What a ride…
November 02, 2009
I wanted to thank everyone again for your love and unbelievably generous support over the last four months. It was a big source of strength for me during those low points when giving up and throwing in the towel seemed like the prudent thing to do. Outside of seeing my father (hopefully soon) officially retire after 40+ years of incredible service to this country and raising my own family one day I doubt anything could ever top this experience for me. When I mentioned the idea to the Horvath's and Magic a while back we hoped we'd make a difference but at the time had no idea what that really meant. So we all started working towards a goal. But then something truly remarkable happened...a family was born. A family of dreamers...a family of givers...a family of people who care more about each other than they do about themselves. In today's often cold world I never thought something like this was possible and to see that birth first hand is a gift. In the end...not only did we have tremendous success as we approach $60,000 raised for the MAGIC Foundation...and not only did we have tremendous success in improving awareness for these crucial growth-related disorders...but most importantly we proved that the human spirit is fundamentally decent and that if everyone gives a little more and digs a little deeper from time to time the world can and will be a much better place.
For me personally, there are two life lessons I'll take away from this experience. One - there is nothing on this planet stronger than the heart of a volunteer. And that's exactly what we had here...hundreds if not thousands of volunteers all lending a helping hand contributing in different ways and creating something that became so much bigger than the sum of its individual parts. I feel blessed to have been a part of it and am excited to see what we can all accomplish together in the future. Secondly, the limits placed on the human body are self-imposed and meant to be broken. There are no boundaries. What we all accomplished here is living proof of that and no one can ever take it away from us. How are we ever supposed to reach that next level if we constantly settle for what is already attainable? In all fascets of life there is another level and then another level and then another level. There are probably infinite levels. But if your heart is strong...if your spirit's full of believe and your mind full of determination...you can and will get there.
The final leg was cut short due to security concerns in Giza so we ended up having an untimed 2k run around the sphinx and the pyramids to a camel-lined finish. While we were all looking forward to racing it out, considering the shape of our bodies a nice little victory stroll around one of the seven ancient wonders of the world was more than sufficient for us. It was with a great sense of pride, humility and passion that I crossed the finish line in 5th place representing the greatest nation in the world.
To put it bluntly this experience was life-changing and makes me want to strive to do more. After crashing at the finish line of stage 5 and swearing I'd never run again after this race I'm already itching with desire to get back out there and tackle the next big challenge. And there's no one else I'd consider supporting than the beautiful and courageous Luci Horvath, The Magic Foundation and all the friends and families on here that gave me the fuel I needed to cross the finish line when the easy thing to do would've been to quit.
The Black Desert March
October 30, 2009
Sitting in this tent at 9:00am local time feeling awful but so full of emotions and absolutely blown away by what weve all been able to achieve here. Other competitors are joking with me bc we receive the comments each day on an excel doc (no internet access) and Im receiving close to 1/3rd of the comments for all the competitors in the entire race. The support has been overwhelming and whenever they set up the cybertent Im sprinting over here (albeit awkwardly with a limp) to read them ASAP. So thanks everyone again for the unreal support.
First off...this race is beyond insane. It has been exponentially harder than I ever imagined it could be in my worst nightmares. The heat out here is suffocating and relentless...knocking competitors out every day. If the 5-8 mile stretches of super soft sand doesnt put you under than the intense up/down hill climbes on the rocks can surely deliver the death blow as you slice your feet open. Your pack pounds on you every day, wearing you down and sapping you of your strength. And on top of that, everyone is dehydrated, everyone is behind on calories, and everyones legs are so blown out after the second day that we are all running at a fraction of top speed. A couple of the faster runners here (1:15 half marathon times as a proxy) that can really burn it have done great on one or a couple of the stages but have succombed to the elements at one point or another. And with that...all the time/effort/sacrifice over the last months and years goes out the window with the DQ. You cant afford a bad day and you cant give in just once and thats the biggest challenge. But what we have working for us is the unbelievable unity between the competitors, the race staff/organizers, the locals and everyone else associated with this world class event. And without this teammwork I highly doubt anyone gets this thing done. This whole experience has been so vast trying to put it in words does it zero justice.
So for yesterday: They decided to do a stagerred start for the final stage sending the peloton out at 6:00am and the top 16 out at 9:00am. So by the time our day started it was really hot. My game plan was simple. To run as much of the 55miles as I possibly could. And to do that...I had to be very careful in the heat of the day. So I came out of the blocks 10/16 and planned to stay there most of the first 20 miles just running strong 10:30 min/miles on fairly flat terrain. Biding my time. The terrain was mostly a flat plateau looking out in every direction that seemed to have no end. About 22 miles or so in, there was a glimpse of green in the distance. As I got closer you could start making out palm trees. This wasnt just an oasis, it was the El Ris Oasis that seemed to extend for miles in every direction as far as the eye could see. The water of life and an entire village supported by it. You had to descend about 1500 feet down a mountain off the bluff to get there. So fired up by the site I ran down that thing at almost a full sprint. At the bottom there were about 12-15 little African children waiting for us and cheering us on. I grabbed a little boy and little girls hand and ran a couple hundred yards with them. Obviously we couldnt understand each other but we were singing and dancing. The little boy then pointed up at my ear, I thought he wanted to see my earphones but of course he was motioning for my ridiculous red/yellow sunglasses. I gave them to him a gift and received a huge hug back in return. That moment is probably what Ill remember most from this journey.
After getting to checkpoint four and coming down off that high I crashed hard. The next six miles were all dunes/soft sand at the heat of the day. I had to do the run/walk and save whatever energy I had left. After being passed by Ash/Martin and a few other competitors I was feeling beaten. I managed to struggle to checkpoint five knowing I have been on the course for over 6 hours and still had over another marathon to run. This was my time to turn it around. Even though I felt sick I forced down another terrible granola packaged meal and a cliff bar and took a boatload of electrolytes. The time was now.
With the sun starting to get lower and the temperature cooling off some I managed to find another gear. I dont know how but I mentally forced the lactic acid buildup to go away with my adrenaline rush and I started cruising in the push for home. From miles 32 - 54 no one was faster than me on the entire course. I flew past Tobias (leader heading into the stage who was having heat issues). I caught Ash about 10 miles down the course and Martin about 15 miles down the course and didnt even pick my head up. One of the coolest moments of my life being in the absolute zone just driving for home and feeling no pain 10 hours deep. Did have a brief scare as I hit checkpoint seven and realized my electrolytes and light sources had fallen out of my pack but I kept rolling until I found another competitor to borrow a headlamp from. In typical fashion, the racingtheplanet organizers didnt make it easy on us placing the camp site at the top of a massive steep sand dune. I ferociously crawled up it on all fours while gasping for air. There it was, the finish line. Today there were no war cries. I passed it and collapsed head first in the sand. I had been running so beyond my limits for so long on pure adrenaline that my body immediately caught up. The med staff brought me over to the tent and I shivered/shaked/sweated profusely for the next few hours. Ive never gone into shock but if this wasnt it was pretty damm close.
With all that I completed the Black Desert March in 11:22 (4hrs 38mins ahead of my goal) finishing 6th on the day and finishing in the top-5 overall for the competition. Get ready Luci - Uncle George has a pretty cool present coming home for you!
Eye of the Tiger
October 28, 2009
First off...thanks again to everyone for the unreal support, both to me out here and in support of Luci Horvath and the MAGIC Foundation back home. And thanks Uncle Richie (in typical fashion) for taking the support up a notch for this most worthy cause. The size of this family is a force to be reckoned with and Im proud to be a part of it. I havent even received the most recent comments yet Ive already gotten something like 280 messages in the last few days. Its making a huge difference and I wouldnt be here without them.
Stage 4 update: Defining moment of the race. Once again last night I got zero sleep. Combination of the sleeping quarters and trying to shut your body down after these grueling days just isnt working for me. So late last night I sat out next to the campfire under the most gorgeous starlit sky for several hours focusing on the task Id be facing in the morning. Was I happy with what I had already accomplished or did I want to push for more? Just sat there thinking, pondering, strategizing, getting amped up. This was going to be moving day and after the first three stages theres much on the line (top ten, top American, winning my age bracket). I started getting so filled with adrenaline I was ready to hit the course at 4am. Just sitting there with a scowl on my face like an amateur fighter whose ready to knock gloves. For the first time in my life I developed the eye of the tiger and got the ultra focus. At that point I knew no matter what obstacles stood in front on me on this fourth consecutive marathon in four days that I would take them down. When the clock started I went out methodically with strength, determination and power, and with the exception of a few cameos, that scowl never left the entire day and I never picked my head up. Waiting patiently like a hunter I slowly started marking my prey, taking them down one by one. By the end I finished sixth beating a number of more talented, more experienced and faster runners. When I crossed the finish line I let out several patented University of Tennesse war cries alla Dave Gardner. It was on sure guts and focus that I came in this high again today...nothing else. It was my best athletic performance to date.
So back to reality - tomorrow lies the most grueling challenge of my life. Im going to learn what it really means to suffer and sacrifice. After banging out 100 miles the last four days in these conditions (yesterday was the hottest recorded temperature ever for this event at 120F air temperature) and battling dehydration, fatigue, severe weight loss/muscle deterioration, shin splints, open wound on neck, swollen left knee and several blisters we are now staring a 55 mile day in the face. Daunting. Guess the plan is again to go out slow and strong, try to cover some distance while its cooler in the morning, eat and rehydrate midday, then push on through the afternoon and all night till I get it done. No clue how long this thing is going to take, probably finish sometime in the middle of the night...but I will finish. Theres no room for doubt, theres no room for fear. Only the thoughts of all the MAGIC families and the unbelievable friends and family I have on here following this race on a daily basis. You all mean the world to me and I couldnt possibly feel any luckier than I do at this exact moment. To be blessed with so many people who care so much is a gift and its rare. My present back...in a few short days Ill be the one carrying the USA flag across the finish line in front of the ancient pyramids of Giza as the top American in the field.
October 27, 2009
A little morning humor...a strong dose of reality
While Im lightheaded and buzzed from the heat and dehydration I figured why not clue everyone in on exactly how were living out here bc its absolutely ridiculous and so funny. First off...there are nine of us (yes nine) crammed in 10x10 tents every night. If you roll over to the right you elbow someone in the face, if you roll over to the left your face is in the sand and if you stretch your legs out youre playing footsie with a random guy from South Korea. At about 6am people start rustling around and very fowl smells start emanating inside the tent due to the cosmic activity taking place inside each of our stomachs. While youd like to get more sleep youre forced to get up bc the stench is unbearable. You muscle up enough strength to hit the campfire and mix boiling water with your favorite dehydrated breakfast and manage to force down about 800 calories of porridge or granola or some other god awful packaged meal. Within five minutes of finishing it...you immediately grab some moist towlettes and head to a hole with a cardboard box 100 yards away. You then go back to the tent, drain blisters and load up on vaseline and sun tan lotion while pounding water, electrolytes and pain killers. You put your shoes on, your feet kill, your shoulders are sore but you focus on completing another marathon. This will all be over in a few days and another hundred miles. You then make it to the start line, crank on the Rocky Soundtrack and go to work.
All jokes aside today was a very, very scary day. The heat was suffocating and many more competitors were unfortunately forced out. Ran by one guy today just totally zonked out on the sand needing help so a fellow competitor and I hightailed it 5k to the next checkpoing to let them know to come pick him up. There was also a runner who was lost on the course for sometime (staff in a panic) and I can tell you in this heat wihtout water youre dead within hours. Finally, in the biggest shocker of the day, Mehmet Danis (the winner of stages 1 and 2 and prohibitive favorite for the title) succomed to the heat as well and got sick and dehydrated on the course and couldnt keep water down. He ended up walking most of the second half and Im in absolute awe he was able to gut it out and cross the finish line but obviously hes very disappointed losing hours to the other guys up top. Shows you that this is as much a test of survival as anything else. You literally have yourself and your pack to rely on and no one else. Not just to cross the finish line but to stay alive.
As for my day - I started getting massive shin splints and shooting pains in my left calf about 14 miles into the race, bringing me to my knees temporarily. With 25k left on the day, I thought I was toast. But I managed to hobble the next 3 or 4k and meet up with an awesome guy Dave from the UK (who was looking strong but unfortunately was already DQd from the race bc he didnt complete stage 2) and we decided to push to the finish together. With the heat sapping our strength and nowhere to hide in the barren Sahara we decided to stick to a gameplan of running 4 minutes and walking the fifth and then crank it harder when we got decent footing on rocks and stone and on downhills. We managed to gut it out and I somehow was able to tell myself the shooting pains would go away and about 4 miles from the finish they subsided. Looking back Im not sure either one of us wouldve gotten through today individually but together we perservered and came in tied for 10th! Another top ten for the newbie from beantown. But with almost 80 miles remaining in the next two days Ive yet to learn the definition of pain and what it is to push myself beyond my outermost limits and find a new level of self-discovery. Thats coming soon though and all I can do is embrace it and respect the power of this place. Theres a reason no plants, animals or humans can survive living in these conditions.
Everyones comments have been amazing (Ive read them all several times) and were all in this together. Got a shot (and I stress shot) to have a memorable finish. These next two days will be pure hell...but when I return from the dark side Ill be much stronger bc of it.
Ps - If I ever complain about traffic, weather, lack of sleep, my reconstructed wrist or anything else of the sort please slap me, correct me or at least refer me back to this blog entry. But I doubt thats going to happen after this experience...its changed me. Im going to enjoy the things in life that truly matter much more and stop acknowleding the incidentals we have no control over.
50 down…100 to go
October 26, 2009
Alright so Im sitting here laughing hysterically at nothing bc today was so absurd. Maybe Im delirious...cleary Im depleted. But I somehow gutted out another strong day coming in sixth beating a number of really strong runners and putting some distance on the peloton. But today was so much harder, six miles longer and really took its toll on me and a number of competitors dropped out. This whole race is so much more difficult than you couldve ever anticipated without prior experience. Started off in the white desert surrounded by gorgeous rock formations carved from the wind, many resembling the shapes of animals. We then got into some really really soft brown sand in a barren wasteland that seemed to go on forever. No signs of life, just completely beating up your quads and calves. At that point my ipod died (Hey Apple - official complaint from Egypt...thanks for Sahara proofing the latest nano!) and I thought I was toast with still ten to go. My feet were killing me, shooting pains in my left quad, major open wound on my left neck from backpack chafing. If it wasnt for all of your support I probably wouldve shut it down right there as at least five runners started to catch up to me. But I gutted it to the final checkpoint, got out the backup ipod, refueled and told myself that theres no chance Im walking it in. The next five or six miles was the most breathtaking view Ive ever seen my entire life. Your talking about a perfect and untouched ocean of crystal white sand in every direction for as far as the eye can see with massive sand dunes in the distance. Here I got into a great rhythm and pulled away from the guys behind me. Then on mile 25 got to the dunes and realized I had to climb up and down six of them before making it to the finish. Think crawl is the appropriate way to describe getting up these bad boys. Almost fainted getting to the top of the first one but once I did I could see the finish line in the distance so I kept moving. Legs completely gave out on the third one and I fell almost sliding down the side of it losing my sunglasses and ripping my gaiters...much steeper than you would expect. After surviving the dunes I pushed hard to the finish and kept those other runners comfortably behind me.
Damage to date: This is where it gets good. Legs feel like bricks, quads and calves are totally blown out and left knee is swollen. Eight blisters (each toe on both feet excluding the big boys has now been popped). Also two blood blisters. Open wound on my left neck that Im having treated. Little tired as well but other than that ok for the most part and stomach seems to be hanging in there. All I know is that this is one week of torture and pales in comparison to the sacrifices the Horvaths and other MAGIC families make on a daily basis. I keep that thought close to my vest as I realize Im fortunate to be healthy enough to attempt this feat. And that couldnt be a bigger driving force. Thanks to everyone for all the messages...couldnt do it without you.
God willing another good day tomorrow...apparently its much of the same.
October 25, 2009
October 25, 2009
Solid start...but shouldve been better
As Tiger Woods always says you cant win a major on the first day but you certainly can lose one. And it was very hot with the later start so i had to be careful. But all in all I felt really good, wanted to put up a good number and did exactly that. Finished #5 for the day but it clearly shouldve been better. Myself and three other runners behind me were extremely upset as we were pacing to come in below 3:30 but got lost the last two miles as there were no markers on the course (wind may have blown them away) and we were running out of water. Pretty scary. Ran back and forth back and forth looking for the finish and ended up running 2.5 miles longer than the actual length of the course. The good news is that I went out in 12th place and worked my way up the entire day. Top three guys absolutely smoked it and theyre most likely untouchable but who knows.
Smart move of the week - ditching four dinners, my pants, spare sox and other items to get my pack down to 19 pounds.
Amateur move of the week - not buying shoes big enough, my feet were banging the edges all day once they swelled and I already have two monster blisters on my left foot and lost one nail. One blister on my right foot.
Its going to be a very long week but so far so good. Off to get some rest and do it again! Thanks again for all the fantastic support...this is such a cool experience in such a beautiful and remote region. Hopefully can hold it together.
October 25, 2009
So insane that its almost sane...
8:00 am and the sun is roasting...we kick off in 60 mins. Talk about a crazy first 48 hours. But somehow...someway we made it to base camp last night at 1:00am. what we expected to be a routine eight hour drive into the desert ended up as a miserable yet unique 13 hour joyride. One of the buses broke down on the way to camp in the middle of nowhere so we were stuck on the side of the road in the unihabited desert for over four hours. want some early morning humor...try watching about 200 people including staff, volunteers and racers all exit the buses simultaneously and walk 30 yards to relieve themselves right next to one another (ladies included) without a care in the world. thats the level of comfort were all rapidly getting with one another. the tents are packed real tight and we got a few snoorers in there. christian got bit last night by something in the middle of the night and has a huge swollen lip but thats pretty much par for the course. there is also no anti-venom in the med stations so the only advice is dont get bit by something poisonous or thats pretty much ballgame. gotta say though, the white desert is one of the most beautiful places ive ever seen - pristine soft white sand, gorgeous rock formations and some massive dunes laying in the distancn the middle of the night the moonlight allowed you to see the shadow of some of these montster dunes and many were at least 20 stories tall. and the fellow competitors and staff are amazing. coolest thing about this race, you have about 25-30 elite runners who are going out to smoke it, about 50 like me who are new to the game but hoping to do well and then a bunch more who just love life, want to see the world and are here to finish it and have a kick ass time.
as for how im feeling...to be honest im scared out of my mind. but thats just pregame jitters. ive only slept two of the last six nigths because of major anxiety so im pretty tired but im healthy and not sick yet so theres no excuses. i avoided the mummy tummy (coolest name ever) in cairo and from what the expats say its a game ender for this type of race. we all know how difficult the challenge awaiting us is but everyones pumped that its finally here. No clue what to expect out there in another 45 mins but god willing i can finish strong and put up a decent number.
cant thank each of you enough for all the messages...the support is unreal. I know I havent been able to respond to everyones comments directly but ive read the blog several times and Im taking your stories with me. without them id be even more concerned than I am now.
ps - reimer I hear ND squeaked one out against BC. Guess after 6 consecutive losses you were due so congrats. Ill check in again today after the stage, my stretch goal is to complete it under four hours but 4:30 would be just fine with me. Slow, methodical stalking is the name of the game out here. alright gotta run...love you all...check in later.
On the ground in Cairo..
October 23, 2009
Thanks everyone for the continued support. Just wanted to leave a quick post...alive and well in smoggy yet beautiful Cairo. Adrenaline's flowing...emotions are high. Everyone's so pumped for the race. More in-depth writeup coming later when I have time.
No Easy Way Out…No Short Cut Home.
June 24, 2009
So here we go. No turning back. No excuses. This post will be the first of many over the next five months in hopes of documenting what I expect to be the most fulfilling, and hands down the most challenging, experience of my life.
I started running about two years ago as a sort of personal vendetta against a reconstructed wrist...and the more I've pushed the envelope...the more I've grown to love the battle. There's something to be said for that moment in time when it's you vs. yourself and the pain is so severe that every inch of your being is telling you to stop. Yet you somehow find a way to shrug it off...to keep driving forward...and to ultimately reach a higher level. Think that's what brings so many back for more despite the self-induced suffering.
I consider myself extremely blessed to have this opportunity at this stage in my life. I look forward to meeting and building long-term relationships with a myriad of competitors from different countries and different cultures. Look forward to running in a landscape so beautiful and so arid and so rich in history that I couldn't possibly do it justice right now. Look forward to competing on behalf of a beautiful little girl (Luciana) with a very tough condition and for her two parents who've been nothing but amazing to me over the years. Look forward to pushing my mind, body and soul to their absolute edge to eliminate any current self-imposed boundaries. And I really look forward to playing the underdog and surprising the hell out of some of the more experienced runners.
So that's it for now. After recently completing the Providence marathon I've taken a few weeks for myself to focus on friends, family and work. But now...it's back to business. Another update in a few weeks...
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take ranks with the poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat." -Teddy Roosevelt