November 25, 2011
Right now...its Friday morning in camp and Im sitting in front of this computer with a huge smile on my face after team RWL conquered a brutal 17-hour march yesterday that concluded just after midnight. Despite injury and illness our perserverance was strong enough to slay the beast and even earn second place in the team competition...not too shabby for a couple backyard athletes from the states. That will get us on the podium Sat night...a very cool and unexpected treat.
How do i describe yesterday? Lets just say it was a really really really long day on our feet. Literally felt like it would never end. Mike was in extreme knee pain again and had no ability to run. So we knew it would be impossible to bomb the downhills. I have a newfound appreciation for those competitors who come to these events with the sole intention of walking the entire course. I actually found it harder to walk the whole day yesterday relative to running it the way Ive done in past races. So taxi mentally. So easy to lose focus. So monotonous. While Im a very impatient person in general...yesterday I at least learned how to spell it properly. So the three of us just plodded along together one step at a time knowing at somepoint in the middle of the night all the pain would be over. We encountered four separate climbs on the day (each totaling a minimum 2500 feet) that led us to through multiple towns/villages. Everytime we crossed through someones yard sincere greetings of Namaste came from adults and children alike. It was so endearing. The people (and especially the children) have been the highlight of this race. And a postcard couldnt possibly replicate the beauty of the stunning scenery we raced through. Each summit had breathtaking views of the rice fields below and the Annapurna mountains in the back. Parts of the course were straight jungle, parts felt like the desert, parts were farmland, parts were straight mountain climbs. Amazingly diverse.
Think the key takeaway from the week was the teammwork amongst the three guys. We were on different experience levels coming in and endured different injuries, illnesses and other obstacles we couldnt prepare for. But every decision we made was based on the good of the unit. As we've said there is no I in team but there is one in Luci. It was very difficult at times early in the week when Mike wanted to push and Jesse was hurting and vice versa at the end of the week. But the goal from the start was to stay healthy and get across the finish line. And despite the myriad of challenges we faced we accomplished that.
Im so fired up to see my parents and Mary Andrews (founder of MAGIC) at the finish line tomorrow. Word on the street is that they made it to the Fulbari late last night and were seen by some of the race volunteers having a goodtime at the bar :). There are a million great causes out there and I support many of them and Ive never been one to say one is better than another. Then again I dont know how many CEOs of an organiaztion the size of MAGIC would fly halfway around the world to greet their runners at the finish line. And even moreso...I cant imagine another network of families that could possibly open up your lives and appreciate what we are doing to the extent that you have. Ive read through these comments over and over and often have to fight back tears. Some of your stories are so heartbreaking on the surface yet provide so much hope deeper down. Ive met and spoken with enough of you over the years to understand how difficult the challenges are that you face both inside the medical and the insurance communities. Its appalling. And thats why were here doing everything we can to help eradicate these injustices in the future. Unfortunately sometimes you gotta do something this extreme to get people to listen to your story. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for all the incredible words of encouragement this week. There were clearly times of doubt. Personally I was very sick much of the week. But the ironic thing is that after have just done 6 marathons in 5 days in these conditions I finally feel the best I have all week. The meds and yesterdays 17,000 calorie burn was apparently the colon cleanse from the gods that cured everything. Today I feel great and could probably start the race again...anyone game? Haha.
Like I just said...on behalf of the whole team a huge Thank You to Jolie Horvath for the amazing amount of work she has done in the last year, Terra Giddings, Alyssa Bleiberg and all the families. And lets please not lose sight of the courageous efforts of Rich, Trav and Mike. Their commitment to this project was HUGE and without them none of this happens. Tomorrow we will greatly miss Rich and Travis's presence at the awards ceremony and we will be thinking about them and honoring them as our team victory is theirs as well. Please keep them in your thoughts. We were a team of six from the start of this and as we said before this irregardless of who finished or didnt we're a team after. Love you guys....
The Long March Awaits…
November 23, 2011
Today was a mental and physical thrashing. Mikes left kneecap displacea (sp?) has flared up on him and he can no longer run. It caused him and the team to have a very long and mentally challenging day. He was visibly upset and frustrated for sometime but Jesse and I managed to talk him off the ledge. He so wanted to run with us on the decline to make up time but was simply in too much pain and we didnt want him to push it. Our goal remains to finish as a team and going overboard today couldve jeopardized that. So today we walked up the steps for three hours and down the steps for four hours. Reaching a peak altitude of around 10K. It felt like a neverending death march. Every step Mike took he winced in agony. Its clear his spirit is unbreakable though. And he will become one of around 150 people in the world to have achieved this life accomplishment. So proud of his effort and his attitude and of course why he is putting his body and mind through this. As I am of Jesse. Jesse was a rock today. But 75KM tomorrow is a big concern. Matt Nelson from the endurance trust just taped his knee up for tomorrow. Here's hoping it helps.
For me...I'm scared because something is going on with my body and Im not sure what it is. This is different then what I was battling two days ago. Without going into great detail...Ive been in the bathroom/woods/hay/outhouse/etc seven times in the last two hours. The color resembles that of the rays which light our beautiful planet. Im getting worse and I can feel the chills and sweats coming on. I cant keep anything down and have zero fluids or calories in my system. Im easily down 15 pounds at this point and havent even eaten half the food in my pack. So Im just giving it out to fellow competitors at this point bc it is useless. Theyve started me on antibiotics but Im not sure how much thats gonna do as the long stage begins in 12 hours. Really disappointed as Ive felt so strong since the middle of stage 2. And were actually sleeping in a town called Birethanti in tea houses not tents. So cool. Theyve pretty much closed the town down for us. Too bad we cant really enjoy it.
Tomorrow is going to hurt alot. If we break mentally we'll never make it. But its one day...and we know what were facing pales in comparison to the challenges that so many of you face on a daily basis. You wont quit and nor will we. All that matters is we make it across the finish line. Somehow, Someway.
All I can ask is that while you enjoy your Thanksgiving birds tomorrow and cheer on the Detroit Lions please be sure to have a cold Coors Light for us and keep a good thought for our team. This is going to take a gargantuan effort that will likely go from 7am till midnight or beyond the following night.
The Cardiac Kid’s
November 22, 2011
“In the Warrior’s Code there’s no surrender…though the body says stop…the spirit cries NEVER”
That quote sums up today’s epic team performance by Horvath, Bessett and yours truly. Last night RWL hit rock bottom as not only did Travis end up calling it quits but so did Perna and Rich. Perna had simply had enough and wasn’t having a lot of fun out there getting beaten up by the mountains considering how sick he was feeling. Total bummer. But he’s going to hang around for the rest of the week to support us and the film crew. Very cool and much appreciated. Rich ended up powering through the day in true Billygoat fashion finishing just before the cutoff time. But his condition continued to worsen as the night progressed and his sickness was just too much. He had a decision to either pull the plug and get a ride back to town or possibly have to wait two more days because of how remote today’s camp is. Although it killed him he made the wise decision. We all took these losses very hard as a piece of us is now gone. But seeing three accomplished endurance athletes drop so early in the race puts the difficulty of these events in proper perspective. Please send each of them your best as I’m sure they would appreciate any words of encouragement. If only we could’ve all stayed healthy things would’ve turned out entirely different. Unfortunately some things in life are simply out of your control. Really hurts.
So Mike, Jesse and I woke up today and had to shake-off yesterday’s bitter ending and get to work. Before us lied 22 miles of rolling hills on a jeep track, through jam packed towns and over bridge crossings and then a stupid 3 mile climb to the finish line that ended up taking us over two hours. But FINALLY….we were able to get on the same page and do some damage together. Jesse felt light years stronger today and was good with our consistent desert shuffle. Mike was truly a warrior. That’s all I can say about him. A lesser man would’ve easily packed it in. But despite feeling very weak and sick at times he continued to push hard on the flats and downhills and just kept plodding on the climb. If there was any doubt of us getting this done earlier in the week it has since passed. We are getting stronger and hopefully healthier as the week continues to progress. We are finally starting to keep food and water down. Heading into today we were two hours behind the German team and one hour behind the Irish team. Not sure the final numbers but we smoked the Germans and held off the Irish until they got us right at the top of the final climb. We are much better runners than they but I have to give them credit where it is due…these guys with their polls are monsters on the climbs. To go straight uphill six hours into a long day with seemingly minimal effort is impressive. But at least we are moving in the right direction. There’s a long way to go in the race so you never know what will happen. But I do know that barring some cataclysmic disaster the three of us will be finishing as a team.
For everyone that’s been following along and has been considering supporting our quest for Luci and the MAGIC families across the country I humbly ask you to support what we are doing here. There’s no way these blogs can describe what each of us are putting ourselves through out here. There’s a reason why only a few thousand people in the world have survived these races. They are not for the faint of heart and there is zero room for doubt. But our passion and the MAGIC cause continues to drive us. Thanks to everyone who has reached out…it means the world to us. Watching Jesse and Mike’s faces light up right now as they sit across from me reading their comments sums it all up perfectly.
Tomorrow another monster awaits us. A huge climb out of camp followed by the steepest and most treacherous descent on the course….much of it on slippery rock. Keep us in your thoughts. I’ll check back in with everyone tomorrow. Thanks again!!! RWL out…
The Peaks and Troughs of Ultrarunning
November 22, 2011
Today was very bittersweet for me. Horvath, Jesse and I had a strong day and despite Mike facing some serious dehydration issues halfway through the leg and Jesse not being able to run with his IT injury we fought hard to a much stronger finish than yesterday. Mike especially got a tremendous adrenaline rush and had a terrific second half of the day. We just havent been able to find a cohesive rhythm yet as each point of the last two days one of us has been hurting. Running as a team is very difficult as we deal with three sets of peaks and valleys independently of one another.
Perna just finished several hours after the three of us battling hard to the finish and Rich is still on the course with one hour to go before the cutoff. But we lost TROB today and it hurts a lot. He's been dealing with some serious GI issues for the last three days and today it got the best of him. I feel partially responsible as Ive been trying my best to help support each of the guys individually to the best of my ability but wasnt able to do anything here. He got off to a great start today and was chugging down the road well ahead of myself, Mike and Jesse. But when we caught him right after Checkpoint 1 at the beginning of a typical climb (3500 steps) he was vomitting and visibly sick. He had felt great but once his heartrate spiked the GI issues returned. We hung with him but he urged us on as he was going to try and rest and fight it out. Apparently he climbed a little more and then called it a day. Saying we (and especially me) are going to miss him is a huge understatement. But as a blessing in disguise he'll be spending Thanksgiving with his wife and family now.
Based on the course desciption today was the easiest day. By far. Tomorrow is 25 miles straight uphill the entire way with a very steep climb to the finish L'Alpe Duez style. This is by far the most demanding of the RTP events Ive done so far. But also the prettiest. The views are nothing short of spectacular and each day as we run through these tiny villages we are greeted by hundreds and thousands of locals wishing us well. These people live on the land and work their tails off doing all sorts manual labor for pennies to hopefully put enough food on the table to support their families. And they couldn't be any happier. Far cry from where us average Americans come from. Nice to put that in proper perspective.
Tomorrow the battle continues. Personally I feel very good physically and its obvious that the team is getting stronger. At this point I dont think theres a competitor in camp who hasnt gotten sick at least once or twice. As everyone heals up hopefully we can continue to work our way up the leaderboard. We are in third place in the team competition and have a long ways to go. But I have no doubt were moving in the right direction. Thx again everyone for the support.
Reimer - great Lions update...hope you started them in fantasy across the board!!! And how the heck did ND only beat BC by 2 points at home??? Pathetic. Haha.
Delirious but still standing…
November 20, 2011
This is going to be a short entry as I feel very poor and dizzy right now. We arrived at camp one yesterday evening to a magnificent setting in the Annapurna region. Massive snow covered 25,000 footers surrounding the lush valley our tents were assembled in. The site was jammed with electricity....locals playing music, children dancing and competitors clearly ready to get started. Our team unfortunately had started breaking down in the prior 24 hours. Both Rich and Mike Perna were under the weather and their status uncertain. Myself and Travis wasted no time getting into the fray enjoying the local culture and playing with the kids. Then within a few hours we fell very ill as well. Still uncertain as to why but a bug seems to be running rampant throughout camp. I spent the night vomitting with serious stomach issues...once so bad that I woke probably half the camp as I dove out of the tent narrowly missing Ash's face as I struggled to frantically unzip the tent to take care of business. Damm obnoxious Americans!!! Travis had the same problem in the morning. Neither one of us had any energy or calories in the system as we approached the starting gun....Rich and Mike still felt very poor. We all pushed on.
As the day started the five of us ran together the first three or four miles and felt good. Then Perna started feeling very ill and weak so I hung back with him for a while as Horvath and Bessett pushed off strong with Travis a little behind them. After about 15 minutes Perna urged me to push ahead and catch the other guys as he promised he would fight it out and walk to the finish despite feeling awful. Side note...he did and finished together with Rich!!! I ran ahead and caught Travis and then caught up with Mike and Jesse. This is where things got bad. My stomach condition worsened as I really had trouble processing any food or water so I went down for awhile. Then Jesse reaggravated his IT band issue forcing him to walk the rest of the way. Horvath...not to be outdone...hurt his knee on one of the steep descents. We continued battling to the finish but it was a very long day. This course was 90% unrunnable with long stretches of steep climbs and even steeper descents on very narrow loose rock. Stuff weve rarely ever trained on. It really took a toll on us physically and emotionally. Travis is probably looking the strongest right now physcially as he recovered from some of his problems and finished very strong despite a long stop at CheckPoint 2. As Horvath put it earlier...this is the hardest thing he has attempted in his life and were only through the first day. I still feel very weak but did close strong today pushing the guys down the homestretch. We finished slower than expected but the six of us are still alive. And thats the most important thing.
Our goal is to hopefully keep some calories down tonight...get some rest and come back stronger than ever tomorrow. Its going to be much more of the same with even more distance. This is a punishing course but the magnificient views and the interaction with local children and so many types of animals makes it such a unique experience. The children lined the course today as we passed from town to town wishing us Namaste and even running by our sides in some cases. So far we've run with or past monkeys, cows, donkeys, horses, hawks, cows, goats, sheep and farrets to name a few.
Thats all I got at this point...need some rest badly. Very dehydrated. Brain not functioning properly. Stomach still very upset. Thx again everyone for all the comments. Cant tell you how excited we all are to read them after these brutal days.
November 18, 2011
Well...after 15 months of preparation the time is here. That statement alone is ABSURD!!! Still can't believe we managed to pull this off and get everyone out here to the start line. Pokhora is truly a special place. Feels mythical with the temples and the monks and the way the fog rolls in over the valley each day as if it's purpose is to protect the town from outsiders.
As exepected we've crammed more into the last week than I wouldve thought humanly possible. It's been surreal. From having dinner at the tallest bar in the world...to seeing the bright lights of Las Vegas's aspiring kid brother Macau...to racing it out with the auto-rickshawas in the streets of Mumbai...to an incredible training run with Mike and Trav as we pushed hard to summit the tallest mountain in Hong Kong City twice...to an intense airport experience in Kathamandu where we basically missed our flight and had to be those American guys who forced themselves on after they finished boarding. That and so much more in between. Amazing to experience these magnificient places with a group of your best mates.
I think its safe to say we all fell in love with Hong Kong. The people are the friendliest I have ever come across. They go way above and beyond to do everything they can to make your experience better and expect zero in return. The culture transcends time and the the action is everywhere. While construction is struggling in the states in China everywhere you turn another building or bridge or road is being built fast and furiously.
Nervous energy is running rampant through the Fulbari right now as competitors scramble to make last minute adjustments to their packs and their gear and their calaroies. RacingThePlanet was awesome and gave us a priority check-in last night so that makes today alot less stressful. Nothing we can do to better prepare ourselves at this point in time then to drum up the ulta focus. Reality has sunk in for all of us. The time is now. The magnitude of this challenge is going to be extraordinary. Pre-race reports from some of the Sherpa is that the course is cold, wet and much of it will be unrunnable. This won't be a track meet. This will be an entirely different type of test. One where passion trumps logic. It will be a test of strength, toughness, heart and durability. Maintaining a consistent pace throughout will be key.
So tomorrow morning RWL sets off on it's first of many adventures. We're going to leave it all on the line in the name of Luci and the thousands of children nationwide who are providing the fuel to keep our legs moving. I can't thank each and everyone of you enough for your amazing support!! We had an awesome team session last night going through the hundreds of pictures and reading the letters. THEY MEAN THE WOLRD TO US!!! Every single one of those messages will be joining us on the journey.
So that's it...time to hit the course. I'll be checking in after day one. The last thing we want to do is look back to this exact moment in one week's time and have any regrets or say would've, should've could've. And I know we won't. We'll be leaving it all in the Himalayas. Chmiel out...
November 09, 2011
As I finally get a moment to relax and reflect on what's been an extraordinary couple of weeks, couple of months...and for that matter an extraordinary couple of years...I'm plagued by a lot of questions and what-if's. What if I never blew out my wrist and fell into an unhealthy state of depression in 2007? What if Mike Horvath never interviewed for a position on the Structured Investments team? What if I never flew to Houston to run the marathon with him in 2008? What if I never ended up meeting Luci? And god forbid...what if she was lucky enough to be born with a properly functioning pituitary gland? What if I listened to everyone who was certain that running the Sahara desert was a bad idea? Or running Australia immediately after surgery? Or how bout if Mike, Mike, Rich, Jesse and Travis listened to everyone whose told them that they're certifiably insane in the last six months? Point being...it's crazy how one small and potentially very unpopular decision can cause a massive chain reaction of events for years to come. And that choice can not only have material repercussions on your own life...but on the lives of so many others. When I look back at my ultra running experience there's only a few things I know to be fact. One - I know I'm not a great runner and no matter how hard I try or how many years I dedicate towards it that's just the way it is. Two - The MAGIC Family is one of a kind. There are so many great causes out there and so many people that need help. And who am I to say what cause is better than another or who needs the help more. But I know for a fact that the reason I'm still running ultras today and the reason I will still be pushing my limits in the future is because of the families and children I've met over the last few years. They have provided me with so much strength, so much inspiration and have single handedly made me want to become a better person. I can't think of another group of people that could even come close. And despite being a relative outsider without having a child with a growth disorder they've treated me like an adopted son. From my perspective that is beyond words and fuels me to work harder than I ever thought possible in hopes of leaving a lasting footprint on society. I can't thank each of you enough for your support, your friendship and your wisdom. I will always do my best to return the favor. Three - I'm so beyond proud of my six teammates...six guys who've made an incredibly selfless and brave decision to step WAY beyond their comfort zones and physical limits to attempt to do something that the average person considers impossible. Why is that so amazing? Because we're all just average Joe's. We're not elite runners. We're not full-time athletes. We're just people that care...people who refuse to accept failure...and people who prove that it is possible to do something perceived to be impossible if you want it bad enough. As I have witnessed the sacrifices my teammates have made over the last year I'm overwhelmed by a feeling of hope. Hope for our future, hope for our country, hope for our society and hope for mankind. RWL isn't a team of runners. It's a mindset and a philosophy. One that refuses to accept failure. And one that refuses to give up or give in despite the odds. As we depart for Nepal in the next couple of days there's no telling what will happen. Clearly there are factors beyond our control that will dictate the outcome of this monster challenge. But I have no doubt that my teammates will represent themselves with class as gentlemen and leave everything they are made of in the mountains. At the end of the day...what more could you ask for? I'm honored to be a part of it. And even more so...I'm proud to call these guys my brothers. Can't wait for an epic adventure in Nepal where the outcome is uncertain. But no matter what happens...we'll dust ourselves off afterwards and continue to fight for the MAGIC family.