Ever drunk dialed someone? Was it a good idea? How did you feel about it afterwards? In this iPhone and internet abundant age the access to such hastily made decisions is far too within reach at any given moment of inebriation. Well, it has been a long time since I drunk dialed someone. But I have a similar problem with the ramifications just as dicey. Hi, my name is Charlie, and I drunk race register.
Several months ago – if I remember correctly – I was sitting at my kitchen table after a lovely evening out on the town pondering the thought of turning 30 soon. The big 3 – 0. What do I do to commemorate such a significant milestone? A trip with the wifey? Na, she can’t take more time off work. A raging party where everyone pretends we are 20 again while we get blitzed off drinking games all night long? Now this has potential, but I drank too much tonight and I am never drinking again! OK, OK…How about some sort of endeavor or right of passage kind of thing? I mean, I am entering level three! (Cue Mario Bros. music) That’s it. I’ll chase the beast of beasts in ultra running – the hundred-mile race. A quick search on ultrasignup.com (a serious enabler for my problem) and I find the Run Rabbit Run 100 Miler (RRR100) in Colorado one week after I turn 30.
Unbeknownst to me at the time of the incident, this is a very difficult and extremely competitive hundred-miler. When I came to and accepted responsibility for my actions, I started preparations immediately. It was the thick of the summer in Tucson and I had no choice but to push through the heat and saddle up. The training went well. I was putting in the most weekly mileage I’ve ever run on back-to-back weeks. I incorporated strength and plyometric training into my schedule. I ran up at elevation whenever possible (7-8K feet on Mt. Lemmon in Tucson). I tackled Humphrey’s Peak, the tallest peak in Arizona at 12,600’, which has been on my bucket list since I moved to AZ years ago. I even solicited the help of a coach, Jason Schlarb, who happens to have the course record for RRR100. I was ready to toe the line with the best of the best and slay this dragon.
Not knowing what condition I would be in after a run like this I knew it wouldn’t be wise to go alone. I enlisted the support of my biggest fan, my dad, and he agreed to accompany me to Steamboat, CO. If anything, we were long overdue for some good father-son shenanigans as we have lived on opposite sides of the country for over a decade.
Steamboat is picturesque. Fall colors have taken over the aspens and the crisp, cool breeze is sensational. My only concern is the cold at night. The nighttime low is 32 degrees in town. That means in the teens up on the mountains and this race goes through the night. This will be a change from Tucson.
The course has roughly 22K feet of ascent and 22K feet of descent over about 107 miles in the high altitude of the Rockies. We start at noon and I plan to finish sometime the next day, preferably in the morning. There are a bunch of elite runners here, I would be honored to make it in the top ten, even top twenty. Hell, I would be psyched just to finish! A wave to my pops, and off we goes.
After the first climb of about 3,500’ I’m feeling good and this continues through mile 22 when I see Dad at the aid station he’s crewing. I let him know I’m doing well and I will see him back at this aid station at mile 42. Then, at 42, I do see him again. Only now I am a much different runner.
“I can’t breathe.” I struggle to explain.
It creeps up right after mile 22. My breathing starts to escape me. By mile 30 I am having trouble getting words out unless I stop moving. My breaths are very short and it seems as though I can only breath into the top portion of my lungs. Trying to take a deep breath is impossible and hurts a bit. “Why is this happening?” I ask myself. I didn’t go out too strong and thought I was pacing well. I have eaten plenty of calories, I don’t get it.
Something has gone completely wrong and into the dark place my mind goes. At the 31 aid station I sit and try to regain control of my breath. A saint of an aid station volunteer goes to his car and retrieves his inhaler after witnessing my impairment. Does it help? I don’t know. Does it matter? I don’t care. I’m fucked up and there are 70 miles left. The dark place gets even darker. Black. I want to drop.
That saint of a volunteer won’t let me. He convinces me to push on and maybe I will come back to life, “It’s all part of running a 100” he exclaims. He sends me off with his inhaler and I shuffle on. The problem won’t go away. Every time I get to a slow shuffling pace, within minutes I am drowning in the cool air. I have flashbacks of sitting on the front porch as a child with my mom holding me and rubbing my back – comforting me after an intense asthma attack. I haven’t felt such strange and frightening sensations in my lungs since.
I finally make it to Dad at mile 42. It is dark now and he has waited out in 30 degree temps for hours. He knows I am damaged but remembers our pep talk about not letting me drop and does all he can to help jolt me out of this coma. I feel vulnerable, weak and anemic. I bundle up and let him know I don’t think I can go further but I will try. “Please wait here for another hour, I am going to see if I can make it another mile or two, if not I’ll turn back.”
I death-march to the next aid station and at mile 46 at 10pm I drop. I sprawl down – freezing cold – on the hard pavement. Decrepit and defeated, I await a shuttle bus to take me back to Dad. The course had its way with me. It chewed me up and spit me out. I got knocked down in round 3 and I couldn’t even stay on my feet and make it halfway through the bout. My emotions and feelings are tangled up and churning but if I could reach in there and pull one out it would probably be reverence – for the course, for the mountains, and for those crazy bastards who are still charging up that next climb into sub-freezing temperatures under a star-speckled sky.
On the way back that night Dad stops to get some beers and we throw back a couple before we call it a day. The only other ultra I’ve dropped from was the only other ultra my Dad has been at. I think he’s under the impression that he’s a bad luck charm or something. But hey pops, I really don’t need ya there for when I finish. I need ya there for when I don’t.
We went on to have the best weekend we’ve had together in Steamboat Springs and Denver. We visited natural hot springs, drank at breweries, drank more everywhere else and pretended like we were twenty again. This, coming off the best weekend I’ve had with my Mom and Dad only a week earlier for my birthday, makes for a remarkable occasion. I’ll take it.
I came to find out roughly half of the runners dropped, including a majority of the elite guys. This small amount of consolation wasn’t due to others misfortune, but in knowing that I wasn’t alone. My pity party was a shared experience. That guy Jason Schlarb who gave me some coaching advice went on to win the race again in just over 18 hours. He let me know afterwards that on his first attempt of this race, he dropped. Well all right.
Oh yes, and the night after the race when my dad and I finally made it to our beds after a day of debauchery… I lay in bed, head slightly spinning, and pull out my phone.
Javalina 100 in six weeks – click.
(Cue Mario Bros. music)