This year I had the pleasure of a third go at The Big Brad 50 mile. It’d been two years since I ran my first ultra and this is where it all started for me. These events have seriously evolved my thinking as to what is possible. I refer to it as, life as I know it now. I seem to go to and draw from places that I never knew existed. I gain strength from the depths of myself that have only been exposed to me during ultras and my ability to mine the knowledge from those places is what continues to draw me back. It’s fair to say I’ve become addicted to the growth that I feel occurs within me each time I undertake an ultra.
I want to start out light though. I’m just going to come right out and say it. For the first time ever…….. in an any race, at about 7 miles in, I had to go. Ya know……GO. I’ll spare the details by saying I made a quick visit to the woods and then picked up the pace for a couple miles to make up the time. Sorry, this is a first for me that I had to talk about. Only because I was proud of never having had to before. Seriously, I’ve run this distance five times and never had to poop.
Moving right along……..
Without fail there is one particular part of my body that seems to magnify with an issue. Thankful it was not my stomach, I was beginning to find out that today it would be my left calf muscle. It started to tighten and feel strange within just a few miles and by the time I hit twenty it was cramping and spasming almost steadily. I accessed the situation like this:
1) Am I injured?
2) Can I continue?
The answers were no………and yes. So rationally, the only choice was to continue. Digging into a place deep within, more than any ultra before, I welcomed it. And I pushed on harder, feeling the pain in every step. If you run ultras you must accept pain as part of the process. You must embrace it.
Other than the calf muscle issues, the day was going really well. I found myself deep in the lull of the run. Staying in second place for most of the race, the day had distilled down to the essentials. Breathe, drink, eat, run.
Another thing I’ve become aware of during ultras is that problems usually come in numbers. At thirty-seven or so miles my next issue arose, literally. My heart rate suddenly skyrocketed. I could feel it happen and a quick assessment revealed my heart rate upward of 200 bpm. I was on an easy part of the course and was putting in a ten minute mile with no more exertion than before. I believe now it was the result of the caffeine in some of the gels I had. I had been regulating it well in the first half but really lost track in the second half. After meeting the first place runner just over a half mile from the thirty-five mile aid station and turn around, I realized it was still possible to catch him. So just before passing through that aid station for the last time I decided to eat a gel that had 100mg of caffeine to give me a boost to get back up over Bradbury Mountain for the seventh time and carry me through the last fifteen miles. I believe it is what pushed my heart rate up and for the first time all day upset my stomach. I slowed to walk for a period to get my heart rate down. It took longer than I wanted to do that and as soon as I ran again for a few minutes it shot back up. It went on for a few miles and it wore on me mentally as to what was going wrong. This is when I began to breakdown.
I was 42 miles in and the weight of 8 more was heavy given the “every step sucks” point that I had now inevitably reached.
Then I dove even deeper. A day of purpose and passion looked to come crashing to a halt.
I came to the point of not caring if I finished well and then to not wanting to continue at all. It’s funny thinking back as to how these thoughts could have entered my mind. I was in second place and on pace to run my fastest time on this course and possibly my fastest 50 mile distance. This is the place where real growth happens for me. This is where an ultra goes mental and even spiritual.
It’s a deep dive that has occurred for me in every ultra. The more I drive myself to compete and push my limits, the deeper they get. I’ve learned that the dive isn’t the end though. In fact, it’s the beginning of what I came for. I was in a deep dark place and I let out a big sigh when I caught a glimpse of the guy behind me. And for a minute I continued on the dive.
Then the guy coming up behind me, Tim, pulled me from the depths as he passed me. I was once again reminded of the amazingly kind awareness and energy of ultra runners. As I stepped aside for him to go by he said, “Come on man, I’ve got two pacers, let’s go Evan.” He wouldn’t let me stay there.
I responded, “I don’t think so. I’m deep in the pain cave.”
He came back with, ” Ya, me too. Let’s go”.
He knew what I feeling. This was Tim’s first 50 mile race but he wasn’t new to the endurance game. In our conversations earlier in the day I learned he was an Ironman finisher. I assumed from then on Tim would be a competitor. I was right. And now it seemed as though he challenged my spirit to come out and play. Even though we had just met that day, the spirit of what we were doing came shining through. We began chatting and laughing, trying the best to lighten the mood of the obvious place of discomfort and exhaustion that both of us were in.
It was nice to run with someone else who was experiencing the same. It grounded me again and I found myself in the all too familiar place that I go during the last part of a 50 miler……I started running the numbers. Assessing the situation. After all, I was there to learn that day. Given my current time and distance left, I begin to negotiate the possibilities of how I could finish. I began to surface again. My heart rate had lowered and I came to the place of asking the question that changed the end of the day for me.
I asked myself, “how do you want this to end?”
I had no clue as to my pace at this point because my GPS watch died just before clicking 40 miles. But it still had the time of day showing. After some thought I became aware that if I really poured it on for 6 more miles I could still possibly sub 9 hour the course. This realization brought me back even closer to the very reason I was there that day. I wanted to know how bad I could suffer and keep on going.
It was the first time in a 50 miler that I was truly and openly inviting to the real learning experience of an ultra. I really wanted to know how far I had come with my mind, body and spirit.
32 miles in and having myself a little airplane fun as I crossed the road at the Lawrence Road aid station.
Just when things were starting to look up……it got even better. At 44 miles in, my pacer and crew, Steph, joined me. The only road section of the course, 1/4 mile pavement and 1 miles dirt, was in front of us before entering the woods again. Gathering an awareness of the energy she brought, I picked it up. We talked and laughed while we threw down what had to be a sub 8 minute mile on the dirt. There was no way she was going to let me finish easy. Her presence was a game changer.
The energy she brought made such good company I requested her to go the last 3 miles with me. I was happy she obliged. What she didn’t know was that it was the most difficult section of the course. I kept it as a surprise! I knew she could handle it. But what neither of us knew was what I was about to go through.
We blew threw the last aid station without stopping, me yelling, “TEQUILA!!!” when asked what they could get me. There was no way I was stopping now.
“Only 3 miles left” I told myself, “anyone can run 3 miles”.
And again I asked, “how do you want this to end?”
Shortly after asking is where I began my most enlightening experience yet. In this part of the course you cross the road and head up over Tyron mountain and then Bradbury mountain for the last time. The last mile is all downhill from the peak of Bradbury and something I always look forward to.
I continued the sufferfest that I had put myself in, having to increase the focus on my breath significantly as we went over, around and down Tyron. It was that very focus on my breath that made it happen. Basically, I floated over Bradbury Mountain.
It sensation began while heading up over it and it peaked when we crested the top. On Bradbury you come into a rock clearing and there is a clear view for miles. Absorbing the view for the last time that day, I felt the energy of the mountain pulling me downward.
As we headed down, my steps lightened even more and I became increasingly aware of the effortless feeling that had enveloped my body. I began to fly downhill.
I could hear Steph talking to me and I think I responded……maybe. LOL!
I had entered a place of consciousness that I had never been. I can only describe it as bliss. Ten minutes or so of an energy that I didn’t want to end. But it had too.
I crossed the finished line at 9:07. My fastest Big Brad yet and a good enough effort to earn second place.
The Silver Shoe made by the kids at Pownal Elementary School
Thank you to all who drive me, inspire me and keep the fire of desire burning within me.