Wednesday, September 27, 2017

It's a Small Thing to A Giant

My journey to Marji Gesick 100 started 2 years ago with a DNF on the mountain bike at Tatanka. I was in over my head, I'd raced too much already that summer and I just wanted to go home and sleep for months. Months later a teammate, who'd been with me at Tatanka, taunted me to sign up for Marji.

Me: "No way. I think I proved at Tatanka I suck a technical."

Him: "There's a run."

Me: "Fine. I'll do the 50."

So last year, I ran the 50, my only race of the year, which I somehow squeezed in while running for office. Of course, after I finished, Todd had to taunt us all to sign up for this year. For some ridiculous reason I felt the need to sign up for the 100 as my first 100 mile run ever.  I figured, screw it, if I'm going to do 100 I might as well do a tough one so there's at least a reason to walk. Plus, Marji's in September in the UP so I figured it would be cool.  (Ha. Ha. Hahaha.)

Training started in January, got a little side tracked in February by the discovery I had post-concussion syndrome from a bike crash, and resumed again in March. Honestly, I didn't really do anything special physically. I just ran a lot on the hilliest trails I could find. Thankfully Big E and I live next to one of the few hilly trails in the Twin Cities so I was able to rack up a lot of weeks where I averaged over 100 feet of elevation per mile.

For this race, the training was more mental. One of the positives of post-concussion syndrome is that the therapy involves a lot of mental training Sure, they were helping me fix my eyes and my balance, but they were teaching me to do it under more stress every time I showed up. By the end, I could balance on a board in the dark with funky glasses on, shooting at moving targets while four different sounds played in the background, including a crying baby.  Crying babies are my weakness. They make me want to pull my own eyelashes out to stop the pain. By the time they released me from therapy, I knew Marji would be doable. There might be cougars but there probably wouldn't be crying babies.

Inspired by some of what the therapy had taught me, I started reading and picked up more mental tricks.  I learned how to stop my chimp brain from throwing poop when it doesn't get its way. I created a bad ass alter ego to use when racing. (Both from Shut the F*** Up and Rise to the Occasion.) I created folders in my head with affirmations to repeat for tough situations. (From I'm Here to Win.) I broke the race down into small sections in my head so I would never think of it as 100 miles. I wrote my motto for the race on my food tub:
Photo Eddie Karow

I taped pictures of people lost too soon on my clothing tub so I could remember to carry them with me:
Photo Eddie Karow
And I taped the great Valentino Rossi's race number on my third tub. My racing ego, Rosie, was inspired by him, so the number would be my reminder to "Be Rosie."
Photo Eddie Karow
By the time we got to Ishpeming, I was mentally and physically ready. I just needed Friday to come.  On Thursday, my trusty and amazing crew captain, Super Kate, and I headed out to scout our checkpoints. We spread them out in the beginning and made them as close together as we could at the end, knowing I'd be tired and she'd need to shuttle pacers around. I was a bit short on pacers (asking for help is still not my strong point!) so we hadn't planned to have any until mile 59. I figured I could manage the first couple hours of dark by myself.

By the time Friday rolled around I felt incredibly ready. No nerves, just excitement. Big E and Cory took me out to the start so Super Kate could get a little extra sleep since she'd be up all night. I collected hugs
Photo Courtesy of Lisa McIntyre
Photo Courtesy of Lisa McIntyre
Applied lots of lube
Photo Courtesy of Lisa McIntyre
And then we were off for the LeMans bike start. Just for fun, the LCR team got ready and we posed for a pic when I got off the bike.
Photo Courtesy of Lisa McIntyre
To be honest, I was thinking, "Really, you want me to STOP for a picture?!" but in hindsight this picture is such a great reminder of what a team effort this was. This group was all over the course, cheering, feeding me, pacing me, enduring the bad gas I started passing at mile 49...... (Damn those Honey Stinger Waffles!)

After that, I was off running. Compared to the rest of the course, the first 18 miles were pretty easy. I cruised through, using my HR monitor to keep me from going too fast. Big E and Cory were with Super Kate at the second checkpoint, mile 18. I was still feeling good so I grabbed my fuel and headed off, with Big E reminding me that the next few miles were tough.

He wasn't kidding. Uphills, rocks, roots. Then there was the thunder. Thankfully I made it through this section without rain, but there was certainly no denying it was coming. Just after I crossed the railroad tracks, where Big E told me it would get easier, I ran into more friends from home on a pre-ride. I collected more hugs, ran the next corner and then the sky opened like I have never seen the sky open before. I ran through some crazy weather in training, including two hailstorms, but this was unlike anything I've seen. In minutes the trail was completely flooded. There was no way around most of it so I just trudged through, hoping I didn't sprain an ankle under all that water.

A couple miles later, Big E was there, waiting in his truck, ready to rescue me. I purposely ran to the driver's side so I couldn't accept a ride, took a baggie for my phone and headed off for my rendezvous with Super Kate a mile a way. There, with a warning there might be hail, I traded my tank top for a shirt, added a cap and headed off into the rain before I could change my mind. Thankfully, the rain had dropped the temperature 20 degrees so at least it wasn't hot anymore!
Photo Eddie Karow
I made my way through Lowes, through the culvert and over to the South trails without much trouble. I'd slowed by then, but I was still happy and having fun exploring new territory. A small cheering section awaited me at the South trailhead, where I'd planned to changed into dry clothes and collect headlamps.
Photo Eddie Karow
Photo Eddie Karow
Big E captured my shoe changing face. My shoe changing tactic is always this: Don't look at your feet, no matter what. Just look away and do what needs to be done. You can deal with your feet at the end. No sense freaking out now.

I headed out with dry clothes and shoes, which felt like taking a shower at that point, determined to finish Scary Trail before dark. That's pretty much exactly what I did. I put my head down, motored through, and made the turn off that trail just a few minutes before turning my headlamp on.  On the way down to one of the road crossings, I encountered a piece of tree across the trail.  I picked it up to chuck it off the trail for the bikers and realized it had been struck my lightning earlier in the day. Nothing like a little reminder that you're truly out there in the elements!

A few minutes later, as I fiddled with the angle on my headlamp, I caught my foot on a root and proceeded to faceplant on the trail, releasing a guttural sound as the wind was knocked out of me. When I jumped up, convincing my self I was fine, I heard, "Lisa?" called from off to the right.

Oh please tell me a bunch of people did not see or hear that!
Photo Courtesy of Lisa McIntyre
A few corners later, there was Big E, to escort me to the road, where the whole LCR team was waiting to cheer. They cleaned the dirt from my tumble, assured me they hadn't seen it, and I was on my way to tackle the rest of Marquette Mountain in the dark. I thought I'd be scared here, but in reality it was one of the most peaceful parts of the race for me. I just got in a groove and moved, knowing Super Kate would be on the other side.

Of course, when I came down the mountain, I wasn't just greeted by just Kate, but the entire LCR crew again, plus Dan, Amy and Ruthie, some friends from town. While I refueled, I was told there was a changed a plans and I'd have a pacer now. "Don't worry," they said. "We worked it out.  You'll have someone with you the rest of the night."

Well I'm certainly not going to argue with that.

My first pacer, Lisa Lisa, and I tackled the next 10 miles, chatting our way through the woods and down some double track, with her reminding me to eat, eat, eat again. We made it to mile 59, where there are finally some easy miles into Negaunee and Kate and I were off this time to run, making up some time on the path. The rest of the night went pretty much like this. Lisa, Kate and Amy switched off pacing and driving. I mostly drank Dr. Pepper,  did my best to stay awake and tried not to complain too much on the two miles of uphill that wound around the Golden Arches 65 times but never actually got there. I'm still wondering if there's actually a McDonald's in Ishpeming or if I just hallucinated it multiple times during the night.
Photo Courtesy of Lisa McIntyre
Photo Courtesy of Lisa McIntyre

By mile 79 we were through Ishpeming, there was just an hour or so of darkness left and my pacers were all off to crew for others on the ride. I headed back on the trail with more dry shoes, excited for what Big E would call the "dawn lap" in a 24 hour race. He's taught me to cherish that precious moment as the sun rises when you feel like you finally made it. Only this time I had over 20 miles left and as soon as the sun came up it was sweltering hot. By mile 87 I'd started to lose my chance to break 30 hours. By mile 89 when I finally met Kate at the park, I knew it was gone. I took a little extra time to eat (cheesy mashed potatoes saved the day the last 15 miles) and headed off to Suicide Bowl with a new goal to try to beat all the 50 mile bikers to the line.

A few miles later, just before the first road crossing, a familiar face appeared on the trail. Dan, knowing I didn't have pacers for the end, had come out again to help me in. I had to smile and shake my head. Those who know me well know I often run with my mom on my mind. We walked thousands of miles together when she was on this earth and she still finds a way to find me whenever I'm moving. I'm quite certain that Dan was her doing.

I first met Dan the night she died. I was renting his girlfriend Amy's basement. I came home one Sunday, turned on my computer and discovered via Facebook that my mom had been hit and killed by a truck while riding her bike. My first thought was that I would stop breathing, right then and there so I yelled for Amy and ran up her steps. While she called my family to try to figure out what was going on, Dan, who was encountering me for the first time while I screamed on the floor, made tea. They sat with me while my aunt (who'd been trying to reach me before Facebook) finished her drive.

So of course, when I saw Dan on the trail, it all made perfect sense. If he could get me through that low moment crying on the kitchen floor, he could certainly get me to this finish line.

Thank you mom for still knowing what I need before I do. 

I know those last few miles took hours, but to me, they were pretty much timeless. I wanted to be done, but I also wasn't quite ready to let go of the outdoor time with mom and Dan. Just a couple miles from the finish, the first 50 mile biker passed me so I set a new goal to beat Heath, a teammate singlespeeding the 50.

As Dan and I reached town and we rounded the last corner to Jasper Hill, the timelessness was over. Suddenly we were in town and I was aware of the time and the crowd and I was ready to get this thing done. A crew, including Heath, who'd pulled out of the race, was waiting at the hill. A group escorted me up as I set a new goal to break 32 hours.
Photo Amy or Dan?
(That's Super Kate escorting me up the hill after being up all night and already pacing 12 miles!)

We hit the last flat and downhill bit and I was running. Granted, everyone else could walk that pace, but I was running.  As soon as the line was close all I could do was scream. And scream. And scream some more.
Photo Ryan Stephens
Then I collected more hugs.
Photo Ryan Stephens
Photo Ryan Stephens
Don't let those pictures fool you. For some reason, for the first five minutes I felt like I hadn't really run that far. Unfortunately, that didn't last.

Thankfully, we'd rented a place a block from the finish line. I couldn't even walk there. The crew carried me and helped me into a bath. I don't know how long later, I somehow made it out of the bathtub and onto the bed. Then it was over. My entire body seized and I started shaking uncontrollably. I couldn't even get dressed so the crew wrapped me blankets and called 911, which is how I'm pretty sure I ended up traveling across the finish line time number two. Naked, in the back of an ambulance.
Photo Ryan Stephens
I'm pretty sure I recognize those two. They were very nice. So were the people in the ER. Only in the UP can they make even a trip to the hospital a pleasant experience. Not that I made it look like it.
Photo Eddie Karow
Big E loves to capture me at my finest. Long story short, three IVs and what appears from that photo to be an angry nap later, we finally made it back to the rental so I could go to bed. Apparently I need to drink more water when I'm running. Lesson learned. The hard way.

Of course that didn't stop us from getting up and walking across the street for breakfast the next morning. Just as we finished eating, we heard the last two riders were coming in. We made it to the line just in time.

They crossed the line together, two strangers who'd formed a bond over the toughness of this course. I recognized the look on their faces- they were giants, Marji was small and they would never be the same.