Beast of Burden Summer - 2011

Alternate title : 2 Straight Ultras without sexually harassing participants! (At one point I ran past these two ladies standing on the sidewalk watching the runners and as I passed they said something encouraging, so I said "Thank you" and one of them said under her breath "Same to you". I am going to be vain and assume she was happy to see me shirtless.)
Alternate title 2 : Totally first world complaints about how my feet hurt in a very controlled environment in one of the richest nations in the world.

Finally back and unpacked from Buffalo! What a fun time. But, a big fat DNF for me.

My sister is engaged to a fellow from near Buffalo so after I made plans to stay with his family for this race my sister decided to turn it into a family vacation. We all went and visited Niagara falls and had good eats. Friday night I headed into Lockport to attend a pre-race get together. It was fantastic to meet all the other runners and hear their stories. There were some very accomplished people at this race! A crew of us went to a really cute local Italian restaurant (with fantastic meatballs). From our conversations you'd have thought ultramarathons were more about travelling on foot between outdoor restaurants than it was about running.

Lockport itself was kinda cute. A few sections looked questionable but after driving through Arbor Hill in Albany every day, nothing too worrisome. They were hosting some kind of free concert so there was a gazillion youngings on the street on my way home.

Saturday morning I did final preparations and headed into Lockport. There was a large pavilion and a small boathouse with bathrooms and showers. The RD had set up some popup tents and some people had camped out the night before near the pavilion. I checked in and got my kicking schwag bag. Seriously, best schwag of any race I've ever had. It came with a questionably heterosexual looking neckband that had spongy material in it so that you could soak it in ice water and wrap it around your neck. I wore it nearly the whole race and I think it helped! I sent a box of supplies down to the turn around and watched everybody else check in. Two notables at this event were the winner of the previous summer100 and a Badwater hero who won the winter race.

The course layout was a 12.5 out and back. There was a full aid station at the start, turn around and at 6.5 miles in. Later in the race some water jugs showed up at mile 3. The race starts with a 1.5 run along a park that sits along the canal. At 1.5 miles there is a lock (Which is still active) that we had to cross. At times during the race you'd have to either stop when the lock is up or climb up some stairs to get across the raised lock. Luckily I never had to fight with it.

The path to the bridge was pavement but there was plenty of grass to run on (Complete with tons of goose shit). The rest of the course was almost entirely really finely crushed stone. I feel this made it way easier on my Vibram'ed feet. Maybe the only reason I was able to go as far as I did, given how much my feet hurt at Wakefield.

Once on the other side of the canal you started back towards the start line which was curious. At night you'd be running down the path (coming from the turnaround) and the aid station would appear on the opposite side of the canal, this beautiful bright beacon playing underwater sounding pink floyd on repeat. But you'd still have to run 1.5 miles to the bridge, cross, then 1.5 miles to the start.

The path followed the canal all the way to the turn around. There were trees lining the path that offered no protection from sun or rain. Houses were sporadic and there were stretches where you could see for a good 3/4-1 mile. Or something. I am horrible at gauging distances. It was enough that at times you'd come around a bend and go, "For fucks sake, that's a long way to run."

We all lined up at the start line and with an air horn (I might be making that up, but I feel it adds much needed drama to the story) we were off. The sun was intense right from the getgo. I hung around with an experienced fella for 3/4 of the first lap. He definitely helped me keep my pace under check. I was consuming about 18oz of fluid every 30 mins. Both of my bottles had a scoop of Heed. I picked at stuff at the aid stations as I wasn't too hungry yet. Some peanut M&M's here and there. When one of my bottles was empty I'd fill it with water till I got to a turn around so that I could douse myself with it. At one point a young girl was practicing yoga near one of the bridges and I thought it would be a totally rocking idea if there could be one at every bridge. Ya know, have a yoga studio sponser the run and send out some students in shifts? Help us get our zen on.

After going out solo I picked up the pace a bit. I tried soaking my feet in ice water after the first lap but I didn't feel it make much of a difference, which was troubling. On the second loop I continued to pick at food and even tried some watermelon (which I still hate). They also broke out a snow cone machine with two flavors (I know, Awesome. Fucking awesome. Hit the spot like a champ.)

Then the trouble started. I wanted to push it hard the first 3 then mail in the 4th loop with plenty of time left. On my way back on the 2nd loop I started having stomach problems. I got to the last aid station on the way back and sat down next to a very nice gentleman who had to drop due to some foot injuries. He was 21 years old, which is realllly young for these races so I give him a lot of credit. It made me wonder how different life would have been if I knew these races existed, and were actually attainable, 6 years ago.

As I sat there I summoned all my experience from college of trying not to throw up the immense (for me) amount of beer a certain Army Officer had coaxed me into drinking. I sipped some ice cold coke and tried to talk while my head was spinning. It became apparent that I was going to have to resort to Plan B, aka, the 9PM Puke to continue the party. I only had to use it once in college, but it worked splendidly. I quietly walked to the grass on the opposite side of the aid station and proceeded to not so quietly tactically ralph in said grass. I inspected the contents of my stomach like it was an episode of CSI to figure out where I went wrong. Was that a piece of watermelon? or was the salt, sugar and water creating some kind of crazy gel in my stomach?

I think I just consumed too much Heed. The smell was making me a bit nauseous. But unlike perpetuem I was able to keep using Heed after the incident. I kept it to 1 scoop of Heed in only 1 bottle per lap.

I sat down for a bit more, finished my coke and within a bunch of minutes I grabbed a grilled cheese sammich and hit the road. I was powerwalking as my stomach was still questionable for running. I was swinging the grilled cheese sandwich like a counterweight. A man just cannot look serious while walking aggressively with a grilled cheese sandwich in his hand though.

It was then that I started wondering about how much the whole event didn't even feel like a sport, more like a strange dare from your friends. There was a point where I was at one the aid stations and someone asked what flavor snow cone one of the runners wanted and he replied "a shot of both". Like he was mixing and matching at an ice cream parlor between two marathons. Hilariously surreal. I thought about this later and laughed as I sat at an aid station with my feet up while volunteers brought me cups of lentil soup and mountain dew.

Anyway. The plan was hit the start line and slam a red bull then friggin' power through lap 3. And that shit almost went off without a hitch. The red bull instantly took any pain away in my feet (The ice water still was doing nothing for me). Fatigue was gone and I chugged right along with few walk breaks. At the aid stations I made sure to take in salt (Since I left most of it in the grass at Gasport, and was drinking less Heed) in the form of broth. Mmmm. Broth. Towards the turn around my IT band started hurting where it connected near my hip. It was fine because it was nothing compared to what I knew my foot pain was going to be.

At the turn around there happened to be an awesome massage therapist there and she was able to work some release into my hips. It was actually stunning how accurate she was with her pressure. I really had a lot of respect for her. It's so cool to see someone who has really mastered a trade. As she poked and prodded I can only imagine it was muscle and otherwise memory guiding her fingers over muscle and tendon as easily as my fingers can glide on this keyboard. Knowledge of muscle connectivity and relative locations of common problem areas. The feel of overworked muscles. Total geeked out over the bioengineeringness of it all. Viewing the body like an organic car.

Woh, second tangent. I only have one more tangent I think. I can get through this.

The way back was a bit slower, a lot less piss and vinegar. The night time running was a really great experience. It still had not cooled down in this lap very much and I was sweating like a pig. The region was quiet except for the insects. The sound reminded me of my open window at the house I grew up in that lulled me to sleep every night. I could smell the summer air and look out into the darkness of the woods. It was dark that night too. The only light for most of the run was from my headlamp bouncing lightly on my head. By this point I only ran into someone every 10-15 mins or so. Most everyone was wearing a headlamp and flashing LED light on their back. Still there were points where you could look ahead and behind and not see any sign of anybody. Just you and your pain and fatigue. My whole existence started to get a little fuzzy as the glycogen became absent to feed my brain. Life was a dancing ball of light in front of me pulling me along the dark trail. Blue night sky above me. Sounds of lapping water, fervent life and my own breathing. Cool, wet, sweat soaked skin sometimes felt more strongly with a gentle breeze. Breath coming from the overworked bodies core was still hot. And the loudest of all that I was experiencing was my feet. They just wanted to get the weight off of them.

I think I started to see things. A pile of leaves would for a split second be an alligator before I'd realize there were no alligators here (I blame meeting that guy from FL). Goose crap become those fuzzy caterpillars and I'd stop and say "Awww" when I stepped on one. Inspection would reveal it was indeed Goose crap. Frogs were real though, Other people reported seeing them. I must have nearly stepped on 10 of them as they came into the ball of light at the last possible second before collision. At times it felt like my brain was skipping a few slides of a picture reel. I'd see it as if my light was flickering but I think I was infact losing split seconds of consciousness.

Sometimes a single point of light would appear bouncing on the horizon to drag me from my trance. I tried to offer some silly cheer or shout but most people stayed in their mental state and kept on keepin' on. Which I totally respect. Everyone handles stress differently.

At Gasport I started to fall apart. I sat down and realized I had about 31 more miles to do. I started thinking about the distance, that was more than most of my long training runs. Still a whole other marathon to run. I knew I still had plenty of time so I planned on getting back after finishing the 75 and laying down. If I laid down for an hour I'd still have nearly 12 hours to finish when I started again. It worked in Wakefield to reduce the pain in my feet. On the trip from Gasport to the start line I slowed down a lot more. Twice I started to sit down in the middle of the trail and stopped myself. The third time I gave in and sat down. It felt so good to get off my feet. It was at this point I knew I probably wasn't going to finish. I sat there for a while in the dark. Ate a gel pack with some caffeine. Thought about what it meant to be a quitter. I got up and walked the rest of the way to the start.

I tried laying down but my feet and legs were restless and twitching. Ice water did 0 to help. I got to watch the winners cross the finish line though which was fun. They all kicked some serious ass.

I poured 2 red bulls into a water bottle and hit the road. I lasted about 1 mile of shuffling before I started walking. Then stumbling.. and it was just a mess. I had 11.5 hours to cover 25 miles and I was in enough foot pain that I didn't want to do it. I did a lot better than Wakefield considering I did 75 miles in 17:15. Maybe if I had a pair of cushiony shoes I could do 100 in < 24? Who knows. I wasted 1 hour trying to recover and 30 mins throwing up. I'd like to try before the year is up. Maybe standing for a few hours at work every day will strengthen my feet and make it easier to be on them?

The mind feels very defeated that it let the body win. All I had to do was suffer a bit and I couldn't, grr, frustrating.

Aid stations were top notch and volunteers were OVER THE TOP helpful and friendly. I consumed PBJ, M&M's, Broth, Lentil soup, Chicken Soup, Grilled Cheese, Reeses, Mountain Dew, Coke, Pancakes, 'naners, Snow Cone, Little Debbie Macaroons (They were a sponser, f-yeah).

RD puts on a helluva show. I *almost* want to run the February version. When I said something to him at the end of the race he said, "It's just a super flat easy course." with a grin on his face. Like a dare to cocky athletes to come test your shit and get WHOMPED by the Buffalo weather. Take your pick, fire or ice.

Split/Final results :

I'll let Robert Frost handle the rest. That's enough babbling for now.

Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

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