Staying In the Game

By Jeremy Gulley

Running is an addiction. For me, however, running is more fun when I worry less about my personal times and focus instead on supporting other people. Don’t get me wrong, I love to train hard and push myself to go longer distances and at faster times, but I think when we do that it is easy to miss out on some amazing experiences because we are too inwardly focused. This year’s Psycho Psummer trail run served a perfect illustration for this philosophy.

In 2011, after completing one agonizing 10 (11? 12?) mile loop at the Psycho Psummer, my wife, Beth, set a goal: run three in 2012. After that one loop she said she felt as bad as she had after any road marathon, and wanted to exact some revenge on the trail. Knowing her as I do, I knew that the trail didn’t stand a chance.

She developed a training plan and stuck to it religiously, asked advice from several knowledgeable runners, and never let her goal get too far out of reach. She asked my assistance as well, which I gladly provided. I have completed several ultras, multi-hour mountain bike races, and long distance adventure races, but what I really enjoy is running with her. We have completed two marathons together, and do most of our long training runs together. Nothing builds a strong marriage like running together for hours and hours. Beyond that, I know what it feels like to finish the first ultra, and I wanted to share that experience. I decided that I would run the entire course with her to provide what I call conversation and support, and what she calls distraction.

During the year since she decided to run the 2012 Psycho Psummer, we hosted a trail race of our own at Hillsdale Lake in Kansas, developed a small but faithful running/training group, and convinced four other local runners to join us at Wyandotte, including our fourteen year old son, Israel. Our training runs were mostly successful, with the exception of a few falls, hurt knees, and twisted ankles. Despite some lingering injuries, on race day we both felt good.

The forecast for the day was easy, and fitting with the forecast for the past few weeks: hot and dry.

We knew that the first lap was crucial, since it did her in the previous year, so we planned to take it slow. We ended up near the rear of the pack, and walked more than we planned due to people stopping in front of us to walk “hills,” which we had planned to run. This was aggravating at the time, but was, perhaps, a blessing instead – as it allowed us to save some energy for the other two laps. Regardless of the time spent walking, the first lap was successful. Beth’s training included fueling and recovery, and this training served her well during the run. We ate at every aid station, drank the right amount, took a shot block every half-hour, and popped s-caps like they were the source of life. We finished the first lap in about 2:30 and felt as good as could be expected, and certainly good enough to run two more loops. First goal accomplished – kick the first loop’s butt.

The second loop was much more interesting. Though we felt good, the signs of fatigue were all around us. At the second aid station, several runners were in obvious distress and the volunteers had their hands full taking care of them (which they did with éclat). One of these runners was a man I have known for several years, and is as experienced and knowledgeable as anyone. If he succumbed to the heat, I thought, anyone could.

We slowed down.

We drank a lot.

We walked the hills.

We laughed and talked and enjoyed ourselves. We forgot about hitting a certain time and focused on finishing. We knew that we had to finish the second loop before we started the third, and made each moment count by eating, drinking, and staying as focused as possible.

We finished the second loop at 5:33, under the cut off and still feeling good. We reloaded and headed back out. The third loop was a success from the beginning. Not that it wasn’t difficult, but Beth said that her goal for the race was to start the third loop. “If I start,” she said, “I’ll have no choice but to finish.” Starting is one thing, however, but finishing was a whole different story. It’s difficult to express how hot it was out there, but to put it in scientific terms, it was really, really hot.

By the time we reached the first aid station, we were miserable. The volunteers at the aid station, however, changed our attitudes. Actually, we were surprised that they were still there because we thought were the last runners to hit the time cutoff. But they had plenty of aid left and met us with smiles. They grabbed our water bottles and refilled them, gave us s-caps and watermelon, pickles and Pringles, and of course – ice. “You look great,” they said, “you’re going to finish strong.” For some reason, we believed them.

On our way to the second station, we passed a few people, which raised our hopes. Then we came upon the miracle man. He was sitting on the trail, crippled by cramps. He said he had been there for a while, but was planning to finish. I put some ice on his legs, Beth gave him some Gatorade, and I gave him the last s-cap I had. I tried to help him up, but he couldn’t. He asked that no one come back for him, but we didn’t see how he was going to make it on his own. We told the volunteers at the next aid station about him, and they said they’d take care of him.

We finished our loop, together, like we have on every training run for a year. We were hot, we finished much slower than anticipated, but we finished. At the finish line, our running group was waiting for us, cheering us on. Our ten year old son was also there, with a coffee mug for me and flowers for his mom. Ben Holmes put the medal around our necks and I told Beth that she was now part of the club. It doesn’t matter what the time is, running an ultra-marathon is an accomplishment to be proud of. In this race, 61 people dropped from their target distance due to the heat, the terrain, or both. The race was difficult, but our training paid off and we were not among those 61 people.

As for miracle man – he finished as well – on his own two legs without any assistance. I thought he was done for, but he made it. On races like these, we run to see who has more guts rather than who is fastest. I’d give that medal to him. And me — I got to see a lot of people push further than they thought they could. I got to experience my wife’s first ultra. And I got to witness ordinary people persevere to finish a race for nothing other than pride and self-respect. That’s what this sport is all about.


Short URL: http://osawatominews.com/?p=1712

Posted by admin on Jul 16 2012. Filed under Jeremy Gulley, News and Updates, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Leave a Reply