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

Photo Album


  1. You are truly amazing! An inspiration to many folks. I seriously thought of you during my humble little 25K race Sunday when I started hurting near the end. I thought of how dedicated you were to your self and to your goal and I didn't stop. We are very proud of you, Jim!
    Now: on the the Adventure Race!

    :) Congrats.

  2. This is an awesome feat; an inspiration to many. Thank you for sharing your story. In addition to accomplishing something truly amazing, you are a good writer which makes your achievement even more interesting. I think your story would make an excellent movie or documentary. I am proud to know you and proud of what you have accomplished!