Come Hell or High Water

Last year as I was training for the NYC Marathon I signed up for this crazy thing I’d heard of called the Hotter Than Hell Marathon. It’s a marathon on a two mile loop starting at midnight, in July, In New Orleans. I heard of this event through my buddy JT on one of our long runs. And if recall, he said something to the affect of “that sounds just crazy enough to be fun.” Well, we found ourselves in Audubon Park that July, at 2am, looping the two mile walk path over and over until I reached 26.2 miles (JT showed up to pace me for my last 13ish). I remember apologizing to him as I started to bonk in mile 22 because he’d come out there to support me and here I was cramping up and slowing down while he was fresh and ready to run. He gently scolded me for the preposterous nature of that statement/apology when he said, “Don’t apologize to me, Bruh! You’re giving it everything you got.”  The point is, I was done, I had emptied my vessel, and I had run my second 26.2 with my new buddy JT cheering me on.

What a night! Not only had I finished my second marathon within 6 months of my first, but I had done it where I’d logged what feels like a million training miles, in Audubon Park. What a night that was. But while I was looping around the park for my 26.2 miles, I noticed a tent with a sign that read “Louisiana Ultra Runners,” and I learned that these folks had been looping that same track since 8pm the night before…mind blown. My buddy, Jean, was there that night too (he and my buddy Wally helped me through that Destin 50k I wrote about back in February, more on them in a minute…), but he was with the “Louisiana Ultra Runners,” “Dusk Til Dawn” crew. I barely knew him at the time, but I knew him enough for us to exchange pleasantries during the run that night. I remember he was actually aiming for the 50k mark that night, but called it a night when he reached the 26.2 distance. At the finish, I learned that this was actually his very first marathon. So, he was aiming for a 50k without ever having run a marathon…balls! I knew then that we would be friends.

Fast forward 12 months, two more marathons, a 50k beach race, and a 40 mile training run, and  I found myself at Audubon Park again this year, but this time signed up for the “Dusk Til Dawn” event I’d been blown away by a year ago. Not only was I there ready to do this craziness, but JT was there to run his first ultra distance race. But this year it wasn’t just JT, Jean and myself. This year, thanks to the Thibodaux Running Group, we had quite a posse running. Beside the three of us and my wife, who was there to run the first 10 with us this year, there was Wally and Ethan, Wally’s wife Nikki, and our friend Anna who’s running NYC this year. But simply introducing these folks by name alone will not do. They are so important to me that I’d like to say a little more about each one of them before I continue on with this narrative.

Let me start with Ethan because I am most proud of him for what he accomplished Saturday night. He went into this race kinda worried, almost doubting himself. He’s younger than the rest of the crew, and, as much as we fuck with him, he still looks up to us I think. He’s always full of questions, worry, and sometimes doubt. But Saturday night his nuts dropped as a runner. This young man went to work at 8pm Saturday night and stayed steady all night, reaching the 40 mile mark before I did. Which is something I know he’s proud of, and that flatters me more than he knows; that beating me to 40 miles was such a big deal to him. We are both from Chackbay, have lost a lot of weight, and are now both plant based ultra runners. Who’d a thunk it, right? Love ya, E! Way to grind, babe!

Then of course there’s the lovely Anna. What can I say, she’s a beautiful, strong, smart young woman. She has the heart of a lion and the face of an angel. What a sweetheart! She’s like another little sister to me, and I’m proud to be her running buddy. She is running the NYC Marathon this November and I can hardly wait for her to experience that! She ran her first marathon in January at the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge this year. Her goal Saturday night was to get another 26.2 under her belt as a conditioning run on her way to NYC. She did it and felt good getting it done. I’m very proud of her for coming out to run a marathon starting at midnight, in July, in New Orleans. It’ll pay dividends, sha!

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know who JT is from the #TCSNYCMARATHON post I made about our run in NYC together. But you know him as a marathoner, not an ultramarathoner. Saturday night he ventured out past the 26.2 mile comfort zone, and reach the 50k mark. This was his goal going in, and he got it done. I’m glad he was there, and glad he got it done. Dude’s a beast, and the best friend a guy could ask for.

I spoke about Jean a little in the beginning of this post, but what I didn’t mention was the fact that, since that fateful night we spent together a year ago, he has gone on to become quite an accomplished, while at the same time humble and aspiring, ultra marathoner. Beside helping me thru my first 50k in Destin, he’s gone on to run the Mount Mitchell Challenge, the Sleepy 50k, Badlands 50 miler (which was called at the 50k mark for almost everyone due to whether. I only mention that fact because he would want me to), and has played the role of pacer for his ultra running friends along the way. He and his wife are quite literally some the coolest people I know, and their daughter will melt you instantly. In a year’s time we’ve grown from exchanging pleasantries to becoming dear, dear friends. I value his presence in my life and running more than he knows.

And then there is Nikki and Wally, the couples equivalent to human Prozac. Nikki was there, as was Anna, to run the marathon distance. She just wanted another one under her belt as she trains for her first 50k, which is coming up in October. It was wonderful to have her bouncing around that two-mile track after midnight gushing with encouragement. She is one of the sweetest, cutest little humans you can imagine, and her husband is a stone-cold beast. Wally may be a beast, but you don’t know it until you see him in action. He is the most humble accepting, generous person you would ever want to meet, yet, at the same time, an animal in the ultra distances. And he, like the rest of us, is a newbie in this ultra thing. If you remember my post about my first 50k, Wally is the guy who came back for me after he finished his race. He’s the consummate Marine, and the epitome of what an American soldier should be. The English language fails me in describing what this man means to my running and my new life. Wally ran 42 miles, came in 5th overall, and was still looking fresh as a daisy at 6am. Animal!

“Fresh as a daisy” is NOT how I’d say I felt after my 40 miles Saturday night; “Emboldened”? Yeah; “Proud”? I’d say yes; “Encouraged”? Absolutely; “Progressed”? Without a doubt; “Humbled”? Bet your sweet ass; “Learned”? A resounding ABSOLUTLEY!

You see, I’d run this distance before in training. My friend from Houma, about 20 miles South of Thibodaux, Stu, put together a training run where he and I, and several other running friends were to run from Houma to Thibodaux, then back to Houma for a total of forty miles…just for funsies. lol! But, I knew when I committed to it, it was going to hurt, and that my body was, as still a somewhat newbie runner, not 100% prepared for it. But that wasn’t really of concern to me. What I wanted to practice was not quitting. Here’s what the few months previous looked like for me as a runner: (1/25/15)started the race year off with my fastest marathon ever at 03:34:16, and fourth in twelve months; (2/14/2015) then within weeks I found myself in Destin at the startline line of my first ultra, a beach 50k; after that, I started to try to get back into speed mode for the upcoming Crecent City Classic (CCC) where I would be aiming for not only a poster (top 500) but a sub-40-minute 10k, so lots of speed training; (3/29/2015) I found myself in Marshall TX the weekend before the CCC for the Healthfest 2015 where I met Rich Roll in person for the first time, and we recorded our latest podcast conversation, and I ran a 5k in which I PR’d my mile at 5:50; (4/4/2015) ran the CCC in 41:06, not my goal but felt good about it, it was everything I had, still a PR; (4/27/2015) we started our “fun run” from Houma to Thibodaux and back…

Needless to say, I knew it would be rough. But again, I was just practicing the being-out-on-the-course-all-day aspect of it, as I knew I had signed up to run a 100k in October 2015. And boy did that run empty my vessel for sure! The last 8-10 miles was just pure survival. With 6 miles to go I was reduced to walking only. In the last 4 I could no longer stop walking for water breaks (I was carrying water tho) for fear of ceasing up with cramps and not being able to continue. But, as grueling and tough as it was, I made it back to my truck in Houma. Stu, my marathoning buddy Jerome, who ran off in mile 36ish to get back in time for his daughter’s soccer game (BEAST!), and my new friend Chris, who I’d only previously known on Strava, got in 40 tough miles on a random, hot, muggy, April Sunday. It felt great to be done, and to have that new skin hanging on my wall (sorry for the trapper metaphor,!

Finally, back to this Saturday night…

So, I knew I’d done the distance before. I knew I could suffer through it and get it done. I had learned some more about my mid-run nutrition and hydration on subsequent (to the 40-miler) long runs leading up to this, and although I knew I had probably run too many miles leading into this all-night, timed event, again, I was practicing my not quitting more than the actual running of 40 miles. Although, I wanted 40 miles that night, come hell or high water!

But here’s the thing, I abandoned my newly found gel-nutrition, Ion-capsule-infused-water hydration, en lieu of using whole foods to fuel my run. I had, instead of Huma gels and electrolyte water, dates and potato/rice burritos, and gallons of just regular water.

This was a mistake, and here’s why. While I felt good early, I wasn’t getting anything in the way of calories or electrolytes into my body ahead of time, before I really needed it, as I had been on my previous long runs with solid results. I knew I had food to eat back at the truck, and my plan was to start eating dates around the 8 to 10 mile mark, which I did. I was going to start eating my potato burritos at about 15-18 miles. This was an experiment that failed in a large way. The problem was was 1.), I wasn’t drinking my normal electrolyte water because I thought I’d have all I needed in the pickle juice (yes, that was my plan), and 2.) when it was time for me to eat my burritos I was already vomiting and about to pass out, therefore food wasn’t gonna happen…fun shit!

I ran right into a brick wall in mile 18. Mile 19 took me the better part of an hour, and the pussy deep inside me contemplated dropping. But instead, I dug into my running bag and grabbed some old Huma gels. I smashed back about four in a row. I went to the restroom and looked at myself in the eyes. The main reason I’d done this was because a couple of my friends were telling me I looked “bad”, which I assumed meant pale and dehydrated. The bathroom mirror visit proved them right; I looked rough. But while I was there, I literally looked at myself and said “you are not going to quit, you hear me mother fucker! Get it together, take a deep breath and let’s get moving. You got this!” I hobbled out of the restroom straight onto the track and began to chop away at the, at the time, seemingly insurmountable remaining 21 miles, which I wanted to get done before 6am.

By mile 20 I was feeling good enough to post an update about my progress to Instagram. I remember looking at myself on the screen of my phone and thinking, “still looking a little rough, playa!” But, by the time I got back to my truck and got some more gels in me, I was feeling better. As the miles passed, I felt better and better. I found a nice lady with some s-caps, and she got into the routine of giving me three about every other loop. But, as I wasn’t planning to use gels on this run, I ran out quickly. Thanks to Wally and Jean being at their trucks as I finished one of my loops, I was able to explain that I had switched to gels, was feeling better, but had completely exhausted the supply of left-over gels I had in my running bag. The two of them pitched in and donated enough calories for me to finish.

My only problem by this time was severe cramping. I was feeling great now, mentally. I had my stamina back, and I wanted to run, and I was able to run miles without stopping at times, then I’d cramp badly and have to walk. Then I’d slowly ramp it back up and string together a few more consecutive miles of running, then boom!, cramps again. This was the rhythm for the last 16-18 miles. I even caught my little asshole, chackbilly, dickhead buddy Ethan at one point, who had gotten past me, only to have him catch back up and overtake me as I was walking out my cramps about a mile and half later. “Fuckin cramps!,” I thought to myself, “gonna have Ethan all puffed up in the damn head…” (Don’t take up for him. This how he’s treated. He’s used to it.).

By mile 34, I knew I’d get my 40 done. It was going to be close. I had cost myself a lot of time with a pretty huge race plan brain fart, but I did the math in my head and figured I could get 40, just barely, but I could get it. I had even decided that if 6am were to catch me, that I was going to continue anyway to get my forty. DNF or not.

In mile 36 I saw a sight for sore eyes. Wally was rounding out his last lap, mile 42. He said “how ya doing, big J?” And I just walked over to him and hugged him as tight as I could. I told him I was gonna get my 40, I only had 1.5 laps to go, and I could feel he was proud of me. We were both sweaty and tired, but he looked good.

I made it back to the truck for my last water/gel/salt-capsule refill. My watch died just after I clocked 38.1 miles. I walked/jogged as fast as I could for the last two miles to make it to 40 miles before the 6am cutoff: 5:56am.

When I got back, of course the first face I saw was JT’s. He just said something to the affect of “kudos, brah. I don’t know how y’all fuckers did that! Congratulations!” I couldn’t even look at him, because I really didn’t want to bust out into tears. I don’t want this to be a big deal. This is my new normal…

I met and ran with some awesome people on my run run Saturday night. And that’s the draw: the people. You see, building a new normal is work. It can’t be done alone. You can try, but the likelihood of sliding back into your old ways, the ways that kept/keeps you less-than is very high. Just like we tend to not eat like shit and drink alone, living/thriving/achieving is best done in the company of people who embolden your spirit and keep you accountable. I love my running family, my life team, my partners in crime. Thank you for being there, and thank you for getting us together, Erika (founder of Thibodaux Running Group).

Believe you can. Associate with those who think your right about that. And have fun getting it done. #runthibodauxIMG_9305

7 thoughts on “Come Hell or High Water

  1. Love this post Josh! A healthy community & friendship can mean so much. Congrats to you! Thanks for sharing.

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