Shit! ….this can’t be happening!
By Michael Wade
…I said while rolling down the windows of my car, desperately hoping the fresh air would keep me from falling asleep at the wheel while driving to my first 100 mile race. I took another swig of Pepsi while wiping back the tears that had already started to come. All that hard work wasted because of my stupid pre-race anxiety. Anxiety that saw fit to keep me tossing and turning for three straight nights before my 24 hour adventure in the New Hampshire woods. Damn. This is not going to end well.
A mile, and a few more swigs, later. I began to formulate a plan, because that’s what I do! I would start the race, as scheduled. Then, when I got too tired to run any further, I would just nap in the car for a little while before finishing up. I had expected to finish in around 22 hours, and the race had a 30 hour cut-off, so I could literally take a 6 hour nap right in the middle of it and still finish this thing with time to spare! And now, with my new plan in place, I resumed feeling good about my chances at the Ghost Train 100 Miler.
Turns out, this “plan” was just the first of many tricks I’d have to play on myself that day (and night) to keep moving forward.
Pre-Race / 7:15am to 9:00am
Since I was awake all night, I figured there’s no excuse for not arriving early and nabbing one of the prime parking spots close to the start/finish area at the Milford DPW. I grabbed my “race in a box” and proceeded to walk right past the drop-bags, across the bridge, into the woods and just off the trail - where I set up shop. Can’t risk stopping for re-supplies too close to the warm fire, nice smelling food or people debating about dropping out!
I grabbed my bib, pinned it on and then sat down on an open truck gate to await the start of the race. The ultra-running community is a wonderful cross-section of people and I looked on as they hurried about their business. I wondered to myself how many of them had slept the night before? How many were attempting their first 100 mile race today? How many would succeed? How many would try valiantly, only to come up short? And, finally, which of those two groups would I be in the following day?
Lap One / 9:00am to 11:44am / 57th place
Miles 1-15 / 2:44:58 / 11.04 pace
Thankfully, it wasn’t long before the director called us to the start. During his pre-race spiel he said that, despite the rains, the course was in great shape. He also let us know some more wonderful news. A local neighbor had relented and granted a last minute easement across their land – meaning we no longer had to run the ½ mile section along the highway. Excellent! And, without much fan fare, we were off. For the longest race of our lives!
I settled into an early easy pace, letting by everyone who wanted to fly. Never having run further than 50, my pacing plan was pretty conservative. 12 minutes per mile for the first third, before eventually slowing down to 13 and 14 minutes per mile respectively for the next two thirds of the race - getting me in at somewhere around 22 hours. Secretly I hoped to run a bit better than that, but for my maiden “hundo” voyage, anything under 24 hours would be a bonus!
Lap Two / 11:44am to 2:40pm / 41st place
Miles 16-30 / 5:40:25 / 11.36 pace
The first lap went by fairly uneventfully, and because I was running my own race, I ran most of it by myself. Before the turn around I could see all the fast folks running back towards me. “Just stay calm” I told myself. No reason to press quite yet. My nutrition plan was to consume 1 bottle of Nuun infused water per aid station, 1 GU and 2 electrolyte tabs per hour, 1 stroopwaffle & 1 sport bean bag per lap. And, then supplement that with “whatever looks good” at the aid stations.
The plan was working to perfection for about a lap and a half when I grabbed some lemon-lime Gatorade at the “half-way” aid station. They had already run out of water and that was the best I could do. It tasted great going down but, about a mile and half later, didn’t taste quite so good coming back up! After getting over the initial shock of puking, I actually felt a whole lot better and cruised into the start/finish to pick up my first of seven pacers. Fist bumps. No high fives, please! Just puked.
Lap Three / 2:40pm to 5:37pm / 20th place
Miles 31-45/ 8:37:55 / 11.52 pace
I was looking forward to finally having someone to run (and converse) with and Phil Gaffey was first up. He looked ready to go as we headed back out for lap 3. Just inside the woods we picked up Dave Dunham who would also run with us for a bit. I had pre-instructed my pacers that we could talk about anything. However, there were three things that were strictly off limits: 1. The time of day, 2. How fast we were going, and 3. How many miles I had left. More Jedi mind tricks! I was just out there running laps in the woods. All that other stuff was just unwelcome noise.
Unfortunately, Phil had to drop before the turnaround. Not quite recovered from his half marathon the previous weekend. So I was back to running alone. Fortunately, my family had come out to Brookline to see me pass and I got to give them all high fives and hugs before grabbing Jen Jordan for the trip back up stream. The sun was starting to set and we ran gleefully - marveling at the gorgeous fall scenery. Scenery that would be shrouded in darkness on my next (and all my subsequent) laps. And, it was while I was busy soaking in my surreal surroundings that I proceeded to smash my big toe on a rock. Serves me right!
Lap Four / 5:37pm to 8:55pm / 13th place
Miles 46-60/ 11:55:20 / 11.92 pace
At the DPW I grabbed my night gear (1 head and 1 waist lamp), some PB&J sandwichpieces and Tom Cassetty for the start of lap 4. This time, our “special guest” pacer was Greater Lowell’s Scott Graham, whom I promptly heckled over theMill City Relay dominance by my Gate City Striders. Somewhere during the middle of that lap I reached 50.1 miles. Officially the longest I’d ever run! With still many more miles to go there was no time to celebrate. I hit the turnaround, greeted my sleepy family for the last time that evening and headed back to Milford with Scott and Jesse Veinotte in tow.
I got kind of quiet somewhere around mile 55. While Scott and Jesse chatted away, I sank into my first “dark patch” of the race. After an aid station stop that included the most delicious chicken broth I’d ever tasted, I started to feel more like myself again and jumped back into the conversation. Jesse was the only pacer who had run this race previously, and I was anxious to glean some valuable insight. He proceeded to tell me how much he suffered, and almost dropped out, right at the very mile we were at! It was at this point, that I decided I’d had enough insight for one night!
Lap Five / 8:55pm to 12:28am / 9th place
Miles 61-75/ 15:28:38 / 12.38 pace
Jesse was schedule to stay with me for the start of lap 5, so we grabbed a quick bite at the start/finish, fist bumped some volunteers and headed back out. I had been told that “positivity” was one of the keys to finishing a 100 mile race. Have fun, stay upbeat and be happy. And, even if your body doesn’t quite feel the same, it will eventually come back around. Of course, what came back around that lap was what I ate at the aid station. My subsequent retching echoed through the night. I think Jesse was rather shocked at the sheer volume of discharge. But, like before, after collecting myself I felt great once again. Onward!
At the Camp Tevya turn around I picked up Kurt Berna and we hot-footed it back up the trail. Halfway through this leg, and some 15 hours into my run, something strange came over me - and I started to sing. “Rock ‘n Roll Radio” (let’s go!) by the Ramones as an opener, and then “Train Kept a Rollin” (all night long!) by Aerosmith as an encore. It was also right around this time that I did something that I vowed I would never do in an ultra. I started racing!
Lap Six / 12:28am to 4:12am / 8th place
Miles 76-90/ 19:12:22 / 12.80 pace
We had been playing leap frog with another group of runners and I was finally ready to put the hammer down. So, we sped up and over the hill and down to the DPW trying to maintain the gap I’d made. I picked up Terry Berna for lap 6 and kept pushing the pace (or so it felt) all the way back down to Brookline. The good news was that I managed to put some distance on “those guys”. The bad news was I managed to put myself in a place that I’d never recover from! Only, I just didn’t know it yet!
We got to the southern turn-around and headed north once more - a whopping 82.5 miles completed and a mere 17.5 miles to go. I was doing it! I was going to finish my first 100 mile race! And, if my math was correct, I still had a very good shot at coming in under 21 hours, to boot! Yay, me… This feeling of euphoria was relatively short lived and by mile 85, I was walking. My quads were shot. My calfs were cramping. I was tired. It was cold and I wanted to be done.
Lap Seven / 4:12am to 7:13am / 7th place
Miles 91-100/ 22:13:03 / 13.30 pace
Eventually, Terry and I made it back to Milford. A quick shout to Danny Ferreiraand we were back out for the final 10 mile lap. I was so worried about the difficulty of re-starting that I never stopped. At least until we got to the hill. Too tired to climb and too sore to descend. My legs had officially stopped working. I was smiling, why wasn’t that enough?! Alas, despite my best mind games, the most I could get my legs to do was shuffle. This MUST be the low point, I thought. And then, I crapped myself. Awesome!
It’s kind of funny. At the 82 mile mark, I was convinced that I would finish. 10 miles later (and 10 miles closer to my goal) that now seemed hopelessly out of reach. Such are the wonders of ultras and the construct of the human mind! I laughed at the stupidity of it all. It’s 5am. I’m standing in the woods, with my shorts around my ankles, 92 miles into a race and I’m wiping my butt with a leaf. Classic!
After a bit, we got moving again. Danny lent me his poncho to keep warm, since it seemed like the temperature had dropped 10 degrees in last 10 minutes. As we got to the 5 mile turn-around point I looked up at a sky full of stars and suddenly realized that the only thing that this suffering meant was that I was still alive. I thought about Sam Berns, the reason I was out there in the first place and I immediately quickened my pace.
We hit the hill one final time. And stumbled back down the other side. Just past the road crossing, at mile 99 of this 100 mile test of will, I was passed by the lead female. She looked fit and fresh. I couldn’t stay with her, and couldn’t care less. I switched off my headlamp as the sun was beginning to cast its first rays into the sky. It was dawn and I was going to finish. We crossed the river one final time. 22 hours, 13 minutes and 3 seconds after I’d begun. I crested the bridge and declared, “number 573 is done!”
Post Race / 7:13am to 9:30am
My family was there to greet me and I immediately and uncontrollably) burst into tears. “This is the hardest thing I have EVER done”, I said to no one in particular and laughably attempted to sit down in a chair. Michael St. Hillare brought me over a homemade mocha as I shivered by the fire with finisher and drop-out alike. Somebody handed me my Ghost Train finisher’s spike and I looked at it with amazement. 100 Miles. Wow! That’s far.
Dan, and Jen, and my family helped me into my car for the “long” ride home. It was all I could do to keep from falling asleep. Again! I had been awake for 50 straight hours now and my body was officially pissed! A shower revealed my chafe points and a sock removal revealed the carnage I had inflicted on my now two-sizes-too-large toe. No matter. I climbed into bed, my wife covered me with 6 blankets and I shivered myself to sleep, completely and utterly spent.
It’s now been a week since the race and in that time I’ve run the full gamut of emotions. But, I think what I feel the most is grateful. Grateful that my 100 Mile Training Plan went off pretty much without a hitch. Grateful that the weather and the course conditions couldn’t have been better. Grateful for all the love and support I received before, during and after the race from my friends, my family, my teammates, my crew and the awesome Ghost Train volunteers. Grateful to Sam Berns, his family and the Progeria Research Foundation for helping me to add “meaning to the miles”. Because, for all the energy that I gave in my fundraising efforts, I definitely got back WAY more in return. And finally, I feel grateful to have had such an amazing experience for my first hundred mile run. And, despite the fact that it took me over 3 hours to complete the last 10 miles, I wouldn’t change a thing. The physical and emotional journey that I made over the course of this past year was certainly a once in a lifetime event.
…Ok, probably not.
Follow Michael’s ultra adventures more closely on his Rock n Runner blog.