Zion was my last hundred. It was #12 and the finish of the last few hundreds had been pretty rough. Nausea, chills alternating with sweating and general misery were the symptoms of the aftermath and I decided that I was pretty much done with hundreds. For the next three years, I stuck to my own adventure runs and not many races and my body was okay with that.
But then, after awhile, I felt that I wasn’t really a “real” ultra runner anymore. A friend and I discussed how we took the ultra running stickers off our vehicles because we hadn’t run an official ultra in awhile. What’s up with that? Do marathoners take the 26.2 sticker off when they haven’t run a marathon recently? And why does it even matter if I am not an ultra runner anymore?
Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be about my psychological problems. So let’s talk about the physical ones, instead. In the years since Zion, I dealt with a persistent parasite, a foot injury, only partially fixed by surgery, and then a herniated disc that let my whole left side wonky and extremely painful. I lost a lot of weight because it hurt too much for four months to sit down. And then I hurt my foot again. And again. And again. It works now, but usually, within 6 miles, my foot starts hurting and my ankle swells and stiffens up. Any pressure on the arch or side of ankle intensifies the pain. As a result I have a whole closet full of shoes because, while one pair feels good on one day, it doesn’t on the next. I have to try on several pair before I find one that works. I have to be picky about where I run because some trails or sloped surfaces aggravate the injury. But I still run, and I am thankful for that, even if it is different. Running hasn’t made the problem any worse and my surgeon, although not yet sure what is wrong, assures me the foot probably won’t fall off.
Somewhere amidst all of that, I had the urge to try a hundred again. I have absolutely no idea why, given the previous paragraph. (See earlier psychological issues paragraph for a possible explanation). At 53, I’ve quit trying to figure me out and I just roll with it. So, I entered and “won” the lottery for Yeti 2019. This would have never been a race I was interested in. I like mountains and climbs and technical single track, but this was a surface my foot could handle. I started off training well, but then I would have another setback, so I had no consistent training, a lot of down time, with most weeks averaging 30 miles or so. I couldn’t do speed work and most strength work aggravated either the back or the ankle.
I showed up at Whitetop Friday morning, nervous for the first time at a start line because, for the first time, I didn’t know if I could finish. Now, I’ve had DNFs, but I didn’t show up to the race thinking it was a possibility. I also didn’t know at what point the foot would go south on me. Six miles? Sixty? To top it all off, I had been sick for three weeks with a head and chest cold and didn’t know how that would figure into the equation. And all the runners around me seemed so fit, confident, and happy. I felt out of place here. But I wanted the stupid skateboard and buckle really bad and in addition to psychological issues, I suffer from an overdose of stubbornness.
I stuck to the plan until around mile 25, when my back and foot started really hurting. It was also extremely hot and I was starting to wear down. So I abandoned the half mile run settled into a continuous run/walk unpredictable pattern, which my body and foot seemed to like, but I’m sure annoyed the other runners around me. At the 33 mile turnaround, I was feeling decent and I ate the hamburger Tony bought me, despite not being hungry, because hamburgers are miracle ultra food. Then back to the walk/shuffle pattern back to the aid station/party at Damascus.
At Damascus, my old friend and awesome ultra runner, Sarah Lowell, met me to pace me. She had surprised me the day before by telling me she was coming. I rarely have pacers or aid during the night, mainly because I don’t want to inconvenience anyone and a lack of one makes me keep going until the morning because I don’t have anyone to help me if I quit. This time, since I wasn’t sure how far I would make it, I didn’t even consider asking anyone to help. But Sarah showed up and I am glad she did. As I told her, in the middle of the night, I knew having a pacer was a big advantage. I remember at Zion, in the early morning hours, running loops in the desert, crying because I couldn’t stop shivering. Compounding my misery was seeing pairs of headlamps everywhere because everyone else had a pacer helping them.
So, I had one last burger and an ice cream sandwich with Tony at Damascus, the halfway point. I knew I was getting blisters from the fine cinder/gravel, so I dumped out the right shoe but I left my bad foot alone. I didn’t want to mess with it because, aside from the blisters, it was comparatively comfortable.
The following ten hours with Sarah went quickly and I was surprised that my body kept on autopilot with alternating runs and walks, especially on the uphill. Somehow, it also stuck to the 15 minute mile plan. It rained on us briefly, which was concerning, but it stopped before we got cold. Then, as we got closer to Green Cove, the sky cleared revealing a beautiful moon and a sky full of stars. Sarah kept stopping to look up at them, but every time I tried, I only got a brief glimpse before I got dizzy. We talked about this being a reason why we run ultras, to see things like this that most people don’t have an opportunity to, because they are home in bed.
Sarah kept me entertained and distracted all night and I have no idea how we filled up 10 hours with conversation, but we did. Before we knew it, she delivered me back to Damascus with a 2 ½ cushion on the cutoff. That was a huge relief.
My ankle had been hurting the whole time, but not enough to make me limp as long as I was moving. However, anytime I stopped, even to get water at an aid station, it stiffened up to where I had to walk a couple minutes before I could run. Luckily, it also stiffened up if I took too long of a walk break. That kept the walk/run segments going, even if I was walking 10 steps and running only 25. Not speedy, but a consistent shuffle. I knew I had blisters, but at that point I just needed to keep moving. Experience helped here. (Or bad experiences…I had 27 blisters at my first 100, the Massanutten.)
When Tony and my niece met me towards the finish, I was “embracing the suppering” but knowing I was going to finish. In the end, I finished in 27:38, way ahead of where I thought I would be. The ankle and foot ended up swollen and actually bruised, but still functional and attached. The 30 mile weeks were not ideal, yet in the end, my body did remember what it was supposed to do and no one was more surprised then me. Heck, my brain can’t remember what I did last week, but my body remembered what it did four years ago.
So now a week later, the swelling and bruising in my foot and ankle are gone and I am back to the “normal” pain. I guess I am an “ultra runner” again, although my intention is to retire and work on my mountain biking. Until I run the 36 hour race I just signed up for.
And I would tell you what an awesome race this is, with a happy vibe and super supportive volunteers and random people around the course cheering you on. And how the RD, Jason Green, is genuinely happy to share his neck of the woods with you and hug all the stinky runners as they cross the finish line. And how beautiful the course is, both day and night. But then you might sign up and reduce my odds in the lottery for next year.
Nathan pack, swapped out at night for a larger camelback
All liquid nutrition: GU Roctane powder packed in plastic bottles for ease of dumping in the waterbladder.
GU Roctane and regular gels
5 hour energy
Hoka Clinton 6 shoes . Never swapped out to the back up shoes. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
Vermont darn tough socks. The cinder/grit actually ended up inside the socks, which I didn’t know until I finished.
Gaiters which I think were useless for me. See above.
Black Diamond Carbon Z poles, only used for a short time before I got frustrated not being able to use my hands
Lithium batteries (headlamp lasted all night on one set)
Inhaler, space blanket, first aid
Super light jacket.
An iPod with a dead battery
Return to the Virginia 10 Miler.
3 weeks ago