September 21st, 2017
Tunnel Hill 100 Mile Trail Run - Hitting The Wall, Literally
Saturday November 15th, 2014
Steve lured me into this one like a siren… That’s what friends are for :). I had the opportunity to sidestep it when I found out I had an important meeting in Champaign on the same day as Tunnel Hill, but I just couldn’t give it up for more work. It is my escape, running with my friends and meeting new ones in nice places, trails or roads, out and backs, point-to-points, loops , roads, trails – it’s all good!
I had never been to Vienna (pronounced "Veye enna" as I learned from a retired high school history teacher here at the hospital), in the Southern reaches of the long state of IL. We drove for almost 6 hours and never left the state… It was nice to see everyone at dinner, Doug Beattie, an ultrarunner I just met recently, Dick Canterbury and his wife Becky, Josh Holmes all the way from Cali, Traci Falbo who I last saw at the Alaska Dome, Bill Baker and Diane Taylor (two of my favorite ultrarunners and traveling buddies to TUDC last December), Steve and Terri Durbin, and so many other familiar faces…
The run was on dirt trails with literally nothing to trip on and very little elevation gain, no more than 600 feet. The scenery was pretty with some nice areas, like the Wetlands. It was shaped like a bow on a package, an out and back south, than about the same distance north, then repeat – unless you were smart and signed up for only 50 miles. It was a great course to see runners who were ahead or behind you. When I saw Traci running towards me a few times, she reminded me, in some ways, of Connie Gardner or Joe Fejes – a well-oiled machine who showed no signs of weariness or struggle. The out and back paid off when during the night I was falling asleep on my feet and waking up not knowing if I was going the right way. I would see a headlamp coming up and I would ask, “Are you headed for the finish?” They would say “Yes!” I would say, “Great job!” And then I would know that I was going the right way. I had to ask about 6 runners and take a few short naps on the trail before another runner saw my issue and gave me ½ of a 5 hour energy. I don’t use them, in fact, I don’t even drink coffee at night – no wonder I slow down miserably during the wee hours. It took about 30 minutes, but the 5 hour energy really perked me up – thank you, whoever gave it to me!
I met up with Elizabeth Herman before we hit 50 miles. She was working on her first 100 mile finish. She said she was tired and not sure why. There wasn’t much sun out during the day and the shadows started early, being November. I told her that was normal and to take care of herself. She pulled on ahead after spending a little time with me. I reached the 50 mile mark in 10:01 which was just about right. I ran the next out and back south slower, but not too bad. I then had the last 25 miles to run in almost 7 hours to hit the sub 24, but blew it when I gave in to the fatigue and was pacing at about 2.5 miles per hour for 4 hours before daylight crept slowly back on Sunday morning. I was A OK with my time of 25:18. After dealing with the SI strain since March, TH100 was a breakthrough race in some ways. I was thinking maybe I was done with hundos – now I think I have at least another 4 years, when I am 60. But then, there is Louise Mason, age 61, and Mary Vish, age 65, both who finished TH100 and both vibrant! Maybe 60 years old is just the beginning… Isn’t it great to see women running ultras at older ages, especially 100s, than they did 20 years ago?
I saw the Troub out there too and missed giving him a big hug... Great to see you, Rich!
I also saw Jill Hudson, who I had run with at ATY and she called out her name as she passed. It took me a minute to catch it and I turned to say hello, but she was already too far away. Mark McCaslin, who has been at some of the same ultras as us in the past few months, came by, looking strong. I had a feeling he would do really well, and he did. Mike and Mike ran a fantastic race and I didn’t see them much after the first 25 miles, but during the times I was able to run with them, Mike Smith gave me some pointers on running the HURT. Larry Hall was running also and having a hard time with PF.
Val crewed, but missed me at mile 11 because I got there before he expected me. I got caught up running with Dick Canterbury. Dick, at age 66, got the sub 24 and some very sore feet – but I suspect it was worth it. The aid stations were about 5 miles apart, and the volunteers were helpful and encouraging. It was cold and running in it was one thing, but standing around waiting for runners must have been difficult in that weather. We had some sleet and snow during the night but it was not a big deal. I think the colder temps were an advantage since you really couldn’t stop too long and it was hard to get overheated. There were some who got too cold, like the young man running about a 16 hour hundred who got stopped by hypothermia about 5 miles from the finish. I remember Steve asking me what to do about him when I was in a less than alert stage. I said he should be warmed up, have him change to dry clothes and bring him back to where he left off to finish the race. Steve looked at me strangely…
Other familiar faces were at the aid stations like Mary Lou from Canada and her husband. She is the nicest young lady and a great runner! Ed Kelly from IL was there helping out and pacing Brian Gaines. I saw Kathy run by with Pat and his beloved dog - his gigantic, furry dog named Shamus. Lots of memories from a great run seeping in to stay awhile...
If you hit the wall once in a marathon, how many times can you hit it in 100 miles? What does “hitting the wall” mean anyways? I suspect different things to different people, but it is not what you hoped for or expected. I can’t say I “hit the wall” at TH 100 when I was sleep-walking – I was just tired. I can’t say I “hit the wall” when I was pretty much moving the whole time, faster early on and slower at night. But I was moving… The 100 milers pass through the famous Tunnel Hill on this rails to trails course 4 times. Steve told us when he ran on this trail he worried about “hitting the wall” when passing through the tunnel and then remembered that it was big enough for trains to have passed through. I thought that was kinda funny – until I hit the wall on my last pass through that tunnel. It is long and darrkkkkk… I had left my lights with Val since it was daylight now. I had taken off my double gloves to eat and did not put them back on for the tunnel – mistake! When you get to the middle of the tunnel, you feel like a fetus must feel in the womb – it is all dark and eerie to the point that you might as well be floating in ink. You don’t know where you are in relation to the walls until “thud” – you run smack into the wall! I skinned my knuckles of my ungloved hand and got a dose of coal tar or whatever that black stuff was.
The only thing to do was to keep on running and worry about the damages later. “Are you O.K.?” I heard from the other side of the tunnel. “Yes, just ran into the wall.” Well, isn’t that normal in hundos??? Then I saw Brian Gaines and Ed Kelly. I had thought Brian was done or almost done so I was surprised. He looked a little beaten but he wasn’t stopping. You have to admire that, knowing he’d had some troubles since I last saw him running so well.
What I was feeling at this point was elation that I got through the night, that I had 10 miles left to the finish and I ran as hard as I could muster. I slowed to keep pace with Leeann – it was her first 100 and she was walking funny. I asked her if she could run a little. She told me it was her first 100. She looked happy despite how sore she must be. I got passed by a few runners about 1 mile out and one said, “It is really nice to see how you rallied.” I thought he must have witnessed my demise during the night. That is what I do, whether it is in running or in my work or in my life – I rally. That is what Leeann did when she came into the finish line much sooner than I thought possible by the way she was walking when I left her. That is what Brian did, after a bad night when he had to sleep in the car and in the chair after a good run up until that point. That is what Tonia is doing... You are down and you get back up and keep going -- you rally.
For Brian, it is hard to train with a baby and a young son. Brian probably wanted to quit – he didn’t, Caleb was able to run his Dad into the finish - because his Dad didn't quit. Sometimes, quittin’s the only thing to do. Sometimes it’s a choice.
Monday night I watched the HURT video that Scott Kummer loaned me. Mark Gilligan, Cindy Goh and some other ultra runners were featured. One runner they were following was doing the math on whether he could finish. A 14% finish rate of one of the years was mentioned casually by the RD. I cringed :). Mark was running up and down stairs to train, and trying to deal with an injury that might stop him from running HURT. The runner doing the math says something like, “I’m at 60 miles. Eighty has a nice round sound to it. You know what they say, if you’re gonna go down, go down swingin'.” THAT inspired me.
Congratulations to Traci for another women’s US record and the overall win at 14:45, to all who gave it their best at TH100, especially to Elizabeth Herman who made us proud back home, and to Brian Gaines for persisting when I bet he didn’t wanna... Thanks to Becky, Kelly, Val, Mary Lou and family and friends, dogs and kids who supported their loved ones tirelessly. Thank you Steve, for luring me there and for directing yet another gem of an ultra! Thank you to all the great volunteers and Terri Durbin and that nice young lady who gave me the 5 hour energy and the volunteers who made you feel special.Gotta LOVE ultrarunners and the sport that allows us to spend time together!!!
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