After almost 5 years of constant writing, editing and successfully finishing 3 books, I needed a good break from writing. I’ve written a few blogs in that time, mostly on nutrition and a few race reports, but this past weekends’ race has inspired me to start again in earnest.
Those of you that know my story and my history might know that I have run in almost constant pain (varying from nagging to barely able to walk) from 3 separate Achilles tears over the span of 18 years, from 1999 – 2017. I had tried everything (PT, complete time off, massage, dry needling, acupressure, mega dose of anti-inflammatory meds, etc) to heal it and nothing really worked, in late 2016 I had basically given up and figured I would just run in pain until I fully ruptured it and then have the repair surgery.
Long story short, my Podiatrist recommended a procedure involving AmnioFix and I figured, what the heck, I’ll give one more thing a shot (I was in a lot of pain but not so much that it stopped my running so I refused to have surgery).
Well, this time I decided to REALLY commit to healing (instead of the normal ultrarunner mentality that we “know more than those non-running docs and we don’t need as much recovery time or rehab as they suggest”). To give you a prime example, the last procedure I had was High-Intensity Ultrasound and I decided since I would be laid up for a while I ran a tough 50K the DAY BEFORE the procedure. Needless to say, it didn’t work. This time I took a full 2 MONTHS off running BEFORE the procedure and a full 3 MONTHS off after. I mean REALLY off, no running at all. I also followed the EXACT instructions from the doc (poor guy gave me his cell number, bad move, I was texting him constantly with questions) in terms of rehab.
I have been running completely pain-free (in my Achilles) since mid-2017. I cannot explain what a blessing this is, anyone that is in constant pain, especially doing an activity they really love, will tell you it saps a ton of the joy out of it. I was always grateful that it wasn’t bad enough to stop my running completely (except on some random and infrequent occasions) but running without pain is just amazing and I feel SO blessed I have this gift again when I was sure it was gone forever.
Being pain-free, I, of course, loaded up my calendar with a bunch of races for 2017 and 2018. Again in typical ultrarunning fashion, I didn’t plan at all for these which caused way more than my normal “DNS” rate (“Did Not Start”). The only upside was I made an agreement with a friend that everytime we did this we would donate the amount of the entry to our church (yep, double down in financial pain for our mistake) unless it was a legit reason like injury or sickness – not being an idiot and signing up for a race and thinking, “this date really sounds familiar” and the reason for that was it was my daughters birthday (true story – sorry Peanut)!
On top of this, I had two miserable races that I had to DNF (a trail marathon where I tore my calf (one of the residual issues I have from 18 years of compensation with a torn and super tight Achilles is calf issues) and other where I stupidly toed the line for a super hot 50k about 7 days after major oral surgery being still on heavy antibiotics and painkillers. You would think I would remember something from Grad School about not running in the heat while on antibiotics, I remembered it when my heart rate was in the 180s while I was WALKING a 20-minute mile.
So, in 25 years of racing endurance events and over 300 finishes, I have had a total of 5 DNF’s and 2 of them happened last year. I also had multiple DNS’s, some for good reasons, most for not. I even had a few races that I love that I just got up in the morning and didn’t feel like going. Not like me at all, I began to wonder if 10 years in this sport was enough and it was time to move on. Ironic because even though I was really enjoying running (training) again with it being pain-free, I just had lost my mojo for racing.
Not a good pattern.
Back to redemption.
Mountain Mist 50K
In January of 2018 I was signed up for the Mountain Mist 50k, the site of my first ever ultra in 2009 and still to this day one of my favorite, if not my favorite, race of the year. I had a great race at the DRT 30k and continued with excellent training through the winter and felt the best I had in years for that race.
Then I got the flu.
I have only had the flu 2x as an adult and this was horrible. I couldn’t even go to cheer on my friends, really a bummer. But in the grand scheme of things not a real issue. I put it in perspective and moved on, but I vowed to be back!
Move on to 2019. I signed up for Mist again, and did as much training as I could (ended up only doing 3 long runs, 1 - 4 hour mountain run in December on my birthday and 2 mountain runs one 5 hours and one 6 hours) Some foreshadowing here, in the 5 hour and 6 hour runs I felt really good for about 4 hours then suffered from absolutely terrible cramps, in the 6 hour run they were so bad at one point I didn’t know if I could even walk it in. So this was on my mind heavily as Mist approached.
Based on my year in 2018, just getting to the starting line healthy would be considered a huge win – talk about low expectations! In the last 2 weeks I did hardly anything running wise, just stayed loose and away from sick people.
I was planning on driving to the race with friends (“OCD” David and “Banner” Troy), but some things came up at work and I didn’t want to mess up their schedule, so I decided to drive on my own. Truth be told, I REALLY love driving by myself, especially to races, it takes a ton of stress off me as I can operate on my own schedule, stop when I want, etc.
I got on the road at a decent hour and I had a good feeling about the weekend already as I felt great, none of the normal moodiness and “niggles” that occur with tapering and an overall peaceful and content feeling of being blessed to get to go to this race and be healthy! There was no traffic, my friends were able to pick up my race number and I pulled into the restaurant EXACTLY as they were being seated for dinner (they had been waiting 20+ minutes).
I’m telling you, this was going to be a good weekend.
We had a great dinner at Longhorn, I added some healthy carbs to my dinner to prepare for the long effort, and we were back at the cabin by 8 pm. Chilled for a bit and fell asleep by 9:30 pm!
And slept 8 hours solid!
This may not seem like a big deal to you, but I normally toss and turn the night before a race, especially in tight quarters with snoring friends, this was a miracle I tell you!
I woke up feeling refreshed, fantastic and, most importantly, EXCITED AND BLESSED to be racing. I hadn’t had this feeling in so long I had forgotten how awesome it was. I ate a full breakfast (I’ve been starting all my long runs fasted to take advantage of my fat adaptation being on keto but I didn’t want to be hungry in what could end up being an 8 hour effort) of eggs and bacon (no carbs, those would start 60-90 minutes into the race), 2 servings of pre-workout and I was ready to go!
Another factor that I forgot to mention, but my friends kept reminding me when I had a great day, was that I was doing “Dry-Uary” and had not had a drink in 26 days. I’m not a big drinker but, like most of my contemporaries, I had definitely overdone it over the holidays (which seem to last from Halloween to New Years now) and the break was much needed.
After how I felt this day, I may quit drinking forever!
One last motivating factor (although in reality very, very minor – even if we joke about it a ton) was that I was racing (again) with “OCD” David and have never beaten him in a race, since meeting him in 2014. We are pretty close in terms of times but he is in WAY better ultrarunning shape than me (the guy has done like 15 - 100 milers and just finished the Badwater 135 this past summer – a 135-mile road race in Death Valley, considered one of the hardest events on the planet)! He also goes out way to fast for me, which usually means he puts 10 minutes or so into me in the first 5-10 miles and that is usually the race.
Funny “sideways” insult that morning, OCD says “you know I am not feeling that well, I think I might just run with you today”. Ha! Why not just say, “you are slow as crap and even if I am not feeling well I can beat you”!
Got to the start with just enough time, I don’t like to have too much time to hang out and we timed this perfectly.
Again, things were “flowing” on all fronts.
I really had no plan for the race, except to start slow like I always do – I couldn’t care less about my time as long as I made it in by 8 hours 30 minutes and 59 seconds, the official cut off. I just REALLY wanted to finish this race, get some redemption for the past year (it had actually been 2.5 years since I finished an ultra, hence my feeling that these distances might be done for me).
I knew things were going to be different from my first step.
Normally, I feel like total crap for at least the first 45 minutes of all long runs. Sore, out of breath, don’t want to be there, etc. This race I felt GREAT from minute one.
We were running way too fast for my normal start and it felt effortless!
The first 6.7 miles to the first aid station went by in a blur, spent a lot of time in a long line of people much slower than me, having nice conversations, figuring it was a good way to hold myself back. Finally, I ran around the whole line I was in, I felt so good I wanted to take advantage of it. I was assuming, like every other ultra race I have done, the “struggle bus” would jump on my back eventually and wanted to get as much time ahead of the clock as I could before that happened.
“OCD race within the race” update #1: As usual, OCD dropped me in the first couple of miles, but he had a hydration pack malfunction so he had to stop and work on it at this aid station (secretly I think this is why I ended up beating him for the first time, he is so OCD he couldn’t stop thinking about this minor issue and it destroyed him mentally! HA, maybe I sabotaged the pack the night before, who knows……) so I caught up to him. I dropped him on the descent out of the aid station, but I figured he would be passing me soon enough.
My biggest worry was cramping, especially in my right calf which had been giving me so much trouble. I felt the “twinges” starting around 2 hours (wayyyyy too early) and was starting to worry – as usual, I tried my best to turn this worry into a prayer of gratitude to our Lord, you cannot be grateful and worried at the same time I have found). So then I land on a rock with all my weight in my toe, which stretches my Tibialis Anterior (front of Calf) so badly I saw stars. But it completely got rid of the pre-cramping feeling in my calf.
Never to be felt again.
New Calf cure noted!
Side note; I had also been putting essential oils on my calfs all week to reduce tightness and swelling, I am now a firm believer and happy my wife is selling them now!
OCD update #2: Around 11 mile the second aid station, got to see “Banner” Troy who was supporting us this weekend instead of running (he got a new job and has not had time to train – we all know how that is)! I dropped my layers on top and moved through quickly, he asked where OCD was (honestly at this point – until Troy asked about him - I figured he had passed me somewhere between 6.7 and 11 and I didn’t remember) – I said he is probably right behind me.
It's probably important to mention that the terrain conditions were some of the worst I had ever run on. It had been raining for weeks here and the mud was brutal. So hard to get a rhythm and actually run, but in theme with how this day was going, I had fun with it, accepted it and did the best I could.
Where was the struggle bus? When would it show up?
I was in such a perfect place physically, mentally and spiritually. I was even able to complete my “running rosary” with other people around me, which is normally too distracting for me. I dedicated it to all those who could not be at the race this day, and those having a really bad day.
OCD update #3: Got to the 17.something aid station and again, felt awesome, saw Troy (he said OCD was about 4 minutes behind me at mile 11 – what????) and moved through quickly, ate some frozen chocolate candy and that was a real treat – simple pleasures are important in ultras and in life!
The day just got better and better. I couldn’t believe when I passed 4 hours and still felt great. My mood was up the whole time, I was eating anything I wanted and had zero stomach issues (I pretty much expected this, those went away completely once I started eating an LCHF diet about 2 years ago), my legs were strong (getting tired on tough climbs but nothing like in other races) and my overall feeling of gratitude to our Lord was at its’ peak!
Final OCD update: Didn’t see Troy again till the mile 25ish aid station, this is at the top of the hardest climb in the race and I was STILL feeling fantastic (although the steep climbs did take a bit out of my legs). Troy later told me that I was one of the only people who was still in a good mood at this point! He told me OCD was 20+ minutes behind me at mile 17ish so, unless I totally fell apart in the next 6 miles I was going to finally beat him – again, not a prime motivator but just icing on the cake on a magical day!
I ended up beating him by about 50 minutes, I always told him for me to beat him would take his worst day and my best – he is still claiming he had pneumonia, Tuberculosis, flesh eating bacteria, Ebola and parasites that caused his lungs to stop processing O2 – ha ha!
I was able to finish, feeling super strong and never, ever, wanting the run to be over! I cannot remember that EVER happening in any endurance event I have done.
When I crossed the finish line, I had such a feeling of Joy, relief, pride, and redemption. I punched the air like I had just won the Western States 100!
I had proved to myself I can still do these long races if I choose to.
God had granted me as close to a perfect day as possible.
One week later my overwhelming feeling is still one of Joy and Gratitude.
What will I do next?
No idea, my gut tells me to only sign up for races like this that inspire me (Like Mist; I love the course, I love the weekend – it is like a reunion of southern ultrarunners) and definitely stop randomly signing up for races that “I might like or might work out in my schedule”. Right now I am going to enjoy the feeling of finishing what I started and let God lead me to what is next.