each day we will range from about 50 to almost 80 miles, stopping in small towns so we can sleep in hotels and get out of the heat for a bit.  We are raising money and awareness for a great charity, Chicago Run, and we are getting a ton of good, healthy on-the-go food from HealthVend.  Help us out by donating on our charity site:

This run really scares me, I have never run distances like this day after day after day.  The chance of injury looms large.  I am glad there are several of us making the attempt, I think the odds of all of us making it are slim, but the odds of at least one of us making it are pretty good.

I will be doing live updates through my facebook page, and will be doing a recap back here.  Good luck team Land Of Lincoln (LOL)!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Chicago Lakefront 50 Mile 2012

This is the fouth time I have run the Chicago Lakefront 50 Mile race.  It is the first ever ultra I ran back in 2006, a race I won in 2010, and as the only ultra in Chicago I feel like it is our home race to defend.  Because of these factors, unlike most ultras, I tend to treat this race as a race to try to compete and win, rather than a personal challenge to overcome the distance. 

The race is four 12.5 mile out and back segments along the lakefront, very flat and other than being a bit windy it was great weather, around 40 at the start and into the mid to upper 40's through the day. 

At the start, I took off quickly to see who would come with me and right away there were three of us that pulled away a bit from the group.  I was in lead for the first 6 miles, then was passed by someone I didn't recognize, and he quickly pulled away.  I was happy with the speed of the first lap of 1hr and 27 minutes.

I started the second lap in second place with first place pulling out of sight.  I was not too worried however, because I had a feeling he was out running himself, and we had a long way to go.  This turned out to be true, after the turnaround at mile 18.75 he was nowhere to be seen.  I am not sure if he dropped or just stopped for a while but it was the last time I noticed him, so I was back in first place 1/3 of the way through the race, thinking maybe I could go the rest of the way uncontested.  No such luck, after only a couple of miles in the lead, I was passed by Alex Leon.  Alex looked very comfortable and very fit and I thought "uh oh".  I ended the 2nd lap at the 3 hour mark, happy with the time, but a quarter mile behind Alex.

During the third lap the pain started to settle in.  In was really great to have the physical and psychological support of Bridget and the dozens of New Leaf Ultra Runners who were volunteering at the main aid station.  Despite all the encouragement, I was slowing down and Alex disappeared into the distance.  I finished the third lap with a dissapointing time around 4 hours and 47 minutes, about a minute a mile slower than my previous laps.

Starting the 4th lap, I resigned myself to second place.  I was well behind first, well ahead of third, and frankly I was exhausted and in a huge amount of pain.  My goal was to do my best to maintain my pace, and I was going to be happy with the results.

Suddenly, with 7 miles to go I saw Alex a quarter mile in the distance.  Out loud I groaned and said: "Oh Shit", because I knew that I had chance to catch him, but it was going to be hard as hell.  Then I said my mantra to myself: "You didn't sign up for this thing because it was going to be easy.", and vowed to give it my all.

With 5 miles to go I had closed the distance and decided that I needed to pass him with authority and get as much distance as possible to make him think I had plenty left in the tank, with the hope that he would give up the chase, because I didn't have anything left in the tank at all.  I passed running under a 7 minute mile pace.

As soon as I passed Alex I saw Bridget and Sabine, who had been coming my way from the New Leaf aid station.  I am glad that they did because I desperately needed fuel and I couldnt slow down for the aid stations or I would never get back to speed again.  Because of her help I was able to get a few gulps without slowing down.

With four miles to go I had opened up a decent lead but the wheels were starting to come off.  My legs were on fire, which was expected, but the real problem was cramping and the loss of what I will call "mental control".  I would get light headed and kinda lose where I was for a minute, then snap back to reality.  Inside my head I was screaming at myself to "wake up!" and "focus!" and "hold it damnit!".  At the same time I was cramping, it started in my calves, then my hamstrings, but also my stomach and abs, shoulders, neck, tongue, face and even eventually my forehead.  I didn't even know that was possible, a cramp in my forehead. 

My head and body kept tilting to one side as I got light headed then I would force myself back straight, desperately trying to keep a reasonable stride so Alex would not be aware of my travails.  The cramping tounge made it difficult to swallow, and combined with the minor head cold I had, made for a slobbery mess.  It couldn't have been pretty.

After what seemed like a lifetime I was finally able to start smelling the finish line about a mile away.  For the first time I chanced a look behind me to see how far back Alex was.  I didn't see him and the thought: "I've got it", ran through my head.  At the thought of "I've got it" a surge of adrenaline rushed through my body.  Usually, a surge of adrenaline at the end of a race is a good thing, helping propel me to the finish line.  However, my heart rate was already racing and I was already lightheaded, so as soon as I thought "I've got it", I veered off the path and nearly fell over.

I took several stumbling steps forward, completely out of my head, trying to force myself straight and to relax and get my heart rate under control without completely stopping.  After a few seconds, I was running again, although much slower.

With a quarter mile to go I could hear Bridget and other people screaming at the finish line.  The race ends with a very short up hill and at the bottom I nearly came to a complete halt because I took one walking step and almost fell over.  I ran up the hill hunched over, leaning to the side.  With 5 yards to go I collapsed to the ground as people screamed "NO!!" and continued across the finish half crawling, half rolling on the ground in 6 hours and 33 minutes.

After getting across the finish I dragged myself to the side and started a terrible cramping fit which much have looked bad based on the looks on the faces of race management.  A minute later, Alex finished.

Now that was a race!