My Hundred-Mile Race

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Two Rivers


One has to experience it to believe it.

Submitted: December 13, 2017

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Submitted: December 13, 2017

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“What am I doing here?” I moan as I slide out of my five-star king-size bed.  The race begins at 6:00 am.  It wouldn’t be light by then, so I’ll have to wear my head lantern for the first few miles, then carry it or wear it for the next 45 minutes until I get to the first safety station, where I can give it up and relieve myself of the few extra pounds.  Not a bad weight to carry in the early part of the race, but every little bit of strength needs to be conserved for the last few miles, when everything is stiff, hurting, and you’re exhausted.  Of course, that means my light is going to be at the wrong place when I need it most, at 10 pm.  I hope my support person; my girlfriend remembers to fetch it for me.  I have another head lantern, but it would be nice to have two just in case one decides to get flaky.  I remember once my light was going out, and I was in the dark woods of an earlier race.  In the woods at night with no moonlight, it is inky black.  My light was fading quickly and my vision narrowed down to only a spot on the trail only a few feet in front of me.  Fortunately, a man came running by with an entourage of people running after him.  I joined them.  It seems they were all in the same predicament I was in, and he, with the only fully operating lamp, became our Piped Piper and led us into the safety station.

Thoughts like this are running through my head as I brush my teeth and jump in the shower in an effort to wake up.  I’m used to getting up this early.  I get up every morning at 4:00 am in order to train running in the dark.  But no one really gets used to running in the gloom of night.  Once in the wee hours of a race, I saw a mountain lion.  It was an illusion, actually, but an illusion so real that the girl running beside me believed me!  She jumped and screamed, and later she said I was so convincing it scared her to death.  It didn’t help that we were running in Oklahoma, making it more believable. 

I stumble out of the shower and curse myself, “Why is it so hard to get going?!”  I think, “Oh, maybe it is because I hardly slept at all last night.”  The one time I need the sleep; sleep abandons me.  And, yet, I feel I could fall back into bed right now and sleep all day.  “NO, I HAVE TO GET GOING!”  I pound my thigh with my fist to emphasize the point. 

My girlfriend is reminding me of all things I already know.  I wonder why she puts up with me.  I’m such a bear just before a race.  If I was her I’d leave my bony butt right here and now.  I apologize again.  “I’m sorry,” I say for the thousandth time.

She just looks at me and begins again reminding me of all the things I have to have and where she needs to be with what.  “Let’s just go!” I say exasperated.  All of a sudden, I don’t care, I just want to run.  We still have a forty-minute drive to the start/finish line.  I’m in the quiet zone and she doesn’t talk either.  I see the crowd and I feel the adrenaline beginning to flow.

I marvel at the crowds of people lined up in the murky morning fog to begin the race: the fan base, the family, and most importantly the runners’ support people all there at this ungodly hour.  I take my position in the back of the runners.  I’m no jackrabbit, and I have no expectations of winning or even being close to the top ten runners to finish.  I’m from Indiana, the “middle state.”  We are near the middle geographically, and in the middle of every survey ever taken.  We’re not the worst state to live in and for sure not the best.  We rank in the middle of education, saving the environment, and you name it.  So, before the race is over I will finish somewhere in the middle, I hope.  I’ll pass a lot of runners by the time the day is done.  Actually, we are only given 30 hours to finish. 

I have been asked by friends if we run the whole hundred miles without stopping, or walking.  No, we stop to go to the restroom; get medical treatment, usually for our feet; eat something, or rest.  But, for every minute you stop or rest, it means you will be running harder to make up for lost time.  One has to remember 30 hours is the cutoff.  I say all this to say my best time was 24 hours.  That was a good race.  The same race a woman 39 years old ran it in 19 hours.  That is as close to running the entire race as one can get.  Oh yeah, I do remember also this one guy in his twenties in one race ran it in 17 hours, totally phenomenal.

My goal is to run in as many ultra-marathons as I can to build up my resume and to be recognized by the sponsors of the Badwater Race, reportedly the “the world’s toughest foot race.”  Who am I to argue with them?  The race begins 279 feet below sea level in Death Valley in over 120-degree heat and continues to the head trail of Mount Whitney, elevation 8360 feet, 135 miles later.  When I run in the Minnesota Voyageur Race later this year, I will have run 25 of the fifty states.

The horn goes off, and in front the leaders run off into the darkness, the next few jog after them and the ones in the middle shuffle forward, and finally we at the back start by walking.  Finally, I break across the Start/ Finish line and begin running.  It has been a few minutes getting to this point, but now I’m on my way.  I say a little prayer, “God help us all.”

I’m in Zion, Utah.  It is desert, which means freezing at night and beastly hot during the day.  I’m grateful for the coolness of the early morning, even if it is darker than the back side of the moon.  The sun is coming out and the sweat begins to roll down my neck.  I drop my light off and move out again.  Then I come to a huge boulder, fifty feet high and an arrow points up to the top.  “How in the heck is one to get up that?” I mutter.  I see other runners on top of the huge boulder.  They wave to me to go around.  I do and find a small path.  “This is nuts,” I tell one of the guys up there.  I look out and we are really up here!  I took a helicopter ride yesterday with my girlfriend to get the lay of the course.  Funny, I missed so much of the trail, like this bolder we just climbed.  Everything is up and down now.  We will go up 7000 feet and back down before we’re finished. 

The going down is the hardest on the legs.  One is constantly putting on the brakes, or it’s a header all the way to the bottom.  When we pay our $200.00 registration fee, sponsors joke with us that the body bag is free if we should need it.  In Tennessee, a man died just behind me.  I didn’t know it until I finished.  My cousin saw the whole thing and was so distraught she dropped out of the race. 

The body bag comes to the forefront of my mind as I slip and slide over the trail that seems to be at a 30-degree slant and the bottom is four thousand feet down.  I will come back to this point in the dark, and I’ll crawl on my hands and knees.  I will feel like crying, but I will be too scared.

Someone asked me once what it was like to run a race that long, and I told them it is all problem-solving.  Am I drinking enough fluids, what’s this pain, and can I make to the next safety station, what happened to my jell packs?  Always there are problems and always racking your brain to see if you can work your way out of the predicament.  I once ran a hundred-miler with no support.  Wow, that was a challenge.  At on point, two o’clock in the morning I pounded on someone’s trailer door to help me.  They were gracious and came out and broke the blisters and put some artificial skin on the soles of my feet.  I had met them earlier in the day when I ran into the safety station with their daughter, who had run and finished her race, the fifty-miler.  They were resting to head home first thing in the morning.  They knew well that after running that many miles one can’t bend over to work one’s own feet. 

The worst race I ever run, besides this one?  I ran alongside the Erie Canal.  I was flat for miles and miles.  It was like running into eternity, no change in scenery, and to make things worse there were mile-markers every mile.  You’d run, it seemed like forever, and then you see the next mile marker and you’ve just run one mile.  It was mind numbing! 

Seventy-five miles and I’m out of gas.  It is flat going into the finish, and I begin to walk.  I do some quick figuring in my head.  I think I can still make the deadline.  Another runner comes alongside me.  “We own those hills!” he says.  He is Mexican and speaks with the Mexican accent. 

“Yeah,” I say looking up at the sun peeking up over the tops of the mountains.

“Hey, I’ll see you at the finish, man!” he says as he jogs off. 

I think back to the only race I didn’t finish.  It was hell, to put it mildly.  We started off, and six miles later we ran into a rock-strewn woods, and then six miles after that we came out and ran through a bog for a mile and a half.  The water hit us waist deep in some spots.  After the bog, we ran another couple miles before turning around to go back into the bog and then into the now hot, muggy woods.  Everything on our person was wet, and I was totally chafed from the waist down.  Many stopped and didn’t finish the race after coming out after the woods.  I changed as quickly as I could and ran on.  I made it 72 miles before I was turned around.  Mathematical I was out of time.  I DF’d, “Didn’t Finish.”  However, the next year I redeemed myself.  I ran it again and did finish, but the next year, I put the hammer down early and used a whole jar of Vaseline to ward off the chafing.

I look at my watch.  I’m going to make it.  I see my girlfriend.  She is nearly in tears.  I see her warning some cross country runners from the local high school that the Hundred Milers are coming in.  They run towards me on the other side of the road.  I envy them, so young and so fit! 

I sprint the last hundred yards; I got to finish strong.  I made it with minutes to spare.  I can’t believe it.  I walked the last 25 miles and still made it in time!  The difficulty level I found out later was a number five.  Only the toughest courses get rated five.  I’m afraid to sit down because I may never get up.  I can barely walk.  At the hotel, it will be another sleepless night.  Then we will fly home.  It will be months before I’m totally recovered, and then I’ll start a light training routine to get ready for the next race.  One doesn’t have to be a masochist, to run these races, but it helps.

 


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