Allen Wrinkle

Before the race, I cemented in my mind that I would finish.  Feel good, that’s great.  Feel lousy, bring it on.  I’m still going to finish.  I believe you need to start all races with this attitude and maintain it as long as possible.  Starting with doubt brings trouble when the first difficulties begin.  Feet hurt, nauseous, bring it on.  You legs can whine and complain all you want.  I expect it.  You will get me to the finish.  I’ll help you all I can and make it as painless as possible.  But it’s time to Cowboy Up partners.

My goal during the first 20 miles was to be on vacation.  Easy running without strain.  Power walk up hills, run the flats and downhills.  Conscious of minimizing impact of downhills. Short, quick turnover of steps.  Drink plenty.  1 e-cap per hour.  Eat what I can keep down.  The key limiter in ultras is getting enough calories down.  You burn more than 10,000 calories but you can’t absorb that many.  But you must get down as much as you can keep down.  Eating later is more difficult so I try to stay as full as I comfortably can.  I’m running with some 100K people and enjoying the conversation but realize I’m pushing too hard and let them go.  Got to focus on my own race.  The camaraderie of running with someone can help, especially towards the end.  But there is the danger of not running your own pace.

At mile 15, I drink an Ensure with protein, eat some turkey/cheese sandwich, fill a bottle with lemon tea, and move out.  The first 45 miles I ran with a water bottle in each hand.  Hold them close to the chest while running to minimize fatigue on the back.  Get down the trail and realize I left my sun glasses somewhere back by my bag.  Painfully I had to run back and get them.  So instead of 100.2 miles, I had to face 100.4 miles.  Had a hat with a bandana to keep the sun off as we run through the hot, humid, marsh for about 10 miles.  One of Gretchen’s favorite saying is “When you’re going through hell… KEEP GOING!!!” so that is what I did.  I’m really in good shape here.   Passing people, picking out people in front and pushing forward until I caught them.  Got to create some excitement to occupy your mind.  By mile 30, it was terribly hot and I was feeling nauseous. I stumble in to an aide station, sit down, and drink an Ensure.  The mistake was drinking the second.  Chocolate.  500 calories in one setting.  Changed socks for the first/last time and put some lube on my feet.  When I stumbled out of the station, I was dizzy, throwing up a little but didn’t even stop for that.  Feeling completely miserable.  Legs hurt.  Feet hurt.  Couldn’t run much.  A very low spot.  But when you can’t run, you walk.  That’s your only choice.  Nothing compared to the last half of the race but disappointing none-the-less.  This continued for about 5 miles.   It was over 80 degrees with over 80% humidity.  The heat was affecting almost everyone.  For most of the race, a feeling of nauseousness was usually present to some degree.  I found that I couldn’t handle anything sweet.  My green tea, my Ensure, my power bars.  Nothing sounded good.   I would drink a little coke at the stations every 5-8 miles apart.  And get down what food I could. No matter how you feel, you have to shove food down and hope for the best.  Bananas and pretzels seemed to work ok.  I would have waves of being able to run, then weakness.  After about mile 35, things got a little better and I began to be able to run almost all of the time.  By the time we reached the marsh, we were lucky enough to have some clouds to shield us a little.  By mile 40, I was beginning to experiment with thought patterns and how they affect your body.  Once you realize that your thought patterns can manipulate how you feel, the next step is to learn to manipulate your thought patterns to control how you feel.   Believe me you have time out there to think about it.  I was doing all sort of strange and bazaar things with my mind to will power into my body and it was working.  I was running past many people who were walking.  It began to feel like it was my day.  All of the work.  All of the failure.  This was my day.

I was terribly sad to see Gretchen at mile 43.  She was having a terrible time of it.  To stick it out for another 11 miles took unbelievable guts.

Pulled in to aide station at mile 45 and put on my camelback, ditched the water bottles, grabbed my mp3 player and flashlights, drank an ensure, Starbucks doubleshot, rolled my legs with the Stick, put it in my Camelbak and headed out.  The sweetness of the Starbucks almost made me puke but I kept it down.  I had loaded an extreme range of  music on my MP3 player but saved it until I really needed it.  In every ultra, “Going the Distance” by Cake is always the first song I hear for personal reasons.  I was feeling good so I didn’t use it yet.  I’m starting to get really excited because I’m feeling good.  It’s cooling off.  Able to run and still feel like it is my day.  IT’S MY DAY!!!!!

The one thing you learn about ultras is that everything changes and it changes frequently.  No matter how well things are going, don’t get attached to that feeling.  No matter how bad you feel, it could get better so don’t get consumed by that either.  By mile 54, I decided that I needed the music.  Not eating enough was catching up with me.  Feeling weak, tired.  There are some things you can’t allow yourself the luxury of thinking.  You can’t allow yourself to think you are only half-way done.  I sat about 2 minutes and ate some Raman noodles and moved on down the trail.  Beware the chair.  Never sat more than a couple of minutes anywhere except mile 30 and mile 62.  Then it wasn’t more than 10 minutes.  Did I mention the constant feeling of nauseousness the whole time?  It’s a constant companion.  A house guest that doesn’t know when to leave.   I’m really struggling to make it back to the start line at mile 62.  Everyone going along in quite desperation.  The 7 miles before there are very hilly with some too hilly to run down.   I stumble in the station after dark and set down to eat some Raman again.  Nothing looks good to eat.  My fingers are swollen and knuckles are purple so someone said I needed fewer salt tablets now that it was night.  When I stopped taking those, they eventually went down.  Thanks!!  I got plenty of sodium in the Raman soup.  Ate some Payday candy bar, spray with mosquito spray again and get the motivational announcement by the race director that another 100 miler has the courage to hit the trail again.  Everyone cheers and I move out with a little more spring in my step.  I try to encourage other runners still coming in to the station.  Many are “only” running the 100 k.  Some 100 milers will stop at 100 k.  The finishers reward for 100k and 100miles is the same.  So if you head out, you are in it for more than just the finishers’ award.  38 miles to go.  My longest training run was 32 miles and that was on fresh legs.  Starting another 38 miles, in the hills, after being out all day, on tired feet, could be disheartening.  But you don’t allow yourself to be consumed by those thoughts and feelings.  Ok you can be consumed by those thoughts and feelings but you just keep moving anyway.  I struggle on pretty uneventfully to the aide station at mile 77.   I’m running in the dark in an area I’ve never seen before.  The night starts playing tricks on my eyes and every root is a snake (because I almost stepped on a real snake that day).  Every leaf shadow looks like a spider.  I start seeing some light in the periphery of my vision but when I look directly there is nothing there.  Only happens a few times though.  Have been seeing lightning for several hours but the weather report says the storm will miss our race course.  So I plunge into the darkness in my shorts and a thin shirt.  Almost hoping for some rain because the night was so muggy.  As soon as I get up the next big hill into the darkness, I feel the first drop.  The wind begins to whip the trees and then the bottom drops out.  I completely become drenched in seconds.  The drops were surprisingly cold.  The course between 77 and 85 is very steep and rocky so running is almost impossible.  I hear the snap of limbs.  The wind is howling.  The rain causes a shiver almost immediately.  Instead of being disheartened by this, I faced it with almost as much gusto as Lt Dan in Forrest Gump as he sat on top of the crows nest of the ship shouting “Is that all you got????” and shreeking wildly with laughter.  I’m in the middle of the woods, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a lightning/wind/rain storm.  I’m alive and out here in the middle of this EPIC adventure.  Bring it on.   What a RIDE.  I cross a little knoll where the trees are short and I witness the most awe inspiring site.  Right above me, an electrical strike started from far away and then exploded into thousands of tiny fingers that spread out and completely covered the night sky above me.  It was one of the most beautiful and amazing things I’ve seen.  I love storms to begin with.  This was awesome.  Yet the cold begin to grip me and I quickly became very concerned.  I knew that as long as I kept moving, I would be ok with respect to hypothermia.  So I did.  I had heard that somewhere, people had spread Vaseline on their skin to help them stay warm so that is what I did at the next station.  FYI I don’t think it helps much.  I thought about putting plant leaves in my shirt but didn’t think that would help and would be itchy.  I got a clear garbage bag at mile 81, tore a hole in the top for the head and arms and headed back out for another 4 miles (2 hours) of the great fun.  I’ve spent time in the mountains so the lightning didn’t scare me much but it was pretty close.  A tree had blown down into the trail and I checked for victims but there were none.  “And that’s all I have to say about that” part of the course.

It was getting daylight at mile 85 at about 5:00am.  7 hours to go 15 miles to the cutoff.  I can do that.  I’m shivering and take off my shirt and put on my warm shirt and tie a jacket around my waist.  Head out.  Quickly I realize that the warm shirt was a mistake because it began to warm up and the humidity from the rain was stifling.  Canadian geese fly over the marsh.  It really is beautiful.  Between 85 and 90, was about the lowest point.  My strength was gone.  I found out what “trashed quads” felt like.  Basically they hurt to touch or walk on.  Much less run.  I was dizzy and out of it from lack of sleep.  I begin to question for the first time if the suffering was worth it.  It’s easy to say miles 85 to 90.  But when you are completely miserable and each step hurts, it seems like an eternity.  Feet felt like hamburger.  I don’t even care if I finish.  This was a misguided thing to even attempt.  A person would have to be an idiot to keep doing this.   So I keep going….  At mile 90, I come to an unmanned aide station.  10 miles to go.  Impossible.  10% of what I’ve already done and I’m all used up.  Nothing left.  People are passing me, some trying to encourage me, but I had already written myself off.  I was done.  I turned over a bucket and sat beside the water table.  No one there.  I put my head in my lap and covered my head with my arms.  I can’t take this any more.  Then God reached over, tapped me on the shoulder, and told me to get up and go.  Actually it was just the mosquitoes that started to attack my back but the effect was still the same.  I’ll use whatever motivation I can at this point. I felt like quitting and could have flagged someone down by the highway but I know I really couldn’t do it.  I’m too hard-headed for that.  But I had to admit that I felt like it.  Next aide station is 2.5 miles away.  I can make it there.  I walk a few hundred yards and become completely frustrated with how long it is taking me.  More people pass me.  I’ve had it!!!!  I start to run.  Quads are screaming, legs are screaming.  Too bad.  I’m tired of this and want to get it over with. Started to pass people that had just passed me.  Not only running down hills and flats, but running up hills too.  I kept expecting to fall over dead any moment but I didn’t care.  I’d had enough.  But the further I went, the further my legs carried me.  Hmmmmm.  Where did this come from?  I made it to 92.5, grabbed some eggs (delicious) and headed out.  “And I was RUUUUNNNNIIIINNNGGGG”.  People were surprised to see me come back to life.  I kept going.  I began to calculate my speed and the thought of coming in less than 28 hours began to brew.  It’s hard to do math at this point but I think there is a chance.  I catch up with a few people and we started running together.  I was not only running but I was flying down the steep hills.  I ran most of the last 8 miles.  I just turned off the feelers in my feet and just kept going.  4 miles left.  If I can just do x minute miles….. 3 miles…. I’m gaining.  Garrett and I struggled in the last miles together with a common goal of beating that 28 hour time.  In the scheme of things, it meant nothing to be 27 hours vs. 28 hours.  But the goal helped us go on.  Coming around the corner I could see the finish.  Came in to a cheering crowd at 27 hrs 51 minutes and high-fived Timo.  Gretchen got to see me cross the finish line too.  I had witnessed her cross the line in her first 100 just 4 months prior while I lay in the medical tent.  Failure teaches compassion.

What is up with THAT????  How do you go from being dead to running 8 miles at the end of the race?  I don’t know.  But just knowing that these types of transformations can happen will give me and possibly others strength and hope when all seems lost.  No matter how bad things are, they can and usually do get better.   The moment to contemplate is that turning point when despair turns to hope.   It might be anger or pure meanness.  Hard-headed.  Guts.   I don’t know what to call it.  But what ever it is, I know it is there.  Reclusively hiding in all of us until its really needed.

What if I had quit at mile 90?  How would my future be different?  How would my belief structure about what is possible and my own abilities be different?  Would I label  myself a failure?  Would I create a permanent limiter on my own abilities?  I didn’t realize at the time how critical it was for me to finish.  My self-image and beliefs about myself were at stake and I didn’t even know it. How many other assumptions have we made about ourselves and who we are just because we gave up too soon or didn’t have an opportunity to prove otherwise or had certain failures that we didn’t later overcome?

So, as much as this seems like a physical journey, it is something more.  You end up where you started, but a different person comes across the line.

Final Thoughts
After the race I was walking around like a million bucks.  Laughing and talking.   A little dull mentally but unbelievably good.  The next morning I woke up feeling fine and walking around.  An unbelievable recovery.  I had to address a few blisters and my feet were swelling over the next few days but other than that I felt very good.  My recovery is almost as amazing to me as the race.  What an EPIC experience.

I want to thank the race directors and all of the volunteers who made this experience possible.  Their encouragement and excellent planning made this a wonderful experience.  Good food and great course markings.  Congrats to you on a fine race.