Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Black Hills 100 Race Report

Well... I finished! One hundred miles. (Technically I think the course was even more like 106 or 107 miles, but hey, who's counting?) The good news is that I am still alive and in possession of my first 100 mile finishers "belt buckle". Woo hoo. Yo Adrian, I did it.

Here's a link the official results. I finished 10th overall, 3rd in my age group, with a time of 29:17:46. I triumphantly shuffled across the finish line side-by-side with another runner, Randy Kottke who I hooked up with for the last 6 miles or so. I'm not sure I would have made it to the finish without the company and support of Randy and his pacer Miles. Thanks so much guys!

I'm so thankful to have finally achieved my goal of running 100 miles (even if technically I hiked almost as much as I ran). Wow, it feels great. But it definitely wasn't easy. In fact it was easily the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. There were several times, particularly during the night, alone on a dark mountain, where I questioned whether I was a complete idiot -- and whether I would ever make it to the finish line at  the Woodle field track in Sturgis.

As I stumbled along, alone on the dark mountain at 3:30 in the morning, I had quite a few interesting conversations with myself (and my various body parts). It went something like this:

Me: "John, you can do it. Just keep moving. Don't stop."
Feet: "Oh hey, a nice big, flat rock. It looks so soft and comfortable. Let's lay down and rest."
Me: "What hell are you guys doing? Get up! You can't sleep on a rock. Get up you fools!"

Legs: "We're tired. We're cramping up. We can't possibly go 30 more miles. We will never make it."
Me: "Everyone else is hurting just as bad. Nobody has passed you in hours. You're still in the top 10. You're doing great. Just keep moving."

Stomach: "Um... hey idiot, you forgot to feed me. I'm starving. Blood sugar, plummeting. Muscle glycogen, depleted. Liver glycogen, depleted. All systems shutting down."
Me: "No, no. Switch to emergency reserves! Start burning body fat. Hang in there, there's another aid station only an hour away."

Keith Straw in his Sunday finest
Image credit: Action Sports Images
Somehow, despite my exhausted, condition, I managed to win the conversation and convince my feet, legs, and stomach to all keep chugging along. I might be exhausted, but I wasn't delirious. At least my brain was still working. After all, it wasn't like I was hallucinating seeing imaginary forest creatures (elves, trolls, fairies, or goblins) bounding along the trail. And then it happened...

I heard a noise and looked behind me expecting to see a bird or a squirrel, or some other standard woodland creature. But no, there it was. A large pink fairy floating along the trail. Clearly I had been out running in the woods too long. Or maybe I shouldn't have eaten those tasty looking mushrooms that I found growing alongside the trail. Luckily, as it turned out I wasn't hallucinating or having a toxic reaction to poisonous mushrooms. It was just veteran ultra-runner Keith Straw passing along, dressed in his Sunday finest.

I had passed Keith earlier in the evening, around 9:00 pm, just around the time a few of us runners had got caught in a fierce lightening storm on top of the mountain, followed by an even fiercer hail storm on the way down the mountain. I was glad to see that he had survived the onslaught of hail and lightening on top of the mountain.

At the time of the storm, I had debated taking shelter under some trees and trying to wait out the storm. But that strategy quickly lost its appeal after about thirty seconds of sitting around in just a cold, wet tee shirt. Clearly I had to keep moving if I wanted to avoid an unwelcome visit from my old acquaintance, hypothermia. Instead I had opted to turn on the jets and throw in some 7 minute miles, racing down the mountain trying to stay a few steps ahead of the lightening strikes and grape-sized missiles of icy hail falling from the sky.

Hail on the track at the finish line
Image credit: Action Sports Images
While I like to think that I managed to outrun the storm down the mountain, I think in reality it simply blew past me on it's own. But in any case, I made it down off the mountain alive, thankful to see the poncho-clad crew huddled underneath the canopy at the next aid station. They refilled my bottles, gave me some warm chicken noodle soup, and refused to let me leave until I had stuffed my pockets with enough food (gels, bananas, and sandwiches) to carry me through the next 8 miles.

Normally I am a pretty self-sufficient runner and can get by in a 50 mile or 50K race with just a couple of drop bags. But there is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't have finished without the help of all the wonderful aid station volunteers. They were just amazing. Each time we arrived at an aid station an aid station volunteer would already be standing there with our drop bag in their hand waiting for us. I never had to refill my own water bottles. And when I got to the point where I could no longer bare the thought of chocking down another energy gel packet they made me some delicious grilled cheese sandwiches that really hit the spot.

Aside from the lightening storm and the hail storm on the mountain, the rest of the race was pretty uneventful. It was just a matter of keeping the legs moving and slogging it out. The last 14 miles seemed like an eternity as I was basically reduced to a slow shuffle, hobbling along on my blistered feet. And then, at about 10 miles to go I felt one of the blisters pop, followed by a squishing sound, followed by burning pain. I immediately sat down on a rock, took my shoes off and went to work trying to salvage what was left of my water-logged, blistered feet.

Just then another runner, Randy Kottke and his pacer Miles caught up to me. They asked if I was OK and offered me some duct tape (to tape up my feet). I thanked them and told them to go on ahead. After a few minutes of resting on the rock and tending to my feet I felt good enough to start walking again. Occasionally I could hear Randy and Miles talking, and once and a while I would catch sight of them working their way down the switchbacks. It was a nice feeling to know that I wasn't completely alone out there. I was definitely feeling better and did my best to try and catch up to those guys.

I finally caught up with Randy and Miles just before the last aid station with 6 miles to go. We agreed to stick together and work as a team to try and see if we could cover the last 6 miles in under two hours. I'm not sure if we did make it back in less than 2 hours or not, but to be honest I didn't care. I was just happy to have some company. Honestly, I think that without those guys, I might have just sat down on a rock somewhere and taken a nap for a couple of hours. Anyway, there were definitely a couple of tears in my eyes when the finish line finally came into sight!

Randy and I did our best to ignore the pain and "run" the final victory lap around the Woodle field track. I'm sure it was probably the slowest 400 meters ever recorded in the history of the world, but I was savoring every second of it. Each painful step brought a smile to my face. This was what I came for! I definitely savored the moment. The only the only thing better would have been if my wife, family, and friends could have enoyed the moment it with me (because they're all been a big part of my running and I'm thankful for them).
My feet have seen better days
Image credit: Action Sports Images

Seconds after finishing we were sitting on the grass next to the track having a cold beer. It was all so surreal. Here we had been running for over 29 hours straight, and now it was suddenly over. Mission accomplished. I had never been so happy to take my shoes and socks off. Though I have to admit, my feet were definitely not a pretty sight. They looked like the feet of a zombie, or as my cousin Julie later remarked, a bit like a 3D topographical relief map.

I'd like to say that I'll come back to the Black Hills and do the race again sometime. But right now the thought of running another hundred miler makes me want to hide my head under a pillow and cry. Let's see how I'm feeling (and how my feet are looking) three weeks from now when I'm scheduled to run my second 100 miler up in Lake Tahoe at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile endurance run.


Cary Morgan said...

Awesome John! What else is there to say?

Toshi Moshi said...

Congrats John! That is one awesome looking belt buckle. Good luck at TRT100. I can't wait to join the 100-miler club!

slowrunner77 said...

Way to go man!! Funny to think that since our paths crossed on the trails, you just ran a hundred miler...and i'm doing a road mile on Monday!
I like the prediction of a lightning stoem from your last post too...good job on that:
"At some point I will undoubtedly find myself sitting on the ridge of a mountain in the middle of the night, cold and wet, during a lightening storm wondering what the hell I am doing out here?"
Good luck on the TRT!

The Macster said...

Loved the RR - thought about this one last year and might give it a go in 2012 - thanks for the read!