Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Recap

Like when I ran my 350 miler last year or my solo running of the 202 Mile American Odyssey Relay a few years ago, I know eventually I have to sit down and try to put on proverbial paper what the event was like for me.  To say it is harder than the actual physical endeavor would be flip but sometimes it feels not that far off.
I sit here trying to put together the pieces of what happened over the three days of running the 160+ miles from Dane, Wisconsin to Davenport, IA and the memories come back in floods. What to include and what to exclude. The best way I know how to break down these excursions is the way I have done in the past: Day by Day.  So, let’s start with a week beforehand. 

Actually, let’s go to April. What? Stay with me.

I was supposed to race the Peterson Ridge Rumble in April in Sisters, OR. Not my sort of race per se (trail) but a good way to get a relatively challenging 20 miler in the mountains under my belt. Then, out of nowhere, a staph infection nailed my foot. Without going into details, a very bad case of MRSA decided it wanted to interrupt my entire year and put me a toothpicks-width away from going to the hospital. While I am very grateful to my fantastic doctor who took care of me and the good luck I had, I was more than a little perturbed at how this setback not only continues to bother my foot to this day but how the time off put into jeopardy all I was doing. Like my proposed Dane to Davenport.

Growing up with a slightly odd name and an insatiable curiosity (and the scientifically proven fact that humans like nothing more than the sound of their own name) I was fascinated with the fact there was a town named Dane. I knew I would eventually find my way to the town but for what exactly and when were two unknowns. Finally I figured out those last two variables. All was set.

Then I got an email from Ecuador.

Usually those types of stories revolve around royalty in Africa asking me to be a tax shelter for $10 million for just a small fee of $5,000. However, this was different. I was being asked to be the keynote speaker at a conference in front of people from all walks of the fitness world.  My talk was to center around my experiences and how fitness means nothing without nutrition. Then, after that, I could finally return to the US to ready myself for my run. If I made it, that is.

You see, I landed in Ecuador after an entire day of traveling on Thursday, September 12th. I returned after another entire day of traveling, leaving Ecuador at 5 a.m. and landing in Portland at 11 p.m. on Sunday the 15th. Six hours later I had to be back at the airport fly to Moline, IL. That would leave me one day (Tuesday) to make the three hour drive to the greater Madison area and allow me and my crew (Shannon) to get last minute supplies. This was already quite the trip and I had not even begun running.

But that is what my running has become and I gladly do it as such. Do I still wish to run fast times and push myself? Absolutely. Denying that would be farcical. However, I know I have worked hard for a platform that allows me the opportunity to try and make a difference in other people’s lives. Running 50 plus miles a day for three days in and of itself is not “that” hard. Heck, I did it for seven straight days last year. Yet, making sure I was at specific places, at specific times, in order to give speeches to motivate others to push their own boundaries- that is something completely difficult. Then, to finish the whole thing with a marathon, one where I would put all I had into it and not just jog to the finish line, well, that adds something to the task I didn’t even have last year when I ran 350 miles in a week.

The oddity of starting a race in one place and ending it in another is those two places will be where you spend the least amount of time. With my adventure starting in Dane early in the morning and immediately leaving this small town, I knew I would see very little of it.  So I was glad to make a quick trip around the hamlet the day before, snapping pictures of the town which shared my name and giggling at all the ways in which I could have fun with all the signs. I cannot say I have a personal favorite but if the Dane Manufacturing sign ever disappears there is a pretty good chance it could be located in my loft in Portland.

A few months prior to coming to the greater Madison area to begin this feat, I went to book hotels online. For reasons still unknown to me, hotels in the area were sold out far and wide. This added an even greater problem. Finally, I settled for a hotel about 20 miles away from Dane. I knew that after finishing the first day of running I had to be back in Madison for my talk at the Dream Bank but would have to get presentable first. This meant I had to drive past Madison to the motel where we would stay, shower, and go back to Madison again. Le sigh.

The hotel wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t good. It also wasn’t a hotel. It was a motel. With almost no parking. And a packed house. Even sleeping wasn’t going to be easy apparently.

Then it started to rain. Hard. Oh well. 

Day One:

When we woke up at the ungodly hour of  “I don’t even want to recall” O’clock the rain had slowed a bit. While it was going to be a bit of a pain to get back to this motel for the reasons described above, at the very least my crew (again, this consisted of one person: Shannon) and I would not have to pack up all our gear and fit it in the vehicle. This was just about getting over to Dane, firing the imaginary pistol, and getting underway.

It was dark.

This day would require the most amount of runner-wranglin’. The vast majority of the rest of the run was seemingly going to be much easier, at least when it came to me being able to find where I was supposed to run. However, for the first part of this day, there would be a few twists and turns at least. Luckily most of them wouldn’t start until the sun came up. If it came up.

The rain abated by the time we started and the temperature was comfortable for running. Some runners who mentioned they might be able to join us for the race dropped messages to say that traffic was going to keep them from getting to my appointed places at the appropriate times. I didn’t mind not having the company as I often feel that trading some potential boredom for trying to entertain (which is what I do when I am lucky enough to have company) is fine for a 12 miler. Not so much for the next three days. It might actually be better to be alone with my thoughts, running at my own pace.

The cloudiness burned off after about three hours and the temperatures climbed. I was really hoping to avoid any heat on the first day but I was doing a good job of staying hydrated. Then around mile 20 or so my crew came back to me.

“There’s a bridge out.”

Wonderful.  I cannot even imagine trying to do one of these type of runs in unfamiliar territory prior to the invention of cellphones and GPS. Before all too long, we had found a suitable alternative to the original planned route. It had virtually no shoulder to run on, was a tad bit longer in length, and would now probably have all the detoured cars racing down it, but it was a working road. First semi-disaster averted.

After a little break to take in some calories (I have a very hard time taking in any calories while I am moving. It always serves me best to take breaks while running, to sit and ingest, and then run again.) I was ready for the second part of the day. The weather would be mostly cooperative as I began what would be a run on the Jane Addams Trail. Well, that was the plan.

After leaving my crew at one junction I entered a little corridor in the woods where the trail slid downward and the walls became sheer and high on both sides. The temperature dropped five degrees easily. It felt like a horror movie. As I turned the corner the gaping maw of a black hole appeared in front of me in the form of a tunnel. In July I ran a marathon that has a 2.25 mile long tunnel wherein you can see the light at the other end. Here, there was no light. How long was this tunnel?!

It being 2:30 in the afternoon, I had not thought to bring a headlamp. Why would I? So I ventured into the tunnel and tried to use my flashlight function on the phone. But even after my eyes adjusted I could see virtually nothing. Not too easily spooked, I nonetheless decided to venture no further. I knew not what was in the tunnel, how long it was, and my crew didn’t know I was running through it. So I turned around and had to run about half a mile back or more until I got cell reception. I called my crew and once again we had to reroute.

It turns out the tunnel is only 400 yards long and the reason I couldn’t see any light was because of a right angle turn at the end. Nonetheless I made the right decision. Getting mauled by a startled bear would have put a crimp in my plans.

The rest of the run was rather uneventful. Well, relatively speaking (I have to save some details for a chapter in some book you actually have to pay for to read.) I finished right around the planned time so all I had to hope for was good traffic on the roads from Monroe back to Sun Prairie where our motel was. Then good traffic back down to Madison for my presentation at Dream Bank and everything would be set.

Getting to Dream Bank and presenting to those in attendance was exactly what I had been hoping to do. A great and enthusiastic crowd accompanied me as I tried to be exuberant while shaking out leg cramps and tiredness. Before too long it was time to head back to the hotel and try to catch forty winks. Or given the early wake-up call perhaps 20-25 winks at best.

Day Two:

The second day of running presented no major challenges at all when it comes to logistics or bridges being out or anything of that sort. In fact, after a few hours of running I was joined by two runners from Freeport, IL where I would be speaking to children at an elementary school later. Brian and Steve would be running their first marathon in just a few days but came out to do some morning miles with me. We chatted while running and the miles flew by.  Before long they had to get back to their actual lives and I was alone again. Then apparently the sun erupted.

I was able to finish off my first portion of the morning before 11 a.m. and I was lucky. Needing to be at the school at noon was a blessing as the temperatures soared to 93 degrees. Speaking to children always invigorates me. They bring out my best and don’t have presumptuous questions that are really about themselves and their own failings. Their curiosities and wonder have not yet be quashed, or at least if it has, I hope I have jump started it with talking to them.

I keep my speeches short and sweet because I would rather listen to what they have to say and ask rather than talk to them. Do my speeches get a little on the after-school-special, just-say-no-to-drugs, stay-in-school, kind? Probably. But they need to hear that.

After the speech, we made the executive decision to make the drive to the next hotel and unpack there before driving back and continuing.  Hopefully by missing a few hours of direct overhead sunshine, the toll the run would take on me would be less. Since we had nothing we had to get to that night, running later in the day was not a problem. However, even when I started around 3 pm or so, the temperature had hardly dropped. I was not a happy camper.

For the next few hours I slogged on the best I could. I was now on the Great River Trail and while it provided a relatively easy line to follow, here and there it would just sort of disappear. I assumed the worn track that appeared to go through some people’s private property was some sort of easement (hey, look!  My law school education just popped up!) that allowed the path to go through but I wasn’t sure.  So, at times, I would venture out onto the side of the road for a mile here or there.

Then suddenly the skies clouded (good), temperature went down (good) and rain and wind and hail began (bad.) The last hour or so of running was done in conditions that I knew were far from ideal for me to be running in. The kicker and final straw was when a sizable branch was blown off a tree and hit me in the face.  It did not cause any damage to which I am eternally grateful I was wearing my Julbo sunglasses. The lenses on the glasses and not in my eyeball received the scratching and I was eternally happy about that. Any thoughts of continuing and getting a few more miles in the bank prior to stopping were now done. I would simply have just as long a day of running on day three as I did today.

Day Three:

This day of running was about as straightforward as one can get. I once again got on the Great River Trail and headed south. Every three miles my crew would be waiting to towel me off and hydrate me. The temperature was far better than the previous day but still warm and humid.

The morning slipped by with little to no change in pace with no events to speak of. While running along the Mississippi was wonderful as were traversing the tiny towns situated alongside it, I was ready to be done. We ran through the town of Cordova, all 600 people strong of it, and I was taken aback by this little exercise station situated right facing the river. I hadn’t brought my camera with me and haven’t been able to find a shot of it online but it was wonderful. There appeared to be at least 6 different workout machines placed on a little paved section you off of Main Street. In matching colors and evidently either brand new or well take care of, I thought how marvelous it was that this tiny town was promoting health and exercise. My schedule 3-mile stop was on the other side of town and I told my crew about this.

As I got under way I thought I heard my name and turned around. Sure enough, a woman was running with my crew.  I stop and turned around to make sure everything was OK.  As it turns out the woman knew about my run and just happened to see me running by her house. The town of Cordova was supposedly going to be out to greet me along the way but thought I would be coming by later in the afternoon. I told her that I unfortunately had a date with the Mayor in Davenport around 5 p.m. and I couldn’t keep him waiting. It was all extremely flattering but was also a bummer. I would have loved to have seen the residents of the town and spoken to them. But such is the nature of events like this.

I am guessing the town, just 23 miles away from where I would finish, was guilty of thinking it wouldn’t take long to get to Davenport. Their thinking might have been I would easily be in Cordova and Davenport all within just a few minutes of each other. I have actually encountered this thought-process previously. Unfortunately, I am not a car and those last 23 miles are going to take about four hours. But believe me, just knowing people were watching pepped my step.

With about 13 or so miles to go I saw a runner on the path coming toward me. Giving the absolute lack of anyone I had randomly seen on the course over the previous 150 miles this was a welcome sight.  Even better when the runner stopped, introduced himself and told me he was going to be running with me the rest of the way! Mike was his name and his company was extremely welcome. Mike provided not only some excellent running company (he is an accomplished ultra-runner himself) but also some tidbits and stories about the areas we were running through. He had run them often himself and was a great tour guide. This also allowed my crew to breathe deeply for a bit as I no longer had to wonder where exactly I would be running. Taking the mental “which way do I go?” out of the task allowed me to focus on the final few miles.

As we got closer to Davenport I could see I wasn’t going to make it around 5 p.m. as planned. I hoped the Mayor wouldn’t mind waiting a bit but if he did, well, there was little I could do. I was joined for the last few miles by one of the assistants to the race director of the Quad Cities Marathon, James. Keeping everyone apprised of my whereabouts via phone and running alongside Mike, James gave me two people to follow. As the path twisted and turned through Moline, IL and headed toward the Centennial Bridge, I went inward in my mind.

All I needed to do was cross the bridge, do a little loop and I would be greeted by a three-piece jazz band, the Mayor, the media and some great friends and fans. It would be a finish line. But it wouldn’t really be. Thirty-six hours later I would have to run a marathon. So, even though it was the end of one task, it was the beginning of another. I realized what a perfect metaphor for life that really is.

For my efforts, the Mayor of Davenport presented me with a wonderful honor. It has been rumored I would get the key to the city of Davenport but instead received the Pacem in Terris Award. Given “to honor a person for their achievements in peace and justice, not only in their country but in the world” the award was a huge surprise. I try to do what I can to help make the world better and know that I am very fallible. But when someone feels you deserve something based on your actions, it is not your position to tell them they are incorrect in what they think. So I graciously accepted the wonderful honor and did what I could to not topple over while the Mayor read the inscription.

You see, I was tired.

The unsung heroes behind this award and my running of the miles before I even got to Davenport are definitely the people of the Quad Cities Marathon. They agreed to be part of this adventure and to help make it happen from start to finish. To them I thank greatly.

But without a doubt, as in any long-distance running adventure, it is not the runner who really has to do the hardest work: it is his crew. In this case my best friend Shannon made it possible for me to take on these distances. I knew she would find ways around downed bridges, and dark tunnels and make sure the fluids I need and the food I craved would be with me whenever I wanted. Sacrificing a week of her own time with her first 100 miler looming was a huge thing for her to do.  On a smaller scale but just as important, each day she would make sure she was exactly where I needed her to be, exactly when I needed her to be there. I cannot think of anyone I would rather usher me through blisters, chafing, dehydration and hallucinations.

Which leaves me done with this endeavor. (Well, ignoring the fact that I raced a marathon the next day.  Read that recap here.)What is the start of the next? Right now, I am unsure. I have a feeling I will be taking a break from long excursions over many states for a little while. I flat-out canceled an idea I had about a very long run in the Texas for the time being. It is still there and maybe someday it, and other adventures will be things I am writing about.  As for now, I’d like to recover, continue to heal my foot, and be happy I made it through another trek.

Thanks for coming along with me.

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