Awhile back now, my best bud Brett got me into running long distances on trails. I had always enjoyed running, but I rarely did it. He always jokes about 'Sofa to Summit' and that has always somewhat been our situation. Nothing has changed over the years, except my own sense of what I realize the human body and mind are capable of achieving.
Last September, I ran the Equinox Ultramarathon in Fairbanks, Alaska. It's 40 miles long and was my first solo foot race (I did the 3-person relay marathon with Brett and his wife Christina two years prior). I hadn't run in three months before the race and I was horribly sick three days prior to the start. In the spring and early summer, I had run only four times, at 7, 13, 16, and 27 miles each, after a cold Fairbanks winter. I finished the ultra feeling great, in 7 hrs 51 min. I was very sore after, but relatively speaking, not at all a wreck.
Since the Equinox, I moved to Eugene, OR, and lost a commute to work in working from home, which means, before this past weekend, I had only run 20 total miles in the last nine months since the Equinox. Life happens. Oh well. My very accomplished buddy, Brian from LA, had long before convinced me to run the North Umpqua Trail (NUT) 100k with him in June, since I had done fairly well with the Equinox. The plan was for me to train, something I apparently still don't understand.
Thursday and Friday before the race, I was (again) horribly sick. A bad cold had zapped me, hard. I had called in sick to work and told Brian I was going to let him and our buddy Josh (also a runner who came to race) take my truck and go, while I sleep all weekend. After picking them up, I was starting to feel a little better and by early evening, I was packing up to go with, maybe with hopes of waking up feeling good enough to, at best, plod along for 50k (31 mi).
As the night progressed, all symptoms except deep coughing and a totally blocked nose were gone - it was indeed a hard-hitting 24 hr bug. I slept fitfully, yet hard, and woke feeling somewhat better and that I had no reason not to run, thankfully. I saw them off at the start of their 100k and drove to the start of the 50k, asking to drop down since I was sick and hadn't been running. Not a problem. Off I went. 'Sick on the Sofa to Summit' was my own mantra, once again.
Running felt good. I instantly felt as if I was running out my sickness and remained that way all day. I felt I had power in me, a 180º from the previous two days. The trail was narrow and poison oak reached across it from both sides. I hung back a bit, intentionally only passing when others stopped... until a handful miles in, at the first big steep hill. I was feeling great, so I took normal long walking strides up it, passing a bunch of people taking half steps. I gained a big open trail in front of me and found more people of my own pace. Soon, I found not only a pace but a set of clothing that matched mine. I (strangely) instantly knew it was a pace I not only should, but could, keep all day, as hard as it might be, but I knew it would change my day from just trying to finish to actually trying to race. I settled in.
The only other foot race I've done (Equinox), I mostly ran alone. My pace was probably highly varying and it was certainly slowing throughout the race. Even with rough, while running math in my head, I could tell it was precipitous. On the NUT, however, I had found an experienced runner and now my day's pacer in Liz Pollak, a vet from Bend, OR. Soon, Ashley Gerber from Eugene caught back up and tagged on, too, commenting on Liz & I's matching attire. We had a trio that lasted the next 25 miles to the finish. Liz was strong, as it was her third 50k and held a consistent and unforgiving, yet realistic, pace all day long. Ashley was an accomplished marathoner on her first ultra and was full of excitement. I knew that these two would not only pull me along the trail, but also be motivators to not slow down and walk the rest, as I'd probably, and then did, feel like doing. I also thought that if I kept up with them setting the pace, I could try and at least provide some continual positive motivation to keep up the pace and enjoyment of the race, especially for Ashley's first ultra.
After a handful of miles, and me still coughing hard, Liz turned around and asked if I was ok and said if I start coughing up blood, I have to stop. Fortunately, I wasn't quite that bad and didn't get there, either. The coughing got a bit better throughout the day, but not much. I was just glad I was out there and not still feeling awful and horizontal on the couch, like I kinda wanted to be anyway.
After about 20 miles of keeping pace with the two, I was starting to get quite sore and wanted to just walk, but something in me kept saying that I could keep up 'til the finish, even if it hurt. I realized, at 32 and having felt a slight slowing down the past couple years, I was feeling I still had some fight left in me from my youth and ability to push through huge physical challenges. It was a great feeling and an urge I couldn't silence. Every time Liz started running after the trail mellowed out again from a hill, both Ashley and I muttered a soft 'damn it.' Alas, we were having a blast together, pushing and pulling each other along to a finish stronger than each of us would have done alone. What a great feeling and opportunity a race brings.
After a very hard, nearly all uphill 50k course (and a UTMB qualifier!), we finished the 50k right on each others heels (video), just as we had been for about a marathon distance before, in just seconds under 7 hours. Like at the Equinox, I jumped with joy over the finish line. Once again, I was pretty damn sore, but not a train wreck. Happy, I was, to say the least!
My official stats: 28th out of 80 finishers, in 6 hrs 59 min 51 seconds. Not bad, I think, for now only having run 154 miles in the last 13 months, 71 of which were the two ultras.
Brian (below) and Josh finished the 100k ultra in awesome times of 13:45 & 14:45! What an effort! I am so happy I went along, and both helped and watched them finish so strong.
The North Umpqua Trail is one of the most stunning places I've seen in Oregon. Around almost every bend, all I could say was 'Wow!' So why go any faster? I already didn't feel like I took it all in quite enough, as the trail was rough and required strict concentration, even though my gaze did wander quite often. The place deserves more time - backpacking probably.
Maybe I don't train for 'events' because then I'd get hooked on going fast, ie, hurrying through a place, which goes wholly against my 'Stay sane, Sleep outside' mantra. Why rush through a place, only to finish and wish you were still out there? I enjoy slowing down maybe more so than going fast at times. Either way, I'm sure this isn't my last foot race, as it was so much fun and also really mind-blowing to find out how much farther even I thought I could push myself beyond what I thought previously possible, all in hopes of inspiring others to do the same in their own lives.
You have no idea what you are capable of until you go out and wholeheartedly give it your all, way more than you think 'your all' is. We are all awesome inside and that includes you. Don't miss your chance to live and feel it.
Cheers to Brett, Brian, Josh, Liz, Ashley, the NUT race, all the finishers, and to doing amazing things by pushing yourself. See you on the sofa 'til the next summit.