Monday, May 21, 2018

In search of 100 miles - 3 Days at the Fair

There’s a scene toward the end of the movie, Pretty Woman, where the character named Kit asks some other hooker, “Do you have a goal? Cuz you gotta have a goal.”

I’ve had a goal that I set for myself two years ago. I wanted to run/walk 100 miles.

Sound crazy? To many this sounds like a crazy goal. I mean why run when you can drive a car. That’s what most people say. One guy I met this weekend even said, “That’s crazy. I drive my golf cart to the mailbox.”

Is it crazy? Maybe.
Is it attainable? Absolutely.
Will it hurt? Like hell!

Is it worth it? Beyond anything you can imagine.

Months ago, I signed up for a race called 3 Days at the Fair 3 Days at the Fair. You have the option of choosing pretty much any time limit you want to run; from 12 hours to 144 hours. Yes, that’s SIX days. And people do it! I went with the 72 hours or 3-day version. You read that correctly.
This weekend, with my SUV packed to the gills with food, fluids, canopy, chairs, blankets, running gear and a close friend for support I set off to attack my goal at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, NJ.

Our home for the next 72 hours.
We arrived at the fairgrounds at about 7:30 AM on Thursday where we parked our car for the next almost 72 hours and setup our campsite. One of many at what I call tent city.

We get all unpacked and ready and at 8 AM I check in. This year’s swag was a rain jacket. I’m thinking the race director knew something we didn’t when he had ordered the gear weeks ahead of the actual event. Hmm.

Start time is 9 AM on Thursday for the 72-hour runners.
We are off!

It was a little chilly in the morning but quickly warmed up to the point of stripping down to a t-shirt. The plan for day one was to go 10 miles before taking a break. On my first day I met several people that I would run into again and again over the next three days.

One of Linda's signs.
One of those people would be Linda ( a police officer who loved to push herself) whose tent was across from us and who made these fun signs to make us laugh and keep our spirits up.

Linda and I did a lot of miles together day one. At about midnight I stopped for the day at 32 miles. That’s 15 hours in to the race.

It doesn’t seem like a lot, but remember, we have a lot more one-mile loops on pavement to go.
I started out sleeping night one in a zero-gravity chair then got cold enough to crawl into the back of the SUV and sleep where my support crew and friend, Renee was sleeping. It wasn’t comfortable, but it’s not supposed to be.

Friday morning, I woke up, greased my feet with some Squirrels Nut Butter– yes, it’s a thing and you gotta love the name. I tugged on clean socks and a pair of running shoes and got to 40 miles before 9 AM.
My goal was 40 miles in first 24 hours and I did it. Yea me! It is amazing how a few hours of sleep can refresh and repair the body.
After hitting my goal, I took a shower. The fairgrounds had real bathrooms and showers. After a quick shower where I felt almost human again, I dressed and started day two. On this day, my friend Michele showed up for her 48-hour event. I met Michele at this event last year where I did my first 48-hour run and we kept in contact.

Dead man walking ultra.
New runners show up not with just with fresh legs but with fresh humor. How a runner feels after 50 miles...a skeleton of him or herself.

My goal for my next 24 hours was to hit 75 miles. Could I do it?
At about 6 PM on day two, Renee decided that we needed real food and she left on a mission to get chicken tenders for us and Michele. I did another five miles while Renee ran the errand.

I haven’t eaten chicken tender in years and I swear this was the best - EVER! Either that or I was starving for anything that wasn’t prepackaged.
I was hitting a low point on day two where I wanted to put my feet up longer and not move. Blisters started on my feet and they only got worse. This is the one thing that is the death of my running or walking long distance. Due to a kidney issue (so the doctor thinks), my body pushes all my fluids to my feet, so they swell and then I get blisters and a heat rash. It’s not pretty and hurts like you would not believe. But, I refused to give up.

I was out on my last loops for the evening when the crew of another runner offered me a warm chocolate cookie. Can I just say that it was the best cookie – EVER! Okay, maybe not, but it was the sentiment behind the cookie, the incentive of the cookie, and the lovely gesture that made it special and rewarding.
I got to 65 miles about midnight and hit the sack…or in this case the bedroll in the back of the SUV where Renee had gone and gotten blow up mats that float in the pool to make the back of the SUV a little less hard to lay on. I wasn't picky and I was passed out in five minutes.

Saturday morning dawned beautiful. I got up and hit mile 74 (5 miles more than last year when I did the 48-hour event) just before 9 AM. WOOT! I was shy of my goal by one mile in 48 hours, but I was doing well.
Is it weird that I'm grinning?
The rain set in after 9 AM. Told you the race director knew something in advance. The rain jacket swag came in very handy on Saturday where the weather went from gorgeous cool in morning to drizzle to downpours to drizzle to a break in the late afternoon where there was no rain.

Here’s the funny thing – I love running in the rain. My body loves the rain. It’s cool and refreshing. On what was now my official start of day three I was moving really well in the rain. I took a break every 4 miles to change my socks and shoes out for dry ones. I was running more with the rain than without the rain. And this was after 48 hours. I felt fantastic!
Beware – what goes up, must come down.

How does one dry out shoes and socks during an ultra-running festival? Place the socks and shoes on the floor board of the car and turn the heat up full blast. I was tossing hats, mittens, even jackets down there to dry out and get them warm.
Then the rain stopped. When the rain ceased my feet got irritated again. They were not happy. I was not happy. I probably had more blisters during the rain, but my feet didn’t feel them. Maybe because my feet were wet and numb.

Because I was doing so well we were very excited and all Renee could think about was sleeping in a hotel. I wanted to get done so she could have a warm, comfortable bed. I mean how do you thank a person who blew off her anniversary weekend with her husband, drove 7 hours, and spent the last 48 hours waiting on me, supporting me, doing a lap or two with me.
I pushed myself, so she would have a bed.

Every 4 miles I was taking only 20-minute breaks instead of the 30 to 45 minutes I had planned and that was working the two previous days. I may have pushed a little too much. By late afternoon I hit another downturn. My feet were on fire. Legs felt great, body was doing awesome, but feet screamed, “STOP! STOP!”
I passed our tent and Renee instinctively knew I was not myself. Renee, being the amazing friend she is, tossed on her running shoes and a rain jacket and went in search of me on the course. She found me and did a mile with me until I hit my next break time.

By 8 PM I was mad. Mad at myself for changing the plan. Mad at myself for being mad. Mad because my feet refused to cooperate and because every step was like walking across hot coals and needles all at the same time. TORTURE.
I was no longer capable of running or walking. I was shuffling. For the last 13 miles (that’s a half marathon) I shuffled my way across the black pavement trying to just do 3 mile stretches before taking a break. Almost sixty hours into this event and all I wanted was to sit down in the middle of the road to hell and not get up. I wanted to curl up into a little ball and go to sleep. I was sleep walking anyway so why not.

As a matter of fact I did sit down in the middle of the pavement. But it was to put my socks back on that I had taken off hoping for some relief. Didn't work. As I'm sitting on the wet, cold pavement lacing my shoes up, a car coming from a wedding that took place at the event headed straight for me.

I held up my arms and three other runners who were coming saw the car and made sure they avoided me. Thanks, guys!

Flowers of encouragement.
Every lap there were people out there cheering us on. Offering words and even flowers of encouragement, of support and awe. That was great, but it could not cut into the haze of pain.
With 10 miles left I took a break, changed into what I thought would be my last shoe change and headed off.

Renee, with the help of the people next to us who were there crewing for a 24-hour runner had packed up the car. She was ready, and I was dragging.

Just when you think it can’t get worse; it can!
I wanted to sit, put my face in my hands and weep. Oh, yes, there were tears. You just couldn’t see them because of the drizzle.

Was I nuts? Why did I think I could do this? I will NEVER try this again.

Every time I passed the turn to the pallet bridge over a puddle and I had to lift my legs I cringed and wanted to yell and hit someone, anyone –most of all myself.

In my 97th mile I text Renee and said I would need another pair of shoes when I got there. I felt bad because she had everything packed, but my feet needed a fresh pair of shoes if I was going to finish this beast.

I changed and slowly (Picture a large turtle trudging uphill through wet sand - that kind of slow) started off for my last 3 miles telling Renee I would text her when I completed mile 100 so she could do the last mile with me.

I don’t know how long it took, but it felt like forever; kinda like swimming through molasses before I completed mile 100.
When I FINALLY reached mile 100, a first for me, I texted Renee and got no answer. When I reached our tent area she was unpacking the car. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Was it a mirage?
I think my mind went berserk right then and there.
I wasn't focusing on the fact that I had reached an amazing goal. I had hit 100 miles on foot. As a matter of fact every mile past mile 69 was a new adventure, a new accomplishment.
I should have been celebrating that suckfest!
Instead, I was thinking what the hell was Renee doing? She wanted a bed. I wanted sleep. Why was she unpacking? When Renee reached me, she informed me that she had called 20 hotels and there wasn’t a room anywhere near.

Apparently everyone was getting married the same weekend as Prince Harry and Megan Markle.

Was she kidding me? No room? Anywhere?
No way were we not getting a bed in a hotel. No way was I not getting to sleep - SOON.

As we started the last mile I was on the phone to Hilton reservation number getting us a hotel room. Brenda, the agent was fabulous. I asked her not to laugh and told her I was finishing my hundred mile run and needed a hotel room with a bed, could she please find me one. She did!
Now remember, I am in the middle of a race with nothing on me but thank goodness I do have a credit card memorized. We had to drive 50 miles, but Brenda hooked us up.
Funny thing about this phone call – it took my mind off the pain. We were in the last quarter mile when I hung up and I didn’t feel every step. Pain no longer shot through me with every shuffle.
Moral of this interlude - Do NOT mess with a runner who just spent sixty plus hours trying to reach a goal, who wants to fall to her knees where she stands and go to sleep.
At 11:07 PM on Saturday I crossed the finish line for 101 miles. That’s sixty-two hours into a 72-hour event. GOAL! Ten hours ahead of schedule!!

Mile 101!!!
Renee took the finish line photo and then we hugged. Tears rolled down both our faces as the enormity of the accomplishment set in. I did it! We did it!

Then I read a text from a friend of mine who sent me a message before I finished as he wanted to be the first person to congratulate me. More tears!
I hurt so bad but felt so amazing.

I may not be fast, but I have heart. And it’s the heart that keeps us going. There’s a quote by Dean Karnazes, “Run if you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, just never give up.” I’d say Mr. Karnazes hit the nail on the head.
I never gave up.

At no time did it ever cross my mind to quit. To take a longer break – YES. To sleep – YES. To call it quits and give up altogether – NOT AT ALL!
Could I have gone more? Maybe. I wouldn’t have wanted to that night, but the next morning, I probably could have gotten in more miles if the hotel hadn’t been so far away.

I guess we will see the next time. 😊

Are ultra runners crazy? I don’t think so. They are a community of people, friends and strangers, out to push their limits and support others in their own attempts and accomplishments.
This weekend I had the pleasure of sharing the blacktop trail with hundreds of runners who all set out with various goals; most of which were accomplished through shear guts and determination as well as support from friends and strangers.
Sometimes you’d be running by yourself, but you were never alone. Sometimes you would run or walk in groups and the camaraderie would boost you up.

It didn’t matter that you arrived not knowing a sole person. By the time you left, you were all family.
101 mile buckle and 100 mile lifetime coin.
This was demonstrated over many hours, but even more during the awards ceremony. Many cheers, hoots of joy, handshaking, and picture taking. All while wearing sandals and pajama bottoms.
Everyone was happy for everyone!
Renee and I day two.
To my friend Renee, thank you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving up your time to spend a weekend in heat and rain, in daylight and darkness, during highs and lows. You were the reason I reached my goal ten hours ahead of schedule!

Happy Anniversary!

Tell Mike I said thank you for sharing you with me this weekend. I owe him.

To my new runner friends, I met at 3 Days at the Fair; You all are amazing, and I thank you for your time, your wisdom, your humor, and your camaraderie. That alone was worth the price of admission. Congratulations on your many achievements!

To the family and friends of all the runners; Thank you. Thank you for the warm cookie, the pep talk, the hoots and hollers, the offer of a cold beer. Without all of you, none of us would succeed.

3 Days at the Fair Race Director
and me looking oh so fabulous - right!
To the race directors; Thank you for an unbelievable opportunity to meet so many wonderful runners and new friends and for the path to a new accomplishment.
Will I do this again? Funny you should ask. The other night when I was at my lowest I said I was finished.
"One and done! NEVER again!"
The mind is a tricky thing. You know what they say. Never say never.
Two days later and I’m thinking, “Hell, yeah! I want to do it again.”
Why do I want to do this? Why do I like endurance runs?
It’s a good question that I’m not sure I have the answer to. The answer is probably different for everyone.

There’s a sense of community that comes from ultras and ultra runners that you can’t get from a 5K event or even a running group or maybe anything.
It’s the knowledge that you are pushing yourself to a new limit, to an edge of something that you have never done before and that not everyone would even attempt to do. It’s not just reaching the goal, but the ability to dig deep, very deep, to pull yourself from the pain and keep moving. You reach an awareness of your body and an inner peace in your mind.
You’re not reaching for a finish line, you’re experiencing life and all it’s challenges in every step along the way and it’s how you grow from that pain, those challenges. Embracing the suck and coming out better for it.
I’m not sure that’s an answer, but I can tell you this; My mind and body (all except my feet) are already clambering for the next adventure.

That’s truly what an ultra run is; an adventure that leads you to growth, awareness, and a peace that cannot be put into words.

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