September 14, 2008
Rain, rain and more rain. This year was shaping up very similar to last year, with the exception of a change in my company. Grant had run the 50k with me last year, this year my company would be my father. Loni would attempt her second Pisgah 23k at the same time in preparation for her first attempt at the Vermont 50k in two weeks.
It was pouring when Loni and I arrived in Chesterfield on Sunday morning. The main parking lot at the fire and police stations were full so we go over to the school parking lot. Me being hasty, just pull into a handicap spot because I just wanted to run in and grab our race packets. Some outta-stater asks us as we get out of the car, “you guys handicap?” I look at him like he’s got 2 heads, “uhhh, no, I just wanted to grab my packet, I’ll move it afterwards.” I laughed at the prospect of getting a ticket for parking in a handicap spot at a race that’s charity is NH Special Olympics.
I hear a familiar “hey” as Loni and I dash through the parking lot. My Father has found Sherpa, Steve, Mike, Dave and Dan. All of who I’ve been known to call “my ultra family,” as I see them at just about every event I participate in these days. A friendly hello to all and off to get our race packets, changed and stretch.
The rain is still falling as the RD gives his now familiar pre-race speech. He notes that the beaver damn section is now mid-calf deep due to the rain over the last couple of weeks. A murmur went through the crowd. With the two commands, “set, go” down the road we go towards the park and a full day adventure. Rik and I find a good rhythm and chat back and forth about how long it’s been since we’ve been side by side at this race (it had been 4 or 5 years). Sherpa appeared to be running next to a guy with a rather large microphone who was conducting a race interview. When the fellow asked “are we there yet,” John simply responded in his cool collected manor “oh, only another 31 miles.” I laughed in the background while my father amused himself by throwing acorns at Mike on the first hill.
We are surprisingly ahead of the pack for a bit as we descended into the park. The patter of the rain on the leaves was soothing to the soul. The soft packed pine needles felt amazing underfoot. This was a trial run for my father after his plantar nagging since the VT 100 back in July. If he felt good today, we’d get to run together again in two week at the VT50 for our 8th consecutive start. It was only 4 miles into the run but he was really pushing the pace. I’d never been in the pack with so many runners so early in a race. I surprisingly managed to match his pace and still feel great.
He darted off ahead making wise cracks with fellow runners. I see a familiar face from this race and many other trail runs. Sadly I didn’t get his name but I asked him how he’d been since the last race we ran together, he laughed because he recognized me as well and we chatted briefly about our expected finishing times.
I caught back up to Rik after ¼ of a mile or so and he had found a couple that were just out having a ball. The fellow seemed like he’d been doing these for years while the woman, I assume his wife, had a look of wild nervousness in her eyes. It’s funny how after doing these things for 8 years now, that you can tell the rookies from the pros simply by facial expressions. The 4 of us arrive at the first aid/water stop and I quickly holler at Rik, “Let’s get moving pop!” The woman gave me this look and then yelled. “No way!” Rik made the Rodney Dangerfield comment about getting no respect and off we went. It was quiet now, just our footsteps, and an occasional comment back and forth. We joked about how fast we were going and I made the comment about, how I’d never been this far ahead of any of the guys at any race. Miles are melting away and a few aid stations later, who other but Sherpa, Steve, and Dave have caught up. I wonder to myself if we’ve slowed down or if they have just gotten into their rhythm. I joking ask if he’s just warming up, as we continue down the trail. I learn that the microphone guy was from NH Public radio and had contacted John a few weeks prior to talk to him about the “ultra-scene.” I’m surprised how good Steve is doing in his first ultra. I tell him that he’ll do fine with the training he’s done. It takes me a bit to realize we had left Rik, Dave, and another young woman behind on the last hill. We talk about the mentality of the people at these races, how great it is to be out in the woods, about my history at Pisgah and John’s recent health battles. Running with John is great. The enthusiasm he brings to this sport is second to none. I find myself just splashing through the puddles following his every step and really taking in the moment for more than I normally would. The miles really do fly by at these races when you are running them with good people.
Before I know it we’ve reached the 17 mile aid station. I know from here it’s a long up to the top of Pisgah. We fill up our bottles, and talk to the volunteers. The woman we had been running with came up. I asked her how far back Rik was, she told me he said to not wait. John quipped “you don’t want to make him mad now do you? Common Josh lets go.” I politely declined and told them I would wait and run the race with my dad. I wished them the best of luck and they were off down the trail. No more than 2 minutes had passed before Rik came into the station. He was looking a little disheveled. He was saying he’d be having cramping issues a few miles back. I had been feeding him the same salt tabs that I had been taking on the hour, but I knew my father, he probably hadn’t been drinking as much as he needed.
I quickly get him threw the aid by filling up his bottles and off we went down the trail. I force fed him some pretzels and more salt tabs. He still was having cramping issues. He couldn’t run at all. So we were left to a power walk on the flats and ups and a slow mindful placement of steps on the way down. I felt amazing, almost 100% still, and it had been 18 miles. I’m in a lot better shape then I think or the stars have just aligned today. I’m snapped out of this great feeling by yelling behind me. My father locked up and fell down like a tree. His yelling really stirred my insides, it sounded like he was dying. I rushed back up the trail, grabbed his foot and helped him stretch out. Two more salt tabs and two advils later he was able to get back to his feet. Even slower progression now, I watch many of the runners that we passed early blast past us like we were standing still. I think about how long this race is going to take us now, but the selfish thoughts pass and I focus on keeping Rik upright and moving. It’s something I know he’s done for me on countless occasions, why shouldn’t I repay the debt.
It was weird, at the slower pace I let myself look around a bit more than in past years where the finish line was the first and foremost goal. I noticed the water crossings from further in the distance. I paid attention to all of the neat fungus and mushrooms that were in bloom it seemed on every turn. I enjoyed every soft pine needled step. For the past month I had been in a depressed state, this was just what my soul needed to stir things up.
½ way through Killborn loop I was able to get Rik to run a bit again. The cramping had faded and we were on the move again. We certainly weren’t making record time, but we were gaining on some people in front of us. We hadn’t seen anyone in about 7 miles when we came back in to the Killborn Aid Station. Only 5.5 miles to go! My father and I have shared so much this year. We ran Pittsfield in June where I was the leader. Everything worked out for me and I pulled him along to finish. In July it was the VT100 where he really guided me along and waited for me to keep me moving even at the cost of his own finishing. Now in early September the shoe was back on my foot as I pushed him again. Two more hills I told him. Only two more long hills and then sweet, sweet hamburgers!
Across the town lines we trot. We “ultra-trot” as my father has come to call it. Through the woods we went until we got to the excavator. I assume they were widening the trail for more ATV/Snowmobile use but boy did they really tear it up for the rest of us. Slipping and sliding I went down the hills and waiting for Rik at the bottoms as he placed his feet carefully as to not cramp up again. The mud was calf deep in spots! I kept yelling that this is almost the end! I could feel it. Out onto the road we emerge, muddy as all get out. Rik starts to tell me about the Redneck wedding he had just attended a few weeks ago. How people sat on Hay bails and the minister had to say “put down your beers.” If there is one thing my dad will never run out of, it’s crazy stories. I’m happy though, I feel like I had hardly broken a sweat. I’m about to complete my 6th Pisgah 50k in the last 7 years. And I was going to finish another race with my dad by my side.
We crossed the finish line at about 730, I’m happy. I give him a hug. The RD tells us we are the muddiest runners he’d seen yet. I replied that we must have just had the most fun! I got a congratulatory hug and a kiss from Loni who had finished her 23k battle several hours earlier.
As we made our way to the BBQ we notice that Mike and Dan are already in street clothes. They inform us that they had gotten lost and had dropped. John walked up and congratulated us, for some reason the following statement really hit home to me. Of course this is probably paraphrased
SJ - “I heard about the break down”
JR - “yeah I stuck with him, kept feeding him salt and liquids”
SJ - “So we gonna sub 10 at Vermont in a couple of weeks”
JR - “well I gotta see where loni is in the 50k, if I can catch her I’ll probably just run it in with her in”
SJ – “you’re just so god damn selfless aren’t you.” (Jokingly)
It’s very true, my father got me into ultras 8 years ago. Since then, I’ve gotten 3 of my friends who had never run anything in their life to run ultras with me. Everyone I touch I seem to get into a race of some kind. From local 5k and 10ks, sprint triathalons, to as long to the Vermont 100. I think that’s really my calling. I’m a motivator, a guide of some sort, my addictive passions are hard to NOT share with the ones I hold so close. It’s something I can say I’m really proud of.
Now, I prepare for VT