Are you sure? called the time keeper.
Yeah I responded. I've got nothing left.
I completed my run at the Lumberjack at four o'clock Sunday morning.
Next stop was the campfire. The night left me chilled to the core. There were five or seven figures assembled around the fire, sharing stories and awaiting returning runners. I reckon the anguish was apparent upon my face. They welcomed me into the circle, ushered me into an empty lawn chair.
100k is incredible one stranger offered.
You did great another said.
As if sensing my grief yet another said Let it out. Say what ever needs to be said.
Then, looking up, I saw Debbie walking toward me. She wrapped me in a motherly embrace. Actually it was the sort of embrace I would expect if Andria were with me. Warm. Comforting. Supportive. Almost at the instant our eyes met I began to sob. More than anyone she understood what that moment meant to me.
Jodi asked if I needed anything, food or otherwise. All I required was my phone. I had to call home.
It was 7 o'clock in South Carolina so Andria answered quickly. Terri's new car has heated seats so I was able to warm up quickly once under a sleeping bag. We had a good conversation.
By 445am I had stripped away all the clothes from the trail and crawled into my sleeping bag to get away from the world. At this point I noticed just how stiff my right ankle had become. I could not get comfortable but I managed to sleep.
Suddenly I was awake. The sun was up and rain was falling on the tent. Thank you Washington state. Your weather is wonderful. Time to start this day after three hours of sleep. I felt much better, even though I was moving slowly. Fortunately the fire was burning and the coffee was hot.
Let me say a few words about ultra runners. Once you are in the community you are family. They were quick to console and congratulate me. They accepted me as a member of the community, even if I did not meet my goal. And they were quick to supply any needs I had at the time. I have yet to experience anything like this at any other distance race. It is but one reason I am hooked on ultras.
And there are no beers or burgers like post ultra beers and burgers. Holy shit they were good.
Final thoughts on my first ultra...
- Embrace the epic - if you dare not to be better than you are, you never will be. The day I decided to run a marathon was a fork in the path of my life. While I am yet to be the man I hope to become, I am not the same man that lived without purpose.
- Who needs shoes? - What more can I say? I love my Vibrams. You are looking at Vibrams 5 Fingers Treksports on the left and Treks on the right. And yes, they are quite muddy. With all the running, walking and foul conditions, I only suffered one mind blister and none major issues to my feet. I did feel rocks and roots but that was to be expected.
- Falling short is NOT failure - The goal was one hundred miles. I stopped at 63 miles. But I did not fail. Condolences are not necessary. 100k is still an ultra marathon and is twice the distance I ever covered at any one time. I shall be forever proud of my effort. While I did not run the entire distance I covered the distance. Twenty-five miles were at a solid steady pace. The final thirty-eight miles were at a walking pace, sometimes quick, sometimes slow. Without any shortcuts. I lasted longer than I had any right to.
- Knowing when enough is enough - A local runner friend named Julie asked recently, in front of my wife, if I would know when enough was enough. I took the question to mean ultras in general, as in how long would I continue this silliness. She actually wanted to know it I would blindly push through a potential dangerous or life threatening situation for the sake of a hunk of metal. All I could say was that I hoped I would know. Guess I passed that test. I announced my decision to withdraw from the race before speaking with anyone else for one reason. Only I knew truly how I felt. Some people drop due to fatigue. Hunger causes some people to drop. Injury is also a major factor. I made the decision and was prepared to live with it. There was no need for a conference.
- Never doing this again to When/where will I do this again - This conversation did go through my head. I said to myself that I was stupid for attempting such a ridiculous task. My abilities were vastly inferior to other runners on the course that day. Hell, that night. No shame in getting chicked when the chick's in the midst of kicking ass. Of course by Sunday night when we were back in Portland and I was alone in the the hotel room I had but one thought - I am so going to do this again! I want to succeed.
- Importance of crew, pacer, general support in ultra running - There is no understating or undervaluing these people. You need the support of family or close friends. They may think you are crazy, but they better not be negative. The Monday before I flew to Portland I suffered a major crisis of confidence. Andria pulled me out of it. For her faith in me I am forever humbled. Likewise a good steady pacer is vital. I did not run with a pacer but I saw people run with pacers. Pacers are people able to shed personal glory and recognition, for the sole purpose of delivering you in one piece to the finish line. And lastly, most ultra runners will not realize the goal of finishing without an alert crew. Thick skin, quick reflexes and resourcefulness are all traits for a crew member. And they must be willing to doctor blistered feet, wipe away your vomit and cheerfully accept whatever cussing you deliver through the delirium. Because like the mother in childbirth, ultra runners should not be held responsible for anything said during the run, especially when hallucinating.
- Reasons for going to the Lumberjack. Reasons for going now. - My reasons for running this race deserve a separate chapter. My reasons for running this race now deserve the same. But its time to wrap this puppy up and put it to bed.
I went to Port Gamble because someone I did not know asked me to do so. Debbie did not really know me but felt comfortable enough. Russ McGarry of 3 Non Joggers welcomed me into his home Monday night. We joked that I was a stalker, but Russ said that when I said I was an ultra runner he took that as a sign of my earnestness. My sincerity. My trustworthiness. It seems normal then that I would accept Debbie's invitation to travel alone, three thousand miles from home, to run one hundred miles in a forest. It was trust freely given, but it was trust easily earned. I told her but I will state again that I can never thank her enough for the faith Debbie displayed in me. I could go on but I think I've embarrassed myself enough.
Some weeks back during my last group run with the North Myrtle Beach Running Group I met a big-time Canadian coach with heavy marathon experience. As we talked about my upcoming race he asked if I wanted speed or endurance. Only for the rare breed it is nearly impossible to maintain both. There may still be a few minutes or seconds to cut from my marathon time. What I realized in training, or confirmed on those trails along the banks of Puget Sound, is that I want to run long. If I get to the finish quickly I would be cool, but it's about the journey not the destination. What a sweet journey it is. I also realized on those trails that I am for all intents and purposes done with road marathons. There are still roadies to run, they no longer hold the same fascination. Save for one...
Lastly, I chose to run an ultra now. 2012 appeared to be the year. The idea was that I would need time to get ready. The problem is that I am in a constant state of getting ready. Getting done should be the goal. Thus when the invitation came I could not hesitate. I needed that deadline. I needed that race day on the calendar, with a schedule to make and travel arrangements to secure. My getting ready would become getting done. The outcome became secondary. Unimportant really. Sure, it was still important in my head. My heart had other ideas. Maybe that is why the anguish of not completing the one hundred miles is less painful now, for it was truly more about the journey than the destination.
Two weeks prior to Lumberjack Andria had asked why. There was no easy answer readily available. I had the idea but not the words. When those words finally formed in my head and I was able to explain my need to do this now her entire outlook on the event changed. She went from overly concerned and skeptical to fully invested in my confidence. She became my enthusiasm. My determination.
My final statement is that ultra running is not for everyone. We all have our limits in life. There are obstacles we choose not to extend beyond. My ultra was for going beyond 26.2 and beyond physical and emotional limitations. I succeeded on both accounts. Hopefully this series opened your mind to new possibilities. To new opportunities. Not just in running but in life. Find what pushes you through barriers and beyond the comfort of your current condition. Discover your passion and what strengthens you.
I feel as though I am leaving so much out. There may be an infinite number of words, thoughts and emotions to express the full scope of this weekend. I have enough to trigger memories and fill the gaps. This blog is my way of not forgetting.
Thank you for sharing in the memories.
Previous installments - Chapter One/Arrival & Departure
Chapter Two/Chasing the Lumberjack
Chapter Three/The End is Here
Perfect Ending to the Ultra Weekend
Additional perspective on the weekend from our crew member, Teri.
And a bit more from the lady that invited your's truly on the adventure of a lifetime, Debbie.