Friday, December 8, 2017

It surprised me too

When I entered into this training season, my "A" race was the Pinhoti 100 in Alabama. Not long after signing up for Pinhoti, another opportunity presented itself, the Great Mississippi Levee Run.  This run predates any organized races that popped up later on the same route.  The GMLR is a fatass run, meaning that it is not an organized race.  There is no support along the route except for what you provide, no roads are closed, no cheering crowds, just a loose group run from point "A" to point "B".  In this case, point "A" was the levee next to the USS Kidd in Baton Rouge, and point "B" was Audubon Park in New Orleans, or the southern end of the levee.

Because of the nature of this run, being 127 miles along the levee, non stop, and unsupported, it was an invitation only event, giving the organizers the ability to limit the run to people who had a good chance of finishing.  There are no guarantees with this distance, regardless of how well you are trained, but it never hurts to stack the odds in your favor.

So, with 20 or so people originally interested, 10 folks ended up starting the run (4 men & 6 women).  Here's the group photo with a bonus runner who joined us for the first 40 miles.   

It was a beautiful day to start what was dubbed "Bad Decision 2017".
We started at 1:00 p.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving and headed south.  Well, in a southerly direction.  Here is the path the levee takes between BR and NO, hence the longer distance than driving between the cities.

And to me, it felt like it was going straight the whole time.  Perspective.
Early on, a group of us decided to try to stay together, especially to get us through the night time hours, for safety reasons.  Also, that way our crews could stay together which would make it safer for them and give them some much welcomed company.  While we were getting to know each other on the levee, our crews had plenty of quality time to get to know each other as well.

So, we ran.  We ran through the first afternoon and through the night mostly together.  Once the sun rose on Saturday, our little group broke up a bit, although we weren't ever far apart.  We ran past a casino, refineries, beautiful antebellum homes, a former leper colony, and some less desirable areas.  We had the company of stray dogs, and occasionally someone riding dirt bikes or walking on top of the levee for exercise.  We also had to dodge the structures being built for the annual bonfires along the levee (click the picture for the story - it is a great tradition), and we got lots of strange looks from the men working on them.
Having to go off to the side of the levee was cool for the first few of these, but after 70-80 miles (?) that I had run, the constant stopping was tough.
A new experience for me in this run was running into a second night.  For 100 milers, I am used to running though one night and finishing the next morning.  If you haven't done it, it seems impossible to stay awake that long, but your body and brain adapt and it is really not as big of a deal as you would think.  But, the second night was interesting.  Right about nightfall, I was treated to a surprise visit from Wally & Nikki.  Their huge smiles and positive energy were so welcome!  I only regret that I didn't get the full benefit of the costumes:

When you are doing something slightly ridiculous, you can count on fellow ultrarunners to support you wholeheartedly.  Rhea getting a hug on top of the levee by a very enthusiastic T-Rex.  
I also got a visit from Candy (Lynette's wife and my friend) and Kelly (long time running buddy).  Kelly dropped Candy off with us so she would be able to drive us home afterwards, saving two very sleep deprived people from having to make any decisions.  It was amazing to see these beautiful faces, even if just for a minute.  After this, Kelly went back home and Candy joined the crew.

I crossed the 100 mile mark of the run in the afternoon/early evening hours of the second day.  When Lynette and Candy told me this (more on those amazing women later), it was really a cool feeling.  Once you have done a few 100 milers, it is hard to top that distance unless you sign up for Badwater (no desire) or a 200 miler (jury is still out on that).  So, once it soaked in that I was now in new territory, I got a great boost of energy and was able to really RUN - for about 5 miles.  Then little things that were hurting before became amplified.  I don't think they hurt any more, but I think the fatigue of seeing a second sunset on a run was making me less capable of dealing with the discomfort.  

This is when I called in reinforcements.  See, while it sounds like I was participating in this great feat of endurance, there was also a second storyline taking place that was equally impressive and challenging.  Quick background:  when my friend, Lynette, and I were having coffee one day, I mentioned this run and how I would have to arrange a crew and without hesitation, Lynette said "I'll crew you".  Knowing she would have to take valuable time away from her family, she did not hesitate to offer her help and immediately, I knew that Lynette would be the perfect crew person.  Lynette is a fantastic mom to two incredible young adults, and I knew that is what I would need out there.

There were a whole lot of views like this.
So, when I was running,  Lynette was leapfrogging me to meet with me every 5 - 10 miles to refill water bottles, provide nutrition, tape blistered feet, etc.  The only reason I was able to do this thing is because Lynette selflessly came out and spent the whole weekend tending to my needs.  She got about as much sleep as I did, and little did she know that she would be called into action at mile 105ish.

Luckily, Lynette plans for everything (seriously, you should have seen the things she packed :-) ), because she also planned for just in case I would need company to finish the run.  Well, let's be honest, once we crossed over mile 105 or so, things started to flare up and we were relegated to a power hike, which turned into a power stroll, then into a "oh just get me to that damn park" walk.  

So, Lynette, who came into this thinking she might walk/run a few miles with me, ended up walking almost a marathon that night.  By this time, Jason and I were keeping the same pace ("ouch,ouch,ouch"), so we were the three amigos hobbling along the levee.  

Lynette, Jason and I. Notice who looks fresh and full of energy?  Yeah, not me or Jason.
With Lynette's mad power walking skills, we got to the end of the levee and onto the roads of New Orleans to make our way to Audubon Park to find a sign to take our picture in front of as proof of finish. 

Excuse the language but I left my filter somewhere near mile 86:

The best part of this race?  We found a sign, took our picture, one showing the time on our phone as proof and then we got into Candy's car and she brought two sleepy people safely home.  In the end, 6 of the 10 who started, finished.  5 women and 1 man. (Girlpower!)

Too tired to be excited about what I had done.  Notice the flip flops?  I wore those for the last mile and a half.  My feet were not going to tolerate one more minute inside shoes.

It has been almost two weeks now, and it has taken almost this long to absorb this experience.  I am left with so many take aways. First, friendship.  True, whatever you need, willing to sacrifice my comfort, friendship.  This is what Lynette and Candy did for me.  Lynette was always positive and determined, and never once allowed me to feel sorry for myself.  Candy was a godsend, coming to rescue two delirious girls and getting us home safely.  Also, new friendship - from the long night time hours on the first night spent with Mandy and Jason ("a random porta potty on top of the levee WITH a handwashing station?  Clearly this is a trap!"), and the time spent visiting with Letha, Jerry, Jenny, Casey, Jim along the way.

Without a doubt, this was my favorite ultra experience ever (including the hallucinations).  Being a Louisiana native, running along that incredible river and watching the constant commerce taking place was amazing.  There were so many times that I was overwhelmed with a love for my state and a gratefulness for what I was allowed to participate in.  Just wow.  We ran (mostly) from near our old state capital all the way to New Orleans on the levee.  I don't think any ultra experience can ever top it.

The reason this was possible.  From the incredible man who has done this multiple times, and organized this great event, to my crew who went above and beyond anything I could have asked for.  (L to R: Jerry Sullivan, Candy Domengeaux,  Me, Lynette Domengeaux) 

Yes, it is on a belt, and yes I am wearing it.  :-) 

My 48th year on this planet is starting out pretty darn good.

Happy Running, Y'all!