Before I begin, let me start by stating very clearly and simply, I had ABSOLUTELY no business whatsoever thinking about and eventually signing up for this race. Maybe my thoughts will change as the pain subsides but as I sit here today, I feel confident in stating that with a clear conscience.
My 'ultra running' career now is less than 10 months long and I ran my very first trail run only 14 months ago (a 10K). My running career as a whole has been nothing more of a broken record of on and off again for the past 14 years. On for a couple years. Off for a couple years. But there’s something about ultras. Something about stretching past limitations and taking your body beyond what most say you can actually do excites me. I love it when someone says "How far did you run?" with the look on their face that is really saying, "you actually run???" I love the fact that even though I look NOTHING like Timmy Olsen or Karl Meltzer or 99% of the ultra runners out there, I'm still doing the same sport, albeit a helluvalot slower.
In fact, I'm known as "The Buffalo" by my sales team. An interesting story: A few weeks ago, one of my salesman was talking about my running and another runner at our corp. office that runs a 2:25 marathon. He said "Dan is just not made to run that far. Now
My ultra running ‘racing’ background to this point consists of a DNF at the North Face Atlanta 50 Mile (bailed at 28), a DNF at the Oak Mountain 50K at mile 22, finally a completed 50K at Oak Mountain, a 12 Hour Challenge by which I somehow managed 47 miles, and finally the 60 Mile Chattanooga 3 Day Stage Race last month, by where I missed the final cutoff on the last day by minutes.
This last paragraph was merely to reaffirm that I had ABSOLUTELY no business signing up for a 50 mile race with almost 18K feet of elevation change in a part of the country that I've never even been. Now, what's even more insane is the reason why I signed up for this race. Somehow, in this lunatic's mind, I have it set that I want to run UTMB next year and I need 7 points from 3 races to qualify. My coach, The SpeedGoat himself, recommended this race and after a few weeks of pondering (and not training correctly), I signed up.
So, a few weeks later, I shipped the two boys off to their grandmother's house in
Now, instead of writing the normal big brush stroke race report, I have decided to bring you into the thoughts of this insanely stubborn 41 year old man who apparently is riddled with OCD as I attempted to run the
#1 “I can do this. I can do this.” Repeated over and over again trying to build a modicum of courage and positivity.
#2 “Wow, this is not bad at all.” Very easy up to this point. Just rolling terrain.
#3 “Holy crap. This is insane.” With wooden stairs built in the side of the mountain that felt like it went straight vertical, I knew I was in trouble. Legs were bursting with fire just trying to move at any speed upwards.
#4 “I’ve got this!” A nice section of the trail in which I was actually able to run. Such naivety….
#5 “Holy crap. I’m dying.” These steep climbs are just relentless. 7 more miles to
#6 “Holy crap. I think I died.” That last little bit before the drop down to
#7 “I can do this!” I don’t know about you but as for me, there’s nothing greater than having someone you love and who loves you at an aid station cheering you on and helping you out. Hearing “Go baby!!!” at
#8 “Oh no.” Running downhill has always been a challenge for me. I wear size 14 Hokas and they just seem to catch anything and everything which makes me run very timid. If the trail is techy, steep, and/or narrow, I’m in trouble and that’s exactly what happened as I headed out of Ranger Creek. Where I was hoping to run a sub 11 pace, I was pacing much much slower.
#9 “You’ve got to go faster!” I was moving at a snails pace with so much fear that I was going to trip and re-break my arm. My feet just weren’t running with confidence and my time was suffering. Tremendously.
#10 “Ok, I can do this.” Another shot of adrenaline with my wife at
#11 “Ok, I can’t do this.” This was one of the lowest points of the race. The climb was relentless and after doing some bad calculations in my head, I had resolved to the fact that I was going to miss cutoff. I had contemplated many times just turning around and heading back down the mountain. “Why do I do these things? This is stupid. Me trying to run 50 miles is just plain ridiculous. No more. I really should stop. Stop Dan. Turn around!” But I didn’t. I just kept moving.
#12 “A little climb, a false bottom, then a 1000 ft climb to Sun Top.” Those were the last words told to me as I headed out from Fawn Ridge and I just kept repeating them over and over again.
#13 “Ok, here’s the climb. Let’s get to Sun Top.” I had mistakenly thought that this climb was the last climb to Sun Top so I plowed through. After cresting, I thought I had a small drop down to the aid and I knew I needed to make up time so I charged down the hill. I kept saying out loud “Trust your legs. Trust your feet. Don’t think about the obstacles. Just choose your path and go!” (Thanks Nick!). That great piece of advice just kept coming out of my mouth as I ran faster and faster down the hill. If anyone were around me, they would have thought I had lost my mind. I was almost yelling it. “TRUST YOUR LEGS. TRUST YOUR FEET. DON’T THINK ABOUT THE OBSTACLES. JUST CHOOSE YOUR PATH AND GO!” Over and over and over again.
#14 “Oh crap.” I had just realized that what I had just completed wasn’t the drop to Sun Top. That was the false bottom they referred to and now I had the climb to Sun Top. Wow, did I just use everything I had in that descent???
#15 “WELL F YES I WANT TO GO!” Those words came in my thoughts and shot out of my mouth when they told me, “You’re just right at cut off. Do you want to keep going?” I said, “I have 5 miles of downhill. I can make up time. I’m gone!” I shot out like a bat out of hell.
#16 “Wow, this hurts.” I was trying to make up time running down the gravel road as fast as I could but I was now understanding what running downhill fast does to your quads and knees. I was making up time but what I wasn’t doing was hydrating. Fact is, I had stopped about an hour prior because I was so concentrated on time. Yea, not good.
#17 “I’m not going to make it”. This was the lowest point in the race. I again did some false calculations in my head and had convinced myself that I didn’t have enough time to get to Skookum Flats and get back to the finish in the time. I was sure I had like 9 miles to go and just minutes over 2 hours from where I was to get there. I knew my legs weren’t going to give me the pace I needed. I was cramping viciously at this point and I knew that once I finished the downhill run, I couldn’t sustain more than a hobble/small jog. I had already ran through in my head the concession speech to my wife. I had even teared up a bit thinking about how devastating it was going to be to tell her I didn’t make it and to drop at 42. But I kept running regardless.
#18 “I only have 6.6?” I had convinced myself that I had 8+ to the finish and 1.50 to get there. I knew it was impossible. I was expecting to see my wife at Skookum Flats with that “You gave it your all” look on her face. I was prepared. As I ran up, it’s not what I saw but what I heard that surprised me. “Go Baby!!!” What? Why is she not saying, “You did good. 42 is good enough.” Why is she still encouraging me?” “Baby, I’m done. I can’t do 8+ in 1:50. I’m so sorry”, I said. She replied nervously, “What are you talking about?? You only have 6.6!!! YOU CAN DO THIS!!!! NOW GO!!!” She pushed me out of that aid faster than any previous aid. I didn’t have any time to discuss. And I definitely didn’t have time to think or get water.
#19 “NOOOOO!!! NOT NOW!!! DON’T DO THIS TO ME!!!!” At this point, I was in desperation mode. The Garmin had died and I had no idea how fast I was going but I was pushing and I was pushing hard. Until I started to make a small climb and the cramps that I had been dealing with for 3+ hours due to severe dehydration turned into paralyzing cramps in my quads. My legs seized up completely from my hip flexors down to my knees and through my calves on both legs. I stopped and screamed, “NOOOOO!!!! NOT NOW!!! DON’T DO THIS TO ME!!!!” I couldn’t believe that I was going to miss the cutoff because of these damn cramps. Every step was so painful but I remembered hearing somewhere that if you just keep moving, they might work themselves out. So that’s what I did. I just kept moving. Through the pain. Severe pain. Those cramps came and went over the course of the next hour about ever 10 minutes. They would hit, I would scream and run for about 3 minutes and then they would subside. Over and over again.
As I made it up onto the road from the river path, I had no idea the time lapse or how much time I had left. Several cars passed, all screaming “great job! Keep going!” What???? Did I still have time? As I made the final turn, a guy with a camera said “You made it. There’s the finish and you still have a few minutes left!” I looked at him like he had just told me I won the lottery. I started running faster. Without cramps. Without pain.
#20 “Wow, that was hard”. As I rolled across the finish line, “Great job baby! You did it!!!” was the scream that filled the air. Again, she was right there! Jonathan from Scott Sports was also there and said “You did it! How do you feel?” I replied, “Wow, that was hard”. I think I said it like 10 times actually.
I finished at either 13:48 or 13:52. The first time is the official time per the website but I was told as I crossed the line that I had just 8 minutes to spare.
I’ll take either one.
After finding out that I had only urinated twice on the course and hadn’t urinated in over 4 hours, Jonathan and the crew knew I was in bad shape. The cramps had almost paralyzed my legs and I started shaking feverishly. They laid me on the bed, wrapped me in blankets and forced 5 bottles of water in me. It took about 40 minutes for my pulse to slow down and for me to stop shaking. I tried to eat the post race BBQ but just couldn’t stomach it. I finally made it to the car and back to the hotel to where I crashed and crashed hard.
So, final thoughts:
It was hard. Very. But I did it. I finally hit that 50 mark.
Will I do another 50? A 100? I’m working on that one…
Coming up at around mile 12-13, not sure exactly, was the first time I saw
To Scott and the entire team, you guys did a great event. Thank you for allowing me to experience it.
To Jonathan from Scott Sports, you were super cool at the finish! Thanks.
To the lady forcing water down me and checking my pulse at the end. I’m sorry I don’t know your name but you were very nice. Thank you for helping my wife to take care of me.
To Karl Meltzer, my coach. Thank you so very much for doing all you could to prepare me for this race, even though I didn’t heed as much of your tutelage as I should have. It is my absolute honor and privilege to know you and call you my coach. I wish everyone knew how cool and actually how nice you really are. I still get a kick out of seeing you put :-) in all your emails. Karl Meltzer puts smiley faces in his emails. So cool. :-)
To my boys, Ian and Noah. Running these ultras are a wonderful experience but the greatest thrill in my life is being the father to you two. Nothing melts my heart more than when you say, “Let’s run papa!!!” I wish you could have been there to run with me at the finish like you did in
To my wonderful wife, Ericka. I finished this race for one reason and one reason only. You. Your support and encouragement during those aid stops was the solitary reason I completed this 50 miles. Thank you so very much!
And yes, you will ABSOLUTELY be a part of my crew at Pinhoti 100…. J
Te Amo Meu Amor!
Thanks for reading.