Posted by: Steven Hammer | August 31, 2010

The big day.

I’m not sure a blog post can really encapsulate my experience on Saturday at Lean Horse. In fact I’ve been avoiding writing about it, fearful that I’ll subtract something from the depth and profound nature of the race. Ok, enough drama. I’ll just report the best I can.

The day before was fine. I drove to Hot Springs to do the pre-race meeting and meal. I chatted with a few guys, one from Wisconsin, one from Minneapolis. Veterans of ultras. They were friendly and gave me some good advice. Some of which I heeded the next day, some of which I forgot or neglected…

Race day. I didn’t sleep much the night before. I’m always afraid of sleeping in on race days. I was up almost every hour checking the clock until 4 am came and my alarm rang. I got ready, got some breakfast and coffee for the road, and left for the race. It was about an hour drive from where I stayed. I arrived to the start/finish line, sat around nervously, and we were finally summoned to the line to begin what would end up a long, long, day.

The course begins running through town, then to Argyle road. Argyle road is long, winding, and very hilly. In fact, this road was the majority of the 50-mile race course. I was running just behind two guys who were apparently friends for several miles. I finally decided to run beside them, introduce myself, and join their “team.” They are from Arkansas, though neither of them are “from” Arkansas as they reported. Shannon and Tom. We became fast friends and found that we were trying to run very similar paces. It felt good to join others, to work together.

Things were smooth. We reached the turn-around point in about 4 hours, maybe 4 and a half. Tom was starting to fade a little bit, but we stuck together. We stopped at the 26 mile aid station to eat, drink, and rest for a bit. I felt good, ate, talked with Erin, and waited to get things rolling again.

We started again, and Tom continued to fade. Shannon and I decided to go on, with Tom’s blessing. We were running a 9-minute pace, which felt great. Then things–bad things–began to happen around mile 30 or 32. First, my left hip. Then my left anterior-something (tendon on top of my ankle). They began as pestering pains, then worsened quickly. I was also starting to get pretty nauseated and fatigued. I mistakenly thought these feelings were like a marathon wall: just tough it out for a mile or two and it’ll go away. It didn’t go away.

I told Shannon to go. I hit a big, big wall, and found it hard to run on my left foot. He went on to hold pace and finish under 10 hours. Had a great race. I was pretty slow after that point. I don’t remember a lot between 35 and 39 miles. I know that it got hot. About 94, no cloud cover. I know I ran out of water. I know I wasn’t walking straight and thought I was going to pass out. I started doubting that I’d get to the 39 mile aid station, and considered dropping out of the race when I did get there.

I found that station. Tom was there. He’d passed me a few miles back and I said that I was in trouble. He looked pretty good when I arrived there. I was toast. The aid workers asked what I needed and I didn’t know. I was having a hard time putting thoughts together and just remember saying, “I don’t know. I need to lay down now. I don’t know.” Tom wished me luck and headed off. I really thought I was done. I didn’t want to eat or drink. I watched people come in and leave for some time. I saw a man there who was waiting for a ride; he had dropped out.

After some time (an hour?) I started to get hungry again, and I asked for a sandwich. Then some chips and crackers, then a popsicle. Then some mountain dew and more water. I didn’t know what to do. Do I listen to my body and drop out? Do I tough it out? I really felt torn. It was 7 miles until the next station.

I remembered advice from one of the veterans the night before at dinner: “You can always quit at the next aid station. Quit there.” I thought about all the hours I’d worked. All the people I told. I got up and said, “F*#* it. I’m going to try.” The aid workers asked if I was ok and made sure I had enough food and water to get through 7 miles. I started walking.

A mile and a half later I felt worse than when I got to the 39 mile station. I hurt, felt sick, and morale was zero. I was done. A woman had passed me a mile ago, and that was the last person I’d seen. I was alone on a gravel road. Hurt and alone and I felt awful. I wept and wept. I didn’t have doubts anymore, I knew I couldn’t finish. I decided that I’d flag down the next vehicle and drop out. I sat on a piece of plywood that sat on a  cattle guard and cried again. Then I walked again. I’ve never felt worse, at least not that I can remember.

A few minutes later–maybe an hour, for all I know–I tried to run again and it hurt less. I ran down a hill. Not very fast, but I made ground on that woman ahead of me. Then I walked up a hill, then ran down a hill. I caught her after awhile, amazed that I did it. Frankly, I just needed to talk with someone, to be with someone. I was so lonely. I said “hi, how’s it going?” She was having a tough day too. So we walked together for awhile and just talked. Her name is Lori from Ohio. She’s a nurse. Her husband was doing the 100-miler. They’ve done many ultras.

We talked, probably just to get through some hills. We’d try running once in awhile, but we both hurt so badly that it never lasted long. We’d each say, “Go ahead if you’re feeling better…” but the other would reply something like, “No, I’m no good. I need to walk too.” We talked about running, jobs, our families. But it didn’t feel like awful small talk. It was great. We were passing time and, slowly, passing miles. We knew that the next station must be close. We reached it and knew that we were only 4 miles left. I couldn’t quit then, even though 4 miles felt like another 50. We filled up, got some food, and walked. Everything hurt the farther we walked. I had to stop several times. Walking was making me sick, my foot hurt more and more. It got really, really slow. I could tell Lori felt better, and told her to go if she wanted, but I knew she wasn’t leaving me. She just kept telling me stories about races she’s done (she’s done several 100-milers as well). Some stories barely registered, but they kept me going.

We got into Hot Springs, walked through most of the town, and eventually finished. I tried jogging in but couldn’t. We crossed the line and I went to lay down in the grass. Erin was there to greet me, and so were Shannon and Tom. They’d finished, showered, and come back to see me finish. That meant so much. I was elated and exhausted. My body was finished. It took a long time to get up without my legs seizing in cramps. Eventually I parted ways with my new friends. I drove back to Rapid City and mostly just cried. Not sure why.

I’m back now, back to life. I can’t really write what I learned or gained out there I guess, without spouting off some cliches like, “I overcame limits…” I learned some things though, and they’re stuck in me. I found connection with people out there, I found connection with myself, and I learned about pain and loneliness. I guess you can learn a lot in 11 hours and 27 minutes.

I’ve said lately that I’m done with ultras for awhile. Well, I can’t do that. I’m planning for next year. I have to.

So that’s it for now. I’m going to rest, maybe do some local 5ks later this fall and winter. But for now, just get some rest and recovery.

Thanks for being really supportive friends. That might be the best lesson I learned out there. I really do need people. I need help, because we all do, because it gets tiring sometimes. And it doesn’t take much to help, just some stories and waiting around for people to finish a long day means so much. But there I am getting sappy again.

Hope you’re well, friends.

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Responses

  1. Hammer, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you are my hero. Seriously, dude.

  2. Super proud of you, my dear.

  3. Hi Steven, congratulations, that’s a great achievement.
    Your post sums up what an Ultramarathon is all about. I’ll also bet that you’ll be signing up for your next ultra as soon as the tiredness wears off.
    Happy resting and running
    Andy

  4. I had been waiting patiently for this post. I’m sure it will remain the highlight of my day. I am proud of you and this will definitely serve as inspiration to a lot of people.

  5. Thanks for those comments. I really do appreciate them.


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