I’ve been putting this off all summer long and now I am finally finding the free time to sit down to get this done. I have really wanted to write this sooner but I felt like and even still feel like I am wrapping my mind around the whole event. But since time has passed, a lot of the small details have faded from my memory. And writing a complete report seems exhausting in itself.
Because of that I don’t want to have this long and drawn out. I don’t want to bore people with what went on mile to mile. For those few that are genuinely interested in the small things like what I ate at certain times. Or how many shoe changes I did. Or how many times I put Vaseline on my webbles (haha! Surprisingly only once). Or what kind of sports drink I was using. Or if I had any hallucinations. Please ask away!
I’d like to start this thing off a few weeks prior to the race. I had been reading articles and blogs about what to expect in your first 100 miler and how to be better prepared for it. A common factor that came up was about having family crew for you.
Just about immediately after I registered for the race, my parents volunteered and starting planning their trip there. The main thing that I was reading was that since your family knows you best, the moment they see you’re falling apart they might want to pull you. I wasn’t worried too much and my dad, but my mom was going to be the person with he most concern.
So a few weeks before the race I sent them an email with a link to one of the articles I frequently read and I said in it “no matter how bad I look, you can’t let me quit.” That’s all I said and I meant it. We never brought it up but I was pretty sure they knew I wanted this really bad.
Going into the race I didn’t have a strategy as far as how often I wanted to stop. I know that no matter what you plan, the plans will always change. At the race orientation that director gave everyone a support crew sheet.
It outlined where crews could stop, where they would have water coolers, and where they would have a fully stocked aid station. Looking over the sheet the night before the race I came up with a simple plan. The race had water every 5 miles and every 10 miles they had aid stations. I decided because of the heat that my parents should leap frog all the stops. I put a star on the sheet everywhere I wanted them to be. This set it up so that I would stop every 2.5 miles roughly.
I gave the sheet to my parents just minutes before the race started. Kind of gave them a run through as to what everything meant that I’ll be saying during the race when I come up to the to refuel. Things like GU, S-Caps and Accelerade. Then they took of in their truck to the first place I had starred on my list. I did some light stretching and some breathing exercises to get my mind mellowed out.
We took off just before sunrise. My goal was to go as slow as possible for as long as possible. The usual small chit chat among the runners went on during the first few miles. Where you from? How many hundreds have you done? Just small talk.
This year, we “lucked out” with the weather. Previous years have seen temps close to one hundred. This day we were treated to mid 80s. I was sucking down fluids quick. My plan of having a stop every 2.5 miles was just about perfect. In just that time I was close to finishing my handheld. I viewed this race more as a battle of staying hydrated and keeping my food down.
Things were going to plan until about mile 23. There was supposed to be a cooler with ice and water provided by the race. When I got to that point the sun was beginning it’s beating and I was about to finish my water that I had on me. There was a race sign saying water/ice but nothing was there. Nothing to do but keep moving on. My dry as hell mouth was happy to see my parents a few more miles down the road.
About 30 miles into the race my parents were the ones that went off the plans. I wanted them to stop before going over a bridge that was about 2 miles long. Really the only rule for crew support during the race was that you cannot stop on any bridges to aid runners. I needed water but didn’t see my parents before the bridge. Luckily though another crew vehicle was right next to the road. I asked them if they had a water bottle I could have and thankfully they tossed me an ice cold bottle.
I still had a little bit in my bottle but it was getting to the point where I needed to start pouring water on my head to cool off. I used the cold stuff to toss on me and took baby sips of what I had left. Once I crossed the bridge my dad was parked a little beyond where everyone else was. I was yelling to him to bring me water and a GU but he was insistent on me crossing the road to him. When I got over there in frustration he said he didn’t like how crowded it was at the beginning of the bridge. I told him he couldn’t do that shit anymore and I changed the plans to have them stopping as frequent as possible.
I was going through a lot of water because of how much I was pouring over my head and it was paramount to stay on top of being hydrated. He agreed to stop more often and not pass up any opportunities for me to refuel.
About in the middle to late 30s I was starting to bog down. I had to take my first walk break to regroup and calm my heart rate down. I was doing about 10-20 seconds breaks per mile then.
Somewhere in the early 40 mile range, we entered what was called “Hell’s Tunnel” of the course. The path was surrounded on both sides by very high shrubbery. And that blocked any air flow for about 4 miles or so. This part really beat me down. It was hot as shit during those miles and my walking breaks became more frequent. I was starting to feel my first real low of the race.
I came up to a crew car that was all by itself. They just decided to make a random stop for their runner. Fine by me because I could bum off of them. When I walked up the lady said “want some pop?” “Excuse me?” I replied because what I heard was “want some pot?” “Pop? Soda?” “Haha! I thought you said pot, no thank you but do you have any water?” I gratefully took a fresh bottle and went on my way laughing.
I kept on but then at mile 52 I was mentally washed out and gone. Drained and dragging ass. I walked the entire next mile. The whole time I was walking I decided I needed to call someone to pumped me up and basically call me a big pussy. I had it planned that I was going to call my running store that I worked at and talked to my manager or some friends that were working. When I got to the mile 53 stop at my parents truck, I sucked down a gel and grabbed my phone.
I dialed my coach instead. “Joey, what’s going on?”
“Oh man, I’m at mile 53 and I’m wiped out. I need some motivation.”
At this point I started to feel awful. Like my head was spinning and I could feel the blood drain from my face.
“When’s the next aid station?” He asked.
“In 7 miles. We have to run over a bridge that’s 7 miles long and no one can stop on the bridge.”
“What time is it there? Is there still day light?”
“Yeah, it’s coming up to 5 now.”
At this point. I’m leaning on a cooler with my elbow and my face planted in my palm.
“Great! You still have plenty of time to get across the bridge before it gets dark. Just keep moving. You got this!”
I start mumbling something and realize I probably don’t sound coherent. I hear a small crash on the ground, but nothing registers in my head. I keep on babbling for a minute. Then I notice has hasn’t responded and my hand is empty that was holding the phone. I look down and see it in pieces. All of the sudden I’m lights out.
I come to a few seconds later. My dad caught me before hitting the ground. He sits me down in a chair and I start munching on watermelon and drinking chicken broth. My legs are throbbing and twitching. My mom starts to rub my legs. All I want to do at that point was to fall asleep but I was just a few miles over halfway.
Then all of the sudden my calf locks up, I jump out of the chair and scream fuck at the top of my lungs. Gritting my teeth I try to work out the cramp. My mom pushes my foot towards me to help reduce the pain. Slowly the cramp fades and once it does my other calf seizes up. I’m rolling around in misery screaming in utter pain.
Once that one went away I rested on the ground. Trying to find the motivation in me to to get up. Feeling absolutely broken I wish the pain away. Then both quads and both calves clench up and have me yelling at both of my parents to help massage my legs. I had never had that happen before and wish it on no one.
I didn’t know if the pain would ever stop. My legs start to feel less and less like they are about to kill me. I start to wonder if I’m going to need an IV to get me back to normal. My dad gives up on rubbing one leg and my mom continues on with the other. Then my dad said as he stood over me, “well you’re gonna have to get going some time.”
We laugh to this day about the look I give him. I wanted to punch his face so bad but I also knew he was right. He helped me up and we walked around the parking lot together. My legs were so stiff that I could barely bend them.
I didn’t know if I was going to cross the bridge before nightfall or not so I went ahead and put on my required night gear. I reflector vest and safety lights on the front and back of each runner.
On 7 Mile Bridge the race set up cones to block the oncoming traffic from entering on the shoulder where we were running. I decided I would run to one come them walk to the next. Then repeat. I started to find my groove again. Slowly.
With a few miles left on the bridge, I decided to run through two cones and walk to one. Extending my running periods. This was working very well for me. Once the bridge ended the cones went away. I started using the power lines as my mini goals.
The sun started to sink into the horizon. Watching the sky turn from gold to dark was absolutely wonderful. But darkness laid ahead for me. I honestly was hoping to be further along on the course to minimize me time in the dark. I had no idea how I was going to handle it. Was I going to start sleep running or have bad hallucinations?
Almost the opposite happened. The traffic started to die down. The Stars started coming out and I could finally hear the ocean waves to my left. It felt incredibly peaceful. My body was falling in tune with my surroundings. The gentle waves I could hear were setting my rhythm.
I stuck with to my new plan of running a certain number of power line poles and walking one. I estimate from my time it took me to run them that I was running close to .7 or .75 of a mile and walking the rest.
Something amazing I loved about running at night was that the ground lit up almost like the starry sky. There were these bugs that looked like they had alien eyes. Whenever you get close to them, a groups of them would light up. Late in the night I asked other runners if they noticed them and no one had. I wasn’t hallucinating them! After the race I looked them up online and found out that the Keys have this bug, that has these two oval shaped spots on its back that light up. Pretty much like a lightning bug.
Things were going as smooth as possible. Even though my feet were throbbing and legs were just in a constant pain. I think one thing that really helped me in this race to not feel even more shitty, was that I never knew what time it was. I ran with a watch, but once the race started I only looked at my overall chronological time. I never switched the mode back to the real time. If I knew it was only midnight when I thought it was two or something I think mentally I would have broken down. All I knew was that it was late. I had a good idea as far as mileage, but I took it one power line at a time.
Then mile 84 came and I felt like I couldn’t run another step. I walked this mile entirely, first time doing that since the mile before I passed out before. I got to mile 85 and my parents were waiting for me. I grabbed a two liter of Coke and leaned up against the passenger seat.
“I don’t feel good again. I’m exhausted.”
My mom told my dad to hurry over because she said I looked like I was about to pass out again. Right when he got here I was out and came to in his arms again. And like before he helped me in chair. I started to feel cold so my mom put a fleece jacket on me. I knew what worked well for me after my first blackout, so I downed a few salt pills, drank some chicken broth and had a few chunks of watermelon. The first incident had me out of commission for close to an hour. This time I was out of the chair and back running in 15 minutes. And no leg cramps!!! That was such a relief!
A few miles down the road and crew member for another runner, cheered to me as I ran by “only a half marathon left!” Fuck you was all I thought.
The crazy thing though, after that I started to feel great. Almost like I did at the start of the race. My mom started to noticed my pace was picking up. They were barely waiting at each stop before I came running up.
I was really wanting to run more and more power lines. But I didn’t want to do anything too soon, I still had a long way to go. I was nearing the 23 hour mark into the race. Before the race I was thinking a 22 hour finish was doable. But with two times of blacking out, I only wanted to finish.
Doing the math for me to break 24 hours, I knew I would be real close. I went for it.
With about 8 miles to go and a few minutes over an hour to go, I gave it my all. I left my parents at an easy jog. I first wanted to see if I could run continuously. Once I hit a mile, I gunned it. Another mile later I saw my parents again since two miles back. My mom was waiting close by the road for me. Fully expecting me to stop and the parking lot they were in, she was shocked when I yelled “have dad run and give me a water and a GU!”
She took off to tell me dad. He ran up towards the road and saw that I was gone. I powered on knowing they would pull up beside me at any moment. They came up next to me, I tossed my handheld in through the window and my mom passed me a fresh bottle and a GU.
At the next stop I blew passed them. I was just a few miles away from the finish. This was the first time I was passing anyone. Really I spent most of the race alone. It was pretty uplifting to be passing some relays teams too.
We had been running straight the entire race and when we hit Key West we finally made our first turn of the course, with only a couple of miles to go. Every crew vehicle I was passing was yelling and cheering me on. My parents mentioned to some that it was my birthday and quickly that spread around. Everyone was wishing me happy birthday and tell me I was doing awesome.
My pace never faltered. I was certain I was going to break 24 hours. I felt I was so close to the finish. I came up to a turn and saw a guy who looked like he had already finished. “How much further?” I asked. “Maybe half a mile.”
I looked down at my watch and thought it was in the bag.
A minute later a guy came running up to me. I mistook him for someone I ran with earlier in the day. I asked what his finishing time was. The guy was confused and said he was a race volunteer to run me into this finish. “How much further do we have?” “A little less than a mile.”
Still running hard I looked at my watch. Just a few minutes left til the 24 hour mark. He kept telling me just around the corner, but the finish never seemed to appear.
Finally it was in sight but I could see the clock was a minute past 24 hours. That didn’t stop me from having a strong finish.
24:02 was my time. I didn’t know how I would react at the finish of a hundred miler. I kind of thought I would break down in tears of joy and accomplishment. But those emotions never came. Honestly I was a little down I didn’t break 24 hours.
A few minutes after crossing the line my parents showered me with champagne and had a birthday cake ready with candles for me to blow out. Then the feelings of satisfaction came to me. I couldn’t really believe it was all over and that I made it through to the end.
I ate very little after finishing. All I wanted to do was sleep! Within an hour of finishing I had showered in the beach public bathroom and was dead asleep in my parents camper. I only napped for two hours, then I was up like I had a full nights sleep ready to drink the day away.
Like I said in the beginning, I am still collecting my thoughts about everything that went on that day. I definitely could not have done it alone and my parents were absolutely awesome at everything they did for me. I would of had to been shoveled off the road if they weren’t there. Not only did they get me everything I needed in the race they didn’t let me quit when I looked like death. I don’t think anything major can be accomplished alone now.
After learning the lesson of nutrition in my 50 miler I did in March, I learned the lesson of mental strength during his race. I fully believe, from my experience, that beyond a certain level of physical training, it’s all mental. In the right frame of mind you can do anything if you’re ready. You can’t focus on the finish miles down the road. You can’t even think about a few miles down the road. You have to focus on the now. Because now is all that matters. Keeping a present mind is one of the most important things in an ultra and in life.
Another thing I learned was that no matter how bad you feel it will eventually get better. It might not be immediate, it with patience the time will come for better times. I really didn’t think I was going to take another step laying on the ground at mile 54. But taking it one step at a time I was able to run my fastest splits at the tail end of the race. Even in life when you don’t want to keep on, just know it will only get better soon. Believe me, I’ve felt at times in life not wanting to continue on but happiness is around the corner. It’s always darkest just before the dawn.
This race has taught me anything is possible if you want it bad enough. I can take many lessons from this race into real life with me. Ultra running has only made me a better person by far.
This race was back in May and it’s almost November. So where is my running now? What are my next running goals?
My plan after the race was to take a month completely off and pick it back up with a 50k in my sights. But since then I’ve had a really hard time finding the motivation to get up and run. I even spent a lot of time wondering where this blog would go. Would I write about all of the 100s I wanted to do? Would I write about chasing my dreams of running Western States? I didn’t really know.
Now that I’ve had a lot of time to think over things, I really do want to run more 100s. I have no idea when though. I had no idea where I would end up after my summer in Wyoming and now I have no idea where I’ll be in a month. Finding a goal race is difficult because of that. Which not having a goal leads to not having much motivation.
The thought of training for another right now in my life doesn’t sound appealing at all. The thought of running over single digit miles doesn’t even excite me at this moment. Running 30 minutes to an hour has kept me satisfied for the time being. I guess I’m slightly burned out.
I love writing but I don’t think I want to continue on with a running blog. Who knows though. Maybe in a month I’ll find the inspiration to sign up for a race and evolving this blog. My current thought process though is that this will be my last blog post here.
I’ve caught the travel bug and I have a new adventure brewing in my head. Since returning home from this wild summer, I’m having a really hard time sitting still with nothing to do. My mind is wondering in new dreams and journeys. Running is such a selfish sport. As proud as I feel, I also feel like I missed out on things. I’ll forever be grateful for who I became during my training and race, but I feel that there are new things out there for me to explore. Mountains to climb and waves to be surfed. I’m ready for a new journey.
I want to thank everyone for following along on this part of my life. I had no idea if anyone would read this but I’m nearing 600 followers. It was awesome reading everyone’s personal journeys as well. The running community in this blog world is amazing. I felt like I really became friends with a lot of you, as we all opened up and shared our running experiences even though we were worlds apart.
I only think it would be appropriate to end this blog since the whole idea was about my first 100 miler. Thanks again everyone. Keep on dreaming, keep on living to the fullest and never give up. Chase your dreams! Because it will take you to amazing places, you’ll meet the most wonderful people in this wonderful world we live in.