"Well, I'm in a lot of pain so everything is going according to plan so far"
That was my response to my good friend Chris Palladino when he asked me how I was doing at about mile 9 of the 2011 Mountain Masochist Trail Run 50miler. I had been suffering from Plantar Fasciitis pain in both feet for about 6 weeks and IT Band pain in both hips for almost a month. Both of which had kept me from training as much as I would have liked and I had no idea how much they would be hurting me after 30 miles or so. I wasn't too concerned about the PF. I knew it would just be a dull annoying ache at worst. Of course that would be irritating but I wouldn't anywhere near as painful as the pain my IT Band would unleash on my hips at some point during the race.
After a good night's sleep, who am I kidding we're talking maybe 3 hours here, my wife drove myself and Chris to the Start. We got there in good time and were ready to go well before the start time. Ran into an old friend from college, Tom Cook, aka Tommy Tuff Knuckles, at the start and was excited to see him ready to hit the course. This would be the first 50 miler for both of us so we weren't exactly feeling comfortable at the start line, but excited none the less.
And so it began. 6 miles of road-running before we got to the trail. I made it to about mile 4 before the hip pain started. As usual, a dull ache at first before it became the full blown shooting pain. I was able to stretch it a bit at the aid station and we continued on. Entering the woods was a good feeling. It almost felt like the race started there and the road section was just a warmup.
I had planned on taking the whole race really slow. Running slowly had helped with the hip pain before so I figured it would be a good strategy. Chris kept running just ahead up me up and down the hills. Lots of hiking from the beginning was the plan. This kept my legs fresh which was nice. It was frustrating though to know that I could be running faster...oh well. After 10 miles or so I did get to finally meet Chris Mortenson and Harris Brenner. These guys are fellow Bucks County PA people that I've heard of numerous times but never met. We ran with them for awhile and eventually ended up losing them on a long downhill. Good guys.
The hills kept coming and coming. The nice part about that meant a lot of speed hiking and frequent aid stations. My wife was at the stations and she was very helpful. She was always taking pictures and encouraging me. The race went on and on. This being my first 50 miler I was not used to being out on the trail for that long. I finished my last 50k in 4:30 and this time I got to 4:30 and still had about 28 miles to go. One foot in front of the other though. Until the loop.
The loop is where I hit my first really low point. My legs were tired, but they had been tired for a long time. The Terrain was technical, which I would have enjoyed 20 miles ago, but that wasn't was killed me. I didn't think about it at the time but I forgot to really eat anything in the last hour or so. I had a chunk of banana but that's about it. When we reached the top of the loop I was ready to take a nap. Seriously I could have laid down right there and gone to sleep. Thank God I still had a Gel in my handheld and sucking that down helped me make it to the next aid. I ate 3 delicious brownies at the there, put an iceyhot pad on hip hip, kissed me wife, and was ready to go.
At this point I knew that the worst was behind me and it was just going to be a painful run to the finish. I could no longer run on the balls of my feet. My toes and achilles couldn't handle it. I couldn't lift my legs more than 6 inches off the ground or my hips would scream at me. So back to heel striking and very short steps. Always forward. Up more hills, down other and then the final descent. One after the other for a few more hours.
It was during this descent that I got very excited. I had been thinking about completing this race for 14 months and it was about to happen. Not only that but it was going to happen faster than I expected even with all the complications. Suddenly all the tiredness went away and I started joking with Chris. "Where is that 1 mile marker?! I just want to sit down. I've been on my feet for almost 10 hours, it it to much to ask for a chair!?" Around a final corner and there's the finish. Beautiful beautiful finish. Or it was until I could see the clock and noticed we could break 9:40 if we pushed it. So yea the last 40 yards or so were a sprint but it was worth it to see 9:39 on the clock.
What a feeling. A feeling that you cannot understand until you've finished a task like this. The feeling of applying yourself to a goal that at the time of application seems impossible. 14 months ago I could not have done with I did a few days ago. Hours and hours and miles and miles of hard work, ice baths, stretching, rehab, and a better diet all came together in one day for me to complete a task that many think insane. What they don't know is that if they wanted to they could do it too, and the feeling of accomplishment you get when you finish is worth all the time spent slogging up and down hills near your house. The feeling of pushing your body to it's limit and reaping the benefit of it's product. God has given us amazing bodies. There's something about squeezing more and more out of our bodies through our own will and determination that is incredibly satisfying. Now onto my next task. Getting my friends Dave, Wayne, and Scott ready for their first Ultra in March. HAT Run here we come!
All in all Clark Zealand, The Aide Station, and Eco-X sports put on a great race. Good food, good swag, great volunteers. The work they put in to get these races going is hard to imagine and we as runners are incredibly grateful. Running with Chris was a great help, and seeing my wife at all the aide stations was so great and encouraging. I am lucky to have her support and lucky to have such a good friend in Chris that he would spend all the time with me when he could have finished much faster. I am a lucky/happy guy these days.