Saturday, June 14, 2014

Kettle Moraine 100

It wasn’t supposed to be THIS hard.

I’ve been running most of my life.  I’ve run a couple of hundred milers on much tougher terrain, up and down high elevation mountains—so this should be cake, right?  Was I getting too cocky?  When I signed up for the Kettle Moraine 100, I knew it would be tough but in the back of my mind—I kind of thought I’d be able to breeze right through it.  It’s my home turf, my friends will be there, I’d run the course once before.  It’s relatively “flat” compared to what I’d been training on and I’d been training harder than ever before. 

Mile 0.1!  Here we go.  Only 99.9 miles to go…

“I have a chance of winning this thing.”  I thought.

I took off with the leaders in sight.  I wanted to keep them close and just see how I feel.  When we made it to the Bluff aid station (mile 7), we’d been running 7:30’s.  This is a hundred mile race.  I knew it was going to be a long day.  I told myself to back off.  Slow down.  However…I couldn’t do it.  I was running well with a couple of guys and I physically had to pull myself off the trail and force myself to pee…just to let those guys go.  Now I was by myself.  I would HAVE to run at my own pace.  There was no one to dictate the pace for me.  I kept moving toward the meadows. 

The meadows are what everyone fears.  Anyone who’s run the Kettle Moraine 100 knows them well.  It’s a nine mile stretch with no protection or coverage from trees.  If it’s sunny, you are going to feel it.  I prepared by switching out my handheld water bottle for my Nathan pack, filled with water and ice.  I also made myself take a couple of walking breaks through those meadows.  Just to slow the heart rate down and drink lots of water.  The heat out there is rough.  I knew I needed to manage myself well here or the whole day could end up in the toilet.  As I made my way to Scuppernong, I could see where I was within the field because it’s an out and back.  I saw runners coming back the other direction and I was counting them in my mind. 





I was disappointed to find myself in tenth place.  Really?  Ten guys are going harder than me?  I almost found it hard to believe.  They had three or four miles on me too.  It was time to buckle down.  It was time to really start moving. 

At Scuppernong, I washed the sweat off my body, drank a Mountain Dew and headed back into the woods.  I decided to run hard until the meadows.  Once back out in the heat, I slowed it down.  Took some more walking breaks.  A couple of guys passed me.  I tried not to be discouraged but I was.  I knew once I made it out, I’d drop the hammer again.  I put the headphones in and went to work.  I ran 7:30’s and charged the uphills.  I sang along to my music, alone in the woods.  I crushed, for a while there.  Then I ran out of food for a few miles and I was back to the pain cave. 

Just need to make it to the aid station.

This is where things began to HURT.  A lot.  Like more than normal.  HURT more than I was prepared for.  HURT too early in the race.  I wondered what I was doing out here.  I wondered how I was going to finish this thing.  Walking became a monumental task.  Running another forty-five miles seemed impossible. 

“What’s wrong with me?” I thought.  “I’ve been training at altitude all year for this!”

I hoped it would get easier once I picked up my pacer.  I was hoping he could distract me from all of the HURT I was feeling.  But I was embarrassed for him to see me in this kind of HURT so early in the race. 

A few things about my pacers.  Jason Penticoff and Ryan Dexter are both stud athletes.  Jason has run a million races but never completed the hundred mile distance.  He’s a fantastic runner but an injury had sidelined him this year.  I know he’s got a hundred miler in him but his mind is usually his worst enemy.  I wanted to give him a good show.  I wanted to show him how it’s done and hopefully inspire him.  Now Ryan Dexter, on the other hand, has won hundred and fifty mile and two-hundred mile races!  Talk about stud.  He’s not necessarily a talented runner.  But he’s got more guts and balls than anyone else out there.  That’s how he runs.  Guts and balls.   

However, eleven plus hours in, at 71 miles—I’ve never felt so wrecked.  I sat down at the Bluff aid station for the first time all day and wondered how I was going to go on.  I apologized to my crew.  I had told them we were going to win this year.  I’d fallen back to 12th place and now they were pouring water over my head and handing me Pepto-Bismol to calm my stomach down.  I couldn’t even look at them.  I was ashamed.  Dexter hasn’t even paced me for ten miles yet.  I’m letting him down.  I felt like absolute death.

Dema Nuertey stepped in.  He came out of the woods like a shaman with sage advice.  He pulled me close and spoke into my ear. 

“Adam.”  He said with his cool, soothing voice.  “This is going to be the most difficult day of your life.”  I’m probably paraphrasing.  This is what I heard.  “You can fight it or you can accept it.  You need to breathe.  Breathe.  Yes.  Breathe deeply.”

I started breathing.  It was working.  With each inhale, I could feel strength coming back to me. 

“Okay, get up Adam—it’s time for you to get moving!” crew tells me.

“What” I think, “they’re not going to give me any mercy?  I’ve never felt this bad in a race, ever!  They’re kicking me out of the aid station?”

I have some of the best friends in the world.

I feel like walking to the finish at this point is impossible. 

“Get going!” is the only encouragement I receive. 

Dexter forcing me to eat, as we walk out of an aid station.  38 miles to go. 

I had no idea how I was going to finish.  My friends had volunteered to come out and stay up all night to see me to the finish as quickly as possible.  I really didn’t want to let them down but I’d clearly run the first half of the race too fast and the Wisconsin humidity has been punching me in the guts all day long.

Ultras, for me, are the perfect analogy for life.  You get what you put in.  It’s not going to be easy.  There’s going to be highs and lows and there WILL be a time when it seems impossible and you want to quit.  You can count on it.  The point is you have to keep moving forward.  No matter how bad it may seem at the time, if you keep moving forward, it WILL eventually get better.  Guaranteed.  If you get stuck focusing on the lows and feeling sorry for yourself—you’ll find a million reasons to quit.  I’ve dropped out of races before and woke up the next day feeling like the loneliest person in the world.  I don’t ever want to feel that again. 

Penticoff took over on the way out to Rice Lake.  I was vomiting pretty regularly and couldn’t keep anything down.  I was getting weaker and weaker.  Food just wouldn’t stay down.  It was dark.  It was raining.  I couldn’t eat.  We are running two minutes and walking one.  I’m doing deep breathing exercises just to move forward.  This is not how this race was supposed to go.  I know I have to DIG.  DIG deeper than ever before.  But every time I try to DIG, I’m already at the bottom.  There are no reserves. 

I switch pacers.  I tell Dexter we’ve been running two minutes and walking one.  It’s been working well.  That’s about all I can manage right now. 

That’s when he started yelling at me. 

“What do you want man?”  I’m probably paraphrasing and making it seem much worse than it really was.  “You came here to win this race!  Well that’s not going to happen now.  What’s your plan B?  Walk it in for twenty five hours?  You have to decide, Adam.  Make the decision and tell me what you want!”

I thought about it.  He was right.  Winning was impossible.  Top ten was impossible.  I was making a mess of everything.  I was ruining this whole thing.  I was letting my friends down. 

“I know what I want.” Dexter yelled.  “I want sub twenty hours!”

Sub twenty?  Twenty-four seemed impossible at this point. 

“You moved to Boulder to take it to the next level.  It’s time to take it to the next level!  And you aren’t going to do it with this two one two one shit!  We need to run!”

I began to run.  Five minutes of running.  Ten.  Fifteen.  I was running again. 

“Nice Adam, NICE!”  Dexter yelled.  He YELLED it.  He was celebrating the little victories with me.  “Make a decision.  What do you want?”

I didn’t have the energy to talk.  Literally.  Everything was going into moving forward.  Talking was a waste of what little energy I had in my body.  I whispered it. 

“Sub twenty.”

“Alright!”  he YELLED into the night.  “Let’s go then!”

And somehow…we ran.  I don’t know how.  I get tears in my eyes thinking about how far down I had to dig to find energy reserves.  I couldn’t get any food in at all and my body was getting weaker for it.  Ice water was the only thing my body wouldn’t reject.  Dexter watched me puking, examining the bile with his headlamp. 

“Looks like blood, we’d better move fast!”

I kept pushing.  It didn’t get much easier for me that day but I discovered another gear I never knew I had before.  I went deeper into the pain cave than I ever had.  I felt toenails loosening up in my shoes.  My legs were jacked and my feet were hamburger.  I couldn’t eat or drink anything for the last thirty miles.  But somehow…I kept moving forward.  I started passing other runners.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I tell myself, “It’ll be over in three hours.”

“Two hours.”

“One hour.”

We made it to the Bluff aid station where Jason was supposed to pick me up and run me in.  However, Dexter and I have run too fast.  They aren’t here.  They aren’t expecting me for another hour. 

“They’re not here?”  Dexter asks. 

“No.” I whisper. 

“I’ll run ya in.”  he said.  Thank God for Dexter.  But I knew that meant this was going to be the hardest seven miles of my life.

I have NOTHING in the tank but somehow find myself getting a tiny bit stronger with every runner we pass and every mile we click off. 

We make it to mile ninety-nine.  We see another runner and pacer.

“NO!”  I think.

“We’ve gotta pass!”  Dexter says.  I’m crushed.  It’s mile ninety nine and we are picking up the pace to pass runners?  Doesn’t he understand?  I’ve got NOTHING left.  But somehow we pass.  Then we complete the pass.  We disappear into the woods so they don’t get any ideas about chasing me down. 

“Ok, you’ve earned a ten second walk break.”  Dexter says. 

Thank God.  We walk.  He turns around. 

“They’re coming man!  We have to move!”

“What?” I ask.  “Are you shittin me?”

“No, let’s move!”

And that’s how you run hard all the way into the finish. 

My strength came from God, my pacers and crew and deep, deep within myself.  I lived a lifetime of emotions in that 19 hours and 48 minutes.  I learned more about myself that day and night than ever before. 

That’s why I challenge myself.  That’s how I feel life.  That’s why I run ultras. 

I’ve never been so happy to cross a finish line.  It’s 2 am.  My crew isn’t even here because I ran the last fifteen miles too fast.  They aren’t expecting me for another hour or two.  I sit down and sitting down has never felt so good.  I put my feet up and moan in pain and ecstasy. 

“Never again” I swear. “That was the last one!”

“Hey Adam!”  Dexter yells.  “That last runner we passed…they weren’t running the hundred, they’re doing the fun run!”

My amazing crew and friends!  100 miles.  19 hours, 48 minutes.  8th place.