Finishing loop 2 - Mile 25
"Oh Sinnerman, where you goin' to run to... sinnerman where you goin' to run to... where you going to run to, all on that day?"
Last year, after The North Face Endurance Challenge - Virgina was canceled, I signed up to run the Palo Duro Trail Race 50 mile . It was to be my first 50 mile attempt...it was also my first DNF (did not finish). At about the 50K mark, I cashed in my chips due to an IT Band problem that had me hobbling for a couple weeks. Since that time I had completed the Grasslands 50 Miler but still had some unfinished business in the second largest canyon in America.
Getting to the race was a battle in itself. I had a upper respiratory infection 2 1/2 weeks before the race. My kids had the swine flu a week prior to the race....I had been in a training cycle basically since January. I felt under trained. I felt my Cardio lacking. The Texas heat had beaten me down and frankly, if I wasn't seeking redemption from a previous failure, I probably would not have shown up in Palo Duro. I just didn't care anymore and running wasn't fun anymore. On Friday night before the run, I honestly didn't think I had it in me to finish it.
It was to be a family affair with all of TEAM ELLIOTT traversing across Texas, but after the H1N1 virus assault, Bren and I decided that the family would stay home. My parents would come up from Levelland and crew/support me any way they could...except for pacing...;-)
In the predawn canyon hours, Saturday morning found me reflecting back nearly one year to the day. How, at the time, my only DNF from the previous Palo Duro Trail Race, felt infinitely worse than any physical pain. How at times I get frustrated at not being one of the "fast ones." I have tried to learned to put things in perspective. I had learned from my friend and Western State 100 mile finisher, Matt Crownover, to be grateful for the ability to run...to run far. I have come to realize that all aren't blessed to do such. Craig Miller is running the ING NY Marathon and raising money for Sam, an eight year old boy stricken with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Chances are, unless there is a cure, Sam will never be able to run like this. Matt ended his Western States report with this, "The truth is someday you will go for you last run, but not today, today you get to run." I spent some time alone. I prayed. I tried to focus. I asked the Heavenly Father to help me maintain a spirit of gratitude. I asked for strength to finish amidst my weakness and frailties...even if it was past the 12 hour cutoff. And shortly before 7:00 AM. It was time to go.
At this point I have to give Jennifer Kimball a shout out. The night before I had check the batteries in my headlamp. Apparently the lamp switch had turned on in my bag and when I went to turn it on pre race...NOTHING. She had a extra hand held flashlight that would get me through the first 45 minutes before the twilight.
"Well, I run to the rock...please help me run to the rock...please help run to the rock...please help me Lord all on that day."
The race is broken down to run a 12.5 mile loop four times. The first loop was uneventful. When the sun peaks over the canyon, it is awe inspiring. I fall into a rhythm and began to assess my body. There was a remnant of chest congestion from the previous infection and my right hamstring was tight...but oh well....In the words of Kevin Boudroux when he passed me..."you can't worry bout that till mile 40." I responded, "your right." I finish up loop number one with my parents saying hi....how you doing? I refilled the hydration pack up at the aid station and acknowledged a guy named Joe Prusaitis...and then moved on down the trail
Waiting on the hydration pack - about to start loop2
There was good cloud cover and I was thinking, "If this holds out, and these temps stay low...oh what a good day to run in the canyon. I had kept leap frogging this guy in a yellow shirt and knew that this was to probably be an all day affair. The second Loop went as planned and my pacing chart was within a couple of minutes that I had told my parents. I had planned to wrap up loop 2 at just under five and half hours. My hydration/electrolytes and nutrition where dead on. At the end of the 25 mile marker, the cloud cover was being burned off and the low 60's were to be a thing of the past.
I leave for loop three...half way done. Laura Underwood had just filled my hydration pack and Linda Boggs mentioned to my parents that they looked normal, so how come I turned how crazy. I once again acknowledged that guy named Joe Prusaitis ...and then moved on down the trail.
"But the rock cried out I can't hide you, the rock cried out I can't hide you, the rock cried out, I ain't going to hide you...all on that day."
The first mile of the third loop I was nauseated and felt like I was going to throw up. I think it was due to me trying to cram too many calories into my body via Ensure, Potatoes, and Bananas. In 15 minutes that subsided. The sun began an all out assault as the clouds were now completely gone. The temps rose with the runners having no shade to hide them. The aid station's thermostats show the temperature encroaching the 88 degree mark. To help battle the temps I wrapped ice in a bandanna and tied it around the neck. Things began to slow down a bit. At the 31 mile marker, there was another 50 miler that seemed to be a dark place. She latched on and we began negotiating the trail and heat together. Her name was Jenny. At about this point we saw Sonia Burnett and Deborah Sexton on their last loop of the 50 K and they still had smiles on their faces. Come to find out this was Jenny's first 50 miler and for the next 6 miles we had a good conversation about running and training. Lynn Ballard's words came to mind when he said to me one time, "One Day you will be someone's Dmitry." You can read about that here . At the beginning of this loop I began feeling a couple of hot spots on the feet and even though I had a blister kit with me, I reasoned that I was short on time to stop and fix it. I would not realize how bad they were till after the race. The guy in the yellow shirt showed up again the last mile of the loop and I joked with him that he kept turning up like a bad penny. This loop was ran slower than I anticipated as we three cruised into the start/finish ready to commence the 4th and final loop.
It was at this point the race director Bill Ross admonished us about continuing. He said we have to run the last loop as fast as we ran the previous loop to finish on time. He also added that we three were in jeopardy of aid stations closing. We all nodded and said we are going to get it done. In my mind, I quickly calculated mile splits. I knew is was possible, but also knew that it would be tough on legs that had 37 miles on them. We leave as group for the farewell tour. I acknowledged that guy named Joe Prusaitis and said, "This last loop is going to be tough." He responds, "Hell yeah it is, it's why you paid your money. You just have to keep moving...don't stop...you'll make it on time." He sounded more convinced than I did as we moved on down the trail...for the last time.
"So I ran to the Devil, he was waiting, I ran to the Devil, he was waiting, I ran to the Devil all on that day."
The guy in the yellow shirt is named Kenny from San Angelo and was dealing with the affects of having prickly pear cactus thorns in the back of leg and in his back side. Somewhere on the first loop he fell in a cactus. Talk about tough. I told my kids this story and told them, "I don't want to hear any whining ;-)." Jenny had found a new energy and began to run with a mission. Kenny and I tried to hang but it came apparent this was going to be futile. Jenny had crawled through her dark place and was on a mission to meet the 12 hour deadline. She tried to hang back for us, but I told her she needs to move, I would be alright...and so Kenny and I began the herculean task of running as fast as we previously had on 3rd loop. My hot spots had turned into full blown blisters and although the legs weren't in too bad of shape, the mental aspect of running against the time line, continually attempting to calculate mile split started to weigh on me. I know I mentioned previously that just finishing regardless of the time was the goal. I have to admit, that I always wanted to be counted as an official finisher. The inclines were steeper than the previous 3 time through and the descents reminded my quads there was work to be done. Kenny kept his sense of humor...mine left somewhere at mile 44. At the Dos Locos Senoritas aid station in the back of the canyon , I found myself in a dark state of mind. I had not hit a wall yet, but this seemed to be it. Those sweet ladies encouraged us and we were off.
"So I run to the Lord...Please Help me Lord...Don't you see me praying...Don't you see me down here praying..."
I enjoy the beauty of this side of the canyon...the last 6 miles of the loop. The views are awe inspiring...the stratified red dirt. My body and mind wanted this to be over, but this canyon reminded me of my Maker and the words of Matt...."Pray to have a spirit of gratitude." At mile 44, I admit the spirit of gratitude was not in the forefront. As the miles wore on, that was transformed. By mile 47 ... I was grateful to have met Kenny whose optimism never wavered. I was grateful for this wonderful day to run. I was grateful this run was nearly over. We turned the corner at 49.5 mile marker and I knew it was finished. We had run a negative split on this final loop to finish in about 11 hours 53 minutes. We had made it. My parents were there. Bill and Wynn Ross congratulated us on finishing strong and running the 4th loop faster than the 3rd. I had been redeemed by the red dirt of the canyon. It was finished!
Long Day as the Canyon Sun Sets
It is finished! A reminder of my first redemption...also the color of red...when this sinnerman ran to the Lord all on that day...and He bowed his head and cried, "It is finished."
Running races like Palo Duro changes people. I think all 5 of my Ultras have changed me. I learn from every one of them. I have learned that the Ultra community is a bunch of really good guys. I have learned that things will always get better. I have learned that sometimes you have to just keep moving....and I learned to be grateful....for
"the truth that someday you will go for last run, but not today - today you got to run." - Matt Crownover
Thanks to all my NTTR buddies...to Lynn Ballard-Bear 100 mile finisher this past year. To Bill and Wynn Ross who have brilliantly filled the enormous shoes of Red Spicer and all the PDTR volunteers and most importantly to my wife, Bren and kids Luke, Macy, Hope...and of course my Mom and Dad who weathered the all day event...because they would be out there till I finished.
Craig Miller is attempting to race $26,200.00 for
Starring Mutha Blista...(not shown are her five dime size daughters between the toes.)
and finally - "SINNERMAN byNina Simone