Location: Provo River Trail
Weather: Cool, Dark, but moonlit
People I saw: Angela, Jane
Notes: This was a colder one. It’s all relative, but I think that the weather dropped about 10-15 degrees in the last few days, which I think is significant.
I got it in my head that a three mile run isn’t going to cut it. I hope that I can stick to this, unless I’m injured or something is really out of line. I think it’s important to keep my mileage up, especially since I’m in (pretty) decent shape.
Had a full moon at 6 am, this morning, so I opted out of my horrible Energizer headlamp. I’m supposed to get my Black Diamond back from Patrick, today (along with my running belt). I have a decent amount of backup gear, but I don’t have extras of the expensive stuff.
The run went well, but I think that if it’s 30 degrees again, I’ll wear a warm hat and some gloves. Probably ok to still run in shorts, but I need at least a long-sleeved shirt, now. Utah really does give you all kinds of weather to run in.
Location: Provo River Trail
Weather: Dark, beautiful stars, no light during entire run
People I saw: Jane
Pain/injuries: No injuries, just a tight right knee
Notes: First run since the Pony Express 50. Felt fine until about two miles in. May/may not have felt some tension in my right knee. I’ll just have to put more miles on this week to see what’s going on, there.
Coughing and wheezing when I got back. Asthma is a thing, right now.
TL;DR: Nathan finishes the Pony Express 50 and will probably do another ultra distance race. Also, Patrick Phillips is awesome.
The backstory and prepping
At some point in my mind, I realized that I wanted to go farther. I’d run ten marathons, ten half marathons and twenty one 10k’s, and although I still considered these distances to be fulfilling and enjoyable, there was something missing. It wasn’t that I wasn’t proud of what I had accomplished.
I’ve dealt with chronic asthma my entire life, so I sort of skipped the part of my childhood, where I should have been playing ball, running track, etc. But as it is with many things, it turned out that my fears were really all that were dictating my goals. Mom always told me that I was an athlete, but I never believed her. When I turned 26, I discovered that I could actually run distance. I’ve never been all that competitive, but at least I have miles in my legs. But how many miles, I wondered, over the last couple of years.
When I was a kid, I knew a man named Harold Carling, from Chico, California (my hometown). My dad introduced me to him as an ultrarunner. He had run Western States a few times (although at the time I had no idea what the Western States 100 was). But it did stick in my head. I wondered, “How could anyone run 100 miles at a time?” Also: “WHY would anyone run such a distance?” His name has popped into my head a few times over the years as I built a base of running in my life, over the last 15 or so years.
In the last couple of years, I became much more aware of ultrarunning, even taking the time to buy books about people who have run them. My sister and brother in law have participated in a couple of ultras (albeit, competitively and successfully), but I’ve maintained a healthy distance…until this year.
I turned 40 in January. I needed to do something big. So I signed up for the Pony Express 50/100 ultra. I chose the 50 mile distance, because I’d read that you should probably have around three large-distance races under your belt, before you tackle something that large. As the year progressed, I realized that I’d foolishly stacked three races in three successive weekends. On October 3rd, I ran the St George Marathon with my dad. On October 10th, I ran the Blue Lake Run 15k in Oregon (and came in 1st in my age group, 7th overall!) And then I had the Pony Express 50 on October 16 to deal with.
A few people in online forums explained to me that my plan was stupid (how could I argue?) and that I should drop either the marathon or the ultra. Ultimately, I chose to keep both. I didn’t know how many more marathons my 74 year old dad had in him, and I consider running with my dad to be sacred time. At the same time, I was on the tail end of 40, so my 41st birthday would creep up in January. If I was going to run an ultra, it was now or never.
So last Thursday, Patrick and I hastily made last-minute plans, as to how to run a Friday race. Patrick was committed to making this happen and I was committed to giving this a “go”, although he insisted that I not attempt this, rather that I run it. Patrick wasn’t excited about tentative plans. He wanted to see this happen decisively. Patrick bought all of the food that I would need for this race, while I ran down to Runner’s Corner, to buy Gu’s and Tailwind.
At Runner’s Corner, I took a little ribbing for planning this ultra so haphazardly, but ended up getting some solid advice, anyway. Ultimately I chose to take the chance on Tailwind, because UltraRunnerPodcast had touted it as sort of the go-to drink for ultrarunners.
Patrick and I said goodbye to our families, had a prayer, and headed for the West Desert of Utah. We pulled in at about 9 pm, to Lookout Campground and headed over to the tent where Davy Crocket and a few volunteers got us set up with my race packet, the satellite phone that I’d reserved, so we headed back to the truck to park it at a semi-level angle, so that Patrick and I could sleep in the bed of it (setting up a tent would haven’t given us enough time to sleep and get to the starting line by 5:50 am.)
Sleep did not come easily for me. The truck was at a slight slant, there wasn’t a whole lot of width room for our sleeping bags and pads (the pads ended up overlapping), the stars were magnificent, so I kept starting into the sky, and I was so, so nervous for what the morning would bring. Little did I know that in the morning, I wouldn’t have to stress at all. Patrick was about to take over.
Patrick takes over and we start
I walked up to the starting line, where we were briefed on not taking food or drink from a moving vehicle, several other instructions, and then all of a sudden a three second countdown began. Davy managed to start this race EXACTLY at 6 am. This is a man who is organized.
At this point, I turned the race over to Patrick. I knew that we had agreed on a plan and he was the man to direct the execution of it.
Miles 1 through 5, 0:10:10 pace:
When we started, we ran through lit ropes of green, which looked really cool in the dark. Our headlights swung light on the immediate path, while darkness lay ahead. I immediately realized what a small and special group this was. This was a small race. Not a race of thousands and thousands of people, but of about 39 people, all of which were broken down into three waves, about an hour apart. There were about 12 people in my wave, which probably contained a few 100 milers.
Even though I was pretty nervous, the first five miles passed easily. I relearned to pick my feet up a bit, because a few times I’d kick the ground as it rose slightly. Soon, to my left, I noticed that the mountains were beautifully cutting into the pre-lit sky. At this point I wondered if I’d be able to find a consistent rhythm for this course.
At mile five, I met Patrick and took some grapes and Gu, then gave him my long-sleeved shirt. It was just too hot to carry around.
Miles 6-14, 0:10:15 pace: At mile 8 I noticed that the sun was coming up. It had been reported that this would be the hottest Pony Express on record, so I was pretty sensitive to any incremental increase in heat that I noticed. But as the trail would drop a bit in elevation, Patrick and I would notice that the temperatures would drop slightly. Even though the trail itself was pretty straight and repetitive, temperature changes helped to distract me and keep my mind from getting socked into negativity.
At mile 11, I told Patrick that I could feel the marathon from two weeks ago. I knew this might happen, but felt that as long as we stayed on top of nutrition and took care of my pacing, I’d be ok.
At mile 14, Patrick started to really manage things. He would listen to me, but wouldn’t let me get away with not eating or neglecting important points that we’d already agreed upon- like hydration, salt tablets, etc. For instance, this is about the point that my stomach started to hurt for the first time, but he made me take a spoonful of peanut butter, anyway. Sure enough, it was disgusting. But it was this kind of help from my crew that assured my best chances at a finish.
I really enjoyed washing down that peanut butter with Jelly Bellys. Those were amazingly delicious at mile 14. So I threw some in my pocket to hang on to as the trail passed below my feet.
Miles 17-26.2, 0:13:00 pace:
At 54 degrees, not much had changed in the last few miles. My arms were getting warmer and darker, due to the sun and…I guess tanning? Patrick reported to me that I was still toward the front of my wave of starters. That was encouraging, but I was pretty sure I’d been left in the dust.
At mile 20, Patrick applied sunscreen to my arms and back, during which he expressed his opinion that “I must be a pretty good friend”. Here, I changed my socks, shoes, ate a 1/2 sandwich. I noted how tired I was, but Patrick felt I was ok because he tells me that I was still trying to be funny.
At mile 23, my stomach started to turn on me. When I stopped to break, I changed out of my red tri shirt, which I should have never brought, because I started chaffing immediately. It was here that I changed into my white and light Oregon running shirt (I would keep this shirt for the duration of this race, because it felt the most comfortable.) It was here that the mountain started up in elevation, so I put my head down and started chugging the road.
Miles 26.2-38 miles, 0:14:00 pace:
Patrick and I met at the 26.2 marker (according to the truck’s odometer and my Suunto watch). This was an important moment in my life. The first time I’d reached the 26.2 marker in my life was on October 2nd, 2004. I’d run 9 more marathons since that point, but never had run past the marathon distance. I took a step over the line and that was it. I’d never be the same. (I don’t really know this, but it sounds like a nice way to end the paragraph.)
I ran with some discomfort, but relative steadiness, until I was able to take a break at mile 32. It’s at this point that I start to realize Patrick was clapping for me every time I run in to my breaks. He did this every time and it’s hard to express how helpful this was. Here, Patrick gave me another sandwich (gross), but noted that I’m slowing down a little. The weather was interesting, about 75 degrees, but no breeze, so it was starting to feel hot, again.
What I loved about the last few miles, here, is that there was some slight cloud cover. I tried to mention this to other runners, but no one seemed to care. I think I just entered a phase of my run where I became oblivious to what others thought about me and I assumed that everything I was saying was interesting. I realize, now, in retrospect, that it wasn’t at all. Maybe I was even annoying.
At mile 35, Patrick noted that I was looking stronger. I felt stronger. I was running uphill, out of a valley and man, I’ll be darned if I didn’t feel great. Patrick swears that at this point, I ran right passed a Dr Pepper can, which is funny, because there were a few points on this race where I thought that if I saw a Dr Pepper, I’d drink it. (I’ve been “off” of soda for about 2 and a half years, so this is noteworthy.) Patrick thought I would have been too tempted, so God was sort of looking out for me. I could see this being the case.
At 36.5 miles, Patrick had identified a pretty decent hill coming up, so he stopped to sort of prep me for it. It was here that I told Patrick that I knew I was going to finish this race. Patrick noted that I still had my sense of humor and my mind was (somewhat) straight.
When mile 38 finally arrived, I was nearing the highest point of the pass. I crested it and then I started running downhill. And it felt great. I started running and even found happiness in a faster pace.Along the way, I took more Gu and drank more Tailwind. I was really starting to hate the Gu’s at this point. I reported to Patrick that I felt great.
This did not last.
Miles 41-50 miles, 0:14:00 pace:
At mile 41, I ran down into the salt flats. I was into single digits and it felt great, knowing that even if things went badly from here, I’d be able to at least walk into complete this distance. The sunshine alternated with the clouds and I kept eating and drinking. Patrick felt that I was starting to get a bit delirious.
Once I rolled over mile 43, I requested that Patrick start stopping every two miles. I was very tired, but still positive about finishing. Here, Patrick started walking about 1/2 mile from the truck to meet me, then he’d run with me to the truck. That small service made a huge difference in my attitude and outlook. I started to really look forward to my short run with Patrick.
At mile 46, Patrick started meeting me every mile, trying to keep me moving.
It was a little discouraging to cross the finish line at 48.5 miles, because I wasn’t done. The course was marked to a perfect 50 miles, a final out and back was planned. Both Patrick and I ran out 3/4 mile (I can’t even remember Patrick being with me), grabbed a sticker and put on my bib.
At mile 49.25, while I was running back 3/4 mile for the finish, an oncoming runner passed me, shouting “Bonsai!”. For some reason, this angered me, because I thought he was going to reach and pass me. I dug down, poured it on and really started running hard. I lost Patrick, because I was running too hard for his fat body (his words). Once I was about 100 yards from the finish, I stopped to turn around. This was my first 50. My buddy Patrick had been working his butt off for 13 hours to make this possible for me. It had been a huge sacrifice, whether he admits it or not.
He started screaming at me to “Go!”, but I was obstinate enough at this point, that I was going to do what I wanted to. I wanted to finish with my friend.
Patrick and I finished at 13:07:27 and everyone was cheering when I came through. We took some photos at the Pony Express statue, together, but I was out of it. Patrick said that I kept walking around staring at “things”. He made me sit down and rest, so I called my Dad and wife from the satellite phone, just to check in and let them know I’d finished.
At the finish, Patrick brought me a burger (tasted good, but I could only eat two bites). I just didn’t feel like eating. We stuck around for about an hour and a half, turned in the Satellite phone, and started driving back to Provo. My energy was gone, I was mentally and physically depleted, but my spirits were high. I was 40 years old and I’d completed a huge goal.
Right knee is stiff, but I’m walking around.
Saturday: I’m stiff, sore, but not injuries! I’m even willing to mow the lawn for Wendy when I wake up. That says something.
I’m starving for a few days. I get exhausted running a block, walking up stairs, etc. But no pain.
Roxie just called me while I was on the Frontrunner, to tell me that she won every single girl in her school mile race. Only one boy beat her. His name is Jeff. She told me that she was right behind him.
On Friday afternoon, Dad, Mom, Wendy, and the kids went to the Saint George Marathon Expo, held at the Dixie Conference Center. We walked around, got our race packets, and I picked up some much needed Body Glide (this would turn out to be more of my more brilliant marathon strategies- not to chafe.)
We had Mom’s patented Marathon Lasagna and I tried to go to sleep at 8 pm. Here’s why: The Saint George Marathon was giving out guaranteed spots to the 2016 marathon, for those who would be on the first 20 busses, before 3:45 am on marathon morning. I knew this problematic for both my dad and me. Both of us needed sleep. But Dad has guaranteed entrances to the marathon, since he’s already done 10 of the St George Marathon. I still needed 3 more SGMs to get to this coveted point.
I probably didn’t actually fall asleep until about 10:30 pm, but that’s also sort of a record for me, on a marathon eve.
My alarm woke me at 3 am and I actually considered resetting for 4 am and just bagging the automatic entrance. But then I thought of how often Present Nathan really messes up Future Nathan, so I did the future me a solid and got up. I walked over to my parents room to make sure that my dad got up. I don’t think he sleeps well at all. He wakes up so fast, even when he’s only had about 3 hours of sleep.
I didn’t wake Wendy up. Instead, I just got dressed, went into the kitchen and make myself breakfast. I wasn’t going to eat it right away, so I just bagged it. Soon, Dad and I were on our way. We parked the Highlander at 100 South and 400 East, only a couple of blocks away from the busses. I sort of hurried us along, worried that I might not make the cutoff for the 2016 automatic entry.
Alas, we had plenty of time. We boarded the bus and sat in our cramped seats. Dad, traditional as he is, asked me, “Now, why are we doing this, again?” Every year, he asks this. Every. Single. Year. For some reason, though, it always makes me smile.