Sunday, July 8, 2012

Three Months Later

It is hard to believe it has been a solid three months since I finished this feat. Running 350 miles in 7 days along the coast of Oregon. It still boggles my mind.  But at the same time it feels like it has been much longer. I knew it would take a great deal of time to process what I had been fortunate enough to complete and I am still not there yet.  As soon as I finished this endeavor I went off to conduct a running camp in Colorado, began the moving process (not so ironically to Oregon) was in a bike crash that has thrown my summer off and a myriad of other things.

I was at a Fourth of July party of a friend who had offered me some support along the way of the 350 (which I hadn't really been able to use because of proximity.) At that party one of his friends said "You're the guy who ran the whole coast, right?" After saying I was, I was brought back to the whole endeavor.

My crew (basically one person - my doctor, Shannon Mitchel) was watching a movie on Karl Meltzer's Pony Express run. She said the movie really showed some of the grittier sides of this  fantastic endeavor.  Now whether it was that gritty or if it was edited as such is not known. (They do fantastic things with movies to create drama.) Regardless, she mentioned that all of the bad things she saw in the movie were what she fully expected to happen to us along the way. Yet, even with the nasty weather we experienced, and the pounding my feet took (which I am pretty sure I am still feeling) we were very fortunate.

Also fortunate for me was how my state of mind has been.  When I completed the 202 miler back in 2010, I rested for a few weeks and then jumped right back into life.  With no major side effect prevalent, I thought I was fine.  I didn't realize how much the effort had taken out of me. As such the remainder of the year was rather lethargic.  This time, however, I knew about this and how "recovered" was from from "recovered".  People would ask me if I was back from the 350 yet and I would tell them I couldn't even guess for a few months.  Now with the setback of the bike crash, I still am not sure. If anything, I am hoping a little "down" time, even though it has hurt me in many other ways, will be helpful in the long run.

However, even if it takes me longer to come back then I would like, I have this to remember. "This" being something that was not only physically challenging but mentally taxing. An effort that I was unsure if I could do but knew the only way to find out was by taking that one foot from the California border and heading off toward Washington.

This is all we can do in life. Nothing is guaranteed but failure if we do not try. It didn't take me three months to figure this out but rather just one stride into 350 miles of running.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pacific Coast 350 Recap

I can immediately tell every time I have tried to start this recap that I am not even going to come close to doing it justice. But I have to try.

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.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Day 7

As I have for the past three days, I had old friends and new join me for some of my many miles on this last day of the 350. This is a recap of today, not the entire excursion as I cannot possibly do that right now.

Special thanks to Jeff and Dre for helping me over those mountains. I was definitely not expecting to have to scale a few more before the day was done.

Nor was I expecting there to be some trouble getting over the bridge from Astoria to Washington. Let's just say it happened and not worry about if laws were technically broken in order to do so. Ask for forgiveness not permission, right? Meeting a construction worker who is also a runner definitely does not hurt.

Today was about closing out the journey. When the final miles of this day were in sight and I was finally in the single digits, I was slightly overwhelmed with what I was about to finish. Running further in 7 days than I had in any previous month in my life, I showed to myself, and hopefully more than a few others, that it is amazing what you can achieve when you simply forge ahead.

I will undoubtedly thank many more in greater detail but right now I can send nothing but the most heartfelt thanks to my wonderful crew, Shannon, who I simply could not have done this without. Also, thank you to the California, Oregon and Washington Beef Councils for your support, both up close and person and from afar.

Given our detour from the original plan on one day, and the fact that US RT 101 is even longer than I thought, I ran more than 350 miles. But whose counting, right?

Final stats:
I did it. Bam.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Day Six

Here I sit.  300+ miles into this wonderful saga.  I am wondering if I can write a Day 7 post that will do it justice. Then again, I have ~50 miles left to go to get there so let's just worry about today.

Because of the logistics of today's run, needing me to be at a high school track invitational more than 2/3 of the way through the miles for the day, I realized I needed to run probably the longest consecutive streak of running with no break of the entire trip. This would be hard enough as it is, if the 20th mile of the run did not have one of the biggest hills (if not THE biggest) I had faced all week. Fortunately for me, I would have my friend Darin from nearby Portland to run many of these miles with me.

In what has been, for the most part, a remarkable break in what was previously a horrendous weather span for Oregon, today was yet another one of those days. While the temperature would get well over 70 and would eventually fry me a little bit, I will take that over what it could have easily been. But did that hill have to be there? Thanks mostly to my fantastic crew (I cannot possibly begin to thank Shannon enough) and also to Darin for helping spur me along, I cannot believe how quickly I ascended over 800 feet of climbing. Look at that monster.

But soon it and the downside of it was over and after the quickest of breaks to refuel, I was joined by friends I had met while running my 202 solo run almost exactly two years ago. Keri and Justin each took turns running a few miles with me and helped me through some parts where I was really getting beat down by the sun. It really does take a village!

This all led to me getting to the Tillamook Track and Field Invitational in time to see just the last few events of the day. I saw a number of the Taft track and field team I had just spoken to the day before and was able to hear how well so many of them had done. While Taft and many other schools who came from many miles away were unable to stay after the meet to even hear the final results, Century high school from nearby Beaverton lent me their ears as I talked to them about fueling properly for athletics, making the right choices in life and always doing their best to ignore the impossible. I could see from the looks in their eyes that the message hit home perfectly.

After that, with the sun rapidly erased from the sky by some cloud cover and a few droplets forming on my Julbo sunglasses I got the last few miles of the day under my feet. Now all that remains is the finale - 50 miles tomorrow to finish this quest.

I really don't want it to end - I am lying a whole bunch. Time to wrap this baby up.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Day Five

For what seemed like the umpteenth time, we completely dodged the worst weather of the day at very odd intervals. Given my mileage actually had me a little ahead of schedule, I was able to sleep in the tiniest bit more today which somehow gave me just the right window to miss the coldest temperatures of the trip and rain too.  By the time I started running, the temperatures were still there but the rain had slowed to a drizzle and soon was gone altogether.

I had previously made one trip to the Oregon Coast prior to this run and that was a day trip to the city of Newport.  Here, on Day Five, I would be crossing into familiar territory for the first time.  We strapped a GoPro camera to my chest, I wore it across the Yaquina Bridge, hopefully getting some beautiful shots of the bridge, water and rising sun.

I did this run, in spite of its beauty, in a little bit of a funk. I was beginning to get close to the finish but wasn't really within sniffing distance, even though my friends were sending me positive messages to the contrary. I was running faster than I had for large sections than at any point in the run so far but just felt, well, "blah". Completely expected and I was fine with that. Fortunately, I had something wonderful to look forward to and that was speaking with, and then running with members of the Taft High School track team (and other students.)  I have experienced great kids along the way during this trip and the Taft kids were no different. After their rapt attention and fantastic questions they even did the one thing a runner can do to show you they really accept you: they took me on one of their running routes. It felt fantastic to share this experience with them and I look forward to seeing some of them very soon.  Even if they ended the run up a hill!

Ending this day I got to spend the better part of a baker's dozen of miles with a runner I have corresponded with for months and whose rapid progress I have gotten to watch over emails and web results. Jason Zacher who works with the local IGA grocery store accompanied me for miles and miles through Cape Foulweather (seriously its real name), Depoe Bay, Kernville and Lincoln City. Turning off to head off to his home, I felt like I knew Jason even better than I had previously and cannot wait to watch him attempt to go under three hours in his first marathon ever in Newport in June. Best of luck, Jason!

Here it is. One mile into my run tomorrow I will be able to be in the double digits to the finish.  Still quite a long way to go but I can try and focus a little on the downward slope - even if there are some big hills yet to conquer.

Starting Weight: 178.5
Ending Weight: 179
Miles: 250, give or take

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Day Four

What a difference food makes.

Since emptying my stomach of its contents yesterday after too much sugar, I was quickly reminded exactly how I got back in the game during my 100 miler a month ago - real food. The problem with me in ultras, when I have them, is handling and eating food. Now this is an integral part of an ultra so it is not something one can dismiss. It is akin to complaining about not being a good swimmer in the triathlon. Well, swimming is part of the event. Figure it out or move on. With me, I had figured it out but didn't really make use  of that knowledge so far in this run.  That's on me.

Finishing my run yesterday, I was met at the hotel by my friend Dave Cilley who was making the trip all the way from Connecticut to join me for miles this morning. We broke bread with my crew and I devoured a NY strip steak. I instantly felt like a million bucks, hit the sack, and hoped the next day would be much better. Waking up, we had enough time to eat an actual breakfast before starting my run. Due to logistics with the hotel and an interview I had with Women's Running magazine, we had to finish the first portion of my run by 11:00 AM. While just a few minutes before we left the rain had been pouring down, it broke away when we started, and we had just a calm cool morning to greet us.

Dave and I ran together, chatting about races, people, and how amazing it was that our GPS watches could be so different even though we were right next to each other. The miles flew by for me, even though they were harder for Dave to be running at my rather pedestrian pace. But before too long, three plus hours had passed and we had knocked out nearly 20 miles. I had my interview to do and Dave had to drive all the way back to Portland to catch his flight back to Connecticut.  Hard to say how nice it was that he took all this time and energy to come all the way across the country just to do a little jaunt on the Oregon Coast. I am glad the weather cooperated for him.

After a brief break I was back at it again, traveling through towns and hamlets. I kept checking my watch, thinking that something was askew, for every time I would catch up to my crew they were astounded by how fast I was running. Instead of averaging round 10 minutes per mile, I was doing 8:30s, even though I was going over hill and dale. I should not have been surprised as it was clear what had made the difference between today and the previous days: food. The steak I had eaten the night before had been my first real meal since Sunday. When we stopped again, I devoured even more lean beef in a salad, and after an hour break was again tearing up the roads. The views presented to me were astonishing and my legs loved every minute.

I will undoubtedly have more highs and lows over the next three days but I will never forget this day. When the lows do hit I will always remember that a high can be just around the corner.

Not a bad metaphor for life.

Starting weight: 178.5
Ending weight: 178.6
Miles: 200 and counting!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Day Three

Day three of this journey started on a hilarious note. As we were loading our cars with my equipment and gear, happy as clams that the forecast for lots of rain went directly against the complete blue sky on the horizon, I turned to Will with the Oregon Beef Council and said,

"Check out that beautiful rainbow!"

Will saw the spectacle and said "We really are lucky."

*cue the hail*

Not quite sure where it came from but for the next 30 seconds it fell and soaked everything.  Fortunately we were in the cars and driving to where I had stopped running then night before. I swear it had been at the TOP of the hill but the map said otherwise. So getting ready to get the first run of the day underway, I was once again dressed in rain gear. Fortunately, this time it lasted just a few minutes and I was soon running without the rain jacket.

With no scheduled school speech, today figured to be a slightly easier day and one where I could play around with how I decided to run. Of course, both Day One and Day Two had been completely different from each other so it is not as if my schedule was set in stone. So after cresting the monster hill (finally), I knew it was more or less a downhill run, or flat, to a place that every runner knows (or should): Coos Bay. The birthplace of Steve Prefontaine, was also the place where I stopped my first run, some 15 miles in, to get some food. It was a tough go this first portion and when I finish this run I will talk more about it.

(Update: There was some serious contemplation about whether I would be able to finish this as I was 125 miles in and still had 225 miles to go.  For the first time the enormity of the situation was taking hold. In addition, after eating some food which did not agree with me, I left half of it in a parking lot a mile or so later after a puking fest.  What bothered me most about that was that was wasted energy to eat and wasted calories left behind.)

After less than an hour reprieve, I was running again. The weather had been extremely odd all day with rain, cold, sun, heat and sometimes seemingly all at once. But what really brightened my spirits is when I pulled over to get a drink and a guy asked to get his picture with me. My crew had stopped at his coffee stand simply because it had parking. He had heard about my running on the news and thought it was the cat's pajamas. I had actually been feeling a little tired and low but this really nice gesture bolstered my spirits. (I had to ignore this psycho stalker guy who has had it out for me since the days when I ran my 52 Marathons and to say it was a bit unsettling to see him also waiting for me here would be an understatement.If you had about seven hours I could tell you about this sad man. I sure hope he gets help.)  After the picture, I pushed my finishing point for the second run back and ran until I didn't feel good any more. Which was a while. Surprisingly.

After our next break, which included my first actual sit down meal since Sunday, I was able to finish off the day strong. Tomorrow I am fortunate enough to have my first "guest runner" to do the first half of the day with me.  An awesome chap I met for the first time at the Hartford Marathon where he went under 3 hours for the first time, Dave flew all the way to Oregon just to run the coast. Hard to explain how flattering that is. Today was a good day filled with good people.

Starting weight: 175
Ending weight: 174
Total miles: Just shy of 150