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Mount Hood 50

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Post  Mark B on Sat Jul 20, 2013 2:46 am

Eleven hours, thirty-eight minutes.
 
I had just struggled up a steep hill, the sound of the sweeper’s footsteps a constant companion. The day had been more than I’d bargained for, and race officials noted at the last aid station that I’d slowed dramatically and might be pulled at the next stop for time.
 
I’d decided I was okay with that. I could accept a doomed but noble effort.
 
Accept it? No. Be honest. At that point, I wanted it.
 
So it probably shouldn't have come as much of a surprise when, a couple of miles away from the last aid station and an expected release of this burden, it happened.
 
“That’s it,” I said in disgust. 

I was done. My eyes brimmed with tears. It was 11:38 into the race.
 
I proceeded as best I could to the next aid station, Red Wolf Pass, to let them know I was dropping. At the same time, though, I still desperately hoped my decision would be made irrelevant by the clock and race organizers.
 
I’d rather fail than quit.
 
At the aid station, finally, I stood waiting to be told I was being pulled. There was no way I could finish before the cutoff. It was over. It had to be.
 
It wasn’t.
 
“So,” one of the volunteers began. “Ready to keep going?”
 
I wasn’t going to get the easy way out.
 
I look at the volunteer. I can’t speak. Tears well up.
 
I shake my head. No.
 
And stop my Garmin.
 
***
 
I hadn’t expected my day could end up like this. I’d trained well, learned as much as I possibly could and felt as well prepared as I could be for this 50-mile test of endurance, resourcefulness and self-reliance.
 
The test was the Mount Hood 50, a well-regarded ultra that’s run every July on the Pacific Crest Trail south of Mount Hood in Oregon. It’s considered a moderately challenging course, with 5,630 feet of elevation gain, at an altitude that ranges from about 3,250 to 4,275 feet. Much of the course is heavily shaded, and while there are many roots and rocks lying in wait for the careless runner, it is not technical in the sense of scrambling through a boulder field or hugging the edge of a cliff.
 
I’d picked this race because of that moderate difficulty, and also because it was close to home and in a beautiful area. I picked a 50-miler instead of a 50K as my first ultra because the shorter distance seemed too easy. (Yes, I did. I have an ego. It causes me no end of trouble.)
 
I’d prepared using a training strategy devised by an ultra coach in Southern California. It stressed quality runs -- with back-to-backs every weekend topping out at about 28 miles and weekly totals in the low 60s -- rather than racking up massive numbers of miles. I’d corresponded with the coach, and she’d told me that her plan doesn’t necessarily yield fast times -- but it tends to result in fewer injuries and more finishes on race day.
 
I mixed that training plan with my Maffetone-inspired low heart rate training strategy. I did long trail runs, midweek hilly runs and even made sure to do weekly barefoot runs to keep my running form as light and efficient as possible. I had a dozen runs of 20 miles or more, with three runs of about 22 miles, three runs of about 24 miles, one run of 26.2 miles and a longest run of 27.3 miles. I knew I wasn’t going to burn up the trails with speed, but I was hopeful that I’d built the aerobic endurance to keep going all day long.
 
My pacing strategy was honed on my long runs, trying to keep my heart rate in the 138-140 range most of the time and allowing it to rise up to about 143 before walking on hills. That aerobic effort level had translated to an average pace of about 13:00 to 13:30 a mile on my trail runs, so I expected that approximate pace at Mount Hood and set my plans accordingly. It would have meant a finish in the 11-hour range, though my only real goal was to finish. I decided on the hour-early start, giving me 13 hours to finish, just to make sure I didn’t feel pressured and push too hard, only to regret it later.
 
I was planning to fuel alternating solid food and Gu, while taking advantage of the 240-calorie-per-bottle sport drink they were serving at the aid stations. I’d planned S-Caps every 30 minutes, packed a second bottle for when it got warmer in the afternoon and I even put nuun tablets in my drop bags as a backup in case the sport drink -- Gu Roctane Energy Drink -- started causing me problems. I’d packed blister care packs, extra food and socks. I had a crew of family who I’d be seeing at three points on the course to cheer me on and help restock my stores.
 
I felt strong. I felt prepared. Whatever went wrong out there -- and something always goes wrong in an ultra -- I felt I could fix it. I could do this.
 
***
 
Loop 1: It was chilly in the twilight before dawn. No problem. I made sure my family (who were volunteering at the sign-in and later at an aid station) were bundled up and grabbed a long-sleeve tech shirt as an extra layer. At least I wouldn’t need my second bottle right away.
 
We started at 5:30 a.m. with little fanfare. As a group of about 35 runners took off ahead of me, I implemented the first phase of my brazen plan: walking the first five minutes, just like in a training run. I wanted to warm up gradually to reduce the strain on the system and make sure I didn’t get sucked into somebody else’s pace. I knew this was going to be a long haul. Besides, I figured, at the pace some of those folks were taking, I’d see again them soon enough.
 
The race is a double out-and-back from a historic ranger station near Timothy Lake. The first out-and-back goes north, rolling along the eastern shore of the lake, before climbing through the forest to a ridge with a spectacular view of Mount Hood and the first turnaround point, 14.2 miles in, near Frog Lake.
 
The cool, moist morning treated runners to the sight of fog on the lake as we ran north. It also meant cold fingers -- it took a few miles before I could feel them.
 
I hit my expected pace target for this first half of the race, despite some unexpected problems with my body. First off, it seemed like I couldn’t stop urinating. Every 20 minutes or so, it seemed, I’d have to pull over and let loose. I told my family that it seemed that I’d drank 1.5 bottles of fluid and peed out 3. Nerves? Maybe.
 
But while my kidneys were working overtime, my guts were going on strike, with growing nausea, a sloshing stomach and a pressing need to defecate. I struggled with the problem for hours, switching from the sport drink to nuun, taking extra salt, and finally getting relief in a porta-potty at Mile 19.2. That, and a few handfuls of pretzel sticks, got my system restarted again. What a relief.
 
Switching to nuun helped, but it cost me more than 200 calories of fuel per bottle. I never really found a way to make that up, especially when nausea came back later, and I probably paid for it.
 
There was an even bigger problem brewing, though I didn’t realize it yet. I kept catching my right foot on roots and rocks on this first half of the course. I never fell or rolled my ankle, but I kept jamming it over and over again. No one impact was enough to cause me to do any more than cuss, but the cumulative damage would blow up later.
 
But it wasn’t later yet. I ran easily, mostly, trading places at the back of the group with a woman who seemed to be having a bad day, and generally enjoying the view and support from the volunteers. I knew the sloshing stomach was my “ultra problem,” and that I’d toughed it out long enough until I could find a way to fix it.
 
I wasn’t really catching up to the group, and folks who started in the regular 6:30 a.m. group were starting to catch up and pass me by, but I still felt competent and dialed in. My plan was working. I kept telling myself: I can do this.
 
First loop splits: 3:06 (13:08 pace) out, 3:10 (13:25 pace) back.
 
***
 
Midway: By the time I reached the “midway” point in this lopsided double-out-and-back course, I’d gone 28.4 miles - more than I’d ever done before. I had 21.6 miles to go. I felt the distance but was starting to feel the heat more. The thermometer had climbed 30 degrees since the start, and the sun was beating down. It’d peak later at 77 degrees.
 
Alita helped me restock and find my sun hat, and my brother-in-law, Steve, already had my second bottle filed with water and ready to go. These guys were like an Indy 500 pit crew. They were great, but the experience was a little disorienting -- I’m usually entirely self-supported on my long runs. Getting help almost felt wrong.
 
Even so, I gratefully accepted a spray-down and a hat load of ice (which brings a whole new meaning to the term “brain freeze”), and headed out on the second loop feeling pretty good. Almost too good.
 
***
 
Loop 2: The second loop has four sections of about 5.5 miles each: a steady climb of about 1,000 feet from the midpoint to Red Wolf Pass, the first aid station; then crossing over a ridge on the flank of Summit Butte before plunging down a steep, impossibly long downhill to the Warm Springs River, then climbing back up maybe another 500 feet to the second aid station. Then it’s the whole shebang in reverse: down 500 feet, up an impossibly long hill and over the ridge until reaching Red Wolf Pass, then back mostly downhill to the finish.
 
I hadn’t gone far into the second loop when the benefit of the cool-down and surge in food from an aid station made me feel almost euphoric. “I’m doing great,” I thought. “I’m beyond my maximum distance and feeling good. Maybe I’m one of those runners who get stronger as the miles add up!”
 
Then I started climbing. It felt fine at first, but I noticed that the shade of morning was gone, and the sun was beating down on me. “Good thing I got the hat and extra water,” I thought, and pressed on. More people passed.
 
I’d run the first part of this section in a training run last month, so I knew what to expect. But the climb still kept going, and my much-jammed right ankle started to complain more and more as I kept stepping up, up, up. I got clumsy, jamming my left ankle a couple of times, too, and getting increasingly frustrated trying to take fuel while holding a water bottle in each hand.
 
My fuel intake dropped, and I started to get nauseous again, which made me want to eat even less.
 
It was a low point, and it didn’t help that more and more people were passing -- not just from behind, but coming back from the turnaround point. I had to step aside or break my rhythm to let them pass, and it kept getting harder to get back going again, even at a walk.
 
By the time I’d reached the Red Wolf Pass aid station the first time, both water bottles had been dry for a couple of miles. I was hot and parched. I got ice for my bottles but no spray down. I took some solid food from the station, because I couldn’t eat pretzels or my granola bars anymore and the Gu was turning my stomach.
 
I watched as a woman get up and slowly walk away with a volunteer for the drive back to the start. I’d seen her having trouble at the midway point, and this last section I’d just done had broken her.
 
I heard another one of the volunteers, a guy wearing a Western States 100 shirt, talking with another runner just coming back from the turnaround about just how difficult that section of trail was, both going and coming back. Great. Well, here we go.
 
I continued up the ridge and wondered if I’d notice when the big steep downhill started. That turned out to be easy, not so much in the terrain but in the faces of the faster runners on their way back up. Most looked shell-shocked, though one woman managed to joke, “My God! This hill’s on crack!” It didn’t take long to see why: the trail dropped away into a grade so steep I couldn’t run - and could barely walk.
 
The accumulated trauma of ankle jams had finally caught up with me. Pain built in my ankles and feet and spread up into my lower legs. I wanted to be able to take advantage of gravity and burn some distance, but the best I could manage was a tentative hobble. When the trail flattened out a bit, I was able to shift into a slow run, but I had to keep stopping or stepping aside to let oncoming runners pass -- breaking the rhythm and forcing me to start all over again. And every time they passed, we all reflexively said “Good job” to each other, like parents at a U-7 soccer game. It started to really get on my nerves.
 
At some point along the way, I felt something inside my body go “Oh, oh.” I wasn’t sure what it was, but it was like the feeling you get when the hair stands up on the back of your neck. Something was wrong. But I didn’t know what.
 
Down the hill at last, I stumbled across a log bridge over the Warm Springs River and started up the other side. I’d forgotten just how much of a climb it was, but at least this part had more shade. I kept grinding.
 
Maybe a quarter of the way up that hill, I heard a voice call my name. It was Paul, a guy from Portland who had done the training run with me back in June. He wasn’t a particularly fast guy, either, but he’d decided to start with the 6:30 a.m. group. When I’d seen him on the first loop to the north, he was in last place. I’d worried that he might not make the 12:30 p.m. cutoff at the midway point.
 
And now he’d just caught up with me. Despite an hour’s head start.
 
If that wasn’t discouraging enough, I noticed Paul had a young, strong runner right behind him.
 
It was the sweeper.
 
***
 
Paul and I (and the sweeper, whose name is Graham) kept working our way up the hill, talking as we went. He was having some troubles but doing okay. I told him about my ankles. We joked about the sweeper behind us -- suggesting that he really ought to wear a cloak and carry a scythe -- and pressed on. We met a guy coming downhill who told us we were only 10 minutes from the aid station. Another said they had Otter Pops there. It was actually more than an hour, and there were no Otter Pops.
 
And long before we got there, Paul passed and went on ahead.
 
Which left me alone with the sweeper and my thoughts.
 
I hadn’t considered the possibility of missing the cutoff and being pulled off the course for time. But now the sweeper was my new shadow. My ankles and lower legs were screaming at me, and I was nauseous again. My heart rate was ridiculously low from all the walking. My body could do more, if only my ankles and legs would let me.
 
Well, I thought, I’ll keep going until they pull me off the course.
 
***
I wasn’t sure what to expect at the aid station. An official noted that I’d slowed down a lot, and asked how I was doing. I tried to keep my tone light, telling them I’d made up a song “Don’t fear the sweeper” to the tune of “Don’t fear the reaper,” but I couldn’t not talk about my problems. A paramedic checked me out, couldn’t find any sign of a traumatic injury and said I otherwise seemed to be oriented and in pretty decent spirits, considering.
 
I asked the official how close I was to the cutoff for this station. She said the cutoff time was pretty much now, but that they’d let me go but probably pull me at Red Wolf Pass if the sweeper was pushing me forward the whole way.
 
When I went to finish fishing supplies out of my drop bag, I heard them talking about me.
 
“It’s almost like he WANTS to be pulled,” the race official said.
 
I pretended I didn’t hear it.
 
***
 
Back down the hill, the sweeper was joined by two other runners tasked with removing course markings and picking up trash. If there was ever any doubt that I was at the tail end of this parade, it was gone now.
 
I couldn’t stand the idea of having them behind me, so I broke into a run and found that this hill wasn’t too steep. I was able to move at a fairly decent pace, and the pain faded if I took lots of short, quick steps. Baby steps. As I ran, I thought about my predicament and how I’d gotten myself into it. It was ego and ambition, of course -- the same problem that’s been dogging me, well, forever.
 
I’d convinced myself that trail running and ultras were somehow more pure of heart than chasing PRs and BQs in mass marathons, but – laughing at myself – I had to admit it really wasn’t different. At the core, it’s all the same.
 
Maybe failing is what I need, I thought, to beat into me the humility I keep telling myself is so important. Maybe I need to accept that control is an illusion, surrender it, and let happen whatever will happen. So I did. Running down the trail, I surrendered to the inevitable, whatever it was, and felt a wave of peace wash over me.
 
For a while, at least.
 
I got to the bottom of the hill, across the river and had to start up the impossibly long, steep climb to Red Wolf Pass. I fell back to a slow walk, with the sweepers quickly catching up and falling in step behind me. Chatting with each other as the climb went on and on and on, as the terrain repeatedly fooled me into thinking the top of the ridge was near, helping me better understand those looks I saw in oncoming climbers several hours earlier as I picked my way down.
 
I had just crested the hill, fully expecting to be pulled at the next stop, when I surprised myself by giving up in disgust, just like that. But I don’t like pain and can’t grasp some people’s embrace of suffering for suffering’s sake. This is recreation, not survival.
 
I’d been going for 11 hours and 38 minutes. I proceeded as best I could Red Wolf Pass, to let them know I was dropping, still desperately hoping the decision would be made for me. I’d still rather fail than quit.
 
But I’d given up control already, and the universe apparently had other ideas.
 
“So,” one of the volunteers began. “Ready to keep going?”
 
I looked at him. I couldn’t speak. Tears welled up.
 
I shook my head. No. And stopped my Garmin.
 
***
 
But then, after the obligatory consolation, they started talking.
 
“You still have time, you know,” one volunteer said.
 
“It’s mostly downhill,” said another.
 
“You’re 90 percent done,” said a third, the guy with the Western States shirt.
 
“I know, but I can’t do this. It just hurts too much.”
 
Then Mr. Western States, all square jaw, straw hat and sunglasses, got serious.
 
“You know, there’s a difference between muscular pain and structural injury,” he said. “If there’s a structural injury, you should stop. If it’s muscle pain… well, you’re 90 percent of the way done. You’ve got 5.38 miles to the end, and it’s all mostly downhill or flat. It’s the easiest part of the whole course to run. It’ll hurt, but you CAN do it. And you’ll regret it tomorrow if you stop so close to the end.”
 
Then, off-handedly, he asks: “Have you done a 50 before?”
 
“No, this is my first.”
 
Silence.
 
“You really need to finish this.”
 
I didn’t know what to say.
 
I took a breath, held it, let it out and looked Mr. Western States straight in the eye.
 
And said…
 
“I hate you.”
 
And restarted my Garmin.
 
***
 
I started getting ready. They reloaded my bottles, and I went through whatever items they had left on the aid station table when…
 
ZING!! OW!
 
What the hell? An instant, sharp, burning, pain in my left side.
 
Yup. Stung by a bee. Gee, universe, thanks a lot!
 
The aid station crew was amazed. They’d been pestered by bees all day without a single sting. Now, at the last possible opportunity, one had made its move. The stinger even got stuck in my shirt, and it kept poking me in the side. They pulled it out for everyone to admire. I should have kept it as a souvenir.
 
“Uh,” one of the aid guys says, “you’re not allergic to bee stings, are you?”
 
“Really, at this point,” I say, “how would I be able to tell the difference?”
 
And with that, and three sweepers in tow, I took off.
 
***
I don’t know if it was the bee venom, the relatively easy trail or the evaporation of uncertainty, but the miles that followed were the best I’d had in hours. I found a groove – no need to step aside to be passed now – and stayed there as much as I could.
 
Graham, the lead sweeper, got less quiet and more supportive as time went by.
 
“Good work. Slow and steady. You’re doing it.”
 
I had to admit, my body still felt pretty strong. No wobbly legs. No sense of exhaustion.
 
Later, he added, “That’s a good miles-eating pace you’ve got going there. Yup. You can eat up a lot of miles that way.”
 
And eat miles I did. I had run this stretch of trail during the practice run last month, and I thanked my lucky stars I had. I remembered the landmarks: That weird 12-foot stretch of trail surrounded by pumice deposits, without a cinder cone in sight. The bunches of bear grass near where the Warm Springs Indian Reservation ends and the Mount Hood National Forest begins. Two dirt roads. The downed tree. Then, finally, the first split off the Pacific Crest Trail, angling on a side trail toward Clackamas Lake.
 
“Only three-quarters of a mile to go now.” Graham said.
 
Then the second split, making a sweeping arc around the Clackamas Lake Campground. I looked ahead and saw Alita coming toward me.
 
“I’m coming with you,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
 
“I am so proud of you.”
 
We run together around the campground. (Graham melted away into the background.) At the campground entrance, my brother in-law, Steve, is waiting. He joins in. Only a quarter mile to go, he says.
 
“Screw that,” I say. “I’m going straight to the trailer.”
 
“Nope!” he says. “We moved it so it’d be farther away than the finish line.”
 
Funny guy.
 
We laugh and run the last section of trail before it pops up on the main road. I hear a few people clapping. I see Alec and his cousin, Lauren, running on the road shoulder toward me.
 
At this point, I feel like I have a Secret Service detail running around me. We run the last 150 yards along the road together, making sure I don’t trip over anybody, before they part and let me make the left-hand turn into the finish area and the last 50 yards.
 
Alita peels away last, saying “Go!”
 
I go. I downshift and sprint the last stretch to the finish. I screamed like I was charging into battle as race organizers and those who’d been lingering around the finish clapped and cheered and the race photographer panicked as he failed to keep up with me enough to get a photo of the finish. Ha. Take that.
 
13 hours, 13 minutes, 51 seconds.
 
Second loop splits: 2:59 (16:38 pace) out, 3:56 (21:55 pace) back.
 
***
I stood at the finish, listening to the applause and getting a kiss from Alita, when I see Mr. Western States standing there, looking at me, beaming, with a big grin on his face.
 
“So!” he hollers at me. “Was I right?”
 
I walk over. Shake his hand.
 
“Well,” I say, “let’s just say I don’t hate you quite as much now.”
 
***
Finishing came with unexpected mixed feelings.
 
It didn’t bother me that I finished in last place. “DFL” is a weird badge of honor.
 
What bothered me was that, while I finished, I did it only after I’d given up. I’d broken, and it left a bitter taste. I honestly didn’t know what to think or how to feel. I’m still not sure.
 
What I am slowly coming to realize, though, was that in the end, perhaps it wasn’t my strength that carried me through, but an acceptance of my weakness.
 
I think that might be important. At the very least, it’s a start.
 
-fin-


Last edited by Mark B on Fri Feb 06, 2015 1:29 pm; edited 11 times in total
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Post  KBFitz on Sat Jul 20, 2013 5:11 am

Mr. Western States was spot on. You're very fortunate that he was there. I know. My first 50 Miler ended at 27.1 miles--to date my sole DNF--due to shot ankles. I had to go back to conquer the beast. You finished. Good on you!
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Post  Michael Enright on Sat Jul 20, 2013 10:45 am

Great report; great job. Amazing effort to the finish.

Somehow, in failing you succeeded.

Perfect.
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Post  Michele "1L" Keane on Sat Jul 20, 2013 3:26 pm

Fantastic report, Mark - it brought me to tears and to smiles at the end!  I think I love Mr. Western States as he was certainly an awesome catalyst.  Incredible job and incredible - you should be more than proud.  I know that I'll be bragging on you to all my running buddies here especially those getting ready for the Buckeye Trail run soon.  Your perseverance is enough to let me know that I can get through tomorrow's race and get that BQ again in November.  Awesome, my friend, simply awesome!!!

PS So when's the next one???


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Post  Sara Jane on Sat Jul 20, 2013 5:23 pm

Nice work getting it done Mark.

I noticed ankle (and heel) pain for the first time ever in my trail marathon last weekend. Not sure if it was me, my trail shoes, the particular trail (super duper technical) or, as I suspect, just a result of me needing to adjust my body to technical trail running. My ankles and heels just weren't "in shape" yet. 

Anyway...way to tough it out. Glad you were convinced to finish.
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Post  Julie on Sat Jul 20, 2013 9:39 pm

Great job, Mark! I am so glad you finished. I was really worried when I started reading your report because I know you've trained so well for this. Congrats! You are ambitious to start with 50 milers, I think.

Now I hope you give yourself plenty of time off to rest and recover so you don't get an injury or just burned out.
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Post  Reina on Sat Jul 20, 2013 9:56 pm

Congrats Mark!

I really understand your report ... As you know, I attempted my first 50 miler in April ... and I was having a horrible time from about mile 35 on ... leg cramps the likes of which I'd never ever had ... and had that ambivalent thought about whether I'd be pulled for time at the aid station at mile 41.  And .... I was pulled at that aid station.  A part of me was grateful - the decision was out of my hands ... and I truly didn't know if I could complete the distance ... but it was also profoundly disappointing.

You have a lot to be proud of ... enjoy it!

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Post  dot520 on Sun Jul 21, 2013 7:38 am

Yes, yes, yes!!  That's what I'm talking about!  Wonderful race report, you left nothing out and I lived the miles with you!  Whew!  That was tough!  You certainly deserve a huge congratulations on your finish.  Perseverance, insight and acceptance...oh, yeah..the trail can do that to you and 'for' you.  Awesome!
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Post  Mike MacLellan on Sun Jul 21, 2013 9:22 am

Mark, I haven't read a report this inspiring since Schuey's Boston back in...  What, 2010?  Maybe 2011.  Point being, this report made me want to be a runner again.
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Post  charles.moman on Sun Jul 21, 2013 10:08 am

Not enough details. I need to talk to you in person to really understand. Oh wait! I WILL see you next month. Great report. You should look into writing as a career choice.
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Post  Jerry on Sun Jul 21, 2013 11:56 am

Great report and effort, Mark. Congrats on your first 50!
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Post  nkrichards on Sun Jul 21, 2013 2:13 pm

@Mike MacLellan wrote: Point being, this report made me want to be a runner again.

+1

 Mark...Thanks for the inspiring report.  This has been a very tough week for me and it's not over yet but your report encouraged me to take a deep breath and figure out how I'm going to move forward rather than deciding to throw in the towel.  We've got a few more busy days on the farm plus some health issues that I need to help my parents deal with.  I need to take care of those issues and then I'll figure out how to get my training back on track. 

I guess everyone needs a Western States guy in their life every once in a while.

Thanks...Nancy
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Post  Mark B on Sun Jul 21, 2013 2:18 pm

Thanks for all the kind words guys. I appreciate it.

There's an epilogue to this report that I'd like to share now.

After I finished, I got curious about Mr. Western States. Who was that guy? And more importantly, how'd he do at the race?

It took some doing -- I had to go through hundreds of race photos before I found him (it's amazing the number of steely-eyed, square-jawed runners there are at a 100-mile ultra) -- but I finally found him.

His name is Brian Janecek. He's 36, lives in the Portland metro area and was on track to silver buckle at Western States (finishing 100 miles in under 24 hours) when he developed huge blisters on the ball of each foot. By huge, I mean HUGE. Silver dollar sized.

I can't even imagine how much they must have hurt. Yet, he pressed on for 12 hours with those mangled feet and finally walked/limped across the finish line in 29 hours, 51 minutes, and 31 seconds.

Of the 277 runners who finished before the 30-hour cutoff this year, Mr. Western States -- Brian -- was 274th.

I found the photo of him just after he crossed the finish. It broke my heart.

So when he helped me, he was speaking from experience deeper than anything I can imagine. And yes, he was right.
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Post  Michele "1L" Keane on Sun Jul 21, 2013 2:36 pm

@Mark B wrote:Thanks for all the kind words guys. I appreciate it.

There's an epilogue to this report that I'd like to share now.

After I finished, I got curious about Mr. Western States. Who was that guy? And more importantly, how'd he do at the race?

It took some doing -- I had to go through hundreds of race photos before I found him (it's amazing the number of steely-eyed, square-jawed runners there are at a 100-mile ultra) -- but I finally found him.

His name is Brian Janecek. He's 36, lives in the Portland metro area and was on track to silver buckle at Western States (finishing 100 miles in under 24 hours) when he developed huge blisters on the ball of each foot. By huge, I mean HUGE. Silver dollar sized.

I can't even imagine how much they must have hurt. Yet, he pressed on for 12 hours with those mangled feet and finally walked/limped across the finish line in 29 hours, 51 minutes, and 31 seconds.

Of the 277 runners who finished before the 30-hour cutoff this year, Mr. Western States -- Brian -- was 274th.

I found the photo of him just after he crossed the finish. It broke my heart.

So when he helped me, he was speaking from experience deeper than anything I can imagine. And yes, he was right.
Wow - that is some experience - no wonder he knew from where to draw.
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Post  Ben Z on Sun Jul 21, 2013 4:02 pm

Congrats on not giving up. I'm proud to call you a friend.
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Post  mul21 on Sun Jul 21, 2013 7:40 pm

I've read this several times now, trying to come up with a way to say what I want to as eloquently as your report was written (regardless of the story itself, it's an amazingly well written and engaging piece). 

I guess the easiest way is to just lay it out there.  Sometimes it takes a push from someone outside of your circle who can see something in you and say something to you in a straight to the point manner that makes you come to a realization, whether it be about your mental toughness or capabilities.  I got a lot of that push to realize what I was capable of from high school coaches.  I don't know if you ever had that, but Mr. Western States may have just given you the glare and push you needed to realize what was lurking inside you that gave you the strength to finish.

At any rate, hell of an accomplishment and many congrats!
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Post  Nick Morris on Sun Jul 21, 2013 9:12 pm

First off Mark, congratulations on becoming an ultra runner...and a 50 mile ultra runner at that!! 

Second, this was probably the best race report that I have ever read.  It was definitely worth the wait. 

Lastly, I want to commend you for the way that you ran the race.  You had a game plan and followed that plan.  Of course, with it being your first 50 miler, there were things that you weren't expecting.  Those unexpected things caused you to breakdown, but with the help of Mr. Western States, you rose from the bottom.  And with that, you found the strength to make it to the finish.  The guts that it took to continue and finish, when your mind had already given up is just amazing!!  I know that you will take everything that you learned from this and totally rock your next 50 miler Smile
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Post  Mark B on Sun Jul 21, 2013 11:27 pm

@KBFitz wrote:Mr. Western States was spot on. You're very fortunate that he was there. I know. My first 50 Miler ended at 27.1 miles--to date my sole DNF--due to shot ankles. I had to go back to conquer the beast. You finished. Good on you!

Thanks, Kevin! I was very lucky to have encountered Mr. Western States when I did. It didn't take much of a nudge, but I don't think I would have changed my mind without it.

I'd forgotten about your first 50. Ankles can be so tricky. I hope to find ways to strengthen them even more than I have already.
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Post  Mark B on Sun Jul 21, 2013 11:28 pm

@Michael Enright wrote:Great report; great job. Amazing effort to the finish.

Somehow, in failing you succeeded.

Perfect.

Hi Michael! Thanks. The weird duality is not lost on me. It has a quasi-religious/philosophical paradox to it that is somehow deeply appealing.
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Post  Mark B on Sun Jul 21, 2013 11:31 pm

Michele \"1L" Keane wrote:Fantastic report, Mark - it brought me to tears and to smiles at the end!  I think I love Mr. Western States as he was certainly an awesome catalyst.  Incredible job and incredible - you should be more than proud.  I know that I'll be bragging on you to all my running buddies here especially those getting ready for the Buckeye Trail run soon.  Your perseverance is enough to let me know that I can get through tomorrow's race and get that BQ again in November.  Awesome, my friend, simply awesome!!!

PS So when's the next one???

Next one? Let's not rush into things, shall we, Michele? I'm still trying to get my body to function normally again!

I think Mr. Western States ended up being pretty lovable. When I was on that last leg, he drove in to the finish area and briefed Alita and the rest of the family on where I was, saying I had a problem that was mostly psychological, but that I was on my way with three very strong runners helping out and that I'd make it in fine.

This ultra culture. I have to say, it's something else again.

I hope your race went well and that you nail that BQ race. I actually have no doubt that you will.
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Post  Mark B on Sun Jul 21, 2013 11:32 pm

@Sara Jane wrote:Nice work getting it done Mark.

I noticed ankle (and heel) pain for the first time ever in my trail marathon last weekend. Not sure if it was me, my trail shoes, the particular trail (super duper technical) or, as I suspect, just a result of me needing to adjust my body to technical trail running. My ankles and heels just weren't "in shape" yet. 

Anyway...way to tough it out. Glad you were convinced to finish.

That's a very good point, SJ. I think trails work different muscles than roads, and going beyond any distance run before reveals all sorts of unresolved weaknesses. It's a rough learning process, but it's also necessary.

Hope your trail marathon went well, despite the problems.
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Post  Mark B on Sun Jul 21, 2013 11:34 pm

@Julie wrote:Great job, Mark! I am so glad you finished. I was really worried when I started reading your report because I know you've trained so well for this. Congrats! You are ambitious to start with 50 milers, I think.

Now I hope you give yourself plenty of time off to rest and recover so you don't get an injury or just burned out.

"Ambitious" is one word for it, Julie. I can think of a few others. Wink

Thanks for the note. It was nip and tuck there for a while, and I'm still in a bit of disbelief that I actually did it. Even now.
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Post  Mark B on Sun Jul 21, 2013 11:35 pm

@Reina wrote:Congrats Mark!

I really understand your report ... As you know, I attempted my first 50 miler in April ... and I was having a horrible time from about mile 35 on ... leg cramps the likes of which I'd never ever had ... and had that ambivalent thought about whether I'd be pulled for time at the aid station at mile 41.  And .... I was pulled at that aid station.  A part of me was grateful - the decision was out of my hands ... and I truly didn't know if I could complete the distance ... but it was also profoundly disappointing.

You have a lot to be proud of ... enjoy it!

--Reina

I was thinking about you when I was out there, Reina. I'm sorry you didn't get a chance to prove you could do it, because I know you can. I hope you get another chance to prove it to yourself.
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Post  Mark B on Sun Jul 21, 2013 11:36 pm

@dot520 wrote:Yes, yes, yes!!  That's what I'm talking about!  Wonderful race report, you left nothing out and I lived the miles with you!  Whew!  That was tough!  You certainly deserve a huge congratulations on your finish.  Perseverance, insight and acceptance...oh, yeah..the trail can do that to you and 'for' you.  Awesome!

Hey, Dot! Thanks. Yes, it was tough. Yes, it was a learning experience - and the sort of learning that's tough to take at first. But it's probably also the most important type of learning there is.
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Post  Mark B on Sun Jul 21, 2013 11:40 pm

@Mike MacLellan wrote:Mark, I haven't read a report this inspiring since Schuey's Boston back in...  What, 2010?  Maybe 2011.  Point being, this report made me want to be a runner again.

Aw, thanks, Mike. You should be a runner again!
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