Friday, June 8, 2012

16 days and counting.....

16 days! Holy Crap, I only have 16 days left until I set off on my biggest adventure yet. I am running at 5am June 23rd from the base of Squaw Valley ski resort to Auburn, in the Western States 100 mile Endurance Race. We basically run on the Western States trail, the same one that Miners once hauled the gold and silver they mined from Virginia City in Nevada, all the way to Sacramento. The route is arduous, there is roughly 19,000 feet of climbing and 23,000 feet of descending over the 100.2 miles. On this journey we will climb straight up the face of a ski resort (something I once upon a time made fun of people doing), run through the entire night, cross the raging American River holding on to only a cable, run through multiple canyons where temps could reach as high as 115 degrees and finally....rather hopefully, we will finish running, walking or crawling the last 3/4 of the track at Placer High School in Auburn Ca.

The rules are simple, leave at 5am Saturday, get to Auburn by 11am Sunday staying on the mostly marked trail and you get a belt buckle for your efforts much like the one below. That's a silver buckle, you get that for doing the race in under 24 hours. I will likely not be in contention for that award, you get a bronze buckle for finishing the race in under 30 hours.

There is no money to win, compared to other sports very little notoriety, yet for some reason annually over 2000 people actually are willing to pay a HEFTY amount to subject themselves to this kind of torture. Unfortunately, the race runs through the Granite Cheif wilderness and the man (aka government) has stipulated this to be a special place where no events can be held. However, this race and it's older brother the Tevis Cup horse race were grandfathered in and are allowed to be run at the same participation level they had when the wilderness act was made into law. For this race that means roughly a little over 400 people will have the opportunity to start the race.

If this is your first time hearing of people running 100 miles in a single effort you are probably thinking it's not possible. I know I did back when I first became aware of the race in 1995. I was watching a PBS special or something on these crazy people running through the California wilderness. I thought 3 things, first how many days do they take to do this, second where the hell do they sleep at night and third I need to do this someday. To my surprise, people actually finish this race in 15 hours! No sleeping, some do not even sit down the entire time! That is a 9:00 minute a mile pace....for 15 hours. That may not seem fast but given the hills, rather mountain ranges one must cross in this race that is freaking really fast.

So upon watching the entire special in bewilderment I realized they only get 30 hours to be considered an official finisher, they do not sleep and I'm probably never going to be able to do it. Never going to be able to do it you ask? That's not a very positive attitude, but it's the one I was battling at the time, only weeks earlier I had an accident that left me stuck in bed with very little ability to walk. However, I made a promise to one day get to the start and see if I too could make it to the finish like those mega athletes I saw on the TV special.

In 1995 I was an Alpine Ski racer and I took a big fall at a downhill race. I had some talent in skiing but my real advantage was my work ethic. I worked myself in the gym, running and training like a dog. I was relentless in my efforts to make the Olympic team. I ended up busting my back up pretty good, to the point that the doctors I was seeing told me that skiing at a high level again was unlikely. I was probably not going get rid of the issues with walking I'd developed, and I’d need to reevaluate the activities I chose to participate in. I went to a couple of different doctors and they all said the same thing, feel fortunate you have what you have left it could have been so much worse. Basically glass half empty.....not exactly my mantra at the time.

What a shitty thing to tell an 18 year old whose entire life (and that of his family) revolved around athletics. I raced BMX from the age of 4 to 10, going to the US Nationals nearly every year. I ran track, x-country, wrestled and ski raced in high school, now I have to give everything that made me feel alive up to live a life of sedentary hell? You've had a great run kid, the fun is over now deal with your life sucking till you die...that's how I took it. Fuck that noise........

So what did I do? I went and tried to find a doctor who did not tell me those things, no small task given the litigious society we have in America. I did eventually find one, he was a former army doc and his view point was "there is always a way, it's how bad you really want it that determines the way you go". He laid it out on the line for me. You will ski again, you can compete at the highest levels, you will recover from this, your body will never be the same and it's really going to hurt a lot kid. I told him pain was never an issue for me, (boy was I wrong on that) so let’s start now!

It took about 6 months and I was back on skis, a year later I was competing in the same level of racing. From the outside it seamed as though I had worked my body back into great shape, and that was mostly true. However there are 2 aspects to an injury that one must recover from, the physical and the mental. I've always been physically tough, but some of the pain I experienced brought me to my knees and many a time I thought this just is not worth it. There would be times after doing simple push ups, I'd try to get up to stand and a pain would rush through my spine that hurt so bad I was paralyzed for seconds and would fall to the ground crying. Eventually that subsided and what I found out through that experience is the mental recovery is far tougher and takes far longer. Oh and that mentally....maybe I’m more bark than bite. The pain this experience caused me mentally would not be fully understood for a long time, even to this day I have issues thinking about it, and that's as far as we will delve into that.........

I spent the next 2 years trying to ski rarely worked. Every time I got to a point of almost being out of control (a line any skier must navigate expertly to be fast) my brain shut me down. Unfortunately I did not know this, it just happened. I thought I was truly physically broken, so I did what i aways did and worked harder. To my surprise nothing got better and without any reasonable way to get better I gave up.Quite simply something in my brain became a governor like they have on golf carts and it would not let me go fast. I became an average ski racer, and quite frankly upon realizing that, I lost my identity. If only I'd have realized at that point it was my brain and not my body that was broken.

I ended up skiing in college two years before the allure of making money overtook the competitive spirit I was so badly trying to hang on to. It was the day I finally hung up the ski boots that I lost my true competitive nature and my adolescent identity died. I've skied 1 time since 1999. I turned into a new man...some might say boy given some of the antics I pulled, but whatever I turned into I just never really liked it. I made one statement to myself that I will forever always regret.....I will NEVER again put everything I have into a single endeavor because I can not take this kind of failure ever again.

I'd finally succumbed to what I always hated....I just let life happen and was content to take what I was given. I was now a glass half empty kind of guy just like the doctors I swore off so many years ago. I spent the next several years spectating life, not really participating in it. I got my degree, went to work full time at an advertising agency and resigned myself to the fact I was going to be a desk jockey in a cubicle until I retire.

I stayed this way until 2004, and then as fortune would have it I ended up with a ticket to the Burning Man festival in Black Rock City Nevada and my life as I knew it then, changed forever.........