The Last Chance 50 Miler

“Are you running in those tomorrow?”

“Yep!”  Donn smiled as he attached his timing chip.

I pulled out my shoes and set them next to his.  “I have to get a picture!”

They couldn’t have been more extreme of each other… me sporting my Inov8s, almost as flat as a shoe can get and him in his Hokas, with a giant platform like cushion.

Along with our shoes, Donn and my approach to ultrarunning and our training couldn’t be more different.  But it didn’t matter… we had been the best of friends since we met while training for our first 100 mile races.  We had both paced each other in those events and developed a life long friendship from the adventures that we shared on the trails.  And now we were here in Northern California, about to battle it out at a 50 mile race, on the very last day that we could run our qualifier for the Western States 100.

I tossed and turned most of the night in our hotel room.  I hadn’t really been nervous up to that point, but my mind seemed to be bringing everything to a head as I layed there, fighting to get a few hours of sleep.  There were two things that were weighing on my mind that evening.  First, running the Western States 100 was about a 7 year long dream for me now and racing these distances is so unpredictable.  If something went wrong and I couldn’t fix it tomorrow, game over for my 2012 chances.   Second,  I didn’t want to let my coach and my team down.  I have DNFed before and I’m sure it will happen again.  It is part of the sport.  But I believed so much in what we were doing with the Bastards and I didn’t want to make a stupid error that resulted in a poor reflection of them.

We gathered at Cavitt’s Gymnasium just before sunrise.  The race director announced to us that 120 of the people there had come to qualify for Western States.  Most ultras are predominately social events.  Typically people don’t care much about their times, other than the front runners.  But today was a much, much different feeling.  It was ‘go’ time for all of us to leave every part of ourselves out on that course, in hopes that we would meet the sub 11 hour requirement.

It was a big morning for me as well as most of my closest friends.  Erich Weller was going for his 4th attempt at a 100 mile finish out at Javelina and Alexa was also out there, shooting for sub 20 hours.  Carl had a 12 hour bike race and Monya was out at Catalina Island to do a marathon/half marathon double header.  So I shot a quick text to Eric, the one person who I could communicate with today if needed and then turned off my cell phone.  Hitting a goal like this on my own with no crew and no pacer would be tough, but it was something that I had to do.

Donn and I gathered with the other runners and the two of us along with some other friends including Jose and Baldwyn hiked out to the start line about a mile away from the gym, where we originally gathered.  I had my splits attached to my Camelbak next to my lucky voodoo doll, set for a 10 hour finish.  That was ambitious, I knew, but I would rather shoot for something slightly out of reach rather than settle for something below my capabilities.  We all chatted excitedly about our goals for the day and it wasn’t long till we were off on our incredible journey.  The course was an out and back 31 miler, then an out and back 19 miler along the same course.

The first few miles went by fast – REALLY fast.  I hit the first aid station, mile 2.8, at an 8 minute a mile pace.  I didn’t think I had gone out that hard but I knew that I immediately needed to pull things back.  The next aid station was at mile 9.1 and I thought I had backed off enough, but I still hit it at a 9 minute mile.  I was happy that pace didn’t feel hard, but I still had a LONG way to go and so I started forcing myself to take a few walk breaks here and there.  I reached back to check my splits when I realized that somehow they had fallen off of my pack.  Time to get good at math!

The first 20 miles seemed to fly by, but the pain seemed to be setting in very early which scared me.  The reason this course was considered ‘fast,’ additionally to being ‘flat-ish,’ is because there is an option to run on the bike path.  It seemed that everyone was starting to feel the discomfort of that quickly.  As I began to come up on the halfway mark in a little over 4 1/2 hours I wondered how the heck I would be able to maintain a pace that would get me across the finish line in under 11 hours.

I reached back to check my cell phone… looking for something, ANYTHING to lift my spirits.  A text message came through from Eric that morning, telling me how proud he was of me.  I stuffed the phone back in my pack and began to run.  Like hell I was going to let him down.

I relaxed into the pain as I reached the 50k mark in 5 hours and 45 minutes.  I had exactly 5 hours and 14 minutes left to finish 19 miles if I wanted to qualify for Western States.  Game on…

I was in and out of the aid station quickly and my legs started going to shit again as I hit the next aid station, mile 33.8.  I reached for a coke as a volunteer looked up at me and said “Never give up.”

“What did you just say?”  I asked, mildly delirious.

“Your tattoo… Never give up.  Seems appropriate huh?”

I smiled.  “You have no idea how much.”

I ran back down the bike path, beginning my journey to the next aid station 6.7 miles out.  I looked down at the ground and spotted something familiar… my splits!  I picked them up and suddenly realized I was still exactly on target to hit my goal.

My race to the turnaround was painful and tough.  I didn’t lose the ability to run, but all I wanted to do was walk.  I forced myself to keep moving as fast as possible as my legs screamed at me to stop.  It was a constant fight between ‘how bad can you hurt’ and ‘how bad do you want this.’

At mile 40 I was still on my 10 hour pace.  I thought I was moving pretty slow on my way back till I met a man with a Garmin named Harley who told me I was only 5.5 miles out at the 9 hour mark, but I still had about 3 miles of a gradual uphill to cover.  I knew I wouldn’t break 10 hours, but I had a damn good chance of significantly PRing.  I hobbled into the next aid station, barely stopped to get a quick drink, and started running with everything in me to the finish line.  Tears welled in my eyes as I heard the finish line cheers, and crossed at exactly 10 hours, 11 minutes and 11 seconds.  A 26 minute PR, qualifying me for Western States by 49 minutes, and earning me an award for 2nd place in my age group.

Baldwyn had finished just before me and saved me 2 pieces of pizza that I quickly devoured as I waited for my other friends.  Jose wasn’t far behind me and Donn made it in just under the Western States qualifying time at 10 hours and 49 minutes.  We all did it!!

Upon finishing, I received a lot of news… some good, some bad.  I learned that Monya had gotten 2nd place in the Catalina Marathon, Alexa had pulled out of  Javelina due to a recurring injury, Carl’s race had been cancelled 7 laps in, and by early the next morning I would learn that Erich had finally completed his first 100 mile race.  It was a big weekend to say the least!

As we drove back to Los Angeles, Donn slept as I daydreamed about yesterdays’ amazing journey and sang along to one of the CDs I had made for our trip home:  “10% luck, 20% skill, 15% concentrated power of will.  5% pleasure, 50% pain and 100% reason to remember the name!”

“Appropriate,”  Donn said, barely opening his eyes and smiling.

“Yep, we did it huh?”

“We sure did!”  He said.  “Western States lottery… here we come!”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Eny February 21, 2012 at 6:06 am

Great race retrops and a huge congrats on nailing a 100 mile race dream come true. Way to stick out the tough sections. Speedy healing to you!

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