Impulse buying is one of my characters flaws. I don’t always think decisions through before I make them which is how I ended up with a pair of Teddy Bear shoes.
I saw them in a music video, found them on Ebay, and then spent more money for a pair of shoes than I ever thought I would.
That same snap decision making is how I found myself dead exhausted after running 60 miles with 40 miles still to go. I had finished the book ‘Born To Run’ and thought an ultramarathon would be a challenging addition to my ’25 before I turn 25’ list. The idea of running an ultra was conceived on a Monday. Wednesday morning, I signed up for the Coldwater Rumble 100 in Phoenix, AZ. I chose that specific race because it was in January, with good running temperatures, a flatter course, and most importantly, they gave a belt buckle out to all finishers.
Training for an ultramarathon is very straightforward. You just run – A LOT. My training was thrown together haphazardly. I completed Ironman Arizona on November 17th, took a week off, and then put in 7 weeks of training peaking with a 72 mile week. I made a habit of running to and from work, mostly in the bitter cold. My longest single run in that period was 16 miles. My running endurance had improved, but the thought of running 30 miles more in a single day than I had run in an entire week seemed daunting.
On January 24th, My father and I flew to flew down to Phoenix and stocked up on all the supplies I figured I would need for the race.
Saturday morning we showed up to Estrella Mountain Regional Park in Goodyear, Arizona for the 7 am start. I had no clue what to expect. All of the other starters had done some sort of ultra, and this would be my first. 83 people would start the race, only 53 would finish.
I started off the race running shirtless. The 50 degree temperatures felt awesome compared to Omaha where I’d grown accustom to running in the single digits. I rocked the Fu Manchu and bandana, an admittedly strange combination, but I was about to spend some quality time with some strange people. This race would mark the end of the facial hair. We had a great run, but it wasn’t doing me any favors with the ladies.
The course was five 20 mile loops on hiking trails that snaked through the park. The terrain was mostly hard packed dirt with rocks thrown in forcing you to watch your feet the entire race. There was also a two mile section of sand every loop in case you got bored running on rocks. The course was well marked with orange ribbons tied on plants to designate the correct route and checkered ribbons to mark the incorrect path. The orange ribbons also had reflective medallions hanging from them so you could spot them at night with a headlamp.
This was an awesome race for beginners. Aid stations were spaced every three to six miles so I didn’t have to carry any food. The aid stations were practically an all you can eat buffet with a sampling of fruit, salty snacks, ramen noodles, coffee, Gatorade, and some high quality H2O. I ran with a handheld water bottle the entire time which carried enough water to get me from aid station to aid station without weighing me down. At the end of each 20 mile loop, my Dad would load me up with food and send me back out.
Loop one went smoothly. I went out with a group at a 11:00 min/mile pace and then dropped back when I stopped to tape up my feet. I was tired after the first 20 miles but in high spirits.
An ultramarathon is all mental. Attitude is everything. Running 100 miles seems like a great physical feat, but keeping a positive state of mind is the hardest battle. Negative thoughts lead to poor running, poor running turns into negative thoughts. A 100 mile race exploits any mental weakness. Around the marathon mark, my thoughts started to get negative. Realizing I had run farther than ever before was exciting. Realizing that I was only a quarter of the way done, however, made the journey ahead seem insurmountable
I’ve discovered one secret weapon when it comes to endurance sports – ENTHUSIASM. I’ve found that when I cheer for other people while I’m running that I get the magical runner’s high. I had one of those moments from mile 40 to 50. I had met Aaron, a firefighter, at the beginning of the loop and we ran together for the next ten miles. Aaron had completed a 100 miler before, but was having some stomach issues which were wearing on him mentally. Fortunately, I had enough positive energy for the both of us and stayed really upbeat. Unfortunately, my positive energy waned from miles 50 to 60. I was running alone again and the sunlight had faded into darkness.
I was in bad shape when I finished loop 3. The exhaustion was equivalent to finishing the Ironman, except I still had 40 miles to go. That was the lowest point of the race. I sat at a park bench eating cold pizza and contemplating whether or not I could go on. I had told enough people I was going to attempt the ultramarathon, so quitting was not an option.
Have I mentioned how awesome my dad is? I could not have asked for a better crew for this race. He has always been supportive of my crazy projects and ideas whether it’s driving down to Arizona for an Ironman race or building a life size raft for my Huck Finn book report in high school. He saw me in my sorry state at the end of loop three and encouraged me to continue on.
The beginning of loop four was very lonely. At this point I was reduced to walking large portions of the course with intermittent running. It took all my might not to curl up in a ball and take a nap.
Trail running is a very serene experience, especially at night. You may not encounter another runner for an hour or two but you know you are not alone when you see the lights of headlamps bouncing around the valleys. The only sound was the crunching of dirt under my feet and the metronome rhythm of my breath — until I met Angela that is. I heard her coming up behind me, not because she ran with heavy feet, but because she was blasting a mixture of Top 40 and EDM tunes from the speakers she had rigged to her Camelbak. You would have never had guessed that she had already completed 68 miles. I could barely work up the energy to introduce myself, but she was able to tell me her entire life story over the course of three miles. I kept up with Angela to the far aid station, but could not match her pace past that point. Two ships passing in the night.
Something sparked at the beginning of this loop. I’m not sure if it was just excitement with ‘only’ having 20 miles left, or if the three Motrin a stranger gave me were starting to kick in. At any rate, I ran the five miles to the first aid station at a pace that had been absent for the last 40 miles, taking breaks only to pee. I peed a lot this loop and apparently other runners did too, based on the streaks in the dirt. They were more talented than I, though, as it appeared that they didn’t stop running to empty the tanks.
Around 5 am I started getting pretty delirious. My vision blurred and I started imagining the cactus as being giant rabbits. The sound of coyotes howling in the distance did little to help my paranoia.
The rising sun was a welcome relief. Seeing the sun rise twice over the course of one race put the duration of the journey into perspective. When I reached the aid station at mile 91 I knew that I would finish. It felt like the home stretch.
This next paragraph is disgusting. Skip ahead if you don’t want ALL the details of my race. You’ve been warned. Six miles from the finish, my bowels started rumbling. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it to the next aid station, so I dropped my drawers and dropped a deuce, hoping no unsuspecting runner came upon me in my vulnerable state. Apparently eating nothing but fruit and vegetables all day combined with a copious amount of exercise will turn your shit a vibrant shade of green. I was reminded of dissecting owl turds in biology as I inspected my asparagus colored log. In biology class, we dissected owl turds looking for tiny bones of the mice they had eaten. I was unable to figure out what had caused the similar objects in my poop. My main conundrum, however, was that I didn’t have any toilet paper nor any leafy plants sight. I realized my headband would make a great TP substitute only after utilizing my finger and wiping the mess on a rock.
The last three miles were extremely painful. My right foot had swollen up so much that every step caused a shooting pain. I seriously thought I had broken my foot.
As I hobbled across the finish line I got a little choked up. My finish time was 27 hours and 23 minutes which put me 27th out of 53 finishers and 83 starters. I got my belt buckle
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?
Short answer – No. Covering 100 miles over 27 hours was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. A feeling of exhaustion washes over me just thinking about that race. This sounds cliché, but I dug deeper than I ever thought I could. I signed up for this race with little planning, trained haphazardly, but was able to finish. Sometimes you have to jump and build your wings on the way down. Impossible is nothing (I think two stolen quotes is enough)
SO, WHAT’S NEXT?
I’ve been asked this several times. Apparently, I have to one up myself. I’ve got some ideas…