Running up, over and through the cogs

Welcome to...

THE RUN FACTORY:

Track, road or trail... slip yourself into the machine and see what it makes out of you.

Latest

Check Out My Work on NBC Chicago’s “Stride” Blog

(Image courtesy of Hersh Ajgaonkar)

(Image courtesy of Hersh Ajgaonkar)

A few months ago, the good folks at NBC Chicago offered me space on their “Stride” blog to write about running. Naturally, my particular focus is on the pseudo-crazy phenomenon of ultrarunning. I have received a good response from my posts thus far and encourage my Run Factory readers to check out some of my work over there. I am not cross-posting, so the content will be new.

I have published four posts thus far and will have another by the end of the month. Here’s a current list with links:

I will post more links as they come and will also include a link on the side bar.

My posts on “Stride” are directed more towards the new and/or curious runner, while my work here on The Run Factory will continue to dive deep within the recesses of my relentlessly forward progressing body (and brain), with first person play-by-play, of course.

Meanwhile…

As the days pass, so too does my 100 mile training progress. To say I am “excited” and “terrified” is a huge understatement, but there is no doubt in my mind that I am as eager as I’ve ever been to go on this grand adventure.

Next up, another 50+ mile training run as I head south for the Evergreen Lake Ultra and a Half race. I hear they have great food at the aid stations. I plan on working up an appetite.

¡Ánimo!

The Good, the Bad and the WHY NOT

Jeff Lung christmas in july 2014 aid station

THE GOOD

In the days since my dizzying yet mind opening 24-hour jaunt around Lisle Community Park, my body has recovered in full, responding to the training bell better than I ever imagined. I can’t emphasize enough just how awesome it feels to be running at full strength again. After all the nagging injuries from last year, I wasn’t really sure how my body would respond to the big mileage races, but everything feels strong and solid right now, and that is a huge motivator.

The key, at least for now, seems to be pace.

When I run fast — and for me, anything under an 8-minute mile is something I consider “fast” — both of my Achilles flare up, stopping me for several days. I have tried different shoes, different strengthening exercises, different forms. All speed seems to lead to the same thing currently: stiff, bum, calcaneous flare ups that SUCK. So I’m just shelving fast miles for now.

Long, slow, FUN runs.

Everything I run now is to prepare for the grueling test of the Pinhoti Trail 100. I will explore speed another day. Ain’t no need for a sub 10-minute anything in a hundred miler anyway. Looking at the elevation profile only confirms that.

Long, slow, fun it is.

THE BAD

Being one of the most anal retentive slaves to organization one could ever meet, the following faux pas of mine is extremely embarrassing to confess; but this blog is just as much about failure as it is success (otherwise success would be sooooooo boooooooring!) so here it is:

Um… so that half marathon I am supposed to run in Mexico City next weekend… um… yeah… it was IN JULY.

I don’t know how I (nor my buddy who has been training diligently for it) missed that small detail, but I did. We did. I originally wanted to run the marathon, and bummed that it was sold out, quickly obliged to the website’s tempting me to run the half instead. Assuming that it would be on the same day — because that’s how it usually works, the full and the half are held on the same day, simultaneously — I gladly signed up. To my credit, as far as I can remember, there was NO MENTION of the actual date of the race during the sign-up nor the confirmation process. I double checked the confirmation email to make sure.

Then, last month, as a follower of the race’s Facebook page, I was quite curious as to why there was another half marathon, under the same race name, a month earlier than the one I signed up for. Still, I never did conclude that the half marathon pictures I was seeing were from a race I was supposed to be running. It just didn’t make sense. My Mexico City Half Marathon was going to be on August 31.

Except it’s not.

It was only after recently checking packet pick-up details that the mistake was realized.

Whoops!

Oh well. There’s not much I can do about it now. While I’m a little sad I missed out on my first international race, I am still excited about visiting La Ciudad and exploring whatever roads and trails it has to offer. Maybe my friend and I will run our own half marathon.

Why not?

THE WHY NOT

While I’m at it, I might as well run the Peapod Half Madness Half Marathon in Batavia this weekend. For the fourth year in a row. I won’t be running a personal best this year. In fact, I will probably have to work hard just to break two hours; but, in my opinion, this is one of the most fun, most charming races in all of Chicagoland: a scenic, challenging 13.1 miles through a quaint river town with all-you-can-eat pizza and all-you-can-drink Sam Adams beer at the finish line.

What’s not to love?!

And while I’m at the long, slow, fun running, I might as well enjoy twice the marathon action during the second weekend of October. At least, that’s what I was thinking when I recently signed up for the Prairie State Marathon. It’s the day before the Chicago Marathon, and should serve as a suitable warm-up to my favorite Sunday 26.2. Three weeks out from my first hundred miler, I figure back-t0-back marathons should be a nice way to start my taper.

Haha.

As if ultrarunners actually taper.

Bustin’ Down the Door of My First 24: The 2014 Christmas in July 24 Hour Race Report

Christmas in July 24 Hour, Lisle, IL (Image courtesy of Scott Laudick, http://runnerpics.smugmug.com)

2014 Christmas in July 24 Hour, Lisle, IL (Image courtesy of Scott Laudick)

Bran thought about it. “Can a man be brave if he’s afraid?”

“That is the only time a man can be brave,” his father told him.

George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones


Thursday, July 17, 2014

I can’t sleep — tossing, turning, terrified.

What have I gotten myself into?

Just last week, I suffered through 6 hours and 24 minutes of a tough trail 50k, body throbbing with fatigue, thinking I don’t want to run another step as I crossed the finish line. Now, on the eve of the longest race of my life, a 24 Hour event on a .97 mile asphalt loop, the thought of quadrupling that pain is overwhelming.

Breathe, Jeff. Relax. Focus on your breath.

This mantra gets me to sleep, eventually. Yet, I still wake several times, jolted from slumber by dreams that I’d missed the start, trapped in a port-a-john, or that I wimped out completely, unwilling to test my body.

Breathe, Jeff. Relax. Focus on your breath.

Friday, July 18, 2014

I’m up at 5:30 a.m. for work, and for the next 7 hours I don’t really think too much about what’s going to happen later tonight. Some of my clients ask me about the race: What’s your strategy? Do you think you can last the whole 24? What will you eat?

I’m not really sure. But I keep smiling, agreeing that this may be the craziest thing I’ve done up to this point.

At one o’clock I eat a big lunch of rice and beans and then head straight home. I close the blinds, wrap a t-shirt over my head to block out the light and lie down in bed — heart rate higher than I’d like, mind beginning to wander.

Breathe, Jeff. Relax. Focus on your breath.

Deep inhale. Deep exhale. Repeat.

5:00 p.m.

My alarm goes off and I wake up feeling refreshed, strong, ready for insanity.

I gather my things, load the car and join rush hour traffic on I-55 South. The plan is to go to Edna’s house first, have dinner with her, and let her drive me to the race in Lisle.

Traffic is heavy, but expected. I listen to the news to distract myself.

7:30 p.m.

Edna and I are at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants. Steak tacos with more beans and rice. I’m careful to eat until I’m full, but not to stuff myself. Our conversation is light and focuses on our respective days thus far and not so much about the race. Being an ultra veteran, Edna knows the types of thoughts going through my head — How much will it hurt? Will I be able to endure? What if I fail? — and she does her best to shift my focus to more positive thoughts.

8:30 p.m.

The drive to Lisle on Route 53 is spent listening to classic Ricky Martin tunes (La Bomba, Así Es la VidaPerdido Sin Ti) interspersed with last-minute, calming words of caution from Edna. I try to not read too much into the subliminal messages of the song titles, which translate to: The Bomb, That’s Life, Lost Without You.

“Run your own race, mi amor. Don’t run anybody else’s race,” says Edna.

She sings along with Ricky for a bit.

“You have to run on your own. You have to know you can do these distances on your own,” she continues.

Perdido sin ti…

“But the most important thing?” she continues, taking a moment to look me dead in the eye, “Enjoy the pain.”

Breathe, Jeff. Relax. Focus on your breath.

9:00 p.m.

At Lisle Community Park now, we head towards the packet pick-up table where I check in, get my bib (#3) and exchange greetings with the first of many friends and familiar faces I will see over the next day. The sun is down, the temperature is in the mid 60s and I quickly become a feast for a hungry swarm of mosquitos.

“Didn’t think I would need this today,” I say grabbing the can of OFF! sitting on the check-in table. I douse myself in chemicals and know that I will be nothing but a progressively filthy mess from here on out.

Comfortably guarded against the mosquito invasion, Edna and I walk to the Start/Finish line. I drop off my drop bags and begin my normal preparations of bladder draining, lubricating, mental focussing. The process is occasionally broken up by the buzz of adrenaline and a constant stream of greetings from friends. Like at most ultras, there’s a lot of hugging and high-fiving going on, with strategic pre-race selfies thrown in when possible.

Festive, summery smiles! From left to right, back row: Danny, Caleb, Me, Melissa, Chuck. Front: Edna, Nate, Kelly, Baby Levi. (Image courtesy of Nate Pualengco)

Festive, summery smiles! From left to right, back row: Danny, Caleb, Me, Melissa, Chuck. Front: Edna, Nate, Kelly, Baby Levi. (Image courtesy of Nate Pualengco)

I spend a few minutes chatting with each race director individually: Brian Gaines, Ed Kelly and Terry Madl. Each one of them offers me unwavering encouragement, making me feel confident. I look all around at the awesome Christmas in July atmosphere they have created with lights, trees and gigantic nutcrackers; I feel like I’m in good place. I feel like I’m about to embark upon something special.

I am so glad I am here.

The winners will go home with these bad boys. (Image courtesy of Scott Laudick, http://runnerpics.smugmug.com)

The winners will go home with these bad boys. (Image courtesy of Scott Laudick)

Just minutes from the start, I give Edna a big hug and kiss and line up with the rest of the 24 hour runners. There is a pre-race speech over a megaphone. I can hardly hear it over my elevated heart rate and anxious thoughts.

Focus on the breath, I tell myself.

As I do, I can hear Edna’s parting advice bouncing off the space in my mind.

Enjoy the pain, she said, her beautiful smile stealing away any juxtaposing thoughts.

We do enjoy the pain, don’t we? I ask myself.

Before I can delve into that thought further, the race begins and I’m taking my first steps of an event that won’t end for another TWENTY. FOUR. HOURS.

The Start/Finish Line (Image courtesy of Paul Lonis)

(Image courtesy of Paul Lonis)

Hours 1 – 7 (10 p.m. – 5 a.m.)

Run easy, run relaxed, figure out the course.

This is my mission for the first few loops. Other than lasting the entire 24 hours of the race, my only real goal is to see if I can log 80 miles or more. Eighty miles would be a 29-mile distance personal record, and I know that in order to conserve energy and maintain enough endurance to get there, I’m going to need to mix in a good deal of walking.

I like consistency. I like routine. The looped course suits me well so I will take advantage of it.

As we pass the stage where a band plays live Christmas music, we head up the first (and only significant) hill — one that I will power hike every, single, time. As we walk, I hear the usual ornery exclamations of “almost there”, “looking good” and “only a little more to go” from runners and spectators alike.

At the top of the hill is a magnificently huge inflatable snowman, brilliantly lit up against a cool, black night. We make a hard right turn and go up another short incline before we hit a long, smooth downhill. The path is paved (sorry, knees) and there isn’t a need for head lamps because the course is lit with luminaries on either side.

At the bottom of the hill is a short bridge which leads us past another bright snowman, this one alone by a creek. We cross the bridge and hang a winding right that reaches a fork marked with a “Merry Christmas” sign, having us turn right along a course that will take us back to Short Street, the road we came in on off 53. We pass another inflatable, festive treat — this time Santa, a reindeer and a polar bear, chilling in what looks like a hot tub? — before we reach the end of the path, marked with two port-a-johns (port-a-johns I will get to know intimately, of course). At the end of the path we turn right onto a sidewalk that takes us past a fantastically large inflatable Santa Claus monitoring the course, near packet pick-up. This sidewalk leads us all the way to the Lisle High School parking lot where we take a right and run about 200 meters back to the Start/Finish.

Boom. That’s it. That’s the course.

One loop, two loops, three…

By the fourth, I already have my pattern set and will not waver for the duration of the event:

Walk through the aid station. Continue walking while eating and drinking as we approach the base of the hill. Powerhike the hill. Run the straightaway towards the sharp right turn. Walk the sharp right turn and power hike the short incline to the beginning of the downhill. Run the downhill (bomb when I can). Walk over the bridge. Run from the bridge to the “Merry Christmas” sign marking the fork. Walk to Santa/reindeer/polar bear hot tub. Run to the port-a-johns. Walk to the sidewalk. Run from gigantic Santa to the 20 mph hour road sign (don’t want to get a ticket for speeding after all). Walk to the parking lot. Run it in to the Start/Finish.

Repeat.

A lot.

Edna is there for the first couple of hours. She cheers for me every time I come through, putting a big smile on my face. Around midnight she gives me a final hug and kiss before she goes home for the night. I won’t see her until the end, tomorrow evening sometime.

One last kiss for the night. (Image courtesy of Scott Laudick)

One last kiss for the night. (Image courtesy of Scott Laudick)

Enjoy the pain, I hear her say in my head.

Sage advice.

Running, walking, running, walking, running…

It doesn’t take long before I’m in a real good groove. For the first few hours I’m hitting 10-12 minute miles consistently. When I walk, I make sure I walk with a purpose. I pump my arms, move my hips.

Think mall-walker.

I drink every loop. Every, single, loop. Since the course is so short, I can conserve energy by not carrying a bottle, but this means I need to take in fluids every time around. I drink water mostly, with the occasional Gatorade. I eat something every other loop.

Chowing down at the aid station. (Image courtesy of Scott Laudick)

Chowing down at the aid station. (Image courtesy of Scott Laudick)

The aid station is stocked! All the usual fare is here: chips, cookies, fruit, salty items, candies. I practice my “see food” diet by taking a look around and just grabbing a bite or two of whatever looks good at that particular time. Pizza arrives after a while and that looks particularly awesome. I chow down.

Eating and running is something I have gotten really good at through my ultra training the last couple of years. I try to stay away from sugary stuff, unless my body calls for it, and I make sure I don’t run too hard in the few minutes immediately after eating any significant amount of something. Being in tune with my body is something I take a lot of pride in. I listen to it and react on the fly. In my opinion, this is an essential skill for running super long distances.

Shit is going to happen. Be prepared and be flexible.

Right now, in these dark hours, I feel ready for anything. It gets a little chilly so I switch to a shirt with sleeves and tick off the miles without really much thought. The 12-hour and 6-hour runners, who started at 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. respectively, share the course with us and make me feel slightly slow as they dart by at a pace I wish I could run.

Run your own race, mi amor, I hear Edna say in my mind. Don’t run anyone else’s race.

Shan Riggs, local elite and winner of the 2014 Indiana Trail 100, flies by me too many times to count. I marvel at his abilities, but know I can’t chase. He’s the favorite to win the 24 hours. I hope he does.

A guy in blue flies by me a bunch of times too running a pace that makes me think he’s a 6 or 12-hour runner. Or maybe he just likes to suffer. We all do. Right?

Why ARE you doing this? I ask myself.

To see what I’m capable of. To discover something new about myself. To enhance my experience of life.

At the five-hour mark, very comfortable and still feeling fresh, I check in with the timer to see how many miles I have. He reports I have logged 23+ miles, a number I feel pretty good about. Doing the math in my head, 80 miles seems like a lock, if I can just stick with this plan. I grab some pizza to celebrate this little victory and chomp on it a bit before I remind myself that I have a loooooong way to go.

No need to get excited about anything yet, I tell myself. Focus on the now. Feel every step. Live every breath.

“Way to go, runner! Yay! WOO HOO!” cheers Cynthia, a girl perfectly positioned at the base of the big hill — the spot where I always feel like the hill is getting bigger. Cynthia is a trooper. A champion spectator. She has been here since the very first loop and she doesn’t leave until sometime after sunrise.

Seven plus hours of non-stop cheering.

Cynthia, wherever you are, you are my hero.

Hours 7 – 10 (5 a.m. – 8 a.m.)

Sunrise over Lisle. (Image courtesy of Tony Weyers)

Sunrise over Lisle. (Image courtesy of Tony Weyers)

The sun comes up and, for the first time, I can see the whole course from the top of the hill. My fellow runners dart around the loopty loop path, working hard, working steady, ant-like, off in the distance.

I’ve been working right along with them, focusing on the now, one moment at a time. surprisingly, when I try to think about what I’ve been thinking about the last 7 hours, I can’t really remember anything. I’m stuck in the moment — each one, as it comes, moving meditation.

Running, walking, eating, drinking, thinking NOW, NOW, NOW, running, walking, eating, drinking, thinking NOW, NOW, NOW…

And peeing. I’m peeing. A lot. Every two miles. It’s kind of annoying.

“Is it normal to pee this much?” I ask Cindy, one of the aid station volunteers whom you will likely see at any ultra race in the area. Her husband is an ultra vet and I suspect she’s seen it all.

“Yes, it means your kidneys are doing their job. As long as you’re drinking, that’s a good thing.”

“Sweet.”

Run, walk, eat, drink, PEE, think NOW NOW NOW… groove. Smile. Enjoy!

The 6-hour runners finish at 6 a.m., freeing up the course a bit. There were times where it was a little crowded, but nothing I couldn’t weave in and out of. When I circle back to the Start/Finish I find out that my friend, Todd Brown, won his 6-hour.

“Awesome!” I tell him with a fist-bump. “You looked awesome out there!”

He did. He lapped me a bunch. I use his positive outcome as fuel for a series of harder effort loops. The sun will be baking me soon, so I need to take advantage of these last couple of cool hours. I crank it up a bit on the run sections.

Still truckin', shortly after sunrise. (Image courtesy of Hersh Ajgaonkar)

Still truckin’, shortly after sunrise. (Image courtesy of Hersh Ajgaonkar)

Starting to feel it. Tired. Heavy.

It has been a slow, steady disintegration from what I was doing in the first few hours. This was expected, of course, yet I always seem to be surprised by just how much I feel it.

And I’ve been running all this way on pavement. Pavement. What were you thinking, Jeff?

I smile back at my brief negativity.

I like pavement, I tell myself. I can run faster.

You mean COULD run faster. Right now ain’t so fast.

Yeah. So? Maybe I’m enjoying the pain.

My inner monologue is interrupted along the back straightaway heading towards Short Street when I see my friends Tony and Hersh, both ultrarunners themselves, flanked on either side of the path.

“Hey, Jeff!” says Hersh. “How do you feel?”

I tilt my head to the side, invite a smile and say, “Why are we so stupid?”

They share a hearty laugh as I continue on with my run slow torture.

I am running still, but like I noted earlier, my run isn’t very quick. I don’t really know my exact pace, but I know I’m slowing down. My legs are dragging a bit and I am starting to feel… blisters.

Ah, yes. Blisters.

Shit.

I knew this might happen.

DAMN YOU, HOKAS!

Up until recently, blisters have been a non-issue in my running career. A proud follower of routine, I found out early on that by keeping my callusses filed while using 2Toms Blistershield, Injinji socks, Nike Vomeros (road) and Salomon Speed Cross (trail), I would not have to deal with blisters. Every great once in a while a teeny one would show up, but very rarely. I am happy to say I have been nearly blister free since I became a runner.

However, with Achilles issues that have kept me from feeling my absolute best lingering the last year or so, I decided to try different shoes. Hokas, with their big, pillowy, comfy ride, seemed like a good choice. Lots of ultrarunners love them, including Edna, so I bought the Bondi 3s a few months ago and have been training in them regularly.

For the bottoms of my feet, and especially for my Achilles, they are awesome. The support is phenomenal and I don’t feel the hard ground/rocks/roots underneath me when I run. They work great for both road and trail.

Except they sometimes give me blisters.

They give me blisters on both heels and on both pinky toes. I have dealt with this before. They blistered me at Mohican. They blistered me at Dances with Dirt. Yet sometimes they don’t blister me at all, and with the smooth pavement in lieu of rugged terrain, I was hoping today would be one of those days.

It’s not.

Left heel is getting rubbed pretty badly. Both pinky toes are feeling it too.

It’s about 8 a.m. I’m feeling sluggish. The sun is beating down. Time to assess some damage.

For the first time in 10 hours, I sit down next to my drop bag and take off my shoes.

“Ahhh, shit,” I can’t help but say. “Damn it.”

It’s my left heel. Big blister. Welled up pretty good. “That one’s gonna have to pop,” I say as I dig out my first aid kit and start prepping my mind for fixing gnarly feet, what I like to call “surgery”.

Everywhere I go running I take my gear bag — a $30 tackle box from Target with lots of pockets, containers and compartments. The first aid section, stocked with needles, scissors, tape, antibiotics, moleskin and more, has come in handy only a couple of times so far, but those have always been desperate times. Facing 14 more hours of running, it’s better to fix things now, while I still have a chance.

I pop the big blister — yikes this thing is big! — on the back of the left heel and let it drain. I do the same with the one on the pinky toe. They both sting. After they’re drained I put on some Neosporin and wrap the pinky toe with a couple of band aids. I’m wearing toe socks, so the band aids should stay. For the heel blister I cut out a large moleskin square and try to adhere it over the blister. Unfortunately, I’m very sweaty, and the moleskin is not sticking.

Duct tape.

I grab my roll of duct tape and rip off a large section. The ripping sound causes heads to turn and I hear someone say “Uh oh, getting serious now that the duct tape is out”.

It ain’t pretty, but I manage to keep the moleskin in place with a thorough wrapping. I put on some clean socks and massage my feet a bit before I put my shoes back on and stand up, slowly.

“Doesn’t feel too bad,” I say out loud. I take a step and immediately feel the salty stinginess in my open wounds. “Ouch!”

Well, you didn’t think it was going to be all roses, did ya?

Before I can dwell too much on my feet, I take off my shirt and busy myself with applying sunscreen. The sun is getting higher and hotter and the course offers scarcely any shade. I don’t want to become a lobster, so I rub it on thick.

This stop has taken too long, I think to myself as I check my watch. You need to get going.

It’s been 10 hours now, so I check in with the timer to find I’ve logged a little over 44 miles total. Pretty even with my first 5 hours. What’s 14 more hours? I joke to myself.

My other self is not amused.

Hours 10 – 15 (8 a.m. – 1 p.m.)

With each loop I complete I feel the sun beat down stronger, hotter, burning into my skin, through my muscles and into bone. This distracts me from my blistery feet, so much that I don’t notice them anymore. I try to see the positive in this as I focus on maintaining my run/walk rhythm, but it’s evident that mother nature is trying put me down for the count.

So… slug…gish… now…

I still see the same faces on the course, but much of the high energy is gone. It looks like I’m not the only runner dying in the sun. I make sure I stay hydrated at the aid station every time I pass through; and since I’m still peeing every two miles or so, I know I’m doing a good job. Still, I can’t seem to run much more than an old man shuffle.

The 12-hour runners finish at 11 a.m., leaving the course quite empty now as we surviving 24-hour runners try to hold on and avoid thinking about having ELEVEN MORE HOURS to go. There is carnage all around, especially at the Start/Finish line where some 24-hour runners have already tapped out, or are thinking about it. I HAVE ELEVEN MORE HOURS TO GO. Feet up, shoes off. Some of these people look happy with their decisions but I can’t let myself think about such a thing and besides there are ELEVEN MORE HOURS.

Food helps me get back on track. There is bacon now and if I can run for anything I can run for bacon.

BACON!

Pancakes and hash browns are served too but BACON is really all I want. All told I have about 10 pieces in an hour’s time. Its rich, fat juiciness takes me to a happy place — Baconland, where you run mad in circles under the sun and suffer senselessly for the reward of tasting bacon’s flavorful fattiness with each successful loop.

Welcome to Baconland, Sir. Enjoy your pain!

Why thank you! And oh, look, they have Santa Claus in Baconland! And a gigantic snowman atop the hill. And a hot tub with Santa, a reindeer and a polar bear.

Bacon is good, no doubt, but my legs ache, my feet hurt, I’m fried and falling asleep. Even though my mind is telling me to run, I can’t seem to remember how. Toasty and sleepy, I zombie walk an entire loop, talking to myself. I am all alone and estoy sufriendo.

I am… suffering. Edna?

Enjoy your pain…

This is haaaaaarrrrrd. Es muy dificil, mi amor. Estoy sufriendo. Mucho. Mucho, mucho, mucho.

Enjoy your pain.

She always enjoys her pain. Her smile never ceases, even in her hardest of trials. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

I can do this, I remind myself. Just keep moving. Get to the aid station.

I am on the sidewalk parallel to Short Street now, baking, frying, bacon? No. Water? Yes. Sleep? No. RUN! I can’t. WALK! I am. FASTER! Shut up!

I hit the blacktop parking lot and try to run. Always run the homestretch, I tell myself. But I can’t. I really can’t.

I stumble into the drop bag area like a defeated fighter after 12 rounds. Where’s my stool?

“Are you okay?” asks my friend, Melissa. Melissa is crewing today and she’s been helpful throughout, aiding and cheering runners since the beginning of the race.

“Not really.” I say, eyes glazed.

“You’re really hot,” she says placing a hand on my forehead. “You need to cool down.”

“And wake up. I’m falling asleep.”

“You need to cool down. That will help you wake up.”

I grab my buff and a Red Bull from my bag. Melissa pours the Red Bull in a cup with ice. I drink it and the cold on my tongue feels like an alarm clock for my brain, the caffeine a dance party.

“Whoa.” I say.

“You need to cool down,” she says, taking my arm and leading me over to a kiddie pool next to the aid station. “Bend down and dunk your head in this water. It will feel really good.”

Trusting her, I kneel down (SLOWLY), and do as she says.

VRRRRROOOOOOMYAAAAAAAMMAAALAMMMAAAAADINGDONG!!!

“Wow! That is COLD!” I say, more awake than I can remember being.

She pours more cold water on my neck, each handful washing away the fatigue that had hobbled me so.

“Wow, yes, that’s what I needed.”

“You have to keep cool,” she reminds me as I soak my buff in the water and put ice in it before wrapping it around my neck.

I chug the rest of my Red Bull, thank her for her help, and head back out for another loop.

Determined. Back to life. Running!

It’s amazing what some ice cold water and caffeine can do.

I run/walk the loop as before, now at a steady, lively pace. Man, I was really losing it there for a second, I think.

It comes in waves, I recall someone said to me once, when you feel bad just hold on. It will go away, eventually.

Perhaps, but now that I’m awake, I do feel my feet more. The blisters. The rubbing. The aching.

I run a bit with Raul, another ultra guerrero, and after hearing my complaints, he suggests a shoe change. “Did wonders for me,” he said. He too had on Hokas at first. After some uncomfortable rubbing from them, he switched back to his old shoes and was feeling better.

“Couldn’t hurt,” I say, noticing the irony of my words. Oh, yes, it could. It COULD hurt. It WILL hurt.

Everything hurts.

My right IT band starts to hurt. Right hip flexor too. Before they get too cranky, I whip out the RumbleRoller and dig in like hell, causing heads to turn at my seemingly masochistic ground acrobatics.

“It hurts so good,” I say to the bystanders.

“Jeff, you look so much better now,” says Melissa.

“Thanks. Yeah, I feel way better. No doubt. You saved me.”

Seems like I am in need of a lot of saving. The RumbleRoller wins the prize this round. I stand up and feel like I have new legs (but the same tired feet).

“Let’s go for a run!” I shout as I take off with a smile.

Run… walk… run… walk… eat, drink, pee…

Repeat.

Again.

And again.

All is well. I’m awake. I’m taking care of my body and not getting too hot.

Yet my feet…

You have to change your shoes, I tell myself. Just do it. You can’t keep going like this.

My pace is slowing. I’m suffering again. What the hell am I doing here?

Hours 15 – 21 (1 p.m. – 7 p.m.)

Enjoying the pain? I’m still smiling. Are you smiling because you’re happy or are you smiling because you want to be happy?

I’m smiling because I’m ALIVE. And with every sensation throbbing tenfold, I feel really fucking alive right now, man.

After changing out of the Hokas and into the Nike Vomeros, I feel even MORE alive. Achey, creaky and slow, but alive.

Why didn’t I do that earlier? I ask myself. Who cares, just run!

I run. I run to my walking point, walk to my running point, eating and drinking all the while. Everything is done with focus, with purpose. Keep moving. Keep going. Don’t quit.

I follow this pattern until I’m slowed, once again, to walk an entire loop. This time my friends Brandt and Jerret are around and they ask if they can walk a loop with me. I welcome the company. I try not to talk too much about what hurts (everything) but I can’t help it. I feel weak.

Knowing that I’m around 70ish miles now, Brandt reminds me that every step is a new distance PR — a thought that does a lot for my confidence. “Yeah, you’re right,” I say. “Every single step!”

The walk and the camraderie gives me a boost and I start to think more positively. Still aching from my physical pain, I take 400 mg of Ibuprofen, wash it down with another Red Bull and vow to get serious.

Time to crank, Jeffery. Time to crank.

(Image courtesy of Hersh Ajgaonkar)

(Image courtesy of Hersh Ajgaonkar)

The sun is still beating down, but I’m regulating well with lots of ice in my cap and in my buff. I dunk my head every once in a while too. I get back into a groove with my run/walk, but I’m still feeling quite fatigued. I keep fighting. Head down. Focused on my task: TO MOVE! I labor on for several more loops.

Then, as I start to shuffle down the big hill heading towards the wooden bridge, I notice that with each step I’m feeling less and less aches. What the — ?

Am I dreaming?

I bomb down the hill to make sure, and just as I’d thought: no pain.

No pain? NO PAIN!

Yeeeeee haaaaaaa!

And suddenly I am a different man. It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I’ve been moving my ass for 17 hours straight, suffering all sorts of fatigue, aches and pains, and now, NOW the race begins.

I’m flying!

I am a hawk and there’s blood on my feathers. But time is still turning and soon they’ll be dry. And all those who see me, and all those who believe in me, share in the freedom I feel when I fly.

–The Eagle and the Hawk, John Denver

FLYING!

Blowing by everyone now. Zoom… zoom…. zoom. Feels awesome. But it could end at any moment, so I don’t let myself get cocky.

“Just riding a good wave,” I tell the runners I pass, “gotta take advantage while I can.”

Is this enjoying the pain? Or is this just the Ibuprofen talking?

Probably just the Ibuprofen talking. And the Red Bull screaming. Who cares? You feel good. Enjoy that, for once.

I do. For THREE HOURS.

I soar.

And then I crash.

Of course.

By the time I crash it’s 6 p.m.

Just four more hours! I can do this! This pain ain’t nothin’. This fatigue ain’t a thing.

I hit the 75 mile mark at 5 p.m., so I have to be close to 80 miles now, after all that cranking. With four hours left, knowing I will hit my mileage goal, a smile creeps in, washing my entire body with warm and fuzzy joy.

I'm doing this! (Image courtesy of Hersh Ajgaonkar)

I’m doing this! (Image courtesy of Hersh Ajgaonkar)

Back to the grind: eat, drink and the slow run/walk shuffle.

Hours 21 – 24 (7 p.m. – 10 p.m.)

It’s 7 o’clock and considerably cooler. Edna is here and she’s ready to run. We didn’t plan on having any pacing, because I thought the race was against that. However, lots of folks seem to be using pacers, so why not?

I warn her of my slow pace and bring her up to speed on my run/walk pattern.

“I’ve been running this loop the exact same way, all day long.” I tell her. She smiles, like always, and then remains silent as I gush on about all my aches and pains, my blisters, the sun, my IT band, bla bla bla whaa whaa whaa.

You’re being a Debbie Downer, I tell myself. You should shut up.

And take 200 mg more of Ibuprofen.

And drink your last Red Bull.

I do.

Half an hour later, and the magic is back. Let it fly, baby!

For the next two hours, Edna and I crank! I feel like I’m running really fast again, though I can’t tell if it’s a relative feeling or if I actually am moving fast. Regardless, we are zooming by everyone, including Shan, the race leader, who is still probably 15 laps or so ahead of me.

Still, with this newfound energy I’m also feeling ornery, so every time I gain a lap back on him I say: “I’m comin’ for ya, Shan!”

Me and Edna, cranking with a smile. (Image courtesy of Nate Pualengco)

Me and Edna, cranking with smiles. (Image courtesy of Nate Pualengco)

Around and round and round we go. As long as I’ve been running this loop, I can honestly say I am not sick of it. I actually love it. I love the scenery, the decorations, the familiar signposts.

Hell, right now, I love everyone and every thing and every place. I love you and you… and you! I am just running and running and feeling like a superhuman with an enlightened mind. The hours tick by and I know we’re getting close.

Two hours…

The 10k runners come from the opposite direction, offering more love and support.

One hour…

The Ibuprofen is starting to wear off. I’m coming back down to earth, back to my normal, tired, sluggish, beat up body.

With 35 minutes left, feeling suddenly slow with very little left in the tank, I tell Edna: “We can get two more miles. Two more.”

We plug away.

Edna and I, on the homestretch. (Image courtesy of Nate Pualengco)

Edna and I, on the homestretch. (Image courtesy of Nate Pualengco)

“Enjoy your pain,” I say to her. “That’s what you told me. That’s been with me all day. All day long I’ve been thinking about it. Enjoying it.”

She smiles back while never breaking stride.

“I get it now,” I continue, between labored breaths. “Knowing this… this feeling, this pain, this fatigue…. knowing it so intimately… it makes everything else… the joys, the success… makes it feel so sweet, so much better.”

“I’m proud of you, Jeff,” she says as we make our final turn onto the sidewalk parallel to Short Street. “You can do anything now.”

I can do anything.

I can.

Anything.

“Let’s run it in,” I say as we turn back onto the parking lot and head towards the finish. “Gotta look good for the end.”

I cross the line, completely exhausted, at 23 hours, 51 minutes and 33 seconds, seventh place overall with a total of 94.09 miles in my legs.

Edna and I embrace and I want to cry but I don’t have the energy. Instead we just smile a bunch and hug our friends at the finish.

“Aw, come on, Jeff, you can run a 9 minute mile!” jokes one of those friends, Karen, pointing towards the time left on the clock.

“Not right now I can’t. I. Am. Done.”

Sweeter words may never have been said.

24 hours, 94 miles, 43 mile distance PR. (Image courtesy of Nate Pualengco)

24 hours, 94 miles, 43 mile distance PR, lots of memories. (Image courtesy of Nate Pualengco)

Post Race

The hours shortly after the race gave me a good idea of what it will be like to be 90 years old. On the ride home, I fell asleep mid-conversation, mouth agape, snoring loudly. We made a stop at Jewel, which I don’t remember. I needed Edna’s help to get out of the car, walk in the house, and climb up the stairs. After a hot shower, I got nauseous from the steam. Once I recovered from that, I crawled into bed and shivered uncontrolably for about five minutes before she brought me some soup to warm me up. After an entire day of eating pizza, chips, cookies, oranges, bread, pasta, bacon, pancakes, watermelon, licorice, crackers, grapes, pretzels, peanut butter and jelly, chocolate, hash browns, and much more, soup and ONLY SOUP, sounded pretty good.

I slept like a rock.

The next day?

To be honest, I have felt much worse after running road marathons.

I think I could get used to doing these. Sure it hurt out there — pounding pavement and baking under the sun — but it hurt so good to dig in deep and crawl around inside my head. It hurt so good to feel so alive!

So much so that I’m already thinking about next year’s race…

And ONE HUNDRED miles.

Building on the Success of Others

siamak and jeff mohican 100 2014

We did it.

He (Siamak, pictured above on the right, brandishing an epic finisher’s buckle) did it. He finished the Mohican Trail 100 mile race.

And I’m now a perfect 7 for 7 in getting my runner to the finish line of a hundo.

It feels good. No doubt.

I have been thinking about it often, just as I often think about his successful Western States run from a year ago. I think of the pain. I think of the suffering. I think of the pure joy. In completing a task as enormous and as impressive as running 100 miles on one’s own two feet, it is very easy to forget how much discomfort is involved. It’s also easy to forget the reason one would ever put himself in a position to endure such torment: it feels good to be done, to know you have done it, to know you CAN do it. The power associated with such an immense accomplishment is unmatched in the real world.

When you know you can run from Chicago to Milwaukee, suddenly waiting in line at the post office doesn’t seem so bad.

That’s what I want. That’s what I’m aiming for in my own training and my own quest to run 100 miles.

I have had the pleasure of pacing a persistent, successful string of runners, each following his/her own unique path to the finish. The knowledge I’ve accumulated from running with them over the last two years is as vast as it is priceless.

I know mine is a challenge more mental than physical, a quest of quiet introspection that will lead to great accomplishments far off the trail, for as long as my memory remains.

Confident focus, mindfulness and lots of long, slow runs is the recipe.

The rest is just execution.

Patience, Persistence and Pacing

Nate and Jeff Kettle Moraine 100 2014 b

Celebratory hug at the 2014 Kettle Moraine 100 Mile Endurance run finish line with Nate Pualengco.

The left Achilles strain that forced me to DNS at Ice Age was a stubborn little bugger. Stubborn injuries for stubborn people. I suppose that’s what the running gods had in mind.

But I knew better than to sulk and feel sorry for myself. Nothing good could come of that. So I remained patient, stayed active in my recovery, and hoped for a long, healthy summer of solid training.

Four and a half weeks and several short walk-jogs later, I finally had full range of motion back in my left Achilles. I could run without pain. I could get back in the game.

And my health came just in time to pace my friend and client, Nate Pualengco, at the Kettle Moraine 100 Mile Endurance Run. His first 58 miles were smooth as could be, but when he came into the 63 mile Nordic aid station, he was limping from debilitating quad cramps. His crew and I attended to him with massage, ice and fuel, but I could see in his eyes that he was having doubts.

Before he could think about them much more we hurried him up and whisked him away, back into the relentless roller coaster that is the Kettle Moraine forest. I ran with him for the next 38 miles, where we encounted quite a few ups and downs: more quad cramping, sleep deprivation and general fatigue. But all of that suffering set the stage for one of the most impressive final 7-mile strikes I’ve ever seen in a 100 mile race.

Smelling the finish line, Nate turned off all pain sensors and started running hard. Passing people right and left, he pushed even harder. Two and a half miles from the finish, he slammed on the accelerator and it was an absolute thing of beauty, even if I saw most of it from about 50 meters back.

I had to dig deep myself just to keep him in my sights.

But when we got to the finish line it was all worth it. What a glorious scene it was to see him overcome the mental demons and physical pains that are so much apart of completing 100 miles on one’s own two feet. The fact that he finished it with a new personal best time of 27 hours 30 minutes for the distance was just the perfect ending.

Nate and his crew at the 2014 Kettle Moraine 100 finish.

Nate and his crew at the 2014 Kettle Moraine 100 finish.

For me, it was just the beginning of what I hope will be a long summer of training in preparation for my very first 100 mile race this coming November at the Pinhoti 100. Next up, I’ll be pacing my friend Siamak again, this time at the Mohican 100 on June 21. The first time I paced Siamak to a hundred mile finish was at the iconic Western States 100 last year. His performance on that weekend was nothing short of brilliant, so I expect more of the same. This will also be my second time pacing the Mohican 100, as I had the honor of getting Supergirl to the finish there in 2012 in what was my very first pacing experience.

It’s two years later, and I’m now a perfect 6 for 6 in getting my runner to the finish line of a 100 mile race (no pressure, Siamak). Since Kettle, I have been stewing in anticipation to tackle the last 50 miles of the ominous Mohican forest. Mohican is hard. Extremely hard. But in training and in life, it’s the hard that makes the easy so sweet.

Let’s get it on.

DNS: Did Not Start, Did Nothing Stupid, Did Not Sulk

Ice Age Trail 50 2014 StartIt was a game-time decision. I was holding on to hope all the way up to the final countdown of the Ice Age Trail 50k race start, but ultimately, not running was the only correct decision I could make. It was my first DNS (Did Not Start).

Did nothing stupid.

Did not sulk.

Well, okay, I sulked for about 10 minutes, but sulking sucks and I didn’t want to be a baby, so I found a way to enjoy the rest of the beautiful day by hanging out with friends and cheering in runners at the finish line. There was also beer.

In a long, illustrious running career, a DNS is probably going to happen sometime. Now that my first one is out of the way, I hope to learn from it.

Running has many lessons and this week I learned that, just as in real life, nothing is for certain. Shit happens all the time and much of what constitutes one’s character comes from what he does when life doesn’t go according to plan.

On Monday I was boasting to friends about how good I felt — how after a year-long struggle with one nagging injury after the other, I was finally starting to feel like I had my fast legs again. So on Tuesday, when doing hill repeats with some guys from the gym, I thought nothing about trying to race the speedy 20-year olds up a steep incline.

It only took one overzealous bound for my left Achilles to riiiiiiiiiiiiip.

I was lucky that it didn’t rupture, but the damage was significant enough that I was left to a pathetic hobble on Wednesday, a sad limp on Thursday and a passable yet tenuous walk on Friday. On Saturday, there in the Nordic Loop parking lot with hope as my only companion, I tested out the heel using every functional aid possible: heel cups, wraps, heat, ice.

Nope. Can’t run. Hurts with every step. 31 miles on rolling terrain with a bum Achilles is a good recipe for rupture, Jeff. And a rupture would mean losing the entire season. No running. No nada.

10 minutes. I gave myself 10 minutes to feel sorry for myself.

But then I put on my big boy pants and went back out there and rang my cowbell like a boss.

A day of glorious weather with awesome people is a great day spent regardless of the activity. I had a blast, despite not being able to run, and I got to see my girlfriend conquer another ultra finish line with her trademark ear-to-ear smile.

Jeff and Edna Ice Age Trail 50 2014

A few more days on the mend hopefully and I’ll be back in action — lesson learned and rarin’ to go.

And no more racing kids who I already know can kick my ass.

Health Hero, Scott Jurek

Jeff Lung and Scott Jurek

With Scott Jurek (left) at the 2011 Chicago Marathon Expo

As part of the American Recall Center’s community collaboration presenting individual “health heroes”, I introduce ultramarathon legend and health guru Scott Jurek as the inspiring example I most often look up to. While I don’t necessarily require outside motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle (feeling and performing my best is all I really need), it is helpful to look outward for insight and ideas about doing it better. Scott Jurek provides plenty of that.

The 7-time (1999-2005) Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run champion and key character from Christopher McDougall’s national bestseller Born to Run has also won the Badwater Ultramarathon twice (2005, 2006) and the 153-mile Spartathlon race three times (2006-2008). In addition to that, he is also a practicing yogi, physical therapist and an accomplished chef specializing in vegan cuisine. His book Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness was published in 2013 and is one of my all-time favorite running books.

But best of all, Scott is a super nice guy who exudes compassion, health and light.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 106 other followers