Monday, November 16, 2015
Tunnel Hill 50/100 mile race report
“Good judgment comes from experience, and experience…..well, that comes from poor judgment.”– A.A. Milne
The 2015 Tunnel Hill 50/100 mile race in Vienna, IL. was easily the most emotionally diverse and gratifying 14hours and 52 minutes of my life to this point. Two years prior to this race, I did not even know that 50 mile races existed, much less that largely unathletic, overweight, middle aged dudes participated in them. The first person I ever met who had participated in one of these events was Von Ralls, the owner of Olive Branch CrossFit. He has a website (liftheavyrunlong.com) that highlights different runners who combine a mixture of strength and distance. The “50/400 club” is for any person who has competed in at least one 50 mile event and deadlifted 400lbs. While this seemed very much to be an unattainable goal, I was still largely interested in what it would take to achieve the goal. The answer was excruciatingly painful, as the only two things required were a little dedication, and lots of hard work (both of which I disdain). This had become my obsession: 50 miles, 400 pounds. But first, there was a matter of finishing a 5k, which I did VERY SLOWLY, then took a running class, which I did begrudgingly, and after that? Well, that was when things got easy. Going from the couch to the 5k was a bi*tch, but going from the 5k to the 50miles, that was a piece of cake in comparison. The extra 47 miles was made significantly easier because of one simple factor, friendship. FRIENDSHIP AND COMMUNITY. What I found along my journey to the 50 miler was a community of people who wholeheartedly believed that I could get this done, and if they didn’t believe it, they sure did a helluva job faking it, cause they wanted to see ol Beefcake laying tits up in the woods somewhere (which was not far from what happened). I had signed up for the Tunnel Hill 50 miler while riding an emotional high after BARELY surviving the Sylamore 50K back in February of this year. A group of us decided that we would get on a training plan and ride to Vienna, IL. together. Well, we rode together, but the training plan…that never happened. We were gonna have to wing it. Their had been a great deal of CrossFit, cross training, and a little bit of running mixed in, but we were far from a group of “prepared runners”.
Friday- Day before the race
On Friday, November 13 Von Ralls, David Lomax, Amanda Horrell, and myself packed up in David’s Volvo at about noon, made a quick drop at Starbuck’s, and began the 4 hour adventure to Vienna, IL. We decided to stop by and pick up our registration packets on the way into town. This way we only had dinner, drop bag prep, and sleeping in front of us before the race. We arrived at the parking lot to get our packets. David parked in the VERY last parking spot, furthest away from the building. As we were bitching about the distance that we had to walk, we realized the irony in complaining about a quarter mile walk, when we were here to do 50 miles. We checked into our hotel, and headed to O’Charley’s to get down on some grub. Burgers, steaks, and fries were the fare and we pounded them down. Back at the room, we began “planning” to fight a monster that we had never seen, in an area that we had never been. We laid out every hour’s worth of nutrition and hydration, and estimated what was going to hurt, and when. To say that God was laughing at our futile attempts to control the situation would have been an understatement. Belly’s full, and the next day planned for, we were off to bed.
Race day 4:30a.m.
The weather is perfect, everyone is energetic and ready to get rolling. We arrive about 40 minutes early and get to say our hello’s to the few people that we know from home. Brian William’s and Keith Ingram are geared up to do their thing, and its nice for me to know that I will have hands to slap later during the race as we pass each other during the out and back’s of the course (it’s the little things that keep me going). As always at the start of a race, it is so awesome to see all the different types of people. There is such a variety of colors, ages, sizes, and shapes, and the only things that you know for sure is that each one of them has a story, and there ain’t NO TELLING how fast a person is just by looking at them, I mean there are some real animals hiding in meek clothing, I just love it.
8a.m. Official Start Time
National Anthem. BOOM. We are off and running. What a day, and what a life. I have my beautiful wife beside me for what is potentially going to be the very best or absolute worst 50 mile date in history. As the first mile ticks off, I realize that gravel in my shoe is going to be an issue. I stop every mile, at least, to empty the two or three pebbles, which could potentially cause a problem. Amanda mentions at mile 3-4 that she has gravel in her shoe, but does not want to mess with it. I advise that she dump the blister hazards. When she takes her shoe off to dump it, DAAAAANNNGGGG!!! It looked like a scene from Shawshank Redemption, Amanda could have been selling $3 bags of gravel from the inside of her shoe. That’s the difference in her and me. I dump 2 pebbles every 1/2 mile, she dumps a quarter ton every 6. It’s a good thing to have a partner who is tougher than you are, this would be necessary in order to finish the day. We casually cruise to the 1st aid station. We are keeping about 12-13 minute mile pace, including some walking breaks. We are all a bit nervous, as this is going to be a long day, there is a great deal of pain and discomfort looming ahead, but we all hope it stays as far ahead as possible. Stay positive; just keep swimming.
I have often said before that God and the universe are always available to provide that extra umphh when you most need it, and there was no denying that this situation was no different. We were far from defeated, but starting to feel the consequences of the decision that we had made to attempt this goal…..and that’s when it started. Amanda’s watch warned her of a text message. A friend of ours from the gym sent the most positive and uplifting message. We shared a goosebump moment and were grateful for the supportive crew that we have at Olive Branch Crossfit,, and then another message. This one was equally as heartfelt and encouraging. Blad-ding, another message, and another. When our watches were not warning us that we had ticked off another mile, it was a friend informing us that they believed in us, and that they loved us. Finally, Amanda said with her voice cracking with emotion, “I’m getting the sweetest messages, some of them from people’s numbers whom I don’t even recognize. I never imagined belonging to any place where people treat me like this.” I did not have my phone with me, but at the end of the day we had almost 100 text messages from friends and family between us! Where I come from, it’s awfully hard to fail, and damn near impossible to quit with support like that. I honestly cannot thank y’all enough for the encouragement along the way. We have unarguably the greatest group of friends in the world, and definitely the most unique:
We had reached the first turnaround of two different out and back’s. We felt really good, I think. The hips were letting me know that they were there, and Amanda’s feet were beginning to heat up, but we had no room for complaints, we were all positive. Lomax was all around, either a quarter mile ahead or behind, but in near proximity. Amanda and I discussed how crazy it was to be doing this event. We talked about how the reason we did it is because we have so many people tell us that we can. We watched a documentary called “Man on Wire” last night, about a guy who dreamed to walk across the Twin Towers on a tightrope. At one point, the main character was told by an accomplice that “THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE”, to which he responded, “of course it is, now lets get to work”. I love it. I was out here on a trail with my beautiful wife, and an extra 36-37 miles worth of work ahead of us, and the only thing that I know for absolute certain is this… she ain’t quitting. Assuming her legs don’t snap off of her hips and beat her unconscious over the head, I would have to be the one to throw in the towel. And I ain’t got no towel, and there is no one around to see me throw it. Just keep swimming.
We were coming up on the halfway point, which I had set a time goal of 6 hours and 20 minutes. We finished 1minute and 20 seconds behind that, which was great. Time, at the end of the day, really meant nothing to us. One of the race co-ordinators had replied to one of my weak jokes about finishing first by saying, “out here, you compete it to complete it. Everybody has a different reason for doing it. There is first place, and those that finish behind that.” It is a totally different culture on the trail. It was interesting to see the different styles of the participants. There were absolute runners, interval runners, and all around speed walkers enjoying the trail, none of which seemed to have any problems leaving us in the dust, but did it with a great deal of humility and kindness. It was interesting to see how quickly we could go from feeling really great and perky, to having zero energy and everything hurt. Usually an aid station had a lot to do with reversing the spiral. We were coming up on the 26.6 mile mark, which meant we would begin an out and back in the opposite direction. Our next goal was to make it to our drop bags at 36.6 miles.
Which one of yall kicked me? The wheels were starting to shred, and I could hear the bearings locking up. The attitude, while outwardly vocal, was noticeably much darker. There would be no bitching, and we avoided it like the plague. The bad news was here, or at least rapidly approaching. The tunnel of light was getting smaller and smaller, and beyond it, only pain. I was afraid that we were reaching the point that everyone said we would reach, but I had chosen not to listen. Actually, lemme tell you something, I did listen. I listened to every miserable fu*king word of every miserable fu*king person who ever did one of these God forsaken runs. This was not about whether or not I had seen the warning signs, and it wasn’t about ignoring them….it was about embracing them. This is precisely the pain, suffering, and darkness that we came to play with. I have a friend who once said that “half of my brain is selling bullsh*t, and the other half is buying it.” Well, there was no shortage of BS being produced, but the question was, how much did I want to invest? My feet felt like they were splintering into chards, except the flat pieces that were rubbing against glass filled sandpaper. My prostrate felt like it was about to fall out like a used transmission, and I was steady inventing different running forms to try and gain some kind of comfort. Run .20, walk.05, run.15, walk .05, run, walk, run, walk, runwalkrunrunwalkwalkrunwalk GOSH D*MMIT we will never reach our fu*cking drop bags. Then we saw Von, and he said “how do y’all feel?” naturally, we responded with, “aw fine, man. No problems. Feeling great. Killing it.” DA*MIT! This was it, Lucifer’s playpin, no doubt about it. Then I heard it, Amanda gave an uncomfortable grunt, and said “I love you, and I appreciate you being who you are.” That was all that this beefy dude needed to hear. It was time to work. Put the blinders on the mule, bow the head, and hunker down. This was the price of admission, the first 34miles were free, the next 16 were going to have to be earned. There was a price to pay, and it was not collected at registration. Someone had to hurt. You cannot synthesize this experience; this was an opportunity, not an issue. This is what we dreamed about, while laying comfortably in bed, perfectly healthy and full of energy, but there ain’t no bed, there ain’t no energy, and our overall health is questionable, especially our mental health. I told Amanda, “you know, we paid a lot of money to stick our finger in this socket. It’s time to feel the current. We knew it was gonna hurt, but we had to see for ourselves.” The story of my life. As we happened upon a bridge, I had to literally grab my thigh with both hands in order to swing my leg over the 4” transition from concrete to wood (if this would have been uneven terrain, I would not have had a prayer). That’s when we saw Brian Williams, and, as usual, he was ready to “make a deal”. Brian is notorious for offering the sh*ttiest deals in history, to date. I recall being on an endless, waterless, Godless trail with Brian when he said, “ I’ll make you a deal, and you can take your pick. We can go left and we will go to a dark and painful place, or we can go right, and go to a place that hurts like hell….and ain’t got no lights.” I told Brian that I was not doing worth a dern, and I was just gonna jump off the bridge we were crossing, to which he responded, “I’ll make you a deal. If you go 2 more miles in that direction, there is a taller bridge with less water beneath. You can jump there.” Perfect.
FINALLY! This is what we have been talking about for hours. This is where we had placed our drop bog with extra nutrition and a change of shoes and socks. We met Lomax on our way in, and he was on his way out…and by out I mean he was about to BALL OUT and gain a full hour on us in only 13 miles! We got some hot soup and sandwiches, and sat down a bit to change our shoes and socks. Sitting felt SO good, but we knew what was ahead. The drop station was anti-climatic to say the least. The shoes only highlighted different areas of my feet, which felt to be on fire, it alleviated nothing. We waddled 2 miles to the turnaround, and we were headed back home. Once we reached the drop station again, we had 9.7 miles to go. I was done, over it. We were powering through it any way we could. It was very dark, with no shred of moonlight, only the headlamps shown in front of us. If you shut off your headlamp, you could not see your hand in front of your face. All I had on was my sleeveless Full Motion singlet, and was freezing my ass off. Amanda was jogging to keep up with my fastest walk, and we had very little to say, other than the occasional “we got this”. At about mile 44, Amanda got sick and had to take a minute. She doubled over, and we discussed whether puking would be best. In an effort to continue with forward progress Amanda actually got on her knees and began crawling in the leaves. I was quick to point out that this would not work, but it is a testament to how messed up your brain can get on this type of adventure. It is also a testament to Amanda’s willpower in that, there was never a mention of quitting while transitioning to a crawl. We were both freezing, and it seemed our watches were stuck; we were not making headway AT ALL. If we could make the next aid station, we could warm up by the fire and be only 2.8 miles away. The only problem was, there was no fu*king fire, and I was dying of hypothermia (maybe not THAT bad….but I was cold). We continued on, waddled ahead, and finally popped out of the woods. We could hear the voices of Lomax and Von, and none too soon. We got our belt buckles, and the rest is history.
This was easily the most difficult and rewarding thing that I have ever done. It was the experience of a lifetime. It is something that tested my spirit as much, if not more, than I ever want tested. It is true what they say, you are capable of anything and everything that you put your mind to. It seems to be much easier when other people put their minds in it with you. I am eternally grateful for all of the love and support that was shown for both Amanda and myself. To the 100 mile runners, WOW, my hat is off to you, that is an entirely different animal. It is nice to be part of something as inclusive, non-intimidating, and rewarding as the trail community. Will I ever do a 50 miler again? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Never. I will be purchasing a first class, one-way ticket on the NOPE train to Fu*kthatsh*tsville, before I ever commit to something like this again. Lesson learned.
Peace, Love, and all things Beef related,