The muscles in my legs had just started to cramp up, just half way through my third loop. The cold steady rain a long with the temps in the 50s made this perfect running weather for me, or so I kept telling myself. My calves started sending those faint little signals, the ones that let me know they might lock up on me at any moment, a flash of self-doubt or reality, only time would tell.
I did not remember there being this much climb in the first two loops; as I power hiked up an incline that I had previously run up, this had me a little concerned. I still had a very long way to go. The first two loops went well and it was beginning to hit me how far 32 plus miles are to run. My only goal was to finish, today run is only part of that journey.
My Father’s Day gift last year and the catalyst for this journey, entry into a 10-mile Spartan Race curtesy of my son and daughter; it came with orders get in shape, lose some weight. At 57 I did not want to be the guy who told you what he used to do, “we have all met those people,” more importantly I did not want to let my kids down… deep down I did not want to let myself down. They figured it was their turn to push their dad and push they did.
In 10 weeks, I lost 18 pounds and could run 8 miles or more and often did burpees along the way. I thought I was in pretty good shape, I felt stronger and more confident. On race day, I ran with my daughter, I clearly remember saying that this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It would have been easy to stop; in the heat of that August afternoon it was tempting. I was not going to let my daughter and son down, they expected more of me. When I crossed the finish line I was whipped, out of breath and everything else that makes a body move; thankful that it was not even a few steps further.
A month later I signed up for my very first trail race a 20 K event called the Danby Down and Dirty, 12.4 miles I thought it would be a piece of cake, I was wrong. I crossed that finish line and was thankful it was not a foot further, again it took everything I had.
I kept running, I kept pushing myself to do more. The athletes who I competed with inspired me. I joined a few Facebook groups, the Lunar Group and the Ultra-Trail running group. I found many others who felt the same passion; more importantly, I learned some of the mechanics of running and some of the nuances of running which would both make me faster and able to run further distances.
I read the stories of other runners and about their races. What I thought was impossible now seemed possible. Someone had posted something about running 17 K for the start of the New Year. Someone quickly threw out the thought of running 17 miles to bring in the New Year instead. I quickly posted “That’s what I’m going to do.”
In the snow on New Year’s Day I headed out to run my 17 miles. It was my first attempt for a long run. The snow, the cold, all took its toll on me. When I finally hit the 17-mile mark I stopped running, no extra steps in me, I was through. I was spent and the only thing that kept me going those last few miles was the thought of having to share with my new friends that I was un-able to pull it off. That did keep me going, I was not going to let myself or them down when. I had told them I was going to do something and I was going to do my best to follow through.
The online community and opened my eyes to all sorts of new possibilities. I had no idea that they even held races that went for 50 miles, 100 miles and even further, it all seemed impossible to me at the time. Reading the stories of others gave me hope, gave me courage. I wrote a story for the local paper about my ringing in the New Year with my 17-mile run. I also threw out the idea that I had found my Mt. Everest, it would be 50-mile trail run this coming summer.
I had figured out one very important part of the formula for succeeding and pushing on. When common sense and the body says, it has had enough and you should stop, this simple thing kept me going.
Tell other people your dreams and goals. I have found that it is important to let others know your intentions, kind of like wedding vows in front of all your friends and family. That pressure to keep your vows is real, not wanting to let them down reason enough to keep going.
I told my kids about my dreams, I realized for a new runner, I was taking on a lot. They were encouraging, though neither of them had any intentions of running the events with me. My wife who is used to me doing crazy stuff was supportive as she has always been. I told my mother and she told her friends.
My 58th birthday just happened to fall on the date of my 32 plus mile race the Thom B trail run held outside Dryden NY. I spoke with my mother the day before she knew I would be running and wanted to wish me an early happy birthday knowing I would be busy that day. She also said she and Mary Ann would be praying for me.
My kids and my wife, rightly expect a lot from me. Knowing that my mother and a family friend would be praying for me while running really does put a lot of pressure on you to live up to your words. I had no intention of to letting any of them down.
There were 4 loops to the race each consisting of a little over 8 miles. The first two went easy, half way through the third loop the thought of doing a fourth seemed a little daunting. A handful of times during the last few months I had run more than 20 miles in a day, today would be the most mileage ever. The trail was muddy and there was a reasonable amount of climb, but I swear some of the hills on the third loop were not there on the first two. The additional 12 plus miles, all of a sudden seemed like a long way go.
When I came down the hill to the aid station close to the finish line the guy checking our numbers told me to keep going and that the finish line that was straight ahead. I told him I had one more loop to go. Most of the runners were done for the day. There would be just three of us out on the course to finish the last miles. I walked up the hills, did the best I could do to run on the flats and down hills. At each check station, I mentally clicked off part of my run making the next aid station or check point my only goal. I fantasized about potato chips and MMs at the next aid station, it kept me going. While stuffing my face with chips and drinking water another runner caught up to me. He stopped for a second and asked how I was holding up, I was honest and said that I was struggling this loop. He offered me some encouragement and headed out. I went for one more handful of potato chips and one more handful of MMs before trying to get my old body working again. I caught up with Dennis after a mile or so, we introduced ourselves and chatted while we ran. I had up until this point run most of the race by myself, the next few miles went by rather quickly with our conversation and I picked up my pace leaving Dennis behind me. The high was short lived, or maybe the MMs and potato chips had worn off. 4 plus miles to go and my legs hurt so bad I just wanted to stop. I remembered my mother’s words, “We will be praying for you.”
When your spent and there is, nothing left, you do have to look outside yourself for strength. I said a prayer, maybe one I should have said in the beginning, “Lord, I could use some help here.” I did not grow wings on my feet, but the desire to not let down family and friends was far more powerful than my aching body, and desire to stop, I pushed on.
I finished in 7 hours and 33 minutes, a slow run, one that had me feeling sorry for the volunteers who checked for the day and those manning the finish line. As I crossed the finish line I was thankful it was not further. In three weeks, I am entered in another race, it is 50 miles. It will be one more race that pushes me further than I’ve ever been before, it will be one more chance for me to live up to my words and one more chance to see what I am made of, and a one more chance to see how far I can push myself.