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. -
- "The Waiting" by Tom Petty -

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.

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