As a fourth grade teacher, I often assign Journal writing to my students. I tell them to write about something that is memorable and special. This event has been burned into my memory permanently. I can see the event clearly in my mind and still feel the effects on my body. My students laugh at the idea of their teacher being able to run 62.5 Horton miles. I laugh and tell them that I wasn’t able to run much of it.
Arriving at Camp Bethel was somewhat reality inducing. The ride down was sunny and warm, without much snow or ice anywhere. Pulling the car onto the frozen tundra at the dinning hall parking lot elevated my concerns for being able to finish. I had never run further than a 50k and that was a pleasant fall morning of light hill work and clear trails. I knew that this would be the most challenging endeavor of my athletic career.
Registration and dinner were reassuring. I was hanging out with my good friend Corey and joking about whether or not he could beat our other friend Serge. We had driven Serge down to the race. I laughed to myself that if we had left Serge in Baltimore, Corey would have better chances of winning. Corey had driven all the way from Colorado, traveling most the way with a horrendous snow and ice storm. The familiar sights and tastes of pre-race meals and eating with my good friends soothed my apprehension. That lasted to the race briefing. Hearing Dave explain the mess that had been made of the aid stations by the nasty weather made me wonder who had it easier: my crew or me. I have come to believe that there should also be a listing on the website for the crews that were able to finish the race. I cannot imagine how difficult this would have been without my beautiful crew: my good friend Katie-Rose and my loving and stunning girlfriend Krystal.
The start was rushed by last minute bladder emptying and GU stashing. I got a hug and kiss from my crew and took off with my running partner, Scott Eney (who will be referred to as Skinny). We both started off at a slightly faster pace than we needed to, but we knew it and embraced the mistake as a way to get through the cold air. Once we settled down and warmed up, we kicked the pace back a bit. We were feeling great and moving well. The wet feet, from the stream crossing just before the 1st aid station, didn’t even seem like that big a deal.
We made our way through the first aid station on moved on. What a strange feeling. We were only 3.5 miles in and already through an aid station. I had forced myself to drink as much as could so that I would need a refill of water at the station. Skinny and I were moving well and feeling great. We even met a few new friends. Due to the total lack of memory of names, I can only say hi to my friend “Orange Hat”. We played tag on the trail for many miles and it was always nice to see good old “Orange Hat”. I had never been in a race that took place at night. It was so interesting to pick our way on the trail in the dark, with all the other lights helping show the way.
I couldn’t wait to see our crew at the next station. Skinny and I were apprehensive about our crew getting to the stations. Many of the roads were closed or untravelable. There were 1200 feet of elevation to gain and it was early, so we walked. It was lovely to meet a new friend from West Virginia who had run the race before. He gave us some good tips and it was nice to let him get ahead of us, then catch up and pass him, only to see him again shortly. Before the race, I tried not to think too much about. I was hoping that not worrying about it would save me by forcing to my body to rise to the occasion. The trails and roads were not too bad leading up to the 2nd aid station and the clear night was a pleasant distraction from the trauma that was to follow. My crew was alive, well, and waiting for us when we got to the 2nd aid station.
Skinny and I felt pretty good and it was great to see our crew. I was so happy to see them and to report that I was doing great, that I forgot to grab extra food. I got another hug and obligatory butt slap from Katie Rose and a sweet kiss from Krystal. It was going to be awhile until we saw them again. They would be waiting at the first cut off at Headforemost Mountain, 14.4 Horton miles away. Skinny and I headed off and stared giving up the elevation that we had gained over the last hour and change. In training runs, Skinny and I love the downhill. We start running sloppy with our arms flapping like a two year old and have a good old time. This was not the case at Hellgate. The downhills were treacherous. You needed to carefully plot you foot falls or you would roll you ankle on a fractured plate of frozen snow. Luckily for Skinny and I, we are limp ankled and rolled through the mess. We passed a few people and probably worked a bit too hard to do it.
As the section flattened out, I realized that I had worked up a sweat on the downhill. This wasn’t very good for temperature regulation. Skinny’s lightweight jacket was damp and it became a struggle for him to stay warm. I bugged him constantly: “how ya’ doing skinny? ya’ warm enough?”. We made our way to Camping Gap carefully. The downhill’s being finished, there was quite a bit more uphill in this section. There was a sheet of ice over the trail and I admit that ate shit (my vernacular for falling) every 7 minutes or so. It was demoralizing. I have climbing Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, Mt. Washington, I have ice climbing and snowshoed around the country and here, I was trying to walk uphill on a sheet of ice in rubber trail shoes. What a presumptuous ass I am. I regret not having some running crampons. But, it made for grit to get to the next aid station.
Skinny and I pounded some soup and had our bottles filled. A thank you is order to the aid workers. When my crew wasn’t there, the volunteers treated me like an old friend, which made the long stretches between my friends bearable. The next 8.8 miles were tenacious. No matter how far we got along, it felt like we had gone no where. Skinny was cold and his calves were hurting bad. I ate shit often enough to keep my knees throbbing for most of this section. There was a nice stretch of flat and slightly downhill here that felt like heaven in comparison to some of the other broken mess or sheet of ice sections. I kept talking Skinny through, but I was worried. It was real early to start hurting. We weren’t even a third through. He kept chasing me all the way to the next aid station.
I felt like a million dollars. My crew was there, there soup to be eaten, and I loved it. I tried to remind myself that I had chosen this race and that all the falls and rough spots were mine by invitation. I decided to embrace it and have a great time. Skinny didn’t even mention quitting. We were an hour ahead of the cut off. We took off towards the 5.5 miles to the next time we would see our crew. We picked up a friend who ran with us. John from DC became an old friend in a few short miles. It was a great distraction from the race to have someone to chase and talk to. The sun started coming up and Skinny was finally feeling moderately warm. We rolled down the last 2 miles of downhill and into the aid station for some Gatorade and complements from our crew. We introduced John and our crew embraced him as the newest member of our running family, forcing him to take some food.
The way to aid station six was a true challenge. The thrill of sunlight was fading and the uphill was unrelenting. It just went on and on. There was a nice stretch of downhill that Skinny, John, and I crushed down. Skinny was hanging in there, but it was obvious that he was hurting. I really admired the effort that he was putting out. He was in better spirits than previously, but it wasn’t changing the effort he was expending. We had heard the distance wrong at the last aid station and kept thinking that the aid station was going to be just around the corner. I finally pulled the map out of my pocket and realized we had another mile of uphill to go. I was so tuned in to pounding uphill, that I walked right past our aid crew. They thankfully came to me. They refilled my water and my spirits. I tried to maintain my positive attitude, but I was worried about Skinny. This worry was brought to the surface by John’s sudden decision to call it a day. John rode with our aid crew and they took great care of him. I could see that Skinny was dealing with the possibility of not running anymore and also being taken care of. It was harder to get started on the next section, knowing that it was going to be 8 miles long.
Progress was slow. Skinny was struggling to run the downs and had to walk the flats and uphills. Every step was pained and there were many to go. I kept reasoning with myself and then to Skinny, “hey man, we could walk it in from here and still beat the cutoff”. I was trying to convince myself, but I wasn’t able to. I started to worry that staying with Skinny when I could move a little faster might prevent me from finishing in time. I was also concerned that I was wasting away on my feet. About two miles into this section Skinny and I parted. I made him promise me that he would stay in it and try to finish the race. I reminded him that he should be able to walk briskly downhill and stride through the rest and still be able to finish pretty close to the cutoff. We hugged and I ran off. I had been holding back on the last few miles and I took off. I ran way too fast and passed 10 racers. It just felt so good to able to run again. I made it into the aid station pretty quick. I found my two favorite ladies and explained that they would have to really sell Skinny on finishing. I told them to scream an old saying that we share whenever we struggle at rock climbing. “I AM A ROBOT THAT WILL NOT BE PUMPED”. I continued to say it to myself as I crushed a cheeseburger. I found out that John was sleeping in our car. The ladies gave me more cheers, reminding me about my robot nature, and with a slap on the ass and a kiss on the cheek, I was off.
The stretch to Boblet’s Gap was tough. I had totally run off the excess energy I stored while walking with Skinny. I met with some nice people and stayed with them for about half of the section. I had to stop to retie my shoe and let my new friends go. Being by myself was bad. I began over analyzing my aches and wondering how bad Skinny was fairing. The last two miles felt real, real long. I began speed walking to get to the aid station. I felt like I was crawling. I got to the aid station and found out that I had made OK time. I was moving slow, but I was moving. I would have benefited from a watch. Skinny had one on, but I didn’t bring my own. The nice guy at the aid station warned me that the next section would feel like it would go on forever. He was right. It did.
The next section starts with about 2-3 miles of downhill on a paved road. It was icy in spots and at one point, I had to back track for 10 minutes for my hat. It had fallen out of my pocket, and I knew that there wasn’t a replacement with my crew. With the sun about to set, I was worried that I would freeze without it. It was probably lucky that I did lose that time, because a runner caught up to me just as the tricky turn onto the trail came up. I would have certainly missed it without him. I began what I thought would be the 2nd 3-3.5 miles of the section. I will never forgive Dave for the mismeasurement of this section. Carpenters would be fired for much less. I would be dumbfounded to here that this section is anything less than 9 miles. To have this much misadvertisement at this late in the game produced more aggravation and cuss words than any section of any race of my life. I ran the last mile on pure fury. I ran out of water in the last ten minutes and began to really pound trail. Sitting here and now, I still feel the seething run to the aid station. I knew signing up that this would be 62 Horton miles, I just thought that the extra miles would be stretched throughout, not all at once. Seeing my crew was the only saving grace of me. They told me that Skinny pushed through and gave me an Ipod to run with. They also told me that our friends Serge and Corey came in 1st and 2nd. I was happy to hear that they had done so well. I filled up my bottle and ate a few things. I neglected to ask how far behind my friend was and walked away.
As I walked away I worried seriously about Skinny. He would be far behind me and I worried that he would miss the turn and that the longer than advertised section would break his spirits. I started off with another new friend and we powered up the 3 mile hill. It seemed to go on forever. We crested the top and began the painful descent. My left ankle was bothering me on downhill. I must have slightly sprained it because 4 days later and it is still a little swollen. My new friend started to run and I tried, but couldn’t stay with it. I caught up to someone else and we agreed that walking would be better for our legs future. I forgot all about that when I saw the photographer. Kudos to that guy. I saw him everywhere and he was always in great spirits. Seeing him made me want to run. It hurt, but I suffered through. That is until I hit the sheet of ice that stretched forever. I ate shit again and again on this part. I tried to use a slide stride to help with balance. It didn’t. Seeing the final turn into Camp Bethel was pure ecstasy. I turned and saw the most beautiful girl in the world. She cheered me to my other friends that were there to support other runners. We all walked together to the last 25 yards. I asked about Skinny. I was floored to hear that he was 30 minutes behind me at the last aid station. I knew that he would be coming in pretty close to the deadline. They told me I should sprint to the finish. I got into a three point stance and ran the fastest slow sprint of my life. I did a flip over the finish. I was overjoyed to be done running.
I showered and ate a small snack. I threw on my down jacket and walked back out to hopefully cheer in Scott. My girlfriend and other friend Chris had gone up about a half mile to help reel him in. I saw lights coming and looked at a watch. He had 8 minutes. He was jogging and looked terrible. I ran along side him and kept yelling. “YOU ARE A ROBOT THAT WILL NOT BE PUMPED!” He finished with just a few minutes to spare. I was so proud. His accomplishment floored me. He ran through the hurt for almost 50 miles. We were all standing there being proud of Skinny. It was a great moment.
I couldn’t have done this race without all the support from everyone. I knew that I wouldn’t quit the race, but I worried that the race would have crushed me. Every time I rolled into the aid station was like 10 miles had been taken away from my legs. Seeing my friends and laughing with them was the inspiration to go as long as I did. It would have been awfully disappointing to have my friends drive all that distance and then to not finish the race. Krystal drove me home and took great care of me, she even went back into Roy Rodgers for salt and pepper. I felt loved and supported the entire race. This is something that I couldn’t have finished without. Thank you Krystal, I love you.
I will never forget those 17 hours and change. I ended up thanking Dave for the race (but expressly not for the measurement of the next to the last section). I don’t know that I will ever run that race again, but that is what I always say. Thanks Dave. Thanks for putting up great challenges. Thanks for not making them as achievable as they seem on the internet.
the robot that would not be pumped.