First and foremost, this was the hardest thing I have ever tried to do but also left me remarkably untired at the end. Well, at least from a “need to lie down now or I am going to die” type of tired. I remember being far more tired of running than I was tired from running itself when that 350th mile passed. Running more miles in one week than I had in any month in my life was quite an undertaking. But if it had just been that, running lots of miles, the feat would have been infinitely easier. It would have also not been really worth it for me to do. How is that possible? Let me explain.
When I picture doing something like running 50 miles a day for 7 straight days, I no longer do what I used to do and I know most people still do. The immediate inclination is to picture a place where you can comfortably run, at a moderate pace, somewhere near your home that is familiar and safe. You then picture the weather being perfect and supplies always being at hand. Further thought is not wasted in where you will be sleeping because you immediately think that you will stop running and be back at your own door, with your own foods and your own bed and your own toiletries. Then you drop off your dirty running clothes and pick out fresh ones from the endless supply of things you have in your closet. Your brain does this so it can think of the easiest way to go about doing something harder than anything you have ever done. It is self-preservation. It is also nowhere close to what I did.
But that is not what made this a challenge. Sure the weather was brutal on some days but given what the Oregon Coast had been beaten with this winter/spring (even just one week prior) the weather was a relative non-factor. Even the topography was far from the biggest challenge. Going from sea level to 900 feet in just a few miles on many occasions was not exactly ideal but this wasn’t what made each day difficult. Pounding 350 miles on pavement definitely put some strain on the feet but the surface of the road wasn’t the addition that made everything so challenging.
The hardest part of each day was quite tellingly the most rewarding as well. Stopping in mid-run and addressing a student body at one of the many schools along the coast, sometimes with runners in attendance and sometimes to just the general assembly, is what made this adventure what it was. Starting in Gold Beach, moving to Bandon, heading up to Lincoln City, stopping off in Tillamook and then eventually talking to inner-city Portland schools, I probably had over 1,000 kids in front of me all told. Impressionable, eager-to-learn children, many who were wondering why the guy in the salt-encrusted shirt in front of them had the power to get them out of class for a few minutes, all stared at me as I told them what I was doing or had just accomplished. Eventually they were won over and the questions flowed. Some were about the run itself, while others wanted to know how I could possibly fuel myself properly to do this much running. More curious brave souls wanted to know if I shaved my legs. I have no idea why.
Almost without fail I began one of my speeches to the kids within 15 minutes after many hours of running. Almost without fail I was pretty exhausted when I started. Almost without fail I left more energized than when I began. There is an obesity epidemic in this country. Sure there were a few kids who looked like they might be having problems with their weight. But I saw so many others who you could tell, even if they were not ideally where they wanted to be in their physical fitness, that they sure wanted to be. They just needed guidance. They just needed to have the right information and the right foods and the right drive.
Working with the beef organizations of the three states this 350 mile run would touch (California, Oregon and Washington), I obviously am a huge proponent of eating lean beef. I feel my diet, which has plenty of balance but includes more beef than anything else, is why I have now run 138 marathons, multiple ultras and two major long-distance running events with no running injuries. There are other contributing factors, of course, but it all starts with my fueling. I also know that others may wish to fuel their bodies with something other than lean beef. My reaction to that? Please do what works for you. Please do research and conduct experiments on your own body to see how you react to different types of diets. Please do whatever it is you want but do so with the facts, not just sensationalized news of the day. If I imparted any wisdom on these students it was that they should question authority. They should question what they read. They should question their own perceived limits and what they think is impossible.They should always be ready to change when necessary as well.
I had a plan dialed in for this 350 mile run. At the start of the third day the plan needed an immediate change. I know my body does not process any sort of food very well when I am running long distances. I still haven’t found out how, or even if, it will ever be able to do so like the bodies of friends I have who excel at ultra running. But as it is an integral part of the sport I better be able to figure it out or it will always be a problem. As there was no blueprint for running these 50 miles each day I went with what I thought would work. I was wrong. By mid-morning on the third day, too much sugar, too much sweet carbohydrates and not enough protein almost sunk me. When I just happened to use my head and go with what had worked for me in the past, I became a new runner. Eschewing products that will work for me when I will be done running, and running hard for just three hours, in favor of actual foods that I have been fueling myself with for many years, it was no longer a question of if I was going to get to the finish, but how I was going to celebrate.
Throughout the seven day adventure I was buoyed from messages gathered from social media sites as well as up close and personal ones as well. Friends living in Oregon would randomly show up to run a few miles with me. People who had read my story popped out of roadside espresso stands to grab snapshots. Heavily tattooed rough-looking types offered words of encouragement which belied their rough exterior. New friends traveled across the country to see Oregon for the first time in an very unique fashion. I probably ran close to a third of this entire adventure with someone by my side.
Absolutely this was a physical challenge. But the mental aspect of the endeavor far outweighs any physicality involved. If I had to self-classify I would say I have a moderate to high pain threshold but a very low tired threshold. I really do not enjoy being tired. However, the “tired” I speak of usually comes from the head. My legs are still moving. My body does not feel as if the energy has left it. My feet aren’t hurting. It is, more often than not, a mental lapse of strength that has left me feeling weak. I specifically recall at one point on the last day, when I was just ready to be done. Then I remembered that just three weeks prior I had been momentously more tired. At mile 87 of the 100 mile “training” race I did, I was one second away from crawling off of the road, pulling sand over me, and falling asleep. I wasn’t anywhere close to that amount of tired here even though I was quite cranky and had put in 344 miles. I reminded myself that my body was fine. It was my mind that needed the adjustment. A mile later, after a small sit down break, it was as if the whole tired episode had never existed.
I told the students I spoke to that failure is fine. I tried to really let them know that it is their mind which will get them to the next level of whatever it is they wish to do. I gave them a straight shooting statement about how we cannot do whatever it is we set our minds to do. I find that sort of rainbow up your butt type of thinking to be insulting to their intelligence. However, you have no idea what things you can and cannot do until you try. And try again. And keep going. Failure is the key to learning. No one really likes to not succeed but very few learn a damn thing by succeeding alone.
Rain and forty mile per hour winds greeted me on just day two of my adventure. Then a gigantic hill rose in front of me. Roads which had been completely closed due to landslides 48 hours before were only partially cleared. Crews out to clean them and direct traffic looked at me like I was the dumbest person in the world. In these conditions, they probably were not far from the truth. But I had set out to do a specific goal. I had laid out the plans long in advance, had made them public and gave a time reference. By doing so I gave myself next to no wiggle room to complete what I wished to do in the time I said I would do it. Some see this as self-promotion while I see it as accountability. I said I was going to try “X” and if I did not achieve “X” then I had failed at doing so. I was not going to change my goal to fit what I had done or keep it secret so there was no pressure. I welcomed the pressure. I welcomed the knowledge that thousands were watching what I was trying to accomplish. I can guarantee you that no amount of random sets of eyes from around the country was going to equal the pressure I was putting on myself to succeed. How I feel about myself means a damn sight more than how anyone else feels about me. It is really liberating.
This is not to mean that certain people whose opinions do matter to me have no bearing on my life. It means, rather, that I put more stock in how I define what I do than what anyone else does. In the end, that really is all that matters. Others will heap praise upon you regardless of what you wish for. Still others will try to tear you down for what you stand for. Often those groups will change sides. Sometimes long after you have passed they will merge and see you as a visionary or a genius or a game-changer. But during your blink of an eye existence, the only thing that should matter to you is how what you are doing makes you feel about yourself. Now hopefully the things that make you feel good are also for the betterment of all. I have found that 99% of the time, if you are doing something which helps people, chances are it is going to make you feel better. For those who get their kicks off of being sludge, well, just know that they have a pretty miserable existence.
When the fifth day of running ended, I was in ridiculously high spirits. On a long downhill section, with the cool temperatures but warm sun at my back, I actually ran, albeit briefly, in the low 6 minute per mile range. I was taking my usual arms-length-while-running pictures which I have gotten quite good at doing and enjoying the run. I knew that in just a few miles I would have 250 miles in for the trip. From my rough estimate, I would have only been running for approximately 45 hours. I stopped to take a drink and began babbling about the coloring of sharks and how they are perfectly camouflaged to surprise their prey from every angle. My crew was laughing and wishing they had started a camera rolling. I said I was enjoying this mood because I knew there would be both highs and lows. Sure enough, the next morning, even though I was running some of the faster average miles of the entire event, I was having one of those low moments. I wasn’t too happy. Little things were bothering me. Even the beauty of another dry (but chilly) morning couldn’t lift my spirits. I knew that this too would pass. I just needed to stay the course.
Even when I was done, and for the next few nights, I would close my eyes and see either forest or beach on my left and a white line in front of me. I had run the 350 miles from California to Washington but my mind was still processing it by making me relive the experience. I laugh as there is no way I can possibly forget any of this. Never mind the facebook posts or the hundreds of pictures. My memories are clearer than any of those anyway. No, long after this fades into the dustbin of history, I will know I accomplished something that was pretty darn hard. Impossible? Well, obviously not. But until I stepped the final step over the Columbia River into Washington, it had not been done.
Now it has been. I’m pretty darn pleased.
A few stats and final thoughts:
The support along the way from the Oregon Beef Council and most importantly my one woman-crew of my good friend Shannon was paramount to my success. I rarely had to think and only had to push forward. I would have been absolutely lost without you. My deepest and most heartfelt thanks go out to you.
All told, because of detours and additional runs with track teams and the like, I ran well over 350 miles. The bridge from Astoria to Washington alone is the better part of four miles. But given the fact that there are differences in GPS units, mile markers, car odometers etc, I am just going to go with the nice round 350 number.
I wore two pairs of shoes for this event: a pair of black shoes and a pair of white shoes. The different colors were meant to just make it easier for my mind to remember which pair was probably wet from rain or sweat and which pair was dry. Even my awesome Stuffitts products could not dry my shoes quickly enough to combat this amount of rain in such a short turn around if I used one pair of shoes. That said, over 350 miles, I never once thought about my feet. They also ended up completely abrasion free with barely a blister to report.
While I have no desire to put any sports lubricant on my body again for the foreseeable future, I cannot believe how well BodyGlide worked for me during this adventure. We did our best to keep my clothes dry and clean but I only had so many pairs of shorts and shirts and so little downtime from movement each day. Given the weather conditions, the variances in elevation and all that was included, the fact I came out of this 350 miles with no chafing to note is remarkable.
On a few occasions I wore my backpack but after we decided that the safety factor of having my crew stop every three miles to make sure I had not been gored by an elk or hit by a car made more sense than having me run longer distances with my own supplies, I went without any sort of back or even a handheld for most of the race. However, wearing my pack, I felt comfortable and secure, with all the things I needed right at my finger tips. When I stripped down to the bare essentials, and even carrying my small Canon camera made my arm tired, I am so glad I had a SPIbelt on my hip to throw some beef jerky and my camera inside.
For the vast majority of the miles, the under layer clothing I had on was Zensah compression gear. Both for warmth and keeping my circulation flowing during 7 days of 50 miles each, the clothing was paramount to my success. And while my body did not particularly care for a diet that consisted solely of my PowerBar products, when I was eating the Strawberry Banana blasts, I was in heaven.
I spent almost every minute of running shielding my eyes with my Julbo sunglasses. If it was not the sun I was protecting them from it was the debris from passing cars or the rain falling from the heavens. I rarely run without my Julbo sunglasses regardless of the light or weather and this 350 miler was no different.
It is hard to completely nail the exact number but I would not be too far off to say I burned close to 50,000 calories during the event. My weight was all over the board as well. I lost 12 pounds in the first few days then gained it all back plus 4 by day 5 to then finally finishing about 5 pounds under.
Finally, if you think what I did was easy, please go and try it and we will compare notes. I’ll wait for you by the 401 North sign in Washington.
But you can’t have my crew.