Here’s What Happens After a 100-mile Race

1) You collapse into a vinyl chair beside a campfire.  Think: I AM NEVER DOING THAT EVER AGAIN.

2) You attempt to stand up. Discover that you can’t. Wait for your legal guardian to arrive and pull you to your feet.

3) You hobble to the shower or bath. You groan as you step over the edge of the tub. You scream when the water hits your battered feet and, er, soffets. You watch your blackened toenails swirl down the drain.

4) You eat something and discover that you’re starving. Your appetite is on steroids.  You devour soups, stacks of pancakes, roofing shingles.

5) You go home, letting someone else drive. After all, you’ve been awake for 40+ hours. Also, a sudden charlie-horse in your braking leg wouldn’t be fun on the 401. WHOA – CHIP TRUCK! Pull this puppy over!

6) You try to sleep, but fail. Your muscles won’t stop twitching. And your brain is more hyperactive than a David Fincher film, flipping through millions of images from the trail.

Along Poacher's Trail

7) Still awake at 3 a.m., you check the internet for race results. You already know your time; it was announced at the post-race lunch. Still, it won’t feel real until you see it online.

8) You self-medicate. Robaxacet, A-535, Dalwhinnie.

9) Suddenly, without warning, you fall asleep. But it’s deeper than sleep. It’s more like enchantment.

10) 10,000 years later you awake and resume your life. You take the kids to school or walk down the street to buy coffee. At some point you hear a bad song by Phil Collins on the radio. You suddenly realize, it’s over.  You’re back in the real world.  It kinda sucks.

11) Far too soon, you attempt to run. You get a kilometer, maybe two, before giving up and limping home. Your hip flexors hurt, or your knees, or your feet. You worry that you’ll never run again.

12) After three days with no running, you begin to feel fat. You stare at your bloated self in the mirror and weep.

14) Once again, you turn to the world wide web. The race results are up now. Also: plenty of pictures. You stare at the faces of the people you ran with. You miss them more than you miss your mother’s womb. All those fascinating conversations about shoes, mileage, poop.

15) While downloading the latest Flash Player update, you suddenly think, HMMM I’D LIKE TO DO THAT RACE AGAIN. You mention this to your legal guardian, which may be a mistake. Mental health brochures start appearing all about the house.

Forest race course

3 More Sleeps

Haliburton Forest race (5)

Pray for good weather. Three days out from a 100-mile race, that’s all you can do. At this stage, there’s no point doing any more training. Your body isn’t going to get any fitter over the next 72 hours. You might as well relax, eat well, sleep as much as you can, run to stay loose, but not so hard you deplete yourself. And above all, pray for clear skies.

rainy running

100 mile races are challenging enough when the sun is shining. Wet, muddy trails can make things hellish. Under those conditions, your goals have to change.  You’re not just trying to cross the finish line in one piece anymore.  You’re trying to keep your feet dry for as long as possible. Wet feet are susceptible to blisters, and blisters can end your race fast. Which is why runners usually bring 2 or three pair of runners and a half dozen pair of socks to each race. We store them in “drop bags” along the course.

The worst possible scenario?  Cold, pounding rain.  Last year I ran a 100-mile race in something close to a hurricane. All 50 runners were soaking wet from the very first mile. Blisters were the least of our problems. There was chafing and hypothermia to deal with too. Late at night, when the temperature dropped, I couldn’t stay warm enough.  Shivering uncontrollably, I dropped out at 3 am, after having run 92 miles.

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There’s my list.  You’ll notice Advil at the top.  A couple of years ago, after some exceedingly painful ultra marathons, I discovered the joy of ibuprufen.

I don’t take many. I’ll gobble a couple of those sweet little pills at mile 75, and another couple four hours later.

It’s not recommended, of course. Too much Ibuprufen could potentially damage your kidneys, which are already under serious strain, trying to keep your urine flowing despite a lack of available body fluids.

Still, they do such a good job of dulling the pain, especially when running downhill late in a race. You’d think that running uphill would be the hardest thing, but it’s not. Running downhill feels like your legs are being pressed through a cheese grater.

So hello Advil, old friend! I don’t care if you’re not recommended. Running 100 miles through a forest isn’t generally recommended either.

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Out-of-Body Experience

A friend says to me, “hey Dave, want to know the fast track to aging?

What’s that?” I say.

Running!” he says.

Sadly, there’s some truth in the joke.  For every mile you run, you burn 100 calories.  Once you’ve trimmed the fat off the usual places, it starts coming off your face and upper body.  Makes you look a little, er, grizzled.  

I don’t care, I’m addicted.  I’ve got a 100-miler coming up next month, so I’m cramming in as many long runs as possible. Twenty, thirty, forty miles at a time.

I love the long runs.  After a couple of hours of plodding down a trail, I generally slip into a trance.  The breath goes in, the breath goes out.  My feet smack the pavement 180 times a minute.  Running becomes a meditation.  I do not smile or wave at the people I pass.  Instead, I focus on keeping my body tilted slightly forward, and snapping my feet right back into the air the moment they hit the pavement.  (That’s the trick to being fast, by the way – let your feet touch the ground for as short a time as possible.)

I’ve got pictures of me running, and it always astonishes me to look at them. Usually, both of my feet are in midair.  Given that I’ve been running every day for the last 17 years, I have to wonder: how much of my life have I spent completely disconnected from the earth?
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Once, during a marathon, I had an out-of-body experience.  I was running up a nasty hill.  I’d covered 22 miles, and I was getting tired.  “Blinding wall of pain” is a little strong, but I was getting into that territory.

Suddenly, all pain vanished. I couldn’t feel my legs. It seemed to me that I was sitting inside my ribcage, peeking out between my bones at the scenery floating by. I wasn’t doing the running anymore. Someone else was. I was just sitting comfortably in that ribcage, like a kid in a grocery cart.

Then suddenly, I was looking down on myself from above. I saw a short-haired dude in Mizuno sneakers and Drifit shorts, struggling up a ten degree hill. I didn’t see this person as a runner though – I saw him as an extension of the earth. I thought to myself: what silly perseverance! What pointless ambition! And then I stared to laugh.

Of course, the moment I laughed, the vision disappeared. My normal consciousness – and the pain – returned.

Peterborough Half marathon finish - Dave

I finished that marathon in 3:04:25.  Did pretty well in my age category too. My age category, by the way, is 35-49. Of course, I don’t look a day over 60.

Thunder Running

Reasons not to run on the Bruce Trail during a thunderstorm:

  1. A tree could fall on you and you could die.
  2. You could get swallowed by the mud and die.
  3. Lightning could strike you and you could die.
  4. You could slip off the 500-foot scarp face and die.

Reasons to run on the Bruce Trail during a thunderstorm:

  1. It’s super fun.

mud running

At a certain point, when you’re soaking wet and freezing cold and lathered in mud, and the forest is as dark as night, and the rain is lashing you like a blizzard of molars, and you’ve still got 15 kilometers left to go before you get back to the car, well, at a certain point, you’ve just got to throw up your hands and laugh, don’t you?  After all, you checked the weather online.  You saw the probability of precipitation (75%) and the expected accumulation (20 – 40 mm), and you saw those clouds amassing on the horizon like an army of unwashed hoodies.  You knew what you were in for and you just laughed, didn’t you?  Well, now it’s time to laugh again.

As for all that mud, well, that can’t be a surprise either.  You do you know what happens to dirt trails when you add water to them, don’t you?  You did play in a sandbox as a child, right?  When water is added to dirt, that dirt turns into mud.  You know this.  If you add enough water, you get something worse than mud.  You get a slippery, shoe-sucking, toffee-like substance called glop. 

But it’s not all bad, is it?  There’s nothing like hypothermia and mud inhalation and blood loss and the threat of plunging into a crevasse cave fathoms deep to fire up the old endorphins, is there?  Especially when you arrive back at your car after three hours of slogging through rushing creek-beds, and stare at yourself in the rear-view mirror only to see a hollow-eyed, scabby-elbowed, tick-bitten runner; hair singed from stray lightning bolts, face besmirched with mosquito guts, and you swear you’ve never seen anything quite so idiotic!

OK, So You’ve Run Into a Bear. Now What?

A few days ago I wrote about running into bears while on the trail.  It’s a daunting prospect, and there are lots of things you can do to prevent it from happening (like making lots of noise).

But suppose you do run into a bear.  What then?

No single strategy is guaranteed to work in all situations, but you can minimize your risk by doing the following:

First, keep your distance from the bear and remain calm.  Don’t run away.  In most cases, if you make some noise, the bear will leave.

Don’t be surprised if the bear rises up on its hind legs.  Bears are curious animals, and often stand up to get a better view, or to catch your scent.  Back away slowly and speak in a firm voice.

A bear that swats at the ground, swings its head from side to side, snorts or huffs, pops its jaw, or bares its teeth is likely stressed and is asking for more space.  Give it to him.  Bears may also bluff their way out of an encounter by charging, then turning away at the last second.  Stand your ground.

A bear that follows you, circles or cuts you off is likely displaying predatory behaviour.  This is more common in black bears.  Face the bear and act aggressively.  Throw rocks and sticks.

If a Bear Charges:

If it’s a Black Bear, stand and fight.  Grab the closest stick and bash him across the nose.  Throw things.  If you’re carrying bear spray, use it.  Any of these actions may convince the bear to leave you alone.

If it’s a Grizzly Bear, play dead.  Protect your face, and the back of your head and neck with your arms.  The typical grizzly attack happens as a result of surprise, so non-aggressive behavior generally works.

Here’s an easy way to remember: If it’s black, fight back.  If it’s brown, lie down.

Trading Diamonds for Stones

A few years ago, when I was stuck in an office job I didn’t like, I found myself staring out the window.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and I felt like a panther inside a cage.

A colleague came up beside me. “Today is a diamond,” he said.  “Workdays are stones.  You and me, we’re trading diamonds for stones.”

It was a depressing thought, and I determined to get out of that job and change my life for the better.  The trouble was, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

A friend of mine came up with a good idea.  He sat me down with a piece of paper and a pen, and told me to write down the best experiences of my life.

ideas

In no particular order, here’s what I wrote:

  • Sailing with my brother on Lake Kennisis in the summer of 1986, when a hurricane blew in and we nearly shipwrecked.
  • Tobogganing in Edmonton, with my nieces and nephews, IN MINUS 50 DEGREE WEATHER!
  • Running my first 100 mile race.
  • Sitting on the dock with my mom one summer night, while the Northern Lights tarted up the skies.
  • Skiing down Whistler Mountain with my visually-impaired friend.
  • Hiking through a forest with Shawna and running into that big-ass BEAR.
  • Canoe tripping with my dad, in lakes so clean you could drink straight out of them.
  • Getting the phone call from my agent that my novel had sold.

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I handed the list to my friend.  His face lit up instantly.  “Good job,” he said.  “Now what do all of those things share in common?”

It took me a while to figure it out.  But eventually I saw the common thread.  All of those events, with the exception of that last one, took place OUT OF DOORS.  It sounds obvious, but it was an incredible revelation to me at the time.  If I really wanted to be happy in the future, I needed to find a way of getting outside more often.  And ideally, I’d do it with the people I love.

Years have passed since then, and while I still have a job that keeps me chained to a desk a lot of the time, it’s extremely creative, and I’m surrounded by zillions of smart, spunky people.

More importantly, I know what I need to do to keep myself sane.  A week spent behind a computer screen can gut me like a fish, but an hour on the running trail puts me right.

So if  you feel as though you’re trading diamonds for stones, don’t worry.  Most of us have to spend some time in the mine-shaft before we achieve the career we want and deserve.  The trick is to figure out how to get more sunlight into our lives in the meantime.  Figure that out, and the bars of your cage may well evaporate.