Monday, December 12, 2011

The Hangover

As I sit here ready to put into words the experience of my San Francisco to Sin City Challenge weekend, I don't even know how to start or where to go with it.  I was thinking something along the lines of The Hangover and opening the scene with a disaster of a room, but I failed to take pictures and besides, what happens in Vegas blah, blah, blah.  The more I think about it and the meaning of the whole weekend in general, the more I want to cherish the runs themselves and the ability to run rather than too much of the details and silliness that I'm capable spewing.  After all, this was a fundraiser for the Lupus Foundation of America in honor of a friend, Beth Waldrip Urrea and I'd prefer to focus on the what I walked away with from this weekend.  And you'll still get some detail, hopefully just not as much as usual.

Since finding out back in April that Beth had Lupus and then actually reuniting with her in May, Beth has been a huge source of inspiration for me.  In turn, I've hoped that I could pass that along to others and that somehow we could both have a positive affect on people's lives.

So here's the down and dirty...........

Travel Day.........

Left Midland on 6:40 a.m. flight Friday morning, a brief stop in Albuquerque and then a plane change in Los Angeles.  Landed in San Francisco at 11:35 and was getting into my rental, a surprisingly nice small SUV, a GMC Arcadia and on my way to meet two friends at Tony's Pizza Napoletana by 12:20.

I met Jay and Pam who were waiting in the bar for me and then we had some of the best pizza.  Internally I was struggling with it because I don't normally eat pizza until after a race, but I knew I need the calories and carbs so I tried not to stress.  After the first bite that nonsense all went out the window.  I practically licked my plate clean.  During lunch we discussed my sub 9hr goal and Jay toyed with the idea of running the 50 mile race as he had originally registered.  Pam, returning from a stress fracture was racing the full marathon. 

After lunch, we made our way to the North Face store and officially checked-in.  It was there that Jay made it official, he would pace me for the 50 miler.  Jay ran Boston earlier in the year in 2:29:xx and was coming off of a 4th place overall in the Vermont 50. Stud to say the least. He opted not to "race" the 50 as his training hadn't been the quality he wanted going into the race.  I was obviously pumped about this as now I had a "crew" on the course and a pacer, both of which I didn't have for the 2010 race.  At the same time, I was honestly a bit nervous because the last thing I wanted was for this to turn into some kind of death march out there and have not only myself suffer through it, but Jay as well.  We parted ways from the store and it was time to find my hotel.

I arrived in Corte Madera, about 11 miles from the race start and found my hotel, The Marin Suites.  Not nearly as nice on the outside as the internet pictures, but it didn't really matter, it was a place to sleep.  When I stepped in the room it was like stepping into a 1970's apartment, but it was huge compared to the place I stayed in last year so I had plenty of space in the living room to lay out my gear and pack my drop bags.  Got that done and it was time to hit the sack.  I'll leave out the frantic drive around town to find my specific protein bars which I eventually found.

Race Day......

I finally rolled out of bed at 2:30 a.m. after hitting the snooze buttons a couple of times.  I turned on the coffee and made a quick bowl of oatmeal.   While it was in the microwave, I was getting dressed and still trying to decided exactly what to wear based on the weather and the forecast.  For gear/clothing I went with the following:

Shoes:  Brooks Pure Grit
Socks: DryMax
Shorts: North Face Better than Naked
Shirt:  North Face Flight Series fitted technical shirt
Jacked: North Face Better Than Naked Jacket (love this jacket - 2010 model)
I would also go with the Nathan HPL 28 vest to carry nutrition and a single North FAce E50 handheld water bottle.

Jay and I met up in the designated parking lot in the Fort Barry area and caught the short shuttle ride to the start.  Dropped our gear bags and got set for the start.  As it seems is the case before all of my big races, I find myself not quite prepared until the last minute before the start.  We make out way up to the front of the chute and Jay calmly points out a few of the big dogs running.  Among them I see Dakota Jones, Ian Sharman and Michael Wardian.  There are others all around including several top females, but it was not time for star gazing, it was time to run.

Looking back at the goal I made just after last year's event, it was sub 9 or bust.  As I noted earlier in the year, my plan was to be Goode Through December, the theme of my son's football team's season.  I was still wearing my Goode Through December wristband and it was now December. Time to deliver.

As we took off and made our way out of Fort Barry, I tried to contain my adrenaline and run a steady pace.  I didn't want to make the mistake of going out too fast, a mistake I've made on more than one occasion in ultras.  However, as we came to each aid station we were ahead of schedule.  Tennessee Valley by about 11 minutes, then Cardiac by the same, and then increased it to about a 40 minute lead by the time we entered Cardiac aid station the second time at mile 32.9. 

It was from Cardiac on that Jay's pacing was priceless.  While keeping it positive and reminding me we were ahead of schedule, he also kept me moving through the climbs.  And it seems we climbed and climbed and climbed.  When I would fall off pace, he kept moving and that made me keep moving even if at times I felt like I was crawling.  I have no doubt that just his presence and the fear of letting him down kept me moving.  It's crazy what motivates you at times. Today it was a real fear of letting people down.  Jay being right there for one, but my family as well  and Beth.  I didn't want to come up short today.

As we got closer to the finish I was having some doubts at points, the stair climbs in particular.  I would wonder when it was all going to come to a halt.  As with last year, the math was becoming difficult and calculating the required pace to cover 12, 10 however many miles wasn't easy.  Jay would throw out some distances and time and I would get a level of comfort that sub 9 was within reach, but the doubt would come creeping back in.  I didn't want to get too comfortable until I crossed the finishline.

Working uphill.........hard.
Coming out of Tennessee Valley aid station for the 2nd time I had about 1:20 left to cover just over 5.5 miles and break 9 hours.  I was filling pretty good about it, but had one last major climb.  The "$10,000 hill" as I later heard it was called in reference to the prize money at stake for 1st place.  It was a pretty lengthy climb by my standards and I told Jay we would power walk the whole thing and then hammer what was left afterwards. That was the plan and that was what we did. 

It all seemed so familiar at this point even though it had been a year since I had last seen the course.  I knew that once we crested the final hill we could run a solid final 3 miles.  Jay threw out the ridiculous possibility of running a sub 8:30 and I said "let's do it".  Mile 49 was a sub 8 minute mile and 50 and 51 were 7:16 and 7:14 respectively. 22:26 to cover the last three miles.  At one point I had looked at my Garmin to see 6:33 pace, but eventually mentioned to Jay that I was dying.  He wisely said "then back off and enjoy it" which I did.  Once the finishline was in sight I knew we had achieved my goal and when we ran under the finishline it was an 8:28:xx, far exceeding my expectations at the beginning of the day. The exact opposite of 2010.
2010 - the agony of defeat..........

2011 - the thrill of victory.
Jay and me crossing the finish line, an unreal feeling.
 Soon after crossing the finishline we found Pam. She had finished 10th overall, 3rd place female and 1st in her age group.  What a great run for someone returning from a stress fracture.  A successful day all around for our group.  While we were checking the official results she commented that more than the placement itself, she was just happy to be back racing.  That comment to me was one I reflected on throughout the weekend and which I'll address later.

Me, Pam and Jay after the finish.
I ended up 58th, 51st male and 8th out of 70 in the 40-49 age group with an official chip time of 8:28:01, just over 1:47 faster than last year's 10:15:24.  I can't tell you how excited I was and what a great success this was to me.  After what I considered a truly disappointing finish at the Jemez Mountains Trail Run 50 miler in May, I really wanted to redeem myself for no other reason than to prove to myself I was better than that mediocre performance.   After a Diet Coke that I was dying for and lying around for a while, I decided I need to get up and make that drive to Sacramento. I really wanted to hang around for Pam's podium appearance, but I had 6:00 dinner reservations after all with about 15 friends that would be running CIM (California International Marathon) the next morning.

Travel Day......

I gathered my bags and headed to the shuttle for a ride to the car. I knew I must get some food in me soon, anything.  I had just burned over 6,000 calories and I had a full marathon to run in less than 24 hours.  I told myself I would pull into the first place I saw and of course it was a McDonald's. Not exactly what I wanted, but it would work. Two grilled chicken sandwiches and a double cheeseburger for the road.  Walking back to the car was painful.  My feet hurt and for the first time I realized how crazy the whole double idea was.  For the first time I had doubt that I could do it.  Up until then when someone brought up how crazy it was I would respond "Well, they let you register for anything. I haven't run it yet".  Well, it was getting damn close to time to run it. 

I pulled into Sacramento about 5:40, got to the hotel, unloaded and showered.  I had just missed Kevin (whom I was rooming with) and Matt, both looking for PR's at CIM.  I was late getting to dinner, but by 6:30 I was seated and not much later I was eating a nice plate of lasagna. Boy did I need that.  Several runners there including a couple of friends that I saw earlier in the year at Boston, James and Jim as well as Barb and others that I had never met before including Matt and Kevin.  We all post on the Runners World forums as well as FaceBook and have numerous mutual friends, but this was our first actual meeting.  Sort of strange, because it was as if we knew each other pretty well already. We eventually finished up dinner and headed back to the hotel.  It would be an early start for the runners and I was already looking forward to breakfast. 

Race Day........

Kevin was up and out of their early.  I was dragging, but overall felt well. I got my bags packed and delivered them and Kevin's to the concierge to place in the rental car.  We made the decision that us three guys along with the two others making the trip to Vegas would take the rental to the airport.  The plan was to have it loaded and ready to go by 10:20 right in front of the hotel.  CIM's finishline was one block down and one block over. 

I had breakfast in the hotel and kept an eye on the course that ran right in front of the hotel.  I walked out front just in time to see the mens' leaders go by, then the womens' and eventually a few of our runners including Matt, Rachel and Holly.  I missed James, Jim and Kevin in between going back and forth to the finish and the hotel street.  Agh!

Eventually everyone made their way to the front of the hotel by about 10:30, we snapped a couple of pictures and jetted out of there for the airport.  A quick stop to let everyone out, drop off the rental and a shuttle back to the airport had me going through security exactly as planned.  We all made it to the gate about 10 minutes before boarding, no sweat!

James, Erin, Pam, me, Matt, Holly & Kevin moments before boarding the rental car.

A quick flight to Vegas, beer for everyone, land, grab luggage and a ride to Mandalay Bay was going as smooth as expected.  Then, that's where smooth ended.  From that point on through the rest of the night it was basically a glorious disaster on every level, yet it was so much fun to be a part of.  Most disappointing and weighing on me far several miles was the fact that I was unable to hook up with Beth and Rick before the start of the race.  Due to various issues and the crowdedness of the whole event, I eventually found myself running through the Mandalay Bay casino to drop my gear bag and to the starting line to meet up with the other runners.  A couple of attempts to connect with Beth were unsuccessful due to bad cell phone connections.  Once to the start area, not a single familiar face, seriously. 

I eventually found James and his head of perfect silver hair and then within the minute we were off and running.  Less than two miles into the run we found Holly and Jay.  Yes, THE Jay.  He had come in from San Francisco that morning and decided to run the full as well. I won't repeat his exact words, but they were something about peer pressure being a %#*&!  You think?  More on that in my next post.

Anyway, we made our way through the back streets of Las Vegas for 13.1 miles and then eventually the strip and what seemed more like 440,000 runner for another 13.1.  For the most part it was rather enjoyable with the company of the other three until at some point around mile 16 or so I ran ahead to find a bathroom.  Ended up in a McDonald's (should have ordered fries) and then I never found them once I hit the street again just a couple of minutes later.  I ended up picking up the pace in effort to catch up and finished in 4:22:53, a mere 1:31:34 slower than my most recent marathon, but no biggie.  Turns out the others actually stopped off at a liquor store for some carbs and came in just over 5 hours.  Great idea if you ask me.

From the finish until the time we reunited in Kevin's suite at Mandalay along with several other running friends including the Urreas, Carrie who I had been waiting forever to meet,  it was a blur.  We had a few drinks and eventually made our way out into the casino for what turned out to be a 2:30 a.m. dinner and topped it off with some BlackJack in the Mandalay Bay casino until about 5:00 a.m..  I had said I was going to do it, wasn't sure it was possible, but it ended just as I hoped, well almost.  What a night!  What a wild 48 hours!

On a sidenote, I want to congratulate my wife Gina on her first half marathon.  An awesome job out there and I think she amazed herself with what a great run she had.  Two of her friends, Katy and Melissa also ran their first half and were equally impressive.  Great job ladies, I'm very proud of you. 

Are we there yet?

Katy, Gina, Flo and Melissa
Over the course of the weekend, one common thought kept coming back to me.  How lucky I was to be able to run.  Not necessarily compete and run both of those races, but just run.  What started out as a weekend to honor Beth turned into a constant reminder to not take life and our health for granted.  There were more than a handful of runners over the weekend that I came across that were so thrilled to be recovering from injury of some sort.  Pam running TNF, Barb hanging out at CIM, Flo in Vegas, Paul had recovered from a brief stint off as well and we had other friends battling issues.  Another friend, Kevin was still in the process of being properly diagnosed with what appears some type of autoimmune disease and finally a friend back home, Ricardo that had come within a day of lining up for Boston in April and then found himself on the edge of death by early fall due to a various medical issues.  It appears now as if he will fully recover, but not before some serious challenges in his life. 

As I wrap this up, I feel like it's all over the place, a little late being delivered and not the crazy stuff you want to read about a weekend in Vegas, but if you take anything from this, let it be a reminder to value our health and our lives.  Make the most of it and do what you love while you can, not everyone has that option.  Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something and be an inspiration to someone somewhere.  In some cases it doesn't take much and you may already be doing it. And if someone inspires you, let them know, they will appreciate it I promise. 

I want to thank everyone that supported me in this challenge, especially those that contributed to the Lupus Foundation of America.  If you haven't already, you still may do so by clicking on the logo in the upper right hand corner. They can always use your support.  And if not them, maybe another organization that is close to your heart.  I want to thank my wife and family for putting up with my training, crazy diet and everything else that comes along with running.  I couldn't do it without you.  I want to thank Jay for pacing me at the TNF 50 as well as Chris and Kristen for crewing me out on the course.  There's no way I would have reached my goal without you guys being there.  And lastly, I want to thank Beth for her courage, strength and the beauty that she brings out in life.  I know she touches so many people in a positive way.  If  we lived by her example what a difference we could make. Thank you guys and thanks to those of you that took the time to read this ramble, I really appreciate you.


Girl In Motion said...

What a wonderful recap of a truly wild weekend. Your before/after photos from last year's TNF are incredible in the difference, you've really become one strong mfckr this year. (not that you weren't before, but this year? Monster!)

I love your positive message about the ability to run, too. So true, it is a gift in about 100 different ways.

Vegas was amazing, being able to hang out with you and get to know you better, thanks to you and the gals for letting me tag along...definitely made my trip even more special than it already was.

May next year supply miles and miles of excellence, strength, speed and a Vermont finish worthy of a Gladiator. Cheers!

screaminzab said...

Bravo, sir, bravo!

You are an inspiration, Steve. You killed it out there and did an amazing thing for a great cause. Major ass-kicking! You have so much to be proud of and seeing your hard work pay off certainly makes me want to work hard and hit my own goals.

Love the photos, loved seeing you and am looking forward to seeing you again. Congratulations and your attitude towards life and running and health is one that so many people could benefit from.

Here's to you!

Kevin Hurley said...

Dude, friggin' AWESOME report. So great to finally meet you. So true about feeling like we were just old friends catching up...and I loved the sentiment about being thankful about being able to run. Your 76 miles in two days is inspiring me to take on new challenges I previously thought impossible. Oh and thanks for sharing that hotel room with me. ;-) Can't wait to see what 2012 brings for you!

BarbBQ said...

I'm not sure that I can improve upon what has already been written. Nope. I can't. Thanks for letting me be a little part of your amazing weekend, and I hope I see you again soon.

Steve Berrones said...

Thanks you! All of you are so amazing and incredibly generous with your comments. The fact that we are so different, live in different worlds, yet so alike and that we've all come together through a common interest is awesome. You have all been very inspiring to me in one way or antother as well as to others. Not just through running, but in the quality of person that each of you are. You guys really get it.

Even with as little actual contact as we have with each other, I truly consider you some of my best friends and will always look forward to the next time we meet up. I'm truly fortunate to have each of you in my life, thanks!

Rachel said...

Love the report, Steve, especially the bit about being thankful for being able to run. I spent several years myself doubting if I would ever run again, so I share that sentiment especially closely. I'm always thrilled to be racing (I think it shows in my race photos!) and now to be able to meet great people like you as a part of that? Priceless.