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 . 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 . 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 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.