50 Miles

My day started at 4:45, so I could get up for a 6am start. I knew it was going to be a long day from the beginning. Little did I know how long it really was going to be. The Peak Races 50 miler was my first ultramarathon; for anybody who doesn’t know an ultramarathon is anything over 26.2 miles. I decided to put myself up to this after looking for the next big challenge after tackling pretty much every other distance including 2 marathons. I have found big goals have helped keep me motivated, and the 50 miler has been by far the biggest.

The first 20 miles flew by in this race. All I remember is that there was a river crossing at mile 2, which left my feet perpetually wet for the remainder of the race. My wet and beaten feet would later wreck havoc on my performance, but more on that later. I ran what I thought was within myself for the first 20 miles. I ran on flats and down the hills. I ran up gentle inclines and walked the steep parts. I was feeling good. I made friends with a few other runners. The company of Larissa, Terrence and Graham helped the miles fly by. When I hit the aid station at mile 18, all was doing good, I was in the top 5 for the race. I stopped and ate some food, Gatorade and I refilled with water in my camelback, in anticipation of the fabled blood route section which was 8 or maybe 13 miles (I was really confused and unsure of exactly how long it was at the time) of unaided wilderness. Almost immediately after leaving that aid station is when things began to fall apart. Climbing up the hills became tough, as the hills became mountains and never ending. The weird thing that happened was on the flats or downhill sections, even on the road, running became painful. Cramps and bloated feelings in my stomach hampered my ability to stride out at all. Then the real climb came. At mile 23, it was the start of a massive climb up to the Blood Route Gap. It was a never-ending grind of 2 or 3 miles and probably 2000ft vertical gain. Because I was starting to hurt before this climb, the wheels really came off during it. My pace goals and ambitions for a good finish fell through going up that climb. The top of the Blood Route Gap marked the half way point, and I reached it in under 6 hours, I’m not completely sure on the exact time. I spent almost the entirety of the climb and the following 3 hours essentially by myself in the Blood Route wilderness. I hobbled myself down the steep hills and tried my best to run on the flat sections. Walking up any incline was a given from this point on. My bloating and cramping prevented me from executing my nutrition plan I set for myself. I felt so sick, I really couldn’t stomach any food, although I probably should have forced it. My thoughts were to flush out the bad system in me, and build up from there. Unfortunately the bad system took 6 or 8 hours to go away.

The day was hot. The high was 92 degrees. That is not ideal for any running, let alone 50 miles. I thought I was drinking enough water from my camelback, but who knows if it was actually enough. By the time I reached the 30 mile aid station, I was struggling pretty bad. Almost any running was out of the question at this point. My feet had begun to get really bad. I felt they were really pruned from the prolonged wetness, and I could feel blisters on all my toes, and both my heels. The feet hurt a lot during any type of running even on flat or on the road. Hiking, was about all I could handle. I was quite delirious at mile 30. I couldn’t really comprehend much, and I didn’t really want to interact with people too much. All my physical energy was going towards pushing my body to the finish, and all my mental energy was devoted to convincing myself I could do it. The mental struggle I had with myself was immense and like nothing I have ever had. I had to stay extremely positive and persistent despite terrible circumstances and immense challenges. Leaving mile 30 was extremely difficult. I was practically in tears as I limped down the road away from the aid station.

The next 6 mile stretch was another brutal hill section. There were 2 massive hills, and the trail seemed to never end. Eventually I made it to the mile 37 aid station. I had slowed significantly by this point, reduced to a slow walk most of the time. In the woods I had conceded a strong finish, and my only goal was to get myself to the finish line. I no longer cared about my time and was determined to drag myself to the finish even if I had to walk the remainder of the course. I was going to finish the race, even though it was killing me. I never let doubt set in. At mile 37 I was pleasantly surprised by my friend Matt and his brother Drew. I was not expecting to see them and it was a huge pick me up at a time where I desperately needed it. All my support throughout the day helped me get through the race so much. My Dad, my Aunt and Bret were there the entire day to give me support and motivation. I saw them probably 8 or so times, and it was always great to have people there for me. After talking with them after the race, it sounds they also helped quite a few other runners on the course too including saving multiple runners from extreme dehydration threats. I truly could not have done this race without their help.

The next 3 mile road section downhill back to the start line before the final 10 mile loop should have been easy. It wasn’t. I could only manage a shuffle; it was really pathetic in hindsight. I eventually got back to the start, and had a talk with Larissa, who just won the race (Remember, I ran with her for like 20 miles).  She just powered through the course without really slowing down it seems. She was a beast. I then had to muster up courage to tackle the final 10 mile loop left. This loop was rough. It started with a 2 mile steep climb to a pinnacle, and then meandered down again with a lot of switchbacks.

I just grinded up the mountain, this time deciding to grab a few sticks from the woods as trekking poles. The poles helped immensely. They took weight off my ailing feet, and put my fresher arms to work. At the beginning of the final loop I realized I would end up having to run in the dark. Luckily I had a headlamp which I borrowed from Matt. At the top of the climb I met back up with 2 other racers in the simultaneous 30 mile race. Mike and Joe were just hiking due to their own injuries, so we decided to stick together, as I couldn’t handle much more that a hike at this point. Mike and Joe were great company to have and really helped get me through the last 8 or so miles.

At about 6 miles to go, a woman behind us began to struggle a lot. She basically collapsed sighting dizziness and lightheadedness. We had to stop and help her get back to a coherent state. She was really hurting and we gave her Gatorade and water. She eventually started feeling better and we decided to make sure she made it down the hill. We hiked with for a few miles, and she started feeling better and hiking faster.

Then it got dark. Things got really interesting when the sun went down around 8:30. The major problem for me was that Mike, Joe, and the women, Jessica didn’t have any headlamps. I was going to have to lead them through the dark. Once it started getting dark, I actually started feeling better. It was weird the last 5 miles I felt better than I had in the previous 30 miles. It became apparent that Jessica was slowing down again and, I decided the best thing for me to do was push on to the finish myself and get Jessica more direct help. I knew the last 2-3 miles switched back a lot and geographically wasn’t far from the finish. I knew if I could finish and get Jessica help, she would be better off, then me leading her very slowly the last 2 miles in the dark. I knew I couldn’t handle another hour in the woods. I needed to take care of my completely broken body and get myself to the finish.

The last 2 miles I suddenly had a huge strong kick. I started running again, focusing on getting myself to the finish. I have no idea how I was able to run at all at the end, but I somehow managed. It could have been my stress regarding Jessica’s situation, the closeness to the finish, or the darkness around me, but I managed to run really fast at the end of the race.

I finished the race in 15 hours 46 minutes. The finish time was a little off my 10 hour goal, but I didn’t care. The last 10 mile loop took me 4 and a half hours alone. When I finished I couldn’t even comprehend what I was done with. My focus was to get help for Jessica. I told the race director, and eventually someone went to go get her help. I found out later Jessica did finish the race, somehow, a full hour after I came through.

The ultimate goal of finishing was accomplished. That was the most important thing, and I did it. I am so incredibly proud of myself for pushing myself like I never have beyond my limits. The race was much more difficult than I ever could have anticipated. I never expected to have to handle the amount of hills I conquered, or lose the ability to run at all. I ran until my body physically wouldn’t allow it anymore, then I did another 20 miles. The 50 miler allowed me to prove I am physically and mentally capable of putting myself through amazing feats.

I would like to thank everyone who came out to support me on race day, and all the racers who I had the pleasure to run with. I could not have done this race on my own, and camaraderie at ultramarathons is unequalled. Congratulations to everyone who finished at the Peak Races UltraMarathon 2013, it was one for the books.

-Brian

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