I will preface this post by saying that I am a male and have not, nor will I, first handedly experience the pain and glory of childbirth. I have, however, witnessed the birth of two children and have a vague sense of the whole process. That said, I feel that preparing and executing a 100 mile race can be compared – in a sense – to childbirth. I mean no disrespect, nor do I mean to take anything from anyone who has given birth.
Disclaimer: Some of the photos found in this post are of a graphic nature and may be considered disturbing by some. While they may be photos of ordinary circumstances to ultra runners, for the non-ultra runner they may be repulsive.
At some point you find that you’ve signed up for a 100 mile run. Sometimes it is planned, others, it is on a dare, or a challenge from a friend. You’ll spend the next length of time preparing for your 100 mile run and eventually the day will come and you’ll begin. No matter how in shape you are or how prepared your body is, there are certain things for which you cannot prepare. And while you keep telling yourself that this will all be over when you cross the finish line you are being forgetful of the fact that there will be repercussions for the self-mutilation you are causing.
When I crossed the finish line, I slowed further, stood kind of dazed, fell in line with my wife and brother who were carrying two sleeping toddlers and wandered through the woods to the tent. It hurt, but it was manageable. The frantic voice telling me to hurry and finish had gone to sleep. I was ‘relaxed,’ if you could call it that. I took my time and wobbled over the obstacles no one but a shell of a human would find daunting. It couldn’t have been more than a quarter mile to the tent, but it seemed longer. I followed the glow and din of the tent and wandered inside, a weary traveler looking for nowt but a cup of broth as my party traveled onward.
After downing my broth and conversing with some of the other wayward beings in the tent, I wandered to the end of the tent to wait for my family to return. As I stood, I noticed a chair. It looked inviting; a place to rest my legs and soul. I grasped the back of the chair and tried to contort my body to sit with little success. As I tried to figure out how to let myself down without knocking it over, I realized that this was one of the worst ideas ever. Provided I could make it into the chair, how long would it be before I could get up? How much help would I need? Instead I continued to stand and watch. There was enough of a soft gleam from head lights and and head lamps to provide glimpses of the other worn passengers milling about. No words were spoken, just nods of sullen approval at the feat just accomplished.
Eventually, my brother came back for me, and as I tried to walk up the hill to the car I had to give-in and use his help. While he didn’t carry me, his shoulder was a much needed support. As we reached the car, I decided to sit shot gun – the most accessible seat, as opposed to laying down – perhaps forever – in the back. As I went to sit, I leaned back and let the seat catch my fall. My legs were either too tired to move, or they simply refused; moving my legs into the car required both hands – a task I wasn’t sure my arms were up for. Eighteen inches off the ground never seemed so far.
I don’t remember much of the car ride home. It was pretty uneventful, but by the end of the twenty minute ride, I was nearly falling asleep. I could only focus on the yellow lines and random headlights for so long before the weariness took over. At some point it had been decided that climbing the stairs to my bedroom was out of the question and the couch was instead the best answer. We pulled into the driveway, and all I could think of was bed. I opened the car door and got out; I was going on my own. Sleep. I hobbled to the front of my car at which point my wife came over to help as I leaned on her shoulder.
It’s not a far walk from the car to the backdoor – maybe fifteen feet – but I was moving at a shuffle in the pitch black. My wife told my brother to go turn the lights on in the house and he left our side to go open the door and turn on the exterior lights. But it was dark, and I was exhausted. I stopped walking. My wife tried to move me forward. I refused. I could feel the hot flashes and cold sweats. My torso was hot, my face clammy. I knew this feeling quite well: I was ready to pass out. I dropped to my knees – slowly – with my wife’s help and sort of crumbled in the driveway.
I don’t remember much at this point. I know that I wasn’t completely out. My wife was freaking out at my brother to call an ambulance, and my brother was freaking out trying to find a pulse. Meanwhile, I was feeling good, unable to speak. I’d been here before. All they had to do was turn the lights on, give me someplace to go. Direction.
At some point in the commotion, my brother went inside and turned the light on. That was what I needed. I awoke from my nap and shrugged off any help to get me on my feet. Instead I crawled. I crawled on my hands and knees across the driveway and into my house. I crawled through the kitchen and up the half stair. Through the dining room and into the living room where I propped myself up on the couch, knees bent, arms folded across my knees to make a resting place for my head.
My brother helped me remove my shoes, and peeled off my shirt. Between he and my wife, the kids were brought inside and put to bed, and my feet and armpits were wiped down with baby wipes. I hoisted myself up on to the couch and laid on my stomach. My brother put some fruit snacks near my mouth and I managed to suck them up slowly like an anteater. It was a spectacle.
The Morning After
I don’t really know what I was expecting, but the morning after was not a pretty sight. I got up and hobbled around the house until I felt awake enough to take a shower – problem: shower is on the second floor. I managed my way up the stairs on all fours. I tried using the railing for support, but it wasn’t enough; this was a hand over hand ordeal.
Once in the bathroom, I had to get my legs over the side of the tub. Unlike the car ride home where I was sitting and could use both hands to lift my legs into the car, I was standing. It took some figuring, but eventually I figured out how to hold onto the toilet and get myself into the shower without falling over, but it wasn’t done yet. I had to wash my lower legs, too. I couldn’t bend over, and I couldn’t really lift my foot up. Again, it was a two handed finagle to get my foot on the edge of the tub without falling out of the tub.
As I tried to hobble around, I found that I was holding onto anything solid around me. My hand would rest against the wall, I would grab a chair or table in passing. It was a slow and labored pace, but I was moving. Surprisingly, harder than moving was standing still. What I didn’t realize – mostly because I never really thought about it – is that to hold our bodies upright, our bodies utilize a number of muscles we take for granted everyday. Those muscles of mine were so fatigued and worn out, if I leaned too far one way or another – and it wasn’t far – I’d find myself falling and trying to catch onto something solid.
So it was when I went for a walk later that afternoon, I needed to take the jogging stroller with me to keep from falling over. At first, my daughter was in the stroller, but after the slowest tenth of a mile in her life, she opted to get out and left me pushing an empty stroller. I would have been better with a cane.
As the days wore on, the swelling eventually went down, but it took at least a week. For the first couple of days, my ankles were missing. I’ve had pitting oedema before, so I wasn’t too impressed, but when the swelling and fluid was accompanied with my blackened toe nails, it made for an interesting sight.
I could be making this up, but I think that since my toenails were falling off, and I had an open wound – an open blister – some of the fluid from my ankles seemed to be draining through the pin hole in the blister. Since the toenail was only attached at the sides and loose in the middle, I could depress the toenail and create an oozy, smelly pile of bubbles – slightly reminiscent of spittle. At first I thought it was blister fluid, but it kept coming. It was more than just blister fluid.
I suppose it could have been the start of an infection, but after a couple days of red and itchy toes that didn’t seem like healing, I started some epsom salt soaks and it seemed to dry things up pretty quickly.
To say that I was cranky the first couple of days after would be an understatement. I’d wager to say I was unbearable. The thing is, when you run that far or that long, your body produces a ton of hormones; when you stop running, those hormones drop to below normal. They swing. Well when they swing below normal there is nothing but grumpiness. As any good binger will tell you, a little hair of the dog is the best thing to keep that withdrawal away. Unfortunately for me, there was no little taste to be had the next day.
I had been on a 2500 mile streak of 306 days at the end of Vermont, but sadly, that
streak came to an end the day after. I wanted to, and I even tried, but I could hardly muster a walk. I managed to get out the day after and do a mile around the block. It was slow, but it was all I could do. Each day things got progressively easier and my legs felt a little better after every run. It might be different for everyone, but it took a good two weeks before the legs were free of any soreness on an easy run. I think some of it has to do with over training, and maybe a bit of burnout, but my easy pace runs are still significantly slower. I haven’t tried anything with any pace but for a few strides or a 400 here or there, but I find it hard to believe I was ever doing 8×1600 with a minute rest as 5:48s.
After every long race, it’s what everyone says. It’s almost cliche. “I’ll never do that again. And then three days later I signed up for another.” And while I do like a good cliche now and again, I avoided the phrase. Instead, I said not for a while. Right now, I truly have little interest in doing another 100 mile run. I’d much rather a 12/24 hour event. I hope to do some longer runs again one day, but the kids need to be older.
I was aware of the time training would take, and I even was ready for a whole day to be set aside for my one event – but what I didn’t think about, was the recovery process and how long that was going to take. Not to mention the stress it put on my family when I collapsed in the driveway.
Yes, it was awesome. Yes, I feel accomplished. Yes, I feel incredibly selfish.