Death March through the Furnace

64 miles in. Hours off pace. Everything hurts. My power hike has slowed to a crawl even going downhill. Still dehydrated no matter how much I drink. Facing a tough 7.7 miles uphill. Close to 1AM. Ready to quit. But I cannot quit. Not in front of my son. No fucking way. So I refuel, give the kid a hug & my wife a kiss, put on a smile, tell my pacer “lets go” and I start marching back up the mountain…

Let me rewind. Pre-race training went well. I believed I could get a sub-25. The 2016 course was different from 2015. There was more elevation in 2016. You did not have to climb two peaks in the final 10 miles, however, there was a new steep 8 mile out and back around mile 60. Pick your poison.

The race day forecast was for record heat. At the start, it was cool but would not last. 6 miles in, it was heating up. A few miles later, my hamstrings flared up and my calves started cramping. My pace slowed down. I was walking more than running. The heat increased. It became difficult to eat. Runners started passing me. By mile 30, I was dehydrated. Although I was drinking, it was not enough.

At the mile 36 Aid Station many runners were in bad shape, barfing, sitting in chairs and laying on the ground. After that aid station was an 8 mile climb up the technical and steep Nobel Canyon. It was now 106 degrees. Within a mile, my hike slowed to a walk. Another mile, my hike slowed to a shuffle but my heart rate was way up, I was breathing hard and dizzy. I dumped my hat and neck buff in sketchy creek water to cool down. As I continued, bugs flew around my me non-stop. My pace slowed to 30 minute miles. I ran out of water two miles from the aid station. When I got there, it looked like a MASH unit. Every chair was taken. Runners were laying down on the ground. I sat a bit but knew I had to start moving or I would drop.

I continued on slowly. I could not run. I was hours off my anticipated time. Soon, night fell. Although it was still warm, it was no longer blazing hot. I picked up my first pacer and we started the long 8 mile descent to Cibbets Flat. I was hopeful I’d be able to pick up the pace but it didn’t happen. Despite cooler temperatures and drinking lots of water, I was still dehydrated. The descent was never ending. Finally, we saw the lights of the aid station. I did not know how I would make it back up the hill. The trail was steep, narrow and technical with rocks and ruts. Even if I made it, would it be before the cut off? My pace for the downhill section was 25 minutes per mile. My quads were aching from all the downhill. I was ready to drop.

My son, wife and crew were at the next aid station. I was a wreck. After 20 minutes my son came over, told me to go and he’d be at mile 91 to pace me. I didn’t know at the time, but he was sick and could not pace. He didn’t tell me because he wanted me to continue and finish the race. With that, thoughts of dropping disappeared. I stood up, hugged my son, kissed my wife, looked over to my next pacer and said “Let’s go.” We started marching up the mountain. I knew I needed to move quickly to avoid the cut off.

At around 4AM, I was so sleepy. Soon the sun rose, my spirit lifted and I made it to the next aid station 35 minutes before the cut off. About a mile later a bee stung me on my head, the only part of my body did not hurt. WTF!!  At the next aid station. I took a short break. Last year at this time I was done. This year, I had 16 miles to go.

I made it to the final aid station. I had to move at a sub-20 minute pace for 9-miles to the finish. It was hot again with no shade. After 4 miles, I ran out of water. Fortunately, an emergency water/drinks only aid station was set up at mile 96! I filled up and continued on. Finally, I saw the finish area in the distance. There was a small uphill just before the finish line that I managed to run up. I finished in 30:40:57, 1 hour 19 minutes under the cut off! Not the sub-25 I wanted, but I’ll take it!

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