Sunday, October 25, 2015

MT Madness: The Lesson

By Andy Smola

It seems the difficult experiences in life are often, in retrospect, areas in which we made positive strides forward. Especially if, at the time, they seem to be full mistakes, challenges, and obstacles. It's funny how fond memories can be formed through suffering... Because eventually the suffering ends.

The message I was receiving early on for MT was, "things will go wrong... adjust." As I began driving down to the Berryman Trail, I realized I had no idea how to get there. I mean, I knew the general area, but the details were foggy. I broke out my race guide and headed down to the Huzzah Valley Resort. Just look for the big red barn on the right. I would worry about finding the campground when I picked up my packet. At 7:50pm, I realized I was going to be late to the evening packet pick up. I was on Highway 8, but it was dark and I wasn't seeing any red barns. 

And then there it was, the big bed red barn. Wow, that was easy. I walked into the resort store and realized this was not the location for packet pick up. Now what? Who here would even know about the race? My question was suddenly answered when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jen. It is interesting now to see that my enlightening journey would begin and end with answers from her.

Jen told me that Travis and Tommy were still at the shelter. She gave me quick instructions that included, "Look for the RV." It seem simple enough at the time. I headed down the gravel roads and realized it wouldn't be difficult to get lost. I also realized there would be more than one RV out there. Gravel roads continued to split, when I just happened to see a couple of people in a shelter, and... An RV!

I pulled in and there were Travis and Tommy. I was very happy to see them. They not only gave me my packet, but also invited me to follow them back campground. Things were looking up!

Following the RV. The sign is for Berryman Campgrounds- we made it!
I followed them to the campground, parked the old Durango as level as I could and pulled out the air mattress. I would be asleep in minutes- plenty of rest for tomorrow. It was all going to turn out just fine... Until I saw "slow leak" written on the air mattress. I had grabbed the wrong one. But I filled it anyway and hoped it would stay that way.

I climbed into my temporary home and found it was too hot. But, I came prepared! I got out my portable battery-operated fan... Still too hot! So I opened the back and the cool air poured in, but so did the mosquitos, moths, and every other insect in the forest. I was too hot and too tired to care. They feasted on me all night.

Welcome to Casa del Bugs.
Early the next morning, I woke up and got ready to go. I had my normal big breakfast omelet (which would haunt me later) and coffee while I packed my hydration vest (this would also become a problem later). I chose to wear my Salomon Fellraisers over my Hoka Mafates after having fallen in the dark wearing the Hokas. I began to see my tribe. I was so excited to see everyone!

The race began in the dark. The conga line of runners followed the winding trails. I passed a lot of people early. Why? I have no idea... The early parts of any race are dangerous for me; the excitement drives me to go much faster than my ability to sustain it. Before I knew it, I was running with the front runners and feeling great! 

The great thing about races are the people you meet. I enjoy talking and listening to stories. Finding out who these runners are and what brought them to race day is fascinating. I met James, who finished the 100-miler, but was having difficulty with his IT band before mile 4. I met Andy, who effortlessly flattened hills and told me the secret was stair repeats. I met Jeff, an ex-marine who talked about everything from the military to running shoes and made the first miles fly by. So many great stories from so many people that the first loop and aid stations were a blur. I tried to move through them quickly and stay with the pack. 

Right before the DRC Aid Station, I wiped out. I was running with Andy at the time, who came back to see if I was okay. I was fine, but I'm sure I didn't look like it with blood all over my hands. But I was a short distance to my tribe's aid station and I knew they would patch me up.

When I came up the hill, I was so happy. I held up my hands and Stacey went right to work patching my up while Frank refilled my water (the first refill of the race... oops). The climb to the aid station was a good one and wore me out a bit.  I had eaten (and had about 6 scoops of Tailwind) here and there at each of the aid stations, but my belly was full from the haunting omelet. I knew I needed to eat, but felt bloated. I had pushed too hard and was not digesting easily enough. And without water, it was going to just sit in my belly. I drank a bunch of water and left feeling better. 

It didn't last long. It was a lot of downhill from the aid station, but the climb out to the Start/Finish wore me down. As I topped the hill, I felt my phone vibrate (Why take a phone? For pictures I never took, of course!) and received a message from Bethany, supporting me from afar. I smiled and put it away, then realized I was at the campground. 

I was struggling... A lot! Thankfully, John was there. He helped so much! He got me food, brought me my gear, and refilled bottles. Tommy and Travis came over to check on me. I told them my plan was to start out slow and finish fast, but I wasn't following that plan. Tommy said, "That's everybody's plan." He added, "You don't have to hammer it all the way." Oddly enough, that made me feel good. I had been hammering it and was paying for it. 

I swapped out my Salomons for my Hokas and tried to eat. John handed me my vest and laughed as I put it on. "Quite a set up you got there," he said. I looked down to discover that my vest was trashed and falling apart. He added, "You might want to look at getting a new one." After adding the two big bottles of caffeinated Tailwind (5 scoops in each), I was loaded for bear. I headed out for the next 25 feeling better.

It didn't last long. By the first aid station, the cramping began. It was getting warmer now and I hadn't been drinking enough. I had also made the decision to start drinking the caffeinated Tailwind to get a little bump in my mood and attitude. At the first aid station, I didn't refill my water because I thought it was still pretty full. A quarter mile later, I was empty. With the cramping and heat, running out of water was not good. My Tailwind was pretty concentrated, so I couldn't drink that without further dehydrating myself. 

A couple miles later, I peed for the first time and it was pretty yellow. I need to eat and drink, but I could do neither. So when I arrived at the next aid station, I drank and ate. I also tried to have some pickle juice to see if it helped with the cramping. I had planned on bringing apple cider vinegar with me in case something like this happened, but I had left it in the car. With a bloated stomach, I tried to drink the pickle juice. It was awful! I didn't think I could keep it down. In the end, I did, but it did not keep the waves of cramps from hitting me over and over.

At this point, I just wanted to make it to the DRC aid station. 10 miles away. That's it. Once you are there, they will take care of you and you will feel renewed. Who knew 10 miles could feel so long? I kept looking at my watch as I traveled. The next aid station seemed to have moved. It wasn't this far last time. And bam! I fell again. I don't know if this happens to you, but when I try to stay on my feet, the strain causes my legs to cramp. I fell to the ground and was unable to stand because my calf had seized up so bad that I couldn't move. I knew if I could get up, I could stretch it and relieve it, but I couldn't... Well... I could and I did, but it was difficult.

The cramping continued to get worse. Running the downhills and flats was becoming difficult. I started to belly breathe, focusing on getting lots of air. It actually worked! While the cramps did not subside, they were at least held at bay. Some still poked through, but they were manageable and I could continue to run. 

I caught up with a 100-mile runner from Austin. He was doing great. I spoke with him for a while after the following aid station. I was only five miles out from DRC. This thought renewed my efforts and I picked up my pace on the downhills. I was beginning to feel better... until the hills before the DRC aid station. That's when I was become more exhausted.

Pausing to take a breather at the DRC AS.
I saw the DRC aid station sign and yelled, "That's what she said!" I was really struggling. I finally came into the last aid station and saw all my people again. Meghan asked me what I needed. All I could think of was, "the finish." I was beaten down and tired. Everyone fed me and refilled my water, they took my extra weight, they gave me salt tablets. I was eating better and drinking better, but still wiped out. I had even finished all 10 scoops of Tailwind (Meghan: "Yeah, your eyes are dilated!") and I wanted to stay at that aid station. I was getting comfortable and not moving forward. Thankfully the runner from Austin came in, got refilled, and was heading out. He looked at me and I'm sure he sensed that I was stalling. "Come on, let's go." And I followed him out.

Wise words from Meghan. Or maybe a, "Suck it up and get your butt moving." Who knows!
I pushed the last miles as hard as I could. I wanted 50 miles under 10 hours. According to my Garmin, I made that: 50 miles in 9:59. During the last hills to the finish, I walked here and there. I was still fighting the cramps, but I was feeling better overall. Probably because my pace had slowed and I was actually digesting food and salt was getting back into my system. 

At the finish, Tommy and Travis greeted me with my finisher's medal and congratulated me. It was a tough race and later I was happy with my results. 6th place overall with 10:17:47 finishing time. But at the end of the race, I really kicked myself for going out too fast. I knew better.

And now the most important part of the story...

I had come into this race as a training run that would be 6 weeks out from the Ozark Trail 100. I was looking at this to be a confidence booster and it felt like anything but...

I sat down at the picnic table to eat my recovery burger and some soup. Jen was making food and we began to talk. I told her I was discouraged. I told her that I don't feel confident at all now. Running 100 miles seemed even more to be an impossibility. 

The person who had guided me at the beginning was about to guide me at the end. Jen told me that this could be a humbling experience. "Do you know what to do different for OT?"

Yes. I do.

MT Madness: Do ALL the Things!

By Stacy Allen

Going to the Mark Twain Endurance Race involved a lot of firsts for me: I earned my trail name, paced my running role model, helped aid tons of runners, and supported my best friend through his biggest run to date. It was a beautiful, memorable day, but it didn’t start off that way.

When Greg signed up for the 50-mile race, I wanted so much to be there for him. After I finally asked him if I could go, he agreed (DUH), but I sort of felt like I had just pushed myself into his race, and I changed my mind. I talked with Meghan about how I was feeling and she encouraged me to go to support Greg and be a part of the DRC AS. This made me feel better about it, and made me feel more like I was needed there, so I was again happy to go! A couple days after I had committed to the AS, Rae messaged me and asked me to pace her for nine miles of her second loop. Hell yes I will! I was so excited and honored to be a part of her big day! I’d get to be a part of her day, help all the other runners, and cheer on my guy!

Early morning, we arrived at MT, and I got to see Greg and the others off before heading to the DRC AS. During this time, I found out Rae wanted to use me for 20 miles so, yep, I agreed. Watching those first few people come through our AS with bloody hands and knees was such an inspiration of just how tough runners are. I was so impressed with Meghan, Stacey, and the other volunteers—they were so enthusiastic and happy to serve these people and care for them! Such a kickass group of people!

Me, Meghan, and Mark (Rae's husband) at the AS.
After a while at the AS, Rae was ready for me. We started out at a nice running pace and then slowed to more walking/hiking. Ugh... I was ready for 20 miles on fresh legs, I just wanted to run! But wait... I reminded myself, Rae has 25 miles on her legs and a pregnant belly. This is her race, I’m here for her! I turned from focusing on the run to focusing on Rae: her conversation, body language, hydration, and general spirits. She was amazing. Just like on pavement runs, she has a fluidity to her form, she looks like she is gliding whether she is running an 8-minute mile or hiking a 13-minute mile. It’s something to be admired.

We were faring well and I felt great. Rae mentioned having some pain in a tendon and it was starting to play head-games with her. From my point of view (booty all day), I couldn’t tell she was hurting, so I just focused on making sure she stopped for her many (many) pee breaks because that’s how I knew she was hydrating.

Around mile 40, Rae had a moment of insanity... WHT am I supposed to do?? She is crying/laughing hysterically, but this seems pretty normal for pushing your pregnant body 40 miles... So I let it happen, until she started to slide down a ravine! I wasn’t going to let that happen!! She regained her composure and we headed out with the DRC AS as our reward for getting through the next five emotional miles. As we got closer, we heard angels from above calling out to Rae (Stacey and Mark were banging drums and yelling!), and I knew that was exactly what she needed to get up that hill and into the arms of our awesome crew, who were happily waiting to care for her and feed her!

This is where I left Rae after 20 miles. Honestly, I wanted to finish that run with her, but I knew she needed to regain her composure and finish this with her hubs, and I needed to be at the finish to watch my love come across that finish line! I made it with about 10 minutes to spare before I saw him come out of the woods and cross that line. He looked so strong and incredible to me in that moment! I know it took so much for him to get through the final ten miles, but he isn’t one ever to give up- he has always been my encouragement and inspiration to be a better running. Running into his arms as he crossed that finish line was the best feeling! I was so, so proud of him!

All that was left to complete my day was to watch my girl come across that line. As darkness fell, I was a little worried, but I had zero doubts that she would run across that finish line, strong and confident. Seeing her come across was badass, no other way to put it! MT was an awesome experience, getting to aid, participate, and cheer; I can’t wait to run my own 50-miler soon!

MT Madness: The Moon

By Rae Hedlund

The moon isn’t much to see by in the woods at night. It’s hardly enough to keep you from falling on your face with every step, and that task is made more difficult when you’ve been on your feet for 45 miles. Add to this blindness an injured leg that won’t flex at the ankle, pregnancy hormones, and some exhaustion, and it sounds like an absolute recipe for disaster.

After I had Maverick, the first slow mile I ran was done without walking, because I didn’t want my younger sister to see me walk. That day, walking felt like quitting. On September 19th, every step felt like a victory. Some invisible force (be it stubbornness, the hidden belief that I could finish, or the people who never doubted this) was pulling me, step by painful step, to the end of what felt like the Longest Day.

Feeling strong, silly, and hungry hitting the DRC AS at mile 20!
There is a similarity between that first-ever mile and this first-ever 50: support. My first 25-mile lap had gone off rather nicely: I had a groove, enjoyed my music, and loved getting to every AS. Heck, the start of my second loop was enjoyable, too! I had the incredible Stacy Allen with me and I was thankful for the constant company, easy conversation, and words of encouragement; those first miles with Stacy were easy and fun, just two friends running, no concerns in mind. That was the first nine miles. Everything after that, it was pretty obvious to me that her presence was helping keep me going, because getting to the AS following these first two was much more challenging. I had to turn on my music to really keep myself moving, didn’t talk as much, and cried. When we got to the AS, that feeling of relief washed over me and I cried more. I had met the people at this AS only once before race day, but I was so thankful to see them!

All the miles after that second aid station have a sort of fog surrounding them; the mental battles that were waged during these miles were done with the help of Stacy, more than she realizes. Everything is so muddled, but I know that her presence behind me kept me moving, and helped me to remember that I really was okay.What I can tell you is, I did a lot of crying—I sobbed, sniffled, and laughed at myself for crying so much. At one point, I stopped because the laugh-cry was so out of hand, and I nearly slid down a ravine, so it’s a really good thing Stacy was there to save my life!

Once I had finally pulled myself back together enough to keep moving, Stacy and I set off again. I was so determined to get to the DRC AS! Though I knew people at the AS prior to DRC’s masterpiece, they weren’t my DRC peeps, and I needed those truly familiar faces. I needed them to tell me I was okay, that I really could make it through this; I needed to soak up their belief that I could finish this, even with the injury to my leg.

Just as the previous miles had been, these were a struggle. Five miles seems small in the span of such a race, but so much goes into them. I felt like I had given everything, that I didn’t have much left; I was emotionally drained. Coming up to the DRC AS was another cry-fest. Andy had already finished and was there with comforting words,while Mark worked on getting me out of my pack. Meg and Stacey were ready with whatever food I needed while Frank snapped pics, and everyone said exactly the right thing. These people had heard me question my abilities over the past few months, had heard about my good/bad/ugly runs, and had assured me again and again that this was possible. Where my confidence had wavered, theirs had been solid. It’s amazing to be a part of a community so supportive.

Me and the World's Best Pacer <3
So many miles with Stacy and I didn’t know what to say to her besides a weak “Thank you.” Seriously, I had no words for the woman who had followed my crazy ass for 20 miles- laaaame! I was in a lot of pain, but was just so happy to see all my friends! Meghan had been planning on pacing my final five, but where I was emotionally/physically, I had this feeling I needed my husband with me. There were points throughout my training where I told Mark I would understand if he didn’t want to be there, that I’d have the support of enough friends to be okay, and I’ve never been so thankful that he ignored me and came to support me despite this.

After enough time at the AS to gather myself, Mark & I headed out. I was hobbling. When we set out, we thought we were good on lights. It didn’t seem too long after the sun had set that our flashlight went out. Our backup light didn’t have as much juice as we expected. The moon isn’t much to see by in the woods at night.

Runners passed, one guy was nice enough to stick with us for a bit, but I told him he should keep going because we were so slow. I begged, cried, and pleaded with Mark to let me be done; I have a feeling it reminded him of helping me get through labor. We paused frequently as I tried to conquer the pain. Everyone kept saying we had two more miles, two more miles... two more miles... It was during this time that Shari came up with another runner she was bringing in to the finish. After promising to return (and letting me cry), they headed off and we were in the dark once again. Soon, though, a runner for the hundo came along who was using two lights, and he willingly gave us his flashlight. He was truly our angel!

With a light in our hands again, we could surely finish, right?! Five miles drags on when you’re limping, but Shari was back with us after a while and had unintentionally brought another with her- the race sweeper had followed her, not sure why she had gone backwards on the course. These two people (angels) helped me find the strength to keep moving. Our little group of four moved at a pathetically slow pace, and I cried when I started seeing the glow sticks that signified we were nearing the end!

There is nothing quite like crossing a finish line. No matter the distance, I’ve always shed tears at the end of a race, and this one was certainly no exception. Having completely bonked at my marathon, I couldn’t help but think of the first word I’d said after that: “That was really fucking hard.” I think it’s fair to say the exact same thing about this race; Mark Twain did its best to chew me up and spit me out, but that made my finish all the more satisfying. The number of people who can’t believe I ran this race (or any race, for that matter!) pregnant doesn’t surprise me, but what does surprise me is that I never considered not running it. Even if I couldn’t acknowledge it all the time, there was a part of me that knew I could, at the very least, limp across that finish line. I finished, I won a hard-fought battle, and I’m so thankful for all the support I got along the way.

So many finish line hugs!
I'm pretty sure I said, "Give me that damn thing!"
Honestly, through all the struggles, I find I that I can’t say I won’t do it again. My body is capable of so much more than I ever knew!

MT Madness: Beating Burnout

By Randi Kreamer

When I had finished the Frisco Railroad 50k in April 2015, my second 50k, I felt up for a new challenge. Why not make that new challenge a new distance? So... I decided to take it to the next level and do a 50-miler. After researching a few, I settled on the Mark Twain 50 miler because the course looked so beautiful! Later, I found out that other DRCers were running the same race. I registered and instantly had mixed emotions: Was I prepared? Should I lose weight?  How will I find time to run enough?

As time went on, I found myself busier and busier and panic set in about the run. I was focusing only on long runs, anything else seemed pointless because short runs seemed insignificant with what I was aiming to do.  This led to a burnout.  I woke up one day and I didn't want to run; the next day, I didn't want to go either. This pattern became routine. 

Every run, I would cry. I wondered why a once-loved activity had turned into something that was physically and mentally exhausting.  I dealt with this alone, but decided to share my feelings with my running group. Frank, Meghan, and Stacey were great about providing nutritional advice and support; I was the only one who didn’t believe in me.

The feedback I received was overwhelming. I felt hopeful. I felt understood. I felt like I had to do it, and I wanted to do it. On September 19th, 2015, I arrived at Berryman trail ready to run.

Can't resist the DRC AS!
Reflecting back,  I think anxiety was my biggest obstacle. I was doing the comparison game instead of focusing on my own race. Rather than running my own race, I spent time comparing my speed, distances run, and physical fitness with others. In the end, I ran 41 of the 50 miles. I reached my limit, and that’s okay because I’m after longevity!

MT Madness: What I Learned at MT

By Meghan McCarrick

How much gear can I fit in this truck? What am I forgetting?  Ugh, I wish I had packed this in tubs.  Obviously, I will need to stop at Walmart.   Ok, pulling out of the driveway, what is that noise??  What is he yelling??  OMG, I forgot my duffle.  Hmm…he said he put it in the cab already, that means that all the bananas and apples are still in the house, too.  I am never going to get on the road.  Ok, on the road…with my clothes this time.  Shoot, I need to stop for ice…like now.  I hope I remember the directions to Berryman.   Of course I do.  …maybe I should check.

To me, aid stationing translated to bring ALL the things and then bring duplicates of all the things.  THEN, find your clearheadedness once the race begins.  So, with all of the things in the truck, I pulled onto 44 to head down to one of my favorite Missouri spots to spend the weekend watching some of my favorite DRC peeps running at the 4th Annual Mark Twain Endurance Races.  I knew how to encourage hydrating and fueling, I knew how to cheerlead, I am comfortable helping dress a wound, but there was an area for which I was unprepared: pushing runners into believing in themselves, especially when they have willingly fallen prey to their own excuses.  I even had warning that there was some concern over our inexperience in dealing with hundred mile runners, but I figured we could handle anything thrown at us, especially with the clearheadedness.

Plenty of people roll into a 20 (or 45 or 70 or 95) mile aid station looking like dog crap, thats no surprise.  Racing, especially on trails, is really no joke.  It is typically easy enough to encourage a little eating, drinking, filling up packs and then giving a quick kick in the pants to get a runner back out there and moving.  Sometimes you meet someone like “Power Nap”, who literally passes out in the chair, then pops back up and heads right back to the trail.  Or someone like “Santa”, who drops in, tells you his running history, talks about family, has some tea, then strolls to the finish knowing he’ll miss cut off, but isnt willing to throw in the towel.  Occasionally, a runner needs some company and trail angels like Shari willingly walk with them to the finish.  Lots of times, people want to stop, and that is understandable.  They hurt.  They are exhausted.  They have lost focus.  Every OTHER time, we got them warmed up and heading back toward their goal.  Except for one time.

It was my turn to grab a snooze.  It was probably around 1:30 in the morning and though I doubted I could sleep, I climbed in the tent and covered myself with 2 quilts, and I tried.  I heard a runner approach, had some major FOMO, but squeezed my eyes shut and ignored it.  About 20 minutes later, I heard conversation with the same runner.  I shot up in “bed” (we’re gonna use that term loosely), popped on my shoes, and jumped out to see why in the world he was still there.   I walked over to the fire and one of the top male contenders in the 100 was sitting comfortably with no clear intention of leaving anytime soon.  I asked what was going on, he lazily chewed on a piece of pizza and mentioned lots of muscles, all lower leg, achilles, soleus, some ankle stuff, but he was pretty calm. I brought over a roller and he made a excruciating moan as I ran it up the inside of that lower leg.  But, c’mon, this is at 70 miles, plus he’s been sitting!  I tried getting him to stretch, he wouldn’t budge, he said he would try to walk to the next aid station… eventually, still making no move to get up.  I texted the volunteers and RD there and told them quickly what was going on.  I had noticed this runner was dehydrated earlier in the day and he had already admitted that he traveled a little too quickly his first 25 mile lap.  So, I offered to hike it out with him, knowing the guys we’d meet weren’t going to let him quit when I got him to home base.  I said we’ll just walk and if you feel like running, I will try to keep up.  It’ll be fun!  And then I said it with a bit harder voice, get your ass up.  Well, sometimes that works.  In this case, he tried and nearly fell over.  He cramped up and had to hold onto the chair.  I can’t be sure, but I think he had probably been sitting for 30 minutes, taking all that time to decide he was dropping out.  And that is what he wanted…a lift back.  I texted the start again and said to expect us.  We drove up the little wooded passage to the road and I kept prying to see if I could just turn around and we’d at least try to walk there. Every time he put on an anguished face or groaned, or grabbed at his leg.  I let guilt get to me and stopped questioning his decision.  We pulled up, he got outa little more agilely than I expectedand within 10 minutes was walking with only a slight limp in flip flops back to his car.  I had looked at this guy as vulnerable and needing help and really having an injury that wouldn’t let him complete this race.  I TOTALLY GOT PLAYED.   And my inexperience totally screwed this guy's chances.
When performing a difficult task, our brain gives us all the reasons we need to just stop.  Our brain is doing its job; this is self-preservation.  The purpose of these ultra distance races is to challenge those excuses by maintaining the belief that the task can be endured. Sometimes, even a seasoned athlete, when tired, disillusioned, and in pain, loses sight and needs the reminder that unless there is a real injury, the excuses are ignorable.  Instead of pushing perseverance, which we talk about all the time in DRC, I allowed a runner to give his excuses power.  I have spent a lot of time thinking about that DNF. What I learned at MT is that it isnt only about the gear or food or morale at an aid station.  I learned that the responsibility of preserving or restoring belief might momentarily fall in volunteer hands.  In the future, if those hands are mine, I am confident that I will recognize and focus on what is necessary to convince every runner to continue.   So, because of what I learned at MT, don’t plan to cut out from an aid station that Im manning unless you are missing limb…even then, you’ll have to find a whole new level of energy to convince me you can't keep going.

Congratulations to all of you DRCers that ran MT this year, it was such a huge honor to be there in support of you guys!

Meg McC is first and foremost an active DRC member.  She is an avid runner when she isn't injured and an enthusiastic volunteer when she is.  The Berryman Trail is near and dear to her heart and she loves an opportunity to spend a weekend there, especially during a weekend with a SLUG Ultra.

MT Madness: DFQ!

By Greg Wells

Just signing up for MT 50 miler was hard for me. Not because I didn't think I could do it, but because it was a hard trail run and trail running is still pretty new to me. After a few trial trail runs with some awesome people, I gained some confidence. If you can run 30 at Greenrock, you can do 50 at Mark Twain... You got this! Plus I've got Schupp to run with me.

A few weeks leading up to the race, I was seriously in my head big time with doubts and worries. What if I fail... What if my legs quit working ... What if I'm in the middle of the woods and I have a full blown anxiety attack ... How are you going to deal with that ... I began to feel regret for signing up because this wasn't feeling fun anymore. Luckily, I have amazing people in my life to help me believe in myself to push past the fear and own it.  You know who you are and I love you all! 

Race day came and we were off. My goal was just to finish. I wasn't going to push myself too hard. John and Randi talked much of the first 15 miles and I kinda just hung out in the back, trying to relax and focus on what I needed to do to make it. John must have felt really good because, after the 15-mile AS, he took off like a bullet! To be completely honest, I was pretty disappointed for a little bit because the plan was to run the whole thing together. He left the plan with not so much as a, “Hey I'm out,” so I felt a little abandoned. Thankfully, it didn't last. This is one of my best friends and he was high on a good feeling and was taking on 50 miles with confidence... and, after all, I had abandon him before in a Warrior Dash years earlier because I had felt the same confidence. So, instead of being mad, I built off his energy and used it as a motivator for myself. If Johnny’s got this then I got this too.
Grabbing awesome food at the DRC AS.
After the first 25, I got to the Start/Finish AS and was immediately met there by John Cash who was incredibly helpful and seemed to go out of his way to focus on me. That was the pick me up I needed; this guy is literally an ultrarunning/any kind of running superstar and he's helping me!! To me, that was huge. I had to believe in myself if he did. I took off on my second loop telling myself there was no fucking way I was quitting!!

No one said running was easy on the body!
Around 40 miles, it got really hard ... like really, really effing hard. I felt great, but my legs were quitting underneath me. So, rewind to 2010. That year, I accidentally put my leg through the glass window on my entertainment center and completely severed my Tibialis Anterior Tendon, the tendon that allows you to pick you foot up, and another tendon (can’t remember the name of this one), that allows you to move your big toe. It was bad and it was a big deal. The doctor literally told me I wouldn't ever be the same with my strength in running and jumping. That sucked. I’m an athlete. Sports are my life. So I worked my ass off to make sure that didn't happen. By 2011, I had completed a marathon. Suck it, doc!

Fast forward back to 40 miles into the race. My right ankle right where my surgically repaired tendons are was hurting a little, my thighs were completely trashed, and I was scared I wasn't going to make it. But once again, at the 40-mile AS there was Mr. Cash to greet me and help me out. I found my bearings and took off. And that’s around the time when I remembered Andy writing #DFQ on my right arm. I literally looked at my right arm 100 times from that point and said “Don't Fucking Quit”, then to my left arm where I had LSE (Lor'e, Shea, Ella -my daughters)  and said, “I love you girls, your dad’s not a quitter.”

The AS at mile 45 was my seal of victory. I hurt so bad-- my ankle was swelling up , my thighs wanted to seize into a cramp on every step-- but there at Mile 45 were Meghan and Stacey, two very big reasons I even had the confidence to attempt a 50. These two people went out of their way to run with me and to help me become a better runner. There was 0% chance I wasn't finishing - if my tendon ruptured, I was crawling! I went back to the right arm: Don't Fucking Quit!! To the left: I Love You Girls, Your Dad’s Not A Quitter! It might be corny, but it carried me to the end. I came out of the woods and there were my best friends. Schupp and my girlfriend Stacy, who had paced 20 miles with Rae, cheering me on. Two people I couldn't be more proud of, two people who have come so far in running and in life and they were right where I needed them to be, to celebrate this awesome moment of my life with me. I fought my back tears and high-fived Travis at the finish line and received my 50-mile finisher medal!

Today (a few days after), my body hurts pretty bad, but all I can think is, “Let's do that again because I wanna do better!”  I wanna give a HUGE shout-out to everyone for all your support, motivation, and friendship in this crazy-ass world! Thank you for being a part of my life and making it that much better! I love my DRC family!

MT Madness: This Run!

By Stephen Faron

"THIS run!" That is what I called the MT 100 over the last few years. I knew it could happen in 2015 if I stayed healthy for three months prior and if my work cooperated. Well, I had surgery on my left knee in April to clean up a frayed meniscus. After recover some recovery, I was feeling physically stronger. Unfortunately, then work didn't cooperate. May to August was pretty hot, as we all know. The building I was working in as a Union Drywall Taper was ten degrees hotter due to poor air circulation. It was miserable and I was having doubts.

I didn't really know I was going to train for this with a passion until DRC had a run this summer on Green Rock Trail, totaling about 13 miles. I ran 11 pretty steady, but had to hike the last two. We got a late start, around 8ish if Im not mistaken, with the temperature in the mid-90s. Surprisingly, the next day, I felt good! I looked at a hundred-miler training schedule and the following week I put in 20 miles, plus added miles the day after. So I was able to do 20 on the Katy and bike 20 the next day on the Katy. I knew now "MY run," was on!

From there, I trained pretty hard. I ran and hiked big loops around Lost Valley and Lewis & Clark, eating and drinking at my truck in the lot; I cross-trained by biking at Lost Valley, Quail Ridge Park, and the Katy Trail. This continued until the Sunday the week before MT, then I worked Monday-Wednesday and took off Thursday and Friday to rest my legs. No workouts, just rest! This was MY run! I believed I could make it a long way; an exact mileage really made no difference. I was healthy for a change, and extremely happy and content with whatever result I got: a number didnt make a difference.

As long as didn't fall down a ravine or get eaten by a cougar, I could run!  All day!  My running companions and the the volunteers at the aid stations made that day easiertheyre all Warriors to me.

At the DRC aid station.
Race day did go differently than I thought it would. I ran in three different pairs of old shoes because I thought they still had some life left in them. They had none. The terrain just shredded the bottom of my shoes, but I loved the course with its marginal ascents and descents. I took off and didnt really stop running until mile 22 or so. Double hamstring cramps! It got a bit hotter than I thought it would. I kept going, though.

Start/Finish area, getting ready to head back out!
After my second 25-mile loop, the rolling hills buried me. I didnt go out for the next loop as easily as I did the first two times. My lower half seized up on me and I couldnt loosen back up. I stopped taking pain meds because I didnt want to mask any injury to my knee: if it was going to shoot craps on me, I didnt want to ruin it. Unbelievably to me, my right knee is the one that quit! I dropped out at the second aid station five miles away after starting my third loop.

I have no regrets. After a couple days off work to heal, I went back to ten-hour days. I was a bit sore and creaky, but I liked it!  That ache is my bucklefor MY run! Im so thankful to all my running groups and all the people who encouraged me to go for it. It really was the best experience! This run, to me, is a lesson. Things hardly ever fall into place the way we like; sometimes, the best thing to do is take the leap of faith and run with it. Happy trails!

MT Madness: Nature Is My Home

By John Schupp

That morning, I woke up at 2:45am. I didn’t sleep well. A lot of thoughts were still flowing through my head, my main concern being my IT band. Had I strengthened it enough? I felt confident about finishing, but how well, really? I was afraid that the day was going to be a complete struggle. Tiffany had heard my concerns in my outbursts of emotion all week (basically, I was being a little bitchy.) I’m sure she had enough of that.

Our caravan of DRCer’s made it to the Berryman campgrounds in plenty of time to be race-ready and let Frank take pictures before the start. When we were lining up, I headed for the front of the group—like any 5k or 10k I’ve run, I thought I needed to take an early lead, right? Luckily, Greg grabbed me and brought me back to earth; 50 miles is a long way. I took my place toward the rear with him and Randi. We took off and walked for the first mile, single file in the dark, occasionally trotting for a few seconds as the line loosened up. When the sun came up, my nervousness subsided. Not because there was light, but because it was beautiful. I felt like whatever was going to happen, it would be ok at that point.

This trail consisted of all types of terrain, from gentle pine needle to heavy rock, rolling landscape to straight up climbs. All of it was beautiful. Nature truly is my home. I think I’ve been a trail runner all my life, I just didn’t know it. I grew up playing in the woods: hunting, fishing, building forts, riding dirt bikes, and hiking was my playtime growing up. I can sit in the woods for hours, lost in thought. Trail running is one of the few times where I’ve found myself completely engulfed in the present. Everything else seems to be inconsequential. I am just able to be.

The time was passing quickly. Randi, Greg, and I were slowly gaining ground and passing people as the morning progressed. I enjoyed the good company and conversation. At the mile 15 AS, I felt like letting go, and off I went! Mile 15-20 was my favorite section: the pine needles and the gently rolling hills made it easy to open up my stride. At one point, I looked back and felt out of place—I’ve never led in a race against Greg before—but I pushed on. I felt amazing, and I was going to keep going while the going was good.

I was looking forward to seeing my friends at mile 20. The DRC AS rocked! I didn’t stay long because I was in the zone and wanted to keep moving. Around mile 23-24, I ran into a short lady from Colorado who everybody called M. She was using this race as a training race for an upcoming 100-miler. I can’t remember where. She was moving pretty fast, so I decided to follow her for a while. One thing I liked about her was she yelled on her way into aid stations, and I’m fond of yelling, haha! And, she talked, which was good because I didn’t have my iPod charged before the race like I thought. I finished my first loop under 5:30 hours. At the Start/Finish, John Cash was there to help me process things, change my shirt, and get back on my way.

I kept up with M until mile 35 when things really started getting tougher. This section is a big uphill, and the pain was starting to creep in my knees and feet. I found myself reflecting on my life a lot while I was by myself. My iPod would have been nice at this point. The next 5 miles were dark for me. I walked almost the whole time. When I ran, I kept tripping, like I couldn’t pick up my feet. This was the first time I had doubts. I kicked a rock so hard that I thought my big toenail might fall off. I thought that if the rest of the race was going to be this hard, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to finish. People I had passed earlier were very encouraging as they passed me back. One guy told me that there are highs and lows in ultras, that it all can change in the next mile. I thought he was crazy and just nodded as he passed. This is also the loneliest I’ve been in a long time. I didn’t foresee running ever being lonely, but ultras can be just that. I think it helped me see the beauty in the relationships I have today; I also understand why runners are such a caring bunch of people, always ready to help one another. 

I was relieved to see a familiar face when I finally made it to the mile 40 AS. I think John could see the way I felt. He made some fruit suggestions and I listened with all ears. The watermelon he suggested was a life saver- I’m keeping that one in my notes! With some reassurances, he sent me on my way, actually running again. A few minutes went by, and I was still running- I broke through that wall I had hit at mile 35!

I could again see myself conquering this tremendous feat I set out to do. All the training came down to this day. I knew it was mine. I began to cry. I ran and cried. I passed people, crying. I was happy. I was determined. I still hurt just as much, but I believe I overcame that. I walked some, but I was running again. I knew my favorite AS was coming up. On my way up the hill to the DRC AS, I let out a yell, and I think they knew it was me.

Every time I passed through an AS, I thanked them for their help, except DRC. It takes a lot more than I thought to put on a race like this. There were as many volunteers as there were racers. It wasn’t because I wasn’t grateful that I didn’t thank them; I’m grateful for them most of all. I was just so excited to see my friends that it slipped my mind! See, these guys told me I could do it when I wasn’t sure of myself; these are the people that lent me their gear when I forget something; these guys helped me find a diet that I could run and survive on for 12 hours without my body rejecting it; these friends went on long training runs with me; these are my people! They made me smile when my body hurt more that it has in a very long time. Thank you so much. I finally got to see Tiffany at mile 45, Frank got her there just in time. I told them I’d race them to the finish and I took off.

I ran probably 3 of the last 5 miles. The pain was actually disappearing with the thought of finishing. With about .75 miles to go, two runners caught up with me on the last climb to the finish, which gave me the motivation I needed to take off one more time. I started running up that hill because I really didn’t like the idea of getting passed in the last mile of a 50 mile race. So, I ran as hard as I could and I didn’t stop. I looked back and they weren’t there anymore. I kept running. I let out another yell when I could see the sign at the trailhead. I came out of the woods with everything I had in me. I finished in 11:48:29. I placed 11th overall. Now I have a goal for Berryman 50 in 2016. 

MT Madness: Those Who Can’t, Volunteer

By Stacey Hagen

This was my second year volunteering at the MT ultramarathon. For me, this year would set a PR for volunteer hours for one event, with Meg and I pulling an all-nighter. Meg, in fact, arrived Friday afternoon and didn’t leave till Sunday afternoon! I was there from Saturday morning until Sunday afternoon. We helped set up, break down, and man the last aid station on the course (before the Start/Finish area). 

Our AS was pretty loaded!

Throughout our volunteer experience, Meg and I discussed what we were learning from our time out there. The biggest thing we learned was that running 100 miles is really, really hard. No. Like reeeeeeallly freakin’ hard! When you see your friends- people you know to be very strong runners- out there struggling through the lows, it speaks clearly to the difficulty of the 100-mile endeavor. It is definitely not for the weak. And it is definitely not something to attempt unless you really want it, because you’re going to need that drive, that desire, to pull you through the tough low points. And there WILL be tough low points.

I don’t want to leave out the 50-milers because there were so many rock stars in that line-up. I’m particularly proud of our DRCers. DRC hit the trails, many attempting their first big ultras. Some found a profound sense of accomplishment, a milestone in their running career. Some found a renewed love for this sport that can have its ups and downs. Some went out there with the sole purpose of supporting their DRC peeps by running miles, lots of them. All of them, rockstars.  <3

Making shit happen.
Everyone out there amazed us. It was so incredibly awesome to see people come through looking very strong and determined, especially when the last time we saw them they were doubting themselves and looking rough. Volunteering at an ultramarathon is definitely a unique experience, especially if you remain for the entire event. Something that stood out to us after being there loop after loop for the runners is that you could see their relief when they would approach the aid station and see a familiar face. This was another tidbit of info we tucked away for future volunteer experiences: for runners, seeing someone that helped them out tremendously or someone with a lot of positive energy could be the one thing that gets them through a tough leg or helps them keep going. I heard from more than one racer that they could not wait to get back to our aid station, that it helped them a great deal. That meant a lot because we care a lot and we hoped our efforts were efficacious. 

We also learned that sometimes it’s tough to provide support for people you don’t know, especially in an ultramarathon. Trying to figure out what this person in front of you needs to help them continue, to help them persevere, is difficult to know. How can you know? You can’t! But, we care and we want to do all that we can for each and every person, so we go with our gut and we push them and we hope they’ll love us for it later. This brings me to the next thing we learned: you can make a lot of new friends volunteering, whether it’s racers, fellow volunteers, pacers, crew, etc. It’s pretty awesome! You get to interact with some pretty inspiring people.

Night AS! 
Of course, there were lots of little things we learned like labeling drinks, calling out people’s names when they arrived to our AS, having hot water prepared ahead of time to make warm drinks, blah, blah, blah. But, overall, we learned that giving back to our running community is something we LOVE to do! It can be so gratifying and meaningful. It is appreciated by your fellow runners (you know this),  but it can also be an eye-opener. It can help you better understand what you’re up for if you’re interested in attempting a similar type of race. So, I encourage you to volunteer. Give back! It is so good for you and the running community in so many ways!! You won’t regret it! And you just might leave the experience inspired.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Domino Effect

By Christine Michalski

Five years ago, I started attending a bootcamp-style fitness class because my daughter was getting married and I wanted to look my best for the wedding. The class required us to run a mile every session, and the rule was if you could run a mile in faster than ten minutes, you had to run two... so I always made sure I ran just about a 10-minute mile. 

After bootcamp ended, and the wedding was long over, I continued running because I realized it was wonderfully brainless. It’s the most brainless activity I've ever done. As a mom of five kids, I could be doing anything and always have about 50 other things going through my head: groceries, who has what practice, is there gas in the car?... the thoughts go on and on! Running, for me, is brainless. It’s just me and the road and the next mile, or the next step, and that’s all I focus on.

My first snow run! Slow, but SO fun!

 My first 5k race was the Hope for Haiti run in 2012. I had already run this distance a couple times before on my own, but I wanted to say that I had run an official 5k. It wasn’t too long after that, that I ran my first 10k on my own. It just felt like the natural next step, and the Katy Trail was there asking for it!

Also in 2012, my younger daughter started running on her high school’s cross-country and track teams. Maria’s gym teacher had said she would make a good runner, and she felt a little more confident already knowing someone who was a runner, who could share advice with her and encourage her. Around this time, my older sister participated in a three-day, 50-mile walking event. When I heard she could walk 50 miles over three days, I asked her why she wasn’t running at all! Her running journey started soon after, with some encouragement (and maybe some mocking) from me.

Even later in 2012, Rae had Maverick and, when he was six weeks old, she hit the pavement to run her first mile. I stayed home and snuggled Maverick while Rae & Maria ran, then headed out later that day for my own miles. We started tag-teaming our miles-- I would run, then Rae would, or vice-versa-- and it was helpful for her to be able to depend on me to take care of Maverick, not having to worry about her husband’s crazy schedule. (Editor’s note: if it weren’t for my mom being there, I wouldn’t be a runner!!)

My girls before they headed out for Rae's first run!
The last to join our little women’s tribe of runners was my niece. She had seen her own mom’s running journey, and mine… and Rae’s… and Maria’s… how could you not be inspired to run?! Even her daughter ran her first fun-run race recently, so the tribe keeps growing! I would never say that I inspired all these people to run, it just seemed like a domino effect: I started, then someone else joined in… and it all tumbled down from there. I shared my love with those that I love.

Running isn’t always easy for me, though. About a year and a half ago, I found out that I have arthritis in my neck; I’ve been dealing with it for much longer than that, but always just pushed through the pain. Even with the diagnosis, I continue to run. When I get back from a run, I roll out my legs, ice my neck, and go on with my day. My goal is to someday run a half-marathon. Whether I make a half-mary or not, whether I have to walk part (or crawl it), it’s still a goal I have, and it would be even better if it were a Disney race!

Color Run with my husband!
Even with the arthritis, I ran my longest run this year, and it just so happened to be during my first trail run! That’s right, I headed out to run a 5-mile trail, ended up missing my turn, and ran the 8-mile trail instead (thanks, Lewis & Clark trail)! Though I haven’t explored many trails in the area, it’s inspired me to keep going! I would trail run every day if I could; it’s harder for me to hit the pavement because trail running is so different and I love it so much!

Maria's birthday trail run celebration!
To me, it doesn’t matter how far, how often, or how fast I run; it’s just about getting out there and doing it, and if I inspire others to get out there and do it too, then I’m doing something right. I’m so proud of my daughters and brag about them all the time, even though their running seems to have progressed so much more than my own. I love that there are other women in my family who run, and that we can share this. My journey started five years ago, and there’s a whole lot more running be done!