Monday, January 12, 2015

You gotta dream it to be it

Every dream has a beginning…sometimes we can remember them, but at other times, they are a blur, and we just remember the ending. Seriously, think about it for a moment…when is the last time you woke up from a dream, be it a good dream, or a nightmare, and remember how it began? But we always seem to remember those last few moments upon awakening…only to have our brains resort to some type of selective amnesia, and suddenly, even the ending we cannot remember…but we know we had the dream….

While trolling Facebook one day, I just happened to stumble upon a feed-link for something called the Tahoe 200, and instinctually clicked on it. What I found was a 200-mile race in California, circumventing Lake Tahoe, for 200 miles. I quickly opened up google and began a search for the homepage to get more info.

200 miles….I wonder if I could do that….

And like that, the beginning of this dream had an origin…one that won’t seem to go away…but it’s how it will end that I want so desperately to remember.

Elevation profile of the Colorado 200
I resigned myself to the dream, or the “great idea”, that I should try to go for it...go for 200. After doing a bit of research, I found that, logistically, and time-wise, the most feasible attempt would need to take place in July in the Colorado Rockies, at the Colorado 200. So yes, I am from Mississippi, and yes, we have no hills here…and why does this make the most sense? First, the race is in the middle of July, which means I get to bypass training in the hell-hole that is the deep south in the summer, with its 100-degree heat, high-humidity, and horse flies. Second, with my experiences running at high-altitude, I have not had any issues with altitude sickness, so no worries there. And third, the terrain itself seems flat and fast, just like here in Mississippi…gulp. So on January 3rd, at 10am cst (9am in CO), I signed up.

If I am going to do this, I guess I better start training…but how?

Coming off a year that saw me push the limits of my body mileage-wise, and that left me broken, I had to come up with a new strategy that would allow me to train properly, but remain relatively injury-free. I looked around the interweb, read some blogs, read Runner’s World, but only seemed to find training plans that were either geared towards logging high-miles, or running a marathon on three days of training, or losing weight.

And then I remembered the Speedgoat, and it clicked. Karl Meltzer has been an inspiration to many of us in the ultra-world, and I remember reading an interview with him, where he outlined how he was able to maintain a high degree of fitness over an extended period of time. So I gleaned this info from my memory, and came up with a plan. Four to five week training cycles, with a 100-mile run once a month. So it would look like this: 100+ mile run, recovery week (minimal miles), fitness build up (40 miles), peak week (60-70 miles, including a 35-50 mile long run), maintenance week (30-40 miles), race week (10-15 miles), 100+ mile run….then repeat!

This plan would limit my monthly mileage to 250-260 miles a month, with the biggest mileage week being the week of the 100+ mile events. This is much more manageable that the 350-400 mile months I was trying to bang out, and the idea is that by the time July comes around, I will be well-prepared mentally, without suffering the physical depletions that seem to take me to the edge.

So now, it’s time to put the plan into practice.

Blues 100
After a sold, but relaxing Lookout 50 three weeks prior, and a good walk-jog 30+ miles two weeks out, I was ready to implement the new training schedule for 2015, beginning with the Blues 100. I spent the first full week of the year in my race week phase, accumulating 15 miles for the week prior to the big effort. I felt prepared enough to finish, and that’s all I needed to do…no record-breaking performances needed for this one…besides, it wasn’t really even an event!

My friend is the RD of the Mississippi Blues Marathon, and he actually encouraged this bad behavior by creating a prototype buckle, and then showing me. The Blues Marathon is known for its finisher’s medal, and he had a buckle made of the guitar medal from the year prior…and when I saw that baby, I just knew I had to earn it. And so the plan was hatched.

The MS Blues course, four times, starting at 3pm on Friday, with the last loop to coincide with the actual start of the Marathon at 7am on Saturday. I had a game plan in my mind to run about 5 hour loops, using my house (which is two blocks off the marathon course) as home base, where I could stop in, eat, warm up, and, if ahead of schedule, rest a bit so as to try and time it out perfectly. I told a few buddies of the idea, and ended up having four of them join me for the third loop, beginning at 1am.

As the hour approached, I began to set up my “aid station” at home. This would be the only aid station for the first three loops, so I had to make it count! I cooked a pizza, had some chicken noodle soup ready, K-cups, Coca-Cola, Little Debbie snacks, crackers, Fritos, a big box of Electro-Bites, some EPIC bars, granola bars, and a few other goodies, just in case. My house is about 2 miles from the start/finish line, so it would afford me the perfect opportunity to reload my pack, and my gut, each loop (except for loop four…just gotta get it done at that point).

The "Aid Station"
I drove to the start/finish line at 2:30, and just couldn’t wait…so I got started about 2:45 on Friday. I was running the first two loops solo, with my only thing to worry about being to be at the s/f line at 1am to meet my buddies. This allowed for a nice, pedestrian pace, with no real pressures…10:15 to finish up the first two loops, or 52ish miles. On loop one, the most welcomed surprise was my biggest fan, and biggest encourager…my wife! There she was, with a big smile, and a hug of encouragement, at about mile 14. Just enough to let me know that I may be kinda crazy, but not too crazy for her!

My biggest fan
I stayed in the groove through this loop, listening to tunes, staying on top of hydration and nutrition via EPIC bars and Electro-Bites, and made it to my “aid station” right on schedule. I ate some pizza, drank some coffee, and left with a piping-hot cup on soup. Did I mention the temps yet? The temperature would not get above the freezing mark throughout Friday and Friday night, with it dipping into the low 20’s, and I dare say the wind chill put it into the upper teens….so that soup was MONEY.

As I began loop 2, the expected happened, right on schedule. I generally hit a low point in my 100-milers between mile 25 and 35. Inevitably, my mind tried to go south…not due to fatigue or nutrition, but just because that is what it does. I guess the reality sets in of what lies ahead. So it was no different this time, but I was expecting it. I knew what to do, and I began to compartmentalize the remainder of the miles, outlining in my head significant land marks, highlighting walk breaks, and the arrival of my friends at 1am. No worries…the thoughts were gone as quickly as they came.

So I landed back at my house sooner than I needed to…dodging high school kids driving wildly in their monster trucks while they raced their Friday night curfews had my adrenaline pumping! I reloaded my pack, ate pizza, sat down and watched the news, checked the weather, rolled out my legs with the stick, had some coffee, got a big ole cup of hot soup, and after 25 minutes, headed back out to meet up with my friends. Despite walking a majority of the next two miles to the s/f area, I was still about 15 minutes ahead of the 1am meeting time. So as to avoid the possibility of hypothermia, I got into my car, and waited. Soon though, one friend, then another, and then another arrived, and at 1am, we were off on loop three!

Gettin' it done in the dark
As my friends chatted around me, I began to withdraw deep into my pain cave. I purposely shrank my existence into the glowing orb that was emitted from my headlamp, and just focused on being present, in the moment with my discomfort…understanding that it would not hurt any worse, but that it would not feel any better, until the finish…still a few more miles away. Along the course we ran. I tried to join into the conversation when asked to do so, but the attempts were short-lasting. I was in a dark place, and I was content to be there. And so the miles went by…60…65…70…75…

Back at the house, a bit early but right on schedule. Accompanied by my friends, I had enough time to reload my pack, eat some pizza, drink some coffee, and grab some soup, and head back out. We walked a majority of this 2 miles so as to time our arrival out perfectly, arriving at about 6:55am for the 7am start. I made my way into the corral, and managed to see a few friend from the Jackson-area…I met their enthusiasm with a dazed and confused look, as evidenced by their facial expressions in response to my mumbled voice.

“Have you already been running?”

“Something like that…yeah, I guess so…”

And then I experienced the same feelings I did at mile 14….somehow in the midst of the crowd, I managed to stumble upon my wife! What a pleasant sight to see, and feeling to feel, even if I couldn’t really communicate it…the great thing is, she is my wife, so I didn’t have to…I could just be, and that was enough.

As the starting horn sounded, I had to wonder how I was going to make it through loop 4…not like am I gonna make it?, but moreso what is this gonna look like?

I didn’t have to think about this too long…my wife decided to accompany me for the loop. She knows me well, and knows I don’t require much…just presence. I told her I had my tunes in, and she was cool with that. She gets me…and she knows that I can succeed when I withdraw and go inward, and she lets me do this…I have a very wonderful, loving wife, and without her understanding, there is NO WAY I could continue this dream.

We ticked off the miles. I was in the pain cave….suffering well. I would poke my neck out occasionally, just long enough to eat, then right back in. 85…90…95…the miles went by. I had the course segmented perfectly, with strategic eating spots, obvious walking points, and a finish in my mind. Mile 100 came, and went…still more work to do. We passed the final walk break, and I knew from a plan in place from hours before, that there was no more walking to be done until the finish. 101…102…103…and then I hit the gas. No more pain cave, just that full body numbness that we get in 100-milers that allows us to drive ourselves into the ground all the way to the finish.

Down the finishing chute, and across the line. And the first step, the first cycle in my dream sequence, was complete.

John N. (the RD), me, and the best
I do remember the beginning of this dream….as with most dreams, some of the details are a bit foggy, but for the most part, they are intact. God-willing, this dream will continue, as I stick to my plan, heal up well, and prepare for what’s next. A few days, and a few epic meals removed from the first cycle, I feel relatively well, and am excited for the days, weeks, and months ahead, all the way to the Colorado 200. No, I cannot get caught up in the what-ifs, or the fear, the worry, the anxiety of what this dream will become. All I can do is be thankful for this day, and for the people in my life that are helping make this dream a reality, and for the God who gives me the strength to just take one…more…step…

Gear Check:
Hoka OneOne Stinson Tarmac
CEP full-length compression socks
Salomon S-Lab running pack
Salomon S-Lab compression shorts
Brooks HVAC running gloves
Patagonia SS Top
Patagonia quarter zip
Defeet arm warmers (old school!)
Smartwool beanie
Buffs (used two of em)

Big thanks to Rock/Creek for the gear (all the Patagonia and Salomon gear mentioned above came from them…shop ‘em today!), Fuel-100 Electro-Bites for keeping my electrolytes in check (no cramping!), and EPIC Bar for the best freaking meat bars!

A huge thanks to all those who helped me on this part of my journey: David E., Bailey A., Greg G., Ed D., John N., and all those who sent prayers and well-wishes my way…I felt them all!

And of course, my lovely wife, Bev, whose inspiration, and belief I cannot do without.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
            From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
            Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
            He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
            Will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
            The LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
            Nor the moon by night.
The LORD will protect you from all evil;
            He will keep your soul.
The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in
            From this time forth and forever.”

Psalm 121, NASB


  1. Love you, brother. Proud to be part of it.

  2. What an awesome inspiring story! I ran the half and can hardly put it in perspective that in order to do what you did I would have to run the Blues course 8 times! WOW, I just do not have the words for something like that! It just goes to show you, your mind will give up before your body will! Good luck to you in your training for the Colorado 200, look forward to the future blog posts on this.
    Tricia @