11am- Friday morning. Amanda and I are meeting Von and Brian Swanson at Olive Branch CrossFit so we can pick up Brian’s wife Carol and head to Mountain View, AR. for the Sylamore 50K/25K. I already had an emotional morning as Von had suggested that maybe we should take a different vehicle other than the Love Boat. I suspect he read my earlier blog post and was concerned about the transmission falling out. Von has become so spoiled that he feels like he needs luxury items, such as a transmission and torque converter, in order to travel. Honestly, I was conflicted, but feel like we made the right decision. Before leaving town we made the customary trip to Full Motion Running and Cycling to see Matt Hall and grab the necessities for the race. We grab some Gu, Honey Stingers, Salt Sticks, Full Motion shirts, and Nuun. Matt has my full attention when he shows me a newer version of the handheld water bottles that are a staple of my long runs. He points out the new and improved storage pockets by saying, “Beef, these got you written all over them. You can fit a sandwich in here.” I did not purchase them, but I will at some point. We stop at Red Fish to enjoy lunch and some conversation before we start the 4 hour haul. Our lunch date was the first time that I have had the opportunity to get to know Brian Swanson and wife Carol together on a personal level. Our lunch conversation only increases my excitement, as I am excited to get to know them better. I have heard Brian express how much he adores Carol and I enjoy watching them playfully interact. A large time was about to be had.
1PM. Road Trip! We hit the gas station and cash machine and we are ballin out. I grab 4 Big Sasquatch beef jerkys, cause lunch was like 10 minutes ago, and I am well on my way to becoming a sodium and coconut water balloon. The drive down there was so much fun for me. The conversation was flowing, and the humor was high. We know some of the most comical and unique people in the world that telling stories on them can go on for days. I am enjoying taking inventory of how I felt this time last year making the drive to Mountain Home, except without the snow and the ice. This was a different year. Not only was there not going to be snow and ice, it was going to get up to 74 degrees, which to me is HOT. Ideally, I would like about 40-45 degrees, but I don’t always get what I like, and we are not exactly going on a luxury cruise. In the grand scheme of things, everything on the mountain is set to be perfect.
5PM. Upon arriving to town we decide to pick up our bibs for the race. We then go to Wal-Mart to grab whatever it was that we were going to eat for dinner. I assume that we would get an assortment of bullsh*t food in the name of carb loading. I had imagined that oven pizzas or heat lamped burgers would be what we crammed down our pie holes the night before the race, but then again, I had never met Carol, so my assumptions were far from accurate. When we arrived at Wal-Mart, Carol grabbed a cart, and I grabbed one as well. “We will only need one cart. You can put that back.”, said Carol. Brian laughed as he explained that Carol was an assertive and “take charge” kind of lady. I don’t know exactly how I would describe her, but the words “very kind” and “totally badass” come to mind. Carol was nice enough to offer to cook dinner. Now, when I say she cooked dinner, I mean she COOKED DINNER. We had pan seared rib-eyes, mashed potatoes, spinach, and rolls. Holy Moly. It was picture perfect. I couldn’t imagine a better pre-race meal. Stomachs full and hearts content, we enjoyed some post dinner conversation and got off to an early bedtime.
4am. Race Day. Gosh damn, I am excited. I try and be somewhat quiet, but I really just want to yell and scream. I keep telling myself, “don’t be obnoxious. Let ’em wake up before you start licking their face and wagging your tail at em. Play it cool. Don’t be an obnoxious freak.” I do my best acting, and prepare my race day water jugs and fanny pack. Ibuprofen, salt sticks, nipple covers, body glide, and Tailwind are the most important things. I put 200 calories of Tailwind in individual ziplock bags and in my water bottles. I will drink 200 calories per hour of Tailwind and most likely a 100 calorie Gu. I will also cram as much sh*t as possible in my mouth at every aid station. The more food I can keep in, the better off I will be. Everyone in the house is up, but most are generally quiet. Brian, Von, and Amanda each say that they could take a nap, not me though, I’m wired for sound.
6:20. We arrive at Anglers Restaurant where the race will start 7am. We shake out our nerves and talk to the other runners that we know from home. Sylamore has a huge Memphis presence, so you don’t have to look far to find a friend. Everyone is stoked about the lack of snow and ice, but nervous about the heat. We gather at the starting line, and after a few announcements, we are off.
7am. It’s go time. There is no turning back now. Barring an injury (which is entirely possible), there is no way out of the next 31 miles. There is not anyone among our group who was born with the “uncle button”. Although it is not illegal to just walk off and quit a race because of fatigue, it is not acceptable. I knew what I was signing up for, and I made the decisions that I made leading up to it. I can’t help but think that my decision to finish the races I start might someday, in some way, have an influence on my children’s decisions to stand up or cower down when they hit difficult patches in their lives. It was going to be a long day, but it was going to be a good day, I felt sure of it. I kept telling myself to relax. My eyes felt like they were bulging out of my head like I was running from some guy in a hockey mask. I needed to take deep breaths and enjoy, this was supposed to be fun. We hit the creek crossing at about 1 mile or so, and it is wet and cold. The water comes to about mid-thigh, I believe. TooTall Wilkinson had sent out some pictures of him on a white rafting adventure, posting as if it was the creek to be sure and spread the wild rumors of head high rapids. He told me that I would probably be the only runner not washed away and spit into the White river. We make the climb up the stone steps and we are in running territory. I’m extremely pleased that the snow and ice were off the trail, but it also had its downside. It’s one thing to feel someone’s heartbeat, it’s entirely different to watch an open heart surgery. My point is this, seeing what was underneath that snow and ice, might have looked better underneath snow and ice. This sh*t was dangerous. Amanda had not felt good all day, and it concerned me greatly. I began to worry about her, and even shouldering the misery. I wasn’t sure how to handle it, but I knew she would bounce back, cause she always does. We made it through the first aid station unscathed, and were all in one piece. A few pb&j’s and a brownie added to the energy of an already energetic day. At about mile 8 the fun really began. The pack had thinned and there was no one within eye view or earshot. Amanda was probably about 20 feet behind, so it was just us. She made the statement, “I never thought that I would have to work this hard for a glass mug” (a mug is your prize for finishing). I responded that, “I never thought I would have to work so hard to keep beer out of that mug.” Right about then was when it hit me. That was the moment when it felt like God himself had sat down right on my shoulder and said, “how’s it going you big sexy animal?”. Everything was right with the world. I was sober, my legs were strong, my marriage was healthy, my kids were happy, my friendships were real, the day was beautiful…. and a hot shower, big dinner, and soft couch was only 23 miles away. Head down, feet up, attitude good, and let’s keep motorin away at it. Keep churnin diesel, keep churnin.
We passed the second aid station at about mile 11 and I was excited about starting to see the faster runners heading my way after they had hit the turnaround. I realize it is not much, but just being able to bump knuckles and exchange encouragement with a friend on the trail is proof to me that this life is about connections, and we are not made to be alone. We come to an old, leaning, wobbly bridge and before I even saw him, I heard James Holland, coming from the opposite direction yell, “no fu*king way I am getting on that bridge at the same time as Wilson.” It was funny, but it was also very, very smart, cause this bridge was rickety, to say the least. As the miles ticked passed, I was evermore grateful for the strength in my legs. I don’t run very often, but I do a lot of strength work. I was enjoying the uphills more than the down, as I like the feeling of my glutes locking in and feeling the reserve of energy that they contain. The rest of my running skills, well they are pretty much sh*t. I’m too heavy and I don’t run enough, but that is all correctable, if I should really choose to correct it. Fortunately speed is not a requirement. Brian Williams comes rocking past me in an alternate direction and he is all smiles. He is barreling through it, and I was happy to see him enjoying himself, as his latest 100mile run has given him a hangover. I then saw Kiran, who is my spiritual twin brother. I accosted him with a hug, and was happy that I did it. He is really fu*king fast and has goals to meet, so it’s nice that he would take the time to acknowledge me. Von, Denari (who always makes it look easy), Sherpa, TooTall, Andy and others, all right there within a few miles of each other. A lady running close by said,”good God, do you know everyone out here.” I said, “no, but I try to get to know everyone I can. These people have all been supportive in allowing a fat, slow guy into their community.”
Before we knew it, we were at the turnaround point. 15.5 miles in, and my watch read 4hours 4 minutes. They were shutting the time clock off at 9 hours, so it was important to me that I made that deadline. I started to get a little bent outta shape because I had a blister on the pad of each of my feet, my hips were really screaming, and something in my heel was really fu*ked up. I was frustrated and wanted to empty the sand and rocks from my feet, but I wasn’t sure that I was capable of getting my shoes back on my feet, so I decided to go with it. About the time I started feeling negativity creep in, I saw Kathy Kramer. If anyone has ever run strictly for the joy of running, it’s Kramer. She was tickled to be out there, and her attitude is always good, so she was a good reminder that I needed to be enjoying what I was experiencing. It really was a beautiful day.
We hit the second to last aid station and we were all ok. A gentlemen who ran almost as awkwardly as I do, who was absolutely dying at mile 3, came barreling past us just after the aid station. I moved to his right, and he said, “I’m gonna give it a shot”. This sonofabi*ch was supercharged. Turns out, he passed 14 people during the last 8 miles. I guess this guy must have rubbed off on Amanda, or else she was just THAT ready to be finished, because she picked up her pace considerably. We arrived at the final aid station with 1hour 50 minutes left to go 5.5 miles. It sounds easy while reading on the other side of the computer, but on this day, on this terrain, it was gonna take all I could muster. Amanda asked if she should wait for me, as she was ready to rock, and I encouraged her to bounce as fast as she could. I was running every bit of terrain that I possibly could, but the rocks and the unevenness of the terrain was making it very difficult. My feet had not ever been in this bad of condition, and each step felt like someone was rubbing a cheese grater along the bottoms of my feet, and nailing re-bar into my left heel. Where was the fu*king creek? It had to be coming up. My memory was vague of last year, but I remember asking this same question. FINALLY the creek was in sight, and I slowly maneuvered the rocks and treacherous terrain down the descent. I hit the creek, and wow, it was cold, but refreshing. I believe I am about a mile away and my watch says I have 12 minutes. There is a huge incline to the service road leading up to the highway. I can hear my brain trying to downplay the significance of making the 9 hour clock. I just really don’t think I can run any harder, I think I could black out. I’m not sure if I need to turn right or keep going. I don’t have time to make a logistical error, not even the slightest one. Hell, I don’t have time to tie my shoe. All of my reason is leaving me, my chest is beating so hard I think its about to pop, and I feel like I am going to cry. I get that feeling that comes when walking from second period to third, when you remember that you forgot to do your homework. I’m completely falling apart. My watch says I have 2 minutes, but I’m not entirely sure of its accuracy. Had they started the clock at 7am? Is my math even adding up? Is all of this even real? About that time, I hear a blistering yell, followed by more yells, and I knew where I was. I knew there was more time because of their tone. I also knew the time was running out. They were yelling at me against the clock. I couldn’t believe that all this excitement was generated for some fat fu*k who is on the verge of missing the clock. Lorrie Williams has literally ran across the highway and is screaming at the top of her lungs for me to “MOVE, MOVE, MOVE” she says. “YOU CAN NOT STOP. YOU WILL NOT STOP.” The emotions that ran over me with of all the people yelling was as touching of an experience as I have ever had. I ran across the finish line at 8hours 58minutes and 33 seconds. Brian told me that I would have had time for two more cookies at the last aid station. Everyone said their congratulations, they gave me a chair, allowed me to settle down and the last thing I remember was my friend playfully exclaiming….”SANDBAGGER.”
If you were there, if you were at that finish line…I’m not even going to waste my time or yours trying to adequately thank you in words for what that moment meant to me. I felt as if God himself was congratulating me on being worth a sh*t, if only for a small portion of my life. The rush, the release, and the relief was as pleasant of a feeling as I have ever had. That was a moment that will be forever etched into my mind as pure and wonderful memory when all was right with the world. Thank you.
Peace, Love, and all things Beef related,