Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Burning River 100: DNF!

[Warning: long!]

It's 4:30 in the morning. I used to think that 7:00 starts for marathons were insane, and now here I am waiting for a 5:00 start for the Burning River 100, meaning that I'm already starting sleep-deprived. I'm sure there's a reason for the early start, perhaps because we'll be running along roads for the beginning section and that's the only time the city would allow the race officials to do it, but I'm starting to suspect that these races are all run by morning larks, leaving us night owls at a disadvantage. But, since I'm going to be running over 24 hours straight, maybe my nightowlness will come in handy?

Because the thing is, I don't really know what I'm doing. The longest I've run is two 50Ks last year, in which I felt strong, like I could have run 50 miles. I also ran two marathons within a week of each other at the beginning of the summer, and felt strong on the second one. After that, my training, since I was in Spain for two months, was to up my mileage and running time each week, figuring that that would be the closest I could get to the experience of running 100 miles. So, about a month ago I was up to running three four-hour runs in one week, with shorter runs on alternate days, along with running twice a day sometimes. Where I was, Mallorca, was also hot and sunny, which I figured would be an advantage.

Except that here in the midwest, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, to be exact, we're in the middle of one of the worst heat waves in history, with scoring heat and, since some thunderstorms went through a day ago, high humidity levels. This early in the morning, the temp is around 65, and the park where we're starting is foggy.

I could be shirtless with no problem, but I'm wearing a cotton t-shirt to start out, knowing I'm going to ditch it soon. I'm also wearing compression shorts, which I've just started using this past year, which, along with a bit o' the Superglide around the private parts, has solved all of my previous chafing problems. And, in order to shield women from my pornographic bulges, I'm wearing another pair of shorts of them, to which I've attached my bib, number 185.

I'm also wearing my Vibram Five Fingers. I normally run barefoot, but for something this long, I want to have some protection for my feets. I just don't want any nicks or cuts to slow me down. I have brought my Luna huaraches, they're in my gear bag, just in case, but the VFFs are just a little bit thicker, and cover the rest of my feet as well. This is my original pair from like three years ago, which have served me well, especially on the Bigfoot 50K. I have a newer pair, which I actually one in that race, for being first in the VFF division (It was in November, and cold, and I don't think anyone else was even wearing them) but they seem to shred my feet. I'm not a super fan of VFFs overall, especially the separate toe sockets, but I haven't committed to investing a set of Merrill's shoes, which have the same bottoms but look like a 'normal' shoe.

I have a support crew: My friend Mike has driven me down, and is waiting with me here at the start. His main job is to drive me home tomorrow, safely, so I'm worried about how fatigued he'll get, since he's going to be going to all of the aid stations. Fortunately, another friend, Dan, will be driving down later this morning and meet up with Mike in the afternoon, taking over crew chores while Mike gets a hotel room to nap. Then, the plan is for Mike to come back for the night and Dan to go sleep, and then both of them be ready for my finish sometime on Sunday.

That's the question: When will I finish? The time limit for the race is 30 hours. So, 11:00 on Sunday morning. Some insane guys will be running this thing in like 14 hours. Boggles the mind. Myself, I'm thinking I will finish, but close to 11. My main worry is getting shut down, ie being too slow. The aid stations will gradually be shut down as the race proceeds, so that anyone who doesn't reach them in time will be disqualified. I'm even mentally preparing to run this longer than 30 hours. But, I don't know. I really don't know what to expect, or plan for. Which is maybe not the best way to prepare for one of these things. But, I'm just curious what I can do, what my body can do.

There are about 300 entrants this year. Some have support crews, but surprisingly (to me I guess) some do not, and the race is set up so that runners can have gear bags sent to various aid stations along the way, starting at Mile 33 I believe. Many, maybe half, the runners have just been bussed in from Cuyahoga Falls. We're starting farther north, almost up into Cleveland, and gradually working our way south. I can't imagine doing this on my own, at least not at this point in my experience level. I am very comforted by having Mike here, even though technically, I won't see him for the first 15 miles or so, and in fact I'll probably be ok on up into the 50K range. I guess the quantity of races that some of these folks runs probably means they can't get their friends or family to commit to a sleepless weekend very often.

But, one thing many people will have later on in the race are pacers. After Mile 53, pacers are allowed to accompany runners along the route. That would be nice, but I wasn't able to con anybody into joining me. Mike is about the only other person I know who runs, and like I said, his job is to get me home, so I don't want him exhausting himself. We've left it up in the air if he feels like running tomorrow morning a little or not.

As the horde is gathering at the top of a wet grassy hill for the start, I spot someone with Jackson Community College t-shirt. I teach there, and turns out it's Mark, a science teacher, and that clicks, I've heard about him from other faculty, as another long-distance runner. We shake hands and I grill him for a little info. He's run this race before, last year, and finished, and sooths my fears that the trail is well-marked. We wish each other good luck and he says we should have lunch sometime.

Before the start, the organizer goes over some course changes, which we've been notified about before via the website. He plays a recording from a guy in the army stationed over on Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, I don't catch his name, but he's run the BR 100 before and wishes us luck, saying that it will change us forever. Heavy stuff from someone in Afghanistan right now.

A big digital clock has been counting down the time, and with not much ado, the announcer counts down the last ten seconds, no gun or horn or anything, and then we all charge down the slippery grass onto the road we came in on.

The neighborhood where we start is a combo of city park/forest and residential buildings, so sometimes we're running be trees and streams, and sometimes houses, but we stay on the left-hand side of the road. The other side is 'open' though there's nobody around really, just some support crew cars heading off ahead of us. It's still dark, most people have opted to run without headlamps, but we all have small handheld LED flashlights. The road is smooth, and I almost regret not running this first leg straight up barefoot, just for fun. But, who knows what's ahead of me?

The pack spreads out really quickly, with small groups and single runners in front and in back of me. Still foggy, I can't see how many people are ahead of me, but when I look back, I can see a long line of lights going back into the darkness. More than anything, there's a lack of ambient noise. Some gurgling streams, some frogs, bugs, and the heavy breathing and clomp clomp of running shoes. My clothes are soaked already, not helped by the water bottle I'm carrying, which Mike and I had to track down at the last minute from a Dick's Sporting Goods store about fifteem miles away from our hotel, since I only realized at about 8pm that I'd forgotton my Amphipod bottle back in Michigan. It was even sitting right by my keys and I totally forgot it. Argh. And, though this bottle seems ok, and in fact hold more volume, I almost immediately pulled the nipple all the way out and now can't seem to get it to go all the way back in, so that with every stride a little water is dripping down on my shorts. Great.

Mike and I were noting before the race that there doesn't seem to be a typical runner body type for this race. Seems like at marathons I always see the superskinny people, but here there are skinny people, short people, but tall people, and bear people. Some guys even seem to have significant fat. Many of the women seem to have the thicker nutcracker thighs of hikers, which is pleasant.

For my pace, I'm not trying to go 'balls out', but neither am I going slower than normal. I feel like I'm going at a normal jog, but with the adrenaline that might not be true. I'm trying to get a sense of what pace I might be at, and where that might put me later on. I end up running next to a super fit woman who looks like this isn't her first rodeo and so, without trying to seem like I'm hitting on her, I ask her if she's run this race before. Turns out she has, twice, and has some helpful advice, including to really pace myslef for the first leg, that she's seen people go hard for the first 50K, then get hammered at Mile 40 when the trail gets hilly. She says she plans on finishing in 24 hours, so that makes me think that I'm already running a little too fast. But, it feels ok. I'm again worried about getting shut down for being too slow, so feel a certain pressure to build a 'time cushion' that will allow me to go slower later on and still get through all the aid stations.

Speaking of aid stations, we get to the first one at 4.8 miles. There are two types of aid stations on the course, those where support crews can be, and those that are just staffed by course volunteers. This is the later. Two or three people are taking down our bib numbers and putting them into a computer, to be able to put the race up in real time on the website, so that viewers can follow along. Also, I suppose, to ensure that we're all indeed hitting every station. The station itself is a couple tables on the outskirts of a small village, with cups of water and gatorade and some foods like fruit and M&Ms and chips. They also have people standing by to fill water bottles. I've gone through most of my bottle, and I down a couple cups of gatorade and grab some banana and tangerine slices to keep some electrolytes coming in. Nothing else seems to appeal at this point, though I think all of us here can run 5 miles in our sleep, so we're all just in a rush to get on with it.

We cross a river, then get back on roads for some miles, then onto paved trails within some of those city parks/forests. I meet some more people. The main topic of conversation seems to be, “So, have you run this before?” I meet a couple guys that DNFed from last year, but who are back to try again, which rocks. They talk about cramping up, and the idea that at a certain point, the race just became not fun anymore.

The second aid station is where the support crews can come in, and Mike is waiting there for me. I feel bad though, simply because I'm feeling good. It's only been 10 miles. Got to hand it to Mike though, he's keeping track of my time and distance for me, and tells me I'm making great time. I get my water bottle filled, drink some more gatorade, and nibble on more fruit. Mike and I have some smoothies and fruit in a cooler, but so far I don't feel I need them. He says there are some kind of salt tablets available and suggest maybe I try some, that some guy who had run this before recommended them, but I say no, since I don't really know what they're do, and don't want to eat anything I'm not used to. I'm also thinking I'm getting enough electrolytes, that I should be good.

Onward! I ditch my soaked t-shirt and go shirtless. Someone said there's going to be a sunny stretch farthur up, but so far we've been in the shade, so I'm not really concerned about burning, though it seems, just from the people I've seen that most guys are wearing wicking shirts. Just seems hot to me. Most women seem to be opting for the sport bra + shorts options, and compression socks seem popular. One woman though I can't help but notice since she's running the race in all cotton: some tan cargo shorts, what looks like cotton underwear peeking out, and a regular cotton bra under a blouse! She's got running shoes, and is carrying two handheld bottle though, so can't be a total beginner. Crazy though.

Speaking of crazy, now that it's light out, I'm starting to get people 'asking' about my VFFs. The good thing, I suppose, is that everyone seems to know about them, meaning minimalist footwear is in the mainstream consciousness. But the 'questions' I'm getting seem, or feel, to be kind of passive/aggressive. As in, “How are those Five Fingers holding up?” or “How do those VFFs feel?” or “How are your feet feeling?” Maybe I'm overreacting, maybe feeling a bit defensive, but the underlying tone seems to be, “I think you're crazy to be wearing those things for this race.” So, just to mess with their heads, I usually say something like, “Well, I normally run barefoot, but....”

Truth is, I'm doing fine. I'm not a fan of running on pavement in VFFs. They seem to feel too shoe-like and make me end up hitting with my heels sometimes. I'm really looking forward to getting out on some trail-trails, meaning dirt. And, then I get my wish, but unfortunately, the 'trails' are more like gravel two-tracks, probably old roads that the parks people feel obligated to keep rocky. So, my old enemy: gravel. Even in VFFs, gravel roads are rough, and I'm damn sure glad I'm not barefoot or even in my Luna's.

At the Mile 20 aid station, Mike is waiting. I'm again making good time. Like, to the point where I'm in line with making a good (for me) marathon time, which is maybe not what I'd planned for, yet I don't feel I've been pushing myself either. I'm about halfway in the pack from what I can tell, but I'm not sure what that really means, because everyone in this race can probably run a marathon or 50K easy, and I bet some people are holding back, in for the (literal) long run.

I do have a smoothie, and some blueberries. The aid station itself has run out of fruit, and nothing else appeals to me, not even Fig Newmans. I do also drink two more cups of gatorade. I try a bit of PB&J sandwich, but my stomach rebels immediately. Which seems odd, but I'm a big fruit eater, so I decide it's ok.

The trail marking hasn't been a problem up to this point, mainly perhaps because there has been a continuous stream of runners, so I could always see when someone was turning. The volunteers are using mainly paper plates with “BR 100” and an arrow printed on them, along with some orange flags with a glo-strip on them. Also, we've been on paved roads and paths mostly. But now we're getting into real trails, and out of this aid station is a good soft dirt trail downhill, which I take off down, until it hits the Cuyahoga River itself. Hm. No sign, but there's a trail that runs along the side of it. That must be it. I follow it until I run into a cliff right next to the river, meaning the only way to go is across the thirty foot wide river. Which I don't remember from any course description. And, I haven't seen anybody for a while. Uh oh....

I head back, cursing myself and the course volunteers. Back when I was a wildland firefighter, we flagged the hell out of firelines, so there was no doubt at all which way to go. Another uh oh: I'm getting grumpy.

I have to go back uphill and sure enough, there's a paper plate that says “No!” and another one pointing off to the left and back uphill. Right when I get to that juncture, two runners come down towards me. I point and say, “Go up!”

The woman says, “Thanks! I'm not sure I would have caught that.” The man shakes his head. “Yeah, I would have kept going downhill. Thanks.”

He takes off, but the woman is about on the same pace as me, meaning we're both walking uphill at the same rate, because I forgot to say: Everyone walks up hills. Even back on the road at the beginning people were walking up the hills. At this point I'm willing to join them.

Anyways, the woman's name is Mary, and turns out she's run the BR100 twice before, at around 29 miles. She has a horror story from the previous year, in which the race was deluged with rain at night. She says she couldn't even walk up trails because they were like rivers, and that people where having to pull themselves up tree by tree, in the middle of the night. Also, when she finally made it to the next aid station, she was informed that in order not to be dropped, she would have to run the next leg, which normally took 4 hours, in 2. At night. In the rain. And, she fucking did it. Finished at like 29:57, but did it. So this is a person I want to be like. She doesn't have a support crew, going the drop bag route, but does have a pacer coming in later. She encourages me, saying that I'm going at a good pace, keeping well ahead of the close-out times for the aid stations. We bump back and forth for a while, which has been happening this whole time, as the people with the same paces cluster around each other.

I think I'm now in the Cuyahoga Falls National Park, where most of the race takes place. There are more dirt trails, but unfortunately still some wider gravelly ones, which makes the continuing passive-aggressive questions from other runners about my my VFFs even more grating, since in a sense, they are right, is IS a little crazy to be running on trails like this. I'm not craving arch support or even a cushion, but a little bit thicker rubber might be nice, just to take the edge off the poking.

I also meet another women, Kim, from Pennsylvania, who has also run the BR100 twice, but DNFed the first time she tried. I gotta admire people who come back. It seems like with something this big, in which a runner trains all year (or at least all summer) that the frustration of not finishing would just be mentally heavy. That is, it seems like it would be easy to say, 'This is just not worth it.' I myself have had doubts. That is, if running were my 'thing', I might be fine with the time put in, but I also like to write and play music, which I feel I've had to sacrifice a little this past summer.

At one point I come out of the woods to cross one of the many roads. Some have attendants for traffic control. This one doesn't, and there's some cars, including a cop car and an ambulance. It's one of the guys I've been seeing off an on since the beginning. He's holding his right arm, and there's a car with a smashed windshield. Holy shit. He's talking to the police, so I don't stop, nothing I could do but get in the way really, but man. The dude just got hit by a car!

Somewhere in here I go over the 50K range and into unknown territory. I'm slowing down, feeling weary, and dreading the 40 Mile section where things start to get hilly. But actually, I'm ok with the hills. I walk them, and get to used some different muscles. I end up running with a guy for a while, another DNFers from last year, who's back to try again, though talking to him, he seems to be having some doubts already. But, he really helps me out by breaking down the time/mileage strategy. If I can get to the halfway point, 50 miles, in 14 hours, which I'm on my way to do, that leaves me 16 hours to do the next 50, which breaks down to a mere 3 miles/hour, which most people can walk. “So if you just run some of it, you'll be fine.”

Somehow, this frees me up and actually gives me a boost of energy. We're also on regular soft dirt/mud trails, perfect VFFs terrain. This is the point where I really feel like, Yes, I can do this. Even if/when I have to walk a lot in the night, I'll still have a time cushion to get me in under 30 hours.

Even better, I get to Boston Station, 49.1 miles, and the basic halfway point, at 5pm. So, I've run the first half in 12 hours. That gives me 18 hours to do the second half. Dan is waiting for me there, and I look at him and say, “I'm going to do this.” I'm not trying to talk myself into it, it feels like a statement of fact.

Even better: Turns out Dan is a reiki massage therapist, and so offers to massage my poor gravel-beaten feets. Here is where I take my first longish break. I pound a smoothie, and manage to get down a granola fruit bar from the store.

This is the biggest aid station, because not only are all support crews here, but lots of watchers. And, after a little 3.5 side loop which returns back, runners can now start having pacers. It's also here where I start seeing people who have dropped out. The main reason? “It's just not fun anymore.” There's even one guy on his back almost passed out, who has been vomiting. Yeah, that's not fun.

Me? Yes, it's still fun. I'm tired, but a good tired. I feel really good. I just ran 50 miles in 12 hours! Plus Dan's massage work does wonders for my feet. I take off on 3.5 side loop. And who should I see but the guy who got hit by the car! He's back in, with his arm all wrapped up. Amazing.

And fortunate he and his friend are behind me, because they call out to me after a while: I've just run past a turn off, with both a BR100 plate and a “No!” plate. I totally zoned out and didn't see them. Uh oh. Man, I gotta watch myself. I may feel ok physically, but mentally I'm for sure fatigued. Again, a little grumpy that there wasn't better flagging, like at eye level and not on the ground, but I gotta take responsibility too.

That loop basically goes up all the way to the midpoint, which I walk, then back down to Boston Station, where I again have Dan do some work on my feet. Man, I did not plan on this, but it's nice. Otherwise my feet would be feeling a bit bruised.

But speaking of bruising, after I leave Boston Station, and won't see Dan or Mike for a while, the 'trail' which goes under I-271 and I-80, is not just gravel, but limestone rocks, like my old driveway used to be. That can't even be pleasant to run on with regular shoes, I'm not sure how anyone would authorize that for a trail. But, so, here I am getting my feets bruised all over again. Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch. “Hey buddy, how are those VFFs feeling?” Grr.

Boston Station is in the middle of the National Park, right in the river valley. I came down from the west side, and now this leg of the course goes back up onto the east side of the park. I get passed by a couple pairs of runners: participants with their pacers. Would I want a pacer at this point? I'm so used to running alone, and I'm in such a solo head space, that I'm not sure. Might be nice to actually talk though. Mike and Dan have been amazing, but it's hard to really go into in depth convo, since I feel I have to get in and get out of the aid stations as fast as possible. Here I'd have only time. I'm certainly going slow enough to be able to talk. But one pair ends up coming up right behind me and then kind of staying there. This is where I may be a grouchy misanthrope, since maybe they're just joining up in some kind of camaraderie thing, but they're talking to each other right behind me which makes concentrating very difficult. So I just stop and let them pass. They say hello, I say hello, and they speed up.

So, alone, I get up to where the trail comes out on a road, right by an overpass over I-80. Trouble is, I don't see any flags. Right or left? Argh. Could we have just put some flagging or an arrow up? Is that asking too much? I'm wondering if the volunteers who did this, who I'm sure meant well, are from here, and therefore to them it would be obvious which way to go. Instead, I check the sun, figuring the trail is going south in general, I guess that I'm supposed to go south, over I-80. Not happy, I do so, but yes, ok, at the other side of the overpass there's a paper plate. Jesus, these paper plates are killing me.

I won't see my crew for about 16 miles. There's another aid station in about 6 or so. It's kind of another out and back loop, and after that there's a 10 mile stretch before the next aid station, where crews can go. I'm figuring that I can do most of that while it's still light, so I do not take my headlamp. Instead, I take a small LED flashlight to get me through, if necessary.

Well, that is a mistake. I'm back on trails, but they're steep, so I have to walk, both down through another river valley, and then up to the aid station. Everyone is walking by now, including people coming up at me, which freaks me out at first: have I taken a wrong turn? But no, actually someone recognizes me from another race, and he follows my blog, and I totally don't catch his name, but he fills me in that this is kind of an out and back loop for a while, with two-way traffic. I think him, and eventually get to the aid station.

Still light. I hand off my bottle to someone to fill. Btw, somewhere along the way, someone fixed it so it hasn't been leaking. Thank you whoever it was. I drink some gatorade, but there's no fruit, and just cannot conceive of eating anything on the table. Everything looks oily and makes me feel nauseous just seeing it.

I decided to have a seat, rest my legs, and a guy I'd seen earlier, who was also wearing VFFs sits down next to me. He actually had his wife come out to Boston Store with a pair of regular shoes, because, like me, the gravel rocks were killing him. He looks like I feel: tired. This is his second try at the BR100, but he doesn't seem confident. It's the same refrain: This isn't really fun anymore. I'm just tired.

An amazingly attractive volunteer comes over and sits next to us. I'm not sure if it's her job to do so or not, since volunteers have been talking to me at the previous aid stations, I think guaging my health, and I've heard that they're pulling some people. The woman is encouraging though. Turns out she's run 50 milers before, and she says we look good, so that' good to hear. The guy says that last year he DNFed at this very station, after his liver shut down and he started pissing blood. Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

I don't want my muscles to freeze up, so at get up to go. The problem? My muscles seem to have frozen up. My legs are stiff, and worse, my left calf feels like it's going to cramp up. Like, badly. Ouch. I limp out of the station, figuring that I was going to walk this stretch anyway, and hopefully that will loosen it up.

It's dark. I get out my LED flashlight to guide my way. Everyone is walking. There's still a stream of folks coming in after me. Again, mental grogginess, but I didn't remember seeing the turn off to where this 'loop' takes off, but there it is, kind of hidden, more plates.

This next stretch is about ten miles. Maybe eight from where it turns off. It's dark. I have no headlamp, just a flashlight. Worse: My calf hasn't gotten better. I feel like it could seize up any moment. I'm limping. I'm alone. The trial comes out of the woods onto some more road. I'm getting nauseous, either from the flashlight light swinging back and forth, or just from exhaustion. I want to just turn it off and walk in the dark, with the stars out and the quiet, that would be nice, but I'm scared (maybe almost literarly at this point) of missing some turnoff and wandering through this neighborhood all night and getting impossibly off track. Again, little flagging or any other markings, just a long straight road. Would make a great straight away to get up to a trot and go, but I just can't with this leg. But, I'm thinking, I have this time cushion. I can afford to walk for a while since I'm so far ahead of the cut off times for the next aid stations. I'm also sick of drinking water at this point, my water bottle is full and just feels like dead weight, but at least I'm conscious enough to realize this is a bad thing, so try and force down some gulps.

A couple guys pass me. Kind of eery to see their light way behind me and gradually catching up. They're alternating jogging and walking fast. I try to keep up, but even when I get up to a half-ass shuffle, they're still walking faster than me, and they leave me behind.

More darkness and aloneness. More worry that I'm going to miss a turn off. A woman comes up behind me, just power walking. Her walking is faster than my half ass shuffle, and that is when I give up trying to even shuffle. Still, I feel like I should be able to walk as fast. Is there something funky about regular shoes that allow people to walk faster in them? Am I going crazy?

The route does turn off onto another city park/forest paved path, so we're out of the National Park by now. It's another looooong dark straightaway. I should be running. There are houses on either side, but it's in a greenbelt, so mostly just trees. I wonder what someone looking out their window would think, seeing people going by with lights.

This part goes on forever. Another pair of runners passes me, a runner and pacer. The runner, and older guy, says something to me and I can barely understand him, he's slurring his words so bad. He's just asking me if the orange flags are route markers, which yes they are, but you're just asking at this point? He looks awful, yet he's trudging past me. I try to penguin waddle again. No go. Well, I think I can just walk all night and maybe when daylight hits I can get some jogging in. After all, with my time cushion, all I have to do is go 3 miles an hour for the rest of the race, meaning basically walk it.

Finally, I don't know what time, I stagger into the next aid station, where Mike and Dan are waiting for me. They look beat, but worse, from their expressions I can tell they don't think I look good. Worse: my time cushion is gone. They inform me that this station is closing down in a half hour. Meaning that I have about 2.5 hours to get 6.5 miles to the next station before it too gets shut down, and then basically one hour to get the 3.5 miles to the next one. I'm stunned, thinking for some reason about all the people behind me. there was like at least 40 people that I saw. There's not way they're going to make it here. I can't believe that long stretch cost me my time cushion. Gone. Poof. Where did I go wrong in my calculations? Or, I guess I was going way slower than I even thought?

Dan goes to work on my calf. And he's digging deep, working around the knot he (and I) can feel in there. It hurts. It hurts so bad. I'm gripping my chair, screaming, but amazingly, he seem to smooth the knot out and I can somewhat walk again. And, I can't afford to screw around, I've gotta get on the road, and be running, not walking. In the dark. On trails. But at least I'll have a headlamp, though I take the flashlight just in case I need more light. I say goodbye to Mike and Dan and jog off.

And, I can jog! It's a miracle, the cramp is gone! I'm running with a couple people for a little bit, but when I a little ahead of them, I don't seem to be projecting any light. I stop and check my headlamp. It's dead. It was working when I left the apartment, and with apparently no wind-down, it has died. I'm like 200 yards out. Do I jog back and try and catch Mike? I think he's gone, and I'm feeling the pressure to keep moving forward. Dammit. Another mistake: I didn't put new batteries in at the beginning of the race.

Well, so, I have the flashlight, just like the last three hours. So, holding it up at chest level, I proceed to jog. I'm in forest, on regular dirt trails, and it's actually a cool trail, taking us along the bottom of some cool rock cliffs, but I have to focus everything on where I'm stepping. I feel more focused than I did. Nothing like a little scare about getting shut down to spur me into action. I run with a pair of women, I've seen them before but don't know their names. They say I'm doing fine, time-wise, but I'm just thinking, to get back any kind of time cushion, I really need to do this 6.5 miles in 2 hours, rather than 2.5, because I'm no longer sure I can keep up any kind of good pace for the rest of the race. They try to assure me that I'm doing fine, but I'm on the verge of freaking out, kicking myself for being so complacent.

I pass another women out on her own, and when I ask her how she's doing, she says, “I'm done. I can't even walk.” She's got major chafing issues, like her underwear is tearing apart her thighs. She's actually running the race with her husband, but she told him to go on ahead. She says she just wants to stop, and asks me to tell the people at the next aid station to come get her. We speculate about how much farther we have to go. I guess halfway, but I'm wrong, of course.

Again, not many people. I couple people pass, but not many. There's no way all those people from way back are going to make. I'm now one of the last one's in the running it seems.

And the trail just goes on and on. And on. In the dark. And then my calf starts to go, tightening up, like somebody's shoving a fist down in there. I feel like it's going to snap and just cause me to fall over. I'm limp-jogging for a while. Then limp-walking. Then just limping. Argh. This is it. I can't do this. Not only has this race ceased to be fun, but even if I somehow make the cutoff for this next aid station, just because I started out running, there's no way I can make the next one. I just don't think Dan can do another miracle. So then I'm sad, and then a little angry. At myself of course, but directed at the race people. I know it's unfair, but I just want this leg to end, and it keeps going, and even when break out into a grass field and I can see the lights of the aid station, I have to climb up this big hill. I'm like, Really? You had to put the station at the top of the hill? Really?

Things are grim at the station. It's dark. The moving van is already there, and they're loading things up. Some runners are crouched in chairs, huddled in blankets. Oh my god, one of them is Mary. Two time finisher Mary!

I make sure to tell the official dude about the woman with the chafing issues, though I guess someone else has already told them. There doesn't seem to be much they can do, or anyway the guy I talk to doesn't seem to think they can do anything, since she's way back. Man, she's got a long long dark walk. And...jesus, the aid station will be gone be the time she gets here. How the hell will she get out? Argh. Nothing I can do.

I go over to Mike and Dan, and they look grim. Everyone is grim. Dan wasn't even supposed to be up at this point, he was supposed to go back to the hotel room. I tell them I'm done. I tell them about the leg. I think I could technically push myself and get to the next station in 3.5 miles, but why? After that, I wouldn't be able to keep up, and I'd get closed out. Why keep going for another hour and a half? These guys have done a hell of a job. I'm done. Let's just all go to the hotel and get some sleep.

To their credit, I think they would have been up for continuing, which makes me feel a twinge of guilt, as does the idea of having to tell everyone on FaceBook and the BRS that I DNFed. God, I'm just sad. I was going so strong. It was fun for a long time. But now? Now I can barely walk.

So I inform the station official, and the greatest humiliation, he has to actually take my bib number off and away from me. I understand why, so someone doesn't cheat or something, but man, it's like....being demoted. I am no longer a real runner.

Mary and her pacer ask us for a ride back into town. She looks so miserable, saying that she hasn't been able to eat anything for the last two hours. Thankfully, Mike agrees to take them, and I can get a ride with Dan to the hotel, which actually isn't that far away from downtown.

I can barely get in the car, having to lift my stiffened left leg up and in. It's like permanently bent. Dan says this seems to be the spot where lots of people give in, that I'm not alone.

We get to the hotel, I hobble to the room Mike and I are sharing, get in, and without any bathroom break or shower (just not possible, not possible to move my body in those positions) I barely get my clothes off (including my VFFs, which just reek) and slip under the covers, where I proceed to go into hypothermic shock, just shivering uncontrollably, wanting to cry, my leg throbbing.

I don't even sleep that well, my leg just hurting, so I keep trying a new sleep position that won't hurt, but that's not possible. I finally drift off in despair.

The next morning
Dan, Mike and I agree that we want to see the awards ceremony, so we meet up in the parking lot at ten-ish, and convoy into downtown. The fact that there are still people running at this point boggles my mind, but when we drive along Broad Street, there goes a couple people over the finish line. Man.

The finish is in a city park, with a water fountain that kids can play in, and an outdoor auditorium. Runners are coming in on a city street blocked off with orange cones, and some actually have to wait right at the end for the traffic light on Broad Street to change in order to cross over and finish. Crazy. While I'm there waiting, up until 11 o'clock maybe ten people finish. None of them look familiar, meaning, I think, that no one behind me finished. But I'm not sure.

And, the state of the people coming in varies. Some trot in. Some walk. Some look like death. Some look fresh. Two people come in together, a man and a woman and the woman looks all perky, like she just got up. The guy looks horrible, walking dead. But you know what? Fifteen minutes later an ambulance pulls up and who do I see being put in the back but the perky woman. So who knows.

Also, another woman collapses a half mile out, from heat stroke it sounds like. She too gets taken away in an ambulance. A half mile away!

I run into some of the people I met along the way, including Mark Ott from JCC, who finished! And not only finished, but came in tenth! I didn't realize he was one of the monsters! Though even then, strangely, he doesn't seem happy, and makes a cryptic remark that he went through a huge emotional crisis this race. We talk about other people who dropped out. Astoundingly, Mark says that ten guys ahead of him dropped. I just can't conceive of that. Seems like they could just slow down and still finish with a decent time, but there must be something with the competetive aspect, like maybe if they drop out before half way the 'loss' won't count on their record. Or something. I really have no idea.

I also run into they guy who said hello on the two-way trail. He finished, which rocks, but even more so because he ran the whole thing in RunAmocs, another minimalist shoes. I ask him, “So, did those gravel trails kill you?” He nods and grimaces.

Also meet another guy from the trail, who DNFed last year but finished this year. I tell him what happened to me, with the calf, and he nods. “The same exact thing happened to me last year!” His solution? To pound the salt. He says he was putting salt on anything and everything during the race, including bananas. So ok, I'm filing that info away for next time.

And then, there are the shod runners in the medical tent, all of them with their feet taped up. Many runners are now walking around barefoot. In fact, never seen so many barefoot people since I was on the beach. Oh, and let's not forget the guy who takes off his shoes in front of his family and all of his toe nails are on the verge of falling off. I've heard about this, but can't believe anyone would continue running if that happened to him.

The last person to come in is at around 29:55. The awards ceremony at 11 o'clock is perhaps anti-climatic, though in the middle we hear cheers: Someone finished after 30 hours. Rock on. But the race organizer, who has been up for two days straight, is not a good public speaker anyways, and does a lot of mumbling and rambling. There are like three different awards categories, which I'm not entirely clear on, but seems to be best overall, then best according to US Track And Field standards (which Mike thinks involves having no pacer or support crew, but we're not sure) then best for age categories. And, here, for the most part, the winner, especially the women, seem to have the sleek runner bodies, with little body fat, though one of the age category guys is fairly chunky, so who knows? One winner, a woman from Boulder, who won the 50 age category, looks like she's 25. Running has been good to her. Oh, and that crazy girl who was running in all cotton clothes? Turns out she's the winner for the women's 40 age category.

Dan, who's a psychologist, is actually fascinated by the people. He's been going around taking pictures and asking people about themselves. For example, one woman who finished is a burn survivor. 70 percent of her body was burned when she was 4. She started running cross country because someone told her she couldn't, and now she runs ultra marathons. In fact, two weeks ago she just ran some five or seven day race across the state of Tennessee. Amazing.

Dan also tells me about a guy he ran into, who finished, but who DNFed two times before finishing, and that the guy told Dan to tell me not to give up.

And you know what? I'm not. I've learned a lot. I did my best, but I learned it's not just about getting mileage up and then drinking a lot of water. Next time, and there will be a next time, I'll be better about my nutrition. I will also make sure my lights all have fresh batteries. I think too I will go on my own for the first part of the race, so that my support crew isn't exhausted. I'd also like to have a pacer, or pacers. That's all asking a lot though. It's a huge commitment for people to do this, to help out. Mike and Dan both say though, that the experience has been great. I think I'd like to be on a support crew for someone. Heck, if I'd crewed for someone before this, I'd have a much better idea of what I was getting into.

I may actually not be in the Midwest next year, so I'm not sure I'll do the Burning River again. I've got my BR100 hoodie now though, and I don't feel I can wear it until I actually finish. But wherever I am, I'll be looking for a 100 miler. Right now, I'm already planning my fall race schedule, which will now include some 50 milers!

PS-The next day I go to a massage therapist, who works on my calf for at least a half hour. Torture, but it works. I can walk again.