Where do I begin? First, some big Thank You are in order:
- Denise, Gina, and Abby – for supporting me this past year as I trained for this event and for being there at the aid stations, cheering me on and helping through the day. Also to Sylvia for coming out this weekend and supporting Denise…
- Andy – for the well-timed signs along the course and the support/encouragement at the aid stations. Oh yeah, that cheeseburger at Boston Store tasted GREAT!
- Marty, Scott, Purwanto, Kurt, and Lori – for coming out and cheering me on. Those random events kept my spirits high!
- Paul – for pacing me through miles 60-70. Usually you are so far ahead of me that I can’t even see you!
- JP – for getting me through miles 70-101.2. Thanks for the company, laughs, advice, and encouragement through the night.
I have never been so nervous before an event before. I think that the magnitude of the distance, the endless list of things that could go wrong, the fact that I could fail to finish, and how in the world I would stay awake all night, weighed heavily upon me. My plan was to run 8 minutes and then walk 2 minutes. If there was an uphill during the 8 minute run section, I would walk the hill. I would also walk any steep downhill sections since they beat up my knees and feet. I would repeat this for 101.2 miles, or until my body gave out, whichever came first.
I also knew that I had to run my own race and not get caught up with racing someone or deviating from my plan. Ultras are not so much about racing other people, but rather competing against the course and discovering what we are really capable of accomplishing.
Gina and Abby each took a sharpy marker and wrote words of encouragement on each of my forearms before I went to bed Friday evening. Gina wrote “Go Dad Go” and Abby wrote, “Run” with a smiley face next to it. If I only knew then how much I would lean on those simple words…
Multiple alarms were set for 3am and Denise and I only needed one! We jumped out of bed and got dressed. Denise fed the dogs who wondered why in the world they were eating breakfast at 3am! Grandma, Gina, and Abby were sleeping soundly since we knew the day would be long. We were on our way to Squire’s Castle by 3:30am and listened to the Harry Potter sound track as we went over last-minute logistics. Parking was not a problem since we arrived with plenty of time to spare. As I climbed out of the van, I looked up and the stars were shining bright. It was a pretty cool sight to start the day with. Before we knew it, it was time to line up in the grass and Denise mentioned that it looked like an Easter Egg hunt for grown-ups! Right on time at 5am, the siren sounded and off we went.
I had programmed the interval timers on my watch to chime at 8 and 2-minute intervals. I waited until we started running down River Road before starting the timers since I did not want to trip in the grass less than 200 yards into a 100 mile race.
Several people had headlamps or flashlights as we ran. I elected to not carry one for the start since it was on the road and I figured that the light from others would be enough. I was amazed as I ran that some people were walking already within the first few minutes. This made me feel pretty good about my 8/2 plan since others had similar ideas.
As my watch beeped to signal a walking break, I heard another beep next to me. Paul, from Connecticut, was on a 4/2 plan and we had started within 2 seconds of each other. We were able to talk as we leap-frogged each other for most of the first 10 miles.
I made a crucial decision here. As nice as it was to chat w/Paul during these times, his run pace was a bit faster than mine. My walking pace however was a bit faster than his. I decided to not try to match his pace simply for company. I needed to run my own race and stick to my plan.
Shoe change #1
Denise met me at the Polo Field aid station (mile 9.6) where I changed into my trail shoes. Several people would wait until Station Road before changing out of their road shoes but I wanted the extra support of my trail shoes for the bridle trails that we would be running on for the next 20 miles.
I departed the aid station and Denise left for home to get the girls. The plan was for them to meet me at the Shadow lake Aid station at mile 18.6. Everyone was there and Gina was running around w/o shoes since she had forgotten them at home. It was good to see familiar faces and chat for a minute or two with them. Another part of my race plan was to get into and out of the aid stations as efficiently as I could. There were 22 aid stations for the entire course and just 3 minutes in each is over an hour of time not moving forward. I refilled my bottle, grabbed a couple of pretzels, got sprayed with sunscreen, and off I went down the trail.
Denise and the girls stopped the van in a parking lot off of Richmond road and shouted some additional words of encouragement to me as I ran towards Bedford Reservation.
I passed through the Egbert aid station and my stomach started to turn south. I am not sure what happened, but I felt bad for a while and then felt good again. This sensation would unfortunately last for the entire race. I would periodically look down at the messages on my arms that Gina and Abby wrote to help pull me back up to the proper attitude.
As I exited the park I noticed a green sign hanging on a telephone pole. I read it and then realized that the sign was for me! Andy had left it for encouragement and it worked! I called him during a walk break and thanked him for the gesture. He was waiting for me at the Alexander Road aid station and I unfortunately did not see him standing there until I was ready to leave. He had some food for me and offered several different things. My stomach was just starting to come around to the good again and I did not want to risk shoving something too sweet down. I grabbed some pretzels and continued running.
There were two parts of the course that I was dreading and the first one was fast approaching; the towpath from Frazee House to Station Road. This is a 2.5 mile totally exposed section of gravel towpath. My plan for this section was to walk and conserve energy. As I was walking I came up upon Paul from CT again. He had the same plan as me, walk the entire section. We soon arrived at the Station Road aid station. (mile 33.3) So far, so good.
Quick refill of my bottles, grabbed some food and off to the towpath again for the Carriage Trail loop. I called a co-worker, Marty, to see if he wanted to meet me at the top of the hill since he lives near by. I climbed the hill and Marty and his family were waiting by the unmanned water stop. I topped off my bottles as I chatted with them. I started to leave and Marty said that the lady that filled the water containers was coming back with popsicles. Yummm. I had to decide to wait or to keep running. I started to leave and saw Tanya running down the trail yelling, “I have popsicles!” I waited the few extra moments for a deliciously cold grape pop-ice. Thanks Tanya!
Finished the loop and returned to Station Road again. (mile 39.7) As I crossed the bridge, I saw another co-worker, Scott, standing at the side of the path. Totally unexpected visit! He had phoned Denise to see where I was. He watched as I changed shirts, checked my feet, and generally took a nice break from running. This was the first time I had set down in a chair. There is a phrase used in Ultra races, “Beware the chair!” One can become very comfortable sitting in a chair after running far and it makes starting again that much more difficult.
At this point, I was way ahead of my planned 28 hour pace. In fact I was ahead of a 24 hour pace…way too fast. I decided to walk most of the next section since there were a couple of long uphill stretches ahead. I caught up with a couple of guys, Steve and Doug, who were also walking. They too had the same problem; way ahead of schedule and did not want to miss their pacers since they were faster than planned. We caught up with another man and Steve asked him, “Did you go through Station Road twice?” The man looked puzzled and said “no.” “Dude, you just missed an entire section of the course. You have to do an out and back.” The man stopped, turned around, and started back the 1.5 miles to the aid station… Everyone in our group agreed that we would probably have quit if that had happened to us…
The Ottawa Point Aid station (mile 46.5) had great food. In fact all of the aid stations had great food, but since my stomach was feeling good at this aid station I actually felt like eating. I had a turkey sandwich and some pasta salad! I burped the pasta for the next 5 miles, but it was so worth it! Greg was hanging around the aid station and offered some words of encouragement. He said to keep moving and be smart. That was my plan…
The course follows the Buckeye Trail from Ottawa point to Snowville, then to Boston Store. This is the route for the summer Buckeye Trail 50K and a familiar training route for me. Since I was ahead of schedule so much, I walked most of this section. It was nice to conserve some energy and to enjoy the beautiful day. The temperatures were only near 80 and the humidity was pretty low; about as good as it gets for August in NE Ohio.
It was before the Snowville Road aid station that I caught up with Nick. He has also been blogging his travels to his first 100-mile run and I had met him on a group training run. I was disappointed to see that he had sprained his ankle pretty badly and had become dehydrated. He had just started to sweat again, which meant that he was turning it around but he could not run on the ankle. He worked really, really hard to get ready for this race and I found out later that he dropped out. I am sure that this was a very difficult decision but the correct thing to do. There will be other races. I was still feeling good but this reinforced to me that it could all fall apart quickly, at any time.
The Snowville Road aid station (mile 50.6) was one of the only times that I let myself think about the mileage that I had traveled because this was the halfway point of the race. This point had also shattered my previous distance record of 45 miles set last summer. I was entering uncharted waters. I did not think anymore about this and switched my focus back to just getting to the next aid station. I knew that eventually there would no more and I would be crossing the finish line!
There were a couple of runners ahead of me crossing Columbia Road. I stopped at the road to check for traffic and there was a van coming from the right. I figured that I would be able to make it across safely and entered the roadway. As I reentered the woods, the driver started blowing the horn and then they started shouting, “Go Jerry!” It was Kurt and Lori! Two friends of mine from Twinsburg ‘just happened’ to be driving down Columbia road and I ‘just happened’ to be crossing the road in front of them at the same time…coincidence? I don’t think so… This was a “God thing!” I went back to the road and chatted a minute with them before Kurt yelled with an east-coast accent, “Get outta here, you have a race to run!” This event really lifted my spirits higher than they already were. They met me again at the bottom of the hill at Blue Hen falls. I made it to Boston Store where they had joined my family/crew at the aid station. (mile 56)
Once again, my stomach had turned bad and nothing looked good to eat. I refilled my bottles, grabbed a couple of pretzels, and started off towards Brandywine Falls. My first pacer, Paul, was chomping at the bit to get running but I had to complete this loop first.
I managed to catch up with three guys and they were sharing hallucination stories. These involved porcupines, phantom crewmembers, and other entertaining things to help pass the time. I asked their advice about whether to change shoes or not. The response was “yes” because the cushioning breaks down over time and new/different shoes will help your feet. My feet felt fine, and I was considering keeping the same shoes on a while longer instead of changing at Boston Store.
I just passed the Stanford Hostel and who rode by on their bikes? Yes, it was Kurt and Lori once again!!! Too funny!
Boston Store #2 (mile 60.6)
This was a planned break for me. I wanted to change clothes and shoes before the night section started. I was also going to pick up my first pacer, Paul. He and I have trained a lot together for Ironman and I wanted his upbeat personality and running strength to help me. I would be in unknown territory here and wanted all of the ammunition that I could have to help me through. I decided to just change shoes, socks, and my shirt. My shorts were working fine and I did not want to introduce a possible chafing point. My daughter Gina was horrified that my shirt and shorts didn’t match but I did not care…Teenagers!
Andy had his usual bag of food and this time pulled out a McDonald’s double cheeseburger! Now we’re talking! Oh my, did that ever taste good. Denise fed the sandwich to me as I lubed my feet and changed socks and shoes. My feet were starting to swell a bit so I left the laces a bit looser than I normally do. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but this would come back to haunt me later…
Paul and I checked that we had our headlamps, extra batteries, fluids and food, and off we went towards Pine Lane.
It was really fun to run with Paul. He always has some good stories to tell and it was good to catch up with him. His year has been chaotic with baby #4, new job, and life in general. Running and biking has been a good way to keep him anchored. We shared a lot of laughs as we ran, or rather walked, towards Pine Lane. It was getting darker and darker and we finally switched on the lights. This part of the course is pretty hilly and my feet were sliding around a lot in my shoes. I realized my mistake and tightened the laces but the damage was already done. I had some blisters forming. They did not hurt and I was not really sure what I could have done about them anyways so we kept going.
The Pine Lane aid station (mile 64.7) was announced by a string of glow sticks hanging from the trees. It was pretty cool to see these in combination with the pie plates and reflective pins. It was pretty easy to see where to go. Ramen noodles were available at this station and they sounded good. A small cup of noodles, refill my bottles, and off we went towards Happy Days.
We traveled along the bridle trail with some steep down and uphill climbs. My feet did not like this section at all. Eventually we made it to the pavement again for a couple of miles. My cell phone rang and I did not recognize the number. I answered anyways and it was another co-worker, Purwanto, who was waiting at Happy Days for me! (mile 70.3) Another huge surprise!
My stomach had turned south again so nothing looked good at the aid station. I topped off on fluids again, ate some watermelon, and grabbed a handful of fig Newton’s. JP was there and was ready to pace me to the end. We adjusted our lights and started through the tunnel towards the Ledges trail.
We completed the climb up to the Ledges trail and then the markers suddenly went off the ‘normal’ trail into the rocks. JP and I both thought, “What’s going on here?” The trail meandered around the rocks and through a couple of tight gaps in between. I barely fit through one gap and had to turn my waist pack sideways to clear the rocks! I jokingly asked “Who designed this course!? Why I oughta…” Then, we suddenly were back on the trail. A couple of minutes later, JP and both said, “That was actually pretty fun!!” It was a nice distraction and diversion from the norm.
We caught up with Mike George and chatted briefly with him. As we continued on, I realized that I had not seen a trail marker for a while. I knew that the route was going to turn right soon and thought that we may have missed it. We doubled back and ran into Mike again. He said, “No, the turn is just ahead.” Sure enough, it was and off we went towards Kendall Hills.
I was really looking forward to the “Sound of Music Hill” since earlier this year JP and I had a night run here and the lightning bugs were everywhere! They were very pretty to see, but unfortunately this night, the bugs were not out. However, as we exited the woods near the lake, two headlamps appeared on top of the hill, looking like a light house, drawing us up the hill. Two volunteers were there to help direct us down the hill. We paused for a moment at the top and turned off our lamps. The stars were simply stunning on this clear beautiful night! We reached the aid station (mile 75.1) and same story, grab fluids, pretzels, banana, and off again.
The night was cool in the exposed sections but very comfortable in the woods. We were making our way to the covered bridge aid station and had to traverse the Wetmore trail. This section is typically wet and muddy, but the dry weather had allowed things to dry up very nicely. In fact, I had kept my feet dry all day and so far, all night long! We paused briefly at a blackberry patch for a couple of berries to eat. Fresh fruit always tastes good. As we ran along Bolanz road, we heard voices ahead. There was a group of young girls with their parents watching the meteor shower. I needed to take a brief bathroom break at the visitor’s center and JP saw several meteors as he waited! It was turning into a great night!
The covered bridge aid station (mile 81.6) was pretty crowded with volunteers and crew hanging around. JP and I had decided on our way to this aid station that I would change shoes AFTER the Perkins loop. This way, since the trail is pretty muddy/wet, dry shoes and socks would feel good afterwards.
This was the second part of the course that I was not looking forward to. This trail is very steep, technical, lots of horse hoof divots, and it was very dark in the woods. By now, it was just after 1am and I had been moving since 5am, and my feet were starting to hurt from the blisters. I know, whaaa…. I expected some discomfort during this run, but I did not know in what form or how much. My feet would hurt mainly during the transitions from walking to running and back. The fluid in the blisters would shift around and after 10-15 seconds, the pain would diminish; it was still there, but almost tolerable. We were surprised the see that the trail was fairly dry and we were making ok time. We decided to walk in order to help prevent any ankle rolls. It was dry, but still lots of roots and other obstacles. Denise texted a quick message from home and replied that I was ok.
As we went down a steep hill, I felt a squish in my right foot along with a most unpleasant feeling like a knife jabbing into my foot. The blister had popped! After 30 seconds or so, it actually felt better! Keep moving…
Around an hour later, I had another squish as another blister popped. We completed the loop and arrived back to the covered bridge. (mile 85.7) I was amazed that I felt as good as I did but wanted to change shoes and socks. As I peeled off my socks, I was expecting to see some ugly stuff, but actually it was not too bad. JP and I had discussed options before we arrived to the aid station and there really were not too many; I was not going to stop, my feet hurt, but I could still move. So, the only choice was to keep going! I lubed my feet with Body Glide, put on fresh socks and different shoes. I grabbed my long-sleeved shirt and a glass of Mountain Dew. I thanked the volunteer that helped me with my drop bag and shoes, and JP and I headed off towards O’Neil Woods.
The course traveled on the road for a few miles here and the air was clear and cool. JP and I kept running when I could and walking when I could not. We traveled up the trail towards the O’Neil Aid Station (mile 89) and I had to use the bathroom again. The volunteers started cheering as we exited the woods. The bathroom was right there so we stopped. JP told me that he could hear the volunteers asking, “Where did they go?” We finally arrived and enjoyed some delicious grilled cheese sandwiches! Another runner and his pacer had arrived before us and left as JP and I drank some coffee. It tasted pretty good and I wanted the caffeine kick. The volunteers started to brew another pot and when they turned on the coffee pot, the generator revved up suddenly. I was amazed that a coffee pot would draw that much power….
JP and I looked at each other and decided to get out of there since we had what we needed. As we left we had an interesting conversation that went something like this.
JP: You know, I’m not a real competitive person, but…
Me: Yeah, I just want to finish the distance. But I’ll bet that we can catch that other runner.
JP: I agree but we need to be careful that we don’t blow up ourselves…
Me: Game on…
So the rest of the night we played, “let’s see if we can catch anyone.” I was able to keep moving. We would walk and then throw in some 2-minute run sessions. My original 8/2 plan had switched to a 2 minute run with a 4-8 minute walk. But we were moving!!! My feet hurt regardless if we were running or walking. My legs felt fine, so I would try to run as much as possible so that we could get to the finish faster!
The course was now following the towpath. It was very interesting that I could run on the gravel section, but the paved sections hurt my feet much more. JP and I both were looking for gravel. The grass alongside the path was a bit too unstable for my feet so I stayed on the path.
It was around 3am that I hit a low spot… I had been awake for 24 hours and moving for 22 of them. I was tired. JP stopped for a bathroom break and I put my head in my hands as I leaned against a fence. I quickly realized that if I did this for 10 more seconds, I would fall asleep standing there!! I lifted my head and said, “JP, I’m walking!” and I kept moving down the trail. “Just…keep…moving…forward!”
Back at home, Denise checked my progress on-line and awoke the girls at 3am to get back on the course. I phoned them just as they were backing out of the garage and heading to Merriman Road.
The sky started to get brighter and JP said that my second sunrise was fast approaching along with a “second wind”. I had read about this sensation and it was true. I was feeling more and more awake. Denise and the girls were at Merriman Road (mile 93.5) waiting for us. The girls were in the van since they had seen several skunks lurking about. Denise walked with us into the aid station and commented how fast we were still moving. We had continued to pass other runners since O’Neil woods and were sure there were others ahead. Fast stop here as we stepped over someone in a sleeping bag. I assumed that he was a volunteer? We said good-bye to my family and started toward Memorial Parkway, 3 miles away.
I had stopped drinking HEED at O’Neil Woods and went with water and Mt. Dew/Coke instead. I was ready for a change… We arrived at the Memorial Parkway aid station. (mile 96.4) Things were pretty quiet here and we topped off water and grabbed some food. I don’t remember what I ate here, but as we headed out we could see several runners and pacers going up the hill. JP and started off on our walk/run again.
I knew that there were a couple of short trail sections ahead that would be challenging with my feet feeling like they did. But I tried to just block out the discomfort and keep moving forward. This was my simple plan; “Just keep moving forward…” We continued to catch and pass runners as we went. Before long, we were in the Gorge and the final rocky section. I was following JP’s feet as he moved along the trail. There were a couple of rocks that he jumped over and I started to laugh because there was no way I was jumping… We emerged from the woods and had one short road section to go. Gina and Abby met us as we crossed the street and entered the finish chute. Vince’s dog got away from him and the dog darted across the path in front of me! Pretty funny as Joe said “One last obstacle for you…” Time of day: 7:28am !!! Run time 26 hours 28 minutes!
High-fives all around! We watched a few people come in and it was time to get my shoes off and let the Podiatry students have some fun. I had blisters on the balls of both feet, and one on my right heel. The students drained them and placed some bandages on my soles. Things felt much better. JP and I enjoyed a fine breakfast prepared by Chef Bill. My stomach had finally settled down! Maybe it was all of that running!
I changed my shirt and we decided to head home. The awards ceremony was 2 hours away and we were all pretty beat. I got my buckle from Joe and we headed home, dropping JP off at Happy Days to retrieve his car. I fell asleep within 5 minutes and do not remember the rest of the drive home!
Things I learned:
1) Do not ever underestimate what you can do! I know this sounds trite, but it is true.
2) Family and friends make the journey much more pleasant! Having Denise, Sylvia, Gina, and Abby there at the aid stations was priceless! Seeing Andy, Marty, Scott, Kirk, Lori, and Purwanto along the course throughout the day was an added bonus.
3) Lace your shoes properly. Enough said!
4) Just keep moving…
I went into this race knowing that this was a “once-in-a-lifetime” event. Denise and I had both agreed that there would not be a “next time” which was a huge motivator for me during the race. It turns out that everyone had a lot of fun during the day and Sunday evening Denise told me that Gina and Abby said, “We want to stay out all night the next time Daddy does this!” Hmmm, maybe there will be more….