A friend put his hand on my back and prayed for me to have a good race. I walked to the start. The race director shouted some final instructions and started us with little fanfare. We headed into the darkness.
The cold, wet, predawn darkness. 50k, 50 me and 100 mile runners heading off together.
Not long after the start, the dawn light extinguished the headlamps and flashlights. the first aid station came and went after just a few miles. The 200 or so runners thinned out pretty quickly and I soon found myself running alone.
I was wearing a rain jacket with the hood up, snugly encasing my Sweet H2O cap. There were a lot of Sweet H2O hats about that day. My shoes were an old pair of Asic Kayanos. I had read how Nike had built a business out of telling us we needed their $70 shoes with comfy heels so we could run and all the ramifications it is supposed that it led to and thought, “How ironic that we’re now being told we need to spend money to run minimalist.”
I pulled out all my old shoes and decided to run in each pair until my feet started popping out of the holes. In a few years, when they’re gone I’ll consider the purchase of a new pair. I’ve been training and running injury free ever since.
The downside of my shoes was that the lack of tread on the bottom made the muddy trails slippery and in the early part of the race I took a few falls. One of them came back to haunt me late in the race. By the end of the race, I could barely make it up the muddy slippery slides that the rain made of the steep hills.
At the first aid station my Leadville crew chief, Todd, and my wife, Kathy, were waiting. I got a new bottle of fluid and a kiss and was on my way. Happily, the kiss was from my wife and not the crew chief.
Early in the next section I had the worst of my falls. I came down hard on my left knee and both my hands. I observed two things. I was dirty and my knee hit hard. I got up and ran as quickly as I could. The running helped me forget about the knee and the rain quickly redistributed the mud on my legs.
A couple miles later I found myself catching someone. It was early and I had determined that I would not get caught up in racing. If I was close to someone and in good condition in the last 10 miles or so I’d give it a go, but not before. Still, it was nice to see I could actually catch someone.
Just before I caught him, another runner passed me. He was running the 50k. Good deal. I passed the first runner just before we all started climbing the Power Line hill. We were rewarded for our climb up the steep hill with a half mile or so of ankle to calf deep mud and water.
After wading through this slough I stopped to retie a shoe. This 50k runner disappeared and the other runner caught up to me. We would run the next 16 miles together.
Patrick was signed up to run the 50k and then planned to pace a friend through the last 40 miles of the 100 mile. His 50k wasn’t going as planned and he wanted to be fresh to pace his friend so he was taking it easy.
Patrick kept me going with running stories and advice. It was a great distraction and motivating at the same time.
I came through 20 miles at about 3 and a half hours. I was still good for a plan to finish under 20 hours. That would be the last split I would even remember.
Patrick and I ran the 13 mile loop together. At the end I was slowing and Patrick commented on it. I told him the previous Tuesday I had gotten up at 4 AM, run 6 miles and gone to work. I was asked to help rush a large proposal through and I didn’t get to go home until 3PM on Wednesday. To make things more challenging I got wound up the night before and had only gotten a couple hours of sleep.
Patrick finished his 50k and I went to replenish my fluids. I also changed my socks for the second time and changed my shoes as well. My feet weren’t popping out of holes but mud was leaking in. At one point I had had to stop, take off a shoe and dig the dirt out of it.
To my surprise Kathy was still at the race. She had gone home, picked up our daughter, Savannah, who had slept in to try to shake a nasty cold and brought her back to the race. Kathy would meet me every time I came through the start/finish area through the rest of the race.
I changed my socks for the second time and put Vaseline on my dirty feet.
Patrick was kind enough to give me a 5 Hour Energy. I laughed at myself as energy perked up immediately as I headed out for a second go at the Power Line hill.
The next 27 miles went by well. I was slowing but still doing respectable time.
At the 40 mile mark, Patrick had left instructions to make sure that I was getting enough caffeine. He came by as I was heading out to make sure. I assured him that I was getting coke at every aid station.
On my way out a fellow runner and acquaintance was jogging back down the trail.
“I’m so sorry,” I responded sympathetically.
“No, I’m good.”
I had fully expected that he would beat me and, possibly, win the entire thing. I truly regretted his departure but was buoyed by the realization that I was outlasting him.
After the half way point I knew I was flirting with going over a 20 hour pace and sped up. I passed a running friend who didn’t seem to be doing well and ran on without lingering. It seemed to me that she was going to have trouble getting to 40 miles by the 15 hour point and was sad to realize she would probably drop. She would hold on for a total of 73 miles.
Everything changed when darkness overtook me. My lack of sleep caught up to me. I continued moving forward but slowed to a crawl.
When I got to the 60 mile mark I began making changes including my expectations. Maybe I could finish before it got light.
I retooled my hydration. The gels I was adding to my mixture of protein powder and maltodextrin was too sweet. I poured half of the next bottle into an empty bottle and filled the other half with water. I made sure to eat at every aid station. The cheese, grilled cheese and egg and cheese sandwiches were wonderful.
I was getting pretty low at this point and was given a timely surprise. The Isakson family had come out to cheer me. They had all 4 of their kids. The Isaksons are big supporters of our track program and the kids are becoming talented runners.
Their oldest, a 13 year old boy named Loren, was hoping to pace for me and I had suggested that he might be able to run the 7 mile loop with me. Because of the conditions I had told Kathy to tell him we’d have to do it another time. I owe him a run around that loop on a sunny day. (Bring a change of shoes and socks, Loren. It’ll still be plenty dirty!)
It was a busy stop for pictures and small conversations. In retrospect the time for this stop could have been shorter but the morale boost was awesome.
The mile 73 stop was a different story. On my out to the start of the 4th loop I was greeted by a dense fog. The darkness required a light but the fog devoured its use. I attempted adjusting the brightness but finally was reduced to running along the edge of the trail and running the line where the color changed from the mud to the foliage. It was a slow 13 miles.
At mile 73 I was, again, demoralized. The Isaksons had waited. In addition, Savannah had made it out as well. I was honored but needed to take some time by myself. The rain had also increased and my clothes were soaked under my raincoat. I retreated into the tent that Todd had set up for me before the race started. I changed my shirt and added a layer. I turned my rain coat inside out and toweled it dry. I, again changed my socks. All told, I used 5 pairs of clean socks throughout the course of the race.
When I came out, the Isaksons had taken Savannah to sleep the night at their house. I decided to go into the main tent put up by the race organizers to get warm. This was a big mistake.
A well meaning masseuse asked if I needed anything.
“No. I just need to change my shoes.”
“Are you sure?”
Kathy was there and responded for me, “No, he doesn’t need anything.”
“I can change your shoes for you and clean up your feet.”
The gal was thorough. All told I think I spent over an hour on this stop. Dang.
I had stiffened up during the rest and it took me about 2 miles to loosen up. Just in time for my 4th trip up Power Line. Ouch.
I spent very little time at the aid station at mile 80 but learned that two of my fellow Windward runners had dropped.
As I was heading out for my last 20 miles, Kathy yelled out to me.
“Kevin! Do you want Margaret to pace for you?”
Margaret aparently expressed her concern as to whether she would be fast enough. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!!
We headed out and for the next 20 miles I was partnered with the difference between finishing and not finishing.
She started off with questions about how I would prefer that she treat me.
“I can be mean if you need me to.”
I told her I’d be mean enough and her encouragement would help the most.
I was right and she was great.
As it became apparent that I would need to hustle she started cajoling me gently to hurry. At the second visit to the aid station on this loop it appeared that I’d be in trouble for getting back to the start by 9 AM which was the cut off time for going out on the last loop.
Margaret thought that meant for the last full loop since it wouldn’t take 3 and a half hours to complete the last 7 miles.
She checked and the aid station volunteers radioed for confirmation.
The response was mixed. They would let me go back out if I made it before 10 AM. A clear indication that the cut off was, indeed, 9 AM but they realized 10 would still allow plenty of time for a finish.
Just after the confirmation, John Obst came running into the aid station.
“We’re trying to beat a cut off.” He had a pacer with him as well.
They told him the good news and he ran ahead.
Margaret and I took off a few minutes later. If memory serves we had an hour and 20 minutes to go 6 muddy miles.
“You need to try to go faster.”
I tried to race her, but Margaret had plenty of speed and probably didn’t even realize I was trying to out run her. Sigh.
As we neared the aid station even the 10 AM cut off was in doubt. Margaret took my bottle and we agreed that she would get food and I would run through the check in shoot.
We ran for about three quarters of a mile at about 9 minute pace. At least it felt that way.
After going through the shoot I back tracked to Margaret. The shoot volunteer told me to get going.
“Eat while you’re heading out so that at least your moving in the right direction.”
The last “sprint,” followed by the brief stop, provided an unwanted reminiscence from early in the race. Pain and stiffness started seeping into my knee. It made it a challenge to run at all.
When we hit the Power Line hill I was struggling. Little Margaret had to catch me, brace me and, on a couple of occasions, push me up the hill.
At the top Margaret again asked me to run.
When I was on the dryer portions of the trail I could run but the slipperiness of the ever present mud caused to much pain. I thought ahead to the mud slide ruts that I would be greeted with after the last aid station. I knew I’d have to find a way to run through or not finish.
I started shouting every time a muddy patch or a downhill section would come that would tempt me to slow. To add to the ambiance, automatic rifle fire could be heard from a nearby firing range.
Two weeks later, in the last 7 miles of the Georgia Marathon I used the same tactic. Spectators loved it and responded with exuberant cheers. It actually made me feel less crazy than running in the woods through deep mud with guns as the only backdrop.
Margaret would say in earnest, “You’ve earned that buckle! Don’t let it slip away!”
“You can do this, Kevin. We’ve got to hurry!”
POW!!! RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT!!! POW!!! POW!!!
“Kevin, you can swear if you need too. I won’t mind. You’ve got to go!!!”
I didn’t need to swear...
...but it was cathartic.
After an interminable amount of time we came off the trail and onto the road.
“Kevin, you’ve got to hurry!”
“Margaret, how far do we have to go?”
“Only another mile. Come on, Kevin, you can do this.”
“Margaret, we have less than a mile and a half an hour. I think I can do it.”
“Oh, so you can still do that math, huh?”
“Well I don’t want anything to go wrong right at the end. Try to hurry.”
I did. There seem to be some merit in finishing well anyway.
The final mud hill back into the start/finish area required additional assistance. I probably could have done it under my own power but Margaret would not be denied one more chance to push me around.
I finished at 29:44:33. The previous two finishers had finished a mere 10 minutes in front of me.
71 people signed up for the 100 miler, 54 toed the line and 17 finished. I was number 17.
I was handed a certificate for a new pair of trail shoes, a finisher’s shirt and the coveted buckle.
Thanks go to Tony and all the great volunteers. Thanks to Windward runner supporters who were quite generous with their time and resources.
Thank you, Isaksons and Savannah for your timely help.
Thank you, Patrick Bene.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Margaret Curio!
Thank you Kathy for being there to the end and for driving me home and for bringing my stuff in and for tolerating all the early morning runs and for a multitude of other things to vast to list.