Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fast Women and Buzzards

March 25, 2011: Friday afternoon, I took by wife, daughter and son-in-law striper fishing on Smith Mountain Lake. I had hoped they would catch one, but, unfortunately I was the only one. I landed a nice 21 incher and it was fun. The plans were to fish early afternoon, and eat dinner early so as to facilitate a good night’s rest.

We were challenged by my daughter to a game of hearts in which she informed us, she “would take us to school”. Growing up as a child it was one of mom’s favorite games, and I was very rusty, but quickly remembered. Brenda plays it often on the computer and instead of being schooled, we schooled her, badly. We headed upstairs as Jakob barely beat her in ping pong and retired early. I have never not had some kind of issue right before any attempt at an ultra marathon and this one would be unique. My sleep would be drastically interrupted. I had a “Proctalgia Fujax” moment that pulled me out of a deep sleep. This is a rectal cramp that is unimaginably painful. (you don’t want one of these) I have fainted with them before. (I faint easily) I quickly quoted from memory Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24 reminding myself that “by his wounds we are healed” and “by His wounds you have been healed” and walked around the living room praying. I have needed to lean and trust in scripture for much worse pains and sicknesses and sorrows and I still marvel that Jesus bore all my sins, all my sorrows and all my sicknesses. I took some vitamin I (Ibuprophen) and after 15 minutes of pain meds, prayer and scripture quoting, it subsided enough to attempt lying down again. (They normally last for hours.) Fortunately, I was able to get a little sleep until our 4:15 a.m. wakeup. I had laid out all my gear ahead of time and after dressing, we headed to the start. The deer were out in herds, and the trip was uneventful as we made our way to the start. I had to make an emergency potty stop on the side of the road, and when I saw the lines to the restrooms, I was glad I did. The weather forecast included everything from light rain to snow to cloudy with a high in the forties.

The air was chilly and damp, and I soon figured out that my layers were not sufficient. After checking in and picking up my race bib, I was already chilled and decided to add one more layer after doing some stretching. (I would be glad, later on.). I had on my finisher shirt from the HL 50k, a camouflage shirt and my LUS 2007 series light weight jacket. I try to color coordinate now, so I put on my Florida Gator visor because it matches the blue of the jacket. Brenda had not only driven me to the race start but was video documenting the moment as well. After a few bad starts, she recorded my thoughts on the beginning and soon I was kneeling at the start as the race director asked a participant to lead in prayer. In a moment we were off into the dark. Thirty nine minutes later the two leaders would make it to the top. I would be fiddling around the way through the first creek crossing at the same time. There were about ten of us trying to figure a way across, none of which was good. I somehow chose to not just wade through, but instead risked life and limb trying to step across large moss and slime covered rocks upstream. I thought to myself, on the way back I am just wading through. I nearly fell over into the rushing stream but somehow made it across safely. I had pre-determined to be helpful on the race, but the survival instincts over rode it and I was striding on up the mountain when I remembered I should have helped the others across. As soon as I recovered I looked back and apologized to the first group that soon caught up. I was blessed to see it was an old friend, Diane Taylor from Nashville. We then reconnected on all that has happened in the few years of being away from ultras. It was fulfilling to be able to share with her and others within earshot of my healing of cancer and recovery from all the complications and treatments thereof. An hour and 12 minutes later I reach the first aid station called Camping Gap 1. There were two simultaneous races going on. A half marathon and a 50K. I had to ask a few people which way to go, and they pointed me down the other side of the mountain. Great. It was a gravel road, and it was a fairly easy slope, and side by side with Diane we made it down in pretty good time. A treat was seeing the two lead runners coming back up the mountain. They were running up the mountain faster than we were running down the mountain. We made it to the next aid station, and noticed pink streamers going off to the left up the mountain. I headed in that direction, but was told to keep going down the mountain. I figured there must be some kind of a loop thing that brought you out by this aid station. After a while, I started getting nauseas and my stomach was talking to me, so I told Diane to go on ahead, as I needed to stop. I popped some antacid pills, relieved myself, ate some electrolyte filled nutrition gooey stuff, and slowly started feeling better. I was going to experiment on this ultra with supplementing with my multivitamin assortment every two hours. It was nearing two hours, and I could see the aid station ahead, so I downed the package, and drained my water bottle. The aid station was staffed with some cheerful young people who were well trained to tell everyone how well they were doing. (There is a fine line between encouragement and lying, and they stayed on the encouraging side, and I headed back up the mountain on a different road, but my stomach still was hurting. The two lead runners had bottomed and topped the mountain in the time it took me to make it down the mountain. Diane was way ahead, and I was alone and it was okay. I didn’t see anyone behind me and it slowly dawned on me that I was last. It didn’t mess with my head too much. The streamers were marking a trail off of the road, and into the woods I went. They were gorgeous woods and along this stretch I saw what I think was sign of turkey’s scratching for last season’s acorns. There must have been a pretty huge flock that had discovered the acorns, for the trail was marked often with their sign. I eventually came out of the woods back to the aid station, and after refueling, began walking back up the road. It was lined with campsites and one particular site there were two teenagers being mentored into trout fishing by a young adult. The stream was full and the boys were standing on a large rock casting their baited ultra lite rod and reel into a large pool. The trout must not have been cooperating at least in the time it took me to walk past. I thought of my friend, Jeff, and how he would have liked to be giving it a try. I am not sure of the distances between all the aid stations, but I think the aid station back at Camping Gap 2 after climbing back up the mountain said it was 16.7 miles. It took me two hours and nine minutes to make it back up the mountain and I was now sitting at 4: 14. I thought to myself my friend, Ben was done with his National Marathon run and was enjoying the feeling of completion. Meanwhile I was pointed to my right where I saw some people running at me and realized I was heading into a loop. It was here I got to see other runners including the fast women. I didn’t think I was as far back of the pack as I really was because I got to see so many runners. I mistakenly thought I must be better off than I thought. (I was wrong.) The loop was much longer loop than I realized. I passed the spot where the loop came back upon itself and was very quickly alone again. I also didn’t understand that this little loop would also ascend to the highest elevation (according to the course map) at a mere 3615 feet. One note of encouragement was I passed someone and then another one. One had a cramp and another had stopped to take a rock out of his shoe. I kept worrying about this ‘punch’ thing the race director had mentioned in the pre-race briefing. I asked the guys I passed if they knew anything and they were as clueless as I was. At one obscure place, there were three or four streamers and an object hanging from a string. I approached with caution and attempted to use it as a punch, but it wasn’t like any punch I was familiar with. I tried it a few times and looked at my bib number and at least there was some evidence albeit small, that I had indeed found the punch and used it. I had caught up to Diane and discovered I was a bit faster on the downhills and I was now ahead of three people. I eventually made it back to Camping Gap, now the third time and asked which way to go. I was now 5:40 in. The lead runners had already finished, taken pictures, eaten, showered, taken a sauna, gotten their massages, made it home, watched a movie and were checking email. Someone pointed up a very steep ascent and broke me out of my daze. The White Oak loop had a slow ascent from 3000 ft. to 3600 ft. over a mile or so, but this one went from 3000 to 3500 in, like 20 yards. Not really, but it was Billy goat steep. Surrounded by Mountain laurel and solitude, up and up and up and up I went, pausing long enough to count my heart beats in my head. Finally, at the peak I was greeted with two signs. The one on top said, #2 Fat Mans Revenge with an arrow to the left. Below it was another sign, with #1 Summit with an arrow to the right. Now, I am thinking, why didn’t the #1 sign go on top, and is this some kind of a trick. Do I go with the uppermost sign or the number one sign? Also about this time I am getting disoriented and my mind is playing tricks on me. I looked around for any human help, but there aren’t any (that I can see)(maybe they were hiding to see which way I would go and then jump out and scare me). I shrug my shoulders, make a guess that I should go with the #1 sign instead of the uppermost sign, and head to the right. I was really hoping for a little guidance at this moment. I make my way across some large boulders and see a gorgeous panoramic view and what I think is another of the punch thingies. The problem is, you have to go out on this ledge thing and I am already dizzy. I ease on out, and punch my bib, and take a moment to survey the view. I see a gorgeous view and as I pan to the right realize I do have a companion, but it isn’t human. Perched about 20 feet away is a buzzard eyeing me. I wonder if this is some trick being played on the back of the packers. Like, “I know, just for fun, let’s make the back of the packers think they are supposed to go out on this ledge to be food for my pet buzzard”. I peaked over the ledge to see if there were any streamers down there, to make sure I wasn’t supposed to try to climb down somehow. I am still second guessing myself and stumble back to the spot of the two signs when Diane makes it to the junction and she asks me what to do. I tell her what I did, but I also tell her I don’t know if it is the correct thing or not. (I think it best not to tell her about the pet buzzard.) I follow the streamers through rock outcroppings and still am disoriented and dizzy. I stumble upon yet another patch of streamers and below on a string is the elusive third punch. And then… I see the dreaded Fat Man’s revenge. At this moment my ‘feed my pet buzzard plot’ becomes real as I realize the director is directing us to squeeze through this narrow crack in an outcropping. To get into the narrow crack required being very careful as not become a steer, if you know what I am alluding to. Being disoriented, dizzy, and distrustful of the plot to hassle the back of the packers didn’t make a positive passage through the narrow gap. I am guessing I am about 24 to 25 miles in and my legs aren’t liking this crawl, squat, kneel thing to get through, but I made it through and then it was down, down, down, down. I saw lots of bear poop or some kind of poop that wasn’t human that was laced with lots of fur of some dead quarry, so I kept moving. Three of the people who were behind me were reduced to two and then to one as the fellow who had stopped to clear the stone out of his shoe blew past me. The young man with the cramp was joined by a friend and they also blew right past me. I had begun to worry about Diane and I asked him if she made it through the Fat Man’s revenge and he affirmed that she had. After a while I approached a young woman who, though being far below me I could tell something wasn’t right. As I got closer I saw she was hugging herself attempting to retain body heat. She was shivering cold and I thought about giving her one of my layers, but they were all wet. I thought about trying to hug her to give her warmth, but thought it might be awkward and be misunderstood. All I could do was empathize and encourage her and eventually passed her. I was thankful for my layers and my jacket. Down, down, down and after what seemed forever found two young guys nonchalantly sitting in chairs, looking down the hill. They speak in a very slow drawl and they point me down hill and I meet a few runners coming back up. I ask if I am going the right way, and they affirm that I am, and one group tells me that the cutoff time is fast approaching. I make it to the aid station, and am informed the cutoff was in one minute. He told me I had completed 26 miles and it was only about five miles to the end. He also said that it was a nice easy, gentle sloped downhill run to the finish and to enjoy myself. I should have picked up on his sarcasm as he had this kind of funky orange spiky wig thingy on his head (or maybe I was hallucinating). I load up on fluids and a handful of PB and J sandwiches, and head back up the mountain, yelling up to both the hypothermic young lady and to Diane. The young lady was crying and the thrill of the race was gone. I whispered a prayer for her and when Diane came into view chose not to tell her that she might get pulled. Early on she had told me of recent races that had pulled her for not making the time cutoff. The two boys are heading down the mountain carrying their chair and I really hoped I could find the streamers leading to the left and down the “gentle slope” to the finish. I was 7:13 in and I was filled with joy, thinking I was going to make it. I only had an hour and forty seven minutes to take my time down the “gentle slope” the funky orange spiky haired person told me about. Climbing from about 400 ft. to about 1200 ft. may not seem like much, but when your mind has settled into a big ‘aaah’, I am about to do a “gentle” downhill run, and it turns out to be a 800 ft. ascent (that is four Chinsegut Hill’s where I was raised), became a not such a good thing. I had to re-engage the brain, and recalculate what was involved. I eventually got my mind back in the groove and now the watch began to call me. Sooner than I wanted I passed the 8 hour mark and I was still a long ways away from anything familiar. I kept moving as fast as I could and it started snowing. Snow! I also could hear a dog barking down in the valley which sounded very similar to my grand dog Hobbes. We have our own family’s version of Calvin and Hobbes. (My first name is Calvin). My daughter’s dog surely wasn’t the one barking as I had let her know of the race director’s explicit instructions not to bring dogs, but, it played on my mind just a bit. I also entertained the idea of getting Dr’s Horton and Zealand a stuffed dog as a joke. It was obvious how much they love dogs and really like for them to be at the races. I would have enjoyed this portion of the run a lot more if I wasn’t starting to worry that I wasn’t going to make it before the nine hour cutoff. I attempted to assure myself, and remembered how I was even here in the first place. I recounted the Sunday morning service of January 2, 2011 kneeling at the altar with elements representing the body and blood of Jesus in hand. I yielded myself up to the Lord and asked for his leading for 2011. That afternoon, I received a sense that the Lord was calling me back to ultra marathons and out of cancer, back pain and bone disease. January 3, though I hadn’t run in months entered the LUS series of which this one was the second. The Lord had brought me this far, and I knew he was going to carry me through to the end, but… my mind began to play tricks, like…, when would the end come. I had been singing in my head songs of faith all day, and even more so now. I was walking/running by faith, not by sight, and it became more and more real as I was experiencing one of the more difficult races of my life. I kept hoping I was getting closer to the end, and I knew I had to be, but the trail just kept on going up and around the side of the mountain. Eventually I saw the initial creek crossing and didn’t hesitate sloshing on through. I wasn’t going to risk breaking something just to keep my feet dry. Now, began the “gentle” descent in my wet shoes that the orange, spiky, wig thingy person told me about. I was so thankful the cramps had not come and my experiment with multivitamins every two hours had worked. I cannot remember feeling more positive about a ‘one mile to go’ sign than I did on this race. I looked at my watch, and I calculated I could walk the rest of the way and make it. I probably could even walk it backwards, but, maybe another day. I could now enjoy the moment. After hitting the hard road and cresting a hill I saw the three guys in the distance who had passed me. I also saw a figure on the left hand side of the road in a white coat with a black thing hung across their shoulder. I think to myself, that person looks just like my wife. The online system of notifying of a runner’s time at each aid station had stopped posting times and by all accounts it appeared that I had stopped running the race hours ago, and no one could tell her what had happened to me. She was heading up the road to look for me. She, my daughter and son in law were there on the road, and broke out into a cheer once they saw it was me.

Brenda was crying with positive emotion, once she realized it was me, and that I was okay. It was the first race any of my children had been able to come to, and it was quite the blessing to jog the rest of the way in being escorted by my wife, daughter and son in law 8:43:09 after beginning. I thanked the race director for a well done race (I also told him he was a crazy man for designing this thing) and began to realize the immensity of the miracle of grace that had just occurred. My son-in-law, Jakob noticed the medal
was the outline of a turtle. I didn’t until that moment connect that Terrapin Mountain was known as a turtle mountain. Since I am as slow as a turtle it fits. On one hand it was good I didn’t have a clue as to the difficulty of the race, but on the other hand it would have been a little more helpful to have studied the course and listened better to the pre-race instructions. I think it is called cognitive dissonance. I heard it, but didn’t hear it. They had some freshly smoked pulled pork sandwiches and as I sat down to feast, heard, then saw that Diane hadn’t been pulled and was about to finish. I asked Brenda to take her picture and to bring her over and it was a happy reunion, as we shared about the race with my family. True to form, Diane could talk with a smile on her face, about the adventure and we all connected around a common love of life. I was getting chilled, and the two pork sandwiches had joined the eight gooey nutrition packs and various food supplies each aid station offered. So, with some hugs and good byes, Brenda and I headed home while Diane headed back to Nashville and the kids headed back to our lake house. Back at the car our little Cairn Terrier was quietly waiting in her crate. I am still thinking of giving a pet dog to both Dr. Horton and Dr. Zealand, as they love to have dogs at all their races so much. (maybe not). Since one of them already has a pet buzzard trained to monitor the Summit Punch station, they may not need another pet.


  1. Your blog looks nice, even so it would be far better if you’ll be able to use lighter colors too as a professional design. This will make sure that a lot more readers come to check it out.Informative post by the way!

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  2. Craig, thank you for sharing your race report. I ran the half and aspire to run longer distances. It is good for someone in my position to read your story. I see so much to learn. I appreciate your value in finding scriptural encouragement along the way.
    I see you checked out my race report too. thanks!
    Be sure and hay hello if we see each other at a race in the future. Any chance you'll come to Roanoke on 6-5-11 for the Conquer the Cove, trail marathon??

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