I arrived in Phoenix with Tani and Isla 2 days prior to relax a little and enjoy some local hospitality in Scottsdale (Isla's first plane flight went perfectly. She was a champ). We went to race check in Friday afternoon. I could tell immediately this was a friendly, well organized and super fun race. Runners and crews were camping out all around the Start/Finish area which was buzzing with excitement with the race set to begin the following morning. Set in the McDowell Mountain Regional Park, this desert course is beautiful. Surrounded by mountains the route follows the Pemberton Trail on a 15.4 mile loop completed 6 times in opposite directions (washing machine loops) with one final modified loop of 9 miles for a total of 101.4 miles. There is an incredible variety of vegetation and wildlife throughout the loop adding to the cool scenery with little surprises jumping around at every turn. After picking up my number, chip and schwag which included a TNF JJ100 tech shirt and JJ100 gear bag, we went out for an early dinner. I was sleeping by 9:30 after watching the Yankees disappointing loss to Texas.
Alarm clocks were ringing at 3:30am and by 4 I was off to meet up with Tony Portera and Rick Gaston before heading over to the race together. We arrived a little after 5am for the 6am start which was plenty of time to get settled. The atmosphere was festive, with many runners dressed in costume for this party run. Pre-dawn temperatures were in the low 60s but forecasted to be in the upper 70s in nearby Fountain Hills. Finally, after much anticipation, the race began and I was off into the desert dawn with 270 other runners. Although this was only my 2nd 100 miler I had set what I think was a fairly ambitious goal (with a couple of fall back positions as resetting goals is often required). Although finishing was primary, I thought a 22 hour finish was within reach. Oh silly me! As the hours and miles ticked away I would see my 22 hour goal fade due to an 18 hour pace (oops) and then my new sub-24 goal turn into a potential DNF as concern over my deteriorating physical condition grew. The first 30 miles felt good. No, they felt great. I was not only moving well, but well beyond my target pace (mistake #1). Loop 1 split 2:43:04 and my loop 2 split 2:53:40; 5:36:44 first 30.8 miles.
About a mile and a half into loop 3 I came upon Tony and Roger who were all of a sudden struggling a bit. I spent a few moments with them trying to encourage them to keep it up before I continued on at my pace. Tony and I do quite a bit of training together and deep down I knew if I went ahead he would get moving and catch up to me soon. I was beginning to slow when he caught up to me about a mile later. It was now early afternoon. The heat, which felt like it reached the mid 80s was starting to work its sneaky wicked magic. I was now taking more time between aid stations and with only 1 bottle (mistake #2) I was running out of water with 2 to 3 miles to go before reaching the next AS. Tony did help out by giving me some of his when I ran out but it was not enough. Starting to feel the effects of mistakes 1 & 2 loop 3 split was 3:18:48 (8:55:32 at mile 46.2). This would have been a more intelligent choice of pace for me at the start. I recall Tony saying how we ran that loop smart and I responded with "We are running smart not by choice but because we chose to run stupid first".
I picked up a 2nd bottle at the turn around for loop 4 and was attempting to catch up but it was a little too late. As we slogged through the next 15.4 miles Tony and I kept each other going with some good laughs and had a hysterical stretch with a friend who shall remain nameless as she had us dying with hysterical tales of bad dates, with bad sex and bad boyfriends. We lost our funny friend and all sunlight with 3 miles left in this loop. With no light, as the moon had yet to rise it took a few extra minutes, carefully negotiating one of the few rocky sections of this course. At last we had reached the start/finish area with nearly 62 miles complete in 12:41:45 (loop 4 split 3:41:13). We decided to take a 20 minute break on Rick Gaston's advise as we were way ahead on pace an could probably use the rest. I rested my legs, drank and ate some soup. I was beginning to feel weary at this point and getting nervous about my hydration. I had not gone to the bathroom in more than 8 hours. I knew this was a very bad sign.
After our break we headed out into the now cooler night air with Rick Gaston. Rick was in town to pace Tony again. Tony and I had agreed to try and stay together which gave me the benefit of running with a ton of experience. Although all of my mistakes including not taking any salt the last 8 plus hours (mistake #3) were all coming back to haunt me no matter who I was with. I was hopeful the lower evening temperature would help me begin to feel better, which it did. Until about 3 or 4 miles in to loop 5. My desent began slowly...first I stopped talking as I tried so hard to focus on keeping pace. After another 30 minutes or so it became obvious to Rick and Tony that I was struggling. They decided to put me in the middle and try to push and pull me along. I was now getting very frustrated not only for me but I was upset that I may be costing Tony his race. And then there was hope. I had to pee. After nearly 10 hours my efforts to rehydrate were finally going to pay off. That is if you consider urinating fire paying off. Thick, dark, fire is what came out. I had never experienced this before and to add to it I was now having lower back pain on both sides. These were very bad signs of dehydration and possible kidney distress. To top it all off despite my brief moment of hope my pace had slowed to a pitiful display of walking with more than 4 miles to go to the start/finish. I kept pleading with Tony and Rick to get on with their race but of course they refused to leave me. Not sure if they were concerned about me or getting their asses kicked by my wife if they left me (appreciated either way). Or maybe it was the 2 horses I pointed at that turned out to be 2 runners heading towards us, very freaky. This did concern me because I knew I may be even worse than I thought if they were refusing to leave me. I worked hard to keep their walking pace the last couple miles, unsuccessfully but we got there. Loop 5 split 4:20:12 (17:01:57). I sat down and immediately discussed what I was feeling with medical personnel. Tony and Rick made sure I was in their hands and I was happy to see them get on with it.
The medical guys did not seem overly concerned but agreed resting and hydrating was in my best interest. I was about as low as I have ever been at this moment. Cold, hungry, uncomfortable, wickedly chaffed in every imaginable area between my legs and full of self pity, frustration and disappointment. The one thing I told myself was do not quit. It seemed all to easy to walk 10 feet and turn in my timing chip. "Whats the difference if I do it now or 8 hours from now, right?". I did not think it was possible but what if I decided to continue later and had already quit (which I had never done before). After sitting by the fire for a while, eating some soup and drinking about 60 ounces of water I was feeling no better. In fact the longer I sat the easier it seemed for me to justify a DNF. How could anyone blame me after all I had been through? Not to mention what it would take to finish the final 24.4 miles alone through the rest of the night and then having to bare the heat again the next day. This self pitying crap was really getting on my nerves. After sending the following plea for sympathy to Tani, I went to sleep.
Taking a break after 77. Really low right now. Not sure I want to continue. Got my ass kicked
When I woke up 2.5 hours later the following response was waiting for me.
I know you can do it. Fight back and if you have to, walk or crawl. I love you.
Once again my all time greatest supporter knew exactly what to say. I did not hesitate for a moment. I was up, layers off, bottles filled and heading out for whatever lay ahead within minutes. My last text was.
Going back out. This may take a while.Nearly 4 hours after completing loop 5 I was out for loop 6 just as Tony and Rick were arriving. I tried to give them a smile with thumbs up but I knew this was going to suck. I actually managed to slowly jog most of the first mile or so but that energy burst was short lived. The next 5 miles was a long slow up hill walk, not steep but up none the less. About 1/2 way up I began to realize I was actually passing other runners. This gave me a huge mental boost. By the time I got to the top of this hill I was not great physically but the mind is a beautiful thing. I had my music cranked up and convinced myself how good I was feeling as I flew by all these others struggling through the night. 17 minute pace or so was flying:) I do want to point out one of the things I love about the ultra community. I had a conversation, no matter how brief, with every runner I passed or that passed me during those early morning hours. We all made sure the other was OK and encouraged each other to keep it up. What other racing community sincerely encourages others to keep going like that. I hope there are others, I just don't know them. Approximately 4hrs 25min later I completed loop 6, split 8:07:16 (25:09:13).
The sun was up and the heat was coming back but I had endured the night alone and was going to finish this. I walked most of the next 5 miles and ran nearly all of the last 4 with a final emotionally charged burst (27:48:20). When I saw the finish I could not believe it was over as hours earlier I thought it would never end.
I now know it never will as these moments will stay with me forever. I would give up my sub 24 for this experience any day. This experience confirmed to me that there is much good in people, willing to sacrifice their own goals to help me. It showed me once again that the human spirit is capable of so much. Don't over react, take your time to think about whats next and proceed accordingly. It may take longer, but success is there.
Tony was at the finish to give me a high five and Tani my rock and Isla were there with a smile and a hug. Amazing.
Many thanks to all the volunteers and medical at the JJ100. Awesome event.
Tony and Rick, thanks for sticking with me and congrats on your sub 23 (good things come to those who wait:)
Thank you Tani for believing in me.