February 21, 2015
***Before I begin my race report, I would like to give my sincerest thanks to Brian Williams, who took time from his own training, family, and life to guide me along this path. He actually ran with me, at my pace, while educating me on nutrition, strategy, and the physiology of ultra marathon running. The encouragement and positivity was overwhelming, while the miles, stairs, short runs, and long runs were nauseating. There were so many days that I prayed that you would become wrapped up in your everyday life, and forget about me, but every morning, without failure, you were there to provide guidance, hope, and a big pain in my ass. I love you, my friend, and will never forget what you did for me, while asking nothing in return. When I told you during a poor performance that, “today, is just not my day”, you responded with “everyday you show up is your day….if you show up, you win. It’s your day.” This, and the F-word, has echoed in my head throughout this journey.
Tim Wilkinson, this would have been a pipe dream had you not had the patience to act as my tour guide through the trails at Sylamore. Your experience, positivity, and overall calmness proved invaluable. You had no reason to do what you did, as I was a complete stranger to you just 2 weeks ago, but you did it anyway, and I am forever thankful.
Von Ralls, your “Lift Heavy Run Long” program gave me the legs to continue churning up and down a thousand hills, but your attitude gave me the spirit. It was not only the things you said to me, but the things that you shared with others, that gave me confidence. You, at no time, expressed other than 100% confidence in the fact that I would finish, scoffers be damned.
David Lomax, your laid back style of running has made running, at times, seem easy and enjoyable. Your ability to keep it simple has been inspirational. Anyone who can casually stroke out 10 miles, pop his trunk and knock back a sandwich with a couple Marlboro’s, then kick out 10 more miles is a hero in my book. If the trail trees could talk, we would not be free men.
Amanda, you have been rock solid throughout, and never believed that anything but a finish was even an option. Your mental fortitude and natural athletic ability is inspiring. Your hard headed, tough nosed approach to whatever is placed in front of you, has been a great example of how to go about things like this. You have listened to my negativity, fears, and doubts, and discarded them all as bullsh*t that will be proven with time. I thank you for being my biggest fan, and my best friend.
To my friends, family, and members of Olive Branch CrossFit, I so much appreciate the texts, phone calls, and FB messages. I don’t know how I could feel anymore loved and supported. My life has been enhanced tremendously, just on the kind sentiments shared, and the encouragement given.***
If I am going to paint an accurate picture of what the Sylamore 25K/50K was really like, then I feel compelled to start from the beginning. Our crew had every intention of leaving on Friday to get rested up before the race on Saturday morning. However, there was some pretty bad weather, both in Olive Branch and our destination of Mountain View, AR. Myself, Amanda Kimsey, Brandon Reilly, and David Lomax were going to be Presidentially escorted in the lap of luxury, by way of my 1998 Chevy Suburban, affectionately known as The Love Boat. We were planning to caravan with Von Ralls and Greg Perry. Admittedly, the weather was far from ideal, but this race HAD TO HAPPEN! I have simply worked too hard, and could not imagine another week of Brian’s masochistic style of training. The only thing that was going to provide me with any relief was going to be to finish this God forsaken 50K, or to die trying. Greg had found a window of opportunity by which to jump out of the race, but I would be none too forgiving. Below is Greg’s weak ass attempt to jump ship:
Von later shared with me that he fully expected me to be knocking on his front door within the hour, and knew there was no getting out of this one. My desire to complete the Sylamore had little to do with excitement, and everything to do with fear and exhaustion. The training had been agonizing for the Beefcake. Death or diarrhea were the only things that would keep me off that mountain, and per Brian’s advice, I had loaded up on Immodium.
As I have stated before, there are two ever-present forces in my life, which are constantly at play. These are Murphy’s Law, and God’s Grace. Granted, my decision making probably does much to lube the wheels of Murphy’s Law, but there is no denying that God is one helluva reliable bail bondsman. Having Greg finally come to his senses, we were off and running, voluntarily heading westward, into the belly of the beast. Greg and Von were in Greg’s car, while the rest of us were styling in The Love Boat. Armed with three douchebags, one smoking hot girl packing heat, 3 days of luggage, a CPAP machine, one hemorroid, one ulcer, 2 packages of nip strips, 8ounces of body glide, 4 smartass tongues, and a wealth of knowledge regarding life’s mysteries, such as the construction of duck calls, and how to successfully hold the title belt after winning at Wrestlemania, we could not lose. Assuming Amanda did not spill the extra quart of oil or the extra gallon of antifreeze which conveniently ride shotgun in The Love Boat at all times, and providing the rear passenger tire continued at the ALMOST unnoticeable slow leak pace, what could possibly go wrong? The knowledge bombs dropped over the next four hours proved invaluable, and the laughs were plentiful. I assured everyone that if they did not have a faith in some kind of God or force at this point, then they most certainly would after a weekend with me…. I would be proved prophetic.
Greg and Von arrived early enough to go to the grocery store and pick up everyone’s race packet before we got into town. That is when we got the call. Greg and Von had seemingly run into a bit of trouble while trying to make it up to our cabin. It seemed that the house sat atop a very steep hill, and said hill was a sheet of ice. They had tried to park the vehicle and make it on foot, but even that proved both difficult and dangerous. The arrival of nightfall was not going to make this any easier. Upon receiving Greg’s phone call, I was instantly offended at the harshness of his words, and the way he disrespected, not only myself and the other passengers, but also his lack of respect for The Love Boat. Now, what Greg and Von will testify as to what was said, went something like this:
“the driveway is simply too steep and icy to travel by vehicle, or even foot. We need to look for other accommodations.”
But, what we heard was:
“You buncha pussies don’t have what it takes to make it to the top of the hill, and there is not a set of balls between you, if you don’t at least throw that piece of sh*t into 4-wheel drive and give it all you have.”
So, at the bottom of the hill with the Boat in 4-wheel drive, I surveyed the passengers. As if the three of them had been rehearsing this moment their entire lives, when I asked what they thought, all at once, in perfect harmony, my crew melodically bellowed, “FU*K IT”, and up the hill we went. We had traction and momentum, and the quickest way back down the hill would have been to let off the throttle. We were at such an incline, that we could barely see over the hood. It was like we were in a rocket ship preparing to blast into orbit, which, truth be known, we were in a bucket about to roll off the side of a cliff. The road came to a Tee and I yelled, “LEFT OR RIGHT”, and I heard 2 lefts and 1 right, so I veered left. It proved to be correct and we had arrived at the top of the hill. Being that we never even said hello to Greg and Von, they were stuck at the bottom of the hill. All logic would tell me to unload all of our luggage before we went back down the hill, but no logic would be used this day. Brandon and I dropped off David and Amanda, as we began our descent down the mountain. After going about 3 feet, we began sliding down the hill, being controlled by nothing but God’s grace. We bounced off 2 small levees, slid about 60feet, and finally decided to park the Boat and approach the house on foot.
The video is hard to see, but you might be able to get an idea of not only the conditions, but also the kind of a*sholes that I have to deal with. You will have to go to my facebook page to view it. It is really pretty funny. Anyways, after gripping, clawing, sliding, and army crawling our way up the hill, we crammed down some pizzas and went on to sleep.
Race day, 5am, we were all up and preparing for the 8am 50K start, and the 9:30am 25K start. The race had been delayed one hour to hopefully allow for some better trail conditions. There would be no such luck. Our plan was to take two cars to the race. Greg and Von were in front and we were following behind. The gravel road was still very icy and we were sliding quite a bit. Finally, Greg hit a spot where he was steady spinning. We all got out and began to push. Being the thoughtful gentleman that I am, I allowed Amanda to stand in front of me, so that Greg could fling a load of mud and gravel from her waist down. At first we felt bad, but quickly remembered that we were in for an entire day of mud, gravel, and ice. Basically the 4 of us had managed to get Greg turned sideways, and our biggest concern was if we could get around his truck, which was clearly stuck. There was no way out for Mr. Perry. If he cut right, he was screwed, and if he cut left, he was f*cked, and we began to accept our predicament. But, true to from, when all the chips were down, Greg pulled the proverbial chain from his tights, and threw flour into the eyes of the formidable opponent and impressed us all with…The Power Perry. A risky maneuver that could have buried his vehicle in the bank for a prolonged period of time, turned out to be what freed him. We decided to park Greg’s vehicle in a safe spot and ride together in one vehicle. Strong move Mr. Perry, strong move…STRONG.
We did not have much time to spare upon arrival at the race site. We all gave our high fives, knuckles, kisses, and hugs. Then off we went, into the great unknown. Everything felt good, and seemed to be working properly. The road was relatively clear, and I could not see any real problems, until, of course about .25 miles into a 31 mile race, I saw what would be the next 10hours and 22minutes of my life. Holy Mother of God! It was ice, all ice. Some snow, but mostly ice. I kept telling myself, if I can make it through this next little bit, then the trail will thaw out and it will be smooth sailing. This would not be the case. As we went through the dreaded Sylamore Creek crossing, I was afforded the opportunity to get my shoes and socks frozen solid, which would remain that way for the rest of the day. I kept telling myself that if I could make it to the 1st aid station, then things would be smoother, and the trail would be clear. I was expecting the temps to rise and the rain to melt the ice. I am not sure where I was mentally, but it wasn’t particularly good or bad. It was more like I was shell-shocked. I could not believe that this was happening. To me, 31 miles in dry, cool, sunny weather is “brutal”….this was “absurd”. There have been very few times when I was really afraid DURING a dumbass decision, but this was one of those times. Every step was a risk, and very little room for error. I had to trust the process, and listen to Tim, our “guide”, who told me how to go down the icy hills. To go down the hills too slowly was dangerous, and to go down them too quickly was deadly. I don’t THINK that I am being over dramatic, but I could not help but think about how close I was to meeting my maker. I told both Tim and David, that “my mother would NOT approve of my doing this.” During the first 5 miles, I was able to see what a nasty little bitch Sylamore was to be. It seemed as if the distance between putting your feet underwater, and allowing them to somewhat become comfortable was strategically placed in precise intervals. It was as if my shoes had sensors, notifying the Sylamore God’s that I was starting to enjoy myself, before another water filled crossing, or quarter mile of freezing slush. My head was all over the place, but I kept reminding myself of all of the people who said that I could do this, and the fact that Tim was familiar with the trail. My muscles felt great, and I longed for a flat, dry stretch that would allow us to make up a good mile time, and really get the blood pumping. This would not be happening anytime soon. I quickly realized that Sylamore was not an animal I must slay or tame, but one I must endure.
We arrived at the 1st aid station, mile 5, and all was well. I tried to eat as much as possible, because….I eat as much as possible, always. After pulling out, Tim says, “shit is about to get real…real fast”, and I could not even get my frozen brain around that statement. According to my feet, hips, and ass, the previous 5 miles were about as “real” as anything could possibly get. I couldn’t imagine anything getting much worse, but imagination would not be necessary. Tim was right. This was where rubber met road, David met Goliath, Harry met the Henderson’s, the ass met the grass, the sh*t met the fan, and where Larry met Curly, all rolled into one. I was running about 3 miles per hour, with a look on my face that would suggest I was jumping out of an airplane at 200 miles per hour. Everything was uphill, and when it was downhill, it was like a luge, and when it was flat, it was either slush or it leaned to one side. It was VERY unforgiving. The option had been given to make the turn at the 25K mark, if we chose. I saw some people who I highly respect, opting out of the 50k and deciding to tackle the 25K. This made me feel better just to know that this was an unusually difficult race, and gave me that much more encouragement. During this part of the jaunt, David began discussing food. Here we where, about 25% of the way through this thing, and David is already looking for his happy place. We have spent many miles using food as a distraction for pain, and we were already here. Low and behold, just as we thought food would be our substitute for pain, the Sylamore God’s decided to substitute pain for pain, as David ate the ice. WE HAD A BLEEDER! We were all excited, because blood had now become part of our adventure. I asked David if it was cool if I wrote that “we” got bloody, so that I would not have to actually experience the discomfort. He assured me that he would expect nothing less. Sylamore would later take a bite out of Tim, which made me feel a bit closer to the pain.
Arriving at the second aid station, mile 10, I was beginning to feel the pinch, and the reality of the situation was starting to kick in. I devoured a couple of cheese toast sandwiches, peanut butter sandwiches, soup, potatoes, and a cup of Mountain Dew and we were waddling again. Then, out of nowhere, BOOM! Energy, positive energy, with good vibes and warm legs, the reason I started this bullsh*t in the first place. The serotonin, endorphin, opiate like, cocaine rush that feels like it is cut straight from the cane of Columbia. I was finally where I wanted to be for all the right reasons. The conversation picked up, and the advice that Tim was giving me, was solid gold. On every downhill, he would say, “hit it”, or “now”, or “release” and I would pump my feet as fast and hard as I could, while feeling much more in control, than I felt when being overly-cautious. About the time that I thought that I could not feel any better, we saw the leader coming back past us. I got SO excited, because I could not wait to see all the horses, who would soon be galloping past, the Kihran’s, the Keith’s, the Brian’s. These are the guys who make this sh*t look and feel like a party. They hit it, and hit it hard. They can slide, fall, get up, slap high five, fall again, and be past you in one stride….that’s right, they can. So, it was fun to anticipate all these dudes. As we were making our way through a rock formation, overlooking the purest beauty that I have ever seen, I heard someone yell, “BEEFCAKE”, then “Beef”, and it was Von and Greg. They gave me the warmest of embraces, asked if I was ok, and told me to keep on keeping on. I made the decision right there, that the next time that I saw those guys, it would either be at the finish line, or the hospital bed, as there would be no in between.
It seemed like no time before we had hit the third aid station, mile 15, and the turn around point. There was a little maintenance that needed to be performed, and I wished that I had a pit crew. It would have been difficult to find anyone willing to give me the help for which I was in need. I had to wipe up, lace up, tape up, lube up, eat up, drink up, because Air Beefcake was ready to take to the air and make a non-stop flight to finishing an ultra marathon. We took notice that we had only been passed during the race, never had we passed. Anyone behind us would drop out at the turnaround, and leave us at the dead last place, which was a place that I was more than proud to own, on this day, at this point in the race. A newfound friend of mine named Lisa, she described the feeling best as she was dropping out, when she said, “I am over it”. Amen, Lisa. As we were heading back, I began to think about how far there was to go. I could feel myself, very slowly, just nudging to the negative. It was not an all out lashing of negativity, but very subtle. I could see the bloody patches of snow from fallen runners, and the overwhelming amount of slide marks, where people had lost their footing. I thought about getting hurt, or ankle pain, or my excess weight being a problem. I could literally feel the life being sucked out of me, like a Dementor from Harry Potter was looking directly at me. I remember that Brian had told me that the key was to “STRETCH THE SUCK” for as long as possible. Stay hydrated, stay fueled, and stay positive for as long as you can, and know that the “SUCK” is inevitable. He also said, that once the “SUCK” has arrived, embrace it. Realize that the “SUCK” is what separates you from the others unwilling to even take the risk for fear of failure. I immediately went to a happy place, because I was unwilling to accept the “SUCK” that early.
Aid station 4, mile 20, somehow happened, and I felt fortunate to be alive. I kept thinking about how much time I would be moving, and what could be done with that time. I was essentially jogging the entire drive time to Destin. I thought about how much pizza I could eat in 10 hours, how many naps I could take, how much Nintendo I could play. I thought about how my dad has ended every phone conversion in my entire life the exact same way, by saying, “I love you. I’m proud of you. Hang in there”. I thought about how this is exactly what he means by “hang in there”. I don’t have to excel, I don’t have to be the best, but right now, just hang in there, one foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress, as I have been told a hundred times over. This led me to thinking about one of my favorite books in the world by Justin Halpern, titled “Sh*t My Dad Says”. In his book he writes a quote that his father told him when he was young, after he had failed at something, but did the best he could. He said,
“If you work hard and study hard, and you fuck up. That’s okay. If you fuck up and you fuck up, then you’re a fuckup”
I thought about the unknown author who wrote the poem “Don’t Quit”, and how we did not know much about him, but I did know that he had never run the Sylamore 50K, or else he would have a poem titled, “Fu*k This”. At this point, I was reaching about as deep as I knew how to go. I was thinking about how this ultra was essentially a simulator for every problem that I have ever encountered. It is life trying to take every low blow and cheap shot possible, and bring me to my knees. It was hitting me at my most vulnerable moment and throwing in my face every attack, which it deemed me as unprepared. It was taking pain, fatigue, and self-esteem, and hurling them at me so quickly that I could not think straight. I started thinking that I could finish IF it was dry, IF it was warmer and IF my feet weren’t so wet, IF my left leg was 4” longer than my right because everything was so fu*king uneven, IF I had another month to prepare. That is when I realized, that this is the same crappy excuse that is always available. If we are talking about how the cow ate the cabbage, then these were the facts: it ain’t dry, it ain’t warm, my feet are wet, the trails ain’t getting any more level, I don’t have another month to train, and the mountain doesn’t give a damn what I need or want, because the mountain is a mountain. The real question was, “what was I?” I began thinking about how fortunate I am to have the chance to face this sort of adversity, and get the chance to see of what I am made. I began to see this, not as a punishment, but an opportunity. It was an opportunity to see all of my past and present problems at exactly this moment. I was able to see that right now, as with every other difficulty that I have ever had or will have, I have the option to lay down in the heap of sh*t, or take a shovel, hunker down, and get to work. For the moment I chose to keep working. Tim told David and I that when we got to the final aid station that we must be fast, and act as if we have all the energy in the world. It was getting late in the afternoon, and daylight was at a premium. Truth be told, I didn’t think we stood a chance. What I believed to be the sweeper came behind us, and I was ready for her to pull the plug, but we hauled ass long enough to get a little distance.
We had reached the final aid station, at about mile 26, and surprisingly it looked like they were going to let us go ahead. We were ALMOST out of reach, when a call came over the radio, and the lady ordered us to stop, kinda. FU*K! We were done, I was done, Tim was done, but David…he wasn’t having it. Off we went. We were going to attempt the last leg of the race with the same defiance that got us into this mess in the first place. We had about an hour and a half of sunlight, and about 3.5 miles to go, before we would be in an area safe enough to travel at night. It was a helluva push, and I had nothing left. Tim pushed me, and pushed me, but I had nothing left to give. I was cramming soggy peanut butter sandwiches in my mouth that I had stuffed in my wet pockets, while hustling out of the aid station. Every step feeling like I needed to hurl. Every step sounded like childbirth, and every breath felt like my last. David, on the other hand, he was “lost at sea”. He was just giggling and carrying on half conversations with himself, and not making a bit of sense. At one point, I heard what sounded like a quick hiccup/burp, then a splat. I asked, “did you just barf?’ to which he replied, “you know what man, I most certainly did.” And he began laughing again. I limped, surged, moaned, and groaned with every step. I was trying to keep up with Tim, but I just couldn’t find the mojo. Finally, we hit the creek, and we were literally out of the woods. It was safe for it to get dark, without us being stuck out there for the night. We passed the race director, Greg Eason, and he was none too pleased (as he had every right). We finished the half-mile of road in the dark of dusk, when we came across the street, to the loudest, most intense, and beautiful cheers, that 6 people could possibly make. There was no official time, there was no finish line, there was no medal, or music playing, but there were 4 friends and 2 strangers waiting with excitement, to see what was one of the most rewarding moments of my entire life. 10hours 22minutes worth of last place, and a new course record for most amount of food consumed at aid stations. An ultra marathon completed, albeit extremely slow, and far from pretty…what was done is done, and always will be!
**I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to speak with the race director, Greg Eason at the end of the event. He did an outstanding job of providing a well run, well supported race, and most fun race under the most brutal conditions. Part of his job, along with the park ranger is to provide a safe race. I was able to apologize to Mr. Eason about our disregarding the cut-off time of the race. I gave him my sincerest apology, let him know that he did not deserve this, and that I would not appreciate being treated this way. Mr. Eason was more than gracious and welcomed us back next year. I very much appreciate Mr. Eason and ALL the volunteers, who made all of this possible. I cannot imagine the time and effort that goes into a race of this sort, but I am most grateful that there are people willing to do it!
Peace, Love, and all things Beef related,
Someone snapped a picture of a slip that I took during the race: