I’ll do another post with pictures later this week, but for now I want to get my thoughts and emotions written down before I forget them.
I spent most of 2014 wondering if I would ever run again – do marathons, ultras, etc. After a long battle with Plantar Fasciitis – I was getting to the point where I did not want to deal with being in pain constantly. I took one more stab and asked for a suggestion on Facebook for a good foot doctor for ultrarunners and was given the suggestion of Dr. Eric Brady (a sports chiropractor) in Provo. Dr. Brady was the first doctor that actually discovered why I was having foot problems and he told me that I needed to follow his rules if I ever wanted to run long distances again. He could not guarantee my dream of 100 miles pain free (who could?) – but said I had a chance to do marathons and 50K’s. Several months of treatment, taping, wearing a boot, not walking/running followed. Then – I was allowed to run very short distances, but only 3 days a week.
I did do a race on September that gave me hopes my foot problems might be almost over. Another in November and another in early December and I started to have confidence in my foot once again. So – in a moment of depression, I signed up for the 72 hour race at Across the Years – hoping to reach my dream of a 100 mile belt buckle.
I was thrilled when my daughter agreed to come up for a couple of days. She truly made my race possible and was my trail angel in many ways.
I arrived in Glendale at Camelback Ranch on Sunday afternoon and established my camping area next to Ed and Martha Ettinghausen and where Rob and Deb Distante were going to be. I picked up some last minute supplies and settled in for the race.
Monday morning was race day. The weather looked great and we had a great group of runners starting their races at 9 a.m. on Monday morning. I had actually sprained my knee on Christmas Day – so knew I probably couldn’t run much and was worried about my left knee holding up. The plan was to walk and just run about 100 steps every time I crossed the timing mats.
As the day wore on, my knee wasn’t bothering me, but my left calf started cramping, so I ended up taking off the knee brace I wore and that solved that issue. Then my left quadriceps muscles, hamstring and piriformis began to strongly ache and hampered my running and walking. I hit a real low point and was thinking that my race might be over on day one. Martha Ettinghausen was my savior that day and did quite a bit of massage and manipulation of my leg to see if that would help. It sure did. After that first day – I did not have any further problems with my upper leg or hip.
My goal for day 1 was to hit 40 miles and I ended for the day just short of that point. My plans were to sleep every night. One – I really don’t like cold. Two – i don’t like not sleeping. Three – I worry about dryness in my right eye if I don’t rest it.
Tuesday morning I got up and braved the cold ready to continue the battle. The goal for this day was 35 miles – to put me at a total of 75 miles. That would give me a lot of cushion on day 3 to reach 100 miles or more.
Tuesday was actually warmer during the day and I took a couple of 45-60 minute breaks to rest my legs and rehydrate. So far I had done as planned on eating and drinking and was moving as well as could be expected. While walking in circles, I noticed that I had a rear tire going flat and Jennifer found a bolt in it and ended up taking the race vehicle off to get the tire fixed. As darkness crept in and the cold started, I hit another real low point. My left foot was starting to hurt and I really worried about the Plantar Fasciitis flaring up and my right knee was also starting to ache. I spent some time stretching my foot against the car crying quietly and trying not to give in. Martha ended up massaging my foot and calf (the woman is a saint for dealing with sweaty, smelly runners) and I called my Aunt Mary and she ended up talking to me about her trip and praying with me and that got me through the rough spot.
I hit 75 miles at 9 p.m. and gratefully crawled into the race vehicle. The nights were getting colder and Jenn and I were really glad we were not sleeping in a tent. I think it was about this time that she decreed that next year I rent an RV so we can be more comfortable.
I mentioned on Facebook that I had experienced the “pain cave” that day. Some people were wondering what that is. For those not familiar with ultrarunners, there are usually several points in a race where you hit a real low mentally and physically and everything hurts and you question if you can keep going. That is the pain cave.
Wednesday morning dawned and I was excited at the thought of hitting 100 miles that day and getting my buckle. Then I started out for the day. It was pretty obvious it was not going to be an easy day for me. Even though I rested 8 hours each night, my feet had swollen out of my shoes. Every step was agony as I felt my toes (particularly my big toes) pound against the front of my shoes. These were fairly new shoes (both pairs) and I did not want to cut out the toes, but was seriously considering it. Jennifer was once again an angel and called around to running stores after they opened and found me a size 10 pair of Altra Olympus. When I saw her near the warming tent, I nearly wept with relief. The previous 12 miles that morning had been agony. My body was in pain and it affected everything. I tried brushing my teeth earlier to remove the fuzz and ended up losing all of my breakfast. Then I didn’t want to eat at all for fear of getting sick again.
We took some time to change my shoes and bandage my feet as best we could. Jenn was very patient about relacing and retying the shoes to make sure none of the bruising on the tops of my feet were hurting or my heels or toes where they were sensitive.
Then a miracle occurred. Where 20 minutes earlier I figured it would take me until 10 or 11 p.m. to get to 100 miles because of the pain, I could run and walk pain free (ok – relatively pain free). Until you are out of pain you have no idea how much you were hurting. This carried me for another 6 or 7 miles and I cannot tell you what a difference I suddenly felt.
As evening approached, so did 100 miles. Many people were cheering me on on Facebook and my phone and in person. I had dedicated my run to my cousin, Katie Koeven, who was in intensive care following a car accident and many of my family were contributing to her medical expenses for each mile I completed. All of this kept me going when I thought I could not.
Lap 96 started at 4:52 p.m. I was accompanied on this “victory lap” by my daughter, Jennifer Merkley. and my friends, Ed and Martha Ettinghausen. I am trying to forget a person that kept horning in on the lap, but remembered how joyous it felt to finally be accomplishing this goal. It had been such a challenge and was such a high. I was so happy to have these people (near and far and those present and stalking me online) all supporting me and cheering me.
As the finish line came in sight, Jennifer ran ahead to take pictures and I joined hands with Ed and Martha to cross that line. At 4:52 p.m. I had finished 100.7 miles and earned my buckle. Ed made sure I got it that night even though I was still going to do a little more mileage and just holding that piece of metal was an incredible feeling. I can’t really explain it, but I can say that all the years of work and pain and effort were worth it. I had completed a 100 mile footrace.
The next morning I did three final laps to get to 103.93 miles before stopping.
New 2 day PR – 75 miles
New 3 day PR – 100.7 miles
New overall PR – 103.93 miles.
Not a bad way to end 2014. Words are insufficient to express all of my feelings. But I feel good.