Thursday, October 13, 2011

Catskill 155 Part 3 - The Run

Tani hamming it up pre-run!
7pm, August 11, 2011. All the nerves and pent up energy are immediately released as I began my 155 mile adventure with a few short steps down my friend’s driveway in the small upstate town of Oneonta, NY. Oh shit, I forgot to hug my wife. Yes folks that is right, I hugged every person in that driveway except the one who means the most to me. So I turned around, went back and we embraced. It was funny and emotional at the same time, and I had already made the run longer basically before leaving. With the final hug complete, after months of expectation, my crew, friends and many supporters on-line we were off into the unknown. One of the most beautiful things about running these long distances is precisely that. Not knowing what lies ahead. Even though we may have been through it before it’s never the same. Exhausting, painful and incredibly hard every time, yet different.

Matt and Rich dish out crew's 1st meal
As I wound through the first few local streets and out onto Main Street I had this funny feeling, as though I was in my own little bubble. There were people around, driving, cycling or walking by and they had no idea what was up. Why would they?

My world had been and was consumed by the Catskill 155, while everyone else moved about their daily routine. I began to talk to myself about what lay ahead, and then my crew flew by screaming out the window and honking their horns with excitement. I loved that but they were gone in about 2 seconds and I was alone again with my thoughts.  A sudden reality check that I would have many moments of excitement with significantly longer periods of solitude. I knew it would be like this for most of the next 10 to 12 hours as I had chosen to spend this first night alone while I was coherent and able to run safely through the night. I also thought it would provide a great chance for me to reflect on my life with lucidity during a beautiful starlit night in the country.

Be visible on the road
The first few hours were relatively uneventful. The weather was perfect, in the 50s as the evening chill began to settle in. My crew and I began to work together. They were travelling about 3 miles at a time before I would see them and refill bottles, check on me and so on. As night fell I donned my usual night gear plus a little extra (reflective vest, headlamp, flashing led, and 2 Nathan Reflective Snap Bands). When my buddy Jeff showed up around 10pm or so, he assured me that he could see me shining brightly from afar even with the lamp facing the other way. Great to know that I was visible out there but still, I needed to be alert with traffic flying by late night often at warp speed. Jeff and I had some good laughs for an hour or so as he slowly drove along side me on the other side of the road. Mostly we joked sarcastically about how I should be drinking the whole way and what an idiot I was for doing this.

The night remained perfectly clear, the moon lighting the way and millions of stars blazing through my frosted breath. After Jeff left it was eerily quiet but for the sound of my breathing and footsteps. There was also the occasional coyote in the distance with its howl cascading across the valley. During my previous runs through the night I often wished my wife could be out there too. Not to help me, but to enjoy the moment of struggle and serenity with me. I find the early morning hours to be those when I am at my lowest, but it’s also those hours I find most beautiful. Truly alone to your own thoughts and decisions about what you will do at the toughest moments. I was not struggling as we were only about 20 miles in but I asked Tani to come out with me to enjoy the night sky. We turned off our headlamps for a minute or two to really soak in the night. It would have been nice to go the entire few miles we spent together in the dark but too dangerous. At one point as we were passing by one of many farms a pick up truck flew by heading east as we were and then suddenly made a u-turn to begin heading back our way. We were a little nervous as they slowly approached us until they stopped, and two men staring in disbelief simply said, "Are you shittin me?" We all had a good laugh with nothing else needing to be said. It's not often anyone is seen running down these roads let alone in the middle of the night lit up like christmas trees.

My brother came out with me for about a mile or so as well. This too was a special moment as I am certain it has been some time since my brother has worn a pair of sneakers for the purpose of running. I was hoping this experience would be the beginning of something enlightening for him. Time will tell, but regardless we spent time together throughout this journey that we will both remember forever. As we approached completion of marathon number 1 it was a little after midnight and I was in desperate need of a bathroom. I knew there was a gas station not too far up the road and had thought it may in fact be open all night. Unfortunately I was wrong, but fortunately my crew had gone ahead and convinced the people closing up to let me in. Perhaps they were just curious about what I was doing, but be it curiosity or kindness I was appreciative. They also came out to greet me and I had a chance to chat with a couple of them. One of the women told me she was about to light up a cigarette but decided not to because I was there.  She also said she had been contemplating quitting. I told her that I was a former smoker and remember her saying "You are not even out of breath!" I let her know that when I smoked I could not walk up a flight of stairs without gasping. She seemed encouraged and I really hope she did not smoke that cigarette.

Tony and I nearing mile 50
I spent the remainder of the night alone, enjoying the experience and relishing in my fortune. I am so lucky I thought, to be out here with my friends and family sharing in a one-of-a-kind adventure while working towards a lofty goal for a worthy cause.

Shortly before sunrise around mile 40 Tony decided to come out and join me. I was feeling well but I already had a couple of hot spots brewing on my feet. I have never had blister problems, but had also not run more than 30 miles straight on pavement before. With over a hundred miles to go this was a concern at this early stage. I decided however not to look at my feet at this point and continue on. I was more fearful of sitting than seeing what blisters may be developing. Beware of the chair as they say. We continued until just after sunrise when the first crew shift change was scheduled. Tani and Tony were going to stay with me the entire run, Rich and Cheryl were on the first shift and then Matt, Cori and Sean would rotate with them every 10 or 12 hours. This gave everyone a chance to rest including Tani and Tony who could nap in the car if needed (which it was). While we discussed crew responsibility, shifts and so on prior, I really wanted to stay out of crew decisions as much as possible at this point and focus on my running.

Me and Donna
At this first shift change our good friend Donna also showed up. It was so cool of her to choose to spend her Friday out on the road with us. Coming in from nearby High Falls, NY Donna didn’t miss a beat and jumped right in and started running with me. We spent the next couple of hours together passing by Hunter Mountain and then heading south toward Phoenicia. Phoenicia was a fitting direction for Donna and I as Tani and I introduced Donna and her other half Greg to Sweet Sue’s in Phoenicia a couple years ago. Sweet Sue's is a kick ass restaurant for breakfast and lunch and we have been there together many times since. I was looking forward to some Blue Monkey Pancakes, one of their specialties which the crew had promised to get. I wished I could have stomached my favorite, their homemade corned beef hash but that was not possible. The Catskill Region has suffered immensely since Hurricane Irene and while the town of Phoenecia was impacted I have heard they fought back and I look forward to getting up their soon to eat and support.

A Yankee fan keeping me on track
At some point shortly after turning south heading towards Phoenicia, Sean jumped in. I know Sean from work, and a few nights out drinking but I had no idea what to expect from him in the running department. When he heard about crewing for me he said he would love to help out and I just said yes. Simple as that.  When Sean came out to run, I asked him what his level of fitness was and how much running he could do. I know it probably was not the best time to be learning this little bit of information but I felt the experience was more about the people not how far they could run so I never asked.  His response was perfect.  "I am here to do whatever you need me to do".  So we ran, for quite a while and Sean never faltered.

Bodyguards in Phoenicia
Strolling through the little town of Phoenicia was fun as we walked by Sweet Sue's, me and my entourage that is:) with Tani trying to get the crowd going (see photos left and below).  I continued out of town alone as my crew waited for the coveted stack of Blue Monkeys for all of us.  By the way, Blue Monkeys are a gigantic, delicious combo of banana, blueberry and pancake. Matt caught up to me just as I turned the corner onto Route 28 exiting Phoenecia.  We were were running at a good pace now but after a few miles we had to slow up as Tani jumped in with my dose of Blue Monkeys. It was impossible to say no, but I only managed to eat a bite or two (all that longing and waiting for just a couple bites? It was worth it!). It was now about 3 in the afternoon, warming up a bit and I could not stomach solid food.  I had been running for 18 hours and awake for 33 hours.  To put this into context, all the things that typically start to go wrong for me in a 100 mile race were in full swing at this point.  It was so strange to be feeling all of these effects in the middle of the day.  This was where I first became concerned about what lay ahead.  I was not even half way and already I was exhausted, having doubts, and the blisters were a coming.
Tani celebrates Blue Monkey Pancakes
After some time with Tani, we agreed that I would sit down at the next turn for the first time.  As it would turn out this would not be the last, but it was the right move. While sitting on the back of the van simply to rest for a minute, we decided to look at my feet.  There were some hot spots, and it seemed prudent to check on them.  When the shoes came off, the first thing I noticed was how red my feet and ankles were. Fortunately, I had been through this before (that's funny to think I was fortunate to have feet that looked like they had been subjected to some obscure chemical testing). I knew that this was nothing serious but I could see a look of concern in some of my crew's eyes who had not seen this before.  As I marveled at the redness I recall smiling and laughing at how red they were, trying to make light of it.  In addition there was a large hot spot, several inches long on my right arch, a small blister on my 2nd toe left foot and small blisters on the balls of both feet.  All things to keep an eye on, but nothing worth working on right now. I changed into a fresh pair of Drymax Socks and hoped a different pair of shoes would relieve my troubled spots. Cori was now running with me as we turned off the main road and began to make our way around the Ashokan Resevoir.  Although one of the most beautiful sections of the run, it would turn out to be a very rough stretch.

Me and Cori
I know Cori and I  were running at a decent pace, but I was beginning to feel the effects of no sleep.  It was now around 3 or 4pm, approximately 75-80 miles in and I was extremely tired.  Leading up to this run, we had discussed the starting time at nauseum, knowing that starting at night, after being up all day would put me well behind on sleep and at risk sooner than a usual hundred miler (not to mention this was 55 miles further). Typically prior to a 100 mile run, I get a reasonable nights sleep, 5 to 6 hours. I wake up around 4am and begin running at 6 or 7am. This time, I woke up at 6am, spent all morning packing, getting the rental van, loading the van, driving Upstate to the start at which time I chilled at Jeff and Nikki's house but never slept.  When I started running at 7pm I had already been awake for 13 hours.  Usually in 100 milers I would have already covered over 60 miles at that point in the day. Instead I had now been up for about 33 hours and covered about 75, and I felt like it.

Emotional Purge!
After an hour or so with Cori, Sean stepped back in. I was trying my best to stay positive, and he was trying to help but as we hit one rolling hill after another I soon became frustrated as the next turn or milestone never seemed to come. I began to wonder, "What the hell was I thinking?". "155 miles? You're an idiot!".  I want to be clear, I never thought of stopping, I was just extremely frustrated with my situation and it was becoming very difficult for me to rationalize anything.  I was becoming very overwhelmed with what I still needed to do. When the turn I had been waiting for finally came, I sat down on the tailgate put my face in a towel and began to sob uncontrollably.  The only way I can describe this moment is a purging of all doubt.  I just needed to let out all of the frustration that had been building and then start over. So I did. No one said anything to me. A few pats on the back, rubs of encouragement and that was it. This was a perfect reaction from my crew and I attribute this one to my wife who knows me best. I did not see but I can visualize her looking everyone off from saying anything. After a few minutes and a deep breath, up and at em again.

Matt and I getting aid on the go
Matt was now by my side and it felt good to be with my good friend.  I recall us laughing a bit at the situation. We had run into a construction detour which we went through and agreed to meet the crew vehicle on the other side.  Donna had scouted this out earlier and said we could get through on foot so we went for it. As we dove deeper into the construction zone we were joking and imagining if something actually came up we could not get through.  Then we saw the place where the bridge had been.  It was only about 10 feet across but, no bridge. Uh oh.  This would mean about 2 miles back and the added distance of the detour.  I was devastated for about 2 seconds as my heart sank until Matt pointed out a crossing on some rocks to one side of the former bridge. Thank God, because backtracking to the detour would have added about 5 miles and devastated my current mental state.

At our next stop, Donna was back and now Greg had joined her too. Greg, Donna, Tani and I have been close friend for many years and have actually spent many incredible days riding our motorcycles through many beautiful places in this country including the very same roads we were now running together in the Catskills. I had requested some chicken noodle soup a while back and Greg informed me it was waiting across the street.  Although my spirits were very low, I recall the atmosphere amongst the crew and friends being quite good at this time as everyone had gathered in a parking lot as if they were presenting me with the ultimate prize, soup!  Well, I was so excited to have it and as I walked away with my sister-in-law Cheryl I began to take what was sure to be the sip that would get me moving well again. "Holly shit" I said after spitting out my only swig. I was not sure what it was but whatever I tasted was incredibly spicy and not what my stomach could take.  Cheryl went back as I continued ahead.

Eventually Cheryl caught up to me again with the news that the entire crew tasted the soup upon her return and had no idea what I was talking about. Apparently I was the only one whose taste buds sensed any spice and anything other than chicken noodle. Not only was my mind wasted but so was my tongue.

Nap #1
Shortly after the soup incident Greg joined for a short while.  Short because I had finally reached the point where I really felt the exhaustion taking over my entire mind and body.  I was having trouble focusing and decisions were nearly impossible. My feet were killing me, swollen with several blisters and as I sat there with my feet in a bucket of ice I looked up and apologized to everyone, saying "I am so sorry, but I think I need to sleep for a few minutes".  Thankfully they agreed, and rather than pushing me at this moment all worked together to get me set up in a chair for quick nap, not to exceed 15 minutes. This turned out to be the right decision because when I woke up 15 minutes later, I felt refreshed. Not fresh, just better than I had.  I liken a short snooze like this to pulling over at a rest area when you are falling asleep at the wheel.  Just a quick 10 or 15 minutes of rest and you are good to go for several more hours. I was uncertain how long this would last but only one direction to go, forward.
Greg pushing me along
Donna, took off with me again and as we began heading south towards New Paltz we had a discussion about mileage.  I had my watch covered for the last 10 hours or so because it was not helping. It was a constant reminder of how much further we had to go. We had reached the 100 mile mark and high fived.  Still a long way to go but certainly a wonderful milestone.  I asked Greg to spend some time with me after the milestone and about 6 miles later, night was upon us again and we were about to make the turn into New Paltz. The crew was cheering, Cheryl was filming and I heard some very disappointing news.  "100 MILES".  WTF I thought.  "Are you kidding me? I thought we were at 100 miles an hour and a half ago" is what I said. I began to sulk and just continued past the crew without another word. I actually thought this was going to be devastating to my psyche. Some how as Greg and I now continued forward, we laughed and joked at my frustration.
Smiles before losing the crew

Nap #2
Over the next hour or two, I lost my crew in New Paltz, Donna was rear ended in a parking lot and I tried desperately and unsuccessfully to relieve the pressure in the blister under my left foot.  It was under a thick callous and I just could not get to it with the dull scissors I had. Around 12:30 am after spending 15 minutes or so trying to break through to relieve the pressure, Nap number 2 was in order.  We agreed again that I would sleep for no more than 15 minutes but it was clear I needed to get my faculties back in order. Here are two links to videos which may give some insight. Video 1 shows how difficult it was for me to think. I am staring into my medical box looking for something and just can’t focus. I actually remember this moment vividly and despite not being able to focus enough to grab what I needed out of the box I knew exactly what I wanted. Video 2 is shortly after waking from my nap. Although moving, trying to eat and maintain a sense of humor I am not feeling great.

Cleanup from the big one
A couple hours after the 2nd video, the crew shift change was nearly upon us. I had been desperately asking when this moment would occur. I knew they were way behind schedule and the blister on my left foot was severely impeding my progress at this point. Every other step felt as if there was a large, sharp, hot object jabbing the inside of my foot. I recall snapping at Tani earlier, “I don’t give a shit how they do it but they better find a needle and get here soon.” There were a couple of times I snapped during this run and I know there was one of them (I think the other was something about no mustard:). Shortly before Matt, Cori and Sean arrive with the needle, but not knowing where they were, I was once again tried to jam the dull scissors through, under and around the callous to relieve the pressure. It was just impossible. No amount of force would get that scissors through. I was about to put my shoe back on and start walking when they showed up.  Tani took the needle, cleaned it and then while I squeezed the now blood filled impediment she inserted the needle. Slowly it seemed to go in to my foot nearly half its length. I still felt no direct pain but we decided to remove it for fear of going in too far.  As soon as the tip emerged its was a rush of bloody pussy nastiness.  My entire crew and I all let out a simultaneous "OHHHHHH!" and all began laughing. I think we were all amazed at its grossness while elated at the release and hopeful this would make a difference.

Once again, it was time to move. I can't remember but I think it was Tony who continued on with me at this point.  Now somewhere around 4am we made our way through a few more very quiet, small, residential back roads when we emerged upon a more commercial road. The crew had pulled off a mile or so back to gas up, stock up and do whatever they needed when I was overcome with exhaustion, again. The next few minutes seemed endless as all I wanted was to sleep and was having a very hard time thinking about moving forward let alone standing.  When the van showed up I jumped in and said wake me up in 10 or 15 minutes.

I had now struggled to complete about 30 miles in 10 hours.  I did not actually realize how slow I was moving until just now as I am writing this. I knew it had been a long night with lots of walking. I wish I could explain just how tired I was. I have literally fallen asleep on my feet before (Bartram 100 in 2010) but this was way beyond that. It was very hard to focus.  The big picture had long vacated my thoughts at this point. The finish may come but I could not bother thinking about it. Continuing forward progress was my sole focus, one step and simply one moment at a time.  I was hoping that after a long night, just before the sun was coming up that this would be the 10 minute energy nap.  As with the other 2 naps, I did not wake up and simply begin running. I was always stiff, achy and exhausted.  As I began to move forward, this time with Matt at my side I would not say I was outwardly better. I took all the energy I could muster as I began to discuss with myself what lay ahead. Not the 30+ miles of dreaded pavement, as I said that was too much to bare.  What I began to think about was so much more.  Matt and I were starting to slowly jog over some highway, the sun was rising, the cars were buzzing by, and it kind of brought me back to reality in a sense. I had been struggling for so many hours through the endless night that all of my thoughts had become compartmentalized in the "poor me" department. The purple and pink sun rise and whizzing cars jolted me back to that sense of purpose. I wanted to help people. I wanted to do something that might fix them or give them hope. I thought of the 8 years Anita has been fighting, the prostate cancer my father battled and all the stories people have shared with me leading up to this run. I now needed to rely on their strength and courage to get me through this.  I turned up the music, and began to fight for Anita, my father and so many others.  I was also battling with them as I new they were all with me and willing me to finish. The sun was up and we were going to kick some ass.

Running for donuts
The donuts!!!
I began to move well and better yet, consistent. The blister pain in my left foot was no longer a problem. After a few miles with Matt I recall asking if the crew would mind if I ran alone for a while. Apparently I looked well enough to be on my own, so they agreed. I saw them a couple miles later and was feeling really good, relatively speaking of course. I wanted to keep the momentum going and take it while it lasted. When I came up on the crew again after 2 or 3 miles I saw them scrambling as if surprised. Tani later told me that when I came around the corner they could not believe it. I had gone from a walking zombie (maybe 20 minute miles), to averaging around 11 minute pace in just a few short hours and they were not ready for me. I kept this up for a couple hours I would say until we had a little trouble finding a turn. The confusion of the moment drained me instantly and I was almost immediately slogging along again. Within 10 minutes I was sitting, icing my feet, frustrated......and then the unthinkable. Tony handed me a beer. I was like "Are you kidding me?", that is not a good idea. By the way, for those who don't know me well, turning down a beer is not part of my genetic makeup. Plus here I am trying to keep it together and he is offering me alcohol.  He insisted and told me it was a good idea, "Trust Me" as I recall. I took the cup, put it too my lips. OH was one of the most incredible moments of delirious deliciousness I have ever had. Half a glass of ice cold hops and I was ready to run.  Well not exactly, but it did give me a great feeling of comfort. I had been drinking perpetuem, mountain dew and red bull for way too long at that point and this just made me feel good. Up we were and off we went.
During the next few hours things actually went well primarily going with a run walk routine.  Sometimes as little as 30 seconds on 30 off. Other times using utility poles as milestones. When we came out onto Route 17 which would be the home stretch, I should have been salivating at the fact that there was only about 12 or 13 miles to go.  However this was actually the portion of the course I feared most. Not because it would be the most painful, but Route 17 is a busy, often very busy 4-6 lane road with lots of truck traffic and sometimes a very very small shoulder. During preparation for this run I thought about this often and tried to map out safer alternatives. Unfortunately the best option would have added at least 10 miles. Somehow that idea was not all that exciting to me. I was already adding more than 50 miles to my longest run and I just thought that adding another 10 would be a bad idea.

Anyway, here we were and there was no turning back (This video will give you a sense of the road before it got bad). I may have been over sensitive to the situation because of my mental state but I had asked 7 people to come out and be with me. Although the premise is they are there to take care of me, I felt responsible for them too. As we progressed closer to our goal I felt the traffic increasing and I knew the final few miles of this stretch were the worst.  There was a fairly generous shoulder, but cement barricades bordered the road so there was really nowhere to escape if something went wrong. As we approached this section I told my crew, without telling them why that I would run this next section alone. They conceded and all was fine until I turned around and Tony was behind me. I asked "what the hell are you doing here" and replied "we thought someone should be with you".  I appreciated everyone's concern but I just shook my head explaining to Tony what lay ahead.

The crew vehicles had already gone ahead so Tony was stuck with me. I was trying to remember how far it was to get to Route 202 which would end this nightmare but I was having a tough time thinking. I was just running. After a couple of miles of hard fought fearful running we ran into one of our crew vehicles that had managed to turn around and come see if we needed anything. I immediately began asking where the road changed.  I run roads all the time but this just felt unsafe to me and I was very concerned for our safety. It was so much worse running it than I ever imagined. I knew it had to be soon but was unsure. No one could clearly tell me when the road became safer. At that point I said I am making an executive decision. "Unless someone can tell me where it becomes safe we are all getting in the car and driving us there." In we went and only about a quarter of a mile down the road, I hopped out to a better situation to run the last 3 or 4 miles with my Tani.

I could really sense the home stretch now but was beginning to experience severe pain in my right heal and had trouble running. I did what I could to bury the pain. I was with the most important person in my life, Tani, just as planned. With just a few miles to go I began to imagine how it would feel to run the last mile with my children and wife, my parents and my crew. I also knew that the approaching finish would bring a never to be felt again moment. I would see all those in my life who mean the most. Any time I needed strength I told myself there is no way I am going to let them down. I also hoped at the moment Anita and I saw each other, she would feel strength, pride and confirmation that so many are with her as she continues her fight. Emotions were beginning to take over and so was the physical pain. I was having a very hard time walking now let alone running. I was starting to limp more severely with each step. Tani was trying to keep me on a solid run 30 second walk 30 second schedule. I finally said with a little over a mile to go, lets walk. At that moment we looked at each other, knowing we were going to finish and embraced. Alone on the road we were able to share a very special moment. We were going to do it. Without her support I never would have considered this attempt. Now with her by my side we were about to finish what we started.
Just A Mile To Go!
The rest of the crew met us with high fives and yes, Just A Mile To Go! We had a few laughs and I would see them 15 minutes later.  Our boys Jared and Kyle showed up escorted by cousins Elysa and Brian to take us home. We then picked up my Mom and Dad along with the crew for the last quarter mile. At this point we could here the cheers from up the road as our friends and family had made their way into the road, nearly stopping traffic waiting for us. So incredible.
Home Stretch w Tani, Jared, Kyle

Me the crew and family

I was greeted by some 50 or 60 family and friends and an emotional hug from Anita. Words can not fully explain the finish, but if you grab a tissue, this video will say it all.  Enjoy

I again thank all those who helped make the Catskill 155 for MMRF possible and supported me in this endeavour for such an important cause. $30,200 raised for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation this year because of all of you.

To all those whose lives have been affected by cancer, you are not alone and there are so many of us out there fighting for and with you in whatever way we can.



  1. SO! FREAKING! AWESOME! So happy for you and proud to call you a friend. Unbelievable story Eric. Thanks for sharing.

  2. you are an inspiration to all of us. this was an amazing event you organized, raised money for and then suffered through. thanks for sharing all of it with us!

  3. OB friend indeed! Looking forward to hearing about your 24hr Mountain Bike win.

    Will, thanks. It was just an incredible experience all around. Nice photo this month from Angeles Crest 100:)


  4. Unbelievable feat of endurance and willpower. Thanks for sharing your incredible journey with us. A great cause too.


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