Sunday, November 30, 2014

Big Cedar 100: Thoughts from my first 100.

The physical toll from my first 100 mile journey on foot was more than I expected.  I’d somehow thought that since the race had a Friday start and a Saturday end, I would be able to hobble over to Mass on Sunday.  When I could barely even get out of bed the morning after, I saw how ridiculous that idea was.  My wife, Sonya, even had the homebound ministry come visit me to bring me the Eucharist.  I tried to sit up on the side of the bed to receive, and thankfully my friend Catherine said it was fine if I wanted to lie down.  In my debilitated state, I admit it felt more like “last rights” than a bedside Eucharistic service.  It wasn’t just my debilitated state that made me think about what had transpired the past few days. During Catherine’s reading of the Gospel for the day, Matthew 25: 31-46, I couldn’t help but reflect back on the race.

Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ’Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ …”

Speedsters at the front of the pack
The Big Cedar Endurance Run took place in Duncanville, Texas.  It’s amazing what the Dallas Off Road Bicycle Association has done out there.  They’ve built so many trails that we were able to do the 100 miles in 4 loops of 25 miles with only about 6 miles of each loop repeated.  I’ve run many times out there, so I knew what to expect.  Those who hadn’t were quite surprised to find themselves on a trail that never seems to be flat or straight for more than a few minutes.  Instead, you are always twisting, turning, going up, or going down.  You had better pay attention when you have all of this trail laid out so close together, as it can get confusing as to where you are on the course.  The first 50 miles or so went about as I had planned.  I ran all of the flat sections, gently cruised the descents, and walked up every single hill.  I tried to keep moving and not linger around the aid stations for too long.  Sonya, my friend Judy, and her daughter Grace had been crewing for me all day and helping out with changing some gear from time to time, but everything was going pretty well during the day.  This got me to 50 miles in a little under 12 hours, which was slightly off of my goal pace, but I was fine with it, since the ultimate goal was really just to finish. 

At the halfway point of the run, I was allowed to have a pacer.  Your pacer is there to keep you safe and going in the right direction, make sure you are taking care of yourself, and do everything he can to get you to move just a little faster than you probably want to.  I was blessed enough to have two guys willing to come help me.  Chad is a friend who has paced our friend Matt a couple of times and also just finished his own first 100 miler.  He would help me get through the 3rd quarter of the race.  Jon is a friend whom I paced at his first 100 miler, Rocky Raccoon.  I know what he went through there and that he knew what it might take to finish the race.

Chad looking ready to run.  We did, for a little while.

Jon and I hanging out before the race.
Things were going well as Chad and I started our loop together.  We were still jogging all the flat areas and jogging down the descents we could manage - just catching up and letting the miles tick by.  As we left an aid station at about mile 59, the skies suddenly opened up, and rain came down.  It probably only rained hard for a few minutes, but it was a complete game changer.  My friend Matt told me months ago what a mess the trail would be if we had any rain, and he was completely right.  It only took a few minutes of rain to turn buttery smooth, hardpacked trail into something completely different.  After only a few steps of walking through the sludge, we had at least 5 pounds of mud on each shoe.  We managed to get out of the open areas where the mud was really bad and do some actual running again, since the tree-covered areas on top of the hills were still somehow pretty runnable.  I was still feeling positive about keeping up a good pace until we got to a small segment called “S.O.S.”   It was a complete mess, full of slippery ascents and descents and long open areas where we had pounds of mud caked to our shoes the whole time.  The toll of 65 miles on my feet plus having to pull my shoes up out of the suctioning mud, while carrying along a bunch of extra shoe weight, had finally added up.  The tendons in my feet and ankles were so sore, I wouldn’t run another step the entire race.  Chad helped me get back to the main aid station at mile 69, and we decided to do a pacer change.  Jon would have the task of helping me make it through the next 31 miles of mud.

It was muddy...
At 2:45 on Saturday morning, I was listening to Chad give a pass down to Jon and my crew on my status.  Somehow I couldn’t remember things like the importance of eating on a 100 mile run.  That’s what Chad was currently tattling on me about to Jon and my crew.  “He needs to eat more..he’s not eating enough.”  I committed to eat more, and Chad was right; it helped.  When Jon and I headed out, I really wasn’t sure what I would be able to do.  I remember trying to run a little bit down some slopes, but my feet and ankles were so shredded, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other.  Between my current state and the mud, the run turned into what I had wanted to avoid the most: a long, slow death march.    

Jon, Judy, and myself hanging out and trying to get some calories in.
The last 31 miles turned out to be just that.  The trail got much worse because we had more rain, and there was a 50K race going on concurrently.  The clumpy mud turned to a very slick variety, so now we were sliding all over the place.  This really turned into some humorous situations.  Jon commented that he wished he had his camera when I approached a slick bridge, and we decided it would be best to get down into the ditch and use the bridge as a rail for my hands.  I looked like a little baby cruising along some furniture.  Whenever we had to go up or down a steep and slick slope, we used little tree branches along the trail’s edge as a way to pull ourselves up or to keep from sliding down.  The biggest challenge might have been a concrete drainage slab that was on an angle and covered with slick mud.  We finally figured out the best way to handle it was to lay out on all fours and crawl sideways across.  All of this added up to a very slow pace.  We figured we were averaging about 30 minutes per mile toward the end. Maybe. 

Now back to that Gospel reading...At some point, I realized I had turned the reins over - given up the car keys, so to speak.  I put my trust in my pacers and crew and let them take over for me.  For example, when Jon and I would approach an aid station, we would have a little talk about what we thought I might need.  It was up to him to remember once we got there because I’m pretty sure I forgot the results of those conversations within minutes.  The Gospel reading was realized many times over again.  Jon would tell me I needed to eat, and an aid station volunteer would cook me a cheese quesadilla in the middle of the night or perhaps serve up a delicious bacon grilled cheese sandwich!  I was hungry, and you gave me food.  People I had never met welcomed me to an aid station and gave me a warm and welcome look in the eyes.  I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.  I am grateful that my crew took over when I saw them and got everything Jon asked for out of my drop bag.  I’m pretty sure I would have just rummaged around for a few minutes and ended up thinking, “what was I looking for?”  Then there is the long slow march that Jon led me on.  I can’t even believe what he did for me.  Walking for thirteen hours through all kinds of sloppy mud? Yay!  Jon just kept going, leading the zombie at a pace slightly more uncomfortable than what I really wanted to do.  In a very strange way, I was ill, and you cared for me. 

Getting some kind words from a couple of veterans I have great admiration for - Judy and Drew
During the final three miles to the finish line, I started to get pretty emotional as I reflected on how covering 100 miles had affected me.  All of my runs have some meaning to them.  This one is different.  This experience has changed my life.  To complete something like this is incredibly empowering.  It helped me learn that I can be really strong when I want to.  Maybe a better way to put it is that I don’t see limits or distractions the same way anymore.  I’m also incredibly humbled.  I’ve heard humility described one way that I think really nails it – “there is a God, and you aren’t it.”  I don’t know what left me most humbled.  Maybe it’s the pain I experienced.  Maybe it’s the fact that I relied on friends and strangers. Maybe it’s due to the many prayers and my faith which I relied on to help me finish.  The end result is that I feel incredibly humbled after finishing.  You might think those two virtues, strength and humility, are mutually exclusive, but they’re not.  The truth is, there is strength in humility.  

Steps from the finish, giving thanks to God