The Beast for Uncle Bert
This race is dedicated to my Uncle Bert. He physically left us last year, but heaven has been thoroughly enjoying having him around. He freely and often passed through my mind during this race. I felt as if I had a guardian. Uncle Bert, this one was for you.
The Beast. Four years ago, Roger talked me into running this crazy race. All I had to do was run 50 miles during a blizzard. OMG! I was hooked. I loved the people. The camaraderie. The challenge.
I’ve taken on the Beast several times, and thought it would be my first 100 miler. The Beast thought differently. It took me out with a case of kidney stones and a broken spirit.
That probably explains why I was a basket case at the start. I knew what was in front of me and I didn’t believe that I could do it. That morning I looked on the website and found my projected finish time. 34 hours. 34 hours???? The race cut-off is 30 hours. I’m screwed.
I got a text that saved me. It said in part “Embrace the negative aspects that you encounter and be the great runner you are. No hills, no creatures, just you against Mother Nature, one foot in front of the other”. Maybe I can do this…
The Beast course consists of 4 loops of 25 miles each. It is an out and back course. 12.5 miles to Middleport, 12.5 miles back to Lockport, an aid station roughly halfway in Gasport.
When I left the house before the race, I had the following conversation with my daughter:
Nat: Mom, are you going to wear the bear hat?
Eva: Sure, I’ll wear it for a lap or two.
Nat: No Mom! You need to wear it the whole time, so you’ll think of me.
Eva: I always think of you, darlin’, I don’t need a hat for that.
Nat: Wear the hat, mom. I’ll be checking the pictures.
The temperature was 15 degrees at the start. It warmed to somewhere in the low 20s during the day and dropped to single digits at night. Sunday was warmer, but I have no idea by how much. That hat actually kept me quite toasty.
The first loop was tough. The first mile is run on a sidewalk that was thankfully clear (thanks Jim). Then you cross over a bridge and get to the towpath. It was a mess. It only had about 3-4 inches of snow, but it was icy and untamed. It took almost the whole first loop for the runners to pack it down enough that you could get a trusty foot placement. I used stabilizer muscles in my feet that I didn’t know I had. It is also a lesson in sensory deprivation. It is a straight shot to Middleport and completely flat. There is nothing breaking up the monotony. I ran the back 12.5 with Jim and my running herd, and loved every second.
Jim and I paired up and paced each other on the second loop. The sun set around 5:30, so we were in the dark for most of the run. If you are ever lucky enough to meet Jim, then you can truly count yourself as blessed. Jim, I could not have done it without you. I love being your “sister from another mister”. It was getting colder when he crossed the finish line for his 50 miler, we said goodbye, and I got ready to head out for loop three.
One of the best pieces of advice I got about running in the cold was to make sure the layer closest to me stays dry. That saved me on loop three, as I was, um....chafing. It was frigid. I had enough gear to keep warm, but had to make sure nothing was exposed. My gortex mittens made my hands sweat, which was bad when I had to take them off to get food, water or make equipment adjustments. They could be exposed for about 10 seconds before they were tingling. Also, it is truly a wild sight to see your exhale breath, mixed with snow, by the light of a head lamp.
Things were going well. I had completed 75 miles, ahead of the pace I set for myself, and gave myself a short break. I wanted to re-read a text that would give me warm thoughts as I headed back out into the pre-dawn cold, and I saw that I had 75 Facebook notifications. Huh? Really? What inspiration! I didn’t have time to read them, but I felt loved. There was NO way I was not going to finish now. THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to think of me. I headed out onto lap four with a warm heart, nice thoughts, and a cold body.
I had nine hours to finish a lap I planned to finish in 7. Denise planned on pacing me the last 12.5, but I told her I was in my freak zone, and just needed to do my thing. She got to be an angel for another runner, and still keep an eye on me. Perfect. Her husband would also pop up along the course to take a picture and give encouragement. I did not feel alone. But, around mile 91, things changed, and I felt miserable. I started to worry about cut-off times that I wasn’t close to missing. I was slowing down, and needed to rally. I caught up to Denise and asked, “Why can’t this be a 91 mile race?” She said, “Because it’s not. Get moving.” God, I love people who don’t hold my hand!
At the last aid station, I decided to pass on some caffeine. I figured I only had 6.5 miles left, and I wanted to be able to sleep after the race was over. DUMB MOVE. I slept walked for 2 miles. I remember looking at my watch at 11, and looking at it again at 12. I was down the trail with no idea how I got there. Okay, gotta plan that better next time.
By mile 98, I was done. (FD to the ultra runners) I had absolutely nothing left. I was not going to rally, the best I could hope for was to maintain relentless forward progress. Every part of me hurt and I just wanted to stop. I could see my friends at the finish line, and I had two miles to trudge before I could get to them. I was in a very dark place in my mind, and couldn’t even lift my head to look at them. I had to keep moving. One foot in front of the other. I was still thinking I wasn’t going to make it. Jim grabbed a bullhorn and shouted, “You are my hero”. I wanted to yell for one of them to rescue me, but that's not how I roll. So close and yet so far.
Finally, with about 2.5 feet to go, I believed I was going to finish. About a dozen of my friends were there, and seeing them ranks up there with my wedding day and meeting my kids. I was overwhelmed. I ran into Jim’s hug and finally let it all out.
So many people were there to support me, but I would be amiss if I didn’t publicly thank Jim. After his race, he went home, slept, and showered. Then he came back and met me at almost every aid station to see how I was doing. When I finished, he took care of me. When I was ready to head home, he warmed up my car, and moved it closer to me, so that I wouldn’t have to waddle as far. Jim, you are an amazing person and a great friend. I will get you to the finish line of our 100 miler in May. Together, we will go far.
I don’t know that I could name everyone else I want to thank, but know if we crossed paths in person, electronically, or just in thought, during that 28.5 hours, please know that I appreciate everything you did for me.
And Natalie—I wore the hat the whole time. Check the pictures.
Rest in peace, Uncle Bert