Wake up…3:30am. The alarm is set for one hour later. Close my eyes. Must go back to sleep. Tossed/turned all night. Have somewhat of an idea of what I am up against today but still not completely sure. Running the Clearwater Distance Classic 50K/31 miler starting at 7am. With a neighborhood buddy, Raul, aka “The Beast”…16 years’ my junior, and a very strong runner who has completed a 50-miler before ( http://about.me/raul.e.damiani ). Beast. I am honestly terrified. I have ran marathons before. I typically hit “the wall” around miles 18-22. Realize if this happens today, I will have 9-13 additional miles to push through. Sleep is not going to happen.
Get up. Stretch a bit. Shower. Eat breakfast. Read the paper on iPAD. Stretch again. Drink tea. Because drinking caffeine to dehydrate myself seems like a great idea before a 50K. Take pre-marathon bathroom ritual. Bad day if this does not happen. Just ask The Beast. Start to get ready. Look at endless array of running “stuff” to get me through this day. Running should be simple. I have more gadgets, gum, Gu, Glide, gels, creams, compression attire, belts, etc. to outfit a small college cross-country team it seems. Apply about half of my Glide supply to strategic locations. And then add more. And then more. And…a tad more. Somehow get everything on or into a gym bag to get to the event. Notice my new running watch will not turn on…dead battery. My first snafu of the day. Quickly plug it in. Must have this gadget.
The Beast picks me up at 5:20am. We have approximately an hour drive to Clearwater. Stomach starts to turn/rumble along the way. Not good. Luckily, The Beast stops at a gas station. Have aversion to public restrooms. Especially gas station bathrooms. Overlook aversion today. Take care of business. Again. Quickly. Crisis averted. Arrive to Clearwater race location. Park. Random homeless guy immediately approaches. Immediately instruct random homeless guy to stop, turn around, and leave. Not interested. Random homeless guy considers trying to overcome my objection…but, wisely decides otherwise. Random homeless guy luckily leaves before I unleash The Beast on him. Continue to get ready. The Beast gives me MoleSkin to adhere to nipples. The Beast advises MoleSkin will not come off. Even after 31 miles of sweat and salty mess. Do not consider eventually having to rip said MoleSkin from flesh/nipples later in the day at this exact moment. Put super-sticky MoleSkin patches on nipples. Bleeding nipples are far worse than ripping consequences later. The Beast forgot to bring Ibuprofen. Become random homeless guy and start begging passerby’s for Ibuprofen. Score on first request. Random Ibuprofen pusher pours half a bottle of pills into my hand. Thank random Ibuprofen pusher profusely and pop half into my mouth, give some to The Beast, and put the rest in one of my 20 belts around my waist for later. Decide I have too much crap to carry for this race. Start to frantically consolidate “stuff” into one belt. I think I have everything.
Arrive at the race starting line. The race is allowing those walking or going at a slower pace to start 30 minutes early. The gun pops for these folks to take off. Look at The Beast, and shrug. We discussed starting with this wave during our strategy meeting. Decided the disgrace of race leaders flying by us after we had a 30 minute head start would be too much to take. Besides, we have 7 hours to complete…what could go wrong? Stretch. Get into ridiculously crowded start corral. No pacing groups…they succinctly instruct the faster runners to be up front and the slower runners to be in the back. Common sense, right? Good in theory, but this never works well. Line up with The Beast near the middle-front of the pack. Would have stretched more if I could move. Suddenly realize what a pig must experience minutes before slaughter. Somewhat of a fitting visual at this very moment.
Starting gun pops again. An absolutely stunning sunrise taking shape in the background. Temp in the 50’s with a high near 70 forecasted. Slightly overcast. Not bad running weather. This race consists of 5K 3.1, half-marathon 13.1, full marathon 26.2, and us crazy folks…50K 31 miles. Everyone starts at the same time. Chaos. The 5K rabbits dart about like someone is shooting rock-salt at them. The marathoners and ultra runners know we have a long day ahead of us and try not to get sucked into this chaos. Spend the first quarter-mile starting and rearranging all my gadgets. Shed my sweatshirt and throw it to a lucky onlooker at half mile. The Beast and I met before the race to discuss strategy. 10-minute pace…slow and steady. Get in and get out in 5-6 hours or so. At least this is the plan. Look down at watch. The Beast is setting about a 9:15 pace. Remind The Beast of The Plan. Stop to pee in bushes. Many people are, so why not? Even females. There is no shame in marathon running.
Mile 1…proudly announce to The Beast we are 1/31st of the way finished!! Mile 2. Announce we are 2/31st!! The Beast suggests we celebrate 5 mile increments instead so he does not punch me in the mouth by mile 10. Agree with The Beast. Reviewed course map before race. Several tall bridges, which will be challenging. Course map appears to run along the Clearwater coast/beach for nearly half the race. Envision a nice, peaceful coastal ocean view for the first 12-15 miles. Instead, see some really nice houses along coast completely blocking the ocean view. May have actually seen the ocean for 10 total minutes. Mile 5. Fast. And, a blur. The herd is thinning and spreading out…5K’ers long gone. Mile 10. Celebrate the next increment. Nearly 1/3 of the way home. Nice pace. Faster than our planned pace actually. All systems are go and feeling good. Running is a funny thing though…you can train and train…but, the mental aspect is most often the hardest part of the race. No ocean view threw me a curve. You get used to being passed by runners you think should not be passing you…but, adding the 5K rabbits into the mix makes things interesting psychologically also. Mile 15…another celebration. The 5K’ers and half marathoners are now long gone. Only the marathoners and ultras left. Do a quick systems check. Have been taking hydration at every stop and taking Gu nutrition every 5 miles. Legs feel great. Pace is good. Continue systems check. Head. Demons in check. Thighs. Check. Knees. Check. Shins. Check. Ankles. Getting sore but bearable. Feet. Sore, but not bad. New Hoka running shoes have amazing cushion…even after 50 training miles or so. Wiggle toes a bit. Houston, we have a problem. The first inkling of possible blisters shoots up the message board and into my brain. Psychological. We are yet to hit the halfway point. Suddenly realize I am in for a very long second half of this race.
More psychological items. I have never ran a race with anyone as I prefer to go it alone in case the wheels come off. The Beast and I decide to stay together through thick and thin. This turned out to be a great thing. The Beast kept us below or at pace for well over the first half of the race. Easy conversation. The Beast is a cool dude. We strike-up conversation with random runners along the way. All nice people. A nurse esthetician. Kindly tell her I never want to see her in a professional setting. Nurse esthetician kindly tells me I want to see her in case I ever have to be put under as she has “the good stuff.” Ask nurse esthetician if she has good stuff now. Nurse esthetician laughs and advises “no.” Damn. Pass a marathoner with 4X 50 states marathon club lettering on the back of her tank top. This lady has completed over 200 marathons…one in every state at least 4 times…and is going strong. 200+ marathon lady is at least 60+ years old. Incredible. She is plugging away. Pass 2 girlfriends laughing along the way…one of them screaming the lyrics to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” at the top of her lungs. Talk to a few other ultra runners briefly who are deep in their demon chambers.
There are 3-4 portions along the way where runners double-back and you can see the leaders and those in front of us. More psychological, because on one occasion we thought we are doubling-back, but this portion of the race was for half-marathoners. We continue to go straight. Mile 17. The first inkling of a blister problem becomes a true blister problem on my pinkie toe, left foot. Try not to panic, as I can actually feel the blister developing and expanding. I can feel the pressure increasing with each step. Weird. Try to shift running style a bit to have big toe take more pressure and take more mid-heel strikes. I know this will be bad news later. Somewhere along miles 18-19, start to feel blisters on big toes and the other pinkie toe develop. No more hiding this problem…it is run through it or quit time. I am at a 7 on a 1-10 pain scale with 12 more miles to go. Not good. Decide to run through it.
Mile 20. Celebrate another 5-mile increment. Except this time, neither of us are doing much celebrating. We have both hidden our inner-demons pretty well so far and yet still remain fairly close to our 10-minute per mile best case scenario finishing pace. The race splits off the marathoners from the ultras around mile 16-17. The ultras are now on our own 5-mile loop together…doubling back around at mile 21. Watching the double-backed runners running sub 10-minute pace at this point in the race is another psychological hurdle. I have trained hard for this race and other than the blisters, still feel great. The Beast finally advises his inner-demon problem…he has had stomach problems since mile 18. Not good. I will almost take blisters over this problem…but, both are bad. The Beast falls off pace slightly for a bit while struggling. I slow down. You go, we go…we are in this together. The Beast pushed me for the first 16 miles, I can get us through the final 8 or so. Maybe. We have been running the Pinellas Trail for what seems to be forever. No ocean view, fairly narrow asphalt path with bikers zipping in and out of us at breakneck speeds. Just to make things more interesting, there are several bridges along the way…including three going over roads on the Pinellas Trail. These bridges are extremely steep and way longer than expected…and, we know we must cross them again when we double back. More psychological demons to deal with. We finally hit the double back point, and now are able to see those behind us. The demons ease a bit…we are not last by a long shot as there are many runners behind us. We are probably middle of the pack or well better. This is good. The bad? We still have 10+ miles to go and must cross the steep bridges again.
Mile 25. Another “celebration.” If being in hell is a celebration, we are there. My blisters have now popped, which could be good and bad. Pressure is now raw skin. Fairly certain I am bleeding by now. My feet are almost numb, but am between an 8-9 on the pain scale. The Beast and I are not speaking much now as we both deal with the wall and demons. I picture myself as Pac-Man, gobbling up dots and steps ahead of me for a long time. We are now back on the path with marathoners though, and passing many of them at least eases the demons a bit. Mile 25. 10K more. We are 4/5th’s finished. We decide to eat this elephant in 5K chunks. Mile 27…now beyond marathon distance. Things are somewhat of a blur. My running app on iPhone decides to quit at mile 26…it decided enough is enough I guess. Have to dig gadgets out to play music as that stopped with the running app. Decide at mile 29 to turn off music altogether. Not even Eminem’s demons can get me through my demons now. Try posting to Facebook as I run…difficult to do even without doing 20+ miles. We have began to run/walk a bit now…to this point, we have ran the entire race except for hydration stops. Run up to and pass a young lady with “this is my first marathon” lettering on the back of her tank-top. She is visibly sobbing. Stop and walk with her for a bit to try to get her past her demons. Her demons are not going anywhere…she sobs harder, and nearly gets on hands and knees. My demons cannot take this…sorry. I ask first marathoner if she is going to pass out. First marathoner says no. Good enough for me. Start running again. We are now in the 10:40 – 10:50 minute pace finishing range and we are okay with that. We will finish below 7 hours…in the 5:40 finishing range. Stop to take a “selfie” with the mile 30 sign by other ultras who are walking at this point.
One mile left. Gut check time. Our families are at the finish line…we cannot have them see us walking during this now one mile run/walk adventure. My feet are numb and bleeding. The Beast is pushing through. We turn a corner, and see a large suspension bridge in the background along the course. Dread sinks in…could this be a sick joke? We are now within a half-mile of the finish according to our GPS watches…this large, tall bridge looks to be at least a mile long. We do not notice the arrow taking us down and away from the large, tall bridge until we are almost upon it. Crisis averted. Quarter mile to go, and the course takes us down a small, spiraling downhill spinning path off the bridge.This should seem easy, except my blisters and feet are screaming with the extreme turns. Consider screaming myself. Consider crawling. Decide to just keep pace with The Beast instead. We hear the cheer/screams of the crowd for those finishing ahead of us. We decide to nearly sprint the last eighth-quarter mile or so, see our families waving, and cross the finish line at the same time. I had goosebumps from the time I saw the finish line until after receiving the ultra-marathon medal. Because it was all about the medal, right?
We finish 31 miles in under 5:40 with a 10:50 per mile overall pace. Not fast, but we will take it. Many marathoners were finishing behind us, so there is that. This has been a learning experience. Five years ago, I would have never imagined finishing a marathon…much less an ultra at age 46. I have 4 more races scheduled ahead of me, and am considering a full Ironman…which, is a whole other beast in itself. I am glad I ran with a steady and strong running partner, even though he did hurl by the car when we left (sorry, couldn’t resist…30 year old’s. Hmpfff). The Beast lets me drive his Wrangler home so he could ride shotgun. The Beast instructs me to pull over at a gas station so he can deal with more demons in the restroom. The Beast is a beast. Get home. Take off shirt to shower. Had completely forgotten about MoleSkinned nipples up until this point. Try to slowly and easily pry these from my nipples. Not working. Decide to just grip it and rip it. And, almost pass out while screaming. Immediately pull the other one or I would have just left it there…forever being the one-nipple guy. Scream again. Jokingly tell The Beast about this later. The Beast properly instructs me on how to remove these in the future. A bit late.
What. A. Day.