Sunday, November 21, 2010

What's the Worst That Could Happen

The first gymnastics meet of the season was this weekend in Van Buren, Arkansas. Jakob has spent much of the last month dreading the day. I have a hard time understanding the stress he feels but I am not the one who has to stand in front of the judges, rows of parents and other competitors, all the while performing skills that are difficult to do when nobody is watching or grading you. I like to think if it were me, I would be looking forward to cleaning up the competition the way he always seems to do. Well, except for this particular meet, when his worst fears would be realized.

The first meet always seems to be the hardest for him. In the last month I have been showing him the videos of past meets at the beginning of a season. I thought it would help if he saw that his routines are never perfect the first time he competes them. It takes an entire season of smoothing out the details before the end of the season when they can be performed mistake free. This year, he is actually much further along than he normally is. He almost has all the skills in all six routines down, including the bonuses. Bonuses being extra skills that make the routine harder but yield larger scores.

Despite being better prepared than ever before, he was still feeling the nerves as we drove to Arkansas to put him to the test. I always ask, what exactly are you afraid of? If you know what the specific fear is, you can develop a plan to face and overcome it, so that it no longer stands in between you and reaching your goals. He shares the same fear we all do, failure. What will happen if I mess up or can't do it? The obligatory lessons I try to impart about just showing up and doing your best are still things I struggle with as an adult. As a competitive child who strives to win, who usually does win, such noble lessons probably sound like nonsense.

Aside from his usual pre-meet jitters, once inside the gym, he had his game face on and looked ready to go. His first event was high bar. His warm up had gone well and I watched as he stepped up and saluted the judge fully expecting him to start the meet off strong. Around and around the bar he swung, legs were straight, toes were pointed. A couple of small breaks in form but still looking sharp. Nearing the end of the routine, he came around the bar again to begin one of the final skills where he lets go of the bar with one hand and turns his body to swing back the other direction. That is when it happened. His swing took him a bit too high causing him to lose his balance and forcing him to bail off the bar.

One fall is not so bad. A single point is all that's lost. But it wasn't simply falling that he would have to deal with. His fall was actually well controlled and he was going to land on his feet. Unfortunately, as he landed he rolled his right ankle spraining it. He was unable to finish the routine. Now he was realizing his worst fears for a meet. Not only would he not be able to get back on and finish his high bar routine, there would be no way he could do the high impact floor routine. No possible way to run full speed and vault. He would be unable to do the layout back flip dismount from parallel bars or the double back flip planned for rings. In the middle of the first of six routines, his meet was essentially over.

He handled the situation in a manner that made me proud. He didn't cry or refuse to go on. They put ice on the ankle and taped it up. He decided with his coach to stay and do what he could. They would finish pommel horse, rings and parallel bars and just take the deductions for skipping the dismounts. Vault and floor would have to be skipped altogether as there is no way to perform them without being able to run, jump and land on both feet. Even if he performed every move he was still capable of doing without a single deduction, he would have no chance of a competitive score.

As it turns out, "failure" was not as bad as it had seemed in his dreams. His world did not crumble. His friends were still there for him. Sure there is disappointment when a situation takes a turn you hadn't hoped for but there are also valuable lessons to be learned. Lessons about continuing on the best you can, even when it's not the way you had planned or hoped for. There are lessons about keeping on your smile and hanging in for the rest of your team even when you are in pain. And of course, the lessons he will learn over the next month about overcoming an injury and getting back on the horse.

It might seem nice if life always worked out the way we hoped it would. However, we wouldn't have a chance to learn all those valuable lessons we learn when life takes those turns we dread and fear the most. Those are the moments when true character shows. Anyone can smile when they are standing on top of the podium. The question is, are they able to smile when they are standing at the bottom? The answer for Jakob was yes. As a parent I could see and feel his disappointment as he looked to the boy in first place at the top of the podium, but as he accepted his ribbon for last place he graciously smiled and held his head high.

Week of November 15 - 64 Bike, 15 Run

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Almost Fully Recovered

Recovery from the 100 miler is substantially complete. Activity and physical comfort is beginning to return to normal levels again. It’s been almost 3 weeks and I still have a little ground to cover but for the most part, I feel excellent.

The first two days were the most uncomfortable. I tried to sleep a lot the first 24 hours but had great difficulty doing so. I would drift off for 20 minutes and then jolt awake in cramped up pain. It would take substantial effort to roll over and find another semi-comfortable position before dozing off to repeat the same cycle over and over again. Everything from the waist down was stiff and fairly useless. My left ankle was swollen and my lower shins were bruised. I had to use my hands to stabilize and raise myself from a sitting position to standing.

After a couple days had passed I was sleeping better and able to walk in a fairly normal looking fashion. Every step, especially when down stairs, was still painful. I took two days off work to focus on healing and refueling before going back on Wednesday. Fortunately, I have a job sitting at a desk and I am able to recover while working. I took walks at lunch but wasn’t motivated to run or cycle during the first week off.

By the second week, I was getting pretty antsy to do something active. On Tuesday, even though my ankle was still swollen and stiff, I decided to ride the bike to work. They say you must be careful after taxing yourself as I had because you are still prone to an injury until you have fully recovered. Even though the ride was more uncomfortable than it normally is, I think it did a lot to help loosen stiff joints and muscles. I managed to ride the 16 miles to work and back on 3 days that week, each time leaving me feeling better than the last. Saturday, after 2 full weeks without a run, I went out for short 2 miles. It felt so good run! That was until I had gone about ½ mile. After 2 miles I felt like I had done 15.

In this third week, I should be back to an almost normal amount of activity for me. I‘ll come in with about 60 miles of riding and 15 to 20 on the run. I still haven’t decided what the next challenge will be. There is a 50 mile run I am considering in the spring but I haven’t committed to it yet. I like to keep something on the horizon to keep me motivated to stay active. It makes it too easy to skip a day, or more, of working out when you don’t have a goal you’re getting ready for.

This weekend is Jake’s first meet since Regionals. I am excited to see what this season at a new level holds for him!

Week of November 8 – 48 Bike, 2 Run

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bloody Birthdays

Not my birthday. Today is the Marine Corp Birthday. November 10, 1775. She is 235 years old. Having been out for more than 10 years now, I still remember this day as it comes around. It was always a huge celebration complete with formal ball and drunken debauchery. I have another reason to remember this date every year as well. It is the anniversary of one of my bike accidents. Two years ago I was headed home from work and got t-boned in an intersection less than ¼ a mile from the house.

I hesitate to tell this story and make cycling seem much more dangerous than it really is. I'm an aggressive all season rider, and like everything in my life, probably make it more risky than it should be. I wouldn't suggest riding in thunder storms and blizzards for anyone that hadn't spent a significant amount of time in the elements. But I think if you ride on normal days, with visibility in mind and as the law suggests, you are relatively safe out there. The health benefits greatly outweigh any danger you might face. So having said all that, here is the bike accident story.

In defense of the older woman who hit me, it was dark and raining. However, I was riding with a headlight, flashing taillights, and day-glow orange jacket that had reflective stripes. It’s much cooler looking than it actually sounds. She hit me directly under a street lamp in front of an elementary school. Not to mention the street is one of Springfield’s designated bike routes and is well lit. But overall, I think I fared pretty well in the accident. At least as well as you can when bouncing off the front end of a moving vehicle on a cold, dark, rainy night.

The sun had been down for less than 30 minutes but it seemed unusually dark due to the rain clouds that had been dumping all afternoon. It was around 40 degrees and my fingers and toes were feeling the chill of the cold rain. I had made it all the way across town in the height of evening rush hour without any trouble whatsoever. Usually, I start to relax a little as I enter our street. After passing through that last large high speed intersection that often has accidents blocking it. For the most part, my road is wide and there is plenty of room to share even with cars passing in both directions.

Despite having made it through the many other, what I have always considered, more dangerous places of the commute, my wide safe designated street would be the location of the accident. It was a T intersection on my right side, where I have the right of way, and a car was waiting at a stop sign for me to pass. Or so I thought. As I passed in front of the car it went!

I saw her bumper lurching towards me and tried to steer away from the front of her car. I could tell I wasn’t going to make it and leaned toward the hood thinking I might make it on top and escape going underneath her wheels. This clever plan may have worked had my feet not been strapped into the pedals. When the bumper made contact with my right leg and the front fork of the bike, I was instantly knocked sideways away from the car. My first impact was either my left cheek and nose, or my left hand still wrapped around the bars. I couldn’t tell which hit first but they were both hurting pretty badly.

Luckily, she stopped immediately and didn’t drive over me as I was lying directly in the path of her car. She hopped out and I jumped up. I tend to do this after going down hard. It’s probably not the best habit as one day I may be really broken and do more damage by standing up immediately. She was profusely apologizing and I told her I was fine. I mean, beside the fact my head was spinning a bit and there was blood around my left eye and flowing from my mouth and also my right thigh was aching pretty bad. One of my teeth was broken and it had put a really nasty cut on the inside of my lip. But as bad as all that sounds, I remember thinking I was fairly fortunate for not being worse.

I was impressed with the City’s rapid, yet obscenely excessive, response. In what seemed a very short time, 2 cop cars, a fire engine and an ambulance had shown up to render aid. Even though I was up and walking around, I left my bike lying in the middle of the road with its lights flashing. The first officer to the scene carried it off the road and directed me to the ambulance while he began taking statements. After the paramedics had looked me over, I declined a ride in the ambulance as I was pretty sure I would be fine. Sara would disagree with my diagnosis later. The police officer interviewed me and after I repeatedly assured him I was good to go, he let me leave.

A friend had happened upon the scene and recognized me standing on the side of the road. He gave me and the mangled bike a ride home. I had planned on just walking it as it was only a ¼ of a mile to the house. I cleaned up and then Sara picked me up and took me to gymnastics to watch the end of Jakob’s practice. As we sat talking about it and what I was feeling, reluctantly, Sara convinced me to go to the emergency room to be checked out. We waited until practice was over and the 3 of us headed to the hospital. I had a large bruise on my right thigh where I had impacted the car. I broke my nose. I broke a tooth that cut a large hole in my lip, and had multiple chunks of skin missing. It really wasn’t that bad. The doctor couldn’t do anything really but clean the scrapes and recommend pain killers.

The next day I went ahead and went to work. I did drive that first day however. 2 days later I was riding my bike to work again, though much slower than normal. Luckily I have more than 1 bike. Aside from the nose surgery a couple months later that forced a couple weeks of rest, everything else healed on its own over the next 6 months or so. My nose is now better than before and I don’t have any problems from the other injuries.

The woman admitted fault and I was fortunately in complete compliance with the law for riding at night with more light and reflectivity than is actually required. If she had carefully looked, she should have seen me. Because of this, her insurance was willing to cover my medical expenses and replace my totaled bike. Even though she was legally at fault, I believe for the most part, we all play a part in any accident we are involved in. I learned 2 valuable lessons in this 1. First, just because you have the right of way does not mean everyone will give it to you. And second, more lights are better than less. Trust me, they are not expecting you to be there. I am now hyper aware of this and use much greater caution approaching intersections, always looking for an escape route should a vehicle decide not to wait.

One other thing I found interesting about this accident is that it occurred at an intersection that had my name on it. It's like that expression, somewhere out there is a bullet with my name on it. I mean literally, this intersection has a sign with my name on it.

Week of November 1 - 0 bike, 0 run

Monday, November 1, 2010

100 Miles of Busiek

Alone into the Dark

Over the last 8 months, I have spent a part of every single day thinking about how my birthday would play out. I am 40 years old and running 100 miles in celebration. I had no real idea how this day would work. My expectations were based on other people's accounts and my own imagination. I have never gone more than 50 miles before. When I finished the 50 miles I had trouble climbing into the car and I don't think I could have managed to turn around and run the entire course again. But as time passed, like it does with every painful event we have endured, the memory of the suffering dulled. The dream of completing a 100 mile run began to get louder again. However, this time I would be more prepared, even more determined, and I would certainly finish. The day had finally arrived and it was now time to find out if I would be able to win an argument with the voice we hear that always tells us to just give in when it gets difficult.

I didn't think I could slack in the preparation to run 100 miles in one day so I prepared diligently. With workouts before and after work and a long effort on the weekends, over the past 240 some days, I ran 1,347 miles and rode 1,980 (give or take a few tenths for my GPS buddies). The longest run I did in one day while building up was 30 miles. Unlike the marathon or shorter distances, you don't get a chance to run the race distance before the race. I did things like park further from doors and take long walks at lunch. I went for runs at night to practice being tired. At the end I did a by the book 3 week taper, and made it injury free and fully rested to the day that I would find out if I could resist the strongest urge to quit that I have ever faced.

When I opened my eyes at 3:30 am and saw the fog of my breath float to the top of the tent, I took a deep breath, and thought to myself, "I don't think I want to do this!" But it was far too late for thoughts like that. It was 31 degrees. I had only gotten a couple hours of sleep if that. For the most part, I laid wide awake thinking about the day to come. Hoping it went well, fighting off the urge to dwell on all the things that could end the run prematurely. Dehydration, broken bones, blisters, wimping out.

Without the fanfare and other participants of an organized event, the morning was very dark and uninviting. Normally, the crowd of other people milling around whom are about to suffer with you can give you an emotional rush of energy. But crawling out of the tent alone, I didn't receive any boost of energy and truly felt compelled to climb back into the sleeping bag with Sara. That would not happen though. It was time to start moving and not stop for a very long time.

I went to the truck to get dressed and use the heater to try and warm my body that was aching from the cold. Sara and Jakob joined me shortly. We decided we had to time to drive to the gas station and get some coffee instead of freezing in the cold while waiting for the camp stove to boil water. For a while, I stressed about making it back in time to start promptly at 6:00 am. Reluctantly, I began to accept that there was nobody firing a starting gun this morning. I could start whenever I felt like it. After the 40 minute trip I was feeling warmer and ready to get it on. Sara and Jakob were the only witnesses to the beginning. With a kiss goodbye, I faced the dark trail and began one of the longest days of my life at 6:06 am.

The first part of the day I actually had a great time. The weather was cool and dry. The sun had come up within an hour of starting. By 10:00 am I had my shirt off and was in a real groove passing milestones quickly, full of confidence. Being totally rested for the first time in so many months, I was able to run fast and still feel very relaxed. The pace to begin the day with had been a nagging question for a long time. I had always sensed it might be an issue. Just because I can manage a certain speed for the first 10 hours without much pain, does not mean I can maintain that same speed all night long. But it felt so good I didn't want to stop. I cranked up the music and ran. I would pay for my exuberance later.

Within no time, I was nearing the halfway point. They say the first half is run with your body and the second half with your mind. I passed my previous best of 50 miles in just under 12 hours and started to think I might just run this whole thing strong. I could be done in 24 hours even! Maybe, I'm a fast person after all! Another lap brought me near 60 miles. Unfortunately, as the sun set and darkness fell around me, the wheels began to fall off.

It was at this point I met up with Nate on the trail. It was good to have somebody with me. It allowed me to put my focus somewhere other than on myself. Nate didn't start a loop with me. He arrived shortly after I had started a new lap. Not wanting to wait an hour and a half for me to come around again, with a little goading from Sara, he decided to try and catch up with me. He was unprepared for the number of intersections he would face though and had to guess a couple of times on which way to turn. To his good fortune, he popped out on the trail about 30 feet in front of me just as the sun was going down. He didn't have a light with him and we shared my headlamp beam to get back. I carried light with me when it even got close to dark because navigating this rocky trail at night is treacherous with lights on. To attempt it without lights would be pretty wild.

With 62 miles down, I began another lap with my friend Aaron and actually had a little bit of energy left to use. I was however, starting to lose the spring in my legs. From all of the steep rocky downhill running, my quads just above the knee, were really starting to hurt. It was that sharp stabbing sort of pain deep in the muscle. I would run for several minutes but then have to walk for long periods to catch my breath. There didn't seem to be any more cushions left in my joints.

On the next loop I picked up Collin. Somewhere between miles 68 and 74, around 11:00 pm and after 17 hours, I ran my last step. My legs had reached a point where I just couldn't get them to run anymore. I was starting to get nauseous when pushing up the hills and finding the right footing on the steep downhills was really starting to become tedious and painful! I would try to muster a running like movement on the flats but it was actually slower and using more energy than the brisk walk I was still able to manage.

You would think having 75 miles in the bank, and only a quarter of the distance left, would make you feel pretty good. The only flaw in this view was that at the pace I was able to move, and with the pain I was feeling now, much less a couple hours from now, I was looking at another 8 full hours of pushing forward with pain in every step. But in the end, this is the challenge I came for and it was finally time to start facing the excuses that would beckon to me for the remainder of the journey.

At 2:55 am, with over 80 miles in, I began what would be the hairiest loop of them all. Luckily, I had Jamie with me who was the only friend I have that has actually run 100 miles before. Not only was I walking at a fairly slow pace, I was having to stop and sit on the side of the trail to regroup myself every couple of miles. Throughout most of the day I had been religiously taking in 20 ounces of Perpetuem and taking 4 Endurolytes every hour, but a couple hours ago I had pretty much stopped drinking. Every sip was turning my already queasy stomach more sour. I never did vomit though it may have helped. Jamie forced me to drink plain water and keep taking Endurolytes. I can't imagine how this loop would have played out alone. I remember him reaching out to keep me from toppling over on the rocks as my balance was fading.

That ended up being the longest loop at 2 hours and 25 minutes. I have read stories about people dropping out of runs when they are 90 miles in. I remember thinking how could anyone do that when they are so close! I now completely understand that when you are 90 miles in and suffering more than you ever have, the prospect of another 4 or 5 hours of fighting back the pain of every movement, can appear to be an insurmountable mountain. This is what I was thinking as Jamie and I reached the aid station after 23 and a half hours of pushing behind me and just under 12 miles left. If I can just talk myself into continuing on, I would only have 5 hours left!

I had lost the ability to regulate my temperature and was getting very cold. Exhaustion was pounding on me and I felt the desire to just close my eyes, if only for a few minutes. We had decided somewhere out on the last loop that I would sit by the fire and try a cup of coffee while warming up my feet for a few minutes. Once I was in the chair I asked permission to take a nap and I think someone said I could have 15 minutes. I passed out and spilled the hot cup of coffee Sara had just handed me down my leg. It didn't wake me for long though and I got a good power nap in. In what seemed like a long blink to me, Jamie said what I needed to hear which was, "I hate to be the bad guy but your 15 minutes are up." I managed to sit for another couple of minutes but Sara reminded me I needed to keep moving. Shortly, I was up and ready to go again. Well, not ready to go, but ready to be done and there was only one way to get there.

Power Nap

Aaron was ready to take on another loop with me. His previous long run had only been 5 miles. But in the past 12 hours he covered nearly 12 miles on a cold dark trail with me. We can do so much more than we think we can. I left with two bottles on this loop. One filled with coffee and one with ginger ale. It was exactly what I needed. While I was still having some balance issues, I was only experiencing the nauseousness when climbing the hills and that was an improvement. Then came the second sunrise of the run, it was one of the most uplifting things I have experienced on the run. Even though it didn’t bring the warmth I was hoping it would, it did raise my spirits about the end. Although it was still 3 hours away, it was becoming an attainable destination again.

I set out on the final loop alone. I had been fortunate enough to have a friend with me for the entirety of the night. I think they saved me numerous falls on the shifting rocks by catching me mid sway. Nate, Aaron, Collin and Jamie not only helped me through some of my roughest miles, but they also provided much comfort to Sara, who I'm sure was concerned for my safety. She stayed strong and motivating throughout the entire event. Her sister Amy, and brother Zac, stayed awake through the night with her. I was truly humbled by all the people who showed up and gave their day and night to help me realize this goal. There were people checking in with texts and Facebook posts throughout the night. Having so many supportive people behind me was a great motivator to keep moving on!

The final loop was really uneventful. It was merely a matter of gutting out the time to finish it up. I had regained my mental faculties and enough energy to get there. I really wanted to have the strength to run the final yards, but despite trying numerous times to get a running gait going, I never could do it. I looked more like a crazy person dancing in place by slowly stomping my feet. I settled back into my Frankenstein like walk and waddled down the final stretch of trail.

After 27 hours I felt completely raw inside and out. Nearing the finish was emotionally overwhelming. I was surfing through different waves of emotion and fighting back sobbing outbursts when Jakob and Sara met me on the trail with a few hundred feet to go. They were exactly the people I needed to see and I was happy to have started and finished the run with them. I walked and cried the final distance with them by my side.

The Final Yards

As I came into camp I was euphoric. I didn't have the energy to do anything special. I just plopped into the chair by the fire and began to chat with those who were there. It was one of the best moments of my life. I will have memories of this night for the rest of my days.


I still can't articulate very well why I felt such a need to face this run. Doing something like this really does seem to put your life into perspective. It helps you realize what is important and who truly matters. It provides a glimpse into a part of your character that can only be reached through a monumental challenge. Just telling myself I could do it was not enough. I needed to go toe to toe with the whispers to quit and I desperately needed to beat them.

Hey Doc! You remember me? You said I wasn’t strong enough! Well guess what?

Fun Facts:
Average Pace - 16:45/mile
Calorie Intake - roughly 5,000
Fluids - over 3 gallons in the form of Perpetuem, Coke, Ginger-Ale, Coffee and plain water.
Electrolytes - 82 Endurolytes pills
Blisters - zero! I swear by my Injinji socks.
51 Water Crossings - Feet were wet the entire day.
Elevation - 9,500 climb, 9,500 descent

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