“The doctor said I can!” I repeated those words to concerned friends and family constantly in the weeks leading up to my first ultra, a 50km leg in the Kettle 100 mile relay. I had a hernia, had barely trained for months, and run once in the preceding three weeks. In short, I was ready to race.
In the hours before my leg, the course endured a massive rainstorm. A little before noon, the rain had stopped and it got hot. Summers in Wisconsin are hot and humid, and this day was no exception. I set out with the temperature and humidity racing each other to 80, and multiple warnings of ridiculous mud throughout much of the course. Given the circumstances, I determined that finishing would constitute a success.
The best piece of advice I got was to go out slow, then slow down. I did exactly that for the first few miles, before turning onto some absurdly muddy hilly singletrack. Fortunately, I have a skiing background, making sliding down winding hilly singletrack trails fairly routine. Climbing on the other hand… ouch. Every time my feet slipped out from under me I aggravated my hernia, and questioned why I was doing this.
Fortunately, I was soon out of the painful single-track into the hot, humid, and muddy meadows. As a bigger guy from Minnesota, I have a long history with suffering on hot and humid days. And I was entering an eight mile stretch on just such a day. Making things more pleasant, large stretches of nice soft grass trail had turned to ankle deep, energy-sucking mud. Every step of fighting through the mud and suffering in the heat ate up precious energy. Energy that I would miss later.
The section after the meadows was my low point, and the only section where I considered dropping. I was hot, hurting, and still had over a half marathon left. This is where Jason saved my race. When he came past me, I became his shadow. I walked, ran, even ate in synch with him. Why? Because I knew I was going to blow up, and needed to stop thinking about it. I hadn’t blown up yet, and I was going to take advantage of that. I decided that I was going to stay with Jason until it was no longer possible.
The moment of impossibility came later than I expected, but it still came. With my first marathon under my belt, but 5 miles still go do, my legs stopped working. I never cramped, I just lacked the strength to run anything steeper than a hallway. But with the weather cooling down and the end in sight, I gritted my teeth and put one foot in front of the other.
No matter how I describe this race, the facts of the day sound unpleasant. I was in pain, tired, and overheating. I finished with barely the ability to walk, a situation made worse by a night hiding from the rain in my car. Yet somehow, I loved every minute.