Thursday, June 23, 2011

Here comes the sun....100 miles in the Big Horn Mountains

“Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it's all right.”
The Beatles

As I come upon mile 82,  I sing out loud to this song playing on my iPod.  Fred, my pacer, joins in. We have escaped from the purgatory that is Dry Fork aid station (mile 76) and are on our way home. 

My journey to the Big Horn Mountains actually began about a year ago, when I vowed to do my second 100 mile race to celebrate my 40th birthday.   I had heard from several friends how stunning the Big Horn Mountains were, and the race date fell on the Saturday after my birthday- so it seemed fate. 

I started with Joe Prusaitis’ training plan on November the 8th and put in 1,482 training miles to get to the starting line.  Races on my journey included the White Rock marathon, Bandera 50K, Cross Timbers trail marathon, the Bull Run Run 50 Miler and a little training run in the Grand Canyon that took us 18 hour s and 45 minutes. 

This was to be my first mountain 100, one that I felt would prove that I could “hang with the big boys” J.  With Fred’s convincing and a detailed plan from Joe, we came up with an estimate of 32 hours for the race with a 2 hour window before the 34 hour cutoff.  In the week before race day they changed the course due to snow, and gave us an extra hour in lieu of the messy conditions.  All good news for me.  Still, it was hard for me to conceive that this race would take me at least 9 hours longer than Rocky Raccoon did. 

The fun began on the trip there.  After a short layover in Denver, we boarded the “Beechcraft  1900D- 19 seat Turbo Prop” from Great Lakes airlines. 
“How many barf bags do you have?” I asked Char.   We each had 2. 
The scenery into Sheridan was beautiful however, green and luscious, which made the trip on this paper airplane well worth it.

Fred, Char and I were picked up by the local Enterprise in our Chevy HHR rental, and headed to meet Gates and Janet who arrived on Wednesday to scope things out. 
The pre-race check-in was pretty uneventful, although I did trip on a curb after leaving my drop bags, which of course made for a few snide remarks from my teammates. 

I slept well that night, a blessing, and awoke to a text from my friend Jennifer.  She confided that she had been worried sick about me doing the race, but that she had a dream that Mike told her to “stop worrying…that he was going to be running with me.” 
Here comes the sun……it’s alright.

I won’t bore you with too many details of the actual race.  Yes, it was hard.  There was some serious climbing.  There was shoe sucking mud and my feet were always wet.  I had a headache for most of the race due to the elevation, and my legs looked like orange pulp after running through the shrub bushes. 
It was also amazingly beautiful.  We were blessed with perfect weather, and I met some cool cats along the way to talk to and laugh with. 

What I am still having a hard time wrapping my head around is why 4 people would invest so much of their time and energy in me so selflessly, in order for me to run 100 miles.  My crew and pacers deserve so much credit- more than I will ever be able to put into words. 
Gates and Janet were at every aid station they were allowed to go to- day or night.  They fed me, clothed me, washed mud off of my legs and feet, smothered me with body glide, gave me a sunscreen face massage, wrapped my gnarly toes, made sure I made it out of the bathroom ok, patted me on the pack and were amazing cheerleaders. 
Char is the angel that convinced  me that it was time to leave hell at mile 76, and that she would see me at the finish line.
Fred spent about 16 hours on his feet, mostly walking, dragging my ass.  He bargained, pulled, pushed, waited, complimented, encouraged and heckled me.  J
I am truly humbled that my friends would do all of this for me, and to them, I will be forever grateful. 
It’s always been hard for me to admit that I need help.  Perhaps it makes me feel weak, or out of control. 
A 100 mile race puts you in your place pretty quickly though, and as you surrender to others,it allows them to help you to grow. 

Its mile 92 and I start coming up with some analogies to describe my feet.
“My feet feel like they’ve been put through a meat grinder” I tell Fred.
“Or maybe a cheese grater......or a concrete mixer….”
“How about a paper shredder?” Fred chimes in.
“No, definitely a meat grinder” I conclude.    “It’s starting to get hot.  I think I’m really sunburned.”
“You’re 93 miles into a 100 mile race and you’re going to start complaining now?” he asks. 
“Yes, but I’ll stop complaining out loud if you would like” I reply with a smile. 

I do the old man- Tim Conway shuffle down the rest of the mountain and Fred tells me I have an hour and a half to go five miles and stay under 34 hours, the original cut-off.   Yes, I understand that seems like a piece of cake, but I was worried, so I started to walk for a minute, run for a minute.  Literally.  I counted in my head.
On the final stretch of road we see Gates coming towards us with his hands up. 
Here comes the sun…….
“You have 24 minutes left at this pace” he tells me.  We do run/walk fartleks to the finish line.  33:41.
My friends, food, and a cooler of cold Shiner are waiting for me.  I change out of my stinky clothes and sit.
It’s all right.

Monday, June 13, 2011

40 is the new ?????

I’ve heard it a lot recently…”40 is the new 20”, or 30, or (insert younger age here.).
Oh man- I sure hope not.

If 40 was the new 20 I would be self absorbed and lost, not knowing what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, or who I wanted to take on this journey with me. 

If it was the new 25 I would be new to the workforce- green and scared.   I would be making life changing commitments and moving away from the life I had always known. 

If 40 was the new 30 I would have two babies, and round- the- clock black circles under my eyes. 

If it was the new 35 I would be a workaholic- irritated, and irritating. 

40 is staying in the present.  40 is confident and strong.  40 is family, and friends and community.
40 is energy and passion.

40 is right where I belong. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What the hell was I thinking?

Pass me a big cup of “what the hell was I thinking?”

I picked the Big Horn 100 for two reasons.  One, it is held on the weekend after my 40th birthday and two- because everyone told me how beautiful it was. 
I have since learned a few things that maybe I should have taken a look at sooner:

1.        This race starts at 11:00 am.  Whose idea was that?  Everyone runs through the night, even though there is a high probability that no one will get a good night’s sleep the night before.
2.       According to the new website “this race is extremely challenging due to the rugged terrain of the Bighorn Mountains. The course, an out-and-back, is at elevations of about 10,000 feet.”
3.       Due to enormous amounts of snow, they may have to re-route the course so we don’t sink waist deep in snow at the top.
4.       Yet…. most of the race is out in the open, and it could be hot during the day.
5.       My estimated time to finish this race is about 32 hours- 9 hours longer than it took me to do Rocky. 

As the race draws near, I continue to question this challenge that I have chosen for myself, but the answer always comes back “would you have it any other way?”

Why am I doing this?  Because I can.