Friday, April 8, 2016

Where Dreams Go To Die

Where Dreams Go To Die

2016 Barkley Marathons


Yes, I had dreams. Dreams of finishing five loops; dreams of being the oldest Barkley finisher ever; dreams far more embarassingly fantastical and story-book than either of these. And yes, they died.  (Que an old Allman Brothers Band song here.)0

I came prepared for five loops: Five quart baggies filled with Lara Bars, Paydays, Cliff Bars, bottles of 5-hr energy drink, instant Starbucks sweetened iced-coffee packets, and something new - zip lock baggies of mac 'n cheese I had prepared at home. I packed extra clothes and a space blanket should it get cold, or should I have gotten lost.

I'm sure I have more than enough hubris,1 and I have trained pretty hard.2 I have learned some about using a map and compass. I have visited the Frozen Head twice to hike the "legal" trails and learn the general layout of the park. However, deep inside, I knew none of this had been enough. My bowels were betraying any level of confidence my heart wanted to believe I had.

Fear was my ever-present companion since I've received my Letter of Condolence. So quickly my fantasies turned to anxiety upon arrival of that email. Even in the hours at the park just before the sounding of the conch, I battled the temptation to pull out of the race. In spite of all the race reports I'd read, I still wasn't sure what to really expect, just that whatever it was, it was going to be hard. The Veterans had a huge advantage: mental pictures and memories of the course, and notes and maps from past attempts. Having none of those things gave me a lot of idle time, and opportunity for new anxieties to develop. More and more often I was questioning why I was there.

One of my wife's dear friends, Tina, gave her a verse of Scripture to pass along to me: "Be strong and courageous and get to work. Don't be frightened by the size of the task, for the Lord my God is with you; he will not forsake you. He will see to it that everything is finished correctly."3 I hadn't attempted to memorize Scripture in years, but I was able to get fragments of this one, especially the lines "get to work," and "don't be frightened by the size of the task." They came to me often while I was "out there."

----------


Friday morning, Laz arrived and we exchanged a warm greeting. He eventually handed out the directions, and set out the map for copying. It was crunch time. Once I'd given Laz my license plate and received my copy of the Official Barkley Marathons Instructions For 2016 (course directions), I headed back to camp and started underlining every detail I thought I might need later. This took nearly an hour.

Copying the map was stressful. I tried very hard to draw my lines down the exact ridgeline Laz used on the Master Copy, while looking over shoulders, checking, double-checking, finally putting marker to paper. Nerve-wracking! I headed back towards camp only to realize ten minutes later that I hadleft the course directions back at the map table! Panic!!! But there they were, right where I had left them.


When will Laz blow the conch? Jim Ball has convinced me that it will be around mid-night, but Saturday arrives and still no signal. Will he wait as long as he did last year? I passed the time putting zinc oxide on the exposed parts of my feet and eating and drinking to stay calm, resisting the temptation to walk mindlessly around camp burning off nervous energy.

Finally, at 9:42am, the conch blows. That final hour went fast, but during my last-minute trip to the bathroom, Mig told me that my trekking poles were anchored in a very dangerous way, one that could put somebody's eye out! With five minutes to go, I was working frantically to fix the problem, even while Laz gave out last minute instructions. As usual for my experience in a Laz race, I didn't actually see the lighting of the cigarette, but people were moving, and I found a spot near the back of the line.

Last minute instructions - photo by K.O. Herston


Jim Ball and me climbing Bird Mountain - photo by John Price
My goal was to keep Hiram, a veteran who knows this course as well as anybody, in sight, but as soon as we cross the Pillars of Doom, Hiram was gone and it was pandimonium as everyone rushed into Fangorn to get to Book 1, every virgin desperate not to get scraped. (There is no chivalry, nor are there good manners at the Barkley. You get your page as quickly as you can and move! It's not really selfishness; it's fear of being scraped, that and the legends passed down around the campfires and blog entreaties of Barkleys past.) Karen and I were the last two, until Benjamin, who overshot the book arrived. We handed him the book and moved on. I took off my pack to get my trekking poles ready, but I had trouble getting the pack back on and snapped correctly, costing me time and frustration. The trekking poles were supposed to be helpful, but at times they were my achilles heel.

I followed another runner down the ridge, but he was much faster and quickly disappeared, leaving Karen, Ben and me to make our own way. As I descended, I slowed myself by falling into trees, several which snapped and fell forward (downhill), one landing on my head. Ouch! Several more trees broke off near ground level when I attempted to use them to control my descent, and Karen remarked that she could follow me by the path of destruction I left in my wake.

We encountered Patrick when we reached Phillips creek, where we were to join the North Boundary Trail, but none of us took a compass reading. We went the wrong way and climbed all the way back to the Cumberland Trail. During this waste of a climb, I tried using my new trekking poles, but a plastic adjusting/tightening connection popped out of the pole, leaving me with one fully functional pole, a short handled section of another, and a section with a spike. We encountered two hikers who knew we were turned around and they directed us back downhill. Already an hour was lost; the dream was slipping away.

Retracing our steps, we hiked up to Jury Ridge and we didn't pick too bad of an line for our next descent. We ended up at the bottom of a convergence of two streams that we thought was the creek convergence we were aiming for, but instead we spent another thirty minutes looking for Book #2.

I have no idea where we went wrong on our climb up the Hillpocalypse, but I don't believe we ever encountered the High Wall we were supposed to work around. My guess is that we traveled far to the right, and after at least another hour of hiking, we finally found a coal road that leds us back towards the NBT. I'm felt pretty good, not about the time off-course, but that I was able to use what little map-reading skills I possessed to find the trail. Of course, once on the trail, we weren't sure if Bald Knob was to the east or to the west of us.

Almost immediately, Kimberly, looking a bit frazzled, came running towards us, greatly relieved to have found some fellow runners. Marianna and Christophe also joined us, and together we again encountered the same hikers we last spoke with a few hours before. Finally determining that Bald Knob is east of us, off we went. I really enjoyed this iteration of the group. Most of us had leadership at one time or other, most of us made mistakes, but we hung together and it was a great collaborative effort.

Patrick, me, Kimberly and Benjamin - photo by Karen Jackson
 We took a short break at Book #3 and ate little bit. I believe we are already six hours into the race, and I had hoped to make Garden Spot (Book #4) in four. I took off my pack, unzipped the back to get a bottle of Ensure out, and then put the pack back on, learned later that I forgot to zip my vest pouch shut, and losing a brand new handheld flashlight as a result. We took the wrong way around the Coal Ponds, but Kimberly, the only veteran among us, remembered enough of the way to get us to Garden Spot. Marianna led us directly to Book #4,where a cairn had been built to honor all Barkley participants who have departed from this life. We each solemnly added a stone to the cairn.


It took us 8 hours to do the first third of the course. The dream of finishing a loop with time to go back out was dead. Evening was upon us; temps were starting to drop. Back and forth we went on the jeep road, but we could not find the path that descended towards Barley Mouth Branch. We explore other jeep roads, as much to stay warm as anything. I knew we were close, but this wasn't horseshoes. We hiked for at least another hour. Darkness descended. I remember thinking that the only way we will find the descent is to wait for the leaders to come through on their second lap, and as we were now approaching ten hours, that would not be too far off. Depressing.

Marianna and Christophe headed down a jeep road that I was sure was going the wrong way. Karen, Patrick and Benjamin decided that it was too cold to continue, and headed for Quitter's Road. Kimberly and I committed to continuing on into the dark, even without a clue as to how we were going to get to Book #5. The fellowship was broken.

As I had hoped, Gary and Jared, the leaders, came running towards us, and offered to lead us to the drop off. We wer so close; we had walked by it at least six times! The others had a chance to join us, but opted to continue their way back to camp. They had dressed for a twelve-hour loop, and well past ten hours, we were not even half-way around.

Jared and Gary climbing Rat Jaw - photo by Chris Gkikas


Gary paid Kimberly and me a nice compliment for contining on when it would have been so tempting to go back with the others. I treasured those words for the rest of the adventure. There were reasons I didn't quit: I didn't want to quit without seeing the course; I didn't want to quit without experiencing being Out There at night; I didn't want to have to look Laz in the face and try to explain why I must not have wanted it bad enough. It helped that I wasn't cold, that I had plenty of food and caffeine, and that Kimberly wanted a complete loop as badly as I did. Down towards Barley Mouth Branch we plunged, descending like the dream, from five loops to one, from fantasy to fiction to reality.  


They guys told us we would reach a jeep road and should turn left. We did, but we did not see Bobcat Rock and the trail down Leonard's Butt-Slide. We marched right past it, turned around, and marched past it again! It was cold, and we needed to keep moving, so Kimberly and I headed back to the creek, ventured around the bend in the road, descended to the creek and crossed it, only to discover there was nowhere to go that way. We came across some abandoned mining equipment, rusting away quietly just above the creek bed and I wondered if I was destined for the same fate. Then Kimberly looked up and saw a headlamp on the road above us. It was Starchy, who had just arrived at the jeep road.

We followed Starchy and he took us straight to Bobcat Rock! Frustrating, but a relief at the same time. We descended Leonard's Butt-Slide, but couldn't find the book. John Kelly came along on his second loop, and he had trouble also. We descended further down, climbed back up (a short, but very steep climb) and John finally yelled that he'd found it! By the time I get my page and made my way up to the road, Starchy and Kimberly were at Bobcat Rock (John long gone), looking for the next path up to Hiram's Pool and Spa. Starchy and I walked right past Book #6, but fortunately, Kimberly spotted it and saved us some backtracking.


Starchy was doing such a good job navigating that I make a big mistake: I quit looking at my map and compass and contributing my input. It was a hassle unzipping my pack pouch, pulling out my 200x reading glasses, sitting down with the directions and map and trying to figure out what was going on when Starchy did it all in less than a minute. Still, an extra set of eyes and another brain (such as it is) might have been helpful on the next descent.

There were cliffs to work around, some climbing down, a loose rock that rolled murderously towards the head of the person in front of me, some tense moments and words, as we made our way down the ridge towards New River. We ended up far to the right of where we were supposed to be. Former finisher Andrew Thompson came along on his second loop, and immediately began climbing a steep hill. We followed, but at the top, he was long gone, and the highway we expected to find was nowhere in sight. Back down we went. By now, all I had left of my trekking poles were two stubs, the top section of each, so as I climbed these steep ascents, I was bent over even worse than the old man on the Aqualung album cover.

Part way up the next climb, we realize we had passed Book #7, so we descended yet again. We encountered Mig who told us it was only a few hundred feet back. We spread out a little until Kimberly found the book in a hollow tree trunk.

Walk into splintered sunlight,
inch your way through dead dreams
to another land

maybe you're tired and broken,
your tongue is twisted with words half-spoken
and thoughts unclear4

I was frustrated and getting down on myself. The name of a bluegrass band from many years before came to mind, Old and In The Way, and it really seemed to fit how I was feeling at that moment. I'm debated whether or not to tell the others to go on without me. I'm slow. I don't feel like I'm much help to the group, but I think that once daylight comes, I'll be able to find my own way. However, instead of voicing all of these thoughts, I pulled out my map and compass, took a bearing, and announced that I was going "this" way and started off into a thicket of rhodendrums. Kimberly was more than a little frustrated with me, but Starchy followed. My bearing and compass reading were right, but by not having an accurate idea what our starting point was, my navigation brought us out on the top part of Testicle Spectacle. At least now we know where we were. And daylight was breaking.

The section down to Raw Dog Falls went pretty well. I went my own way at Danger Dave's climbing wall, and didn't really expect to see the other two again. They were much faster climbers, and I was tempted to sneak off to a sunny place where I could take a nap. I found an Old Man Route around the wall, got Book #8 and climbed up to the road, where to my surprise, they sat waiting for me. It was daylight now; my spirits had improved and the loneliness and worthlessness I felt during the night were passing; and I was thankful they were there. I wouldn't be any faster on the climbs, but I also wouldn't have to battle my thoughts alone as the heat of the day, fatigue, and the effects of sleep deprivation worked their magic.

We climbed Pig Head Creek, reached the Prison Mine Trail, and got lapped by Jennilynn. The climb up Rat Jaw went better than I expected, and I used up my water just before reaching the top. We filled our bladders and bottles, and took time to eat. We had been out on the trail for over 23 hours and Starchy and Kimberly were running low on food. I pulled out my zip-lock bag of mac 'n cheese and gladly shared.

Gary and Jared were climbing Rat Jaw on their third loop as we descended. We also met Heather, now on her second loop.) By the time we reached the bottom, John Kelly was exiting the prison area. There was no way I could keep my feet dry in the tunnel, nor did I have the climbing skills to go up either of the towers. (Kudos to Jared, who climbed them on all five of his loops.)

Bad Thing took a while, but it was fairly straightforward. We didn't have too much trouble finding the book at the top and we were anxious to begin our descent down Zip Line. Again, stream after stream converged, leaving us guessing as to when we are actually supposed to cross the creek and when weren't. We spent a lot of time looking for a beech tree at one convergence, until I finally gave up and began moving further downstream. Suddenly, I heard my name being yelled from off to my right. It was Dale Holdaway (followed by JT and Jason) and he told me that the beech tree was only a little further down. Very soon we found a confluence that had the right angle layout I'd been expecting, went to the beech tree, got our pages, and rested before climbing Big Hell.

I'm not sure where we again encountered Jennilynn, but I believe it was during this climb. Maybe it was because it was the last climb, maybe because we were ready to be done, maybe because we'd been on our feet moving for thirty hours, or maybe for any number of other reasons, but this climb seemed to take forever. It deserves its name, We finally reached the top, celebrated getting our last pages, and took only a short breather before heading down Chimney Top Trail.

We were pretty quiet as we walked. I was thankful for the downhill, but once we encountered the Ridge Mountain ascent, I surrendered the point position to the others. Somewhere along here we made a pact to approach the Yellow Gate running and holding hands. I remember feeling thankful to be included, apparently still harboring some of those dark feelings from the night hours.

At the gate, I asked Laz if we made the cutoff. I got no response, just a look from under the brim of his hat. I told him that Barkley truly is the place where dreams go to die and he asked me if any dreams did die out there? I told him, "yes," but some came true also.

Running to the finish.  Joel Gat is off to the right, in the flip-flops. - photo by Dan Henry courtesy of the Chattanooga Times Free Press - http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2016/apr/06/barkley-marathons-race-eats-its-young/359012/#photogallery_1549
Touching the Yellow Gate - photo by

Photo by Clark Annis



  Dave played the best version of "Taps" I heard all weekend. Many wanted to know exactly what happened to us Out There, but I was at a loss to know where to begin. The only word I had was "convergences." Too many convergences...

Asking Laz if we made the cutoff - photo by

Our adventure lasted 32 hours. We have been informed that we took more time to complete a single loop than anyone in the history of the event. My mind and heart are still trying to cope with the experiencing of such a wide array of emotions simultaneously: exhileration, euphoria, and complete humiliation. It's befuddling...

Afterwards:

The reception for the three of us at the Yellow Gate was so positive. Instead of laughing at us derivisely, people cheered and applauded our dogged determination. Several offered me a beer, but all I wanted was an ice cold Classic Coke, which Joel Gat was able to procur. Thanks Joel!!!

Later, after a shower, I did enjoy an IPA at Jim and Karen's fire, wrapped in one of their fleeces, enjoying the comraderie (Chris Gkikas was there too) until I started to nod off.


Jim Ball, Chris Gkikas and I, before the race - photo by Karen Tuell



After six hours of sleep, I woke up and just laid there, my mind wandering. I heard "Taps" sounding for three runners and regretted not having gotten out of my sleeping bag to be there to welcome them in. I spent the rest of the night and the next day hanging out around the the fire at HQ, enjoying fellowship with people I've come to enjoy so much, and watching runners come into camp and head back out, each with amazing stories of their own to tell.

Laz and me after the race.  I'm not sure who were talking with. - Photo by John Price


Jared was the only finisher, finishing in about 53 hours. There was a huge crowd at the finish line, and he sat calmly and answered questions for 30 minutes or longer.

I thank the Lord for the whole experience:
- for creating the beauty of this part of Tennessee
- for Laz, Raw Dog and all those that have had a part in creating and sustaining this race
- for all the other runners, their families, friends and crew, as well as friends of the race, that joined together to make this the great event it was
- and for the privilege of getting to do what I did this weekend. It wasn't all I had hoped for, but perhaps in some hard-to-explain way, it was so much more.

Laz and Dobies had some fun with math at our expense...
-officially, we traveled at an astounding pace of .625 miles per hour, 55 feet per minute (try that at home for fun)
- had we done the entire 100 miles at that pace, it would have taken us approximately163 hours
- Robert Youngren calculates that if we averaged 1.5 (unofficial) miles per hour, we may have wandered as far as 48 miles during our loop, . This caused Laz to proclaim that even though the Barkley course is not a perfect circle, neither did it resemble a small intestine.

PS...Erik, on his second loop, found my handheld while descending Bald Knob! How cool is that?

Thanks to Henry Spier for his 20 Self-Evident Truths. I didn't fully appreciate #20 until today: that "the Barkley is the ultimate revealer of truth. Most will find out that they are not as tough as they hoped they would be...but all will be grateful and better for the experience." I want to believe I am a better person for this experience; help thou my unbelief.  :)

Footnotes:

0 - "Dreams" by the Allman Brothers Band  
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8OR-nIqEzw

1 - Henry Spier's "Barkley Self-Evident Truths" #5

2 - ibid, #1

3 - I Chronicles 28:20, The Living Bible

4 - "Box of Rain" by Phil Lesh and Robert Hunter
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bxh5olGxCYI

Other stuff:

a)

Barkley Self-Evident Truths - Henry Speir

#0 - You can't learn if you listen with your mouth. (Mike Dobies)

#1 - You toe the line at the yellow gate with the training you have, not the training you wish you had.

#2 - Weather happens - the successful Barker wastes little time and energy on this and instead focuses on aspects within his control.

#3 - There are two ways of quitting at the Barkley: Direct and Indirect - Direct is the aspiring Barker declaring, regardless of reason, that they are unwilling to continue; Indirect is the lack of will to move at an appropriate pace so as to not timeout.

#4 - Manage your calorie intake; the successful Barker will not allow himself to even go into "mico-famine" - if you are near the end of a loop and need to eat, do so, don't wait to get in camp.  attrib: Andrew Thompson

#5 - One cannot make it far at the Barkley without above average hubris.  However, hubris is also one of the leading causes of a Barkley attempt being cut short.  The successful Barker is aware of, and will manage this.
#6 - There is no "wishing" at Barkley - there is "vision" and the steadfast will to then realize that vision.
Thompson corollary: Once the switch is flipped, it can't be unflipped.

#7 - Go at a pace comfortable for *you*.  If you plan on going with someone else, you are going at their pace, at some point this will be too fast.  attrib: David Horton
Corollary: The virgin would be wise to seek a vet that is otherwise likely to move at a slower natural pace than them
(see self-evident truths #8, #9 and #5).

#8 - The most important decision the Barkley virgin can make is which veteran they will try to follow.  Choose wisely.   See: Barkley self-evident truth #7.

#9 - The Barkley virgin is a parasite and any self-respecting veteran will attempt to "scrape"(drop) them at some point.  See: Barkley self-evident truth #8.

#10 - You will vastly increase your chances at success if you know where you are and are able to pick out where you are on the map at all times; keep track as you progress and make a mental note as you get to each book or pass significant terrain features.  At some point, you are likely to find yourself alone - see: Barkley self-evident truth #9

#11 - While "Out There", the ephemeral "Barkley Friendship" can be very fleeting, but also very useful.  The successful Barker will immediately recognize when it is no longer useful and move on with haste.  (be mindful, however, of Barkley self-evident truth #5)
Corollary: The successful Barker will instantly spot the mopey, blue, dead-weight Barker and put distance between them
before he is infected with negative, self-justifying talk about quitting.


#12 - All other things being equal, during the nighttime, the successful Barker will leverage pairing or teamwork possibilities with those around him.  Being mindful, of course, of Barkley self-evident truth #11.
Corollary: The Barkley virgin is much less likely to be scraped at night.  See: Barkley self-evident truth #9

#13 - While "Out There", the course is in command; between loops, YOU are in command.  The successful Barker will visualize, plan and parsimoniously manage every minute between loops.  What you do or fail to do here could be the beginning of the end of your Barkly outing.

#14 - If you haven't spent much time with a USGS 7.5 min topo quad and can't tell the difference between a draw and a spur, go back, re-read and double down on Barkley self-evident truth #8

#15 - Ultrarunners: Realize that all that trail running training and experience you have is only tangentially useful at being successful at the Barkley.  Furthermore, some of the experience and habits you've gained in this pursuit can even be somewhat counterproductive at the Barkley.  That is not to say that it's not useful at all; it's just not as useful in preparing you for the Barkley as you likely assume it to be.  See: Barkley self-evident truth #1
Corollary 1: "Mudder/Death/ToughGuy" type running events and experience are even more useless.
Corollary 2: The best comprehensive Barkley training is during the event itself; if you are in, keep moving forward --
your next chance is at minimum a year, but more likely more than a year away!

#16 - Knowledge and understanding of the actual Barkley course and how to navigate around it is fundamental to success and goes without saying; however, equally as important and useful, but often overlooked, is the "big picture" of the park, its features and how they are all interconnected and how the Barkley course fits and flows within/around the park.  (attrib: Jonathan Basham; also: laz, Furtaw, others)

#17 - Implicit in your desire to enter the Barkley and being granted entry into the event is your steadfast commitment to self-extract and make your way back to camp on your own power, accept under the most extreme of circumstances.  If you had the energy and fortitude to get out there, then you should be able to get back on your own...without bothering the locals, and bringing shame and disgrace to yourself and the Barkley.  (partial attrib: "Pit Viper" circa 2007; others before and since)   See: Barkley self-evident truth #16 and #10

every barker has self-extracted.
no matter how long it took.
altho some have hitch hiked back from some damned remote locations!

there is a certain pride that no one has had to be found and retrieved over all these years.
the weight of all the barkers who have precdeeded you
and all the barkers who hope to follow
is on your shoulders.

you got yourself out there.
you must get yourself back.

laz
#18 - Navigating around the Barkley course is no doubt a challenge.  However, the primary driver for causing the once aspiring Barker to quit is the cumulative effect of the brutal climbs and descents.  See: Barkley self-evident truth #3

#19 - The Barkley is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. (inspiration attrib: Winston Churchill)

#20 - The Barkley is the ultimate revealer of truth.  Most will find out that they are not as tough as they hoped they would be (or as most perceive them to be); a select few will become legends.  All will be grateful and better for the experience.

b) from Laz on why a GPS isn't necessary during the Barkley

as for tracking your heart rate,
i will save you the trouble.
you are going to redline....

a lot.

if the term "redline" is not part of your standard english vocabulary,
picture the gauges on the dash of your automibile.
the meaning of "redlining" should be obvious.

let me explain:
when the uphill slope gets over 30%
most people have to redline their heart rate just to move.
by the time it hits 40%
everyone has to redline to move at all.

30 and 40% grades are all over the barkley course.

if your heart cant take a licking
and keep on ticking
you ought to give over your slot to a weight lister.
because you will die out there.





Saturday, November 28, 2015

Might As Well Monkey Around - Icarus 2016


A vervet monkey, similar to those in Snyder Park.  (Yahoo photos)


I'm writing this on Thanksgiving Day, before sun-up, but the format, starting out with a list of "thank-you's" was decided some time ago. I haven't written a race-report in a long time, and I've kind of lost the knack for how to do it, but here goes:

First, the "thank you's":

- I want to thank God for the beauty of Florida. What a great place for a Hoosier to spend a few days when things start getting chilly in Indiana. I'm already missing the heat and humidity, the palm trees and live oaks, and especially the monkeys and iguanas.

- I also want to thank Andrei and Claire for putting on not only a first-class ultrafest, but a world-class ultrafest! This year was even better than last.

- I want to thank all the runners, the volunteers, their friends, family, crew and supporters who made this the party it was. I can't remember the last time I had so many interesting conversations and so much fun.

- I want to thank my family for their love and support, especially my oldest son, who came out several times and walked laps with me.

- and then there was all the prayers and support from my church family, friends, former students, and others as I went through my down moments. Thank you!

- Finally, once in a rare while, God brings someone into my life who causes me to change direction, reach higher, or discover something new that I had been needing to find. The man of this hour is William Sichel of Scotland, someone I have yet to meet, or learn very much about. But it was his world age-group record at the 144-hr event that I set out to break. For 12 hours, it seemed possible. However, his record is safe for the time being. William, may the good Lord give us both many more years and miles.

***

I have done the math; I know the marks I have to meet each hour. I start out well, not too fast. But the heat and humidity are sneaky, and when I lose a day's worth of fluid and nutrition in one volcanic upchuck at the 12-hr mark, the marks, the math, and the goals pour down the sides of my dreams and leave me laying on my cot in the tent, a place I will rarely leave for the next 12 hours.

It has been a theme this year: a little heat and humidity, a little honest exertion, a bit of a breakdown, followed by a complete loss of will to compete, run, or do anything other than assume the horizontal. I will need to research not only the physical aspect of what this is all about, but also the psychological, and try to make adjustments. I first noticed it in SC in June, again both at ARFTA and the Barkley mini, and now here. It didn't hit me at the Little, but I started that event walking and walked nearly 80% of the course each lap. So, it is related to pushing myself, but that still leaves some unanswered questions.

I send out a plea for prayers of encouragement via Facebook. If things continue like this, it is going to be a long six days!


Day 2:

Early on Day 2: just keeping on keeping on.  That's Kimberly sneaking up behind me.  (Andrei)


My head is in a dark place, despite the bright sunshine. I put on a hat, and sunglasses, and even wore a shirt briefly to protect myself from sunburn. My thoughts are everywhere, but nowhere. When I start thinking about shaving my beard, I know it's really, really bad...

I need new goals. I no longer care about finishing position; or how many miles I can complete. I am finding no answers in doing math or playing with numbers. I listen to Morning Edition on my Nano, but the events of the world have too little relevance to where I am right now. I have no desire to listen to music. I cannot think of another time I've worn headphones in a race, but at this point, what is there to lose?

The human mind is an amazing thing - how it can twist, justify, and rationalize most anything.  One thought that does much to turn me around is to the idea that a six-day event in Florida during the winter is an excellent bargain of a vacation.  Sun, food, lodging, companionship, set your own goals, do your own thing - all for one low price of ??? I've long forgotten how much I paid to be here, but despite the performance setback, it's worth every penny!  

I start falling in with people, hoping for conversations to help me pass time.  The order of events, the people I chatted with on which day - all forgotten. Much I do remember. But most important, I find my new goal: to learn as much about everyone as I can. The biographical vignettes, the running stories, the philosophical reflections, the sharing of goals of future events, these things carry me along, show me the way, return to me the joy of doing what I am here to do.

No more water. (It was a swig of water from my bottle that preceded my blow-up the night before.) My fluid intake consists of crunching ice, drinking smoothies, and an occasional swig of orange juice. I'm not running, so there is less need for fluids. I avoid breads; they are too difficult to swallow. A little fruit, especially grapes, some eggs, these are enough.

I have blisters. Carey does a great job taping two of my toes, and the tape job lasts the rest of the race. It felt so good letting my feet soak in her mixture of Epsom salts and Listerine. It felt good putting on dry socks. My feet are covered with little dots from the heat. The bottoms of my feet are tender. This is all part of the fun. Someday I will be smart enough to tape them.

Day 2- Day 6

Richard and Kimberly (Jodi Samuels)


It's mostly a blur. Richard and Kimberly have a contagiously joyful presence that I want to experience as often as possible. I rejoice with Kimberly as she reaches first one goal, then another. Richard shares some canned coffees with me, and they are awesome, much better than Starbucks!

I learn of three people who live, or have lived, on boats. I talked with six or more runners who are doing the 1000-mile race in Brazil. Normally, at this stage of an event, I have no desire to think about running ever again, but I find myself wishing I would be joining them. Several of the runners will move on to ATY (Across the Years), and though that event has never seriously tempted me - the cold nights and the cost of getting there being two deterrents - it's starting to sound like it would be fun.

Several massage therapists are on hand, and though I don't think I've logged enough miles to deserve one, I avail myself of their services anyway. My IT band hurts, and Brent does a nice job of loosening it up. I enjoy hearing his story about moving to Florida from Massachusetts, moving from working in the corporate world to starting his own business, and the thorobred horse he and his wife rescued. I would meet Jennifer a day later, who also does wonders with my tired and abused legs, and then Roger puts a long strip of tape down my leg to keep my IT band stable. I call it my racing stripe, and I can feel it working my IT band for the next three days.

Carey never failes to cook something up for dinner that hits the spot for me. The soups, the stroganoff, the chili - this comprised the bulk of what solid food I eat. And then there are Claire's blueberry pancakes, about the only bread-like food I can enjoy all week. I stand by my pre-race comment that this is the best food of any ultra I've run, but I learn through the six days that others have differing needs and expectations. So it is...

***

My one other goal, more a prayer request, is to be able to see the monkeys that live in the park. Others have. They have distinctive colorations - one more grey, the other with reddish-blonde fur/hair. As I am following Bill and Jameelah by the rock-climging wall, the gray one leisurely jogs across the course in front of me. A day later, I get to see the other one relatively close up as she/he runs across the course with something in its hands. It has the look of someone who has just robbed a store and is trying to make a getaway.

***

My oldest son comes out on three occasions, the first during my lowest emotional point. We walk a little, then sit in a pavilion for nearly an hour, and I point out and name other runners as they walk by. I tell him that I am ready to pack it in early, but he says "no, you came to run." Only one sentence, maybe even a sentence fragment, but it is enough, indeed, the perfect amount, of encouragement. He keeps me supplied with orange juice and ice, and late in the race, chocolate milk.

***

Five songs I never want to hear again:
- "Maneater"
- anything from Frampton Comes Alive
- "Another One Bites The Dust"
- "Private Eyes"
- "Heat of the Moment"

But serious, Mike, Bill and Jason are doing an awesome job! The new timing gear is working great, and I enjoy seeing them each and every loop. And trust me, nobody wants to hear what's on my iPod for 144 hours!

***

I love the tent city we've established. Next year, I will move farther away from the timing and scoring area just so I have more peace and quiet for those mid-day naps, but Mike is very good about turning the music down at 7pm each night, and being able to rest was never an issue.

***

As soon as we enter Day 4, I become aware that this is a finite event. I not counting down the hours yet, but there is an end in sight, and I have mixed feelings. My wife is waking up to near-freezing temps back in Indiana, and there have been several inches of snow. I want nothing to do with that. On the other hand, I'm tired and my feet hurt.

I am anything but a fashion statement. The only article of clothing I change is my socks. There's no point in showering; the humidity will leave me a sweaty mess within minutes afterwards. I soak my head with the hose to cool down. I'm sure it's more psychological than anything, but it leaves me with some peculiar hair stylings.

I do wear a shirt when I lay down to sleep, but that's more to keep my sweat from grossing out the sleeping bag. I refuse to set any alarms - there's no point. I enjoy some vivid dreams, mostly of being in other races simultaneous with this one, where I'm actually getting up, putting my shoes on, and re-entering the fray, just as I should be doing for real right now. The longest I sleep is four hours.

The only problem with taking a break is how much it hurts once I start moving again. My feet have to relearn how to meet the pavement in a way that doesn't aggravate the many tender spots. My legs have to loosen up and allow a more normal stride. It usually takes an entire lap.

***
Wrapping up:

- I'm wishing I could have keep up my early pace. I would have enjoyed giving Joel, Mark, Michele, Ed, Colby and Yolanda some competition. We could have spurred each other on to possibly greater mileage. I enjoy using Joel as my "confessor." I have some strange ideas during the race and I'm pretty sure he doesn't have a clue where I'm coming from, but he listens anyway.

- Scott, thanks for all the laps you walked with me, as well as the mango slices. Dusty, thanks for popping my blisters, walking a few laps, and encouraging me on my plans for a run across Indiana. Your adventure run in FL a few weeks ago is inspiring me and you've helped calm some of the doubts I have about my own plans. I've been enjoying the song you mentioned, and now that I'm "back home again in Indiana," trying to "love the skies I'm under."

- Richard and Kimberly: you guys are the best. I hope to see you many more times in the months and years ahead.

***
Songs in my head during the six days:
- "Driver 8" by R.E.M. - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OSG7YQBKCE
- "The Waiting" by Tom Petty - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMyCa35_mOg

I'm sure there were others, but they aren't coming back to me.

***

All Hoka Bondi 3's.  The pair on the right is the pair I wore at Icarus.  They had maybe 90 miles on them before the race started. 
 
The pair on the left have over 900 miles; the pair on the right much less than half that, but suffered six days of abuse at Icarus, especially my lousy running and walking form as I struggled through the humidity.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hubris, All Is Hubris

Hubris, All Is Hubris


or

My 144-Hour Moment of Zen




My Icarus Florida Ultrafest Race Report


Symbolizing high flying ambition, the myth of Icarus warns us against complacency and hubris, and similarly, ultrarunning symbolizes the human drive for empowerment and warns us against heeding our own limitations, self doubt, and fears. To those in the sport, ultrarunning is not only a way to be better, but also to know thyself, and know what better means. To those on the outside of the sport, ultrarunning is the myth that truly heroic things are not achieved by mere mortals, but only by heroes. Icarus Florida UltraFest was organized with the idea that truly heroic things can be achieved by all of us -- if we are willing to put in the time, energy and effort demanded by the task. 1


What is hubris? It's thinking I have any business attempting a six-day ultra event It's thinking I might have a shot finishing in one of the top three positions. It's dreaming I might set a US age-group record for 144 hours. It's thinking I can remember enough to write about the experience of running around and around a one-kilometer course over 600 times...

I fear I will end up as the name sake of this race, letting the dreams that sound so doable from the comfort of my recliner take me a little too close to the heat and light of the reality awaiting me in Fort Lauderdale. However, after watching live video from ATY last Dec and finding myself wishing I was there; watching more live video from Hungary in May, and then again this August from Six Days in the Dome in Alaska - as soon as I hear about Icarus, I know I don't want to be sitting at home, watching once again from afar, wishing I could be there too.

Still, as badly as I want to run this, I wait and wait and wait to sign up. Part of that is that the financial outlay doesn't come easy, but I think there is a lot of fear and apprehension. Funny though, as soon as I sign up, I sense a sigh of relief and my training, such as it is, goes a lot better.


It is raining Sunday afternoon when I arrive at the park to set up my tent. It has been raining most of the day, so instead of setting up my tent between the pavilion and the lake, I set up along the park road on higher ground. Most of the other runners will follow suit.



There will only be ten of us at the start, five coming from outside the US to run this event. Serbia, Italy, Denmark, Sweeden, and Canada are represented.

Day 1:

There is a light rain as we set off on our adventure. This brings out earthworms, which I notice are more gray than red. I look down at my shoes and notice the "N" just ahead of the laces, and I'm trying to remember when Asics started putting this letter in this location on their Nimbus model. Due to my propensity for stomach issues, I follow advice I learned at this year's Vol State and walk the first twenty minutes, just to help my stomach ease into the day's activity. Though the course is mostly flat, there are a couple of short uphill sections, and once I so start running, I walk these.

Wet and walking on Day 1


With only ten of us scattered around the course, I find I am quickly alone, stuck with the noises and voices in my head. One hour goes by quickly, but I am already thinking "I have 143 hours more to go!" This is not a good way to start six days of anything, especially an ultra-run.

I know better than to try consuming any food, but I do try some Ensure sport drink and Poweraid, just small sips here and there, hoping that these calories will keep me from bonking too early. They go down well. The water is another story. It has a very strong chemical smell and taste, common throughout Florida, and I can't get myself to drink more than an occasional sip, so even though it is relatively cool and damp out, I am losing out on the hydration battle.

By six hours, the rain has stopped and I decide it's a good time to change socks, and since my shoes are also wet, I decide to change them also. This is when I realize that I have not been wearing the new pair of Asics Nimbus 15s I purchased for this race, but a pair of New Balance 1080v3s, which I had packed at the last minute for no particular reason. This sets me back, emotionally and mentally, as I realize just how far off my mindset is. At least I know now why that letter "N" was on my shoe.

Training and other race preparation had not been what I desired, to say the least, so I am very short of confidence from the get-go. I devised what strategy I could by reading reading several race reports, finding Joe Fejes' the most helpful in setting my own daily goals. I decided to go for big days and little days, setting myself a 90-mile goal for the first 24 hours, followed by 55 miles for Day 2, then back to another big day (80 miles) followed by a lighter day (50 miles) and so on, with a final tally of 425 miles. This was about all I had in the way of a plan, a plan drawn up from the comfort of my living-room recliner: all hubris, as I would quickly learn.

After a brief sit and change of shoes, this time definitely into that new pair of Asics, I set off, walk a few steps, and bend over to puke. Up comes whatever nourishment I have taken during the morning stint. Only 138 more hours of this nonsense...good grief! Maybe once I can get through the first 24 hours my stomach will calm down and allow me to refuel with some realfood from the aid station.

My bladder is clamoring for attention all too often and for not very productive reasons. I have taken a S-cap or two, but I need more fluids. The Race Directors have headed to the store and purchased several gallons of drinking water. Though there is still a horrible smell and taste in my water bottle, but the new water goes down well. I cannot say enough about how Andrei and Claire rose to every unexpected challenge and strove to meet the needs of all of us out on the course.

I walk all day, and attempt to rest at the 7pm turn-around. This is not productive. Snyder Park is next to the Ft. Lauderdale airport and it seems to get busy just as the sun goes down. Then there's "that little train engine that can" blowing its whistle about seven times in less than 3 minutes. Sleep is a joke. I get up and resume walking, logging around 70 miles in the first 24 hours, only 20 miles short of my goal.

One of my favorite scenes from out on the course, the majestic palm trees in the early morning light.  (Teddy Allen)


Day 2:

Bill Heldebrand recently became a hero of mine: 68 years old and racking up impressive mileage in multi-day events around the globe. I am excited about meeting him, but other than an exchange of names and a handshake, I have not had the opportunity to pick his brain. He passes me numerous times as I walk, and on one occasion tells me he would be doing that if he could, a compliment to my walking pace. He tells me of a gal in Alaska who walked the entire six days and accummlated over 400 miles! I appreciate the encouragement, but I really wish I was running, at least some. It's all in my head, I know, but the mind is a powerful actor in these kinds of races, and I can't find the switch to put it into running mode.

I learn that Bill has set an impressive target for himself, and that he is too far behind to realize it. I start Day 2 with the shock of learning that Bill has turned in his timing chip and has exited the race. Our first "Icarus." If it has happened to Bill, what hope have I got to finish this thing, let alone accomplish what I came here to accomplish?

I am thankful that I have reserved a motel room for after the race is over. I know I can cancel reservations, but my mind doesn't take me there, so having a room waiting for me gives me a reason to stay at the park for the duration, regardless of how well my race is going. My mind keeps coming back to that phrase in Scripture: "I go to prepare a place for you..." even though in this case it's nothing more than a room in the Motel 6.

Carey has manned the aid station nearly all night long. She has answered every call for more ice and water in my bottle, and now and then tries to tempt me with solid food. Near morning, she suggests that maybe my stomach can handle runny oatmeal, and that actually sounds good. Next lap by, I have a cup in my hands, brown sugar and maple flavor, and it goes down easy, and feels like it's going to stay down. I have survived the 24-hour drought. Perhaps now I can begin enjoying some solid food and get my energy and enthusiasm back.

Carey not only ran the aid station, she fixed blisters, watching the timing station when needed, ran a runner to the hospital (not me), and managed to run some miles of her own.  "Amazing" doesn't do her justice...


I also notice I have a small blister on a toe of my right foot. Carey fixes that with some moleskin, but Dusty, who is pacing and crewing Jim Schroeder, has a concern that the fix will cause a blister on the neighboring toe. She will prove to be right, but for the moment, my feet feel pretty good. I have also changed into a pair of Nimbus 14s, the pair I wore at 3DATF the previous May, and they seem to be suiting me better.

I quit "chasing numbers," my way of referring to my original goals for the race, and instead start doing my own form of "new math," which consists largely of dividing by two over and over and over until I get down to how many miles I need every hour to meet my primary goal, that of setting a new age-group record for 144 hours. The number comes out to approximately 3.5 mph, which seems doable, though I will have to bank some miles for those hours of sleep I hope to be getting.

I march and march, getting more comments on my walking pace, continuing to consume mostly water with ice, and the day gets warmer and warmer. My hydration, judging by those times when I empty my bladder, appears to be back on track, and I am feeling pretty good. The only female, Charlotte, a member of Canada's ultra-running team for several years, has developed back problems, and though she doesn't drop, she spends a lot of time resting and getting help from Michael Gillan, who has come from Australia to help runners with their various muscle ails during the race. He works wonders, as does a chiropractor who volunteers on at least three separate days of the event. She will eventually be back out on the course logging some impressive mileage.

Michael, Wendy, and Carey.


I enjoy my encounters with K-G and Tim on the course. Both are here for the experience itself and I often think that they are the ones who are doing this thing right. I envy their attitudes, easy-going personalities, and sense of humor. Jim is also enjoying his first multi-day event, keeping up with friends on Facebook. All I attempt to do is text my family every 12 hours. I lost my reading glasses someplace in South Carolina, so I can't read anything anyone is posting very well anyway.



Day 4:

One day morphs into another, and I'm still walking. I'm managing 30-35 miles every twelve hours, more or less. I make no real effort to keep track historically, but keep looking forward, doing and redoing the "math" every time I reach a six or twelve hour milestone. Even on Day 3 there is a sense that the race is going to last forever, that I might not have what it takes to make it to Sunday morning, but at the end of 72-hours, the half-way point, everything changes.

It helps that I have made it to 200 miles. It doesn't help that I have another blister forming. I ask Dusty to check it out and she agrees. I sit in a chair opposite her as she cuts into a huge blister that has formed on the inside of one of my toes. She does a great repair job, then we look at a small blister that has formed on a toe on my left foot. For some reason, I start feeling queasy, not nauseus, but light-headed. I stand up, then sit back down, trying to shake it, but the discombobulation persists.

Next thing I know, Dusty is asking me if I've heard a word she's said, and then she's telling me to lie down on the ground on my left side. There's already a blanket there, and a pillow. I realize she's on her phone, repeating questions and orders to me. I then realize she has called 9-1-1 and that an EMS is on its way. I'm immediately afraid of two things: that my race is over and that there will be a huge bill I have to explain to Laura when I get home. Being horizontal is allowing the blood to get back to my head and I'm feeling better already. Carey has come running up to help, and confirms my fears of a possible trip to ER.

I can't really blame Dusty for making the call: a guy is staring at you with a blank look on his face, twitching on occasion, and is totally unresponsive for several minutes. What else seems prudent? But, once again, I have to praise the RD, Andrei. He is a voice of calm and reason. He is the first to realize that I simply needed to get blood to my head, that it wasn't a siezure. The EMS guys hook me up to get my vitals, take three readings, and ask me questions like "who is my President," "what day of the week is it?" (this was actually a difficult question, as I was no longer in the real world, but in the 'world of Icarus,' where it was Day 4, and any other measurement the outside world used was totally irrelevant. I use my fingers to figure out the answer, and I must have been right.)

Race Director Andrei Nana  (Teddy Allen)


I learn that I am allowed to refuse transport to ER, and do so, signing off on the forms as quickly as they are presented. The medics are convinced that I have not had a seizure, but simply feinted from lack of blood flow to my head, something that happens to folks with low blood pressure, but they ask me to promise them that if it happens again that day, I will go with them to get thoroughly checked out. I agree. I then learn that there is no charge for the "house call," and that is an even greater relief!

I wave to fellow runners as they go by to assure them I'm fine, and after a few more minutes of attempting to lay down, I return my sleeping bag to my tent and head back on the course. The whole thing took less than an hour, and I occupy my mind with redoing the math I need to make my next 12-hour mark. Amazingly, the day goes very well. Those brief minutes of unconsciousness must have been the ultimate power-nap, as I feel more energized than I have felt the entire event!

Wendy, who I believe is crewing for Jesper, yells at me to get a hat on. I rumage through my stuff, but I didn't bring a hat. I do find something I can put around my head, and though I feel it makes me look even more ridiculous, I wear it anyway. It also brings a song to mind, David Crowder's "Undignified," which goes through my head often during the remainder of the race.

Wendy, crew extraordinaire, and Jesper. (Teddy Allen)


I enjoy talking with Scott Maxwell, who is running a 24-hour race. I know Scott through Vol State, but even more through the Little 100 this past June. He catches me up on how some mutual friends are doing, and he puts in an impressive performance through the day.

The food is good, but today is exceptional. I eat and eat and then eat some more, foods I've never eaten during an ultra before: olives, humus wraps, different kinds of smoothies, some with caffeine, all of them awesome. The volunteers keep offering refills, and I keep taking them. By the end of the day, I feel pretty bloated, and I'm hoping that my bowels begin to catch up with my stomach.

Right before turning in for a few moments of rest, Mike Melton, timing and scoring guru, tells me that I have moved into 4th place. I respond that it's way too early to be thinking about position, but it's too late. Moving up to 3rd will become a huge distraction in the hours ahead, and threaten to take me out of my race plan and to certain failure.

Mike Melton, early in the race.


Day 5:


Sometime during Day 5 (I think)


The bowels finally begin to work, and what a relief! One less thing to worry about sabotaging my race. I need to run. The Nimbus are playing havoc with both my toes (the walking is to blame for this, not the shoe) as well as the top of my foot where it joins the ankle. I try switching from the 14s back to the 15s, but that doesn't help. I also realize that the chip on my ankle is causing some pain, so I move it to the opposite leg. I should have done this a day sooner, but it never crossed my mind.

Jovica, from Serbia, Michele, from Italy, and Charlotte are running at such a relaxed pace, conversing as they go, taking short strides, almost effortlessly making miles. Half-way through the day my mind finally allows my body to give it a try, and the relief is instantaneous! No more pain on my toes, but the pain on my upper foot remains. As a last-gasp gesture, I switch back to the New Balance 1080v3s, and the lacing is such that there is immediate relief to the upper foot!

L-R: Michele, Charlotte, and Jovica


My lap pace drops from 12-13 minutes to 9-10, and I realize that if I can keep this up, I will gain about one lap every hour, maybe more, giving me more to sleep and still realize my goal of 400 miles. I am counting -1...2...1,2,3,4 - over and over, sometimes putting the rhythm to songs like "Undignified," "If I Needed You," and the Louvin Brothers "If I Could Only Win Your Love." I have no idea why these particular songs come to mind, especially the country ones, but they are with me for days, and I never get tired of them. The counting helps keep my pace in check, and takes my mind off of the running. I pay more attention to the lap time then I do the overall distance, knowing that keeping the lap times down will take care of all the other concerns.

Jovica and me, once I learned how to shuffle.  (Teddy Allen)


At 92 hours, only 4 laps separate Michele, Rimus and me. Rimus and I have been trading places for hours. He runs, then rests, and when he rests, I catch up, and then he runs some more. I learn from Mike that Rimus is from Lithuania and holds several European records. It doesn't do my confidence much good to realize that I'm up against a man of this calibre, and mentally I'm wrestling with conceding the position without putting up a further fight. Michele is young and strong, and my only hope of catching him is for him to give up, something I don't see much hope for.

Jesper and Javica are way out from. Jesper has a gazelle-like stride, while Javica is a picture of precision, almost like a metronome. Jesper, like Rimus, runs and then rests, and repeats. Javica goes more slowly, but seems to stay on the course longer. Both are amazing to watch, and both make conversation at times when they pass me.

Rimus, his lovely wife, who also crewed him throughout the six days, and race winner, Jesper.  


I realize during the day that I have 12 more hours of night, then 12 more hours of daylight, and yet 12 more hours of night to go. In other words, the end of the race is nowhere imminent.

At dark, I go to my tent and hope for sleep. I set my iPone alarm, and try to sleep. My legs and butt feel bruised. I lay on one side, and the side opposite hurts like crazy. I can't find a comfortable position. It doesn't help that it is very humid, so I can't decide whether or not being in my sleeping bag is a good idea. Either sweat or be chilled, so it seems.

I dream a crazy dream. My phone is blowing up with email, text and Facebook alerts from all over, people making puns on the various words I have supposedly used (et al was the one I remember). I am reading these puns, wondering why my friends are making fun of me, and wondering why they won't let me sleep. The last pun I remember was from Stu, and it seemed to contain a hidden message - to relax, enjoy the fun, and not take everything so seriously. I congratulation myself on solving the riddle and actually start to sleep.

I wake up suddenly, my sleeping bag a twisted mess around me, realizing that I have overslept. The alarm didn't go off, and now, I fear, a stupid mistake in setting my alarm has robbed me of my goal. I am momentarily despondent, tempted to lay back down and give it up, but something gets me to sit up, but my shoes back on, and return to the race. I get back out on the course, ask Mike if I've completely blown it, and he assures me my goal is still within reach. He thinks my goal is merely 384 miles, enough to break the existing record, but I tell him I really want at least 400. He breaks the news to me that I will have to start running. It is about 11pm.

I was not the only one asleep. There were times where I would run 3, 4 even 5 laps, and no one else was out on the course. Rimus is trying to sleep off some stomach issues. Michele is confident that he has enough of a lead on Rimus that he can take an extended rest. I redo the math yet again and I once again come up with the magic 3.5 mph. The day of learning how to shuffle has not only saved my feet, it has saved my hopes of reaching my goal.

Day 6:

There are a lot of new runners who have come out the last day for 3, 6, 12 and 24 hours efforts. I'm not sure how I feel about all the new faces and bodies, but they turn out to be a huge blessing. Not only are there more runners, the park itself is overtaken by the Broward County JROTC, who have come out for training. They run in groups and we encourage each other with "good job" and pumped fists. I get high-fived numerous times, especially when the kids come to realize how long we've out running our laps. Many are genuinely impressed.

Again, the food is awesome. I eat well, but I don't overdue it. Even with all the other runners, there's a place near the aid station where I can place my cup of whatever and return to it as desired. It is hot out, and humid, and I find my pace slowing, and brief periods of walking come more frequently, and last longer.

I want this to be over. As night approaches, I am getting close to my goal, but as I close in on my goal, I find it harder to keep going. I know I'm tired, but this seems more psychological than physical. I want to walk with Charlotte and ask her if she ever has this problem, and if so, how she gets through it. Charlotte has won races and has a champion's heart, which is why I want to tap her brain. How does someone who knows how to win and block out negative voices deal with moments like this? Unfortunately, I don't catch up with her and my questions go unanswered.

Sometime around midnight I break the existing record. I have seven hours to go. I need to sleep, but my legs won't let me get comfortable, so I keep making laps. I missed the goulash at supper, which I'm sure would have been awesome, but there is an instant mac-n-cheese I can add hot water too, and that helps, both the calories and the salt. The night goes on forever, so it seems, but eventually I reach 400 miles. After that, there really is nothing to do but keep doing laps, and by the end, I will muster 406.554 miles. I'm glad I kept moving until the final few moments.

There are so many people to thank: Foremost, Andrei and Claire, for putting on a first class event that put the runners first in every way imaginable. To the volunteers, especially Clare, Una, James, Jodi, Jason and numerous others, who kept me going day after day, night after night. Dusty, Mike Melton, Michal, Alex (Jovica's handler) and Wendy, whose early morning, blood-curdling screams at the raccoons never failed to bring a chuckle. And most of all, the other runners, those who taught me how to shuffle, those who encouraged me with their smiles and positive attitudes, and those who befriended me during the heat of competition and helped me keep moving forward.

Una, Jim, Dusty, and Alek 


Anyway, thus ends my 144-hour Moment of Zen. I meet the goal that is most important to me, that of setting an USATF age-group record, so perhaps, not all is hubris after all.

No, I haven't just been baptized, but rather I have just received my finishers medal from Race Director Claire.  (Teddy Allen)


Appendix A: Official Results


Appendix B: Footnotes and Links

1) http://www.icarusfloridaultrafest.com/

Songs:
- "If I Needed You:" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHoAg-LlVVM
- "If I Could Only Win Your Love:" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLQu5Vidl6o
- "Undignified:" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hp7B5V-qpTQ

I want to thank Andrei, Claire, Alec, and Teddy Allen for many of the pics in this race report.  


The Course:

The course is beautiful, even after more than 600 laps.  There is a lot of shade, but a few moments of full sun, which shifted during the day.  There was usually a nice breeze, except in the interior of the wooded area.  I saw a lot of raccoon, day and night, a large iguana, a smaller lizard on the road, and a fox-like creature.  Here is a tour of the course, going clockwise, at about 9am.

The parking area to the left was shaded most of the day, a relief on more than one occasion.

Looking back over my shoulder at some Australian pines, according to Tim.  There were businesses just out of view with obnoxious night lights which cast some strange shadows on the course.

Into the woods, where at night one could hear some blood-curdling screams, perhaps of an animal meeting its demise.  Live oaks are such beautiful trees!



A quick jog and we leave the woods.  Here is where the JROTC held their awards program Sat. afternoon.

Across from the pavilion, next to the handicap restrooms, which were far preferable to any of the others on the course, was this horrible joke.  There was no chocolate milk in this machine, only pop and flavored water.  

Leaving the pavilion area and moving uphill.  The entrance to the park was on the left, and we spent six days dodging people and their dogs.  Overall, traffic, both vehicular and foot, was very light.  

The dog pond.  Dogs of all breeds, off leash, retrieving objects thrown in the water by their masters, getting along and enjoying the chance to cool off, and entertaining this tired runner 12 hours a day for six days!  


This became my marker to start running again, after walking up the hill from the pavilion.  Sometimes I did...

Approaching the aid station

Another lap, and an opportunity to check timing and scoring to see how long it took, how many miles I have come, and how far behind the competition I am :)

Yours truly, with a medal, a shirt, and memories I'll cherish for a long time to come.  (Teddy Allen)