Running One Hundred Miles

That title is not a typo. Nor is it click-bait. It’s something that roughly 35,000 people worldwide have done to date. And since there are 7 billion people in the world it’s not that common.

But before you label that group “freaks” or wonder why I am writing about this subject, let me share the very honest, and very eye opening reality. Everyone (well almost everyone) could achieve this goal.

Yes, everyone, even those who hate to run, have the ability to run one hundred miles. Even further. Though it won’t be easy, and it may take more than one try, running one hundred miles will teach you more about yourself than any self help book could ever come close to doing.

It will expose your fears. Your strengths and weakness will be highlighted for you to see. And it will give you a much deeper appreciation for how truly beautiful we are when we sharing a common goal. It will alter your life.

How Do I Know?

Because on September 13 (Friday the 13th, full moon, what could possibly go wrong) I embarked on my first attempt. Well really my second attempt. My true first attempt was roughly twenty  years ago when after all the training I was diagnosed with pneumonia a week before. So inhaler in hand, I ran 54 miles before missing a time cut-off and being forced to drop. Foreshadowing, sadly, is all I will say right now. But don’t tell that guy pictured below?

The race I would attempt is the Run Rabbit one hundred miler in Steamboat Springs, CO. A truly beautiful part of Colorado. Over one hundred miles we would traverse throughout the Rocky Mountains.  Over the continental divide while climbing a total of 20,000 feet up and 20,000 feet down. No that is not a typo either. We would have a net climb of roughly 4 miles reaching 10,300 feet on three occasions. Over some of the most technical trail I have ever run. Where the margin for error, is not always very forgiving.

So at 8AM, amid a crowd of a few hundred participants, the gun fires and the race is often. Within 30 seconds I have the great honor of seeing Courtney Dauwalter on the side and grabbing a quick high five. A good sign indeed.  A nice reminder of how tough both physically and mentally we truly can be. And something I would immediately need as the first 4.4 miles would send us straight up the mountain, roughly 3,500 feet.

Climbing, Stunning Views & Vomit

Roughly ninety minutes later I reach the top of the mountain with stunning  views behind, ninety eight miles ahead (the race is actually 102 miles, nice) and some very good food at my side. Running one hundred miles involves a lot of eating and drinking. Something which sounds fun and easy but is anything  but.

In fact proper nutrition during such an event is not only a science, but a very personalized strategy. One that is not quickly learned and influenced by many factors. Everything from heat, elevation, pace and more. In fact, most participants fail to achieve the finish line goal due to  GI distress.

Over the next ten miles the race would wind up and down over some very nice trails, though a bit technical and truly amazing views. From stunning white cap mountain tops to open meadows and more. Truly beautiful views of the world in which we live. But for some reason, I happened to be very clumsy this day. Likely due to very limited time on the trails. Most of my running was on the roads purely due to the simple fact that family time means everything to me.

Falling Down

So amid my less than honed technical trail running skills, I proceeded to kick a number of rocks and roots before taking my first tumble. No big deal. Bruised ego and scuffed hands were not going to stop me. Fast forward a few more miles and there he goes again. Down just as hard, stumbling over a rock or root. Whatever it was, that object would slam me back to the ground face forward, grinding up my hands yet again.

I calmly tell myself to relax, let’s stay focused and try to pick up my feet a little more. Easy enough. Then comes a water crossing. Just put your foot on the log and jump over it. Simple. I’ve done this countless times. On dry logs. Well this one was wet, my foot slipped and I fell onto the log, rolled forward while rolling to my back. Fully submerging my head in the very clean and even colder stream. WTF! Stay upright Tony. At least I had some good stories to tell right?

Next comes a very technical decent over about six miles. How technical? Here’s the money shot photo RRR uses (and no that’s not me in the photo). But it’s downhill, and I make up a bit of time as I roll into mile 17 and meet my kickass crew. Who takes my pack, restocks my food and drink and sends me back on my way. Back up the very same six miles I descended. Did I say UP? Yes, now I have to run up around 3,000 feet over six miles on very technical trail.

But I’m running smart. Keeping my heart rate in check, staying focused on my breathing, hydration and overall effort. Ultra-marathons require a constant assessment of how the body feels. Constant. Well roughly half way up my stomach starts to speak up. And I’ve been here a lot before. Stomach issues at elevation have plagued me a lot. But I stay focused, further monitoring my effort and push on.

Is That A Black Bear?

Finally, I summit the climb while my stomach begins to speak a bit louder. But that’s not the only thing speaking. I hear a fairly loud grunt. Look to my right and HOLY SHIT! That’s a black bear. Maybe fifty feet away and he/she is pretty big. Maybe 300 pounds? Surprisingly I’m pretty relaxed. Not really nervous. Perhaps the surreal moment simply put any fear in check?

This isn’t the actual bear, but you get the point.

So cool story in hand I roll into the aid station, put down some food and continue on. To what would become a very tough 35 miles. Shortly after leaving the aid station, the vomiting begin. Oh crap! I’ve played this game before. I know how it goes. But I’ve become good at vomiting on the trails. I can almost vomit without breaking stride. Seriously.

The problem is I now have to run eight miles at elevation and no water until I reach the next aid station. All I have is my electrolyte drink which is causing my nausea. I force down some food, but it won’t stay. It just comes back up. At this point I’m not freaking out. Just frustrated and focused.

Nice To Meet You Karl 

I continue to push on until with a few miles to the next aid station, it starts getting dark and cold and my body begins to shiver. I finally arrive at the aid station, and have to sit down. I’m shaking so much I can’t even hold a cup of water. Not as much due to the cold as a combination of being very dehydrated and an electrolyte imbalance. Suddenly someone says “do you need anything.” And HOLY SHIT moment number two (or is it three?) is at hand. “I’m all set, hey Karl, nice to  meet you” I mutter. That’s Karl Meltzer. An ultra-legend and insanely nice guy.

Over the next 30-40 minutes (big mistake) someone from medical talks to me. Everything from I need to check your vitals to you should drop out otherwise you risk hyponatremia and passing out on the trail and all kinds of other fun “stuff” I am warned. After finally warming up sitting next to a heater with tons of blankets on (and melting my glove the heater was so hot), I get up to assess the situation. And I vomit. Yup, everything I put down comes right back up.

Karl (we’re on a first name basis now, or so I think), says “hey, I have a ride for you.” Signaling I can drop. To which I respond “I’m not dropping.” And the first of a few very special moments is at hand. Karl says “cool.” Followed up by “if you sip water and give it some time, you can often get going again.”

So armed with determination and ultra-legend advice from Karl “freaking” Meltzer I being a 4.4 mile journey to the next aid station. But now it’s dark. Headlamp is on and finding the trail is a challenge. As I proceed to go off the trail a few times adding a mile or so, I am now racing not just my own demons, but the course clock.

Yes, these races have hard time cutoffs at different aid statins. And I know that. I’m prepared. So I push forward, quickly overcoming my fear of being alone in the woods. Especially in the dark. The full moon is beautiful, but I”m very alone. The race is very spread out as this point. And I realize I could easily get lost and be forced to turn my run into a survival effort.

The dangers were certainly growing, and quickly. Fortunately all is good and I roll into the next aid station. Feeling worse. I’ve gone now about twelve miles with no food, no drink and it’s getting very cold. I sit down again next to another heater. I want to drop, but I can’t. And fortunately the aid station was staffed by some pretty gritty, and tough athletes themselves.

Who simply kicked my ass to the curb. “Tony, you’re in a valley. You need to dig deep and go.” So I stood up, did a risk reward assessment of running another 10 miles to the next aid station or dropping. I simply could not drop. I was reminded of what I told myself earlier “run until the race officials tell you to stop.” So I pushed forward.

Getting lost again multiple times. Adding miles, wasting time all of which made the math that much harder and the margin of error that much less.

Finally, around 12:30AM I arrive at the aid station where my crew is not only there to support me, but where I pick up my first pacer, my nephew Chris who moved to CO from Boston a few years ago (smart man!). At this point I’m starting to get my stomach back. And feeling very confident in my ability to finish. I’m mentally prepared to go another eighteen or so hours to finish which will be a truly epic event in my life. I absolutely loved this part. Determination truly overcame fatigue.

Rising From The Valley

I was in a very dark spot and pulled myself out. Karl was right. And my body was proving that it was more capable than I had given it credit in the past.  This was going to be awesome. I had visited a part of my brain I never visited before. It was magical. And I was psyched. So over the next five miles I am moving as fast as I can to not miss a cutoff while knowing if I push to hard I risk losing my stomach again.

So it was  a very tight balance. But one I very much felt I had in hand. When the daylight came I’d pick up my next pacer and we’d able to run much easier. So keeping my stomach intact was the goal at this point. As much as the clock would allow. I was constantly assessing.

As we approach the next aid station, Chris and I talk about our plan. I’m shivering  a lot again. So I’ll change clothes, Chris will take care of my pack and within a few minutes we’ll be off to the next aid station. I do the manual check in and move inside to change. When suddenly, a race official approaches me.

And in another surreal moment tells me I missed the cutoff by twelve minutes. I will not be allowed to continue. I was in utter disbelief. Cut off times were very generous throughout with the exception of this point. And amid the vomiting, falling into streams, bear encounters and more I overlooked one detail. One that would bite me in the ass. At this point I would have preferred the bear bitting me in the ass. The latter would have hurt less.

So Is This The End?

The next day I would only sleep a few hours and wake to thoroughly question and try to understand what happened. From evaluating stomach issues to being proud of the fact I didn’t drop, the range of emotions was pretty broad. I felt a very strong desire to be out there, suffering with my “friends.” My fellow participants who were still on the race course discovering how truly great they and all of us are. I very much wanted to be there, cold, dirty and tired. Rather than here, warm, clean and semi-rested.

So is this the end? Hell NO!  Which is why within an hour I had found another race. This time in Houston on December 7. There’s no way I won’t continue this journey.

After all, I did sign up for a 200 mile run in 2020.  Below is Lake Tahoe and in early September, 2020, along with 200 other “really cool people” I will attempt to run, by myself, 200 miles around the lake.

More to come. Until then, as the Dirt Diva so eloquently says “Do epic shit!”