Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It never always gets worse

Medals 4 Mettle Windy 2 Indy

There is a saying in the ultrarunning community that I really like: "It never always gets worse". This basically means that no matter how bad you feel, if you keep at it, things will eventually improve. I have always really liked the saying, I think it's a good mantra to have in your head when there are miles and miles and miles to go and you are having a hard time imagining even taking a few more steps. It really helped me out in this run.

0-27 miles (Saturday morning):

Saturday morning I woke up at 6:00, ate a box of granola cereal, took a shower and then my crew and I packed up the rental SUV. My crew consisted of my wife Abby, and two great friends, Eric and Jen who crewed my two previous 100 mile races. My crew would be meeting me to provide food, drink and moral support every 4-10 miles along the way. At 8:00/9:00 CST/EST, we took a group picture and I got on my way.

The first several miles took me through many Chicago neighborhoods along Michigan Avenue and then south on MLK. Saturday morning weather was cloudy and nice with a few passing showers. It was neat to see the city neighborhoods slowly change to industrial areas and then it became suburb like from mile 20-30. At mile 27 we stopped for a 15 minute lunch break at a Subway. After we left subway, a total of 5 hours had passed. One marathon down, six and a half to go.

27-50 miles (Saturday afternoon):

After the first 25 miles, the landscape became mostly farm country. It also started to get hot. The clouds and rain from the morning passed and the afternoon was mostly sunny with the temperature around 80. I spent a lot of time over the previous weeks doing workouts in the sauna and steam room to heat acclimate as much as possible, but the sun and heat still slowed me down and was making me nauseated. I was lucky it wasn’t hotter.

As I was going up a hill, wishing for cloud cover and rain, I started to see water in the distance. Seeing water up ahead bothered me because I assumed it was a mirage, and if I was already starting to see things, I could be in trouble. Luckily, it turned out the water I saw ahead was Cedar Lake, and my crew was waiting at the boat launch. After refueling with a turkey sandwich, some HEED and a blue slushy thing from Dairy Queen, I was out of the town of Cedar Lake and into the country again. Once in the country we passed 50 miles at about the 11 hour mark.

50-100 miles (Saturday evening to early morning Sunday):

During a very lonely stretch of country road, I passed a run down house with 2 Great Danes on the porch. As I approached, they began barking and growling and running in my direction. I didn’t have the strength to out run them or the time to call for help so I turned and yelled and waved my arms at them. They continued to growl and run at me, so I decided I was going to have to fight them although I was in no condition to take on two massive dogs. As I was bringing my fist back to try to punch the taller one in the eye, their owner came out and started screaming at the dogs. After a few moments, the dogs decided to listen to their owner. I would have listened to her too if I was them the way she was screaming.

As night fell the temperature came down and I was able to pick up the pace. It felt good to finally be moving at a reasonable pace again. I was planning on having my friend Eric join to pace me from 11:00 to 5:00 eastern time to keep me awake and have someone to talk to in the middle of the night. Around 10:00 I heard another group of dogs on the road ahead of me. I had had enough of dogs by this point, and didn’t want to mess with them, especially at night. So I called my crew and had them drop off Eric a little early.

Eric and I moved quickly and efficiently through the night. Eric is a real trooper, I know he had to be at his limit running over 30 miles with me in the middle of the night, but he never complained, and kept us moving at a good pace. We passed the 100 mile mark in around 21 hours.

100-125 Miles (Sunday morning):

By this point, I am really tired and the muscles in my legs are shredded, but I am still able to keep going, although at a much slower pace. My friend Jen joined me at sunrise, and we headed east on state road 52, 23 miles from West Lafayette and the Purdue campus.

Around 10:00, WIBC radio called and we did my first interview on the run. The host was very nice and let me talk about Medals 4 Mettle and Riley Children's hospital. They must have been intrigued, because they called me again on Monday morning and we did another interview. (Click here to listen) Right after the radio interview, Dr. Steve Isenberg, M4M Founder, met me and we ran a few miles together. At this point, I really needed the help. The effects of 100+ miles without sleep and having the sun right in my face all morning were starting to really show. I could barely muster a decent shuffle. But we shuffled along, finally reaching West Lafayette.

125-150miles (Sunday afternoon and evening):

Eric joined me as we made our way into West Lafayette and the Purdue Campus. I knew it would be all downhill until we crossed the river into Lafayette. I was hoping I could pick up the pace on the downhill, but found that the grade was too steep for my shredded quads, so we walked passed Ross-Ade Stadium and Mackey Arena down to the levee.

Abby had the fantastic idea to get a hotel room for an hour while we were in Lafayette. Around 1:00 in the afternoon, I was able to get a shower and lay down in an air conditioned room. The pain in my legs and the urge to keep moving kept me from getting any sleep, but I was able to get a good 45 minutes of rest in. It also kept me out of the worst of the heat. Around 2:00, I zombie walked across the Tippecanoe River up into Lafayette.

At this time, my cousin Laura joined me and we dodged traffic trying to get out of Lafayette along state road 25, which doesn’t have any sidewalks. A few miles later I was joined by my sister, Kelsey, who would join up for 15 miles or so. When Laura left, Al Larsen joined Kelsey and I. Al is the Director of Public Relations with Andretti Green Racing, he knew of our run because some of the Andretti Green drivers had passed out medals M4M had collected previously. It was great to have everyone there, by this time I was running the flats and down hills at a shuffle, and anything that resembled an uphill I walked. Near sunset, I started shaking uncontrollably, and decided I was going to have to walk for a while.

150-175 miles (Sunday night, early morning Monday):

The going was now painfully slow, and I was beginning to have a few doubts. We had figured that even if I walked the whole way from this point, I would still be able to make it to Clarian North hospital by Monday afternoon. However, I was afraid that I had done so much damage to my legs already, that walking may not be an option. My quads and hip flexors were completely shot, I had shin splints, the bottom of my feet were bruised and blistered, and something nasty was wrong with my left ankle and the top of my left foot.

Eric joined me and we walked through the evening and past midnight. There were lightning storms in the distance, which would have been lovely if I could have focused on anything else besides my pain. At this time, I also started getting very sleepy, and soon I was doing head nods as we walked down the street. After a couple of hours of this, I was at my limit. I couldn't imagine taking another step, let alone going another 40 miles. Eric called for the car; we decided a 45 minute nap was called for. I crawled in the back of the car, took my shoes off, and slept for the first time since I started the run.

Around 1:30-2:00 in the morning, I woke up, and it took me a few moments to realize where I was. Then the pain came back and everything came flooding back. I felt like going back to sleep for a week or so, but I didn’t want to let everyone down, especially my friends who had given up their weekend to spend sleepless nights with me out in the middle of no where.

My friend James had driven down from Chicago Sunday night and it was now his turn to pace me. We stumbled into the early morning darkness, and I found out I was surprisingly refreshed. There was no way I was going to be able to run, but at least I could walk without going to sleep. We walked at a 15 min/mile pace for a couple of hours. Around 4:30 however, I started to fall asleep again, almost walking off the side of the road. I was drinking red bull and coffee, but nothing was making a difference. I was forced to take another 45 minute break, and hope that the coming sunrise would wake me up.

Once we were up and moving again, Jen joined me for the second sunrise of this run. We were still moving terribly slow. I was having a hard time thinking clearly, and eventually I was doing head dives again, sometimes waking myself up moaning on my feet. I think I was freaking Jen out a little. Jen tried talking to me, but I wasn’t much for conversation. Then, Jen suggested I listen to my I pod for a while to see if that would help. I tried for a few minutes, but every song seemed like a lullaby. We were now 25-27 miles away from the finish, one more marathon to go. Finally, I decided that the only way I was going to stay awake was to start running again. It took me several wobbly steps, but I slowly got going into a decent stride. I surprised Jen, I don't think she was prepared to be running at that point, but I couldn't stop for fear of not being able to run again.

175-195 (Monday morning):

Now that I was running again, I actually felt better than I had in 24 hours. I did a couple of interviews with WIBC radio and Fox59 TV as I approached the Town of Sheridan. Dr. Steve Isenberg joined me again for the last stretch. As soon as Steve and I left Sheridan, we were moving faster than I had moved the entire run, doing 9 minute miles for a 7 mile stretch.

About 10 miles out, we were joined by Mary Milz of WTHR. Mary is a runner herself, so Steve and I did a quick interview on the run.

The final 10 miles went quickly. I was absolutely elated to finally reach Clarian North. The reception was wonderful! Click here to see the video. I wish they would have brought out a chair! The final time was just under 51 total hours.

Once we arrived, my crew and I spent a few minutes meeting with some of the kids that were there, passing out medals that had been donated from the Indianapolis Mini Marathon along with a couple of specially made medals for the Windy 2 Indy run. Those kids are really tough, I can't even imagine the pain that some of them have been through. After one more interview with WISH TV, we were finally one the way to my parents place for a nice shower and a bed.

Thank you so much to everyone who made this run possible, I guess it's time to start planning the next adventure.


Abby said...

The next adventure will involve laying on the beach with a cocktail. Maybe the next 2 adventures.

mia said...

What a wonderful accomplishment. Having run two marathons and the feeling of elation at the end, I can't imagine how you felt. I cried at the end of the marathon because I didn't know how I was going to make it back to the hotel. Well worth it though...that feeling of accomplishment. Congratulations.

Sue Finkam said...

Shan - on behalf of all of the associates and patients at Clarian North & Riley Hospital for Children at Clarian North - THANK YOU! Your feat is nothing short of absolutely amazing, and will not be forgotten.

Very shortly, the story of your run will also be on our home page for you to read at

Hope your recovery is swift!

Sue Finkam
Director, Bus Dev & Mktg
Clarian North Medical Center