Let me paint the scene:
I've hit mile 80/100. I was sitting down hydrating thinking of the distance I still had to cover.
My legs felt like they were ready to fall off and my right ankle was so tender that when I changed my shoes, I couldn't even tie them without a streak of pain rushing up my leg. Oh, and on top of all of that it was borderline freezing with an unrelenting mix of rain and snow that had not stopped since I got to the track in the morning.
At this moment I was DEEP in the Pain Cave and I'd be lying if I said I wanted to get up and go hammer out another 20 miles. The Pain Cave refers to the incredible amount of mental and physical fatigue you're experiencing in a given moment. I knew running 100 miles over the course of a weekend was going to take me deeper into the Pain Cave than I've ever been.
I ended up running 100 miles which was a little over 400 laps in just under a day and a half (35 hours and 52 minutes). I was on the track for 22 hours and fifteen minuted of the time.
The first day started very well. I came out fast and I was able to get 60 miles between 7:30am and 8:00pm. I ran my first marathon (26.2) in 4.5 hours and then things took a huge turn for the worst. It took me close to 6 additional hours to reach the 52.4 mile mark and I was exhausted. The pain in my legs was manageable at this point, but my stomach was in rough shape. I had experienced this stomach pain before in my previous marathons so I at least had some knowledge on how to handle this discomfort.
What I didn't have any experiences with was the negative thoughts that were swimming around my head beginning at about 40 miles. YES...I've had plenty of negative thoughts, but these were more intense. I kept thinking the obvious thought of how am I going to finish this as my pace continued to slow and my pain levels rose, but that wasn't what really affected my head.
I was petrified of the pain I was experiencing. It was not because it was unbearable, but this was the point of the weekend when my ankle started to bother me and I couldn't help but think, what if I seriously get injured doing this? This allowed my mind to wander to darker places...you haven't trained enough for this, you're going to get hurt! The worst was you're never going to be able to run again. This hurt my performance for awhile because I wasn't thinking about the next step. I thought about the entire distance instead of breaking it down into pieces. 100 miles is pretty overwhelming when it's thought about as a whole. I mean 100 miles is from Deep River, Connecticut where I ran to almost New York City.
I didn't end up verbalizing my thoughts. We all have negative thoughts in our head. They don't become real until we verbalize them. I attempted to remain positive and tried grinding out as many miles as I could. Around 50 miles when I took a break to recharge, I started thinking "One Step at a Time" and this couldn't have helped me more as I ran the last 8 miles of the day at a faster pace than the previous 8. That capped off day 1 and I felt exhausted. I laid down on the floor when I got home and I couldn't move too well. 60 miles in 12.5 hours is a great accomplishment, but that wasn't the end goal. I had climbed up the mountain, but I still had to come down and I wasn't going to stop until I got it done.
I woke up the next day with a lot of aches and pains, but I was back on the track by 9:30am. I felt okay for the first three miles. I was running faster than the night before, but then my ankle pain really hit me hard. I couldn't flex it. I had to keep it stable because if it moved from a parallel position relative to the ground it shot a brutal pain up my leg. Then the negative thoughts popped up in my head again, but I pushed them away quicker. I knew with 37 miles left on this 100 mile journey that I couldn't afford to think about the big picture. I went back to the thought of one more step which turned into laps and those laps became miles.
The conditions sucked all day. A mix of rain, snow, and very cold temperatures for April. This didn't help my pace and I was moving slow, but I said I am going to move as fast as I possibly can...just keep moving forward. I wanted to take a break, but I knew with my pace and pain my body was enduring, I didn't have time to sit down if I wanted to finish before it got dark. I kept doing my best to make progress which allowed me to knock off 17 miles. So now I'm back to mile 80 where this blog began...deep into the Pain Cave!
Let's resume the initial scene:
I continued to tell myself the end was in sight, but my mind said NO it's actually so far away. I got up limping and I started walking. I then attempted to run, but the pain was the worst physical pain I had ever felt in my life. As I was walking around the track, I began to think about where I had started this journey and how far I had come in three years. It wasn't yesterday morning when I began the run. It began when I lost my identity as a football player. Then I had to lose 140 pounds and these two things came with a lot of pain. This 100 miles represented way more than some challenge. THIS 100 MILES WAS THE CELEBRATION OF EVERYTHING I HAD WORKED FOR IN THE PAST THREE YEARS. The past three years have been the first true moments of my life where I was consistently doing what I wanted for myself. I wasn't attempting to please anyone and this filled me with gratitude.
To most people, 100 miles was meaningless. It's a big number, but I was the "lonely distance runner" for most of the weekend. My parents cared and were with me for 25/100 miles because they didn't want to see me die on the track, but this race was for ME. The pain lifted a little after mile 80. Don't get me wrong...I still felt it, but for the first time that whole weekend I truly didn't care about the discomfort. I was doing something that made me happy and I had found meaning in that 100 miles.
I ended up crossing the finish line at 7:29pm and I was ecstatic. I had done something that I never thought was possible when I was 340 pounds or even when I put running shoes on for the first time. I had just traveled around a track 400 times over the course of 36 hours and there was a moment three years before where it was a struggle to do a single lap.
Running 100 miles took a lot of preparation, but in the end of the day just like finishing a single lap around the track, it all started with a single step!
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